The Wholeness of Taoism, Physics, and Artistry

(Why Do I Study Physics? | Shixie)

(Why Do I Study Physics? | Shixie)

If a is science, and b is philosophy, then c, to me, is artistry. And through this lens, the world seems beautiful.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Here are three different mediums of work to express my love for knowledge. The first, a passage from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.

A. Taoism

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
Less and less is done
Until non-action is achieved.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.
— Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

As a lover of knowledge, I am an observer. Rather than project my beliefs onto events, I take them for what they are and embrace the uncertainties.

B. Physics

The second is a hand-drawn animation by Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design graduate Xiangjun Shi. In this award-winning short-film, Shi explores her decision to study the science of nature — the imperfect and impermanent architecture of our seemingly perfect and permanent universe.

Since childhood I have been enchanted by the idea of perfection. However, while seeking a rational world, irrationality shadows every step of my journey. Is this a pursuit destined to end in a dilemma?
— Xiangjun Shi

(h/t Shixie)

Whether we exist to observe or not, things will be as they are. Our answers and understandings are only for ourselves. A dilemma exists only if we chase an end result, but within infinity, there is no end. (Just as there is no end to our pursuit until we end our pursuing.)

Irrational or imperfect are subjective projections assigned by adults to events they do not understand.

Physics became a mode of thinking to me. Through its lens, the world seems beautiful.
— Xiangjun Shi

Taoism and physics are both explorations of the cosmos and the rules that govern them. Taoism is a more broad-form framework of thinking and perspective. Physics is a specific understanding, a framework of deduction and mathematical proof. Yet both explore radiating circles, one based on perspective and the other on what is relative. Each coming to the same conclusion: it is both infinitely small and infinitely big.

Almost everything is everything else, except there are these concepts that seem to remain unchanged. Like the circle is a circle, it’s still a circle. And not only that, everybody is a circle — if you think about it, at least in a hypothetical 2-dimensional world. It’s the physicist’s dream to find the circle of our much more complex universe — if it does exist.
— Xiangjun Shi

And what is at the center of this circle? Is there something or is there nothing? Are we something or are we nothing? Perhaps both, at the same time. From the vantage point of physics and Taoism, nothing and something are both equally valuable and necessary — always in constant balance to hold this whole perfect and irrational universe together.

C. Artistry

The third piece is a photo taken from the international space station of Hurricane Isabel. The majesty of a naturally occurring circle from the grand vision of space.

(From his vantage point high above the Earth in the International Space Station, Astronaut Ed Lu captured this broad view of Hurricane Isabel. Image courtesy of Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. September 15, 2003.)

(From his vantage point high above the Earth in the International Space Station, Astronaut Ed Lu captured this broad view of Hurricane Isabel. Image courtesy of Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. September 15, 2003.)

Pythagorean Theorem of Beauty

The ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC) discovered a relationship between right triangles. It would be incorrect for me to say he created it, as this relationship would exist whether he knew of it or not. Math exposes truths that are already there. Pythagoras' theorem is something we may have learned in geometry (or perhaps we discovered it on our own like Pythagoras did). It is the relationship of the three sides of a right triangle: a² + b²= c². C is the variable, the unknown yet to be discovered. Like an argument: there is your perspective, their perspective, and then there is the truth to be discovered.

Knowledge Grows Appreciation

I think many fear to learn things that are not single-narratives, out of fear of cognitive dissonance. (Some fear science because it might contradict something they already believe, and some fear philosophy because it might ask questions they do not have answers for.) But if you are not afraid of ideas, the study of science and philosophy gives us a perspective to own uncertainty. It is only when we do not explore knowledge that we dismiss uncertainty; removing all unknowables produces opposing viewpoints. There is uniformity with knowing and not knowing — they are ends of the same continuum. There is only contradiction when there is knowing one thing and believing something else.

If everything is known, where is spark? Where is wonder? Knowledge is not only growing what we already know but also awareness of what we don't — which is another type of knowledge. For some, the gap between knowing and not knowing is frustration, but for others, this same gap produces appreciation.

When I see Isabel from space, physics and Taoism do not contradict, they enhance my understanding of the beauty in natural occurrences. More than without this knowledge, more than if I had only studied one. Through physics I appreciate the parts. Through Taoism I appreciate the whole. The pairing of ancient wisdom with modern science creates a sacred geometry of appreciation. If a is science, and b is philosophy, then c, to me, is artistry. And through this lens, the world seems beautiful.

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