2019/04/24 19:00 Lisa Taylor + Fern Lebo, “The Talent Revolution”, Toronto Reference Library

Presentation by Lisa Taylor@changepaths @Challengfactory and @fernlebo with new  @utpress book The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work, in the Hinton Learning Theatre @torontolibrary.


Lisa Taylor, president of The Challenge Factory

  • Urban Land Institute names as one of Canadian’s top 100 women
  • Military transition back to civilian life
  • 2019 Norway symposium, International Symposium on Career Development and Public Policy
  • First career in psycho-geriatrics
  • Second career, corporate communications
  • Adjunct professor at Auburn U.
  • Third career, on Talent Revolution

Fern Lebo, President of FrontRunner Communications

  • Author, speaker, trainer, and coach

Lisa will speak first.

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting,based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

Lisa Taylor, Fern Lebo, The Talent Revolution
Lisa Taylor, Fern Lebo, The Talent Revolution


Day after the book launched, in the library where much of this was written

Why the book?

  • Because of demographics, people hitting an age when they would exit the organization, but don’t feel like they want to stop working
  • Resources for people to reinvent themselves at age 50s and 60s
  • No resource for companies, employers, who would hire late 40s, 50s, 60-years olds, in the way they think about talent
  • People dressed up, with nowhere to go
  • Time for employers to wake up on how the world of work is changing
  • How do demographics and longevity fit in, as well as technology?

5 drivers shaping the world of work

  • World of work often discusses technology
  • Had a 12-year technology career, but when in the world of work, it isn’t the only story
  • The future of work is human contribution potential

1. Demographics of longevity:  Baby boomers are the revolutionaries driving change

2. Career ownership:  shift in power between employees and employers

3. Freelance economy:  gig economy

4. Platform environment:  B2B, B2C

5. AI and robotics:  What’s the human impact, what potential does it free up?

We’ve been through revolutions before

  • Horse and buggy:  focus on making more comfortable, but it wasn’t about the horse
  • Buggies evolved
  • Go back to first principles, Aristotle said simplest form
  • Transportation in the simplest way, let’s invent something new, rather than evolving
  • Today, we hear a lot of tweaking around the edges
  • What do we want?  Not building fancier carriages

How would we design the world of work, if we went back to first principles?

  • A dialogue, without being out of reach

Demographics:  the biggest driver

  • Workforces being changed more by demographic change, than technological change
  • This doesn’t show up in the media
  • Aging is not a problem, the alternative is a problem
  • It used to be start career, get promoted, prepare for retirement
  • The retirement age was set in U.S. and in Canada in 1935 at 65, with the life expectancy of 62
  • Retirement was brought in as a workplace palliative program for the aged
  • Now, life expectancy is 82 years
  • Yet all of talent structures, career plans, statistics Canada has 65 as the finish line
  • At 65, nowhere near aged
  • So, is 60 the new 40?  No one wants to go back
  • 60 is a new 60, need a new mental model
  • Start with a foundational career
  • Take ownership of mid-career, not preparing for promotion — transition with purpose
  • If you’ve been an accountant for 30 years, you don’t need to be an accountant for next 20 years
  • Have an ability to choose what you want to do next, with decades to learn, transition and transform
  • The challenge:  individuals have figured it out, companies are slow
  • There are a lot of baby boomers who are hitting this threshold
  • Companies who don’t handle the baby boomers retiring will be like companies who weren’t on the Internet at 2000

Is demographic change a revolution?

  • There are models of revolution
  • 1. Impacting norms, situations and behaviours:  ageism
  • 2. All at the same time, not sequential order
  • 3. Affects everyone, everyone is aging, the workforce is a system, where people aren’t reaching their full potential
  • 4. Understandable patterns, and is predictable:  we can see aging coming, and plan for it
  • 5. Right now, and urgent:  It wasn’t urgent in 2005; a little interest in 2011
  • Since Monday, have done 13 media interviews, spoken twice, and we’re only halfway through the week

If we know it’s important, then what are the myths inside organizations that are thought to be true?

  • What is preventing companies from hearing?


“I don’t know the facts, but here’s what I think” — which is a trouble statement

  • Opinions without facts
  • Biases from fear, media, own experience
  • New term:  fake facts
  • Biggest myths are around ageism

5 myths

1.  Age-based myths are generally focused on performance or costs

  • Aged aren’t contributing their fare share?
  • Older workers paid too much, not encouraged to stay on?
  • Intergenerational performance:  e.g. millennials aren’t loyal; or she’s too old for training?
  • Best-before dates:  people are encouraged to think about retirement earlier?
  • Diminished productivity:  can’t be as productive?

Companies are ill-informed about the real costs of their workforce

  • Fail to consider costs of onboarding, training, replacing the new work who just wants to build bio, and moves on after 4 or 5 years
  • Earning potential is maximized at early 40s, so can’t compare 60-year olds to 20-year olds
  • Couldn’t find calculations for loyalty, know-how, expertise
  • Onboarding and orientation costs represent up to 93% of an employee’s salary

2. Diminished productivity

  • Unless you’re doing something (e.g. you’re a brain surgeon), maybe you should quit?
  • Maybe we should count backwards from 82, rather than counting forwards from 65
  • Everyone is an individual, can judge for themselves if they should contribute

3.  Perception of productivity depends on the attitude of the employer, not the output of the employee

  • Young worker more than the mature, they’re not being invited to participate, or be given choices
  • Expectations of retirement are premature, we start preparing for people to leave about age 49
  • No one asks what you would like to do next, a lateral?
  • Maybe instead of an increase in salary, you would like more time off?
  • Capelli 2013, Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age:  insight, experience, expertise, patience, you’ve stopped building your resume, are concentrating on what you want to do
  • Universal message that skill building is only for the young:  ran workshops for Fortune 500 companies, where are the older?

4.  Unintended consequences from maintaining myths

  • Lost opportunities to use talent
  • Employees want opportunities
  • VP of telecommunications company now working at Home Depot, he’s happy
  • Loyalty fades:  older workers are far less likely to leave than younger ones, in 5-year comparison, they’re not going to find jobs easily, so they stay

Misuse or underuse of old workers and their talents is what is expensive


Why go through myths?

  • We are living through revolutionary times
  • Workforce is structured, as if last century
  • True for organizations, policy-makers
  • We make off-hand comments about age, we would never do that on gender or race
  • Models are out of date, revolution not evolution

The future of work:  how do we prepare for the tsunami of retirements?

  • In revolutionary times, we don’t prepare (get things ready for a predetermined outcome)
  • The future of work is ours to shape
  • We need to stop preparing for the future of work, we are all actors
  • We need to shape the future of work

Asked 1000 people on a national conversation on the future of work

  • When you think about your children’s childrens view of work, what are you appalled by?
  • … what do you hope?
  • Then can see steps between

Need to shift thinking, using outdated models, with a finish line that no longer serves us

  • Stop dividing the work by age

My kids will live past their 100th birthday, they need to plan a career that doesn’t end in the 60s

  • Need to conclude a few years before
  • There is a generation now that will provide paths forward

All dressed up and nowhere to go

  • What does it mean to have a world of work, where everyone is vibrant and productive?
  • Why do we keep the old structures?

Video on Youtube:  The Talent Revolution at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IZohQtf-0A

  • Intergenerational workforce


Always children’s children:  (i) fear, dread or dismay; (ii) hope and dream for

Any companies doing something?

  • Journalist asked how long before employers get on board?
  • Typically, see within sectors that have a lot of older workers:  mining, utilities
  • The numbers don’t work, have to get people to stay
  • Premise:  a separate program for onboarding, then leadership development, then succession planning — instead of separating them, making a single curriculum
  • Onboarding into leadership development, working with someone in legacy career
  • Relationship between 3 generations, reduces program costs, forces intergenerational programs
  • See in unionized environments, public sector, as early days

Tied to a larger context, other pieces in world of work, old industrial model, employees are debits not assets

  • Demographics is a driver
  • Career ownership looks at employer-employee, who is responsible for maintaining?
  • Organization used to tell people they’re in charge of their own careers, but then could show career paths where they could go
  • Now, gig economy, doesn’t follow standard career path
  • Not a manifesto against ageism, a strategy on longevity in other factors
  • In the third section of the book, a chapter on employees not seen as assets, not right way, because assets are acquired and depreciated, need a different way of looking at employees as equity

Gen X managers say employees are phoning it in, towards retirement.  What can they do to engage?

