Monday, February 9, 2009

Cao Chong Weighing the Elephant

The story about Newton sitting under an apple tree may be just a made-up story. Whether it took Newton 20 years of hard work to make his theory credible or whether the apple cleared what blocks his mind and inspired him to receive the idea of the Law of Gravity leaves much room for imagination.

Another story that is equally inspiring is about Archimedes (287 BC – 212 BC). He stepped into a bath tub and noticed that the water level rose as his body submerged into the water. He exclaimed “Eureka!” as this inspired him to discover what is now known as Archimedes' Principle – the weight of water displaced is equal to the weight of object submerged in water.

Now I will tell another story. This one is about Han Prime Minister Cao Cao's young son Cao Chong 漢丞相曹操之子曹沖(196 – 208).

One day Cao Cao received an elephant as a gift. Cao Cao ordered the officers to find a way to weigh the elephant. No one could find a solution until Cao Cao's five year old son Cao Chong said he could find accurately the weight of the elephant.

He told the people to bring the elephant to the river and led it to board a boat. Then he told the people to mark on the boat the water level. The elephant was led back to the shore and stones were placed in the boat until the water reaches the same level as when the elephant was on board. It remains an easy job to weigh the stones separately and add up the total. The weight of the elephant was simply the same as the weight of all the stones placed in the boat.

Could and should Cao Chong quote Archimedes to support his method? Can we accuse the young boy for plagiarism because he could not quote from a reliable source? I would rather say that he has wonderful ability to receive messages floating in the Universe.

Most of the time, the gifted people have to work very hard to polish his invisible antenna to keep it functional. Unfortunately this clever boy died at the age of 12.

The modern format of presenting academic papers makes it easy to trace the line of thought but it also makes writing academic papers mechanical and lack of poetry. If you compare Newton's Principia and some modern research papers, you will know what I mean.

JY

15 comments:

Mary Catherine Bax said...

Dear Joseph,

"Your most brilliant ideas come in a flash but, the flash comes only after a lot of hard work" - Edward Blakeslee

Is your thought as big as an Elephant? Is it as beautiful as the art in the blog? Has a secret of Heaven been revealed to you? Will it benefit man? no doubt it will. How will it benefit man?

Mary

Howard said...

Good morning, Joseph.

Just came back from the park doing Taiji in light snow, very refreshing and now having a cup of hot tea reading your latest post.

It looks like you are still preoccupied with quoting sources and references. I do agree with you that there are academic papers that are “mechanical and lack of poetry”, but it has little to do with giving references, they are just bad writing.

But there are also very good academic papers as well. I just finished read one called “Basic Conditions of Taoist Thunder Magic” 道教雷法 by Prof. Florian C Reiter, it reads like a discovery story and on each page there are Chinese references which I can trace the original source material for further research of my own. At the end, I felt I have learned something new and exciting.

In the post you gave another example of the “Eureka” moment, which some people have attributed the term to Archimedes, but in fact not true. This source came from an article published in Scientific American:

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-archimede.

As for the story of Cao Chong, unfortunately it is also a myth. According to Prof. Chen Yin-Ke 陳寅恪 (http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/陈寅恪), this instant is most unlikely to have happened because Cao Chong died in 208 and at that time there is no elephant in the kingdom and it was not until 211 that Cao Cao, the father, was given an elephant as a gift.

Prof Chen reckoned the source of the story probably came from the time of Western Wei (535-556) when the Buddhist classics were being translated into Chinese and they took a similar story about Tian Shen or the Heavenly Spirit of Buddhism, and transposed it onto Cap Chong to show how smart and clever he was (not because he has a “wonderful ability to receive messages floating in the Universe”).

