Chuang Tses Fish

Lifted from the infamous GreenCheese PageOfFish?:

ChuangTse said, "See how the small fish dart about! How happy they are!"
"You're no fish," said Hueitse, "so how do you know they're happy?"
"You're not me," replied ChuangTse, "so how do you know I don't know?"
"If I, not being you, cannot know what you know," urged Hueitse, "it follows that you, not being a fish, cannot know they're happy."
ChuangTse smiled. "You asked me how I knew the fish were happy. So you knew that I knew."


So Hueitse should have asked "What makes you think you know they're happy?"

ChuangTse might have answered, "You think I know they're happy? I think so too." To put a Western point on this, Hueitse knows ChuangTse as ChuangTse knows the fish. Waves of reflection within which, happily, we swim.

... Hueitse knows ChuangTse as ChuangTse knows the fish ... Exactly Hueitse's point. Who are you rooting for anyway? Besides, Hueitse would no doubt reply to your ChuangTse's revised response, "I didn't say "I think you know they're happy", I asked "What makes YOU think you know they're happy?" And if you don't like the emphasis on "you" then emphasize "think". There's still no way you can twist admission of preconception out of the question.

That would be telling. But Hueitse's argument is in "I, not being you, cannot know what you know". The essence of ChuangTse's counter is that, by distinguishing ChuangTse, Hueitse knows what he knows. After all, apart from the thoughts occurring to Hueitse, there is only the tao; ChuangTse is merely a part of Hueitse's anticipation of the behaviour of same.

Even in the original, Hueitse's response shouldn't have been "If I, not being you, cannot know ...", it should have been, "I didn't say you didn't know, I merely asked how you knew." I guess that's why he was just the sidekick?

In the original he just said "old fool!" and stalked off. ChuangTse altered it for the purpose of education.

How do you know he altered it?

You asked how I knew he altered it ...


But Hueitse's argument is in ...

Exactly. ChuangTse is directing the conversation into an argument hinging on "how" meaning "what is the mechanism by which you know (presupposing that the mechanism exists)". Hueitse should have made the distinction that he was asking "what makes you think you have a mechanism at all" without any presuppostion about its existence. It's kind of funny that this semantic game playing translates this well.

Getting back to the original

"You're not me," replied ChuangTse, "so how do you know I don't know?"
"But I don't know, that's why I asked the question" said Hueitse.
Sighing, ChuangTse shoved Huitse into the water, and observed how happy he was.

In other words ChuangTse is not playing with some kind of mechanism. He is teaching that the fish, Huitse, and he himself are artifacts of his knowledge. And that his knowledge is a wave on the surface of UniversalMind. Your Huitse, as opposed to the Huitse of the story, seems double beknighted; he thinks the fish exist external to his knowledge, so that he can be ignorant of their happiness, and that his knowledge is distinct from UniversalMind, so that ChuangTse can be separate from it. Hence he starts playing word games and my ChuangTse shoves him into the water. --Pete

He is teaching that the fish, Huitse, and he himself are artifacts of his knowledge. That lesson is certainly not inconsistent with what ChuangTse is saying, but it seems a bit of a stretch to me to say that that is what he is teaching. But what do I know?

You're right, that qualifies for one great big giant sized IMHO --Pete.


It's kind of funny that this semantic game playing translates this well.

How do you know it translates well?

That possibility occurred to me (that the translation was contrived to make it more interesting than it was in the original), but I figured that if the original wasn't interesting, then it wouldn't have been passed down through time (assuming it was of course, but I think there's enough evidence to discount that possibility too).

Actually, the question was just a smart-ass play on the story. But it turns out to be quite interesting. See it this way: The original may have been interesting enough to try to translate it. The translation may have destroyed the original message and created a new one. Does it make a difference to the story itself? I think it doesn't, the story is what it is. But it may make the story less useful in trying to understand the background from which it came. When reading Susan Montag's Finding the Way -- a Tao for Down-to-Earth People one cannot help to wonder if LaoTse thought as much in modern western ideals as he seems to or if this feeling lies in the interpretation. Almost makes me want to move to China and get to know some people just to find out. Great book, btw. Gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside, which makes it a great reading on days when the world is just wrong.

LaoTse didn't start in China, but in India - VictorMair was able to show that the work is heavily influenced by the much earlier Sanscrit BhagavadGita. Or that the two both derive from still earlier work. Visiting China may help you to understand TaoChiao the religious version of taoism in which Lao and Chuang are just a small part of the great pantheon of Chinese gods and saints. It's unlikely to shed any light on TaoChia, which is more likely to be your interest. Speaking from 20 years experience with LaoTse, I can say that the underlying meaning is so far from western ideals that they're almost impossible to frame in English. It always possible to gloss - but anything that makes Lao seem Western is ExtraLegsOntoaDog. I have not read Montag, but on WardsWiki you might check out the discussion of UniversalMind as a step in what seems to me a reasonable, but very non-Chinese interpretation. --PeterMerel

Thanks for the pointers. Will probably follow them after this exam period. =) --ClaesWallin


ItDepends of course on what happy is. ForestGump? might say "happy is as happy does", or happiness is "getting the right piece of chocolate". If this works as a definition for people, it might not work as a definition for fish. When you're happy, what does a fish see you do?

Dart about?
See also: ChuangTsesHorse, CookDing

CategoryEasternThought

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