  • Disengagement of a 30-year old, why not the same conversation with a 62-year old?
  • First and second books were for companies that didn’t have significant HR
  • The actual level of productivity turns on manager’s perception:  seen as phoning it in, will result in phoning it in
  • Employee needs to recognize, managers need to learn new skills
  • [Fern]:  Perception is often that it’s a kindness to let them coast, it’s not a kindness.

Has there ever been an employer saying why didn’t you come up with this book earlier?

  • [Lisa]: Yes, U.S. pharma company
  • CPG companies had launched “Your Encore
  • Are some signs of early experiments, starting to move to early stages

Governments provide financial assistance, what role should they play?

  • Hopeful
  • What does this mean for pension reform?  Have been working on this for a long time
  • Seeing the first hint of changes in the policy
  • Budget announced last month:  Canada Training Benefit is a small amount, that people can withdraw over their lifetime, should recognize the structure — if you wait 10 to 15 years, the contribution is larger
  • We normally don’t do lifelong learning, with a benefit that increases over time
  • e.g. taking $5000 after 20 years to retrain
  • Comes from Singapore
  • Can only withdraw funds until you’re 65, the Challenge Factory will take this on




2019/04/22 18:00 Lucy Suchman, “Apparatuses of Recognition”, UToronto

Marquis event featuring #LucySuchman, presented by Jackman Humanities Institute and Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, at Innis Town Hall


Also opening of Reading Faces, Reading Minds art exhibition at the Bissell Building.

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting,based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

Introduction by Brian Cantwell Smith, Professsor of Artificial Intelligence and the Human

[Lucy Suchman]

Lucy Suchman, Apparatuses of Recognition, UToronto
Lucy Suchman, Apparatuses of Recognition, UToronto

(Video replay at https://www.facebook.com/iSchoolToronto/videos/342667976597711/).

Sketch of research in progress

  • Technology in militarism
  • Will unpack predispositions
  • 3 indicative technologies


  • U.S. citizen, moved to Canada
  • Possibility of threat to the world
  • U.S. military budget exceeds the next 8 combined
  • 70 bases
  • Discourse of U.S. vulnerability, also arms race based on AI

Counter-move to human and non-human

  • Climate and environment
  • Human relations with multiple species, multi-materiality
  • Humanity, cut in relations in humans

Karen Barad 2007 Meeting the Universe Halfway:  One cut between friend and enemy

  • Apparatus as specific material discursive practices, holds matters and meaning together
  • They produce differences:  integral cut in the phenomenon produced
  • Recognition, from social and bodily engagement withe world, more than just the eye
  • Recognizability maintains use through practices
  • Normative differential responsiveness
  • Objects not intrinsically delineated, reiterated cuts

Brian Cantwell-Smith, concept of registration, in The Promise of Artificial Intelligence Reckoning and Judgment (MIT Press forthcoming)

  • Judgement requires holding rationality to registration

Judith Butler:  Limits of registration to the site of possibility

  • Bodies that Matter 1993:  Nexus of power and knowledge that gives rise to intelligible things, but also the breaking point where it fails
  • Both the conditions on which the object is constituted
  • Domain of intelligible body

Butler, 2016 Frames of War:  human and non-human targets

  • Technology of war, but operation of technologies depends on how it works in the field
  • Technological grasping and circulation
  • Interpretative manoeuvre, who is a target?

Recognition of another as human, tied to faith

  • Face recognition is machine analytics
  • Correlations in face recognition have nothing to do with faces that we recognize
  • Mapping of output to the faces depends on human sensemaking
  • Last year, ACLU ran tests, incorrectly mapped 28 members of Congress as people who committed crimes, Amazon protested on confidence levels too low, but the fear of a threat leads to false positives, disproportionate arrest of people of colour

Three cases

Situational awareness, core doctrine of command and control

  • Major Brad Dostol,  2001Center for Army Lessons Learning, first use of armed drone in Afghanistan, killed everyone except the intended target
  • Ability to maintain a clear mental picture, friendly and threat
  • Must provide situational understanding
  • This is an idealized view, god-like of situational environment

1. The training situation (immersive simulation, 2016)

  • Culture and Cognitive Combat Immersive Training Demonstration, Flatworld Archive, USC of military with the film industry (photo)
  • New pedagogies of training
  • Anthropological critique in immersive viirtual reality
  • C3ITD at Institute for Creative Technology, demonstrated in 2006, with intensive in Iraq
  • Military training assumes the recognition of that which is already a threat
  • Division of friend-enemy, military training produces the body that the practices are meant to cover
  • Reiteration, but materialization never quite fits
  • Soldier:  the enemy isn’t out there, but becomes viable depending
  • Construction of the enemy is self-productive of the enemy, a mode of reiteration
  • Rather than simply preparing the soldier, simulation contributes

2.  Remote control, to separate the soldier from the combat

  • NY Times, QinetiQ, Nov. 2010, remotely control, some armed robots are operated with video-game-style consoles
  • Focus on interfaces that configure warfighters between subject and object
  • International Humanitarian Law, developed after WWII, as part of Geneva Convention
  • Rule #1:  Parties must distinguish between combatants and civilians
  • Adherence to rule #1 is problematic
  • Derek Gregory, June 2015, Geographical Imaginations, noisy network of threats, sweet target, sweet chiild
  • Full motion video from Predators and Reapers, all seeing eyes, to see a fully transparent battlespace, but vision is more than biological
  • Google’s march to the war must be stopped“, Lucy Suchman, May 16, 2018 — on the Maven project
  • Objects of interest include vehicles, buildings and human
  • Further automation of dystopic regimes can only server to worsen situations
  • Rendering of precision air strikes, 2004-2015 by Pitch Interactive
  • 190 identified as children, 534 civilians, high value targets 52 (known, and an imminent thread), then 2565 people as “other’, not identified
  • John O. Brennan, 2012:  a weapon that can distinguish between a civilian and a terrorist
  • U.S. counter terror air strikes doubles in Trump’s first year, and secrecy has increased

3.  Autonomous weapon systems

  • e.g. Samsung’s sentry robot, on Korean DMZ, heat and motion detectors across 2 miles
  • Precursor to fully-autonomous, any warm body is a body out of place
  • Compared to Berlin Wall, actually a space between 2 walls
  • Human figure in surrender, outside of combat, under protection of war, signal is clear
  • Collateral damage, image released by Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks, Permission to Engage, killing of Reuters cameraman, man in van who wanted to help, and his child in the van
  • Camera was read as a weapon, van was read as military
  • Fraught with uncertainty
  • Misreading, premise

3.  Autonomous weapon systems

  • Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, CCW:  prohibition on excessively injurious or to have indiscrimate effects
  • Testimony on machine autonomy, 5 minutes:  problems of situational awareness, accepted as distinction between legitimate and illegitimate
  • Machine autonomy c.f. autonomy of a person
  • Can’t fully specify in an autonomous weapon
  • NGO Article 36 proposed meaningful human control, for acceptability, has been accepted by CCW
  • Presence of a human in a loop, as essential for accountability
  • However, remote control, the human and the loop are in distributed noise
  • Only meaningful to intelligence, in identification of targets
  • Situational awareness requires an openness, including performative consequences
  • Require time, and intent for communication, that warfare diminishes

Military power that diminishes distinction

  • Human rights lawyer, Payam Akhavan, CBC Massey Lecture 2017
  • Protection of human rights at a distance
  • Serving human, we must first be broken open
  • Fantasies of recognition
  • More dangerous in the moment, into a horizon of endless war
  • Challenge inevitable AI
  • If we are part of the world becoming, then commitment to collective transformation


Any good news?  This is depressing.

  • With Akhavan, looking for an alternative
  • Human rights lawyer, looking for multinational bodies with some force, creating legal structures to govern warfighting, so that people can be held to account
  • Becoming part of interventions, in the hope that there will be a growing articulation of the problem, with the trajectory
  • Hopeful of interruptions in the cybernetic loops

Any evidence (China, Russia) taking a different approach?

  • Tend to frame in terms of militarism
  • Not framing China and Russia as military powers
  • Most people don’t appreciate disproportionate, more than the next 8 combined
  • Not an expert on China and Russia, need more discussion
  • Google Maven points to China and Russia as command economies, and democracies are handicapped, e.g. Defense Innovation Board between military and Silicon Valley
  • AI systems are fielded, and then found to be impossible, sent back into lab

Surveillance to be used for good, and not evil?  Collateral damage.  Forensic architecture doing similar things, working within legalistic.

