Thoughts on Love

Love is one of the most ubiquitous and steadily present aspects of life. Since mankind is able to think, talk and write, people reflect on this topic. Art (poetry, music, painting, etc.), philosophy, psychology and many more “institutions” try to capture and describe what kind of phenomenon love is – an approach that is condemned to fail, from my point of view. Love is a too great “thing” to be fully and sufficiently analysed using words. Probably the attempt that gets the closest to reality is poetry with its sophisticated methods to trigger emotions and create atmospheres, because love is most of all exactly that: an emotion, a “mood”, an atmosphere that cannot be grabbed or held. However, certainly love has a down-to-earth daily life dimension when it comes to human relationships (no matter if coupleships, family love, friendships to a certain extent, etc.). Conducting a partnership succeeds or fails with the viewpoints of the loving person about what love is, no matter if consciously or subconsciously. Therefore, I would like to try to describe my ideas on love from a philosophical point of view with little impacts of psychology and a huge impact of my own real-life-experiences. As sources of inspiration I can name Erich Fromm’s famous books “The Art of loving” and “To have and to be”, Stendhal’s “On love” (“De l’amour”) with its model of crystallisation in a 6-stage process, and the whole Buddhist philosophy with its consequences and ideas on daily life conduct.

Recall: All is one. Everything is connected. Nothing is permanent. And: the basic law of all existence is that of cause and effect: every incident causes a reaction that keeps reality in its equilibrium, which also implies that nothing is eternally constant but everything is undergoing change. As stated elsewhere I believe that this equilibrium itself, the constant heading for harmony on all levels of existence (material, spiritual, etc.) can be called “love”. This meets the Buddhist idea of “love as the basic principle of all being in the world”. This includes love relationships between people, of course. But how does this monistic, holistic, naturalistic worldview reveal any useful idea of what love is (or might be)? It needs a few more “general” elements of life conduct to bridge the abstract philosophy and the daily life behaviour (for example as a partner in a coupleship). First of all, the most obvious (and my favourite) conclusion from this understanding of the world is the “here-and-now” approach. Life always takes place here and now. We only have this moment. Time is just a concept, place is always relative. We (an assembly of sophisticated molecules that are arranged in a way that we have abilities to act and to think, opening the “mental sphere” that constructs meaning from experience) are a tiny element in the world fabric, having our place in it. Too often we take ourselves too important in it, separate ourselves from the rest and fall victim of illusions by the three “poisons of the mind”, ignorance, attachment and resistance. If, idealistically, we succeed in living constantly in the here-and-now, it had a deep impact on our understanding of love and our relationships, as I will explain in detail soon.

It seems to me at this place it requires a very non-romantic but scientific section: Why do we feel love from a biological point of view? The answer is no surprise: it is the outcome of evolutionary pressure. Everything that supports the survival of a species has an advantage compared to those individuals within that species that don’t have that feature. Simply said: when a female and a male individual of a species have a baby (a “next generation”) and they take care of it together in cooperation, the baby has a higher chance to survive, learn, make its living and later have its own baby (a “next next generation”) compared to a baby that is born by a couple that does not take sufficient care. Therefore, any kind of phenomenon that makes the parents stick together after generating a new generation is supported (given to the following generation, spreading, displacing those who do not have this property). For some species such an aspect might be the visual attraction, or a smell, or any other trigger of a cognitive sense (for example the elephant bull sticking to his cow because of her wonderfully curved body…). Since even the early mankind had a wide set of emotions, establishing a mechanism on this level was obviously very powerful: man and woman sticking together because they feel that they want to. Very smart of Nature! (I hope you know that I say this for fun and with my worldview can NEVER say something like this seriously! An entity like Nature can never have a property like “smartness”! However, in human language we might be allowed to call evolutionary processes “smart”…) What do we learn from it? Most people have the “instinct” that it is “good” to be faithful, to make a relationship last long (or even forever), or to have only one partner, and that it is “bad” to leave a mother with her child alone, to cheat or to “play” with a partner. We feel excited when we are “falling in love”, and comfortable and secure in a stable and long-lasting relationship, taking it as an ideal. I don’t know anybody who doubts these ideals. Everybody needs and wants love. Yet, the reality looks different: couples break up often, even married couples get divorced, partners fight and hurt each other, have “love affairs”, betray, or suffer from boredom after a while. Therefore, the main question is not “Is there endless or perfect love?” but “How do we succeed in establishing endless perfect love?”. We can take for granted that there is love since it is something we want. The much more important reflection is on what we have to do (or what kind of idea we should have) to have a “successful” (= long-lasting, harmonic, joyful) relationship.

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Let me make a bold statement: Most people love conditionally. Especially in modern times (since about 50-60 years) we treat love as something we “have” or not, as something that gives me some kind of profit or not (benefits, joy, sex,…), as a “thing”. We weigh benefits and disadvantages, we evaluate potential partners and change the partner when we believe we found a better one. The viewpoint that love is “giving and taking” is put into an economic framework that is drawing up the balance sheet and taking this as the measure for the quality of the relationship and not the act of giving and taking itself. In a society that is more and more used to fill up every day with pleasure and fun, that shows severe hedonistic symptoms, love must serve a purpose: the quick and easy fulfilment of the endless seek for pleasure. In a money-oriented world it even seems to be possible to “buy” love or (even though not necessarily with money) can be induced by certain ways (for example online dating or match-making institutes). I believe that the reason for a dramatically increasing divorce rate, for so many frustrated people who lost the belief in “true love”, for so much sadness about failed relationships, can be found in exactly these approaches of love. To me it is obvious that people “suffer” from their attachments, sticking to pleasure, excitement and a too huge self. And exactly here I see the chance to intervene: When we know about our suffering and accept it, we can apply methods to overcome it. No matter how it is achieved, the ultimate goal should be to sharpen the awareness for those situations and moments in which we fall victim of illusions, to identify and resolve “dualisms” that separate the whole world into single independent entities (like “here is me, there is you, there is love, there is the problem”), and to practice a lifestyle that is “in this moment”, here and now, at all moments. How can it help to reach the goal of a “successful partnership”? It might be helpful to do a very simple little experiment: sit back and reflect on what must be given right in this moment to ensure that you are still alive in the next moment? Besides some basic safety issues (there is no natural catastrophe, no nuclear war, and the house you sit in doesn’t collapse) and given the case you are more or less healthy (and not dependent on machines that keep you alive) I guess you find only one thing: you have to keep breathing. From time to time you might have to eat something, and even fewer times you need to rest (sleep); both are required to balance your energy consumption that keeps your organism running. But first of all, in almost every moment of your life, you need to keep breathing. And that’s it. You don’t need money, you don’t need a TV, you don’t need fancy clothes or cosmetics, you don’t need fame or attention or honour. All these things might comfort your life, or might make it more convenient, but after all they are not necessary. How about thoughts and emotions? They truly dominate our life since we can never stop thinking (at least not without a lot of practice) and we (hopefully) never stop having feelings. However, it is mainly these thoughts and feelings that usually distract us from the here-and-now. Regrets, grief, sadness and frustration draw us into the past whereas fears, sorrows and doubts keep us busy with the future. Education, experiences, behaviour and thought patterns link us strongly to the past while expectations, hopes, desires and visions make us believe in the future. This goes for both negative and positive thoughts and emotions. Even happiness is often a past- or future-related attachment (we miss happy moments from the past, or we get stuck in the belief that we need something particular as the only way to be happy in the future). I believe that living in past and future rather than in this moment leads to most of the problems that occur in a relationship. The mentioned “economic” approach of love has its origin in always thinking of “tomorrow” (“Will I still be happy with this partner tomorrow?”, “Will I always get what I need and want?”). The loss of belief in true love is heavily caused by aspects of the past (bad experiences with former partners, divorced parents, a lack of “love ability” caused by an environment with insufficient love abilities, etc.). Partners betray and have love affairs because they seek for short term pleasure satisfaction and believe to find it somewhere outside their partnership – another idea “in the future”. Also the expectation that the partner is always beautiful, always smart, always lovely and attractive is an unrealistic future-directed idea. This kind of love is condemned to be “conditional” and people who love like this will of course never experience “true and endless love”. The “problem” is the fact of constant change (as mentioned above): as soon as we have a condition for love (like “I love you when you love me in return!”, or “I love you because you look pretty, because you are smart, because you have a PhD degree, because because because…”) the love is threatened to disappear because the condition might change. Every partner WILL change, this is guaranteed! When we try to fix something flexible, or when we try to push something constantly changing into a shape, it will break sooner or later or try to escape. The attachment to past and future denies that love is flexible and can only be caught in its momentary state right in this moment. In the next moment it must be caught again, maybe with a different method, because it will be different again. As soon as we try to grab it and keep it, it looses its value, like a beautiful flower we unplug from the soil will die uprooted.