I have cut and pasted the Chinese source for your reference below:

曹沖 (196年—208年),字倉舒,是曹操兒子之一,由環夫人所生。曹沖自小生性聰慧,五、六歲的時候,智力就和成人相仿。 《三國誌》魏志卷二十中說:當時孫權送給曹操一頭大象,曹操想知道大象的重量,問遍了手下的人,都想不出稱象之法。曹沖說,只要把大象放進船里,記錄水痕到達的地方,然後稱出同樣重量的物體放到船里,就能知道大象的重量了。曹操非常高興,按照他說的方法稱出了大象的重量。

然而國學大師陳寅恪先生認為此事不可能。曹沖死於建安十三年(208年),在此之前東吳僅有江東六郡,即今天的江蘇、浙江、安徽部分地區。這裡在漢代沒有大象。直到建安十五年孫權派人去作交州刺史,才可能得到大象送給曹操。陳寅恪認為這是北魏時譯成佛經《雜寶藏經》中的故事被中國人附會到曹沖身上以顯其智慧。《雜寶藏經》中載「天神又問:此大白象有幾斤?而群臣共議,無能知者。亦募國內,復不能知。大臣問父,父言:置象船上,著大池中,畫水齊船,深淺幾許,即以此船量石著中,水沒齊畫,則知斤兩。即以此智以答天神。」

http://www.helzone.com/vbb/showthread.php?t=47950

Have you ever wondered why the “Eureka” moment is often glorified and romanticized in the west, whereas in the classical Chinese literature, they don’t get a mention?

My theory is that the Chinese don’t think the “ability to receive message floating in the Universe” is anything special. Everyone can do it with the help of the Yijing or other divination methods, if they are “Cheng and Qing” 誠清 (pure and sincere) and have “Gan Ying” 感應 (mutual resonance), because we are all part of the same Universe and everything is interconnected.

Whereas in the west, we make Man into something special and different, disconnected from the Universe, so if we can catch "It", then it would mean we are even one better off amongst other human.

Any way, this is just my theory (well, not entirely true, but you don’t worry about any sources, so I will pretend it is my own), but the reality has not changed – the flashes of inspiration are wonderful moments and it takes a lot of hard work to achieve “Eureka”, that I KNOW from my own observation and experience.

Well, better get on with my day.

Thanks again for giving me something different to read instead of the newspaper.

Regards,
Howard Choy

Joseph Yu said...

Good morning Howard,

When I read your comment, it is also just early morning here.

I am not against quoting in general. What I am against is the demand for the source. This is just my habbit not to quote the source because when I write, almost everything is from what is in my mind. Of course most of these things come from books but my memory may fail me to point out the source.

Sometimes what I write is not really from the books. Sometimes it is ideas of the giants mixed with ideas of my own. Then it is impossible to quote the source. Not that I don't wnat to but that I am unable to. What does it matter? The reader only needs to know what I want to say. They can agree, disagree and present their own argument if they want.

When I wrote the story of Cao Chong weighing the elephant, I did not quote the source. Well, everyone today can search the internet to find out the source. It is actually according to "The Three Kingdom Documentary 三国誌" written by the historian Chen Shou 陈寿 (233—297). This book is a serious history book and not like the novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国志演义" written by Luo Guan Zhong 罗贯中.

Prof. Chen Yin-Ke 陳寅恪 is a well-know scholar. However, his argument is doubtful:

曹沖死於建安十三年(208年),在此之前東吳僅有江東六郡,即今天的江蘇、浙江、安徽部分地區。這裡在漢代沒有大象。直到建安十五年孫權派人去作交州刺史,才可能得到大象送給曹操。

I translate this into English for the reader:

Cao Chong died in the 13th year of Jian An (208 AD). At that time East Wu only occupied the six counties east of the river. This is today's Jiang Su. Zhi Jiang and part if An Hui. During the Han Dynasty, there were no elephants in these areas. Not until the 15th year of Jian An when Sun Quan assigned someone to be the governor of Jiao Zhou, then he could get an elephant and send it to Cao Cao as a gift.

First of all, what is the source saying that there were no elephants in the area governed by Sun Quan? Even if there were no elephants within his territory, could he get an elephant from a neighbouring county?

陳寅恪認為這是北魏時譯成佛經《雜寶藏經》中的故事被中國人附會到曹沖身上以顯其智慧。

Translation: Chen Yin-Ke is of the opinion that this was a story originated from the Buddhist Classic 《雜寶藏經》translated into Chinese during Northern Wei Dynasty. The Chinese people borrowed this story and adhered it to Cao Cong to show his wisdom.