  • Counter-surveillance initiatives are interesting
  • Forensic architecture recreate, and then uncover illegal, kept in the dark
  • Doesn’t help unwind pervasiveness of surveillance infrastructure, but does redirect

Any legal consensus on humans being held accountable for autonomous?

  • Under laws of war, humans must be accountable
  • Opens questions of how accountability will be maintained
  • U.S. has lots of military lawyers, working on chains of accountability
  • Is it the software developed?  The operation commander?
  • Have been in meeting with senior military officer about lethal autonomous weapons, said that he wouldn’t deploy unreliable.
  • A lot of pushback, but accountability is messy.
  • What forums do we have to pursue those questions?

Criteria of recognizability, and achieving discrimination makes killing by algorithm or autonomous weapon illegal.  Human killing also becomes a form of illegal.  Undermining AI, undermines entire appartus.  Counter-argument of threshold of reliability?  Recognizability won’t work. A sense of the backup to the argument, to protect against a sufficient threshold of reliability.

  • Not sure what that looks like.
  • Rule #1 of IHL is clear.
  • World of irregular warfare, has undermined that.
  • Fundamental criterion
  • Next principle of proportionality
  • Proportionality still predisposes a distinction, about how much collateral damage
  • A resource, feels problematic
  • Want to hold the military, those who are operating in the governance structure, to the fundamental principle

International law as reasonable to limits to armaments?  Big contracts.  Protecting from external threats.  Naive to think laws will limit.

  • Agree, not naive.
  • Questions on efficacy on the rule of law.
  • Come less from the idea of real threats, than military-industrial complex, deep and invested interests in militarism.
  • Agree that law is only significant to the degree that there are bodies to enforce them, and the U.S. has undermined those
  • Don’t want to see rational actors, reject that description as inevitable.

Has research taken you to what would happen in the U.S., when there aren’t funds available to do this work.  Diversion of funds from education to military.  Social chaos.

  • Depressing.
  • How long can this continue in the absence of revitalization of domestic education and health?
  • A political struggle, from the street to congress.
  • Important to interrupt the assertion that the U.S. is engaged in necessary defence.
  • Not in proportion to thread
  • Every person killed is a friend or family to another, network effects


Contextual dyadic thinking (Lee, 2017)

Contextual dyadic thinking is proposed by Keekok Lee in her 2017 The Philosophical Foundations of Classical Chinese Medicine. This is a way of appreciating Chinese implicit logic, as an alternative to dualistic thinking that has developed over centuries in Western philosophy.

Chapter 9: Modes of Thinking

Chinese philosophy did/does not appear to have a branch designated “Logic” in the way that such a subject exists in Western philosophy as formal logic. [1]

  • [1] This could be regarded as controversial, but for a reason which will soon become obvious, this author chooses to follow Kurtz, 2011 which gives a detailed discussion of the search among Chinese scholars during the last hundred years or so for fragments of texts which could be used to support the claim that Chinese philosophy or must have developed logic in the European understanding of that term as formal logic. The operative phrase is “the European understanding of that term as formal logic.” as it is clear that (ancient) Chinese philosophers had an interest in logic—it was just that their pre-occupation with it was not expressed in the same way as European philosophers (since ancient Greek philosophy) had/have pursued the subject as formal logic.

However, although it is undoubtedly true that Chinese philosophy did not engage with formal logic, it may be precipitous to dismiss the notion of logic (short of formal logic) as irrelevant to the various Chinese modes of thinking. This chapter will explore the cluster of related themes listed below:

1. Why did the Chinese not engage with formal logic? The Contextual mode of thinking is key to understanding how their philosophy and world-view were shaped.

2. The distinction between dyadism and dualism: the Chinese mode of thinking is dyadic, not dualistic as modem Western philosophy is.

3. The ancient Chinese operated with an implicit logic, which may be called Yinyang/Yao-gua logic.

4. Two-valued and many-valued logic; classical logic in the West is two-valued, while it could be argued that embedded in Yinyang/Yao-gua metaphysics and its model of thinking is an implicit logic which is many-valued.

The latter two points extend into “implicit logic“. For these excerpts, let’s focus on (1) the contextual mode of thinking; and (2) dyadism and dualism.

Contextual Thinking

It is not an exaggeration to say that contextual thinking [2] was/is truly foundational to Chinese thought, laying down the framework in which Yinyang/Yao-gua thinking and what this author calls Yinyang/Yao-gua implicit logic were to be understood. So what is contextual thinking in the ancient Chinese context?

  • [2] This author can track down one work (in English), written by the psychologist, Nisbett, 2003/2005: xix which raises this matter, claiming that even today, those brought up in and influenced historically by Chinese culture are “better able to see relationships among events than Westerners …”, why Westerners are “so likely to overlook the influence of context on the behaviour of objects and even of people”

Let’s skip past the deep reading in The Zhuangzi, forward a few pages.

The Contextual Mode in general amounts to this: the two values, truth and falsity, have no proper application in the abstract or vacuum — they only have application and meaning relative to a particular context, They are context-bound. The two instances of female beauty cited above make clear this point—they embodied beauty in the human context. If the beholder were not a human, but a fish, a bird, or a deer, they would even be repelled by such a sight which would inspire in them fear and flight. It makes no sense to discuss beauty or ugliness (truth or falsity) in a vacuum, free of a particular context. These values, even in a human context, would not necessarily yield fruitful discussion unless the disputants are fully aware of the context in which the claim of beauty, say, is made, and when the contexts are made clear, the dispute would lose purchase as each side would have realized that it would be futile to continue to maintain that only one’s own candidate for beauty/truth/falsity constitutes the winner, while rival claims are the losers. For instance, the paradigm of female beauty in the Tang was very different from that of the Song Dynasty just as the paradigm of female beauty today in the modem world (as displayed by models along the catwalk) is very different from that of the Renaissance period in European history.

Focusing on context renders the respective criteria or standards used by the disputants in contesting their case visible and obvious. These criteria may be incommensurable—if the most significant criterion for determining female beauty is to be thin as a rake for Party A but to be as amply endowed as a Tang or Renaissance lady for Party B, then it becomes obvious that argument is fruitless. Of course, this is not to say that all disputes entail incommensurable criteria or standards. [4] Whether a dispute does or not itself involve incommensurability depends on the context of the dispute—this is indeed the key thing to grasp about the Contextual Mode of Thinking.

  • [4] For instance, scientfic disputes are not necessarily subject to incommensurabilty, contrary to what some Kuhnians might wish to claim— see Lee, 1984 [i.e. difficult to find journal, ‘Kuhn – A Re-appraisal’ in Explorations in Knowledge, 1984, pp33-88.]

In turn what is the key implication of the Contextual Mode? It is this: its incompatibility with formal logic, whether as traditional syllogistic logic or as modem propositional logic since the twentieth century, as the latter implies the intelligibility of studying relations between assertions looked at solely through their formal relations as extreme abstractions, with no reference either to content or to context. [5] In contrast, in evaluating an argument, the ancient Chinese were interested not merely in the concept of validity but also in the truth of what was said. For them, as the passages from the Zhuangzi make clear, they held that truth depended on context, that truth could not be understood in abstraction or extrapolation from the context in which the assertion is embedded. Hence from the standpoint of the Contextual Mode, a project such as formal logic would be absurd, impossible, fruitless, and pointless. Hence the ancient Chinese had steered clear of it. This is the most important conclusion to draw from the brief discussion here of the Contextual Mode of Thinking as the over-arching mode in ancient Chinese thinking. The next section deals with an embellishment of this fundamental mode of thinking, marrying it to dyadic as opposed to dualistic thinking. The section, which follows it, will then explore more fully the implications of what this author calls the Contextual-dyadic Mode for logic in Chinese philosophy.

  • [5] One particular example of the presentation of syllogistic logic in an introductory text of the discipline would look like this: All Ms are Ps; S is M, therefore, S is P. This argument is valid because it satisfies the rule that the middle term (M) is distributed. One does not need to know what the terms, M, P, and S stand for or refer to, as formal logic is not interested per se in truth, but only in validity.

That covers context. However, in order to appreciate dyadic thinking, we first need to understand dualistic thinking.

Dualistic Thinking

To put things baldly, ancient/traditional Chinese thinking is dyadic whereas European/Western/modern thinking is dualistic. Unfortunately, the distinction cannot be spelled out in a sentence or two right at the beginning of this exploration, but suffice it to say here that both forms of thinking deal with terms which constitute polar contrasts but which each respectively understands in very different ways.