What does “love in the here-and-now” practically mean? Let’s assume the “normal” way of forming and actively conducting a partnership and its stages. Some people are lucky and find their partner by one or the other way in their daily life, maybe at the workplace, while doing the hobby, or introduced (intentionally or not) by a friend or family member. Others “search” for a partner, usually with a desperation level growing linear (or even exponentially) with increasing age. How do we choose our partner? Sometimes people (probably the majority is men) just use the eye for that and choose a pretty, handsome, sexy, attractive person. From my point of view this is the worst possible criteria, since outer appearance is the most obviously changing property. Is the love gone when the partner turns less good-looking? Can the partner be easily exchanged as soon as a better looking person is spotted in the crowd? The same goes for choosing partners by financial aspects or social status (rich or famous partners). But how about those who claim they choose their partner by “inner values” such as good character, smartness, or same hobbies and life philosophy? Even these things can change! When I love my wife for endless philosophical debates, and then she gets Alzheimer and doesn’t even know me anymore, will I have to stop loving her? It seems like any kind of “reason” for loving someone makes the love conditional and instable. What is left? I believe (I must say, according to my own experience) the only way to find the “right” partner is to (a) make sure a kind of minimal basis of a “good match” (the partners have at least a few things in common so that they can enjoy sharing their lives), then (b) listen to and follow the feelings, which is the most important thing since this gives the will to love this partner forever and the vision to share the life until the end of days, and finally (c) constantly reflect the “inner self” at all time. Simply said: when you feel attracted to someone (but maybe even can’t explain it properly), when you feel totally comfortable and peaceful in a person’s presence, and when at the same time you can make sure your feeling is not an illusion created by superficial criteria (for example big boobs) or blinded by psychological phenomena such as desperation (“last-minute panic”) or loneliness, then it might be that this person is the right one. The question is not what you love that person for. The main question should be if your feelings are the beginning of a flame that will grow into a “fire” of a stable love relationship. When this is established, love can flourish and grow as long as it is not pressed into too strict boundaries. This is the next stage: the early phase of a partnership, often going along with excitement. “Falling in love”. I define this phase as that time between starting a partnership (with both partners agreeing ideally voluntarily upon being a couple) and facing the critical phase after the excitement is gone. According to Stendhal’s love theory it is the time between phase 4 and 6. His six phases are:

  1. Admiration (“I really admire you as a person.”),

  2. Beginning of desire (“I think I’d like to get to know you better.”),

  3. Hope (“I hope you feel the same way about me.”),

  4. Inception of love (“I think I’m falling in love with you.”),

  5. Crystallisation (“I see the beauty and perfection within you.”),

  6. Doubt, fear and/or jealousy, anger and resentment (“You’re going to hurt me or betray me like others have.”).

The fifth phase is the most critical one in this theory. The way it is perceived and managed determines if a couple will “survive” the sixth phase or not. When the “beauty and perfection” seen in the partner is regarded as the “state-of-art” that needs to be preserved until the end of days, it is a case of conditional love. When in this phase the expectations on the partner are too strongly “directed”, the relationship will break. When in this stage we are attached to the relationship and the idea of it, we will lose it. Love can only grow and follow on the “being-in-love” phase when the lovers let go of the “relationship” aspects and focus on the value of their love and the essence of why they are a couple. When the relationship is evaluated by its “output” (How much fun and pleasure is generated? Is my partner still the best/most beautiful/richest? How many hobbies do we have in common and how many times per week do we have sex?) 1000 things will be found that support doubts and fears to grow. Another aspect that should never be underestimated is that we often fail to keep up a relationship because of our own inner restraints and fears caused by childhood traumas, lack of love ability, and other past incidents that pushed us into repressing and denying our deepest feelings. The here-and-now approach might be helpful to shape the consciousness for love which I regard as the most crucial point. Love can only be unconditional when it is conscious, non-possessive and non-dependent. A first step would be to practice the awareness for our suffering (ignorance, attachment, resistance), to understand the difference between “being free from emotions” (terrible!) and “being free IN emotions” (desirable!), to deliberate ourselves from the slavery of thoughts and emotions and take control over them instead, and finally to make peace with ourselves. Only when we love ourselves we will be able to truly love someone else and appreciate receiving that person’s love. But careful! “Loving oneself” must not be mixed up with “I am the greatest!”. Also the love for oneself must be unconditional and conscious, with harmony and (inner) peace as the goal. Remember the worldview that stands behind: all is one, everything is connected (and in that undergoes constant change), there is only this moment. Loving oneself means in the first instance to be in the “here-and-now”, taking the reality as it is, neither fighting or hiding the past or future nor sticking to them, making peace with our inner self and embracing the love that is shining through after resolving all fears and resentments. Loving the partner is the same: No matter how the love “started” (how the partner is chosen), as soon as this flame is there it needs to be nourished with actively establishing peace and balance, appreciating the partner’s existence and the happiness of being together in this moment and all other moments. If two lovers succeed in reaching this point they don’t need to “trigger” their attraction by sexy underwear, a trip together or “new things” to pep up their boring daily life. They won’t argue on who has to bring the garbage outside or clean the toilet. They will never feel bored with each other because their conscious mental and emotional connection is a source for endless inspiration, like on the first day of their relationship. There is no thing such as “time”. There is only this moment. And love is experienced in its most pure form when it is given and taken in that moment. Every moment. It helps me here to regard it from a mathematical point of view. Let’s assume a “moment” is defined as one second. A day has  86400 seconds. So I can say I love my partner in 86400 moments per day, maybe in one moment it is expressed in a smile, in the next it shows itself as a gesture or a gift, another few moments is doing something together. In each second the love is expressed in a different way, so from moment to moment I can adapt my loving to the current form of love. Or with other words: I can fall in love with my partner over and over again 86400 times per day. Now we define a moment as 0.5 seconds, so there are 172800 moments of love (and of life!) per day. When we make a “moment” infinitesimally small, the number of moments per day reaches infinity, therefore the “chain of moments” becomes a “dynamic process of moments” and, therefore, one. Then we don’t even need to define what is a moment on a time scale, but the answer is: now!

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These ideas inspired me to make “Mantras” on love that I want to practice in my life. A Mantra is a kind of catchy phrase, a simple and short Motto that can be recited and by this internalised until it is mirrored in a person’s behaviour and actions in daily life. This ensures that the intellectual thinking is put into practice rather than remaining mere theory. Since I was a teenager I often wondered if there is something “greater” than “I love you” to tell my girlfriend, because everybody says “I love you” and it is kind of “worn out”. From the idea that all we have is this moment, here and now, I take that this is the greatest (if not only) thing I can really give to my partner. Therefore, the biggest statement I can make to my partner is: “I am here for you!” (the first Mantra). When I give “my moment” to someone, my here-and-now, it means that person has my full attention, all my consciousness and awareness. I can’t give more than that, nothing that is “greater”. When I spend time with my partner I shouldn’t watch TV, chat, talk on the phone or think about my job issues besides, but be with her with all senses. Also, I shouldn’t make reproaches to her because of past incidents, or worry about future occurrences. We are here, united in love. Everything else is not important. This leads to the second Mantra: “I know that you are here for me, too! (And that makes me happy!)”. My girlfriend (or wife) is by my side voluntarily since I would never force her to be. I can assume that she loves me, that she would never intend to make me angry, and that she would always be on my side same as I am always on her side! I believe that many couples fight because they forget exactly this! This creates the potential for reproaches, accusations, misunderstandings, etc. But above all should always be the fact that two partners love each other, seeking harmony and peace, and therefore are always “here” for each other. Again: I believe this is often forgotten because we suffer from the mind poisons (ignorance, attachment, resistance). Keeping this in mind when I feel hurt, misunderstood or mistreated by my partner, it is easy for me to know why (this is the third Mantra): “I know that you suffer!“. “I know” in this case means something like “I am aware of the unavoidable fact that…”. With this Mantra it is very easy for me to react on my partner with understanding, benevolence, patience and affection, at any time and at any place. Everything she does and sais, she does and sais because she believes it is right, because her thought and behaviour patterns tell her so, or because one of the layers around her Buddha Nature (oh… another “big” term I can’t explain to the fullest here…) make her do. Directly from this I derive the fourth Mantra, probably the most important of all: “I know that I am suffering (and I need your help)!“. Especially men tend to be totally unable to take criticism. A healthy self-reflection and the insight that oneself is suffering from the mind poisons the most of all can help to be a much more convenient partner. Many conflicts can be solved by admitting and accepting the own flaws and mistakes. Instead of preaching my own flawlessness I should rather ask my partner for forgiving my bad sides and helping me to work on them. Her feedback, constructive criticism and probably a huge amount of patience is what I need the most. Above all stands the idea that a partnership is conducted (without any outer force) in order to be or become happy together. The basic (never forgotten) principle of a partnership should be that both partners always have in mind to live in harmony and peace (both inside and with the partner).

I believe with this approach most things that should be self-understanding in a partnership can be achieved: sharing everything, being trustworthy and truthful (not hiding anything important from the partner), having good (= honest, sincere, open, truthful, peaceful) communication, being faithful, being interested in each other, paying attention to each other, making each other’s life more beautiful. Some people say having a partner requires compromises and therefore limits a persons freedom. I don’t agree. Everything is better with a partner! My partner is a source of energy, motivation and happiness! My partner gives my life a purpose! Therefore, my freedom is even higher with a partner! Many couples I know make a big mistake: They think “loving each other” means “binding to each other”, like a chain or a prison, they are like one person. Later they complain that each of them has no “own space”, no freedom. Most of them broke up. They had the feeling that they are “limited” and told me, their partner makes them feel restricted by the love. In my opinion “love” should never produce limits for the two loving people. It should make them grow and get happier! So love should not be a prison or chains, it should be like earth and moon: circling around each other, with strong attractive forces but both with an own atmosphere to breath. No one could exist without the other, but still both are individuals. There is always a kind of distance between both, but they are close enough to feel the other (like the moon influences the earth). I like the picture of circling around each other, like dancing. It is a kind of admiring and watching the other with deep respect and conscious love! And still both can move on their own and never have the feeling of choking.