Well, we must know that Northern Wei 北魏 (386年~534) was much later than the time Chen Shou (233—297) wrote the history book.

I would trust Chen Shou, who was a serious historian, rather than Pro. Chen. Today's professors are obliged to pubish or else perish. What Pro. Chen did was probably one of the many papers today "disproving" certain established ideas in the past to gain recognition. Unfortunately, his argument is quite weak.

JY

Howard said...

Hi Joseph,

It's dinner time here and I am glad to see you start using historical source to support you writing, instead of just saying: this is what I wrote, take it or leave it.

As for Prof. Chen Yin-Ke, may I suggest that you do a very thorough research on his career, work and moral reputation before you attack him as one of "today's professors (who) are obliged to pubish (sic) or else perish. What Pro. Chen did was probably one of the many papers today "disproving" certain established ideas in the past to gain recognition. Unfortunately, his argument is quite weak."

Well, the family is waiting for me to do the stir fry oyster sauce chicken, so I had better take my leave.

Howard

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Howard,

I know the life history of Pro. Chen Yin-Ke and have the highest respect for him. However it doesn't mean that I have to agree blindly with what he says.

You must distinguish between "attacking a person" and "disagreeing with and commenting on a certain opinion"

My comment was "Unfortunately, his argument is quite weak."

I also remarked on the general practices in the academic field: "Today's professors are obliged to pubish or else perish. What Pro. Chen did was probably one of the many papers today "disproving" certain established ideas in the past to gain recognition."

This remarks comes from the fact that his argument was weak. An esteemed scholar like Pro. Chen should know that but he did not put forth a better argument or include better evidence to support his argument.

It appears that there is some difference between your approach and mine regarding getting information from books. You tend to accept everything if the source is from a famous scholar with integrity. I accept only good arguments irrespective of the source.

JY

Howard said...

Dear Joseph,

So you lumped Prof. Chen into the camp of those who are obliged today to publish or perish and those who used “disproving” established ideas of the past to gain recognition, just because his argument was weak. Isn’t this an unnecessary personal attack and being a bit unfair?

You also said, “I would trust Chen Shou, who was a serious historian, rather than Pro. Chen”. Are you saying Prof. Chen was not a serious historian?

You then went on to say that I tend “to accept everything if the source is from famous scholar with integrity”, whereas you “accept only good arguments irrespective of the source.”

So you accept only good arguments irrespective of the source, but have you canvass all the arguments from different sources yet? Do you know Prof. Chen was not the first to raise the issue, there were many others; do you know any of them and their reasoning?

If you do some further research, you will find the two reasons you used to judge Prof. Chen’s argument being weak, (namely, “what is the source saying that there were no elephants in the area governed by Sun Quan? Even if there were no elephants within his territory, could he get an elephant from a neighbouring county?” and “that Northern Wei 北魏 (386年~534) was much later than the time Chen Shou (233—297) wrote the history book”) have both been raised and answered by others like the Qing scholar Liang Zhang-Ju 梁章鉅 and modern scholars like Prof. Liu Guang-Ding 劉廣定 from Taiwan and Prof. Liu Jing-Yan 陸敬嚴 from the mainland China, and also by recent-past scholars like Prof. Chen Yin-Ke himself. These are all experts in Chinese history, philosophy and science.

The general consensus they came to is that it is better and more reliable to treat this instance as a story of inspiration rather than a historical fact. But I know you will not accept their finding, because you want to believe it is a fact, so I will leave you to your point of view and I will keep my doubts open.

I only wish you would not rush to judge me so quickly.

Regards,
Howard Choy

Fourpillars.net said...

Hi Joseph, all,


I think this story you quote throws an interesting light on the question.