We start first exploring dualistic thinking. It generally means that in any particular domain, there are two fundamentally different Kinds of things, categories or principles. For instance, in many forms of theology, such as Christianity, there are two basic entities, God and the Devil or God and human beings. In philosophy, ever since Descartes, a human being is said to be constituted of two entities — or substances, mind/soul and body. In biology/sociology/psychology/anthropology, human beings are divided into male and female. In geo-politics, humans are divided into White (European) and non-White (non-European). In environmental philosophy which deals with the relationship between Man and Nature, there is the culture (human) and nature (non-human) divide)

Table 9.1
God (Optional for Secularism
Nature (c)
Level 1 Nature (h) Nature (nh)
Level 2 Human Non-human
Level 3 Mind Body Conscious
Higher animals
Lower animals and plants
Level 4 Man Woman Subject-of-a-life /
capable of suffering
Non-subject-of-a-life /
not capable of suffering

A slightly more elaborate schema is shown below about dualistic thinking.

In the table above:

Nature (c) Nature in the cosmological sense — the universe came into existence after the Big Bang and what has evolved since the Big Bang
Nature (h) That part of Nature which refers to humans and their unique type of consciousness; it is also referred to as Culture (that is, human culture and civilization)
Nature (nh) That part of Nature which is excluded by Nature (h) or Culture
Subject-of-a-life Higher animals, in particular mammals, such as chimpanzees, lions, elephants.  Such animals, although they do not possess the kind of sophisticated language humans possess which makes possible abstract thinking, are held, nonetheless, to have memories, capable of forward planning (in a non-linguistic manner), in some cases are said even to possess a sense of self
Capable of suffering Animals which though not capable of what chimpanzees and elephants can do, nevertheless, are like them (and like humans) sentient and hence are capable of feeling pain.  The lower animals and plants, however, are not capable of suffering pain as they lack the kind of nervous system possessed by humans and the higher animals, and hence are Non-subject-of-a-life

These which can be inferred from the above representation of dualistic thinking are:

1. What is to the right and inferior and subordinate to what is on the left of each level; what is to the right is inferior and subordinate to what is on the left within each subdivision at each level.

2. Each level is subordinate to the level above it, such that ultimately all levels are subordinate to God in the religious/Christian version, although in the secular version, God drops out of the scheme.

3. What is on the right at each level (and each subdivision at each level) either has less or no value in themselves (no intrinsic value).

4. The religious as well as the secular versions are both compatible with extreme anthropocentricism (the view that only humans have intrinsic value and non-humans only have instrumental value for humans (see Lee, 1999, for details).

5.. In other words, 1 through 4 above imply that dualistic thinking is hierarchical thinking. As such, it is ideological thinking writ large, either designed intentionally or co- opted wittingly/unwittingly to entrench a political (in the wider sense of the term) order, celebrating unequal power relationships. In such pairings, the higher/superior class denigrates the “Other;” the two categories are not purely factual or empirical in character, but are heavily impregnated with moral/social meaning and significance. For instance, the human male is not simply a human being born with a certain kind of reproductive organ system, just as the female is not simply a human being born with a different kind of reproductive organ system.

6. It is Reductionist thinking—the inferior member of the pair is but an appendage, a mere shadow of the superior member. In the case of humans, the latter enjoys the status of being the epistemological/methodological authority, laying down criteria for what constitutes a “proper”/“good” specimen of the former. [6] Feminism complains bitterly on these two fronts. Historically, in the Mind/Soul and Body pairing, the former was privileged this held true in Christian theology; in Descartes’s view, this remained true, thereby releasing the Body as inert matter, fit for scientific investigation while retaining the Soul/Mind for higher things beyond, thereby escaping empirical/scientific probing. However, after Descartes, Materialism as the new metaphysics began to undermine this version of the Cartesian accommodation, turning the relationship upside down, with Body as Matter becoming the superior category while Mind was/is to be reduced to Matter. In Modern Medicine/Biomedicine, the human being is even conceived as machine, as artefact, no longer a naturally-occurring organism. [7] Dualism in this sense is the rival of Monism which may take the form of either Materialism (when Mind is reduced to Body) or Idealism (Body/Matter is reduced to Mind).

  • [6] For a powerful account of dualism from the standpoint of feminism, see Plumwood, 1993 of which more would be said later.
  • [7] On this ontological volte -face, see Lee, 2012b.

7. It is embedded within the framework of entity or thing- ontology. In chapter 8, the term “thing-ontology” is used as the context there makes it appropriate to do so. However, in this section, it may be more appropriate to use the term “entity ontology,” as God/Devil, Mind/Soul are not physical things but non-physical entities. (In other words, the class of entities is larger than that of things, as things— physical objects— are a special sub-set of entities.)

With this criticism of dualistic thinking, Lee proceeds to describe dyadic thinking, with the background of contextual thinking.

Contextual-dyadic Thinking: The Fuxi-Niiwa Myth

The term, “dyadism”/“dyadic thinking,” is only used in the sense which can be found in Lee, 1999 and used in opposition to those of dualistic thinking summarised in the section above, and should not be confused with other usages of the term by other writers. Lee, 1999 has introduced it specifically to oppose it to dualism, especially in the context of environmental philosophy and the philosophy of technology in the pairings of Human and Non- human as well as in the pairing of Culture (human) and Nature (non-human). Lee, 1999, 2006, 2012b in common with other critics of dualism, reject theses 1 and 2 set out above, while holding the denial of them to be constitutive of dyadism/dyadic thinking. It is time to spell out what it amounts to in the context of Chinese modes of thinking:

1. Dyadism, here, should be understood and discussed within the over-arching framework called Contextual Thinking. As Contextual Thinking is much more fundamental than even complementarity (of polar terms) in Chinese culture and civilization, let us call it Contextual- dyadic Thinking. [8]

  • [8] For a like-minded account, see *Zhang, 2008 . [Editorial note, this cited book is written in the Chinese language. There’s an English language review: Wang, Robin R. 2009. “Zhang, Zailin 張再林, Traditional Chinese Philosophy as the Philosophy of the Body 作爲身體哲學的中國古代哲學.” Dao 8 (1): 113–16. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-008-9095-4.]

2. In dyadic thinking, strictly speaking, a term presupposes its opposite. For instance, “cat” implies the class of “non- cat.” An oppositional pair may then be drawn out, namely, cat and non-cat.

3. However, in the real world beyond that of strict logic, the class of non-cat is a very large class indeed, as it includes dogs, buttercups, humans, indeed, virtually everything else in the universe other than cats.

4. In the real world, therefore, depending on the context, that negative category is delimited to say dogs, such as when we are talking about a cat show as opposed to a dog show, or when we discuss the merits of keeping cats as opposed to dogs as pets. How we pick out “the other category” depends on the context, contextualism, in tum, means that the oppositional pair created is not a dualism but a dyadism.

5. Dualism implies permanence, as it is context-independent — hence, men are (in all contexts) superior to Women, mind/soul is superior to body (or body to mind in Biomedicine), humans are superior to non-humans, and so on. Under dyadism, as it is context-dependent, men are superior to women in certain contexts such as, in general, possessing greater physical strength, while women, in general, are superior to men, for example, in grasping nuances in emotional relationships; women can bear children but men cannot, and in this sense, men may be said to be “inferior” to women. Inherent inferiority or inherent superiority is not part and parcel of dyadic but only of dualistic thinking.

6. In dyadic thinking, the two terms in opposition in any one pair—“men”/” women” or “mind”/“body” —simply refer to different clusters of characteristics or functions in any one given context. The difference(s) focused on would not necessarily be carried over to other contexts. For example, a cat can catch mice, a dog cannot; so in the context of exterminating vermin, cats are opposed to dogs and are superior to dogs in this respect. But in the context of animals as pets, dogs and cats are both pets and so are different from and, therefore, opposed to cattle or chickens which are kept and then slaughtered for the market.