All in all I can state that I believe in “perfect” love. It just must not be mixed up with having a partner who is perfect. Nobody is perfect. But the way of conducting a partnership, based on a “healthy” understanding of what love is, will decide on the success of a partnership. The necessary requisites for endless love are:

  • the belief in love

  • the readiness to invest energy into it (knowing that the harvest will be much more than the investion)

  • the willingness to face the own flaws and failures and work on them

Of course it is helpful to have a certain wisdom, the ability to form, understand and follow ethical values and virtues, self-awareness and self-control, and last but not least an open mind to understand and see through the daily-life aspects of love. For sure, not only philosophers or psychologists are able to “know” about love. Everybody can, with the “right” idea and vision…

Worldview

In daily life we often face situations in which we have to make a decision of what is “right” or “good” to do. Those can be ethical dilemmas, difficult choices of lifelong importance (job, partner, moving to another place, etc.), or just simple judgments of incidents, statements, observations and actions with political, social, cultural or other dimension. Since we are embedded into a network of social and cultural interconnections, we are able to come to conclusions without much sophisticated knowledge but just on the basis of our education, experiences, cultural confinements and other factors that constitute a kind of “common sense”. However, in many cases our judgments, conclusions and decisions conflict with those of other people. Then, our viewpoints and the foundations of our reasoning standards are challenged – we have to make clear to ourselves how and why we come to these viewpoints in order to convince “the others” of the correctness and reasonability (or in some cases: superiority) of our arguments. This kind of dispute is the core of all kind of conflicts – political, religious, scientific, in personal relations, etc. – since mankind developed the skills of communication and conscious reflection. History provides uncountable examples of what can go wrong: dogmatism, ideology, superstition, manipulation, physical threats, and many more. For many millennia it wasn’t “the most reasonable argument” that always won, but in many cases that argument that was brought up and pushed through by the most powerful (the strongest, the wealthiest, the armed, the educated, the rhetorically most skilled, etc.) instance. Especially organised religions, for example Christianity and Islam, with their highly dogmatic belief systems, but also scientific approaches to understanding the world (examples: Phlogiston theory, geocentric worldview), run the risk of erroneous interpretations of the “world”. The consequences of unreasonable world conceptions can be dramatic and catastrophic, leading to injustice, mistreatment and misery (examples: the racism and fascism of the Nazi regime in Germany, the persecution of “witches” in medieval Europe, ideology-based exploitation and suppression of “minorites” around the globe, massive environmental destruction and extinction of species due to human activity).

We might compare the development of mankind and its insights into the world fabric to the process of growing up from a child to an adult. A baby doesn’t understand anything, not even itself (or “its self”). A young child that just discovers basic mechanisms of the world (cause-effect-relations, gravity, time, etc.) and human skills (for example language, intentional action) is not capable of scientific and metaphysical understanding of the world. It will believe fairytales and stories when they match with the simple observations it can make. The moon glows at night, so it is reasonable to believe that there is someone on or in it who switches on and off a lamp. On Easter morning there are colourful eggs hidden everywhere in the garden, so of course there is an “Easter Bunny” that came at night and put them there! Also, adults give the child simple orders like “Don’t touch the electrical socket!” rather than explain the technical background of high voltage and its effect on the human body. The older the child grows and the more it learns the more we will expect it to “know” and “understand” these things. It will not be satisfied anymore with simple orders, childish explanations or flowery stories. A reasonable teenager will start questioning things, identifying flaws, fallacies or “lies”. The process of learning is mostly one of “acquiring knowledge”, both technical-factual and normative-orientational. With the ongoing process of maturation more and more “beliefs” and “dogmas” can either be substituted by “knowledge” and “insight” or be put on more sophisticated foundations of knowledge and reason. The latter often requires a refinement or modification of worldview and understanding. We can imagine that insights with strong impact can change a person’s attitude towards or opinion about something. The same goes for societies: Ancient civilisations cultivated cruel customs such as cannibalism, slavery, human sacrifice or barbaric methods of capital punishment. They believed in ghosts, gods, super- and para-natural forces (some people still do), or based their explanations and worldviews on “facts” and “knowledge” that – from today’s perspective – was simply wrong. Most of these false beliefs and immature practices disappeared or have been abandoned, mostly after periods of philosophical and intellectual insights like the European Enlightenment era leading to Humanism or the establishment of Confucian social structures after the Chinese “Warring States” period.

Is the current state of civilisation ready to be called “mature”? Regardless of the fact that there is not just “one civilisation” on Earth but many different ones with varying degree of maturation, we can state that around the globe the access to sophisticated knowledge and insight is given to a larger extend than ever before. Natural and social sciences as well as Philosophy and Psychology have elaborated profound understanding of worldly and human affairs. The question is: What do we do with that knowledge? I’d like to make a point that is by far not self-understanding for many people and/or societies: The basis for any form of reasoning – be it technical, logical, metaphysical, normative, etc. – should be knowledge. At the same time (and this is my second plea), we (like the rebellious teenager) should always question and doubt everything. Knowledge should inform worldview, but worldview in return should evaluate and analyse knowledge constantly. When the rebellious teenager matures into a young adolescent, he or she will usually become more peaceful by solidifying his or her worldview which is based on the questioned, modified, refined and challenged knowledge. With a little optimism I’d like to state that I see a chance that the mankind of today is capable of throwing old dogmatism, false beliefs, misled and corrupt knowledge aboard and substitute it by knowledge-based insight on the world fabric, mankind’s place in it, and the human condition. In the following I’d like to draw a sketch of what that might look like.

knowrealhuman

Worldviews and ethical theories are most challenged by finding their “deepest” reason, the most fundamental basis that all argumentation is built upon and that – ideally – can be understood and agreed upon by everyone. Constructs that take a belief or a story, legend or claim that can never be proven as the starting point or “ultimate truth” are called “dogmatic”, for example religious systems that are built around the faithful belief in a God. It is the standard of philosophical reflection to go deeper than that. Attempts to go back to the very beginning of reasoning and reflecting on the nature of reality are sometimes called “first philosophy”, for example skepticism (e.g. Descartes), induction (e.g. Hume), transcendental philosophy (e.g. Kant), and others.[1] There is an intrinsic circular problem that all these first philosophies have to deal with: We want to base a worldview on what we know, but that provokes the question of what we – as human beings – are able to know. This question can only be answered satisfyingly on the basis of a worldview – the one we want to elaborate from what we know. With other words: What the observer (we) wants to observe is the observer itself, more precisely: his ability to observe. Or, as Heinz von Foerster puts it: “What does it need to understand a brain? – A brain!”.[2] We need knowledge to draw conclusions on the epistemological question “What are we able to know?”,  which is ideally fed from ontological insights into the reality of the world.  A “one-and-half-cycle” approach is suggested: Based on the very general and fundamental assumptions that are formulated in the ancient Chinese philosophical texts and that we can assume to be more or less secure “knowledge” of the principles and mechanisms of the world, a worldview is drawn that allows conclusion on the “human condition” – the position of mankind in the “world fabric” and, by that, the abilities and limitations of cognition. With an idea of “what human are able to know” the validity of the initial knowledge base is checked and – if necessary – refined. With these more secure insights an extended ontology, the metaphysical foundations of a worldview, can be elaborated. This can serve as a starting point for “applications” such as ethical principles, scientific methodology, human psychology, etc.

metaphysics2

The most fundamental phenomenon that we can observe in the world is “change“. This can be agreed to even without any scientific knowledge or philosophical preconditions. Nothing remains the same forever. Time and space are spanned up by “change”.[3]

In the next step, we have to conclude that there must be a governing principle. Otherwise we would end up either at chaos with all being as a product of randomness and chance, or at the postulation of an organized order under the guidance of a powerful entity creating a deterministic causality. Both are not reasonable to assume: the former because it does not match with our daily life experiences, the latter because it is laden with additional preconditions that are either impossible to prove or a matter of belief (but never of knowledge). Here, we can adopt the concept of Harmony from the Yi-Jing and its further elaborations in Confucianism and Daoism. Harmony must not be mixed up with “sameness”. Also, “equilibrium” does not imply “the one perfect state”. We can imagine these ideas in the picture of a pendulum: “Equilibrium” means the alteration around the perpendicular. As long as there are causes and effects in the universe, the pendulum will never come to a perpendicular stop. In this sense, harmony describes the tendency to balance out the energies that arise from the interaction of different elements in creative tension. Therefore, it is different from the “immediate harmony” in the Hegelian understanding, and different from the “natural state” symbolised by Adam and Eve in the Bible. This form of harmony is reflective, mediated, and highly relational.[4] In order to make this work, we have to assume a network of conditionality, both in the diachronic and synchronic dimension. The former means, a current state is caused by former states; the latter means, a current state is causally connected to other contemporary states. Additionally, still on save grounds, we can formulate that the ongoing process of oscillating around a point of harmony – disturbance of the equilibrium due to change of the conditions, re-aligning to the new surrounding state, establishment of a new equilibrium that is in harmony with the new state – necessarily leads to emergence, the development of more and more sophisticated and causally interwoven states.

harmony

These insights draw this picture of the world (we are now at Box 2: Basic Ontology): In the course of time and space that is made up by the properties and characteristics of Qi (call it “energy”), mankind’s appearance following evolutionary processes is embedded into this set of properties. Interaction with the specific environment on Planet Earth equipped the organism “human” with the senses and abilities that are useful and advantageous in this particular surrounding. Therefore, the actual cognitive and mental capability of humans is extremely limited given the complexity and variety of phenomena of the world. The development of brain processes known as “consciousness”, allowing volitional action, might be insignificant for the “world fabric”, but increases the complexity of human capabilites and human understanding massively. Especially the ability of communication (including self-communication, thinking) and its tool – language – widened the range of human action immensely. However, the idea of the world that is consciously perceived is condemned to remain a confined cut of the actual world. Moreover, it is a construction in the human mind. This leads us closer to the question of what we are able to know. But before we elaborate further on that, let’s have a closer look at the characteristics of this worldview that was just described.

