Category Archives: East West

Julian Baggini

As language became more complex, we gained the capacity to mean things by what we said and to understand what others meant. Dennett’s most striking thesis is that it is precisely this ability to track other people’s “states of mind” through language that allowed us to track our own—and hence for our highly developed sense of self to emerge. He claims that every organism, even a single cell, has rudimentary selfhood. But when we start communicating richly, we need to be aware of the boundaries of our bodies and the boundaries of our minds—which thoughts are ours and which are other people’s. Words, he argues, “turned our brains into minds—our minds—capable of accepting and rejecting the ideas we encounter, discarding or developing them for reasons we can usually express.”

These minds, however, are not quite what we generally assume them to be. The unified, central-controller self is a “user-illusion.” We tend to think, as Descartes did, that we have privileged access to our own consciousness—“I think, therefore I am”—but in fact our self-awareness is limited, biased and partial. The self is not so much a thing as a “centre of narrative gravity,” a story we tell ourselves to make more coherent the jumbled reality of our minds. Asked why we do what we do, we are quick to find reasons, when “the most honest thing to say is often ‘I don’t know; it just came to me.’”

Leonard Koren

Things are either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness. As dusk approaches in the hinterlands, a traveler ponders shelter for the night. He notices tall rushes growing everywhere, so he bundles an armful together as they stand in the field, and knots them at the top. Presto, a living grass hut. The next morning, before embarking on another day’s journey, he unknots the rushes and presto, the hut de-constructs, disappears, and becomes a virtually indistinguishable part of the larger field of rushes once again. The original wilderness seems to be restored, but minute traces of the shelter remain. A slight twist or bend in a reed here and there. There is also the memory of the hut in the mind of the traveler — and in the mind of the reader reading this description. Wabi-sabi, in its purest, most idealized form, is precisely about these delicate traces, this faint evidence, at the borders of nothingness.



Michael Puett, Christine Gross-Loh

Most of us think we’re doing the right thing when we look within, find ourselves, and determine what our lives should become. We figure out what kind of career would fit best with our personality and proclivities. We think about what sort of person would make a good match for us. And we think that if we find these things—our true self, the career we were meant to have, and our soul mate—life will be fulfilling. We will be nurturing our true self and living out a plan for happiness, prosperity, and personal satisfaction.

… But the very encounter with ideas so different from our own allows us to recognize that our assumptions about a good way to live are just one set among many. And once you recognize that, you can’t return to your old life unchanged.

John Van Sant, Peter Mauch, Yoneyuki Sugita

Certainly the most important bilateral relationship of the latter half of the 20th century into the early 21st is one of the most peculiar. Despite the disparity in size and population, the United States and Japan have been the anchor of relations in East Asia, and Asia more broadly, sometimes having a worldwide impact. It is odd, first of all, because of the huge disproportion in size and population between the two, to say nothing of social and cultural differences. It is also odd in that the United States was initially also much more dynamic economically and was actually willing to tolerate Japan’s rise to economic prominence through trade. But it is particularly unusual in that, just prior to its establishment, the two countries were at war and the former occupied the latter, and presently guarantees its defense. Yet, over the decades the ties have only grown stronger, and along with political, economic, and military links, there are increasingly close and amicable relations between the peoples, due to travel and cultural exchange, as well more recently as inter-marriage and immigration.




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