Thursday, February 5, 2009

Nothing is New Under the Sun

In my Plum Blossom Divination course, I wrote:

Before the Yijing was written, the concept of Yi already existed. It might not exist in the minds of people. It might just be floating in the Universe waiting to be picked up by someone living on earth.

However, when one picks up an idea floating in the Universe and writes it down as his discovery, it is considered his idea. Obviously he cannot quote the source of the idea.

Yes, nothing is new under the sun. But if you are the first one to discover something, how can you quote an "authoritative source"? Note that you do not create anything. You just discover something that already exists but is unknown to people before your discovery.

JY

14 comments:

Naseeb said...

Dear Master Joseph,

Is your Plum Blossom Divination course available?

Mary Catherine Bax said...

Dear Joseph,

I would expect the qi of this yin earth Chou year, rich garden soil will provide the environment for the birth of new ideas. Many who came with new ideas were ridiculed such as the Wright brothers and Graham Bell but we all know how profoundly they have changed our lives with their courage to think outside the box.

Something tells me you have discovered a new theory. It will be tested as that is what is done in research centers and the need for an 'authoritative source' for validation will not block the way.

Lacking in patience, I hope you will share your new found discovery soon ;-)

Happy New Year, Joseph.

Mary

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Naseeb

It will be available soon with Webex online seminars.

Joseph

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Mary,

I am picking up things floating in the Universe all the time just waiting for the right moment and right audience to share them.

JY

Mary Catherine Bax said...

Dear Joseph,

It sounds as if Ralph Waldo Emerson experienced the same when he wrote, "The gates of thought,--- how slow and late they discover themselves! Yet when they appear, we see that they were always there, always open."

Mary

Howard said...

Hi Joseph,

May be the best thing is for you to tell us a new idea that does not evolve from some earlier source, be it authoritative or not.

Danny mentioned mutation in another post and we all know mutation is part of evolution and that means it evolved from some earlier source and a sudden jump in mutation still needs a base to jump off, no matter how sudden it can be.

In this sense, the old and the new is a continuum like yin and yang, and that mean, “nothing is new ”, and “everything is new” or “something is new sometimes” and “something is not new sometimes” are all a correct point of view, depending on where one is standing.

Waiting for the right audience is no more than waiting for someone to come around to where you are standing, what happens to the ones who have not come around, are they all wrong? The reality has not changed; we are all living in the same qi continuum, so we are just describing the same thing in a different way, relatively speaking.

If you are trying to tell us you don’t need any “authoritative source” to support your new ideas, that is fine with me. But what if some people feel that their ideas are a part of a continual human evolution in thinking and they need a reference point to feel that they are a part of a greater whole, isn’t that OK as well?

I am afraid that I am getting all muddled up in my old age and don’t see things as clear and as black and white as you and Danny, who is right, perhaps, in saying that us old fashion Chinese need to change our way of thinking, so we can win more Nobel prizes with new ideas instead of thinking there is nothing is new under the sun.

Regards,
Howard Choy

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Howard,

I think you have heard the story about Sir Issac Newton sitting under and apple tree and an apple fell from the tree hitting his head. He then discovered the Law of Gravity. His idea, at that time, was new but obviously he did not invent the Law of Gravity. This law existed all the time but he was the first one who picked it up from the Universe. Source? I would say None.

However, if you ask Newton to quote a source to support his findings, he could only tell you to sit under an apple tree and wait patiently for an apple to fall on you. Then, of course, he would not object to that his ideas are a part of a continual human evolution in thinking but do they need a reference point to feel that they are a part of a greater whole?

Likewise, does the concept that our earth revolves around the sun needs the support of earlier belief that the sun moves around the earth for the sake of being a part of a continual human evolution in thinking?

Being old and being Chinese have not been a hindrance to me developing something new based on something old that provides a good source for quoting. Being old and being Chinese also have been a hindrance to me to catch some ideas floating in the Universe before others do. I think I am older and more Chinese than you, Howard.

JY

Howard said...

