Metaphorical | humanism Various notes tagged with Humanism Copyright %2018 I-Ching the Book of Change I imagine that I lived in the ancient time, and was a hunter of deers and a forager of berries. I saw the direction of streams, the movements of stars, the shapes of clouds in summers and winters, and the colours of trees in springs and autumns. The lawfulness of nature was apparent to me, although I could not decipher the details of its laws.

What language must I create to describe nature? What system must I invent, to organize observations and experiences?

Reading I-Ching, a sweeping vision of nature and humanity spreads before me.

I-Ching, also known as the Book of Change, is a system said to be originated by Fu Hsi (~2800BC). Using a binary notation to represent a set of 64 symbols, it is an elaborate system that interprets the processes of nature, and thereby the affairs of man.

The name "I Ching" implies three ideas: Simplicity, Change, and Invariability. Each entry in the book starts with a hexagram,

which is a stack of six lines either solid (yang, masculine, creative) or broken (yin, feminine, receptive).

Each 3-lines forms a trigram, which represents an element of nature (heaven, earth, water, thunder, etc).

Each hexagram is a combination of 2 trigrams, representing a humanistic concept (family, youth, progress, conflict, revolution, perseverance, completion, etc).

The hexagram is then explained, its metaphor discussed, and the meanings on each of the six lines defined.

A delight it is to read and ponder these poetic metaphors, these mystic wisdoms! For example, water under mountain represents an image of youth:

It is not I who seek the young fool; The young fool seeks me.

Or, water above wood, mage of the well:

The town may be changed, but the well cannot be changed. It neither decreases nor increases. They come and go and draw from the well.

Or, mountain and thunder (hexagram shaped like a mouth), image of nourishment:

Pay heed to the providing of nourishment and to what a man seeks to fill his own mouth with.

Evidently, I-Ching was a system of divination in ancient China. Feng-Shiu, among many other superstitious practices, are its degenerated forms. As we manipulate atoms, unravel the genetic code, and know the specifics of nature’s laws, these hexagrams are now but intellectual relics to many of us. On the other hand, many of us who live in mega cities hardly have time to appreciate nature as our ancestors did, let alone contemplate upon its lawfulness and its relationships to humanity.

2009-05-18 00:19:15
People Behind the Artifacts Penicillin, transistor, assembly line: things that changed the course of human history. I remember their discoverers and inventors.

Toothpaste, chopstick, bikini: stuff that grease modern life, making it bearable or even enjoyable. I have taken for granted a multitude of things around me, without ever wondering about their creators.

Every man-made system, space, object, and idea must once be thought, tested, and produced; and so weaved into it are insights, frustrations, ambitions, triumphs. Who are the people behind the artifacts?

2007-03-07 22:44:43
Fancy Dinners BBC reporters recall their strange dinners:

  • symbolic pies of mourning
  • sausage tree alcohol
  • rainforest monkeys
  • ...and cherry coke

Fascinating! Food not only fills our belly but also leaves us with an aftertaste of humanity.

2007-01-02 19:25:46
Till Retirement Do Us Part BBC reports a disorder called Retired Husband Syndrome in Japan.

For decades in their marriages, the husbands devoted their lives to work and the wives tended the household.

Then, one day, the men retired, house-bound, bored, and quite naturally started to implement all sorts of passionless tyranny upon the household. Oi!

The wives could not stand their husbands. They cope in torturous ways: fetish over teddy bears, obsession with young cute pop-idol, rashes, asthma. The lucky ones simply flock to Hawaii.

Sufferings are often both petty and intense in the affluent society. In the days of war and famine, or in the time of Ulysses and Penelope, things were different.

I shall look forward to my retirement. My wife shall not.

2006-11-15 19:18:15
Tampopo Juzo Itami makes fantastic comedies. Tampopo, his second film, is an obsessive story about ramen, and a tribute to food in human life.

It has a simple frame story: Goro, a truck driver, helps Tampopo, a single mother in distress. Together they search for the perfect recipe to revive Tampopo's desolate noodle cafe.

Interweaved into their adventure are short stories, which give the film a rich flavour. The camera pans and transits into these scenes: A sick wife cooking her last dinner for her poor family, a beggar giving a lecture about Burgundy wine, a group of elegant ladies slurping spaghetti in an etiquette class, a gangster dreaming of boar hunting before death…

It has such a delicate recipe of wit, and such intensity in slurping, that make me feel hungry and hedonistic afterwards.

2005-11-17 01:19:15
The Tearless Century The Onion Cellar, as imagined by Günter Grass, is a private club which has neither alcohol nor music.

Each guest is served with a chopping board, a paring knife, and an onion. At Mr Schmuh’s signal, the guests would start chopping the onion to pieces, so that the juice, the sulphenic acids, would induce tears.

So that they weep and mourn for all that had been forever lost.

Some believe that the magnitude of upheavals in our era has overwhelmed us, that we become numb to deaths and destructions, that we live in a tearless century.

Perhaps metaphors are always more convincing than grim reality to us. We understand the world through eels inside a horse’s head, grandma’s layers of skirt, and the fervent drumming of a midget.

2005-11-12 19:05:16
The Decalogue My favourite film is The Decalogue, a series of ten 1-hour films by Kieslowski. A grey apartment complex in Poland encapsulates so many extraordinary happenstances of ordinary lives.

A child dies because his father has miscalculated the thickness of ice.

A young girl plans to seduce a man who may or may not be her real father.

A man sells his kidney for stamps.

A woman turns a teenger stalker into a hapless victim.

An executioner murders a murderer.

Scriptures leave no room for moral dilemmas. Laws do not account for the close-up faces of desire, or torment, or despair. Commandments of "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" are so absurd here, because human lives are always human-like: intertwined, ambivalent, circumstantial.

2005-11-03 20:18:28
The sweet life La Dolce Vita, like life, has a petty pace, a strange web of causes and effects, and important details that pass too quickly.

See: a helicopter carrying Jesus, a young woman's bosom, a sea monster, a familiar girl waving to him, a pale and placid dawn.

By keenly observing the richness of its details, an ordinary life becomes sweet. It is a truth that self-help books won't teach, and money can't buy.

2005-11-01 00:27:35