Knowing, Being, Doing

The knowhow of nowhow

I've been posting something like the following in various places on the internet, but Deep Japan is probably the most appropriate context for this topic -- because "deep Japan" is probably the most appropriate place to think about these things.

The starting point is "now".

Now is the only time we can do something. Kanji characters offer ways to understand how to use "now" to change ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

Kanji, as used in Japan at least, are helpful for clarifying thought about the nature of now, self, other, evaluation, action, motivation, optimization, perception, communication and recollection. They support understanding of being, doing and knowing. The logic of these characters suggests that “good” changes when goals change, and that the “best” movement towards the other is, ironically, “best” for the self.

The only time available for action is “now”. One thing we do “now” can be illustrated using three characters: tree (木), eye (目) and heart (心). A tree is anything observable. The mind’s eye scrutinises the tree for evidence of value. The heart responds to a perception of value in the observed object. An urge (想) is created. This is the “being” layer of behaviour.

Movement in the direction of perceived value creates a path (道: “head in motion”). Generally, we want to get where we’re going quickly and effortlessly. That would typically be regarded as “good”. Tools and guidance can help. So, using the “being” mechanism, we also seek out “good” tools (道具: path items) and guidance (道徳: path merits; morality). This is the “doing” layer of behaviour. Note that “good” is defined solely in terms of the urge we are trying to satisfy.

One quintessential human tool, and the quintessential medium for guidance, is language. In the process of language acquisition, in special circumstances in which shared attention is a crucial precondition, the heart moves in the direction of sound (音) to create meaning (意: sound + heart). Then the heart moves in the direction of meaning to create memory (憶: meaning + heart). This is the “knowing” layer of behaviour.

What we know is what we remember, and we use words to communicate about, or at least tag, our memories. Memories guide us. When we offer and seek guidance, we tend to use language. If I were to write this in a language that I know but you don't, no information would be shared. Language is a tool, and tools themselves are made possible by language. A photo may function as a tool for sharing a memory. Think of all the words that went into the creation of the camera that made the photo possible.

A mind for the other
The three layers of behaviour influence each other, and the heart is often a downright nuisance, but this framework may serve as a “good tool” for those striving to design a “better” world, one in which (in terms of “being”) we seek “good guidance” by harnessing the power of “a mind for the other”, an idea that is deeply ingrained in traditional Japanese culture. In fact, the more skilfully we apply “a mind for the other”, the closer we will get to an objective perception of value, the better will be our selection of objectives, tools and guidance, and the smoother will be our movement towards a “better” future.

Shameless plug
If you perceive any value at all in the “tree” outlined above, you may find yourself moving in the direction of viewing a recent PechaKucha presentation that I made, where one of the objectively “bad” features was the loudness of my voice.


by Adam F

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