The Happy Fish


How do you really know what you think you know?

莊子與惠子遊於濠梁之上。Zhuāngzǐ yǔ Huìzi yóu wū Háo liáng zhī-shàng
莊子曰:儵魚出遊從容,是魚樂也。Zhuangzǐ yuē: shū yú chū yóu cóng róng, shì yú lè yě
惠子曰:子非魚,安知魚之樂?Huìzi yuē: zǐ fēi yú, ān zhī yú zhī-lè
莊子曰:子非我,安知我不知魚之樂?Zhuangzǐ yuē: zǐ fēi wŏ, ān zhī wŏ bù zhī yú zhī-lè
惠子曰:我非子,固不知子矣;Huìzi yuē: wŏ fēi zǐ, gù bù zhī zǐ yǐ;
子固非魚也,子之不知魚之樂全矣。 zǐ bù fēi yú yě, zǐ zhī bù zhī yú zhī lè quán yǐ.
莊子曰:請循其本。子曰 «汝安知魚樂»。Zhuangzǐ yuē: qǐng xún qí běn. Zǐ yuē, “rǔ ān zhī yú lè”.
云者 既已知吾知之而問我; 我知之濠上也。Yún zhě jì yǐ zhī wú zhī zhī ér wèn wŏ; wŏ zhī zhī Háo shàng yě.

Zhuang Zi and Hui Zi were rambling by the [the river] Hao over the bridge
Zhuang Zi said: “[These] minnow-fish swimming around unhurriedly, those fish are happy!”
Hui Zi said: “You are not a fish. How do you know of a fish’s happiness?”
Zhuang Zi said: “You are not me. How do you know I don’t know the fish’s happiness?”
Hui Zi said: “I’m not you, [and] of course don’t know you; I know that you’re not a fish, [and so] you don’t know the fish’s happiness entirely.”
Zhuang Zi said: “Please adhere to the original [statement]. You said ‘How do you know of a fish’s happiness’. In asking this, you already knew that I know how I know. I know it [from being] atop of [the river] Hao.”

— Zhuang Zi, chapter 17 ‘The Floods of Autumn’, verse 13 (my translation)

This classic anecdote from the ancient Toaist text The Book of Zhuang Zi illustrates the inherent challenges of ‘knowing’ and ‘communicating knowing’.

This ancient Chinese philosopher from the 4th Century BCE is renowned for his witty and often paradoxical linguistic taunts, challenging our presuppositions on topics as varied as the nature of reality, life, death, and the Tao.

If I am going to make a judgement about how another feels or thinks, how do I know that, what evidence do I have to justify this judgement? After all, feeling and thinking are both internal, subjective phenomena.

Whilst I cannot be completely certain about how others are thinking/feeling, I can on the other hand be certain about what I am thinking/feeling. My perceptions and experiences of life are mine to know. And whilst anyone else can question them and seek to understand them as much as possible, ultimately they cannot.

This can create tension in many contexts; and I’ve seen it — maybe you have too: you feel miserable, suffering with some sort of pain, you feel not quite right. Yet you have a medical professional in front of you having run a gamut of tests which suggest there is nothing wrong.

It’s fine when they say “I don’t know, I have no explanation”; its another thing altogether when they say something condescending, such as “There is nothing wrong with you” or “It’s all in your head”.

Your experience of what is happening within yourself should take primary role here, not the objective tests which suggest otherwise. That’s not to suggest the tests are wrong; merely that they are not able to measure what the problem is.

Part of the problem of such thinking — the separation of physiology and consciousness — is the refusal to see humans as a whole system.

I’ve spent many years listening to patients and accepting what they are communicating to me about how they feel as truth. I would place more emphasis on hearing their perspectives on their experience of their pain, discomfort, or un-ease, than on any tests or diagnosis I would conduct.

I believe that the human body has an inherent wisdom, and that it has the capacity to send signals to communicate an imbalance or a disorder.

I guess the question remains, “how do I know this?”

Take care, y’all 😊🙏🏽☯️


By Petah Raven on .
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Exported from Medium on August 1, 2018.

 

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