7. All oppositional terms, according to dyadism, involve contextualism, and can also be said to involve perspectivism, in the case of particular terms such as “big” /” small,” “above/below,” “tall” /* short.” When judged from a great distance, an object appears small, but nearer, it appears to be much larger. Relative to y; a is tall or above, but relative to z a is short or below. Relative to a chicken, a human is large but relative to an elephant, a human is small. What is above or below, big or small depends on the position of the viewer and the kind of viewer it is, on the distance between the viewer and the viewed, on the value standpoint of the viewer. Other pairings are sweet/bitter or hot/cold: if the person first eats a very sweet piece of milk chocolate, then a piece of dark chocolate, then the latter would taste even more bitter than if it were taken on its own without first having eaten the former and vice versa; if you first plunge your hand in cold water followed by plunging it into hot water, the hot water would feel less hot than it would otherwise be. Take weeping/laughing: we associate Weeping with something sad or tragic and laughing with something happy or funny —yet sometimes the most tragic of circumstances would it not weeping but laughing, and the laughing is to be understood as weeping but in another mode. This simply confirms the claim that perspectivism is context- dependent; hence, the significance of Contextual Thinking as the over-arching framework in the Chinese Mode of Thinking.

The examples earlier cited from the Zhuangzi are instances of perspectivism at work; the Laozi is also full of similar pairings such as big and small, up and down, inside and outside, beginning and ending, level and sloping, light and dark, sweet and bitter, advancing and retreating, gain and loss, weeping and laughing, and many others. [….]

8. Perspectivism emphazises that there is a conceptual link between the contrasting terms in the pair— that the concept inside (x) implies that of outside (y), far implies that of near, tall implies that of short, beautiful that of ugly. The concept x could only be properly grasped/understood by relating it to its conceptual contrast y as well as the situation and attitude of the individual in deploying the contrasting terms in the pair.

9. It means one cannot depart form context. Hence, the Contextual-dyadic Mode of Thinking is basic and fundamental. In particular, the Yinyang pairing which does not involve perspectivism but is pervasive in Chinese philosophy, science, and culture, through the ages, has come to be taken as paradigmatic of this kind of thinking. However, it could be that more humble pairings such as above/below, tall/short, or large/small involving perspectivism could have laid the foundation for its appearance; at least they all fall under the same (implicit) logical heading. Smith, 2008:24 observes: “(t)hese contrasts suggest a major source of inspiration for, if not the actual origins of the pervasive notions of yin and yang.”

10. The Yinyang pairing serves to bring out, more strongly than some of the other pairings, that the relationship between yin and yang goes beyond a mere conceptual relationship; chapters 6 and 7 have demonstrated the complicated relationships between them, namely, that empirically, causally, and ontologically, they are inextricably entwined with each other, acting as a harmonious Whole. The pairing and the harmonious Whole are empirically based because processes in Nature exhibit them— day is followed by night, night by day, Winter by Summer, Summer by Winter, heat by cold, cold by heat, life by death, death by life. Yuzou (universe) and Wanwu (especially organisms) repeat this cycle in an enduring manner. The pairing is ontologically grounded because the fundamental category in Yuzhou is Qi and Qi exists and operates in two modes, Qi-in-dissipating and Qi-in-concentrating modes— together they form a harmonious Whole as Em-ism, neither only energy nor ouly matter (to use modern language).

The pairing, under Wuxing, functions causally in terms of the Mutually Engendering and Mutually Constraining Modes (in the language of science today, the pair could be said to demonstrate feedback mechanisms at work). Yinyang does not refer to concrete things set in stone but on relationships in any given context—in the zhouye (daily) sequence, relative to night, day is yang and night is yin, but relative to day itself, the first half is yang-in-yang…, and the latter part of the day when sun gets weaker, it is yin-in-yang…. Relative to night itself, the first half is yin-in-yin…, and the second half is yang-in-yin…. (See *Liu, 1980: 48.)

In Nejjing/Suwen, Chapter 4. .., As rendered by this author: “In yin there is yin, in yang there is yang. From sunrise to noon, the yang of the sky is yang-in-yang, from noon to sunset, the yang of the sky is yang-in-yang, from midnight to dawn (when the cocks crow), the yin of the sky is yin-in-yin, from dawn to sunrise, the yin of the sky is yang-in-yin.”

Another example comes from the Yao-gua Model of the Yijing. Here s a version of the sequence of the Xiantian gua (according to the Shao Yong) which reads Qian(1), Dui (2), Li (3), Zhen (4), Xun (5), Kan (6), Gen (7), and Kun (8) as shown below.

Figure 9.1 Sequence of the Xiantian gua (according to the Shao Yong)

This arrangement shows the trigrams as polar contrasts: the Qian gua occupying South and the Kun gua occupying North; the Li gua East and the Kan gua West, the Zhen gua Northeast and the Xun gua Southwest; the Dui gua Southeast and the Gen gua Northwest.

The Houtian (After-Heaven) arrangement (see chapter 5) illustrates the relationship between the trigrams and Wuxing.

Figure 5.3 Houtiantu

Here, the Li gua now occupies due South and its polar contrast the Kan gua due North; the Zhen gua due East and its contrast the Dui gua due West; the Gen gua occupies Northeast and its contrast the Kun gua Southwest; the Xun gua Southeast and its contrast the Qian gua Northwest.

The trigrams could be arranged differently depending on the context of their application; they could occupy different positions in terms of Timespace—for instance, a different gua than the Qian gua, the Li gua could be used to stand for East/Summer/Heat/Yang depending on context. This accords with the over-arching Contextual Mode of Thinking; its account of polar-contrast pairings is dyadic, not dualistic as according to the latter, the respective status of the superior/privileged/the dominating and that of the inferior/non-privileged/dominated half of the pairing remained hierarchically unchanged, set in stone. Under the Contextual-dyadic Mode, the pairings form a harmonious Whole and so could, therefore, be argued to be a distinctive form of thinking, indeed, unique to Chinese civilisation and its culture.

This excerpt isn’t one-quarter of the way through the chapter, yet is enough to give a flavour for the ideal of contextual-dyadic thinking. The next section (11) reinforces “the analysis above by looking at an image of the pro-creation myth in Chinese folklore”.


Lee, Keekok. 2017. The Philosophical Foundations of Classical Chinese Medicine: Philosophy, Methodology, Science. Lexington Books. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498538886/The-Philosophical-Foundations-of-Classical-Chinese-Medicine-Philosophy-Methodology-Science.

Keekook Lee (2017) The Philosophical Foundations of Classical Chinese Medicine

#chinese-medicine, #contextual, #dualistic, #dyadic, #philosophy

Dao, de, wei, wuwei (Lai 2003)

Appreciating wei and wuwei has led to the context of dao and de, in the writings of Karyn L. Lai. The scholarly review acknowledges prior interpretations of de and dao.

De, often translated as “virtue,” is one of two cardinal concepts in the Daodejing, the treatise on dao and de. [8] However, some scholars have noted with concern that analyses of Daoist philosophy have too frequently failed to accord the concept de the significance it is due. [9] [p. 249]

  • [8] The terms dao and de (Pinyin transliteration system) correspond to tao and te (Wade-Giles system commonly used in earlier literature) respectively. The Pinyin system is used in this essay because it is more up-to-date and widely used.
  • [9] With the oldest existing versions of the Daodejing excavated from the Han tombs at Mawangdui in China in 1973, the bamboo strips on which the texts are inscribed are arranged in such a way that the final forty-four chapters of the received text, the De Jing, are placed first. Hence, a translator of the Mawangdui Daodejing has labelled his translation the “Dedaojing.” See Robert Henricks, Lao-tze Te-tao Ching: A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-Wang-Tui Texts (New York: Ballantine Books, 1989). See also Ames, “Taoism and the Nature of Nature,” esp. sec. 4: “Taoism Misnamed.”

There is a range of possible meanings of the concept de deriving from its usage in the chapters of the Daodejing. The term is commonly translated to mean moral principle or virtue in the conventional sense, indicating one’s moral cultivation. This approach has been taken in various ways by Chinese scholars such as Lionel Giles, [10] Wing-tsit Chan, [11] and D. C. Lau. [12]

  • [10] Lionel Giles, The Sayings of Lao Tzu (London: John Murray. 1907).
  • [11] Wing-tsit Chan, The Way of Lao Tzu (New York: Library of Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill, 1963). Chan writes, “[t]he main objective of [the Daodejing] is the cultivation of virtue or te” (pp. 10–11).
  • [12] D. C. Lau, Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963). Although Lau contemplates a richer interpretation of de, he proceeds very quickly to dismiss the significance of that interpretation, together with the role of de within the Daodejing. He writes: “In its Taoist usage, te refers to the virtue of a thing (which is what it ‘gets’ from the tao). In other words, te is the nature of a thing, because it is in virtue of its te that a thing is what it is. But in the Lao tzu the term is not a particularly important one and is often used in its more conventional senses” (p. 42).