Hi Joseph,

If you don't mind, I would like to quote you before making my comments below:

“I think you have heard the story about Sir Issac Newton sitting under and apple tree and an apple fell from the tree hitting his head. He then discovered the Law of Gravity. His idea, at that time, was new but obviously he did not invent the Law of Gravity. This law existed all the time but he was the first one who picked it up from the Universe. Source? I would say none.
However, if you ask Newton to quote a source to support his findings, he could only tell you to sit under an apple tree and wait patiently for an apple to fall on you.”

The apple fell from the tree is just a legend and a metaphor for the creative process, it took Newton 20 years of hard work to make his theory credible. He did not just “picked it up from the universe” and there were plenty of “source” that led him to his discovery, such as earlier works by people like Descartes, Galileo, Gilbert and Kipler. New ideas came about by evolution and not by some special creation from thin air.

“…Then, of course, he would not object to that his ideas are a part of a continual human evolution in thinking but do they need a reference point to feel that they are a part of a greater whole?”

I think they do need a reference point because evolution in thinking, by definition, means there is a reference point to evolve from and that made the old and the new part of a greater whole.

“Likewise, does the concept that our earth revolves around the sun needs the support of earlier belief that the sun moves around the earth for the sake of being a part of a continual human evolution in thinking?”

I think it do need the earlier opposite view as an impetus to continue the evolution in thinking, just as Einstein needed to face up to Newton and Newton needed to face up to Descartes to explain things differently.

Descartes and Newton took the view that science do not allow for contradictions, whereas Einstein took the opposite view and adopted “duality” physics, where light is both a particle and a wave at the same time.

The interaction of yin/yang opposites allow us to move forward, just like what we are doing right now with our opposite views in discussion. By contrasting and contradicting each other, we move forward and understand each other better.

You may be older and more Chinese appearance-wise. Being a working architect all my life, I deal with the creative process everyday, and by experience I know ideas don’t just come from thin air, they have a point of reference and they evolve from some point in the past, whether we are aware of it or not.

IMO, “Picking up things floating in the Universe” is beautiful and romantic, but it is not supported by MY OWN observation and experience. If I do this in my work, I won’t have any clients left waiting for me to pick things up floating in the universe. We have design methodologies and systems for analysis to help us being creative on time and within budget.

As usual, it is very productive talking with you, because we are so different and as a result, I can better understand the different ways of thinking.

Thanking you and regards,
Howard Choy

Fourpillars.net said...

Hi Joseph, Howard, all,


This question of "nothing new under the sun" is closely related to the question of "Determinism" in nature, a very old question.
Since it remains an unresolved topic in philosophy, we cannot expect that we will solve the riddle here on the blog.
But it is useful to look into it.

Wikipedia also has a very good piece on it:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism

If our universe is totally deterministic, then it would be fair to say that there is nothing new under the sun.
Then everything was already included and determined with the original set of circumstances, and now we only see that play out itself in a logical evolution, a chain of cause and effect.

But if the universe is not deterministic, then this "nothing new under the sun" will be a false idea.
Because "new" happens when something is not 100% determined by the previous situation.
Especially since the last century there has been growing evidence that our universe is not totally deterministic, but it remains an open question.
Personally I don't believe the universe is deterministic, so I also reject the nothing new under the sun idea.

***

To go back to example of evolution. It may look like a smooth and gradual process in retrospect, but the evolution has been a very bumpy road, not something smooth and predictable
from an earlier "jumping base".
On the one hand there is gradual evolution of species.
For example a giraffe didn't get his long neck suddenly, it just slowly evolved because within the group of these animals those with a slightly longer neck could still reach to food in times of famine, while those with shorter neck died or became too weak.
After thousands of years the giraffe came to its current shape. This is powered by the survival of the fittest principle.
Besides this there are also sudden mutations, revolutions.
This is a very quick important change that alters the entire species.
This is totally separate from the ordinary slow evolution.
A mutation is a disconnect, not something gradual.
Most mutations are useless or even so bad that the new animal cannot live.
Just once in a while a mutation happens to offer a better chance at survival. Being lucky..

It is a very similar dynamic in the world of thought.

***

Determinism is an element in a lot of religions and philosophies around the world.
Talking about Noble prizes, it is no secret that Jewish people have taken an unusual large share of them.
I am an agnost, but we can see some elements of indeterminism in their religion.
They believe god created the world, and then he created man in his own image.
That can only mean the human being is also made to be a creator/god in his own right.
So man can alter the creation, which means not everything was fully determined by the first original set of circumstances.

