Scientific Enlightenment, Div Two
A. The Constitution of the Structural Perpsective

A.1. The Transition from Philosophy to Science

Chapter 2: The Budding of the Structural Perspective in China (i.e. in the Eastern Ecumene):
Wang Ch'ung and Fan Zhen
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copyright © 2003, 2006 by Lawrence C. Chin. All rights reserved.

1. The inauguration of the structural perspective in China: Wang Ch'ung

The structural perspective that is the prerequisite of empirical science is not unique to the European civilization. The transition from the functional to the structural perspective is in fact the universal trend of consciousness. It can happen even in a single person, as in Plato, in the transition from Phaedo and Republic to Timaeus. In the Eastern Ecumene, China, the trend toward the structural perspective had already appeared as early as the Han Dynasty, as for example with Wang Ch'ung (王充 A.D. 27 - ca. 100), usually characterized as a rationalist. His work is preserved as Lun-Heng (論衡 Discourses Weighed in the Balance).1 "While Lung-Heng is the most complete and certainly the most conspicuous surviving expression of a rationalist's point of view of this time, Wang Ch'ung was not entirely alone in propounding these views. A similar approach may be seen in the fragments of a work entitled the Hsin-Lung (新論 New Discourses), by Huan Tan (桓谭 ca. 43 B.C. - A.D. 28). It is also possible that some of Wang Ch'ung's principles, including that of an independent search for reality irrespective of the generally accepted assumptions of the day, may have been shared by Yang Hsiung. [扬雄]" (Twitchett and Loewe, The Cambridge History of China, vol. 1, The Ch'in and Han Empires, p. 698)

Suffice it to point out for now the four main threads of Wang Ch'ung's thought in order to illustrate the hallmarks of the structural perspective. First, the trend toward greater precision in the representation of reality and the associated enlargement of experiential horizon. This is the general effect of the differentiation of consciousness, resulting in the departure from the functional perspective marked by what John Henderson has called (in The Development and Decline of Chinese Cosmology) "correlative thought" or what Eric Voegelin refers to as the perspective of the cosmological civilizations (in Order and History, vol. 1 and 4). "One particular theory against which [Wang] reacts with vigor is that of the warnings given to man from Heaven, as set forth by Tung Chung-Shu [of Han]... He sets out five proofs to show that [for example] thunder derives from fire or heat and points out that there is no evidence to support the view that it is an expression of the anger of Heaven." (Twitchett and Loewe, ibid., p. 698 - 99.) As has been said, the underlying motor for "correlative thought" or the cosmological perspective (a mature form of the functional perspective) is the supposition of a simplistic formula (the universal politea [order]) as the structure of the cosmos which repeats itself from human beings through human society through space to the various levels of time (days, years, cosmic eons), and which therefore results in the correlations of the anthropos, the state, and the cosmos one with the other. The structural perspective dismisses all these correlations due to the insistence on greater precision in the representation of reality and to the enlargement of experiential horizon which then reveals the simplistic and provincial nature of the former politea and so invalidates its effectiveness in the various spheres of reality (from anthropic through social to cosmic): these correlations are now seen as illusory. A typical means for greater precision in representation and for the enlargement of the horizon of experience is empirical experimentation by which the representation of reality becomes more detailed and portions of it previously unnoticed are brought into view. Hence "[o]ne of Wang Ch'ung's contributions to Chinese thought lay in his attempt to form and to apply systematic methodology. He would try to collect the evidence relevant to the subject under discussion; he would produce a hypothesis to explain its characteristic features; and he would suggest how the validity of that hypothesis would be tested by experiment." (Ibid.) The demand for greater precision in representation is usually manifested in the empiricist imperative that statements about reality not be made unless backed up with repeatable (verifiable) experimentation, which Wang Ch'ung repeatedly uttered as pre-requisite before adoption of the faith in Heaven's "will" (disproval, etc.) toward human moral conducts or the belief in intervention in the life of the living by ghosts -- the natural categories of thought in the functional perspective now coming to acquire supra-natural meaning for the incipient structural perspective. (This is why throughout the history of human consciousness this demand for precision of representation always brings with it the same demand for empirical experimentation -- meaning that only tangible, physical entities "count" which are easily shared or accessible by the perception of all [the demand for repeatability of the experiment by others] -- and for quantitative representation in place of qualitative.) The disintegration of the cosmological perspective -- that the human social collective is an integral part of the cosmos and the state of its order (as manifested in the moral character of its people and the ruling elites) a sub-order of the cosmic order so that cosmic forces (as manifested in natural phenomena), expressing the order of the cosmos, are responsive to or reflective of the state of morality of the people as well -- is the natural consequence: "whatever Heaven may have meant to Wang Ch'ung, it did not include something that had a will or the power to interfere in the affairs of men" -- this was directly polemical against Tung Chung-Shu. (Ibid., p. 700) This resulting spirit critical of the traditional views led him to question also, firstly, the authenticity of the Confucian classics, etc., and secondly, to refuse to accept their scriptural authority without beforehand critical examination.