However, the interpretation of de to denote moral goodness is unsatisfactory because it overlooks the vagueness of the text regarding questions of ethics or axiology. Additionally, the interpretation of de as “virtue” or “moral principle” neglects the Daoist criticism of existing norms and values. The Daodejing is incisive in its criticism of contemporary values and virtues in the ancient Chinese context. [13] This criticism was, at its most fundamental level, a universal rejection of the all-too-human activity of promoting values which are superficial and unnecessarily dichotomous, divisive and hence, which tend to mislead:

When the people of the world all know beauty as beauty,
There arises the recognition of ugliness.
When they all know the good as good,
There arises the recognition of evil. . . . (2)

The five colors cause one’s eyes to be blind.
The five tones cause one’s ears to be deaf.
The five flavors cause one’s palate to be spoiled. . . . (12) [14]
  • [13] See Daodejing 5, 18, 19, 20, 38.
  • [14] Chan’s translation from The Way of Lao Tzu. This translation is used throughout this essay, unless otherwise specified.

Against this background of scepticism regarding conventional values, the interpretation of de to denote a conventional sense of moral goodness would sit uneasily with Daoist philosophy. The problem with this interpretation is com- pounded by the fact that there is another term in the Daodejing, shan, which does refer to moral goodness, and which at times occurs in the same passage with de. [15]

  • [15] See Daodejing 8, 27, 30, 49, 54, 61 and 81.

It needs to be noted, however, that Wing-tsit Chan’s and Lau’s analyses of de are not confined to human ethical action. Both scholars recognize multiple interpretations of de. [p. 250] […]

According to Chan’s analysis, de may be understood within an overarching framework, dao, within which individual beings manifest their distinctiveness. In this way, an emphasis on de is an emphasis on the particularity or distintiveness of individual beings. Additionally, the theme of relationality is also important: each thing embodies its particular de within the contextual environment of dao.

Similarly, Lau’s analysis highlights the connection between de and dao, explicitly drawing out the interdependent nature of all existence. On his definition, de refers to the integrity of being a particular thing, rather than to its ability or willingness to conform to predetermined standards. The ontology is particu- larly interesting because all things are seen to embody their distinctive natures in and through their common origin, dao. It is unfortunate, though, that Lau’s analysis stops short of fleshing out this ontology. [17]

  • [17] Lau, Lao Tzu, p. 42.

Chan’s and Lau’s claim that de signifies individuality within the context of the whole is articulated in the Daodejing:

When on cultivates [de] in his person, it becomes genuine [de]
When on cultivates [de] in his person his family, it becomes overflowing [de]
When on cultivates [de] in his person his community, it becomes lasting [de]
When on cultivates [de] in his person the world, it becomes universal. . . . (54)

Here, there is a strong suggestion that the respective function of each individual thing is context-specific rather than normative, and also that de generates different ends in each of these contexts. [p. 251]

With that background, some insight on de is presented by Lai.

Based on the discussion of de in this section, two important features of de may be detected:

(a) there is a strong suggestion of an intrinsic relatedness between individuals within the framework of the dao. Relations are intrinsic rather than extrinsic in that individuals are determined in part by their respective places in the dao. Here, the remarks of Chung-ying Cheng, who contrasts a superficial notion of the term environment with its deeper (Daoist) sense, are pertinent:

  • [According to a superficial sense of the term, environment means] simply “the surroundings,” the physical periphery, the material conditions and the transient circumstances. . . . [However, environment] cannot be treated as an object, the material conditions, a machine tool, or a transient feature. Environment is more than the visible, more than the tangible, more than the external, more than a matter of quantified period or time or spread of space. It has a deep structure as well as a deep process, as the concept of Tao indicates. [24] [p. 252]
  • [24] Cheng, “On the Environmental Ethics of the Tao and the Ch’i,” p. 353. [p. 253, editorial paragraphing added]

A corollary to the theme of intrinsic relatedness is that of interdependence of individuals. The interdependent relation between the self and others within the context of the whole engenders a relational and contextual concept of the self. Within such a structure, individuals can only achieve full realization in the context of their interdependence with others.

(b) Associated with the deeper notion of environment articulated in (a), de seems to provide the specifications for an individual’s integrity in the context of its relations with other individuals. Within an environment where interdependence is emphasized, the integrity of individuals is important as it is necessary to prevent the obliteration of individual distinctiveness, interests and needs, which might too easily be subsumed under the rubric of the whole.

These two features—interdependence and integrity—are held in a finely tuned balance. The individual seeks and attains meaning within contextual and relational boundaries and affiliations. However, if these are overly restrictive, the integrity of the individual will be diminished or eradicated. Hence, de is important in setting the extent of self-determination. De refers to (a development or cultivation of) the distinctive characteristics of individuals. Yet, the sense of integrity is far removed from any suggestion of independent, separate existence. In the view of the Daodejing, severe fragmentation of the different forms of life is brought about partly by the imposition of a rigid axiological framework upon all aspects of existence; this cuts up the uncarved block, so to speak (see Daodejing 28). [p. 253]

This background understanding then has an influence on the third section of the article in “Interdependence and integrity: Dao and de allowing for spontaneity: wuwei and ziran“.

… an understanding of dao from a purely ontological point of view can be limiting. At points in the Daodejing, the concept is referred to not as an ontological reality but as a metaphysical ideal. In this latter sense, dao is an abstraction, not an actual existence. In other words, it also functions as a conceptual tool or a psychological device to assist in the visualization of an ideal state of affairs whereby particulars come together in fulfilment of their particular de, in a way that is maximally possible within an environment that includes multiple others. This vision draws from an integration of the concepts dao and de. [p. 254]

The maintenance of the integrity of each individual entity is also espoused in two integral Daoist concepts, non-action (wuwei) and spontaneity (ziran):

He who takes action fails.
He who grasps things loses them.
For this reason the sage takes no action (wuwei) and therefore does not fail.
He grasps nothing and therefore he does not lose anything.
. . . He learns to be unlearned, and returns to what the multitude has missed (Tao).
Thus he supports all things in their natural state (ziran) but does not take any
action. (64)  [p. 255]

Scholars have often puzzled over of both these concepts, notorious for their ambiguity. The first, wuwei, is most frequently though somewhat misleadingly translated as “non-action.” This translation evokes a sense of passivity and inaction, rendering any suggestions for activity or change incoherent. Some scholars have argued that the interpretation of wuwei as “non-intrusive action” or “non-interfering action” is more philosophically profound and interesting. [33] These latter translations support a meaningful rendition of the concept wuwei both at the sociopolitical level (arguing against the imposition of artificial, conformist and universally binding norms) and at the metaphysical level (acknowledging the inappropriateness and fatality of imposing egocentric or anthropocentric norms upon other individuals or species). [34] [pp. 255-256]

  • [33] See the comprehensive discussions of wuwei by Benjamin Schwartz, “The Ways of Taoism,” in The World of Thought in Ancient China (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985), and Angus C. Graham, “Heaven and Man Go Their Own Ways” in Disputers of the Tao (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court Publishing, 1989).
  • [34[ See Daodejing 5, discussed later in this section.

The term ziran has often been translated as “nature” or “natural.” It functions both as a noun, corresponding with the notion of the natural environment, or as an adjective which means “spontaneous.” [….] [p. 256]

From this analysis, the two sets of concepts, dao and de, and wuwei and ziran, are seen in their fullest cooperation:

the recognition and valuing of individual distinctiveness (de) entails an appreciation of its spontaneous expression (ziran);

allowing for (wuwei) spontaneity, on the other hand, is not simply idiosyncratic and uncoordinated self-fulfilment.

The realization of each individual is meaningful only within the context of its relatedness and responsivity to others within the whole (dao). The affirmation of the value of individual beings within the environmental context feeds into a complex holism which emphasizes both the integrity and interdependence of individuals. [p. 258, editorial paragraphing added]

The writing continues with “A Daoist Proposal for an Environmental Ethic” that includes:

  • Anti-Anthropocentrism
  • Against Human Separateness and Other Dualisms
  • Holism and Integrity

Based on this rather thorough scholarly interpretation, I’m now preferring to think of wei as “willful action”, and wuwei as “non-intrusive action”.


