Laozi, Chern, Math & Philosophy

 

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Laozi’s DaodeJing

The English & Chinese Translations

Based on Laozi’s Original Daoism

From the Western Philosophical and

 The Chinese Hermeneutical Perspectives

老子的道德经

    中英白话句解与老学研究

 

 

Chen Lee Sun

陈丽生

 

 


 

Dedicate to the memories of

Three people who were Enthusiastic about This English and Plain Chinese Translation:

 

 

Karl R. Popper (1902-1994)

A Great Philosopher of the 20th Century  

The author of

The Logic of the Scientific Discovery

The Open Society and Its Enemies

Conjectures & Refutations

 

Chern Shiing-Shen (1911-2004)

The Great Mathematician of the 20th Century

The creator of

Chern Classes

Chern-Gauss-Bonnet Theorem

Chern-Simons Theory

 &

A.J.Ayer (1910-1989)

The author of

Language, Truth and Logic

The Problem of Knowledge

Freedom & Necessity

 


Chern, Math & Philosophy of Laozi

Chinese Section   P. 5-8

English Section    P. 9-23

 

Part of:

Laozis Daodejing

The English & Chinese Translation

From the Philosophical Perspective Based on Chinese Hermeneutics & Laozi’s Original Daoism

 

All Rights Reserved.   

Copyright © 1995, 1999, 2010    Lee Sun Chen Org

Chinese Title Calligraphy copyright of Professor Chern Shiing-shen

(The original copy is kept in the possession of Lee Sun Chen Org)

 

ISBN: 1-58112-846-0

ISBN:

              

              

  

 

陈省身教授和老子的道德经

     中外一般人都晓得 陈省身教授是数学大师,但是经我近年研究发现他并且是二十世纪世界上劃时代的顶尖的数学家。我再进一步探究又发现 他老人家对国学有深厚修养,也是一个大诗人。由这篇短文我可证明他也是个哲学家,孰其原因是,西洋哲学的正式创作人是大数学家毕达哥拉斯Pythagoras,他对西洋哲学的贡献,照罗素说,比苏格拉底还重要。一直到现在,许多西洋大数学家,也是大哲学家。无怪乎西方世界,因有数学上的进展,一直没有坐失他们的科学精神,在我英文的介绍中,说得比较详尽,在此简单说一下。

陈老教授在1994年听说我终身都在研究老子,正在把道德经翻译成中英文白话,他随即间接通过他女儿要我把翻好的部分寄给他看看。原来在他做学生时便对老庄感兴趣,对上世纪二十年代激烈的孔子三次请教于老子史实的争论,觉得有他自己的强烈意见。我是采取司马迁史记中的记载的史实孔子适应周(京),问礼于老子,共有三次。此外我也证明老子的思想奠定孔子思想的哲学基础。另外文景之治便是黄老哲学在政治上应用得法的结果。陈老教授从此起步开始,便与我所见略同。我们都只是照史实而说而已。老子是讲宁静的,这也是 陈老一辈子所追求的,拨紊乱而返宁静,而能静心解决天大数学难题。

1995年我去加州伯克莱访我女儿,脚痛的陈教授还忍痛亲自开车下山来请我们吃中饭,席间他对我说,我把老子说得很对,他鼓励我向全世界宣扬真正的老子,因为世上了解老子的人不多,许多中外的解译都不中要点,蒙蔽了老子的伟大。那时还不觉得有什麽深刻印象,事后 他老人家的叮嘱,随日月的增长,现在竟变成他的遗训,也变成我必须要尽的义务。

 

数学与哲学的密切关系

   在西洋数学与哲学数千年来一直有密切的关系,罗素说毕达格拉斯对西方哲学的影响比苏格拉底还大,毕氏把数学(几何学)当作宗教教规来教学生,中古时期许多神学家也是逻辑家或数学家。到了十六世纪的笛卡尔,他本人也是数学家,笛氏的我思故我在名言(前提坐标),至今仍令哲学家论辩不已。到了十七世纪哲学家莱布尼兹,与牛顿分别发明了微积分。可能是美国最伟大的哲学家十九世纪的查尔。琵而斯,也是位数学家。在十九至二十世纪间,数学家罗素和他的数学老师怀赫德花了十年光阴完成数学基本(逻辑)原则,后来两人都变成了大哲学家。他们只是轻轻跨一步,便能谈起哲学来如数家珍,头头是道。而那时怀赫德已是五旬老人。然后二十世纪哲学上最伟大的逻辑家塔斯基(ATarski),也是来自柏克莱加大数学系。

陈老教授可被堪称是二十世纪最伟大的数学家,他的理论是承先启后,上至盖兹(Gauss)几何坐标,下达现在的天罗网络系统。现今物理上讨论的复杂的多元平面和弦动理论(String Theory)的探索,也是依据他的几何上的新论(Chern-Gauss-Bonnet Theorem)按图索(逻辑上的)证据。假如他的数学理论早二十年爱因斯坦还在世时发表,统一场理论的难题,或有机会由它的创始人爱氏早些解答。数学是讲严格的系统组织,哲学则比较轻松松懈些,但是哲学也是要有系统才能成体统,老子的道德经的所以难了解,就是解老和译老的人,没有把此他思想的体统了解或磋研。做这种学问是需要长期阅读有系统和有体统的作品,例如数学和哲学。所以哲学家如尼采,罗素和薄柏(Popper),衝破了语言的障碍,一眼便识泰山,能用他们的大智大慧认识出老子的伟大。

陈老教授在1911年出生在历来文人汇集的浙江嘉兴,除了从小研读孔孟,也常常耳闻目睹他们的吟诗作赋,他十几岁时就也能作诗,所以他的国学修养造诣在上大学前就已经很深。下面是1986年他在七十五岁时所作的古诗格调诗:

