You are probably wondering what Saito from Inception has to do with an ancient Chinese philosopher; read on it will become clear. For this second episode, we go tophilosopher Zhuangzi, who lived in the 4th century BC.
In his most famous book, simply known as the Zhuangzi, he expresses a skeptical philosophy but most importantly appears as a precursor of relativism in systems of value.
For instance, he claims that there is no universally objective standard for beauty.
Men claim that Mao [Qiang] and Lady Li were beautiful, but if fish saw them they would dive to the bottom of the stream; if birds saw them they would fly away, and if deer saw them they would break into a run. Of these four, who knows how to fix the standard of beauty in the world? In my judgment, the principles of Humaneness and Rightness, the paths of True and False are inextricably confused: how could I know how to discriminate between them?
Chapter 2, Discourse on Seeing all things as Equal
Wonder where Georges Lucas got his inspiration from…
I let organs and members drop away, dismiss hearing and eyesight, part from the body and expel knowledge, and merge with the Way. This is what I mean by ‘just sit and forget’.
Now we all have had the same feeling of reality being unreal after watching The Matrix or Inception. Zhuangzi too had that, and turned it into a thought:
Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)
Monkeys, relativism and the importance of having a flexible mindset.
A monkey keeper handing out nuts said, “Three every morning and four every evening.” The monkeys were all in a rage. “All right,” he said, “four every morning and three every evening.” The monkeys were all delighted. Without anything being missed out either in name or in substance, their pleasure and anger were put to use: his too was a flowing cognition (yin-shi). This is why the sage smoothes things out with his flowing categories and stays at the point of rest on the Potter’s Wheel of Heaven… (Graham, 54 mod.)
Explanation from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/zhuangzi/
The monkeys exemplify the fixed mode of cognition in their rigid attachment to one and only one way of seeing the seven nuts. In this they symbolize all the contemporary intellectual traditions — Confucians, Mohists, Terminologists — that were arguing the truth of their individual positions against all others.
The keeper is able to shift his conceptual categories to harmonize with those of the monkeys because he is free of attachment to any one particular way of seeing the nuts. His is a flowing cognition that adapts spontaneously to the situation, an ‘illumined’(ming) awareness that exhibits an intuitive knowledge of how to act without even knowing that it is acting.
Zhuangzi also calls this ‘illuminating things with the light of heaven.’ For him, ‘heaven’ stands for the spontaneous and intuitive aspect of our being that emerge when someone is grounded in the empty Way.