Secondly, the inauguration of the structural perspective consists in realizing that the entities formerly considered to be existing independently (like soul/ spirit, i.e. consciousness) are actually effects generated by some material substance underneath. "Like Lucretius, [Wang] devotes a considerable effort to dispelling the fears of an afterlife. In several chapters he sets out to disprove the possibility that man can survive death in any form, or that the spirits of the dead possess the power to communicate with man or injure him during his life time." (Ibid., p. 699) Once consciousness is taken as a mere effect, the belief disintegrates that human spirits subsist after death as "ghosts" floating about to harm or interact in other ways with people. Wang naturally dismisses as well the mantic practices of the shamans: they cannot tell the future through communication with the spirits governing the cosmos, nor can they avert disasters through propitiation of them, for spirits do not exist.

Thirdly, with the disintegration of the correlative thinking of the cosmological perspective and of the perception of the infusion of the cosmos with spirits of the dead characteristic of the shamanistic mythic consciousness -- with, that is, the "de-animization of the cosmos" in a certain sense -- "nature" appears in place of the old "cosmos", i.e. a deterministic, mechanical nature that runs itself like a clock: essentially the Newtonian world view, the world of mechanics, i.e. an empty container in which "objects" change "places" and collide with each other. "Wang Ch'ung has little room for mythological accounts of creation or for the part played by a named creator. Throughout a chapter of Lung-Heng that is basic to his thought, he insists that Heaven takes no part in the process... there can be no question of determinism; all matter is brought into being without prior intent in the same way as children are produced without specific intent, when man and woman unite their vital essences. This idea is cardinal to Wang Ch'ung's view of the world of nature as existing and operating spontaneously, zi-ran ["self-accord", as we have seen], with no intervention by the superior forces of another world." (Ibid., p. 701) Thus Daoist philosophy -- the result of the decontextualization of (mythic) Weltlichkeit as all philosophies are -- prefigures in a way the rationalist philosophy of Wang Ch'ung and others.

Fourthly, the idea of fate is discarded. "To Wang Ch'ung, destiny was in no sense determined by a purposeful superhuman power... Essentially, destiny worked itself out in an arbitrary way, and it could on no account be subject to change because of an individual's ethical qualities or moral behavior. All persons, good, bad, and indifferent, were subject to a destiny that resulted from a natural catastrophe such as flood or drought, in the same way as a field fire does not choose to destroy those plants that are evil and spare those that are good." (Ibid., p. 702) As said, the idea that one gets what one deserves -- formulated in such belief as karma -- comes from the application of thermodynamic equilibrium to functional entities like pain and pleasure, etc. The principle of equilibrium is not wrong, but in the structural perspective it is realized that it is not at the level of functional entities that equilibrium applies, but at the level of structure underneath. A collection of molecules always reaches equilibrium, but psychological dynamics do not, because they are not real entities. Hence one does not get what, from the everyday perspective, one deserves, but things befall people without purpose: i.e. without the goal of evening out disequilibrium in happiness and suffering among people. This is the same type of view expressed by modern day "critical thinkers".2 It is apparent that such denial of karma or fate fits well with the view of a mechanistic nature, the disillusionment with correlative thoughts, and the reduction of consciousness to the effects of a material base.

The progression of Chinese consciousness from shamanistic ancestral worship through the Confucian philosophy of the cosmological perspective (the "correlative thinking" of, e.g. Tung Chung-Shu) to the positivistic rationalism of Wang Ch'ung seems to conform to Auguste Comte's "loi de l'évolution intellectuelle de l'humanité ou loi des trois états... Suivant cette doctrine fondamentale, toutes nos spéculations quelconques sont inévitablement assujetties, soit chez l'individu, soit chez l'espèce, à passer successivement par trois états théoriques différents... théologique, métaphysique, et positif..." (Discours sur l'esprit positif, p. 2) This is because Comte is correct in a very general way, although a lot of the seemingly non-linear details escape this three-stage classification. The definite transition, without the (seemingly) non-linear details, is from the functional (wherein belong the theologic and the metaphysic) to the structural perspective (wherein belongs the positivistic -- but which does not finish itself with the mere positivistic).