百年已过四分三,浪迹平身以自欢,

何日闭门读书好,松风浓雾古人谈。

从这儿我们可瞡见作者的深沉的感情和哲人的胸怀,这也反映出他对孤独的充满荆刺的颠簸生命路程的回忆。我觉在文字上,此诗可比美唐诗,内容也很自然没有丝毫娇柔著作无病呻吟之状。许多哲学家就是天生的诗人,譬如柏拉图和尼采,而诗人莎士比亚和歌德说出了好多哲理。 哲人懐赫德说诗歌是讲格律,而哲学是讲结构的   

基于 陈老教授对各种数学系统的统一了解,也就是懂得数学系统的的逻辑思想基础,。而上面已说过,从理论数学到哲学,对数学家如懐赫德和罗素等是轻而易举的,因之再加上陈老教授的国学修养,他对老子的思想系统和体统,自然是是一目了然。而更深一步探讨,我们将发现,当今世界上真正最能透彻了解老子的哲学的,非陈老莫属。

陈老教授对老子的热烈兴趣,起自他大学时代,那时在研读老子的道德经之余,对当时要翻版历史的妄说孔子生在老子之前,而绝无问礼于老子之事,感到是不懂老学的人断章取义的无理取闹。大哲学家波柏也说几乎所有他看过的道德经翻译,都是前后矛盾,不成体统。我幸运的得到了这二位大思想家的赞许。

尤其是陈老教授的做人为事和秉性上,带有老学之风:慈,简,不为天下先。他的不爱财,把所有(从学生到科学基金会到大亨等等)捐献给他的奖金值数百万美金,都又重捐出来,不留为己用。他的学生们都敬爱他,而他对他人,一视同仁,谦虚地把他自己放到最后。不同于普通众人,他的谦虚无名一点傲气都没有的态度,遮盖了他的成就和社会地位,还是我花了九牛二虎之力,收集了一些参考质料后,才发现他的真正伟大处:大数学家,研究机构创建家,诗人和哲学家。咎于他在数学上的顶尖成就,我们可称誉他是二十世纪最伟大的几何数学家。很少人知道由于中国在上世纪中国国难频繁,华人在世界上常受歧视,能播乱外人对他的歧视偏见,而返廻得到他应有的正常尊敬,是需要很大的忍耐和不屈服的性格,这点就是老子之学所谈的个人的择善固执的修身,不受外来风雨的干扰。

咎由  陈老教授习惯于能对各种不同系统的构架一目了然(几何上的拓扑学),再加上他对古文的深切造诣及哲人心胸,现今当时最了解老子的,非他莫属,只是他没有时间把他的思想写下来,更不愿意和肤浅自鸣的道家老庄专家争一日说不清的长短。我们念老子是求了解他的思想架构哲学,而文句的解意要不离谱,即是要有适当的训诂作基础。

我研读老子近半世纪,中途念了数十年哲学及数年语言学:大部分是自学自修,小部分是上学。年青时考得中华台湾政府的留英公费到牛津两年,在牛津前后,尊逻辑经验派专家艾尔为师,九十年代后与薄柏通信,为我的翻译老子成中英文白话打气。事后读了我的翻译,他大力推荐。次年 陈老也说喜欢我的道德经解译,并提了一个字。

这本【老子的道德经】是完成下列三个方面的要求,缺一不可:

第一  整个译文是追随原来古文的意思: 文字的白话解释有历代传统训诂为证。

第二  行文以老子原来的道家思想架构为主要骨干。

第三  老子的道家思想,就是老子的哲学,他的思想骨干,是要有逻辑的哲学,不应有自我矛盾,要正反合(和)。

假如是英文翻译,除了上述三个条件外,译者应对中英(欧)文两者都很熟练,表达起来得心应手。我的英文翻译便是以中文句解做根据。

陈老教授和大哲学家薄柏(K.Popper)一样,刚上大学头几年,丛点点滴滴的老子便发现老子智慧而发生了深刻的印象,终身不忘,一直到老年,巴博才遇到了比较成体统的翻译,此后陈老才看到比较满意的老学白话句解。我个人一身就崇尚老子,是在中外哲学家中佩服的一位。就如老子本人说的【吾言甚易知,甚易行】【言有宗,事有主】【夫唯无知,是以不我知,知我者希,则我贵也,是以圣人披袼怀玉。】(老子,第七十章)这就是陈老教授要我尽力宣扬老子真义的背后主要原因,那就是鼓励读书人齐其身(慈简朴实),先天下之忧而忧,用他们的智慧为后世开创公平太平大同世界。从思想的历史看来,数学一直是与西洋哲学共生共存,哲学家时时替数学思想在人类经验上寻根究底,帮助人类了解世界,宇宙和自己,陈老真是把数学了解得浑圆透彻,接触了宇宙的永恒(柏拉图语),又能对悠悠天地有诗人的感怀,这又是他能深探透彻澈底了解哲学的原因,这也更近一步证明古往今来深知老子的,非他莫属。
后记:
在2002年二月,  陈老为他南开的老友同事,诗人兼画家范曾所著【庄子显灵说】,作序如下:
陈省身序 

读范曾兄《庄子显灵记》,有当年读杜工部《秋兴八首》的感觉,气概万千,涉及当前基本问题,非常佩服。世界上两个重要的元素是自然与人。五百年的伟大的科学进展,开启了我们对自然的了解,也因此影响了人类的生活,我们同五百年前的人已不是同一种动物了。

中华民族是很实际的,中华文化寻求人类社会的处理与组织,一个结果是注意到传代,便自然重,便把多代连起来,成为一串,不能使串切断,便不孝无后为大,结果把中华养成一个巨大的民族。

中西文化的不容,把我们带到一个新的春秋时代。我一九四三年至一九四五年在普林斯顿,常同爱因斯坦见面,也到过他家中的书房几次,他书架陈书不多,但有一本德译的老子《道德经》。希望范曾再写一本《老子显灵说》。

陈省身

2002228日】

 
 
 

Chern, Math, Philosophy and Laozi

The Inspirations and Philosophical Background of this Translation

 

Philosophy is akin to poetry...In each case there is reference to from beyond the direct meaning of words.  Poetry allies itself to metre,[1] philosophy to mathematic pattern.[2]      

A.N.Whitehead, A great Mathematician-Philosopher

     Translating Laozi’s book Daodejing is a task that one must be mindful of three dimensions of this project.  In other words, in order to understand Laozi’s book, one must think through the following three phases before interpreting or translating his book into any language, including Chinese. These considerations are: 1. Being Philosophically correct about Laozi’s thoughts. 2. Being hermeneutically correct about the text. 3. Being (logically) correct about Laozi’s framework.

