Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Rise of Relative Opposites

I write this post while being in mathematics class. Class lasts seven and a half hours – beginning at 8:30 in the morning and going on until about 4 in the afternoon – you can’t blame me for being bored.

Mathematical concepts have never been easy for me to understand. I do grasp a vague truth every now and then, but somehow the big picture manages to elude me all the time. The “lesson” deals with statistical calculation. Republic Polytechnic doesn’t believe in teaching, but rather on self-directed learning. I was bad enough at mathematics in secondary school even with all the additional classes and tutorials. Try and imagine me now having to figure this all up by myself.

In a nutshell, today’s problem goes something like this -
“What could she do to determine approximately how well she has done in this test, compared to all the other students who have taken the test?”

That made me realise that everything we know is based upon comparison. This is similar to the Taoist concept of relative opposites. Allow me to elaborate:

When the world has the concept of what good is; the concept of evil arises.

When the word has the concept of what beauty is; the concept of ugliness arises.

The concepts of have and have not appear upon comparison.

The concepts of difficult and easy are there only upon comparison.

The difference between long and short is noticed only when comparison is made.

High and low exist only when they are compared.

Two sounds become harmonised only when they are put together.

The order of front and back comes about when they are compared.

So the virtuous and saintly manage worldly affairs without motive and self-interest and teache without using words.

Because the saint abides by selflessness, his good work endures.

All values and concepts are conceived by people, and all value judgements arise upon comparison. The relationship between the opposite objects is always changing whereas the definition of value judgement is ever static.

Who is like a wise man? And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
Ecclesiastes 8:1

Therefore, be calm about the difference beauty and ugliness, have and have not, difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, front and back. It is foolish to think that all these values will last forever.

“See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after.
Ecclesiastes 1:10-11


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