2. Wang Ch'ung on the nature of consciousness: his debunking of "soul"

The structural perspective destroys religious consciousness and gives rise to "atheism" essentially because it no longer conceives consciousness and bodily metabolism as independently existing but only as the effects, the emergent properties, of a certain arrangement of non-consciousness, non-living "material" constituents. The de-animization of the cosmos has begun. But during its first stage as here, as shall be seen below, "air" (qi) is not yet decomposed to its atomic, rigid body constituents, but retains its status as the ultimate constituent of all things (arche). The first stage merely deprives it of its functions of consciousness and metabolism: its function of "animation." Wang Ch'ung makes this step in section 20, paragraph 62, "Consideration On Death" of his magnum opus, Discourse Weighed in Balance. Ostensibly, this section is directed toward debunking what Wang considers to be superstitious and irrational fear of ghosts prevalent among "the common people," which, as we have emphasized, constitutes the foundational stratum of intraworld religiosity. The value of the debunking lies, of course, in its exposition of a structural view of consciousness. That is, this is the text behind the second thread identified earlier of Wang Ch'ung's structural perspective.3




Translation in bold. First, Wang wants to show that dead people do not become ghosts. People say dead people become ghosts, have consciousness [i.e. intentions], are able therefore to harm people. If we investigate [and verify] this by the material nature of things, [the conclusion is that] dead people do not become ghosts, have no consciousness [intentions], and cannot harm people. How to investigatively verify this? By [material] thinghood. A person is a thing; a thing is a thing. When things die [disintegrate] they do not become ghost; when people die, then, how can they -- only they -- become ghosts? The world [i.e. people] can understand that things don't become ghosts, but cannot figure out whether people become or do not become ghosts. If they cannot understand it, then they too have no means to know that by which [dead people] become ghosts. Note only that Wang is making the materialist supposition, that all things ultimately are just "matter" -- the emergence of this concept itself is the hallmark of the structural perspective. The turn toward materialism is typical when consciousness demands greater precision in the representation of reality, as the non-visible gets filtered out. (As noted in the exposition of the origin of the belief in soul and animism, such representation as "the ancestral ghost" is not as un-seen or merely fabricated by imagination as an immature structural perspective may suppose. The last breath, for example, is always seen exiting the dead person. But with the structural perspective the existing air is reduced to mere material -- molecules or whatever, with the dead person's psyche -- which the previous functional perspective "sees" in this breath -- filtered out of it.) Such supposition will not be later on as unjustified as it may seem for now.