In a way determinism is a very pessimistic point of view, we are only puppets playing our fixed role in a pre-determined show.
So there is nothing new under the sun , everything was already in the script, only waiting to be discovered by us...
That's just not a very stimulating thought.


Danny

Howard said...

Hi Danny,

Have you read Daniel C Dennett's "Freedom Evolves"? He argued that there is freedom and freewill in a deterministic world, so may be we should not be too pessimistic about "nothing new under the sun", it is just another way of saying the past is connect to the present and the old is connected to the new but the outcome could be unpredictable and sudden, but it will continue to evolve until the end of time.

Regards,
Howard

Fourpillars.net said...

Hi Howard,

It is true that certain versions of determinism allow for something like "free will".
But that in itself is not a proof that we live in a deterministic universe.

Quoting from wikipedia:
"It is a popular misconception that determinism necessarily entails that humanity or individual humans have no influence on the future and its events (a position known as fatalism); however, determinists believe that the level to which human beings have influence over their future is itself dependent on present and past. Causal determinism is associated with, and relies upon, the ideas of materialism and causality." EOQ

So the non-determinist view is in the opposite position, it stems from the idea that spirit (or consciousness) can influence reality (or even create a new reality) in a way that is not fully deterministic. If that is the case then our universe stops being deterministic.
Then nothing new under the sun does not apply, because spirit/consciousness is then the mysterious ongoing source of novelty.

Since the question cannot be proven one way or the other, it currently dwells in the sphere of opinion or belief..
Both sides of the argument can bring some 'facts' in their favor, but it is not decisive.


Danny

Howard said...

"Since the question cannot be proven one way or the other, it currently dwells in the sphere of opinion or belief..
Both sides of the argument can bring some 'facts' in their favor, but it is not decisive."

Ahhh.. Danny,

It sounds just like Yin and Yang, so is it possible to have a "dual" world where determinism and non-determinism can co-exist together? Like, you know, Science and Religion can co-exist together.

If that is acceptable to you, then is it possible also that the old can be new and the new can be old? Nothing is new but at the same time everything is new, like everyday is the same but everyday is also a brand new day.

Do you think we are getting somewhere?

You know, all these are just other people's theories about the world, but what do you see, how do you feel and know of this world?

Don't tell me, just keep it to yourself! ..and keep an inner smile. :-)

Howard

Fourpillars.net said...

Hi Howard,


I wouldn't say we are getting somewhere.
You pretty much sum up where I was already when we started this topic.
I think the universe is partly deterministic and partly non-deterministic, as in a Yin-Yang pair indeed.

But remember, as soon as we make space for some non-determinism, the universe as a whole becomes a non-deterministic universe.
So, that's why I don't believe in a totally deterministic universe and its cousin brother "nothing new under the sun".

Science will go on moving forward and discover more about the deterministic part.
But it will be like a horizon that goes on receding no matter how much we try to go towards it.
And what is behind the horizon never fully comes within our deterministic reach.

Is that poetic enough?


Danny

Howard said...

Hi Danny,

Walking toward a receding horizon sounds very poetic. I think we do that everyday, even though we know it is receding, we still walk towards it.

We are very deterministic, because being determine, we can appreciate that there are things beyond deterministic.

The more the world is deterministic the more we appreciate the non-deterministic nature of the world and vice versa.

There are two little black and white dots in the yin/yang diagram and there are two black and white parts, not one exclusively. It is because they are mutually opposite that makes them whole, like the philosophy of determinism and non-determinism.

We will die but we keep on living, for knowing that we will die, we appreciate living.

For the same reason, being spiritual makes one appreciate the beauty of science and vice versa. They are two different things, but they are not mutually exclusive.

I don't believe in a totally deterministic or a totally non-deterministic universe either, that is why there two cousins (nothing is new and everything is new), not one.

The horizon will keep on receding and we will keep on walking. One of these days, when the right time comes, we will get beyond it.

Now, are we getting somewhere this time?

No, of course not, because it is not the right time YET, so I just have to wait and keep quiet....

See you back in the 4p network.
Howard