Notwithstanding there exist more than two hundred English translations of Laozi’s book Daodejing nowadays.  In the West, Laozi had been popularly known as Lao Tzu or Lao Tse, and his only book in circulation was known as Tao Te Ching or Dao De King et al.  And it is said that this book has had been translated so frequently to match that of the Holy Bible.  This reflects, prima facie, hardly anybody is sure what interpretation or translation is comprehensibly correct, so it is kind like anybody buying a lottery ticket will probably win.  It is all because, unlike ancient Western philosophical works, there is strictly hardly any credible or thoroughly analyzed criterion for accurate translation, but lot room left for free-range guessing and speculations.  Zealous Westerners, having been inspired by fragmental citation of Laozi, yet were constrained by their poor knowledge of the Chinese language, would translate this book with their improvisation.  Let alone of the fact that they have learned about the Chinese culture from their Chinese masters many have suffered from their very limited knowledge about the Western philosophy, as well as Laozi’s framework.  Even in China, not many Chinese could comprehend Laozi’s framework, either due to their ignorance what is philosophy, or what is framework.  Inevitably, pretention has seeped in due to the pursuers ‘attempts for over-achievements.   

To set the record straight at the inception of the translation of this book, it should be noted that the most appropriate Romanized expression of names, as adopted by Chinese, should be Laozi, and the correct spelling of the title of his book is Daodejing.  It is a book of, exclusively and inclusively, rational philosophical thoughts; not thoughts that embodies emotive thoughts, e.g. poem or religious serenade.[3]   Accordingly it is a gross mistake to versify Laozi, as many translations had tried to show off this way, for “Poetry allies itself to metre, philosophy to mathematic pattern.[4]      

     It appears that many translators/interpreters of this book, are handicapped, not only by the fact the book was written in a much difficult to comprehend ancient classical Chinese, but also their ignorance of the book’s traditional background--the Chinese civilization.  The language of the book Laozi’s is close to the hieroglyphics, which appeared on oracle bones in the 27th Century BC.  In other words, it was the language which could only be understood by people who know of the working of the ancient Chinese linguistics (hermeneutic), of the period between 27th Century BC (the initiation of literacy) and 2nd Century BC (when the unification and standardization of the classical Chinese language took place).  Not to mention the recognition of both those ancient linguistic forms and their uses are another type of expertise.

     Furthermore Laozi is a historically monumental figure of the Chinese civilization.  Compounding the problem with Westerners, is the readers’ vulnerability that they may be swayed by the, more popular, pagan religious Daoists’ mythologization of the text.  That the original classical Chinese texts of this book handed down are still fragmentary and poorly reorganized.  The best recovery could be achieved was still unsuccessful.  Accordingly translator’s being particularly mindful, to the extent of wariness, is the key to a correct recapitulation of Laozi’s thoughts, i.e. his philosophy and system-framework.                                                                                                       Just as Laozi has said in the First Chapter:

1. I Dao [Truth] can be talked about [described or theorized] in any manner each person considers feasible, though hardly any of these descriptions will be perpetually valid;

   Names [Descriptions] can be ascribed to Dao in any manner each person deems workable], yet hardly of these will last forever.

In this circumstance of free range translation, partial and incorrect translations of Laozi’s book could subsequently rob readers the opportunity of learning about the real Laozi, let alone his deep and comprehensive thoughtful philosophy.  In other words a translator/interpreter should try to adhere to the logic of Laozi’s philosophy. 

     Then, how about the dimension of mirroring the real essential spirit of Laozi? That is the intense sincerity and seriousness for the quest of truth, rationality, serenity, caring for humanities and particularly self-reliance in facing uncertainties.

Usually translators/interpreters of this book especially in the West, where much less understanding of Laozi had had happened more frequently, have had mistakenly, customarily and commercially, confused the original full-fledged Laoism originated by Laozi with later trivialized Daoism, or worse still, other gibberish like Ying-Yang Talks.  These kind of brutish starting point has had made the fatal serious intellectual mistakes about Laozi.  Or worse than that, most often due to their poor understanding of either the hermeneutic of Laozi’s language or Laozi’s philosophy, some frustrated expert/critic even conveniently went so far by proclaiming that Laozi was never a real person and the book was but a juxtaposition of many Daoist writings!  Laozi himself had said it candidly:

“Dao (Truth) can be talked about (theorized in any manner each person considers understandably viable), though hardly any of these theories could stand the test of time to be always valid. (Laozi 1.I)

“A person who knows [comprehensively] is not garrulous; a person who is garrulous is not wise (he is more likely knowing it incomprehensively). (Laozi 56.I)

People in this world often complained: either that my theory was big and empty, or worse than that it does not appear to be about anything (practically) significant;

It is just because I have discussed matters of great importance that it was difficult for [ordinary people] (even) to comprehend its outline; (Laozi, Chapter 67.I)”   

     After the long struggle of working for almost half a century on this book, going through studying the original texts (of various versions) over and over again, my understanding of him came only about a decade ago.  Henceforth, I felt obligated to make an effort to live up and brush up Laozi’s philosophy for the 21st Century.  In the mean time, my learning had been enriched by my enhanced knowledge of Confucianism and the Western philosophy; my English has also improved to the extent that I could articulate my thoughts more precisely.  As a matter of fact, had I come across any tolerably correct and truthful translation/interpretation of the original Laozi, I should have quitted joining this mad rat race.  There are something else more important, e.g. to explore deeper into the self-knowledge, as Socrates had originally urged students to philosophize through ‘knowing thyself’.  Or to dive into the search for the truth of Nietzsche’s ‘eternal recurrence’, Schopenhauer’s analysis on ‘will’ and problems of ‘infinity’ in cosmos are equally noteworthy too.