The reason for a person's coming into being is jing-qi -- "essence-air" [i.e. "breath" as "soul"].4 [When a person] dies the air dissolutes. What can become this "air" is blood. That is, the blood forms into the qi circulating the body to animate the person, thus serving as the "soul" of the person. "This is the same meaning as the saying in Huang-ti nai-jing (The Internal Classic of the Yellow Emperor [Ancestor]): 'What are called blood and air (qi) is the soul of the person.'" (Notes in The Essentials of the Hundred Schools of the Many Masters, p. 1064.) When the person dies the blood dries up; when it dries up the air dissolutes. When air dissolutes the body decays; when the body decays it turns into dust and earth; what of it can function as ghost? One sees evidently that, here, the inaugurated structural perspective does not yet depart from the categories of entities in the functional perspective. Air is still considered as the animating principle of all sentient life (sometimes even the primordial constituent of everything): breath. Wang Ch'ung has not yet rejected this universal primordial human experience. He merely recasts it as the structure, i.e. with consciousness filtered out from blood/ air, in the sense that consciousness is the effect (emergent property) of the congelation and movement of this blood-air. The death of the person is the decay of the organization formed by the blood-air, its dissolution or transformation, ceasing therefore to generate the effect of consciousness, just as a computer smashed up and rusted can no longer generate the effect of the calculation and presentation (on the screen) of data. The structural perspective begins with the structuralization of the functional entities -- seeing the "soul" as physical matter -- before the coming revelation of this "material" itself being reducible to more basic material constituents. A person without ears and eyes has no consciousness; hence a person deaf and blind is like grass and tree. When the "air" leaves the person, isn't it the same as without ears and eyes? Decay, and then dissipation and dissolution, and then thinly, vaguely, it is invisible. Hence it is called ghosts and spirits. When people see such things as ghosts and spirits, they are not seeing the "soul" [jing] of the dead. Why? Because ghosts and spirits are the names for that which is thinly and vaguely invisible. That is, if it has visible shape, then it is not ghost and spirit, and so not the soul of the deal. (Ibid.) When the person dies the spirit [jing-shen] ascends toward heaven, and the corpse and bones return to earth. Hence it is called ghosts and spirits. "Wang thinks that this 'soul' [jing-qi, i.e. jing-shen] in the realm of nature is not conscious; it is when it organizes into the soul of a human being that it becomes conscious. After the human being dies it leaves the human body and returns to the realm of nature that is not conscious." (Ibid.) Again, the "breath-soul" is now taken as the material substrate that, after its definite organization, produces the effect of consciousness, which it ceases producing after the organization disintegrates. We need only to substitute organic molecules making up the neurons and neuro-transmitters for the "air" as material constituent to obtain the modern neurological view. Ghost is that which returns; spirit, that which is vague and thin and without shape. People also say: "ghost and spirit, the names for ying and yang. The air of ying is the reversing of things and the "returning", hence is called ghost [guei]. "The school of ying-yang and five phases thinks that the earth is of ying, and also that the principal working of the air of ying is 'killing'; hence that the air of ying prevents the growth of humans and things, causing the return of their bodily forms, after their death, to the earth." (Ibid.) The air of yang guides things for them to be born, hence is called spirit. What is called spirit [shen] means "extension". "The [same] school thinks that heaven is of yang, and also that the principal working of the air of yang is 'producing', hence that the air of yang aids the growth of humans and things, letting them receive life... Extension here means letting humans and [other sentient beings] become alive." (Ibid.) The indefinite repetition of extension, ending and then commencing again. "This means that the air of yang combines with the air of ying to constitute something living, then afterwards leaves the form constituted by the air of ying to return to the realm of nature, this continuing indefinitely in a cycle. A person is born by the air of spirit [shen-qi, i.e. the air of yang]; after death the air of spirit returns. Ying-yang are called ghosts and spirits; people dead also called ghosts and spirits. Air producing a person is like water becoming ice. Water congeals into ice, and air congeals into person; here the typical Anaximenean. Again not transcending the functional perspective but structuralizing within it. Ice melts into water, and the person dies to become spirit again. Calling it "spirit" is like calling the ice after melting "water". People see different names; i.e. "while alive it is called 'person' and when dead 'spirit'." (Ibid.) Saying [the spirit] to be conscious, to become physical shape and to harm people, such is discourse without ground.

Elsewhere Wang simply appeals to common sense to dispel the belief in dead people becoming ghosts. This means to organize what is already known into a logical consistency, without adding new data. 天地开辟,人皇以来,随寿而死。若中年夭亡,以亿万数。计今人之数不若死者多,如人死辄为鬼,则道路之上,一步一鬼也。 Since the beginning of Heaven and Earth and the early [legendary] Ancestors, those that die of old age or in the middle of life number hundred-millions and ten-thousands. Today's population is less than those that have died. If people become ghosts after death, then we should see a ghost every step on the street. Or again, People say ghosts are the spirits of the dead... If people see ghosts, they should see these naked, and not as wearing ropes and belts. Why? Clothing has no soul... Soul is originally blood-air, and blood-air carries on in a body... Now clothing is of silk and garment, which blood-air does not carry during life, and clothing has no blood-air. After the decay of the body... how can it turn itself into a form wearing cloth? 夫为鬼者,人谓死人之精神... 则人见之宜徒见裸袒之形,无为见衣带被服也。何则?衣服无精神,人死,与形体俱朽,何以得贯穿之乎?精神本以血气为主,血气常附形体。形体虽朽,精神尚在,能为鬼可也。今衣服,丝絮布帛也,生时血气不附着,而亦自无血气,败朽遂已,与形体等,安能自若为衣服之形? The point is that since the common people always see ghosts wearing cloth, what they are seeing is not the spirits of the dead.

Second, Wang wants to show that dead people are not conscious. Here two paragraphs again express the structural view of consciousness.


