The cognitivism and physicalism in Daoism and Buddhism

My research interest can be divided into two categories, and will be explained further below:

  • The cognitivism in Daoism and Buddhism’s epistemology
  • The physicalism in Daoism and Buddhism’s metaphysics/cosmology

Please note that my understanding on philosophy is weak, and I may use the terms incorrectly. I’m more confident when talking about physics and cognitive psychology.

The cognitivism in Daoism and Buddhism’s epistemology

Here are some phenomena I have observed, based on my understanding on cognitive psychology and a little bit linguistics (semantics, syntax, pragmatics and cognitive linguistics):

  • The parable The blind men and the elephant, which is a Buddhist story, illustrates how people in a conversation are unable to listen to each other, and consequently get stuck in conceptual proliferation. The reason to this, I think, relates to two phenomena that I’ll call “generalized synonym” and “generalized polysemy”.
  • The cackling of Zhuangzi towards intellectual effort is a misinformed understanding on attention. See Zhuang Zi: A funhouse mirror for the soul and What is the self if not that which pays attention?
  • Unfortunately, rationality is crucial to eliminate fears. The many lifestyles that Daoism advocates, unfortunately, are highly similar with psychological disorders symptoms. If a person suffering from it also practices Daoism, they may use it as an excuse for their toxic behaviour, and still genuinely believe that it is the best course of action
  • While we can say “cold and hot is the same”, “man and woman is the same”, it would be a mistake to say “(logical) right and (logical) wrong is the same”. The full reason why it’s incorrect is long, but it involves the limitation of working memory and attention, which makes the intended meaning of the language subtly change. This change in language is what constitutes the concept of Dao.

For more observations, you can read my article Connections between cognitive linguistics, cognitive psychology, Buddhism and Daoism.

The physicalism in Daoism and Buddhism’s metaphysics/cosmology

Note: I am most confident when discussing physics, since it’s my undergrad specialty.

First, I would like to offer a critique on physics books for popular audiences. They are too focused on subjects like quantum mechanics or relativity theory. As a result, they overlook the fundamental building block of physics: harmonic oscillator. This however, is what I think that Buddha had an intuition of it.

  • The duality/binary in Daoism is commonly illustrated by the pendulum. The extremes of it represent the extremes, and the middle represents the balance point. Now, from a physics point of view, a pendulum is generalized as an oscillator. To quote Coleman, a notorious physicist: “The career of a young theoretical physicist consists of treating the harmonic oscillator in ever-increasing levels of abstraction.”
  • The Buddhist concept about original dependent (the glass is already broken even when you see it’s not) can also be explained with knowledge of oscillators.
  • As stated in your book, wuwei represents a state of “perfect knowledge of the reality of the situation, perfect efficaciousness and the realization of a perfect economy of energy”. In physics, there is one principle called principle of least action. As the name suggests, this principle tells that the tendency of any object will follow the path which has the least action (which is equivalent to your term “perfect efficaciousness”). (“Action”, in physical context, can roughly be understood as the multiplicative product of energy and time. Least action, therefore, means least time and energy.) This principle is the thing that governs the universe.

As both Daoism and Buddhism pack their epistemology and metaphysics/cosmology into one single framework, I also combine the cognitivism and physicalism into one framework called A theory of perspective. It also proposes a visual representation as well. You can read the research proposal here as well.