My Inspirations

Chern, Mathematics and Philosophy

                I owe my special thanks to Professor Chern, for his agreement to do the calligraphy of the Chinese title at his advanced age of pushing for ninety, as well as his encouragements and his enthusiasm about presenting the real Laozi to the world.  When he was almost ninety years old in 1999, it took quite an effort to write with a brush pen.  Notwithstanding, Professor Chern Shiing-shen was a great mathematician on topology of the 20th Century.  From a philosophical prospect, his dynamical Chern-Simons Theory modified gravity, Godel Universe and variable cosmological constant; it is epoch making in both mathematics and science.[5]  My guess is that had his theorems in mathematics have come out twenty years earlier it could have helped Einstein getting a clue to the solution of his life-long problem of Unified Field Theory in his lifetime.  In 2004 China has launched a satellite for his name sake, and here down on earth, the Chern Hall in the University of California Berkeley was named after him.  Then there are numerous other mathematical institutes named after him as well.  Before then in 1999 there was Chern-Simons Fermion Hall dedicated by the University of California Physics Department.  At his alumnus Nankai University there is Chern Institute of Mathematics.  He had shown his interest on my translation when he heard about my pursuit.

     Mathematics and philosophy are not unrelated to each other.  On the contrary, they have a close affinity.  In Ancient Greece their fusion was taken as a matter of course.  The Pre-Socrates philosopher Pythagoras(570-495 BC), who had invented geometry and Pythagoras Theorem in geometry, which was known by everyone who studies geometry, was himself a Pre-Socratic philosopher.  He is often revered as a great mathematician, mystic and scientist by scholars.  His influence on Plato and hence the Western philosophy is comparable to that of Socrates.  For him, mathematics was a kind of religion that it reveals the eternal truth of the world, hence he taught his disciples to practice and revere it religiously.[6]  Bertrand Russell, in his A History of Western Philosophy, contended that the influence of Pythagoras on Plato and others was so great that he should be considered the most influential one of all Western philosophers; his Chapter on Pythagoras runs rather longer than chapters on any other early Greek philosophers.  For instance, the thinking activity, of bearing in mind of the underlying problem of infinity, while developing the set theory is a philosophical decision.  It started with Zeno of the 5th Century BC, continued in 19th Century AD by Georg Cantor and Russell.  Zeno of Elea( 490 BC? – 430 BC?) had also raised a profound philosophical issue-- Zeno’s Paradox which is still a debated issue in mathematics, science and philosophy.[7]  The term “asymptote” mentioned in the study of “Dao” in this paper is also a mathematical computational notion.[8]

     During the Enlightenment Descartes(1596-1650) was the most noteworthy mathematician-philosopher.  His significant contribution to mathematics is by pointing out that math is a science of discontinuous quantities, and geometry is a science of continuous quantities; a significant contribution in metaphysical reasoning.  Descartes famous dictum “I think, therefore I am” is still influential in philosophy.  Then there was Russell’s early philosophical idol Leibniz(1646-1716) who was also a mathematician, who had invented calculus simultaneously with Newton.    In the 19-20th Century there were A.N.Whitehead and Bertrand Russell, co-authors of the monumental book Principia Mathematica, which seeks the logical foundation of mathematics.  Whitehead was originally a mathematician who had made a smooth transition to philosophy, after he and Russell had labored on researching the logical foundation of mathematics.  Another influential philosopher Wittgenstein was originally an engineer and went into studying philosophy through researching on the foundations of mathematical theories.   The other person who had influenced Wittgenstein was Whitehead.  The fact was that Whitehead had started doing philosophical works only after “Principia Mathematica” was finished when he was in his fifties.  Also there was Alfred Tarski, also a mathematician from University of California, Berkeley; his theory (definition of the logic) of Truth in his book “Logic, Semantics & Mathematics” is monumental in philosophy.[9]  Tarski was also considered one of the greatest logicians.[10]

     Then there is Charles Sanders Peirce(1839-1914), an American philosopher, mathematician, logician and scientist, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  His works are still being researched with diligence by philosophers and logicians especially in Harvard University.  His contribution was admired by Dewey, Whitehead, Russell, Popper, Quine and Ayer.  In spite of the fact that he was professionally a mathematician and logician, he was referred to as the greatest philosopher of the United States.[11]

          I had read about Professor Chern’s doing pioneering work in mathematics (topology and geometry) even while I was in high school.  He was responsible for the introduction of both Chern’s Characteristic Class and Chern-Weil Theory and Gauss-Chern-Bennet Theory. [12]  Among his massive works in mathematics, one of his books is entitled, "Complex Manifolds without Potential Theory"  Back in 1960 he was elected member of The National Academy of Sciences; he was also the founder of The National Mathematical Science Research Institute (MSRI), which is also situated in Berkeley.  Not to mention, to my knowledge, almost all the who‘s who, top well-known Chinese mathematicians and logicians(in philosophy) in the United States from years of 1940’s to 2000, have had being been under Chern’s teaching and guidance one way or the other.  He was loved and respected by his students of other national origins as well.  One of them has donated the fund he has won in lottery for the purpose of doing research on Chern’s mathematics.