Quoting:
"Translation: Chen Yin-Ke is of the opinion that this was a story originated from the Buddhist Classic 《雜寶藏經》translated into Chinese during Northern Wei Dynasty.
The Chinese people borrowed this story and adhered it to Cao Cong to show his wisdom." EOQ

Doesn't this tell us that these ancient Chinese couldn't care less about quoting exact "sources". They just borrowed a story and attributed it to Cao Cong.
And this was very common in those days, that's why even today the real author of many old Chinese books is still in doubt.

If they didn't care about mentioning their sources, then why we should care about quoting them as a source?
Simple logic.

***

I have always been an "ideas" person. And when I get some 'new' idea, I usually wonder where it comes from.
Sometimes I just wake up with an idea, and the idea is not directly connected to anything I had been doing in the days before.
Then where does it come from? Source???

It is also not a secret that many people have been writing, painting or composing music under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Without the drugs their creativity didn't flow. Many of the world's masterpieces have been created in a kind "trance".
Now these people have to quote the drug as the "source" of their writings or creation?

***

Whatever information is stored in your or my brain, a good deal of it has been collected from a thousand sources, that is inevitable.
So if you mention 2 people as a source for your work, then you will be doing a discredit to 998 others.
It will be better not to mention any source.

This quoting of sources has been mostly a rule among scholars and historians. For them it was very useful to do their work, especially in the pre-internet era.
But I am neither a scholar nor a historian.
I have hardly read any books for the last 10 years or so.
So why I would be wasting my time, trying to figure out the 100s of sources when I put something to writing today.?
I rather use my time for a more interesting purpose, and leave it to the historians to do their job.

Not quoting sources also has a great advantage.
It forces the readers to do their own study and verification of the ideas.
Things are not just handed down on the silver platter.
By doing his own research and verify things, the reader pays the proper price for access to an idea.
That's my approach.
And today internet makes it easy enough.
The internet is making the quoting of sources unnecessary, because the sources can be searched and found ever more easy.



Danny

Sherab Wong said...

1.Thinking Aloud = Thinking Allowed
2.Sometimes, The opposite of one Truth is another equivalent (if not greater) Truth.
3.Joseph has a way, Howard chooses another; how about Wu Wei - the art of Just Be?
4.Attachment to views - even great and wonderful ones - are STILL attachment.
5. To quote my friend, who was a Zen Monk:
"In the black,
There is some white;
In the wrong,
There is some right;
In the dark,
There is some light;
In the blind,
There is some sight.
-Abhinyana

Thank you to both of you.

Cheers,
Sherab Wong

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Howard,

You wrote: I am glad to see you start using historical source to support you writing, instead of just saying: this is what I wrote, take it or leave it.

Well, what I did was just to point out the historical background to support certain arguments I made. This is different from quoting the source of a statement.

I did not say, "this is what I wrote, take it or leave it."

I think I would rather say, "This is what I wrote, I am more pleased if you disagree with it and let me know what is wrong."

And usually I may present a counter argument but if I am wrong I will also admit my mistake.

But if you ask me from what authoritative source is your statement come, maybe there is none, and even if there is, I may simply have forgotten.

JY

Howard said...

Hi Joseph,

The point of my last posting is:

Allow others to judge, instead judging others. :-(


Hi Sherab,

I like what your Zen friend says and thank you for "thinking allowed"! :-)

Hi Danny,

You have said it yourself, "But I am neither a scholar nor a historian. I have hardly read any books for the last 10 years or so."

So it doesn't matter, whether Cao Chong weighed an elephant or not, it is just a historical question. "We can use our time for a more interesting purpose.

Simple logic." :-)

So lets stop all these non-sense about a little boy and his elephant. We adults have bigger things to weigh about.

HC

Simon said...

Dear All,

Thank you for this exciting argument, I have learnt much from them.


Quote:
"The internet is making the quoting of sources unnecessary, because the sources can be searched and found ever more easy."


The internet is full of rubbish as well. I think, quoting makes the internet search easier and more accurate. It helps to find the true, well-ground reslults of a research, instead of the "I heard from someone" type information.

If I do not know where the information come from, I try to validate it by reasonable arguments and research results. I think it is not (so) different than quoting from some serious and authentic source.


Simon

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Howard,

Judging an action/words is different from judging a person.

