Friday, October 1, 2021

 523. Taoist spontaneity, children and rational reflection

Taoism strives for relase from etablished ideas and customs, to keep open to a spontaneous following of a path of going along with the universe as an ongoing process of transformation.Tao holds up infants as a paradigm of spontaneity, opennessto chage, surprise and immersion in the here and now.

(Cline 2015: 182) narrated the experiment with a famous violinist busking at a sidewalk in New York who was ignored except by children who stopped and listened, and were dragged along by their parents. Children are compared to a block of unhewn wood, prior tot he destructive interference of socialisation, and we need to find our way back home to what we knew originally. In their innocence they are safe to wild animals. The outcast, marginalised in society, most escape the harm of socialisation. Children are harmed by the ambition, anxiety, overprotectiveness and competition of their parents, losing their playfullness and ingenuity. Chinese cultural meaning is dominated by Confuciuanism, the dream if aid, propsperous and powerful China, to which children must contribute.

Taoism aims to ‘sit in oblivion’, in a loss of self and consciuos mentation, remaining empty, letting thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky, flowing through life in free and easy wandering, fluid and clear like water.

However, as an adult, can one go back to that stage of innocence and openness of an infant? Kohn (2015) asked: how can we forget? In short term memory we forget, but in long term memory, ideas, emotions, habits, reflexes and feelings get etched into neural pathways, in different levels of the brain. We have autonomous systems regulating organs. In the mid-brain, in thalamus, hippocampus and amygdala we have unconscious behavioural responses to threat, impacting on bloodpressue, blood flow and hormones. We have emotions by which we are triggered. On the highest level of the brain we have the cerebral cortex, guiding our movements and the locus of rational evaluation. Such unconscious routines are a blessing, in freeing our conscious thought. We cannot consciously undo those routines. Kohn (2015) proposes that what we can do is to inhibit their operation, to some extent, by diverting attention from the stress and obsessions that emotions may cause.In psychotherapy this is known as ‘mindfulness’.

Old people who suffer from dementia do fall into forgetfullness, with neural pathways becoming undone or clogged. They do acquire features of infantility. They enjoy hearing tunes from their youth. Could that be achieved by some pharmacology? Would that be enjoyable or only disconcerting?. Or is it the rational inhibition of stress that we should exercise?

The overruling of child-like spontaneity and ease was needed to survive in evolution. But in education one can try to preserve some of it.

Kohn, L. 2015, ‘Forget or not forget? The neurophysiology of Zuowang’, in: New visions of the Zhuangzi, (L Kohn, ed.), Three Pines Press.

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