     Chern’s works could be further described to laymen by what was reported, in Sunday London Times, on December 10, 2004 about Professor Chern:  A Mathematician and a much-loved teacher who redefined global differential geometry.  It also says, “Chern’s mathematical work is characterized by his absolute mastery of the techniques he learnt from Cartan and their application to a vast number of global problems in geometry, topology and complex analysis. One of the areas he studied most was the theory of fibre bundles.  Furthermore, a more mathematically-oriented biography described, in more depth about his contributions, could be found via web site of the School of Mathematics and Statistics of the University of St. Andrews University, Scotland.[13]  It further asserts, by such an appropriate authority in this field, that his contributions are important to both mathematics and physics.  In the field of math and science, Professor Chern’s mathematical theorems have provided a solid math footing for the string theory and the probability and mathematical (geometrical) explanation of multiple dimensions of the universe in contemporary physics.[14]

     Professor Chern had been thoroughly Confucianism-educated even before his undergraduate days.  Later he improved his scholarship with advanced mathematical reasoning power.  Accordingly his proficiency in the Classical Chinese language was doubtless superior to mine, as well as most Chinese intellectuals.  However, philosophically he had been drawn to Laozi more than to the Ultimate Saint Teacher Confucius; he had intuitively felt that Laozi was a great thinker—by his standard.  And Laozi had been wronged universally; the thinker himself had even foreseen it.[15]  Sounds like since Chern’s undergraduate days he was passionate about getting to the bottom of this truth and would like to make the real Laozi known to the world.  For seventy years this passion was still glowing.  Like Sir Karl Popper, he has also initiated to ask me to send them my translation on Laozi.  He was a step behind Popper though.   A few years after Popper, in 1995, the year after Professor Chern had read both my Chinese and English drafts on Laozi, I happened to be in Berkeley.  This was the second time I’ve met him.  First occasion was in New York in 60’s; that time I was amazed by the humility of this great scholar.  He chatted even with me then, this stranger and nobody, among other more important people.  Besides he treated me as if I was his equals!  This must be the way he treated all other human beings—all of them were created equal.  

     Professor Chern was brought up in Jiaxing of Zhejiang province; the area was well-known as the hotbed of many poets and men of letters.  His early education was evidently traditional Chinese; even his humble demeanor was Confucian.  As a matter of fact, Chern has retained the three thousand years tradition inherited by Chinese intellectuals; he read Confucius diligently, wrote classical Chinese poems and practiced calligraphy for recreation when he was not busy.  Unlike people from that area though he spoke very good Mandarin, which he learned when he went to Nankai University in his late teens; his speech has absolutely no trace of any accents.  Maybe he was the only person I met from that region who could do it.  Nevertheless, he considered himself a Laozi’s enthusiast since he was an undergraduate in Nankai University.

Generally speaking, literate people of his generation were brought up solely with the teachings of The Analects of Confucius.  For example my father, who was about ten years older than Professor Chern and self-educated, wrote a Chinese classic The Evolvement of Tibet in the classical Chinese language rather than in plain spoken Chinese.[16]  Accordingly, it was much less difficult for Prof. Chern to understand the archaic language of Daodejing than this much junior me, not to mention others.  In addition, I have come across his poems, which were written in the traditional thousand years old format of the classical Chinese.  There were abundant signs of Chern’s closeness to Laozi’s philosophy.  He could overcome vicissitude and hardships in his early adult life and managed to make himself stronger with advanced mathematics was itself another achievement.  In the vein of the thoughts of Laozi we could explain that his strength came from his strong self-knowledge that he was able to collect himself in face of all hindrances and frustrations.  Later in his life, he was showered with multiple honors and generous donations personally.  However, instead of using them personally he donated theses millions and millions of dollars to promote mathematics—one of the highest form of knowledge and invention by human beings.  His greatness could be reflected in Laozi’sa philosophy.[17]  

    Superior to me, he had started writing traditional classical Chinese poems since he was in his early teens, and it continued until he went away.  The following is a sample of his poems written in the classical Chinese when he was seventy-five years old. I’m attempting to translate it into the plain Chinese language, then English:

Three quarters of one century has elapsed;

Although my life has had been full with bumps and potholes, I’ve always exerted to enjoy myself;

Oh, when will there be days when I could close myself door of my house to read books that are close to my heart;

How am I longing to be able to talk to congenial folks even under the surroundings of biting wind and disturbing thick fog.

I think this is a very moving poem that reflects both his deep grasp of the classical Chinese language, from hermeneutical perspective and his profound sentiments manifested through a traditional Chinese format of poems, as well as the deep sentiments shared by great poets and philosophers.  The fact that he could suppress and control his strong feeling, in order to pursue the ultra rational cool mathematics very successfully, has already made him a philosopher.  For instance even Nietzsche’s emotionally embodied work should be read as cool-headed philosophy not as emotional poems.  I have to admit that, even with my poetic disposition as pointed out by Ayer, I can never write poems as such, not to mention even in the traditional restrained format with strict rules; I was not so linguistically competent to do so.  Poetry and math are in fact deeply rooted together.  Also when I mentioned briefly Plato’s theory on thinking and knowledge to Professor Chern he seemed to be appreciative of it.

    Allow me to mention again what the mathematician-philosopher Whitehead has said: Philosophy is akin to poetry...In each case there is reference to from beyond the direct meaning of words.  Poetry allies itself to metre,[18] philosophy to mathematic pattern.[19] [20]  Henceforth the conclusion being thus drawn is that, just like Whitehead Chern is only a breath away from becoming a philosopher had he put into words his thoughts.

     Between 1911 (the year Chern was born) and 1945 (the year Chern came to the United States), China went through a great deal, politically, socially, and culturally.  When Chern was an undergraduate in 1920-30’s, then heated controversy over whether Confucius lived before Laozi attracted his attention.  For years he did not have a chance to articulate his thoughts about the dispute that history had wrongly reported that Laozi had shown guidance to Confucius.  This much populated opinion was also ridiculous, an argument full of hot air.