If dead people cannot become ghosts, then they also cannot be conscious. How to investigatively verify this? By the fact that before birth there is no means for consciousness. Before birth, the person is [part] within [of] air; after death, it returns to [join this] air. The [general air that is the material substrate of this cosmos] is indefinite [i.e. without definite individual things having crystallized from it], and the air of [i.e. that had become] this person is [mixed] within. Again Wang remained subscribed to the Anaximenean manner typical of the functional perspective. His "air" is our "energy." The person before birth has no means for consciousness. That is, the air, before crystallizing into a human being, is not conscious. After death the person returns to this original condition of no-consciousness. How can then it be conscious? That is, the air, after disintegrating from the organization of the human form, ceases, in its original condition, producing consciousness as an effect. The reason why a person is intelligent and wise is that he holds the "air" of the five "constants". "The five constants refer to the five moral principles that Confucians advocate: respectful love [ren 仁], righteousness [yi 義], formalism [li 禮], wisdom [zheu], and trust [hsing 信]. By the "air of the five constants" Wang Ch'ung is referring to the air that [with its variations of quality] contains [i.e. produces] these five moral qualities [in people]." (Ibid.) The reason why the airs of the five constants reside in a person [to produce his moral characters] is that the five "organs" are in the human body. Wang Ch'ung again remained subscribed to the general view of the time that the airs of the five constants were held in the five internal organs of a person respectively, which enabled the person to have moral qualities worthy of the designation "intelligence" and "wisdom". (Ibid.) When the five organs are not damaged the person is wise; when they are affected by sickness the person is psychotic and delirious. Psychotic and delirious, hence stupid and idiotic. When the person dies the five organs decay and decompose. Decay and decomposition, hence the five constants are no longer held there. If that which holds intelligence is destroyed, then that which produces intelligence [the five airs] has departed. The body needs air to be complete; the air needs the body to be conscious. Again Wang is getting to the point, in tortuous ways, that consciousness is effect and therefore needs a material base to produce it, as can be seen in the next sentence: Under all of heaven there is no such thing as fire that ignites itself; how can there then be a consciousness by itself without [material] embodiment? Fire is the effect called rapid oxidation, and consciousness the effect of inter-communication of neurons; Wang's view is modern, but it is expressed in the traditional categories of being.


The death of the person is like fire's being extinguished. When fire is extinguished its lighting vanishes. When a person dies consciousness is no longer waking. These two are the same type of truth... Is a person becoming sick and dead any different than a fire becoming extinguished? The fire extinguished, light having vanished, only ashes remain; just as a person dead, soul [jing, "essence"] destroyed, only the body remains. Saying that a person dead has [still] consciousness is like saying that fire extinguished produces [still] light.

Thirdly, to show that ghosts cannot harm people: 人死不为鬼,无知,不能语言,则不能害人矣。何以验之?夫人之怒也用气,其害人用力,用力须筋骨而强,强则能害人。忿怒之人,呴呼於人之旁,口气喘射人之面,虽勇如贲、育,气不害人,使舒手而击,举足而蹶,则所击蹶无不破折。夫死,骨朽筋力绝,手足不举,虽精气尚在,犹呴吁之时无嗣助也,何以能害人也? Dead people don't become ghosts, have no consciousness, cannot speak, and cannot harm people. How to investigatively verify this? When people get angry they use air [qi]. To harm others they use strength. To use strength they need their tendons and bones to be strong; with such then can they harm others. Angry person screams besides another, sprays breath on another's face. Although he seems as aggressive as Ben and Yue [the two ancient heroes known for bravery] these airs [he spray] don't harm people. By swinging his arm to strike and lifting his foot to kick, he then destroys what he stroke and kicked. After death, his bones and tendons decay, he is no longer able to lift his arms and legs. Although the soul-air [jing-qi] remains, it cannot affect anything just as during screaming and spraying. With what can it harm people?

3. Fan Zhen's debunking of the posthumous existence of "soul"

The rationalist tradition started by Wang Ch'ung continues in a marginal way in the Chinese tradition. A fine example after its eruption during the Han dynasty is Fan Zhen (范缜 450 - 510 A.D.), of the period of Northern and Southern Dynasties. He is a materialist, as rationalism inevitably transits into materialism -- the thinking that all things are based in non-conscious, lifeless, rigid physical matter -- with which the structural perspective inaugurates but will not end. As a government official he had banned ancestral worshipping among the populace of his district. The following work, "Spirit Does Disintegrate" (神灭论), was directly polemical against the current Buddhist piece "Spirit Does Not Disintegrate". But the value of this work, again, lies in the view of consciousness as a dependent, rather than independent, entity, i.e. the structural perspective wherein the concept (experience) of "soul" disintegrates. Certain terms he uses should be noted beforehand: 神 "spirit", meaning "soul." 形 "shape", meaning the "(material, physical) body." 知 "to know", "knowledge", "mind", i.e. "consciousness". Now we can examine "Spirit Does Disintegrate."

