Exploring Representation of the Tao in 3D


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Virtual reality clues to reconciling radical differences, global and otherwise?


1 Apr 2019 – The Tao symbol is widely known as an indication of viable harmony between opposites — understood as a possibility for a mature human civilization of the future. There is extensive commentary on the subtlety of the insight it represents, dating most notably from that of Laozi in the Tao Te Ching. This explains that the Tao is not a ‘name’ for a ‘thing’ but the underlying natural order of the Universe whose ultimate essence is difficult to circumscribe due to it being non conceptual yet evident in one’s being of aliveness.

Various adaptations of the insight continue to be offered, notably those of Ralph Siu (The Tao of Science: an essay on Western Knowledge and Eastern Wisdom. 1957), Fritjof Capra (The Tao of Physics, 1975), Thomas Cleary (Tao of Politics, 1990), and George T. Haley, et al. (The Chinese Tao of Business: the logic of successful business strategy, 2004). The Tao of governance: public administration reform in China is featured as a chapter in the The International Handbook of Public Administration and Governance (2015). Such insights have been interpreted with respect to both military operations and to intelligence (James Y. Wong and Ernest Y. Wong, The Tao of Protracted Warfare: a yin-yang approach to conducting COIN, Small Wars Journal, 2012; Stewart K. Bertram, The Tao of Open Source Intelligence, 2015). In an era of unprecedented fake news and propaganda, also of interest are the insights relating to deception (Ralph D. Sawyer, The Tao of Deception: unorthodox warfare in historic and modern China, 2007).

The variety of such adaptations, and the enduring value associated with the Tao — however understood — are especially striking in contrast to the poisonously divisive conditions currently evident between many nations and within those democracies enshrined as Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (notably USA, UK, and France). There is thus a case for noting the arguments of Tom Atlee (The Tao of Democracy: using co-intelligence to create a world that works for all. 2003).

Perhaps curiously, with the evolution of information technology, the Tao symbol continues to be most commonly represented in the two dimensions convenient for reproduction on a flat surface. Arguably this can be understood as totally inappropriate to the subtle multidimensionality of the insights that the symbol is held to imply, especially when facilities exist for representation in 3D and virtual reality. This argument can be developed with respect to other such symbols (Cognitive Implications in 3D of Triadic Symbols Valued in 2D: representations of the triskelion in virtual reality and implications for quantum consciousness, 2017).

It is however the case that the Tao symbol has indeed been variously represented “in 3D”, but most commonly through embossing, shading and adding a degree of thickness to the traditional 2D version. This could be understood as excessively simplistic — given other design opportunities. The only exception to this approach seems to have been the unusual 3D animation offered by Lance Skelly (Sling Yang 4 March 2013), explicitly inspired by that of Dave Goetsch Yin-Yang Animation, 24 January 2013). These are based on the movement of mutually orthogonal versions of the two major design features of the 2D version — the first with 3 of them, the second with 2. Such use of animation also potentially implies a shift from the conventional static depiction to the dynamics of 4D.

The approach taken here is to explore the possibility of “constructing” experimentally the Tao symbol using features from three-dimensional geometry, notably representing areas of the 2D symbol as volumes (curved cones and spheres, framed by a torus and embodying several tori). As projections, the simpler 2D versions of these 3D features are necessarily fundamental to the geometry of the construction of the symbol in 2D. Arguably a 3D symbol can “hold” or suggest greater subtlety to many more people than a 2D symbol in which that subtlety is implicit to a higher degree — then meaningful to fewer.

The assumption in exploring the possibilities of this construction, and its interactive representation in virtual reality, is that the design process itself offers learnings of relevance to any reference to the Tao as indicative of a higher order of harmony than is currently evident in governance — whether national or global. Such learnings are potentially evoked when the construction process is initiated experimentally with a degree of ignorance as to the method which might be most fruitfully employed. This contrasts with the possibilities when greater mathematical capacity can be deployed by experts in the use of design software — using insights which are communicable and comprehensible only to the few.

In this spirit any unfruitful approaches and mistakes are themselves valuable as being indicative of the challenges in practice to any understanding and achievement of the “harmony” suggested by the aesthetics of that symbol. The results of this exercise are therefore left incomplete — inviting further improvements, notably if further degrees of animation are to be envisaged.

As noted below, a similar approach can be explored with respect to other fundamental symbols, notably the Celtic triskelion (mentioned above), to the Basque lauburu, and to the reconciliation of the symbols of the three violently quarrelsome Abrahamic religions (Reconciling Symbols of Islam, Judaism and Christianity: catalytic methodology for effective interfaith dialogue, 2017). More provocatively with respect to the focus of the argument below, consideration has previously been given to the Tao of Snoring (in the Snoring of The Other: a politically relevant psycho-spiritual metaphor? 2006).

A key question is whether the possible dynamics of representation in 3D are indeed more suggestive of subtler insight. A particular concern is whether the representation enables greater understanding of the nature of the paradoxical strangeness of the reconciliation between opposites — named in the Tao Te Ching as the mysterious valley spirit, and perhaps to be considered the epitome of a strange attractor in cognitive terms. Separately the elusive relevance of this understanding at this time was evoked with respect to the problematic cognitive relation between “local” and “global” (Imagining a mnemonic device of requisite higher dimensionality, 2019) — as argued in terms of the Local Reality of Overcrowding — Global Unreality of Overpopulation (2019).

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