      Even though mathematically Laozi’s system of thinking is a fuzzy framework, yet it is as viable as fuzzy logic is in our intellectual pursuits.[21]  It is certain, like many ancient Greek philosophies, there is a framework embodied in Laozi’s thinking.  Chern certainly would have grasped Laozi’s framework through the corroboration his mathematical background; this must have happened long before the thirty years younger me came across Laozi’s work.  Laozi’s work is definitely not a product of unregimented and fragmental thinking of poets; in his book, there is hardly any emotional or sentimental outbursts; there contains strong reasoning and acute observation.

  Coupling Professor Chern’s unsurpassed easiness and familiarity with workings of diverse frameworks of thoughts, i.e. topology, and his superior proficiency with the classical Chinese and his deep understanding of the Chinese civilization, he was the unique person, who could best qualified to judge about the accuracy of translating/interpreting Laozi’s philosophy.  In other words, hardly anybody could match him for his comprehensive understanding of the framework of Laozi’s philosophy.[22]  Furthermore, his humbleness and sincerity, a virtue promoted by Laozi and Confucius, reminds Chinese intellectuals of the guidelines for inter-human behaviors.  Accordingly when Professor Chern told me that my Chinese was good, it was a very credible stamp of approval and assurance of my deeper proficiency with the Chinese language-both the classical and the plain Chinese from someone mostly qualified to do so.  The simple reason was his Chinese is much superior to mine; he was one of the handful scholars of Chinese or Sinologists of the 20th Century who was qualified to make such judgement.

     Laozi should belong to the camp of rational philosophers like Socrates and Plato, as well as philosophers of greatness.  When I quoted to Professor Chern Plato’s description of being able to come up with a more perfect system, namely better mathematical system, is the act of getting closer to touch eternity, he was moved.  I felt and believed that had he got some leisure time of his own, as other mathematicians Bertrand Russell or Alfred N.Whitehead had, he would have been able to articulate his philosophical thoughts and joined them to be in the rank of mathematician-philosophers as well.  Since Chern was so passionate about the proper depiction of Laozi and Laoism, his own philosophy must be very close to Laozi’s, even though his given Chinese name, from his parents, bears strong aspiration of Confucianism.  However, in his early years he had had to struggle harder socially, economically, linguistically and racially, particularly during the eight years’ Sino-Japanese War, to draw out his talents, like almost all Chinese of the  18th to the most 20th Centuries had had gone through.  Both the names of Professor Chern and mine were reflection of the period of instability in China, both culturally at the impact of the West and physically because of the imperialistic aggression.  May be they were factors encumbering him from bringing to light his philosophical talents.  

     Judging from some Chinese newspaper’s interview on Chern, I surmised that his interest and understanding about Laozi was deeply rooted that, like Popper, he was still questing for better translations continuously after seven decades.  This undying spirit was sustained by nothing more than having comprehensive understanding of Laozi in the face of numerable intolerable environments.  No wonder he had told a Chinese journalist that all his life he was a deep-rooted admirer of philosophies of Lao-Zhuang--Laozi and Zhuangzi.  He was also of the opinion that Laozi’s philosophy and Zhuangzi’s application of it could be beneficial to a nation and an individual respectively.  I guess he was much impressed by the government of Wen-Jing Era (180-141 BC) of Han Dynasty and attributed it to the practice of Laozi’s political philosophy of non-interference(lasses faire)—wu wei.

In 1994, when I talked to him again, I might have become somebody to him.  However he treated me with equal decency.  He and his wife took trouble to drive down the hill to take us out for lunch; by then he already had trouble walking.  He told me at lunch “It is important for people, of the world, to know the real Laozi and his philosophy correctly.  Your research has demonstrated that you’re on the right track to interpret and explain Laozi the way I have understood his thoughts; I am frustrated by, having come across such overwhelming numbers of mistranslation of Laozi.  However, I agree with you on your translation and analysis.”  I was so impressed with his zeal on letting the world to know about more accurate manifestation of the philosophy of Laozi.  Looks like for seventy decades he was also very bothered that, in China, not to mention in the West, Laozi had been misunderstood and mistreated.  Secretly I dare to fancy that I, this person of younger generation, have been entrusted by Professor Chern for this pursuit of manifesting the true Laozi to the world.

     The reason I had asked Professor Chern to leave my name out of the calligraphy was because for a long time, as being a true advocate of Laoism, I was debating with myself about publishing the translation anonymously.  For “Dao is covert” and it helps people to improve their wellbeing without expecting to be paid back.  However I later decided that I must present myself to take full responsibility of this translation—in both Chinese and English versions.

     Luckily some prominent Chinese political leaders could recognize Professor Chern’s greatness that since 1984 they have invited him back and had made it possible for him to leave the warm climate Berkeley California, where they had been for four decades to return to his homeland—his alumnus Nankai University in cold climate Northern China.  However, when we talked to them, both Professor Chern and Mrs. Chern were very excited about returning to Nankai University, the cold climate was not their concern at all.  I also learnt later that Professor Chern had donated heavily to the Mathematics Institute of Nankai University-- in addition to transferring all cash awards he had earned, he also chipped in his own car.   Hopefully the work of Chern Institute of Mathematics in Nankai University will mirror all dimensions of his greatness.
    

Just before I was about to wrapped up this book, I came across some very interesting fact—it was about Einstein, Chern and Laozi’s Daodejing!   In the preface Professor Chern wrote on February 28, 2002 for his contemporary colleague’s book “The Sighting of Zhuangzi’s Soul”,[1] of the Department of the Chinese Literature of the Nankai University; in which he recollected the short encountering, academically and socially, he had had with Einstein from 1943 to 1945.  He found out that serenity, i.e. Laozi’s discussion about jing in Daodejing, was important to Einstein.  Chern was also very impressed that on Einstein’s bookshelf there was a copy of Daodejing--in German translation; this was one of the handful of books he took with him as a refugee from the rampaging Germany.[2]  However, before Einstein left Germany he had had also discussed philosophy and philosophy of science, from his perspective, with Karl Popper in 1930’s and wrote a handwritten letter to him to discuss about the logic of scientific discoveries.[3]