或问:“子云神灭, 何以知其灭也?”答曰:“神即形也, 形即神也, 是以形存则神存,形谢则神灭也。”问曰:”形者无知之称,神者有知之名,知与无知,即事有异,神之与形,理不容一。形神相即, 非所闻也。”答曰:“形者神之質,神者形之用,是则形称其質,神言其用,形之与神,不得相异也。”问曰:“神故非質,形故非用,不得为异,其义安在?”答曰:“名殊而体一也。”问曰:“名既已殊,体何得一?”答曰:“神之于質,犹利之于刃;形之于用,犹刃之于利,利之名非刃也,刃之名非利也;然而舍利无刃,舍刃无利。未闻刃没而利存,岂容形亡而神在?”

Translation in bold. (1) Establishing that consciousness is the function and the body is the structure underneath the function and producing it: restoring the unity between the mind and the body, i.e. refuting the dualism of the popular functional perspective at this historical stage. Question: "you say that the soul [spirit] does get destroyed; how do you know that it does get destroyed?" Reply: "the soul is the body, the body is the soul. Hence if the body subsists then the soul subsists, but if the body disintegrates then the soul gets destroyed."

Question: "Body is the name for that which has no consciousness, and soul is the name for that which has consciousness. Consciousness and no consciousness are different things. The soul and the body are by reason, therefore, not reducible to the one [and the same] thing. The identity of the soul and the body [in an inseparable one whole thing] has never been heard of before." Reply: "The body is the material substance [material make-up] of the soul, and the soul the function of the body [i.e. like fire or the production thereof is the function of the stove]. Hence the body refers to its [the sentient being's] material make-up, and the soul to its function. The body and the soul therefore cannot be mutually different."

This is the inauguration of the structural perspective. Consciousness (what is in the functional perspective called the soul or spirit and identified, typically as seen, with breath) is now seen as the emergent property -- the effect, the use, the function -- of a material substrate. This is essentially the view of modern neurophysiology. Note that Fan for now gives no hint of what material exactly it is that gives rise to the function of consciousness: brain mass or the body or what. It is seen that in the history of science it is the perspective which precedes the discovery: it simply makes common, rational sense that consciousness is the effect of some material underneath.

(2) Explicating the meaning of, i.e. the relationship between, function and structure. Question: "The soul is not the material substance, and the body is not the function. That they are not different, where is the meaning of this?" Reply: "Their names differ but in terms of what they are they are the same."

Question: "If their names differ, how can their substance be one?" Reply: "The relationship between the soul and the material substance [the body] is like the relationship between sharpness and sword. What the body is to the function is like what the sword is to its sharpness. The name of "sharpness" is not "sword", and the name of "sword" is not "sharpness", but if the sharpness is dispensed with, then there is no sword; and if the sword is dispensed with, then there is no sharpness. That the sword vanishes and yet its sharpness remains has never been heard of. In the same way how can the soul subsist when the body dissolutes?"

Note that in this new structural perspective consciousness is no longer considered an independently existing entity but an effect dependent on a material composite which today is identified as the central nervous system. When such reduction is made, the question of the immortality of the soul becomes absurd, as the "soul" is no longer a "thing" that can be conserved.


(3) Given the distinction between structure and function, there must be differences between structures -- such as trees -- that do not produce functions like consciousness and structures -- such as human bodily structures -- that do; and there must also be a transition in structure that is involved in death such that the structure of the person before death produces consciousness but after death no longer produces consciousness. Question: "According to what you are saying, what the sword is to its sharpness is like what the body is to its soul, but this reasoning does not hold. Why this? The material substance of wood [i.e. tree] is not conscious, but the material substance of a person is conscious. Now the person has a material substance [material base] just like wood, but somehow the person has consciousness unlike wood; is it then that the wood has one [i.e. the material base of wood has the one characteristic of non-consciousness] and the person has two [i.e. the material base of the person has the one characteristic of non-consciousness but also the other characteristic of consciousness]?" Reply: "Your saying is strange! If a person has as material base the material make-up of the wood, but somehow has as soul the consciousness absent from wood, then it is indeed as you have said. But, now [the reality is that] the material base of a person has consciousness; and [that] the material base of wood has no consciousness. Hence the material make-up of a person is not the same material make-up as that of wood, and the material make-up of wood is not the same material make-up as that of the person. How can something have the same material make-up as wood has but somehow possess a consciousness that the wood does not have?"

