How I Learned to Stop Pointing and Love the Quantum (Part 1)

Ping-ting Comes for Fire
How I Learned to Stop Pointing and Love the Quantum

When we point at the thing, we point at not the thing.  I might say, to start a philosophical discussion in natural language.  Philosophy can be practiced in a number of ways, in its academic form in can quickly become a weighing out of qualified(moderate, hard, soft) terminology.  I would call this switchboard philosophy and will go into it further at another time.  As practiced here, it shall require no specialized equipment.  When we point at the thing, we point at its complement, separating ‘it,’ from everything ‘it’s’ not.  Likewise, I might point at a thing when I point at everything it is not.  What we mean by pointing is not just this action with our finger, but the looking, the naming, apprehending something with our logic.  We name it, create a representation, a mental construct of what that thing is, but still we believe it is.  I once introduced this to a clever friend, who came quickly and under his own power, to the insight that when we point at a thing we can point at it in part or in whole.  For him, there was an important difference between whether an object was a composite or an alloy(continuous object).  Though in either case we were grouping some constituent of matter as this thing.  When to another observer, a lamp does not begin and end at the lamp, but might join to the chair next to it and be a lamp-chair.  That to the world, the hard distinctions of naming conventions and mental constructs might not be so distinct.  That the act of pointing is what drew the lines—hard and soft.

Zen stories often take on the form of discussions between a master and monk, a favorite is reproduced here:

A master is walking through the monastery with his student one afternoon.  Pausing he says…

Master: Why have you never asked me the eternal question on the fundamental nature of Buddhism?”

monk: Oh yes, of course, but you see I already studied under a master in the south and he explained all of that to me.  He told me the fundamental nature of Buddhism is “Ping-ting comes for fire!”

M: That’s all very well and good, but I’m certain you don’t understand a bit of it.

m: I assure you I do. Ping-ting is a god of fire, so for him to try and become fire is like myself trying to become a Buddha.  All is Buddha, therefore there is no need to become a Buddha as I already am.

M: You see, I knew it! You didn’t understand it at all.

m: Master, I can’t see how that’s possible.  If this is not the fundamental nature of Buddhism then what is?

M: Why don’t you ask me?

m: What is the fundamental nature of Buddhism?

M: Ping-ting comes for fire!

The monk was thereby enlightened.

It was not enough for the monk to be told the answer to the question: What is the fundamental nature of Buddhism(?).  He had to make the observation.  It’s not in the answer, it’s in the question.

So how do we stop pointing?  Ask a question.

Expanded Friday… quantum mechanics requires diagrams…

Featured Image: Bubble Chamber


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