Lai, Karyn. 2003. “Conceptual Foundations for Environmental Ethics: A Daoist Perspective.” Environmental Ethics 25 (3): 247–66. https://doi.org/10.5840/enviroethics200325317. Cached at https://www.academia.edu/750666/Conceptual_Foundations_for_Environmental_Ethics_A_Daoist_Perspective

Karyn L. Lai (2003) Conceptual Foundations for Environmental Ethics

#dao, #de, #wei, #wuwei, #ziran

Engineering Resilience vs. Ecological Resilience (Holling, 1996)

For @theNASciences in 1996, #CSHolling clarified definitions of resilience, with engineering seeking one equilibrium state, while ecology recognizes many.

Those who emphasize the near-equilibrium definition of engineering resilience, for example, draw predominantly from traditions of deductive mathematical theory (Pimm,. 1984) where simplified, untouched ecological systems are imagined, or from traditions of engineering, where the motive is to design systems with a single operating objective (DeAngelis, 1980; O’Neill et al., 1986; Waide and Webster, 1976). On the one hand, that makes the mathematics more tractable, and on the other, it accommodates the engineer’s goal to develop optimal designs. There is an implicit assumption of global stability, that is, that only one equilibrium steady state exists, or, if other operating states exist, they should be avoided (Figure 1) by applying safeguards. [Holling 1996, pp. 33-34]

  • DeAngelis, D.L. 1980. Energy flow, nutrient cycling and ecosystem resilience. Ecology 61:764-771.
  • O’Neill, R. V., D. L. DeAngelis, J. B. Waide, and T. F. H. Allen. 1986. A Hierarchical Concept of Ecosystems. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press .
  • Pimm, S.L. 1984. The complexity and stability of ecosystems. Nature 307:321-326.
  • Waide, J. B., and J. R. Webster. 1976. Engineering systems analysis: Applicability to ecosystems.
  • Volume IV, pp. 329-371 in Systems Analysis and Simulation in Ecology, B.C. Patten, ed.
  • New York: Academic Press.
Holling 1996 Figure 1
Figure 1 Two views of a single, globally stable equilibrium. (a) Provides a mechanical ball and topography analogy. (b) Provides an abstract state space view of a point’s movement toward the stable equilibrium, with x 1 and x 2 defining, for example, population densities of predator and prey, or of two competitors. This is an example of engineering resilience. It is measured by the resistance of the ball to disturbances away from the equilibrium point and the speed of return to it.

Those who emphasize the stability domain definition of resilience (ecological resilience), on the other hand, come from traditions of applied mathematics and applied resource ecology at the scale of ecosystems. Examples include the dynamics and management of freshwater systems (Fiering, 1982), of forests (Holling et al., 1977), of fisheries (Walters, 1986), of semiarid grasslands (Walker et al., 1969) and of interacting populations in nature (Dublin et al., 1990; Sinclair et al., 1990). Because these studies are rooted in inductive rather than deductive theory formation and in experience with the impacts of large-scale management disturbances, the reality of flips from one operating state to another cannot be avoided. Moreover, it becomes obvious that the variability of critical variables forms and maintains the stability landscape (Figure 2). [Holling 1996, p. 34]

  • Dublin, H. T., A. R. E. Sinclair, and J. MeGlade. 1990. Elephants and fire as causes of multiple stable states in the Serengeti-mara woodlands. Journal of Animal Ecology 59:1147-1164.
  • Fiering, M.B. 1982. Alternative indices of resilience. Water Resources Research 18:33-39.
  • Holling, C. S., D. D. Jones, and W. C. Clark. 1977. Ecological policy design: A case study of forest and pest management. IIASA CP-77-6:13-90 in Proceedings of a Conference on Pest Management, October 1976, G. A. Norton and C. S. Holling, eds. Laxenburg, Austria.
  • Walker, B. H., D. Ludwig, C. S. Holling, and R. M. Peterman. 1969. Stability of semi-arid savanna grazing systems. Ecology 69:473-498.
  • Walters, C.J. 1986. Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources. New York: McGraw Hill.
Holling 1996 Figure 2
FIGURE 2 Topographic analogy and state space views of evolving nature. The system modifies its own possible states as it changes over time from 1 to 4. In this example, as time progresses, a progressively smaller perturbation is needed to change the equilibrium state of the system from one domain to the other, until the system spontaneously changes state. (a) Ball and topography analogy. (b) Equivalent state space representation.


The heart of these two different views of resilience lies in assumptions regarding whether multistable states exist. If it is assumed that only one stable state exists or can be designed to so exist, then the only possible definitions for, and measures of, resilience are near-equilibrium ones—such as characteristic return time. Prod that is certainly consistent with the engineer’s desire to make things work, not to make things that break down or suddenly shift their behavior. But nature is different. [Holling 1996, p. 38]


Holling, C.S. 1996. “Engineering Resilience versus Ecological Resilience.” In Engineering Within Ecological Constraints, edited by Peter C. Schultze, 31–44. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/4919. Read online at https://www.nap.edu/read/4919/chapter/4


Service coproductions as reciprocal activities

In addition to extrinsic economic exchange, #JohnMCarroll #JiaweiChen #ChienWenTinaYuan #BenjaminHanrahan @ISTatPENNSTATE say service coproductions relying on all participants to collaborate in both economic exchange and social exchange.

Service coproduction is a special case of service provision in which the roles of service provider and service recipient both require active participation. Examples include healthcare, education, and music instruction. Service coproduction raises particular challenges for user interface design. Because the recipient plays an active role, interaction protocols cannot be fully specified at design time and it is difficult to clearly define what the provider is providing and what value to attach to the provider’s contribution.

A coproduced service is a reciprocal collaboration, and it is both an economic exchange and a social exchange. [1] [Carroll, Chen, Yuan, Hanrahan 2016, p. 27, editorial paragraphing added] [….]

  • [1] J.M. Carroll and V. Bellotti, “Creating Value Together: The Emerging Design Space of Peer-to-Peer Currency and Exchange,” Proc. 18th ACM Conf. Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW 15), 2015, pp. 1500–1510.

A more radical example of service coproduction is timebanking, in which personal services are exchanged and valued according to the time to produce them. [2] In timebanking, no money is exchanged; services are valued by the doing itself. Moreover, because these exchanges occur in a local (face-to-face) community context, an exchange’s value includes personal recognition of a neighbor’s effort and reciprocal recognition of the value inherent in helping a neighbor. Timebanking service exchanges are, by design, not simple and succinct pay-and-receive services, like music streaming. Indeed, participants can spend earned time credit only on arranging further cooperation with neighbors. [1] [Carroll, Chen, Yuan, Hanrahan 2016, p. 27] [….]

Services are often construed as an exchange between a provider and a recipient in the form of material or money. The provider delivers a service to the recipient; for example, a taxi driver transports passengers, or a media company streams content to a subscriber. In return, the recipient pays the service provider. [….] However, some services are not as straightforward as that. For example, an educator cannot “deliver” knowledge and skill to a student; if the student does not react (through, say, practice and reflection), learning does not happen. Many services or activities pertaining to health and learning are, in this sense, coproduced social exchanges. The provider and recipient actively cooperate to produce social values that both parties share. [Carroll, Chen, Yuan, Hanrahan 2016, p. 27] [….]

In other words, the shared, interdependent aspect of the production process is key in successful coproduction activities. This means that service coproductions can be improved and customized by leveraging the expertise of both providers and recipients, enabling increased diversity and choices. Recipients can be more responsive to the services provided, and costs can decrease. [5] [Carroll, Chen, Yuan, Hanrahan 2016, p. 28]

  • [5] T. Brandsen and V. Pestoff, “Coproduction, the Third Sector and the Delivery of Public Services: An Introduction,” Public Management Rev., vol. 8, no. 4, 2006, pp. 493–501.

The article makes the ideas concrete with a research smartphone app WithShare (on iOS).

FIGURE 1. Screenshots of our timebanking smartphone app (names anonymized).
(a) The task list view (offer). (b) The add-task view (request). (c) The task details view (offer).
(d) The user profile view. Users can set up service exchanges; in Figures 1b and 1c, a
mother home alone with a sick child is requesting someone to obtain medicine for her.


Carroll, J. M., J. Chen, C. W. Yuan, and B. V. Hanrahan. 2016. “In Search of Coproduction: Smart Services as Reciprocal Activities.” IEEE Computer, July 2016, pp. 26-32. https://doi.org/10.1109/MC.2016.194 , cached at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304813424_In_Search_of_Coproduction_Smart_Services_as_Reciprocal_Activities

#service-science, #service-systems

Science and Society in East and West | Joseph Needham | 2004

In appreciating change, a useful translation of wéi and wú wéi (i.e. 為 and 無為 in traditional characters; 为 and 无为 in simplified characters) is the ways of “willful action” and “natural order” as juxtaposed. This sense goes beyond a dictionary definition of 為 and 無, into the context of science and philosophy in Chinese and western contexts, in the writings of Joseph Needham.