We analysed the human condition solely in terms of its natural embedment in its environment, with the universal law of “cause and effect” as its foundation. Obviously, by doing so we follow a naturalistic approach which is the common term for the argumentative elaboration of “values” (like “harmony” or “balance”) with the focus on conditionality and cause-effect-relations. Among Philosophers, Naturalism became very popular in recent years. So many contemporary Philosophers claim themselves and other (ancient) Philosophers “naturalists” that it is hard to find a clear definition of what the term means and what it actually implies.[5] It seems safe to claim that Naturalism opposes the supernatural, and in certain understandings also the artificial. But it is the matter of heated debate whether Naturalism has to or needs to stand against “the normative”, too. From the Asian perspective, this question would surely be answered in favour of “naturalised normativity”: The norms and codes of conduct that are derived from ethical reasoning must be rooted in the nature of the world that mankind is embedded in. Everything else would be an “uprooted”, artificial, “thin” man-made concept. It is important to point out (as mentioned above) that it is necessary to be aware of a “separation of tasks” of different stages of reasoning: At this point we are investigating the human condition. Here, naturalistic perspectives like the Asian one are reasonable and appear helpful to address the respective questions. The introduction of “value” in order to elaborate normative statements will be done later when the whole metaphysical worldview is complete and when the perspective is focused specifically on “human affairs” rather than generally on “universal affairs”.

At this point, we can already exclude certain paradigms and principles – metaphysical perspectives that are certainly not element of “my philosophy”:

  • Dogmatism: Ideologies or teachings that are based on “belief” and mystical hypothesis are neither considered for nor concluded from this worldview conception. All it needed so far is a bit of experience and reflection, but no speculation about God(s) or other “creator entities” and no unprovable initial dogma.
  • Transcendentalism: According to E.O.Wilson, there is a significant difference between transcendentalists – those who believe that there are moral guidelines outside the human mind – and empiricists – those who think of them as contrivances of the mind.[6] Some philosophers understood the Yi-Jing as proclaiming “intrinsic value in the universe” and, accordingly, interpreted this as “transcendental”. The naturalistic “value” of harmony towards which everything is aligning and striving, however, should not be seen as transcendental since from a perspective of morality, it is “neutral” in the sense that it can’t tell what is good and right. “Equilibrium” shows “the direction to go”, but still the society and its members is obliged to figure out the methods and tools to go that way (the particular morals). Asian morality, especially as suggested by the Yi-Jing, is characterised as contextual prescriptivism, a highly situational ethics that depends on time, space and condition, but is firm in its principles and virtues. There is neither any form of “moral absolutism” nor a commitment to unshakable “cosmic norms” that are valid beyond the framework of human reasoning.
  • Human Nature: In the same sense, it is difficult to talk of “human nature” as something intrinsically given. Human traits are, according to Confucianism and Buddhism, manifestations of states with causal origins that change over time. In a more biological sense: The behavioural attitude of human beings (over the evolutionary development course of mankind) adapts flexibly to the environment according to its requirements and beneficial rewards. The attributes of “good” or “evil” are added by human from human perspectives.

The question “What can we know?” (Box 3: Epistemology) is a crucial one in the endeavour of building a worldview upon knowledge. In the West, the two major “classical” positions on this question are empiricism (knowledge as the result of experiences and cognitive perception) and rationalism (knowledge as the result of rational reasoning and mental reflection). From the previous insights we know that both our experiences and our ratio are “flawed” and/or incomplete and, therefore, our knowledge is also construed. This “constructivism” underlies both insight through reason and insight through experience and cognition. Buddhism (but also other Asian schools of thought) propagate an almost radical constructivism in questions of world perception and recognition.[7] In the European tradition, the idea that the mental representation of the world is not a depiction of the (real) outside world but rather a construction of an image inside the observing mind was elaborated comparably late, but is now widely accepted among philosophers and other related scholars.[8] Meanwhile, constructivism pervaded many academic and scientific disciplines, ranging from natural sciences[9] and psychology to sociology[10] and anthropology, especially prominent as “social constructivism”[11]. There is a clear tendency towards naturalism and constructivism going along with each other since both share, in parts, the same basic assumptions.[12] An idea that can be given up at this point is “truth” or, respectively, the possibility of getting anywhere near the “ultimate truth”. Therefore, also the attempt to achieve it is given up.

With these insights, is it necessary to revise, change or even discard the initial input of “basic knowledge” (Box 4)? Would we have to admit that the basic ideas of the world are in any way “wrong” or so flawed that they can’t serve as a starting point for metaphysical reflection any longer? The understanding that both the “human reality” and the “human options of acquiring knowledge” are best described by constructivism might leave the impression that “all we are able to know is that we know nothing”. However, this is a misconception. First, “knowing that our knowledge is highly filtered” and “knowing that what we believe we know can be wrong or corrupt” is not equivalent to “knowing nothing” (the nihilistic or fatalistic viewpoint). Awareness of the constructive character of our worldview and our reflections on metaphysics is important to avoid dogmatism, to increase the chances of both empiricism and rationalism to be “precise” or “correct”, and to align the worldview steadily to newly acquired knowledge. Moreover, the most important claim of all metaphysical and, in the following of it, ethical reasoning should be to be done “to the best of the available knowledge, insight, and conscience”. There is simply no other chance to base the reflections on “what we know” and “what we are able to know to the best of our abilities”. This corresponds to the Daoist idea that all we are able to do (and, therefore, obliged to do) is “getting as close as possible to the “Dao” (the point of total harmony) with our actions and behaviour, admitting that it will never be possible to reach it.[13] Here, too, it is impossible to reach the point of “ultimate truth”, but it should be taken as our goal to get as close as possible to it when reflecting on metaphysics.

Initially, it was claimed that the basic principles of the world fabric are:

  • Harmony – Cause-effect-mechanisms due to constant heading towards equilibrium states, spanning “time and space”
  • Conditionality – No existence without anything else existing, but no “ontological determinism”
  • Emergence – Increasing complexity through sophistication processes and development towards more elaborated states, resulting (among others) in consciousness.

Ancient Asian thinkers and intellectuals recognised – and I fully support it – that no phenomenon of the world manifests itself independent from other elements of the world. This can be observed for both material aspects of the world (the interaction of matter from the atomic to the cosmic scale) and abstract entities that occur in the mind of a conscious being. Moreover, even this classification of “material” and “mental” aspects of the world does not imply that they are separated, but regards them as connected as well, e.g. by understanding cognitive and mental processes as of material origin, for example the interplay of biomolecules, or by realising that also the “material world” is just another construction in the mind of the perceiver. Here, my idea of the world stands in sharp contrast to Cartesian dualism.

The initial assumptions are confirmed and supported by modern methods of scientific investigation and observation. Natural sciences created in-depth knowledge and understanding of the matter that the world is made from and how it is kept together. Mankind has access to knowledge about the atomic constitution of the world as well as the cosmic mechanisms of solar systems, galaxies and the universe. This knowledge confirms the important insight that whatever happens in the universe is happening because of a constant heading towards equilibrium states. Two atoms in a molecule oscillate and vibrate around a point of (energetically) “most favourable” distance to each other. In a chemical reaction, a “trigger” (for example an input of energy in form of heat or light) disrupts this balance, forcing the components to find a new “best” state of energy, eventually forming new bonds with other atoms or molecules. Macroscopic processes follow the same mechanism with increasing degree of complexity: Water runs down a mountain in the “energetically most favourable” way according to gravitational forces, friction forces, momentums, etc. Evolutionary processes creating “life” and bringing about consciousness and the ability of self-recognition, reflection and abstract reasoning evolve in a fine-tuned balance with the environment. Even psychological, social and cultural phenomena follow this rule of cause and effect – a trigger causing a disruption of the current equilibrium state, forcing the formation of a new equilibrium according to the new conditions. Reaching states of equilibrium is the fundamental driving force of everything that happens in the world. This can be taken as true independent from human observation and understanding. The examples used here, including “atoms”, “molecules”, “gravitation”, “energy”, “evolution”, “psychology” or “society”, are the current state of human knowledge, have been different 1000 years ago and will be different – maybe refined or discarded and substituted by new, more precise knowledge – in a thousand years from now. The overall principle of cause and effect, however, will most likely never be proven invalid, no matter how incomplete, insufficient, flawed and ignorant our human knowledge of the world turns out to be.

We can elaborate those first insights further. A simple conditionality would have to be understood as deterministic causality, but with the high degree of complexity that is found in the world, we better speak of “complex conditionality networks” pervading the “organic whole” that the world constitutes.[14] First, that allows the influence on “Karma” by volitional actions which is necessary to make sense of the Buddhist goal of enlightenment; and second, with this tenet we circumvent the threat of “nihilism” and “fatalism” that come up with stricter determinism. Emergence within this network of conditionality is “upgraded” to evolution by adding an element of “improvement” or “sophistication” through the growing complexity of “re-harmonising” processes. This evolution – a constant increase in cause-effect-relations within the network – necessarily leads to a high degree of interconnectedness of literally everything with everything. In this dynamic oneness, subject to constant change, nothing is permanent or eternal but everything contains of an intrinsic impermanence.

Another important concept in Western philosophy that must be regarded critically in the context of this (mine? “Asian”?) worldview is teleology – the question whether beings have an intrinsic purpose of existence or not.[15] Aristotle gave the example of an acorn that has the “telos” – the intrinsic purpose – to grow into an oak tree. The response from the perspective presented here would be: The acorn grows into an oak tree because that is its place in the conditionality network, both as “effect” (an oak tree produced an acorn as its way of sustaining the existence of the kind “oak tree”) and “cause” (the acorn is supposed to grow into an oak tree because that is its position in the causal chain that was established as an equilibrium to ensure the ongoing existence of the kind “oak tree”). Several scholars interpret this still as a form of teleology,[16] but the difference is an important one: “purpose” is a human concept, whereas thinking of states as result of karmic interconnectedness works out well without adding “humanisation” of processes (or “pathetic fallacy”).