My judgement of Pro. Chen as a person is that he is a well-know and respected scholar. My judgement on his hasty conclusion that the story of Cao Chong weighing an elephant is as result of plagiarism (国学大师陈寅恪先生认为当时吴国无象,因此曹冲称象故事纯属文人抄袭所致。)is not what a serious historian should do.

In fact, at that time, the Wu Kingdom did not exist. Sun Quan was just one of the warlords controlling the area Jiang Dong.

Another scholar 戴念祖 from Mainland China did better research. He said that the denial of Cao Chong weighing the elephant was a misunderstanding of history and geography. According to 《吴录地理志》, there were a lot of elephants in 九真郡庞县 which is part of Vietnam today. In 111 BC, this territory became a subordinated state of the Han Empire. It was always under the control of Sun Quan ever since he inherited his power from his deceased brother Sun Ce in the 5th year of Jian An (201 AD). Usually the Han Emperor assigned an official post to recognize the position of a warlord. Sun Quan was assigned the post of the governor of Hui Qi 会稽刺史. In return, Sun Quan sent an elephant as a gift to prime minister Cao Cao for his recommendation.

According to 《艺文类聚》, Sun Quan sent someone to the southern states to get two tamed elephants. "孙权遣使诣南驯象二头。”

Howard, I don't quite understand your point: Allow others to judge, instead judging others. :-(

In search for knowledge, don't we have to make judgement about what to and what not to believe by our logical mind instead of blindly following others' judgement?

JY

Howard said...

Hi Joseph,

Again, it is good to see you citing different source to support your point of view, instead of attacking the person who holds an opposite opinion to you.

As Sherab said earlier, "Sometimes, The opposite of one Truth is another equivalent (if not greater) Truth." So there is no need to tackle the person, just present your thought and references will do. Let others decide.

With regard to citing sources, I am really surprised at all this, I was brought up since high school and university days that citing sources is a pre-requisite for intellectual honesty.

If you Google under "why cite sources?" there are hundreds of articles from different educational institutions telling their students the importance of citing sources and references and why.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=safari&rls=en-us&q=why+cite+sources&btnG=Search

You run an educational research center, yet you are telling us there is no need to cite sources. I am really shocked.

I think after this posting, we should write to each other privately. It is not something I would like to continue in public.

Regards,
Howard

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Howard,

I am not against citing a source. It depends on the circumstances. When I casually tell a story, I don't feel there is a need to cite the source.

The reason why I told the story is to say that sometimes a person can discover an idea independant of other people who have discovered the same before him. Therefore, citing a source is neither always possible nor necessary.

Another practice that I discourage is to always cite an authoritative source without one's own original idea.

I always tell my students not to quote me in their discussion.

JY

Howard said...

Dear Joseph,

Looks like you want to continue this locking-horn in public, so lets get on with it for the lat time I hope.

With regard to citing sources, precisely because one thinks one’s ides is original, that one needs to cite sources to show one’s idea is original, otherwise it is just an illusion that one’s idea is original. We are teachers and researchers, so there is a responsibility in us to guide the students towards an acceptable standard of practices in their learning and research work.

With regard to “allow others to judge, instead of judging others”, there is always two sides to an argument, the general practice is to cite the pros and cons on all sides and then present one’s finding and opinions, without getting personal.

There is no need to say things like “Prof. Chen’s judgment is hasty”, “his argument is weak”, that “he is not a serious historian”, that so and so “did better research” and lumped him into a camp that he does not belong, to boost your own position. These remarks amounted to personal attack on the integrity of Prof. Chen and you pre-judged him before others can form an opinion from all points of view given.

As for me, you said I tend “to accept everything if the source is from a famous scholar with integrity” while you “accept only good arguments irrespective of the source”. Is it really necessary to be so hurtful, stepping on me to make you look taller? The ironical part is that you then went on to cite another famous scholar to support your position instead of presenting a good argument and checks your dates.

We are in a no-win situation here, so lets stop now and let people read what others and we have said so far and make their own judgment about the issues raised.

No offence is intended; you have my respect as always.

Howard