It seems clear, at any rate, that the early superiority of Chinese science and technology through long centuries must be placed in relation to the elaborate, rationalised and conscious mechanisms of a society having the character of ‘Asiatic bureaucracy’. It was a society which functioned fundamentally in a ‘learned’ way, the seats of power being filled by scholars, not military commanders.

Central authority relied a great deal upon the ‘automatic’ functioning of the village communities, and in general tended to reduce to the minimum its intervention in their life.

I have already written (above, pp. 1-2) of the fundamental difference between peasant-farmers on the one hand and shepherds or seamen on the other.

This difference is expressed epigrammatically in the Chinese terms wei 為 and wu wei 無為.

Wei meant application of the force of will-power, the determination that things, animals, or even other men, should do what they were ordered to do, but wu wei was the opposite of this, leaving things alone, letting Nature take her course, profiting by going with the grain of things instead of going against it, and knowing how not to interfere. [53]

  • [53] I remember during the war I had a friend in the Foreign Office in London who had a huge Chinese scroll beside his desk, with these two characters alone on it, and later when later on I became Master of Caius , I found that it was essentially a practical dictum; things worked better if you left the College Lecturers, the Dean and Chaplain and the Kitchen Office to get on with it without any interference from above.

Wu wei was the great Taoist watchword throughout the ages, the untaught doctrine, the wordless edict. [54] It was summarised in that numinous group of phrases which Bertrand Russell collected from his time in China, ‘production without possession, action without self-assertion, development without domination. [55]

  • [54] See SCC, vol 2, p. 564.
  • [5S] SCC, vol. 2, p. 164: from Bertrand Russell, The Problem of China (1922), p. 194.

Now wu wei, the lack of interference, might very well be applied to a respect for the ‘automotive’ capacity of the individual farmers and their peasant communities. Even when the old ‘Asiatic’ society had given place to ‘bureaucratic feudalism’ such conceptions remained very much alive in Chinese political practice and government administration that had been inherited from ancient Asian society and from the single pair of opposites, ‘villages-princes’.

Thus, all through Chinese history, the best magistrate was he who intervened least in society’s affairs, and all through history, too, the chief aim of clans and families was to settle their affairs internally without having recourse to the courts. [56]

[p. 16, editorial paragraphing added]
  • [56] An aspect of the darker side of this is given in the partly autobiographical account of my old friend Kuo Yu-Shou (1963).

It seems probable that a society like this would be favourable to reflection upon the world of Nature. Man should try to penetrate as far as possible into the mechanisms of the natural world and to utilise the sources of power which it contained while intervening directly as little as possible, and utilising ‘action at a distance’.

[pp. 16-17, editorial paragraphing added]

Conceptions of this kind, highly intelligent, sought always to achieve effects with an economy of means, [57] and naturally encouraged the investigation of Nature for essentially Baconian reasons. Hence such early triumphs as those of the seismograph, the casting of iron, and water-power. [58]

  • [57] One can see what this implies by imagining a city on the side of a hill above a river, where water was needed for the upper streets. The Confucians would have had squads of men pedalling square-pallet chain-pumps to send up the water from the river; but the Taoist way would have been quite different. They would have taken off a derivate canal from the river at a higher level and by guiding it along the contours, they would have reached the upper streets of the city on a wu wei principle.
  • [58] One might add the magnetic compass, deep borehole drilling, and the escapement of clockwork, and many other inventions listed below.

It might thus be said that this non-interventionist conception of human activity was, to begin with, propitious for the development of the natural sciences. For example, the predilection for ‘action at a distance’ had great effects in early wave-theory, the discovery of the nature of the tides, the knowledge of relations between mineral bodies and plants as in geo-botanical prospecting, or again in the science of magnetism

It is often forgotten that one of the fundamental features of the great breakthrough of modern science in the time of Galileo was the knowledge of magnetic polarity, declination, etc.; and unlike Euclidean geometry and Ptolemaic astronomy, magnetical science was a totally non-European contribution. [59] Nothing had been known of it to speak of in Europe before the end of the 12th century, and its transmission from the earlier work of the Chinese is not in doubt. If the Chinese were (apart from the Babylonians) the greatest observers among all ancient peoples, was it not perhaps precisely because of the encouragement of non-interventionist principles, enshrined in the numinous poetry of the Taoists on the ‘water symbol’ and the ‘eternal feminine? [60]

  • [59] See Needham (1960a).
  • [60] Cf. SCC vol. 2, p. 57.

However if the non-interventionist character of the ‘villages-prince’ relationship engendered a certain conception of the world which was propitious to the progress of science, it had certain natural limitations. It was not congruent with characteristi­cally occidental ‘interventionism’, so natural to a people of shepherds and sea-farers. Since it was not capable of allowing the mercantile mentality a leading place in the civilisation, it was not capable of fusing together the techniques of the higher artisanate with the methods of mathematical and logical reasoning which the scholars had worked out, so that the passage from the Vincian to the Galilean stage in the development of modern natural science was not achieved, perhaps not possible.

[p. 17]

In medieval China there had been more systematic experimentation than the Greeks had ever attempted, or medieval Europe either; [61] but so long as ‘bureaucratic feu­dalism’ remained unchanged, mathematics could not come together with empirical Nature-observation and experiment to produce something fundamentally new. The suggestion is that experiment demanded too much active intervention, and while this had always been accepted in the arts and traqes, indeed more so than in Europe, it was perhaps more difficult in China to make it philosophically respectable.

[pp. 17-18]
  • [61] Nathan Rosenberg has suggested to us that a new attitude almost of deference to experimental results arose in Europe from the 16th century onwards, with the dominance of the bourgeoisie. which was not paralleled elsewhere. This attitude is very similar to that of merchants interested in quantitative accounting. See Rosenberg & Birdzell (1986).

There was another way, also, in which medieval Chinese society had been highly favourable to the growth of the natural sciences at the pre-Renaissance level. Traditional Chinese society was highly organic, highly cohesive.

The State was responsible for the good functioning of the entire society, even if this responsibility was carried out with the minimum intervention. One remembers that the ancient definition of the Ideal Ruler was that he should sit simply facing the south and exert his virtue (i.e. 德) in all directions so that the Ten Thousand Things would automatically be well governed. As we have been able to show over and over again, the State brought powerful aid to scientific research. [62] Astronomical observatories, for example, keeping millennial records, were part of the civil service; vast encyclopaedias, not only literary but also medical and agricultural, were published at the expense of the State, and scientific expeditions altogether remarkable for their time were successfully accomplished (one thinks of the early +8th-century geodetic survey of a meridian arc stretching from Indo-China to Mongolia, and of the southern hemisphere to within twenty degrees of the south celestial pole). [63]

  • [62] SCC, vols 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 passim.
  • [63] See Beer, Ho Ping-Yü, Lu Gwei-Djen, Needham, Pulleyblank & Thompson, ‘An Eighth-Century Meridian Line; I-Hsing’s Chain of Gnomons and the Pre-History of the Metric System’ (1964).

The writing by Joseph Needham is in the book General Conclusions and Reflections. The section (a) Science and Society in East and West has a sourcing footnote.

  • [1] First published in the J. D. Bernal Presentation Volume (London, 1964), and then in Science and Society (1964) 28, 385, and Centaurus (1964), 10, 174; collected in The Grand Titration (Allen & Unwin, London, I969), and further revised for publication here.


Needham, Joseph. 2004. “General Conclusions and Reflections.” In The Social Background, edited by Kenneth Girdwood Robinson. Vol. VII:2. Science and Civilisation in China. Cambridge University Press. Online archive at https://archive.org/stream/ScienceAndCivilisationInChina/Science_and_Civilisation_in_China_Vol_7-2_General_Conclusions_and_Reflections

Needham, Joseph. 2004. “General Conclusions and Reflections.” In The Social Background, edited by Kenneth Girdwood Robinson. Vol. VII:2. Science and Civilisation in China. Cambridge University Press.

#chinese, #%e7%82%ba, #%e7%84%a1%e7%82%ba, #science, #wei, #wu-wei, #%e6%97%a0%e4%b8%ba, #%e4%b8%ba