Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Happiness of Fish and Butterfly Dreams

Great Chinese philosopher and mystic Zhuangzi was walking along river Hao with his friend Huizi when he said, "See how the fish come out and jump around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!"
Huizi too was a logician philosopher so he replied, "You're not a fish - how do you know what fish enjoy?"
Zhuangzi said, "You're not me, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"
Huizi said, "I'm not you, so I certainly don't know what you know. On the other hand, you're certainly not a fish - so that still proves you don't know what fish enjoy!"
Zhuangzi said, "Let's go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy - so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here on the bridge of Hao river."

It may seem that the master Zhuangzi was playing with the words but apparently Huizi decided to keep quiet. After all, it was Zhuangzi, who once dreamt of being a butterfly. In his book, he wrote:

"Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering here and there, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awaked, and there I was, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man." 

This fourth century B.C.E. philosopher believed in the Daoist practice of observing the natural world and learning from it. He was also a lifelong skeptic, so his observations make sense in that context. At another place he wrote:

"During our dreams we do not know we are dreaming. We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream. Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream. And yet fools think they are awake, presuming to know that they are rulers or herdsmen. How dense! You and Confucius are both dreaming, and I who say you are a dream am also a dream. Such is my tale. It will probably be called absurd, but after ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night."
The butterfly dream by Lu Chih (1496-1576) 

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