Question: "So, that the material make-up of a person differs from the material make-up of wood is because the person has consciousness. If the person has no consciousness, how is the person different from wood?" Reply: "There is no such person who has a material make-up that produces no consciousness, just as there is no such wood [tree] that has a body that produces consciousness."

Question: "The corpse of the dead, isn't it the material make-up that produces no consciousness?" Reply: "This is the material make-up that produces no consciousness."

Question: "Therefore, a person does have the material make-up that is like that of wood, but somehow has consciousness that the wood does not have." Reply: "The dead has the material make-up that is like that of wood [tree], but has no consciousness that the wood does not have. The living has consciousness that the wood does not have, but has not the material make-up that is like that of wood."

Question: "The corpse of the dead is not [the same as] the body of the living?" Reply: "That the body of the living is not [the same as] the body of the dead, and that the body of the dead is not [the same as] the body of the living, is a distinction resulting from the transformation of the material make-up. There is no such thing as a body of the living having the corpse of the dead [as itself]."

Question: "If the body of the living is not [the same as] the corpse of the dead, then the corpse of the dead should not have come from the body of the living. If it does not come from the body of the living, then from where has this corpse reached here?" Reply: "It is that the body of the living has transformed into the corpse of the dead."

Question: "This, that the body of the living has transformed into the corpse of the dead, doesn't this mean that death comes from living, so that we know the dead thing is like [the same as] the living thing?" Reply: "It is just like the decay of the blooming living tree into the withered dead tree; is the material make-up of the withered dead tree the same as that of the blooming living tree?"...

An additional passage expresses the structural perspective of consciousness. 問曰: “聖人之形猶凡人之形,而有凡聖之誅, 故知形神異矣。”  答曰: “不然。金之精者能照, 积者不能照, 有能照之精金, 寧有不能照之积質? 又且有聖人之神, 而寄凡人之器?亦无凡人之神而托聖人之體。” Question: "The body of the sage is like [or the same as] the body of the ordinary person, but somehow [e.g. the intelligence and wisdom of] the sage and [those of] the ordinary person differ; hence we know the body and the soul differ [are two different, separate things]." Reply: "Not true. Metal which is fine and subtle reflects light [well], but metal which is impure does not reflect well. Can the subtle and fine metal which reflects well have the kind of material make-up that the impure metal has which does not reflect well? Similarly, can the spirit [i.e. wisdom and intelligence] of the sage reside in the material make-up of an ordinary person? Also there is no such thing as the spirit of the ordinary person residing in the material make-up of a sage... The mind of the sage is the product of a sagely body capable of producing sagely intelligence as its effect: the structural perspective is reductionist, with consciousness no longer taken for granted, as independently existing.

Fan Zhen's "Spirit Does Disintegrate" was reactionary against the spread of Buddhism in China during his time, and ended with the sort of criticism of Buddhism typical of a Confucian, although Fan was not Confucian in his structural perspective. Thus he criticized Buddhism for spreading unproductive lifestyle (referring to Buddhist monks' begging for livelihood, people's "waste" of resources in donating to Buddhists, and the general non-participation of the Buddhists in the productions of a society) and anti-Confucian values (referring to Buddhist monks' relinquishing family ties and their asceticism which did away with the reproduction of the next generations and the passing down of family names). These sorts of criticism could of course be applied to Daoists as well, or any sort of persons who ceased participation in the normal functionings of the society and adopted hermetism after reaching enlightenment. But Fan was also displeased with the hypocrisies associated with the corruptions of the Buddhists of his day, some of whom had become extremely wealthy because of massive financial support and, as seen, had acquired significant "worldly" influences through association with the governing elites. We, having identified Buddhism as the highest form of human enlightenment until today, certainly have no interest in any criticism of the outward consequences of Buddhist enlightenment nor of the corruptions that eventually attended Buddhism in China during the Northern and Southern dynasties and the Tang dynasty when it became entrenched in the Chinese society. The value of Fan's thinking lies in his exposition of the structural perspective of consciousness, the necessary reductionist approach to it once the naive functional perspective starts to give way.

