I hated the fact that I had to give up tai chi, I found it very relaxing. One thing that I never really understood and have been struggling with is the idea of chi energy. Strangely I found a helpful pointer to aid my understanding from listening to the philosopher’s zone podcast, from Australia’s ABC national radio. The mention of it in an episode about translation almost passed me by and I was going to try and re-listen to it. I couldn’t because of the auto delete settings I have on my podcast program. However I did manage to look at the transcript. I’m glad I didn’t listen to it again as the pertinent fact was glossed over in a single paragraph that I’ll quote:
Alan Saunders: There is a show on Pay-TV at the moment called The Bullshit Detector, and this week they were looking at Feng Shui. They were analysing the works of three Feng Shui practitioners, all of them Caucasian and presumably not Chinese speakers. And I was thinking, Well look, the Chinese grid, the way in which classical Chinese thought divides the world up, is not the way in which Western thought divides the world up. So it’s going to be different, and you cannot translate concepts one for one. So if you talk about ‘chi’ and you’re an English speaker and you translate ‘chi’ as ‘energy’, well that is bullshit, because it doesn’t behave in the way that energy behaves in western science. The world is simply divided up very differently.
Karyn Lai: That’s right. And so given what you say, and I agree with that, that you can’t define, properly define, or hope to catch the universal meaning of a concept purely by definition, you have to look at it’s instantiations as well, so Chinese language is very anti-essentialist in terms of the meaning that’s embodied in particular characters. It’s non-absolutist, and I believe that’s very much correlated with the way the Chinese might see the world. For instance, I think there are very close correlations between the way the symbols represent meanings and how the meanings are articulated differently in different contexts, and the way they understand the self. So there is a self, but they refuse to talk about the self in abstraction, it’s always the self in that context, or in another context, or as a relational self and so on and so forth.
Of course this doesn’t give any answers at all, but it does give me some better questions to ask.