Let me come to Box 5 and extend our ontological conception. The sophisticated cause-effect-law suggests that the world can only be understood “in its whole” since everything is connected. This can be best described by a combination of holism and monism (in “Western” terms). Realising that evolutionary processes proceed under the principle of “harmony” (heading towards equilibrium states) puts the human realm (as result of an evolutionary process) into a larger perspective of cosmic relations: We are neither “divine” nor “outstanding”, but just another “entity” that is part of the overall balance.

In Western philosophy, “monism” as counterpart of “dualism” often referred to a solely “idealistic” or a solely “materialistic” ontology, claiming that only one of them (respectively) is representing the reality. However, the dualistic separation of mind and matter sphere is still present in this attributive distinction. “Neutral monism” tries to overcome this separation.[17] The monism inherent in Chinese Philosophy can be best described by “dual-aspect monism”.[18] The first Buddhist philosopher that systematically pointed out the monistic character of a Buddhist’s understanding of the world was Nagarjuna.[19] His concept of “sunyata”, usually translated as “emptiness” could be considered as a form of cosmic monism when taken together with holism.

Holism as the counterpart of reductionism has a rather short history in the Western philosophical tradition. The term is coined by J.C. Smuts[20] and has ever since been subject of philosophical debate and dispute.[21] Several understandings of “holism” have been expressed, such as “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” (naïve holism), “An understanding of a complex system is best sought at the level of principles governing the behaviour of the whole system, and not at the level of the structure and behaviour of its component parts.” (methodological holism), “Some objects are not wholly composed of basic physical parts.” (ontological holism), “Some objects have properties that are not determined by physical properties of their basic physical parts.” (property holism). Modern understandings are strongly linked to the growing awareness for the high degree of complexity of the world.[22] Especially in the biological sciences, a reductionist ontology and methodology is more and more replaced by holistic conceptions of complex systems. With the acceptance of a complex conditionality it is, furthermore, possible to circumvent a strict determinism (see above). In Chinese Philosophy, Holistic world conceptions were much more widespread since ancient times. In most of the classical texts (Yijing, Daodejing, etc.), the complexity of the world as an organic whole is paid tribute to by analysing and understanding it in view of its constant processes of change and movement.[23]

The reflections above have revealed insights on the basic characteristics of my philosophical view on the world. The four key elements, so to say the cornerstones of that worldview, are identified to be holism, monism, naturalism, and constructivism. Their combinations result in further important concepts of the world fabric and its mechanisms:

cornerstones

The monistic and holistic world conception almost necessarily leads to a cosmocentric position in questions of ethical accountability and evaluation.[24] With a naturalistic approach to a holistic interpretation of the world fabric, credit is given to a complex conditionality as driving mechanism of all being and happening. The interconnected oneness of all being within the framework of Nature should be read with atheistic or agnostic accounts: It does not support the existence of a divine entity like the God of the Abrahamic tradition. The religious idea of monism becomes obsolete in a naturalistic fashion. The acceptance of a constructive character of human perception of the world adds further specific implications. In the ongoing debate between realists and antirealists, the ontology developed here can be grouped around the middle, comparable to pragmatism (in the Deweyan and Rortyan understanding)[25] or the “Natural Ontological Attitude” introduced by Arthur Fine.[26] To illustrate Buddhism’s nearness to Fine’s ontology, compare the Buddhist ideal approach of “seeing things as they are” to Fine’s statement “The attitude that marks [my naturalism] is just this: try to take science on its own terms, and try not to read things into science”.[27] Understanding both as approaches to “know reality” (Buddhism in a wider sense, Fine with means of science), they share the pragmatic and constructivist notion of being constantly aware of the pitfalls of human perception and cognition. Moreover, modern forms of “Engaged Buddhism” – the layman practice of actively supporting peace and the cessation of suffering – are based on a pragmatism that is characteristic for Buddhist practice in all its schools.[28] Constructive Realism, a model of knowledge- and language-based reality-understanding that I support (I will explain later), makes even more sense when embedded into a monistic interpretation of the world. The alternatives – ontological idealism or materialism, or epistemological rationalism or empiricism – are all dualistic and don’t fit into this scheme that emphasises monism. The “no-substance ontology”[29] that is prevalent in Asian Philosophy, especially in Buddhism, finds its foundation in the constructivist paradigm within a holistic worldview. That is so because a holistic world conception – of everything being holons that are parts of larger holons – within a constructivist paradigm (we can always only grasp parts of holons, e.g. certain properties and features) identifies “substance” almost inevitably as an illusion, whereas reductionism would conclude “substance”.

As pointed out earlier, I believe that my worldview shows significant parallels and similarities to what we can call “Asian worldview” which is fed mostly from the two directions of “Dao” (as in the Yi-Jing, in Confucianism, and in Daoism) and Buddhism. However, my focus is on Buddhism since its metaphysical foundations are further and deeper elaborated. This is perfectly reflected in the analogy between Buddha’s teachings and the cornerstone overview. Each link can be understood in terms of one or more of his key concepts:

buddhistmetaphysics

Emptiness can be readily understood as the consequence of a monistic and holistic worldview.[30] Same as a cosmocentric framework for ethical reasoning, it propagates that there is no “intrinsic values” in parts of the world (for example, “human” or “mankind”), but only in “the world itself”. Complex conditionality leads to the concept of Karma, additionally reflecting the idea of “harmony” (for example, in the understanding of “dao”). A key factor is the complexity that allows the emergence of “consciousness” so that volitional action, and by that the influence on retributive karmic relations, becomes possible. In an interconnected world of natural entities, the practice of morality is expressed through “the middle way” and, for human beings, in compassion (rather than in following divine laws), while the source for it must be sought in proper (or “right”) understanding of the world. Moreover, the karmic interconnectedness leads to compassion (or better: the understanding that it is “right” to show compassion for all being), while the “Middle Way” is the active practice of supporting the establishment of balance and harmony. The case of constructivism is important for the Buddhist “Theory of mind”: The idea of accepting the constructive character of our world perception, resulting in the plea for practicing mindfulness and awareness in order to “align the construction as close as possible to the actual reality”, is another way to describe the goal of Enlightenment. The formulation of “microworlds” and “lifeworld” in constructive realism corresponds to the “Theory of Two Truths” in Indian Buddhism.[31] Ultimately, the central element of Buddhist metaphysics, the links of interdependent co-arising, are best mirrored in view of a combination of holism (everything is karmically connected and impermanent) and constructivism (ignorance, delusion, attachment, cognition as “contact” between sense and sense-object, etc.).

The following overview summarises the collected reflections of this letter by setting all important characteristics of this worldview into perspective using “western” terminology.