Another thing of note is Fan's experience of the world as like that of classical mechanics, an impersonal machine of one thing leading to another, the cosmos as purely mechanical without the infusion in it of the intentions of spirits or ancestral ghosts, etc, but just one of objects changing places. The decontextualization of the world into a mere machine running itself harmoniously and without purpose, as said, was the natural progression of consciousness, as has happened with the Ionian physicists and the Daoists (e.g. Chuang-tzu). Fan approached Daoism in this respect, but such mechanization of the cosmos was a natural corollary of the structural perspective as well as of such enlightened functional perspective as the Ionians. Hence Fan spoke of the creating or generating processes of Heaven and Earth as a matter of "self-accord" (zi-ran, that favorite Daoist word), i.e. spontaneously working itself out, and of the multivarious things in the cosmos as equal in self-transformations and self-generations, i.e. as the spontaneous consequences of Nature working itself out, "self-accord". Suddenly things appear, suddenly they disappear. When they come [into being] you can't stop them. When they go away don't bother to chase after them. Fan was advocating the same Daoist idea of just letting things be and each person following his nature and accomplishing what he was good for without any forced manipulation or control or worries about why things were here and why they were gone. As said, the Daoist attitude meshed particularly well with the perspective of modern science, whether in ecology where Nature, as an endless cycle of transformation of energy, always has a way of harmoniously working itself out, or in mechanics where things change places all according to simple rules of motions. There are no intentions anywhere nor any need to interfere to make things "better". But Fan was advocating this in reaction against ordinary people's subscription to Buddhism because of fear of karmic retribution and of "hell" or because of the pursuit of some eternal or higher form of happiness. He wanted people to not be "superstitious" about these but to realize the mechanical and harmonious nature of Nature and to just let things be without worries. As noted, the beginning, immature structural perspective, in its demand for empiricism and in its enlargement of the experiential horizon, has the tendency of a purely materialistic conception of reality, that the only reality is tangible and measurable matter, the tendency, in Heidegger's words, to see Being (being-process) only in terms of beings and process of beings. The resultant shallow perspective frequently misunderstands the enlightenment state of the functional perspective through fundamentalist, literal understanding of the latter's words, as with Nicholas Gier.


1. An English translation of Lung-Heng exists, by Alfred Forke, Lung-Heng: Wang Ch'ung's Essays.

2. C.f. Keith E. Stanovich, How to Think Straight about Psychology, p. 151, already cited in ftnt. 6 in 1.1. Ch. 2: "Other psychologists have studied a related phenomenon known as the 'just world hypothesis,' that is, the fact that people tend to believe that they live in a world in which people get what they deserve... Researchers have found empirical support for one corollary of the belief in a just world: that people tend to derogate the victims of chance misfortune. The tendency to seek explanations for chance events contributes to this phenomenon. People apparently find it very hard to believe that a perfectly innocent or virtuous person can suffer misfortune purely because of chance. We long to believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad. Chance, though, is completely unbiased. It operates on a completely different principle, one in which the frequency of good and bad chance events is equal for all types of people." (p. 151) In such (still immature) structural perspective as Stanovich's experimental, i.e. ordinary, empiricism, the correlation of the cosmic forces with the human psychological, moral, and social dynamics and the application of the principle of equilibrium to human psychological dynamics have completely broken down. But, as the italicized sentence shows, holders of such as yet immature structural perspective -- such as the experimental psychologists, the analytic philosophers, or even Wang Ch'ung himself -- are not aware of the experiential origin of their perspective, hence much less that of the holders of the functional perspective and correlative thinking whom they criticize. Finding correlations between what for these empiricists of differentiated mind are merely random natural phenomena and human moral status is not the result of a human tendency to find order among random events (i.e. where there is none) in order to reduce the situation to the level capable of understanding, but of a particular perspective, the functional perspective with its limited or provincial experiential horizon and always with the vague understanding of thermodynamics.

3. Text and some explanatory notes from The Essentials of the Hundred Schools of Various Masters 诸子百家精华, ed. by Tsai Shan-Su. Hunan Educational Publishing Co.

4. "The 'Neiye' appears to be the first text that discusses triad of technical terms that, when used together, represents a staple of Daoist thought: jing (essence or fluid vitality [精]), qi (breath 氣]), and shen (... here meaning 'spirit' or 'mind' [神]). Daoist writings name these as the three essential components of living humans and invariably discuss them in the context of unifying with or physically embodying the Dao, the supreme goal of the adept. Next to shamanism, this complex of ideas (jing, qi, shen, and Dao) has been taken to represent the epitome of early Chinese views of an organic or monistic cosmos." Article review: Thomas Michael, "Debating the spirit in early China." Journal of Religion, Oct. 2003, p. 421. It is seen that while the common Chinese idea of the soul was the same as the Greek yuch, they again made finer distinctions within. The idea of the cosmos as manifested from air is also Anaximenean, very "common sense" of the functional perspective -- and organic monism is typical of the functional perspective.

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