East and west and yin and yang

An old post:
So much to talk about in CoPhi today, spanning east to west. My hook this morning is the ever-elusive Tao, the way of natural harmony and balance and reconciliation of mutual opposition. It’s hard to talk about (“The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao” etc.) but maybe that’s why we ought to try.
M 30/T 31 PW 18-39. Buddhism & JainismConfucius & Taoism, Early Greek philosophy (pre-Socratics), SocratesPlato. RECOMMENDED: JMH ch3 & p11-24
Two of the Tao’s better trans-cultural emissaries are Fritjof Capra and Benjamin Hoff, authors respectively of The Tao of Physics and The Tao of Pooh.
I’m a follower of Pooh from way back, he was Older Daughter’s favorite bear. (There have been a few, eh Boo-Boo?)
Capra, though, I’m really just finally beginning to explore, through the back door: David Kaiser’s How the Hippies Saved Physics . Maybe it’s a load of quantum flapdoodle, as skeptic Michael Shermer & others say [review of What the #$*! Do We Know?], but it’s challenging (or at least provocative) flapdoodle.
Our tendency to divide the perceived world into individual and separate things  and to experience ourselves as isolated egos in this world,” Capra contended, had long been understood in Eastern traditions as a mere illusion which comes from our measuring and categorizing mentality. Western observers’ impressions of the physical world as pointillist and fundamentally cleaved off from human consciousness arose not from the nature of reality per se, but from the mental filters and habits we happened to have imposed…  three centuries after Newton and Descartes, quantum physicists had only just learned that “we can never speak about nature without, at the same time, speaking about ourselves”—a deep insight that Capra considered comparable to age-old Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist teachings.
JMH as usual has helpful things to say about all our topics today.  Consider her remarks on the Buddha’s conception of karma, for instance, and how questions like whether there’s a God or an afterlife or an immortal immaterial soul are unhelpful.
He said worrying about these things would be like a man pierced by an arrow asking questions about the family origins of the man that made the weapon… He said that to ask where the soul goes after death is like extinguishing a campfire and then asking whether the fire went east or west when it left. “The question is not put rightly.” Was there a God? Were there gods? The Buddha said these are questions “which do not edify.”
And here we can note an east-west meeting of the minds. Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates in particular were always more interested in the practical business of how to live well, than in speculative and metaphysical  questions about ultimate truth.
And this brings us to Socrates and Plato. The former “taught” the latter, who in turn taught Aristotle.  Each student disagreed with his mentor in big ways, without abandoning attention or respect. (Good role models for us all, we co-philosophers and listeners.)  But there’s a real question about whether Plato the metaphysician didn’t exaggerate Socrates’ interest in the hypothetical world of essences, Ideas, and Forms and understate his preoccupation with ethics. It’s the primarily-ethical bearing of Socrates’ inquiries, after all, that gets Solomon to label him a Sophist (and to intend by that a compliment).
Socrates was not opposed to the Sophists; he was the best of them…
Socrates believed that virtue is the most valuable of possessions, that the truth lies beyond the “shadows” of our everyday experience, and that it is the proper business of the philosopher to show us how little we really know. PW
Socrates “knew nothing and yet was wiser than most, since at least he knew that he knew nothing.” JMH continues:
Socrates counts among those great minds who actually cultivated doubt in the name of truth. The Socratic method is an eternal questioning. This is not relativism; there is truth to be found, but human beings may best approach it through doubt than conviction.
Plato’s allegory of the Cave, in Republic  Book VII, is a thinly-veiled homage to his teacher Socrates (whose “last days” he witnessed and was deeply affected by), though his own philosophy went considerably further than Socrates’ in asserting metaphysical knowledge of another world.

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