worldview

  1. For an overview: Ritchie J, “Understanding Naturalism“, Acumen Pub., Stocksfield, UK, 2008, chapter 1
  2. von Foerster H, Pörksen B, “Wahrheit ist die Erfindung eines Lügners. Gespräche für Skeptiker. (Truth is the invention of a liar. Conversations for skeptics.)”, Carl-Auer-Systeme, Heidelberg, Germany, 1998
  3. On the philosophical implications of “change”: Mortensen C, “Change and Inconsistency“, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Fall Edition 2015
  4. Li CY, “The Philosophy of Harmony in Classical Confucianism“, Philosophy Compass 2008, 3/3, pp.423
  5. For an overview: a) Bashour B, Muller HD (eds.), “Contemporary Philosophical Naturalism and its Implications“, Routledge, Abingdon, UK, 2014; b) Braddon-Mitchell D, Nola R (eds.), “Conceptual Analysis and Philosophical Naturalism“, MIT Press, Cambridge, USA, 2009; c) De Caro M, Macarthur D (eds.), “Naturalism and Normativity“, Columbia Univ. Press, Chichester, UK, 2010; d) Fischer E, Collins J (eds.), “Experimental Philosophy, Rationalism, and Naturalism. Rethinking Philosophical Method“, Routledge, Abingdon, UK, 2015; e) Flanagan O, “Varieties of Naturalism“, in “The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science” (ed. P Clayton), Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2008; f) Galparsoro JI, Cordero A (eds.), “Reflections on Naturalism“, Sense Pub. Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2013; g) Gasser G (ed.), “How Successful is Naturalism?“, Ontos Verlag, Heusenstamm, Germany, 2007; h) Milkowski M, Talmont-Kaminski K (eds.), “Beyond Description: Naturalism and Normativity“, College Pub., London, UK, 2010; i) Nuccetelli S, Seay G (eds.), “Ethical Naturalism. Current Debates.”, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 2012; j) Olafson FA, “Naturalism and the Human Condition. Against Scientism.”, Routledge, London, UK, 2001; k) Price H, “Naturalism without Mirrors“, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, USA, 2011; l) Ritchie J, “Understanding Naturalism“, Acumen Pub., Stocksfield, UK, 2008; m) Walsh DM (ed.), “Naturalism, Evolution and Mind“, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 2001
  6. Wilson EO, “Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge“, Chapter 11: Ethics and Religion, pp. 260, Vintage Books (Random House Pub.), New York, USA, 1999
  7. Vogd W, “Constructivism in Buddhism“, in “Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions” (eds. Runehov ALC, Oviedo L), Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2013
  8. a) Lenman J, Shemmer Y (eds.), “Constructivism in Practical Philosophy“, Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK, 2012; b) Pörksen B (ed.), “Schlüsselwerke des Konstruktivismus (Key works of Constructivism)”, 2nd ed., Springer VS, Wiesbaden, Germany, 2015 (in German); c) Bagnoli C, “Constructivism in Metaethics”, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Fall Edition 2016
  9. Golinski J, “Making Natural Knowledge. Constructivism and the History of Science“, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1998
  10. Onuf NG, “Making Sense, Making Worlds. Constructivism in social theory and international relations“, Routledge, Abingdon, UK, 2013
  11. a) Berger PL, Luckmann T, “The Social Construction of Reality“, Anchor Books, New York, USA, 1966, b) Kukla A, “Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science“, Routledge, London, UK, 2000; c) Wilson DS, “Evolutionary Social Constructivism“, in “The Literary Animal. Evolution and the Nature of Narrative” (eds. J Gottschall, DS Wilson), pp.20, Northwestern Univ. Press, Evanston, USA, 2005
  12. Mallon R, “Naturalistic Approaches to Social Construction”, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Winter Edition 2014, available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/social-construction-naturalistic/ (accessed July 24th 2016)
  13. Moeller HG, “The Philosophy of the Daodejing“, Columbia Univ. Press, New York, USA, 2006
  14. a) Gershenson C, Aerts D, Edmonds B (eds.), “Worldviews, Science and Us: Philosophy and Complexity“, World Scientific Pub., Singapore, 2007; b) Gregersen NH, “Complexity“, in “Encyclopedia of Science and Religion” (ed. JWV van Huyssteen), Macmillan, New York, USA, 2003
  15. Bronkhorst J, “Karma and Teleology. A Problem and its solutions in Indian Philosophy“, Studia Philologica Monograph series, Tokyo, Japan, 2000
  16. for example: Full G, “Education in Buddhism“, in “Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions” (eds. Runehov ALC, Oviedo L), Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2013
  17. Overview: Weir TH (ed.), “ Science, Philosophy, Religion, and the History of a Worldview“, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA, 2012
  18. Vimal RLP, “Buddhism and Dual-Aspect Monism“, available from https://www.academia.edu/4183378/Buddhism_and_Dual-Aspect_Monism, 2013
  19. a) Fatone V, “The Philosophy of Nagarjuna“, Motilal Banarsidass Pub., Delhi, India, 1991; b) Burton D, “Emptiness Appraised. A Critical Study of Nagarjuna’s Philosophy“, Motilal Banarsidass Pub., Delhi, India, 1999; c) Tuck AP, “Comparative Philosophy and the Philosophy of Scholarship. On the Western Interpretation of Nagarjuna“, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, USA, 1990; d) Westerhoff J, “Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka. A Philosophical Introduction“, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, USA, 2009
  20. Smuts JC, “Holism and Evolution“, Macmillan, London, UK, 1926
  21. Procacci S, “Holism: Some Historical Aspect“, in “Determinism, Holism, and Complexity” (eds. V Benci, P Cerrai, P Freguglia, G Israel, C Pellegrini), Kluwer Academic, New York, USA, 2003
  22. a) Edmonds B, “Pragmatic Holism (or Pragmatic Reductionism)“, Foundations of Science 1999, 4, pp.57; b) Esfeld M, “Holism in Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Physics“, Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2001; c) Esfeld M, “Physicalism and Ontological Holism“, Metaphilosophy 1999, 30(4), pp.319; d) Pigliucci M, “Between holism and reductionism: a philosophical primer on emergence“, Biol. J. of Linnean Soc. 2013, 112(2), pp.242; e) White M, “A Philosophy of Culture: The Scope of Holistic Pragmatism“, Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, USA, 2002
  23. Tonietti TM, “Towards a History of Complexity. A Comparison between Europe and China“, in “Determinism, Holism, and Complexity” (eds. V Benci, P Cerrai, P Freguglia, G Israel, C Pellegrini), Kluwer Academic, New York, USA, 2003
  24. McShane K, “Individualist Biocentrism vs. Holism Revisited“, The Ethics Forum 2014, 9(2), pp.130
  25. a) Hookway C, “Pragmatism”, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Summer Edition 2016, available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatism/ (accessed July 24th 2016); b) Dewey J, “The quest for certainty“, in “John Dewey: The later works (Vol. 4)” (ed. JA Boydston), Illinois Univ. Press, Carbondale/Edwardsville, USA, 1984/1929; c) Pihlström S, “Neopragmatism“, in “Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions” (eds. Runehov ALC, Oviedo L), Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2013
  26. a) Fine A, “The Natural Ontological Attitude“, in “Scientific Realism” (ed. J Leplin), University of California Press, Berkeley, USA, 1984; b) Fine A, “And Not Antirealism Either“, Nous 18, p.51-65, 1984
  27. Fine A, “The Shaky Game: Einstein Realism and the Quantum Theory“, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA, 1996
  28. Adorjan MC, Kelly BW, “Pragmatism and ‘Engaged’ Buddhism. Working toward peace and a Philosophy of action“, J. Sociol. Self-Knowl. 2008, 6(3), pp.37
  29. Bhatt SR, Mehrotra A, “Buddhist Epistemology“, Greenwood Press, London, UK, 2000
  30. Gyeltsen GT, “Mirror of Wisdom. Teachings on Emptiness“, Thubten Dhargye Ling Pub., Long Beach, USA, 2000
  31. Thakchoe S, “The Theory of Two Truths in India“, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Summer Edition 2011, available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/twotruths-india/, accessed 11.4.2016

Research Portfolio

I am a researcher at University, currently as “Postdoctoral Research Fellow” at National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, Taiwan. I am working on a project entitled “Ethical and Social Implications of the National Nanotechnology Initiative in Taiwan”. Many people are not very familiar with this kind of research. Therefore, I’d like to explain a little more about it.

My research interests are situated between the cornerstones (blue boxes) “Science and Technology”, “Philosophy” and “Society”.

portfolio

I understand “Science and Technology” (S&T) as a social, academic and political endeavour that aims at facilitating and supporting the development of artifacts and infrastructures that have the potential to enrich and increase the quality of life. This ranges from “basic research”, applied sciences and engineering to product development and industrial production, covering all enactors and drivers of technological progress. “Philosophy“, from my point of view, is the attempt to reflect on metaphysical, epistemological and ontological questions on the one hand, and to elaborate principles and reasoning strategies for what is “good” and “right” on the other hand. I understand Philosophy as a down-to-earth and highly practical approach rather than a purely intellectual and academic discipline. The “Society” is both target group and study object of my research: the evaluation of the impact of S&T on the society and the societal background of scientific and technological activity on the one hand, and the exploitation of these findings for a socially healthy and sound progress. While “Science” and “Philosophy” can be understood as academic fields, “society” is a term that describes an entity of our lifeworld. On purpose I chose not to call it “Sociology” since I have no educational background in this field, whereas I can call myself “Scientist” (PhD in Chemistry/Nanosciences) and “Ethicist” (Master in Applied Ethics).

How are these three fields connected (green boxes)? Accompanying technological progress (including “science” as its foundation) with research on societal and environmental implications is a matter of “Technology Assessment” (TA). Historically, it developed from a rather technological or economic tool (e.g. analysing the components of a technological artefact concerning their probability to malfunction and risking a loss of the object or harm for someone or something) into a political and sociological tool that aims at taking the “larger picture” of technological development into account. It was highly promoted and extended by the academic field of “Science, Technology and Society” (STS), a sociological discipline. An important precondition is the acceptance of social constructivism as predominant driver of development, instead of technological determinism. The social constructivist approach allows to intervene any development process and guide it into the “right” direction. If progress was deterministic it would be a meaningless endeavour.

In the “Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics” we find this definition:

Technology Assessment (TA) is a scientific interactive and communicative process that aims to contribute to the formation of public and political opinion on societal aspects of science and technology.

Let me explain it a little more detailed. The “object” that TA is working on is “science and technology”. This includes all parts of the development chain, from design and planning via research, fabrication, product development, marketing and sales to consumption, application, and finally disposal and/or recycling. TA understands itself as “accompanying research on societal aspects” of S&T, which include ethical and also legal aspects (all summarized as “ELSI”). Furthermore, it is important to point out that it is an academic discipline that is devoted to scientific methodologies and procedures. Institutional TA can be found at universities or in independent research facilities as well as in the form of “offices” that perform professional TA for governments (e.g. the Office for Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag, Büro für Technikfolgenbewertung beim Deutschen Bundestag) or corporations as a kind of science consulting. Bringing together expertise from various fields such as science, industry, politics, social sciences, Philosophy and jurisprudence, its nature is highly interdisciplinary. It is often highlighted that TA is “communicative” because the generation of orientational knowledge  necessarily needs exchange of information among experts, a solution-oriented debate and the communication of conclusions, strategies and/or recommendations to the relevant stakeholders, decision-makers and – in some cases – the general public. The public is both a stakeholder and a target group: Representatives of public interest groups participate in TA processes and debates (e.g. patient groups in medical topics or environmental activists in projects with potential environmental impact); and at the same time the whole effort is undertaken in order to facilitate a socially sound and healthy development. The ultimate goal is the contribution to a sustainable development of society and its environment by creating a knowledge and insight base for efficient governance and policy-making. One extreme viewpoint would be that TA blocks innovation by influencing the decision-making with doubtful concerns and conservative fear-mongering. The other extreme would then be to take TA as an acceptance creator: Convincing the public and politicians that a new technology (e.g. Genetics or Nanotechnology) has great potential benefits, and creating a positive image of this technology in order to unleash its full potential. Certainly, TA is neither of this. From a more balanced point of view, TA aims at serving as an “early warning” against possible side-effects and risks of S&T development on the one hand, and at recognizing potentials and benefits of new technologies and exploring strategies to optimally harvest chances on the other hand.

