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C O U R S E 
Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science
Edward Slingerland, University of British Columbia
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Concept of Reversion
Notes taken on November 25, 2016 by Edward Tanguay
the concept of reversion, or turning back
from the Daodejing
4th century BC
chapter 9
"To hold the vessel upright in order to fill it is not as good as to stop in time."
"If you make your blade too keen, it will not hold its edge."
"When gold and jade fill the hall, none hold on to them."
"To be haughty when wealth and honor come your way is to bring disaster upon yourself."
"To withdraw when the work is done is the Way of Heaven."
tilting vessel
the vessel was for wine in the Zhou dynasty
had a round base
self-emptying: if you poured water in it to the top, it would tip over and empty itself out
being used as a metaphor
anything taken too far is going to lead to the oppose
don't follow something too far
reversion, or turning back
anything taken too far turns into its opposite
presented in the Daodejing as a metaphysical principle of the universe
chapter 40
"Turning back is how the Way moves. Weakness is how the Way operates. The world and all its creatures arise from what is there. What is there arises from what is not there."
concept of something comes out of nothing and then turns back to nothing again
a metaphysical cycle of the universe
the prototypical opposites
dark/light, male/female
when the colors reach their ultimate level, they have their opposite in them
the seed of the other is in the original
high turns into low, low turns into high
the pictorial representation of the principle of reversion
anything that reaches its extreme, turns into its opposite
it's odd that this symbol is viewed today as a positive symbol of spirituality
it's painted on surfboards and people get it tattooed to their butt
it's not a positive concept for the authors of the Daodejing
this cycle of reversion is bad
it's something we want to get out of
similar to Buddhist concept
trapped in a cycle of craving and we don't get what we want
therefore we experience dukkha
suffering and impermanence
nothing lasts
strength does not remain strength, it always turns into weakness
symbolizes human being chasing supposedly positive values but never getting them because as soon as they get them they turn into the opposite
it's a very negative, pessimistic view of life
if you pursue happiness, you will become sad
if you pursue strength, you will become weak
what we need to do is stop pursuing
the ironic effects of effort
pursuing something is something the worst strategy
actively pursuing some goal can often lead to the opposite effect
the effects of where conscious effect causes you to get the opposite of what you want
e.g. if someone tells you to not think of a white bear, you immediately think of a white bear
trying to be happy can make you depressed
trying to be relaxed can make you tense
trying to suppress a thought usually makes the thought more prominent
in studies, telling people when they put that, no matter what they do, don't overshoot the hole, will overshoot the hole more often
hold a pendulum but don't move it along a certain axis, this is often what they ended up doing
Viktor Frankl
paradoxical intention therapy
for patients who can't fall asleep, an effective therapy is to try to stay awake
the Daodejing has this insight
the conscious pursuit of a particular goal is the worse way to reach that goal
especially things that you have to experience spontaneously
consciously trying to pursue them can actually prevent you from attaining them
if you are pursuing some moral virtue as a conscious goal, you are often going to end up with the vice
escaping this cycle
aim for the thing we don't want
people tend to want strength instead of weakness
Laozi: The Way goals are the lower part of these dichotomies, e.g. weakness
if you observe the Dao, it's dark, you can't seem to see it
it's weak, it doesn't see to have any power
the Dao takes no credit
you don't see the Dao
and yet everything follows the Dao
it's a ruler that runs the universe but can't be observed
the upper part of the dyads is what people want, these are what humans value: male, light, strong, hard
the Dao is dark, weak, invisible, but it's how you get things done
everything follows the Dao
a principle that runs the universe but can't be observed
we should value weakness, darkness, the lower part of the dyads
the paradoxical aspect is that if you embrace the lower part of the dyad, you end up getting both
embrace weakness means embrace the thing that society views as weakness