The following is the translationof the above-mentioned Preface, written by Professor Chern, from Chinese by me :

“In this world, two most important elements are human beings and nature.  In the last five hundred years, thanks to the great progress and development, we human beings’ understanding of Nature has had been enghlightened and enhanced considerably.  Consequently, this has also influenced the lives of human beings; we are no longer the kind of animals we were five hundred years ago.   Chinese people are realistic and pragmatic people, Chinese civilization traditionally aiming at dealing with human problems in the context of social organizations, particularly the continuation of generation transitions….The conflict of Sino-Western cultures have brought us(Chinese) again back to the (similar circumstance of ) Spring-Autumn and Warring State Eras(770BC-206BC)…”

I recall that in 1943-5 when I was in Princeton, USA, I often met Einstein, and several times visitiing him at his home.  Nevertheless, I had been deeply impressed by discovering a copy of German translation of Laozi[Daodejing] on his sparsely filled bookshelf.  I wish Professor Fan will also write a similar book about Laozi. ” (February 28, 2002 published in China)



[1] “The Sighting of Zhungzi’s Soul” is a contemporarily published Chinese book by poet, painter and Nankai University professor Fan Zeng.  It is a book of poetic literature, in which the author celebrates the greatness of Zhuangzi, mainly from a poetic perspective.

[2] Sir Karl Popper told me that he had had read all available German translations of Daodejing, yet was disappointed at all of them.  They all made no ‘gestalt’ sense to him, i.e. the shortage of underlying framework.

[3] Popper wrote in his Unended Quest that Einstein had been overwhelmed by German Idealism and Kant’s Rationalism that he failed to balance the matter from Empiricist perspective, and this was instrumental to their disagreements.



[1] “The Sighting of Zhungzi’s Soul” is a contemporarily published Chinese book by Fan Zeng.  It is as book of poetic literature, in which the author seranades the greatness of Zhuangzi, mainly from a poetic perspective.

[2] Sir Karl Popper told me that he had had read all available German translations of Daodejing, yet was disappointed at all of them.  They all made no ‘gestalt’ sense to him, i.e. the shortage of underlying framework.

[3] Popper wrote in his Unended Quest that Einstein had been overwhelmed by German Idealism and Kant’s Rationalism that he failed to balance the matter from Empiricist perspective, and this was instrumental to their disagreements.

[4] “The Sighting of Zhungzi’s Soul” is a contemporarily published Chinese book by poet, painter and Nankai University professor Fan Zeng.  It is as book of poetic literature, in which the author celebrates the greatness of Zhuangzi, mainly from a poetic perspective.

[5] Sir Karl Popper told me that he had had read all available German translations of Daodejing, yet was disappointed at all of them.  They all made no ‘gestalt’ sense to him, i.e. the shortage of underlying framework.

[6] Popper wrote in his Unended Quest that Einstein had been overwhelmed by German Idealism and Kant’s Rationalism that he failed to balance the matter from Empiricist perspective, and this was instrumental to their disagreements.

 

Popper, Greek Philosophy and Laozi

     There are many other people who have either directly or indirectly helped me with the completion of this book.  Among them, the foremost enthusiastic one was Professor Sir Karl Popper.  Like many seasoned philosophers he was proficient at validating frameworks so he could understand Laoism intuitively.  Furthermore he was a great one on the same par with Russell (of the Greek lineage) and Wittgenstein (in logical analysis).  Sir Karl Popper is regarded as one of the greatest philosophers and the greatest philosopher of science and scientific methods,[23] of the 20th Century.[24]  His thinking method of “Conjectures and Refutations” and principles on “Objective Knowledge” have had been a strong influence on me, particularly leading me in translating Laozi’s book; the aim was to be analytical, accurate and be logically positive.  At the conclusion of Russell’s book on the History of Western Philosophy, he called out for a new philosophy that could teach people how to live with uncertainties, and Popper’s philosophy may be the answer to that calling.  The reason Popper was also enthusiastic about Laozi’s work was due to his powerful philosophical background that he could apprehend Laozi’s framework intuitively.  Doubtless, from a philosophical perspective, he could understand Laozi deeply much more than this translator/interpreter.

      I have read both Sir Karl Popper and Sir Alfred .Ayer since my undergraduate days.  I came to know about Popper through Professor Yin Haiguang of Taiwan University.[25]  Yin was a whole-heartedly sincere honest passionate political writer; he had ridiculed the then authoritarian authority’s artificial cold-war mythologization of getting ready to counter-attack the mainland Communist China (the lesser of this fashionable cold-war claim was Taiwan Independence).  However due to his success he became a celebrity, later after him in Taiwan, there were opportunist imitator/pretenders who, deceitfully rode on Yin’s popularity en route this government bashing path to become political celebrities, as well as politicians.[26]  In order to show Yin his support in spirit, his god-like hero Bertrand Russell recommended to him Sir Karl Popper’s book The Open Society and Its Enemies.  Yin subsequently arranged to have his copy of this book reprinted for the public in Taiwan with the hope he could spread the gospel embodied in it.[27]  However it is very doubtful that since the content of this book is so substantial that activists could reach only the level but only to the extent of using it as a slogan or crowd-pleaser.

     Later I was drawn, more and more, to Popper’s philosophy because I detect from writings of my mentor Ayer their philosophical closeness and his respect for him.  His significant encountering with the Logical Positivism and Wittgenstein should not be ignored by academicians.  Through reading his books, I’ve come to the belief that, next to or on the same par with Russell, Popper was the closest I could get to recapitulate the Hellenic spirit.  The reason earlier I had preferred to read Ayer was because Popper was too mathematical and Ayer’s style was much more elegant!  In fact, Popper could deliver his argument in English with such lucidity and clarity that his style almost matches that of the urbane English-speaking Ayer, judging from another perspective.  It is so rare for a German-speaking writer to be able to match wit with English writers, in either English or German-English translations!  When comes to writing in English, he was far ahead of nearly all his German-speaking peers, Wittgenstein was unfortunately being included. 