The role of Philosophy in this approach is mostly manifested as “Ethics“. It means the “study of what is good and/or right” and has a tradition that dates back to the Ancient Greek Philosophers in Europe and Confucius, Laozi and Buddha (as the most prominent representatives) in Asia (6th century BC). It is useful to distinguish descriptive ethics (the study of what certain people or societies believed in certain times, their value systems and worldviews), prescriptive ethics (the “core” of Ethics, elaborating the normative rules we call “morals”) and “meta ethics” (the “ethics of ethics”, reflections on purpose and performance of Ethics). In recent years a new boom of ethics could be observed under the umbrella term “Applied Ethics” (or sometimes “Practical Ethics”). Most prominent examples in this field are bioethics, medical ethics, research ethics, business ethics, profession ethics, media ethics and political ethics.The abovementioned aspects of modern TA approaches such as identifying risks and other problematic concerns, defining what are “benefits” and for whom, classifying and weighing arguments and values, and foreseeing in which way certain decisions might conflict with particular moral values, require a reasonable and strong normative framework within which debates can be held or decisions can be made.  In this respect ethics is a fundamental and crucial element of modern TA concepts such as participatory TA, constructive TA or Parliamentary TA. The role of Ethics in a TA debate is primarily the moderation of the interdisciplinary debate and the identification of argumentation lines, fallacies, contradictions (and similarities), logic or formal mistakes, etc. Different stakeholders speak “different languages” that are coloured and shaped by their respective discipline and professional environment (e.g. when a scientist speaks of “freedom” he might mean something different than the lawyer speaking of “freedom”). An ethicist sorts and interprets the arguments according to the established ethical principles (e.g. deontology, consequentialism, contractarianism, virtue ethics, etc.). Ideally, after a debate in which all viewpoints could be exchanged and discussed, a conclusion can be derived on the basis of a set of values that the group agreed upon. TA doesn’t provide stakeholders and decision-makers with recommendations like “Do A to achieve B.”, but with arguments of the form “If you consider doing A, take into account that B might occur which affects a value C in a certain way.”. The value C can be characterized by one or more of these ethical dimensions, for example principles of justice, responsibility, autonomy, freedom, equality, security, health, etc., the action A is one of the elements in the development chain from scientific research via product development and marketing, regulation and policy-making up to application and consumption. The possible effect B that might occur is either a risk or, when supposed to be “positive”, a benefit. Again, the input from normative sciences (Ethics) is necessary for identifying those risks and benefits by compiling the values that determine if an effect is rather a risk or a benefit.

With the narrower but still wide frame of these areas of S&T research we can go further into detail. I regard my research as a contribution to S&T-related governance and policy-making, providing “orientational knowledge” that helps decision-makers to reflect the important matters of the decisions they are responsible for on a solid knowledge base. A term that is often stressed in this case is “sustainability“. I promote a holistic idea of sustainability that includes not only economic and societal stability and wealth, but also environmental health and global balance. Modern S&T activities have, in many ways, a global character. Not only are the enactors of scientific and technological progress internationally connected in networks and collaborations, but many of the wanted and unwanted effects of technology impact the entire globe rather than a locally confined area of it. This also gives TA and the reflection on ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) a highly intercultural character. Different cultures with different legal systems and different worldviews and value systems might come to different evaluations of risks and benefits, set different priorities in ethical conflicts, or require different measures when defining the implications of “sustainability”.

Here – and this is the central theme of my research interest (red circle) – the interculturality aspect takes a significant turn: I believe that there is no (one) “global” solution for the conflicts and problems that go along with the development of S&T under the paradigm of uncertainty and post-positivism. Instead, it is important to look into the social and cultural specificities of the particular cultural realm. Embedding political decision-making on S&T-related issues, fed by TA and related knowledge sources, into the context of worldviews, mentalities and the “social reality” of a particular “society” (e.g. a nation, or a union of nations like the EU) can contribute positively to the goal of sustainability. The principles and ideas that are exploited for the ethical evaluation of human attitude, behaviour and activity (we can also say: the metaphysical foundations of morality) vary from culture to culture with the “Western” (European, North American) one as the predominant and the “Asian” as the second most prominent. Currently, the “non-western world” is confronted with both the effects of (characteristically western) S&T progress and their (also predominantly western) political and legal frameworks. However, the values and worldviews that underlie governance principles as well as laws and regulations – in some but not all cases – collide with different value settings in those non-western countries. Culturally specific ethical and societal foundations and their application in S&T policy surely facilitate a more sustainable development than the inconsiderate copy of methodologies, principles, guidelines, etc. of another culture.

I’d like to specify my research interests further by outlining my particular competences and expertise (purple boxes). The scientific field that I am most familiar with is Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies since I did (lab) research in that field (nanostructured surface patterning by soft lithography). I also feel familiar with closely related fields such as biotechnology, genetic engineering, and energy-related matters. In the field of “Applied Ethics” I focus on science ethics and more society-focused technology ethics, but also medical ethics and bioethics if required. My contribution to TA comes from the side of accompanying ELSI studies rather than the “technical” sociological methodology. The cultural realm that I know most of and that I currently focus on is East and South-East Asia, in particular Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan (“Confucian societies”) and those influenced by Buddhism. Therefore, I acquired knowledge in Buddhist Ethics, its foundations and applications. As pointed out before, I put a focus on the specificities of particular cultures in a global comparison of cultural realms. This is an endeavour of “comparative philosophy” that analyses schools of thought and sets them into perspective to others, by this enabling the international and intercultural communication of knowledge, insights and ideas.

About your father

Autobiographical notes are not easy to write! Too big is the danger of falsifying facts, romanticising the past, whitewashing incidents and exaggerating the one or the other thing. However, you might feel like it is important to know my “background story” that makes it easier to understand why I think like this or that. I will try to be as precise as possible without going too deep into detail. And, of course, I won’t publish some delicate private stories on the internet…

I entered this world on October 9th in 1981. After two years in a small town my family moved to the countryside. We had no agriculture, just a few animals (cats, dog, chicken, horses, sometimes ducks, geese and for a short time even goats, sheep and three pigs). So much space for me! And so many things to explore! I grew up with the nature. I learned a lot about trees, flowers and animals. And I loved them! I was playing outside everyday, I never cared about the weather. I love sunshine same as snow or thunderstorm (oh, thunderstorm even is my favourite weather!). From 1985 to 1988 I went to the kindergarten and in 1988 I entered the primary school. I didn’t have many friends there. I was invited by other classmates for their birthday partys, I invited them for mine, sometimes we met and played together… But I was never the “dominant” part in class. Maybe living in the countryside was the reason why I was often playing on my own. But there was an advantage to live in the countryside: There was so much space, so many things to do.

My youth was just very usual. I entered Gymnasium, the German secondary school type that permits to study at University afterwards. From time to time I fell in love with a girl, but I was too shy to ask her. I found out that I like to play drums and entered the school’s BigBand. I took part in a scientific competition for young pupil and was member of the pupil’s council. I learned three foreign languages: English (nine years), Latin (five years) and French (two years). French I learned voluntarily, I think this was the only mistake I made in school. A little bit later I found out that I prefer the natural sciences. The last three years are called “Oberstufe” (upper grade), this was the best time of all! I could select my subjects, and I mainly chose natural sciences like chemistry, biology and mathematics. I also had “Music education”, which was very important! I got really good marks in music, because I learned to play musical instruments (drums and piano). So my average mark at the end of school was quite good. The language subjects were not so good, but music and chemistry gave me a good final grade!

Here are some “lessons learned” from my teenage years:

  • People are evil.
    I was bullied a lot at the age of 13,14,15… My classmates made fun of me living in the countryside, making bad jokes about being a farmer. I can’t blame my friends because they probably never realised they were bullying me, but I started to hate everyone! My intraverted and rather anxious personality and my lack of self-confidence made me escape even more into my own world, playing on my own, even starting my own country (“Pannonia”) in which I was the King, in which I made the rules. But ever since I can’t get along easily with “dominant” outgoing and extraverted people. Still today I often feel shy, insecure and want to hide when facing people that are “too strong” and dominant. These incidents back in the days mark the first step in developing serious misanthropy.
  • Mankind as a failure
    Inspired by a book called “Trial and error: Mankind – a failure of Nature” written by German Anthropologist Theo Löbsack I felt confirmed in my anti-human viewpoint at the delicate age of 16. The book states that the human race is condemned to die out because of its “excessive organ”, the brain. We developed technology, ethics, medicine, social systems, etc., which in the long run lead to a weakening of mankind. I hope mankind disappears as soon as possible, before destroying earth more! It would be the best for the planet! Mankind is like a plague, like a virus for this planet! Finally the planet will get rid of it. And it will be painful for mankind!
    I often asked myself: How can I think so terrible about mankind and at the same time just lead an ordinary human life? I talked about mankind as if I was not part of it. Finally I came to the conclusion that it is OK to see things from two points of view: Regarding “mankind” as the sum of all humans, without any individuals, and regarding myself as an individual that has to make its own way among all the others. For a while I felt very guilty and unhappy, but I think it is just part of evolution. Mankind had to develop into that, and we will leave that planet as soon as we have gone too far! And no one will ever cry any tear about us! Sad but true!
  • Emotional intelligence
    My first girlfriend was a very emotional person who often lost temper and freaked out even because of little things. She claimed it “human” to live out anger whenever it came up, and that I am weird because I obviously suppress my anger and other emotions. I tried to control my negative emotions, because I realised that they always have only bad effects: anger made other people also angry or sad, sadness made me feel powerless, greed or envy made me do evil deeds. Also in my family I learned: be considerate! Do not make everything with too much emotion, but think about it first. In my opinion “emotional” is not the opposite of “rational”. Emotion and ratio always work together. But emotion is faster, so people do “emotional” deeds and it seems they did not think (ratio) about consequences or the effect of their action. Having “emotional intelligence” means to have a high self-awareness, the ability of self-management, but also empathy and social awareness. I think all these things can be trained – and should be trained. They are essential for good physical and mental health, for having good relationships and for leading a good life with a peaceful soul.

