Some remarks I made in a chat with Joshua Bach, initiated by the following tweet about blockchain. Bit out of context (Joshua's replies missing) but here future self-reference.
Conversation starter tweet:
Philosophically, blockchain is a totalitarian regime which aims to put a label on every atom in the universe. Based on confused views of signifier/signified and map/territory relations - It naively assumes that the quality of experience & truth increases, the deeper the simulacra
My replies to the follow-up conversation:
"The ZEN school (and its westernised formulation through Kyoto school) has much to say about specifically this part of the tweet in question: "It naively assumes that the quality of experience & truth increases, the deeper the simulacra"
Through it’s unequivocal focus on "absolute nothingness" (no action, nothing, nowhere, no reason, no choice, *no time* - yet real) and non-duality as the experiential state of existence - ZEN rejects the notion that ever-increasing labelling regimes (computation, modelling, blockchains & other temporal tricks) will move one closer in any meaningful way towards higher "truth" or "quality" of "Dasein".
Hence, a defining difference between many Asian philosophies and its western counterparts, is that the former is focused on "the way - or path" (process/relations/“now” centric - focused on multimodal/embodied experience of meaning/truth/quality through the act of living) while the latter is focused on preparing for some fictive point in the future (the external Christ, Armageddon, AI singularity etc. - which essentially all are an OCD view that all of reality can be neatly packaged through a process of extreme compression into our brains (the “I”), which is perceived as somehow separate from “it”).
“Existence is larger than any model that is not itself the exact size of existence” ―Robert Anton Wilson.
Part 2, after some back and forth:
I comprehend the concept of “suffering” (a word with different connotations in Japanese etc.) in eastern schools only in the context of the root-cause that its attribute to: Temporality - the illusion of being “stuck” in linear time and having to deal with the effects of causality/entropy.
In contrast to the classical western views of time (one-directional line in a low-dimensional space - which western science is just starting to question now), ZEN/Dao/Shinto etc. developed a more complex view of temporality. The cornerstones are “Absolutely Nothingness” (Infinity: “If there is absolutely everything, there is absolutley nothing” - Chinese call this “Wu-Chi”: “boundless un-manifest”) and “Non-Duality” (a singular integrated eternal processes - no meaningful separation between I, you, it, future, past).
This view of reality is *by definition* highly paradoxical (as Shunryū Suzuki said: "If it's not paradoxical, it's not true”.) and thus beyond the grasp of reasoning (knowledge, physics and other time-bound abstractions) - yet paradoxically, accessible through direct experience & practice of realisation (“know thyself, here & now”). The Japanese call this process “Kata” (Translates as “Form of a Form”: Forms which are perfected by possessing a perceptible shape and at the same time transcending it. Similar to greek Eidos (essence) - but while an Eidos is something purely transcended, which simply surpasses perspective shapes, a kata cannot realise itself except in perceptible forms). Such non-temporal dynamics are the topic of many ZEN/Kyoto school texts (Soku-hi Logic, Karma etc) - with some masters saying “epistemic status: This is a joke, mostly..” ;-)
The resulting practical (cultural/societal/political/historical) impulses are far richer than just “oh its all immutable anyhow, I give up and only meditate till I dissolve”. Toshihiko Izutsu mentions in his description of the Zen-Buddhist practice that after you de-subjectify the subject and de-objectify the object, you return to re-objectifying the object and re-subjectifying the subject. If you don't do this returning movement, you stay in one-sided mysticism and you won't have any social or intersubjective connection. It is precisely this “paradoxical inter-penetration of unity and opposition” (Ying Yang) - which forms the basis of the Ethics & Politics of Dao/ZEN etc.
You say “Proper abstraction requires correct foundations”. I agree! Yet what are those foundations? At the core of traditions like Zen & Daoism lies the appreciation of the deeply paradoxical nature of reality. In the west, paradoxes are still seen as side-effects or bugs, in an otherwise perfectly computable universe. Yet the list of paradoxes keeps growing in an ever-accelerating fractal explosion.
You say "I don't care about the quality of Dasein. I care about truth”. But what is the nature of “truth” when you remove time? I would argue “truth” can only be gained through the “the quality of Dasein” (Americans call it “having a good life”).
I truly appreciate that you will “point out when I’m just tripping” and find your “surfer analogy” fruitful: Surfing is ultimately about balance, which has been the central focus of my Qi-Gong practice: It teaches that power (“truth” etc.) comes from flow, and flow comes from relaxation, and relaxation comes from balance/harmony. It is a very demanding discipline, but not in terms of complexity of moves (its very easy), but possible depth of practice throughout a lifetime.
And so when you say “The purpose of abstraction is not to simplify things, but to make them more precise” - I would reply with “The purpose of practice is not to achieve or know things in some distant future, but to find more balance & enjoy the present moment”.