     The reason I re-read Popper was because I came to the realization that there are so much agreement between Popper and Laozi.  In 1980’s, for wanting to understand Laozi in depth, I had inadvertently developed the urge to re-read his The Open Society and Its Enemies, a monumental book, about the necessity and guidance, of humanism, freedom and democracy in human societies.   I felt that there were many agreements between Laozi and Popper, yet Popper has successfully analyzed these tenets in more convincing modern terms and has communicated them eloquently in English.  Unfortunately because of the success of the book, the gestalt meaning of humanistic ‘open society’ was lost.  Even though Popper did not talk about “Love thy neighbor”, as a person, he had what Chinese described as “has a heart like Buddha”; ‘Buddha’ refers to the ultimate kindness and compassion to fellow human beings. Exploitation other human beings, not to mention to the extent of destroying their lives or livelihood, for gains in the name of ‘open society’ is a betrayal of Popper’s original intent for an utopia for humanity; the idealistic society for harmonious human co-existence, even at the price of self-sacrifice, was pursued by many, i.e. Laozi, Buddha, Christianity  and Confucius etc.  Even the hard-headed Popper later claimed that he was willing to suffer being wronged rather than causing mistakes that would make others suffer.  I am very sure that he himself suffered when he noticed that others are suffering.  The understanding of his theme on ‘open society’ should oriented from a disposition like this.  Otherwise it is a distortion and taking out of context reading of his book.    A bona fide open society should be on the footing of egalitarianism, as Buddha has said “All creatures, big and small were born equal (that they all have a right to fulfill their existences).” 



[1] Metre: systematically arranged and measured rhythm in verse: (1): rhythm that continuously repeats a single basic pattern <iambic meter> (2) : rhythm characterized by regular recurrence of a systematic arrangement of basic patterns in larger figures <ballad> (Merriam-Webster).

[2] A.N.Whitehead: Modes of Thought, p.237.

[3] The term “emotive thoughts” was first used by A.J.Ayer in Language, Truth and Logic. 

[4] A.N.Whitehead: Modes of Thought, p.237.

[5] http://arxiv.org/abs/1004.5106,

  http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2010arXiv1003.6017A

  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chern%E2%80%93Simons_theory

[6] Pythagoras in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras:  Pythagoras made influential contributions to philosophy and religious teaching in the late 6th century BC.  Pythagorean theorem, a theorem in geometry that states that in a right-angled triangle the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle), c, is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, b and a—that is, a2 + b2 = c2

Fuzzy logic:  Please read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_logic

[7] Zeno’s Paradoxes, i.e. Arguments against Motion, may be started to be understood with the the prarable of a race between tortoise and rabbit, for mathematically rabbit never wins.

[8] Cf Note 184 for “asymptote”.

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Tarski

[10] Tarski, Popper and Ayer were all participating in the Conference of Vienna Circle for Logical Positivism, however none of them was ever a member of that Circle.

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Sanders_Peirce

[12]Cf. Stochastic Local Gauss-Bonnet-Chern Theorem(or Chern-Gauss-Bonnet Theorem) at:   http://www.springerlink.com/content/k0773721l0p737m4/

[15] Laozi said it himself in Chapter 70.III:

  People [in vogue] are ignorant, so they do not know me;

    There are only a handful of people who [would make an effort to]

     understand me;

    Those who understand me will discover that my theory is valuable;

    The description, that ancient Saints were like men who carried priceless

    jades under coarse ragged cloaks, was not made from casual observation.

                  

[16] My father’s book, a Chinese classic, The Evolvement of Tibet was re- published by me with my comprehensive English translation in United States in 2009.  The original 1933 copies are available in the Chinese Science Academy, National library, as well as libraries in Universities Harvard, Chicago, Indiana, Stanford, Toronto et al.   Web site is:  www.evolvementoftibet.com.

[17] Cf. Laozi (Daodejing) Chapters 62.III, 19.II, 26.I and 33.0.

[18] Metre: systematically arranged and measured rhythm in verse: (1): rhythm that continuously repeats a single basic pattern <iambic meter> (2): rhythm characterized by regular recurrence of a systematic arrangement of basic patterns in larger figures <ballad> (Merriam-Webster).

[19] A.N.Whitehead: Modes of Thought, p.237.

[20] Copies of his Chinese poems are in Appendix.

[21] Fuzzy logic:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_logic

[22] Framework: [from Mirriam-Webster Dictionary]

1: a : a basic conceptional structure (as of ideas) <the framework of the United States Constitution>

  b : a skeletal, openwork, or structural frame.
2 :
frame of reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_of_reference.  Popper likes to use the expression “ad hoc” to refer to this.  For meanings of ‘philosophical frame of reference’, read http://www.jstor.org/pss/985254 (Professor H.A.Simon).

3 : the larger branches of a tree that determine its shape

[23]The result from Google Search on typing in the ‘Philosophy of Karl Popper’: assets.cambridge.org/97805218/39464/.../9780521839464ws.pdf

(The Philosophy of Karl Popper, by Herbert Keuth, Cambridge, England, 2004)

[25] Yin, Haiguang:  His mentor was philosopher Jin Yueling, who was quoted in Chapter IX(p.161) Footnote 245. http://zh.wikipedia.org/zh-cn/%E6%AE%B7%E6%B5%B7%E5%85%89

[26] Traces of the remains of Cold War are instrumental for the similar artificial myth of the island independence movement.

[27] It was legal to by-pass international copyright law to reprint Western books in Taiwan at that time. I did mention this to Popper and explaining that at that time people in Taiwan were too poor to afford the original price.  Sir Karl said it was all right under the circumstance.  Also since my son’s birthday was on the same day as Sir Karl Popper July 28th, and that kid also got happy birthday wishes from him whenever he received my greetings.  All these reflected another phase of Popper: a softy (as he said himself); has a tender and generous heart. 

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