A hesitant thumbs up for Trying Not to Try: The Science and Art of Spontaneity by Edward Slingerland. History/philosophy.
Well…huh. I didn’t read this book that long ago, but I must have read it too late at night, because I remember nothing about it except the fact that it is about the concept of wu-wei, “non-doing,” and that it contains a pretty good overview of the differences and similarities between ancient Chinese philosophers. I am torn half-and-half about whether my inability to recall any takeaways means I should eject this book from my collection, or if I should read it again and take notes. Let’s just say: it was interesting enough to keep me up late; it didn’t change my life.
If modern science can tell us so much about wu-wei, why bother with these early Chinese guys? (And yes, as far as we know they were all guys.) As a historian of early Chinese thought—and, not incidentally, someone raised in New Jersey, with a Jerseyite’s low tolerance for B.S.—I get a psychosomatic headache from people who glorify “the East” as if it were an exclusive and unfailing source of spiritual wisdom. Nevertheless, there is a kernel of truth lurking at the center of New Age exoticism. There are several important ways that early Chinese thought can help us get beyond some of our philosophical and political hang-ups and better prepare us to grasp the biological and cultural worlds we inhabit.
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