Since Chemistry was my favourite subject at school I decided to study Chemistry at University. I entered Münster University, because it was close to my hometown and I can continue my bands that I had for many years. I lived in a “community” with my old school friend Jonas (we know each other since 1992), that means we lived together in an apartment, one room for each of us, sharing kitchen and bathroom. I really enjoyed having my own space, experiencing all aspects of a students life (Party, drinking, hanging out with friends, playing music… oh, and sometimes study…), and learning more about chemistry. I got the Diploma degree after successfully finishing several lab courses, exams, a semester in Korea and a really great time with new “lessons learned”!

  • Emotional Intelligence revisited
    My second girlfriend was the opposite of the first one in this respect: She seemed to be completely emotionless, like a stone or a block of ice. It was much easier with her, she never got angry. When we quarreled we simply discussed about what happened or what is wrong. And we came to a conclusion very fast. We always used our brains when quarreling, finding arguments, listening to the other, trying to understand the other and finally find an agreement (= solve the problem). This is the advantage of being emotionless. But on the other hand she also never showed joy or happiness. She seemed to be callous or even apathetical. It was very difficult to make her smile or even laugh. Or people might say, she was not so natural… Always controlling herself, never “letting herself go”. As I said: with negative emotions this is very useful, but not with positive ones. This was my first time experiencing that the best way is usually the middle way between two extremes.
  • To have or to be, that is the question
    Erich Fromm taught me a lot about these two different life approaches. Having lifestyle, which is found in industrialised countries, is based on possession or ownership, Being lifestyle – as an example the Asian countries are mentioned – is based on self-development, finding the own abilities and strong points and lead a life in agreement with the environment. Three examples:

    • Loving someone in the Having-style takes love as a “thing” that you can “have”, but that you can also lose. “Love” is there, but it can vanish, so that the partnership is always at danger. Lovers might stick to “love” as a concept. “Being-style love” doesn’t waste time on such aspects, it is enjoyed in the moment, the two lovers “are” (or become) the love.
    • In Western medicine a disease is often regarded as a disturbing factor that came in from outside and must be taken and removed. Eastern medicine regards the disease as a momentary part of the patient and must be transformed instead of removed.
    • Studying in the having-lifestyle mainly means memorizing (having knowledge), whereas studying in being-style means growing by making the learned a part of oneself.
  • No life without Music
    When I was 12 years old I was a nobody. I was shy and weak. People in school treated me like a fool and I never raised my voice against that. But then I learned to play the drums and I was really good! Someday I noticed that there is something I can do better than everyone else at this school! I had no reason to hide or to act shy. Drumming made me strong, I got a lot of self-confidence. Still I identify myself with music! It is my most passionate hobby. Next to playing drums I also learned to play Piano a little, and if there is no instrument I just sing. I will make music all my life! I hope I can motivate you and your future siblings to play musical instruments! I would play together with you as a family band!
  • The peaceful warrior
    A book by Dan Millman changed my life! The key message is: whatever you do, do it HERE and NOW, with all your concentration and an aware mind. Don’t let anything distract you, especially eliminate all your attachments that give you the illusion of controlling the uncontrollable. Inspired by his “peaceful warrior” I started to think a lot about my life. I identified so many attachments and unhealthy patterns in my life! First I started to take more care of my body and lost 20 kg of weight by changing my eating habits and going swimming regularly. Then I tried to transform my mind by practicing a positive attitude towards life: Don’t talk negatively, don’t see negative aspects in something, but appreciate beauty and harmony. It was very obvious to me that this book explains the ideas of Buddhism applied to daily life aspects, even though it doesn’t use the term “Buddhism” a single time! It was my first time to get in touch with that philosophy and since then I learned a lot more about Buddhism. I must say, my life is better since then! I think I found a way to LEAD my life (instead of only existing…).
  • Exit the Matrix
    I began to understand the deep meaning of the “Matrix” movie trilogy in which all people live in a “Matrix” generated by computer programs to create the illusion of a free world whereas in reality the people are exploited by machines that rule the world. There are so many hints to Buddhist philosophy in those movies: Our mind construes the world by interpreting perceptions according to previous experiences and shaped patterns. It should be our goal to free ourselves from this mental prison and see the reality. The “hero” in the movie, Neo, tries to do that by fighting against the agents (the Matrix elements that keep us trapped in it), which doesn’t bring him any further. Finally he succeeds by stopping fighting. When there is no fight, the concept of an “opponent” looses its meaning. The peaceful warrior is always the winner. This topic kept me thinking for many years. I will write more about it in a separate article.

My second girlfriend was a german-born Korean. Through her family I learned a little about that Asian country, but since she knew nearly nothing about her roots I decided to study one semester in Korea – a good chance to get to know that country. I successfully applied for a DAAD (German academic exchange service) scholar ship to do two practical courses in a material science lab and a biochemistry lab at Seoul National University. A few weeks before I left Germany that girlfriend broke up and revealed that she already had a new boyfriend. That was a shock, but after a while in Korea my heart was healed. It was simply too exciting to explore this beautiful culture with its friendly people, the delicious food, the unique traditions and stunning modernity, so that I forgot about my Ex quickly. I had wonderful six months there, made many good friends, travelled around the whole country, played music in clubs in Seoul, learned to work from 8am to long after midnight, and found a “second home”. Since then I was in Korea 5 times and will probably always come back once in a while!

The research I did for my Diploma thesis and during my PhD course, Microcontact Printing, can be explained in analogy to “potato printing” from the Kindergarten: Potatoes are cut into two halfs and on the inside a pattern is cut with a knife. Then, colour is put on it and printed onto paper. I did the same, but with a little difference. Instead of potatoes I took polymer stamps. The pattern on the stamps is in the nanometer scale, very very small. The eye can not see the pattern, I have to use special microscopes to make it visible. The “ink” is not paint, but a solution of molecules. And the “paper” is not real paper but glass with special other molecules on the surface. The molecules on the stamp and on the glass undergo a chemical reaction. With this method I can pattern a surface in a certain way. There are many applications in medicine, nanotechnology, industry (for example car coatings…) or life science. In my first project I investigated which molecules I can print and which are not so good. So first I have to synthesize these molecules. I prefer the printing and investigation work. I detect the patterns by fluorescence. The ink molecules glow red or blue in a fluorescence microscope. In another project I printed Carbon Nanotubes with special electronic properties in order to fabricate a field effect transistor.

My institute at Münster University had a collaboration with Nagoya University in Japan and I was participating in that. It included a 6-months-stay in Japan, working in the labs of Prof. Shinohara (the carbon nanotube project). I found that Japan is very different from Korea. People here are extremely polite, but a little superficial and not as heartful and friendly as Korean. The whole country is very superficial and totally money-oriented. The majority of people is not interested in anything (people have no hobbies, don’t talk about politics, never complain, just work, eat and sleep) and never talk about personal things, even not with close friends or family members. Of course there are many good sides, for example excellent food, very beautiful cultural items and historical spots, and high safety wherever you go. But the six months made it very clear to me: I will spend my future rather in Korea and definitely NOT in Japan!

Philosophy has always been one of my interests, especially its “application” to daily life aspects. My daily work raised many philosophical, especially ethical questions. Next to some fundamental issues about the theory of science (What does it mean to “observe”, to “do experiments”, to assume certain theories of matter and how to interpret results?) I was highly interested in ethical and social implications of Nanotechnology, because I saw many problems arising from it. Before I followed the debate on genetic engineering, which was very emotional and caused the wide public to refuse it. But Nanotechnology had very similar characteristics: It has a high uncertainty because many nanosized particles can’t be seen and can’t be found after releasing them (for example in medical, cosmetic or food products). For sure it has benefits, but there are also risks. How can benefits and risks be balanced? How can they be predicted and controlled? Which role does the researcher play, what is his responsibility, if he has any at all? Together with an Amercian Professor I started a side project on this topic, developing and carrying out a “Seminar on ethical and social implications of scientific research”.

Exactly at that time I found an offer from the Philosophy department of my university: a Master course in Applied Ethics! That was perfect for me to switch the direction of my career a little: away from “pure science” to “talking about science” and governing science. I saw a gap between science and Philosophy and wanted to become a bridge between the two. In that course I learned a lot about medical ethics, bioethics, media ethics, political ethics, science ethics and concepts of justice, autonomy, freedom, dignity, responsibility, etc. I learned to use the ideas of Aristoteles, Sokrates, Plato, Kant, Mill, Hobbes, Rawls or Singer to evaluate special phenomena, incidents or dilemmas ethically. And most important: I learned how to read and write! Philosophical texts are very different from other texts. Every single word needs to be read or written carefully, high precision in the details is very important! After two years I finished the course with a Master thesis on “Ethical implications of artificially intelligent machines with decision-making ability”.

My third girlfriend was Korean (student in Germany). I found she was perfect for me because she was the middle way between the first two: controlled emotional, but healthily rational. We had a lot of harmony! Just one thing made us disagree over and over again: she was deeply religious, a “fundamental Christian”, as she called herself. She was “married to Jesus” and took the Bible as the ultimate truth, word by word. She believed the Earth is 6000 years old and created by God in 7 days, as described in the Bible. No room for interpretation. For me as a Scientist and Philosopher it was unacceptable to use “religion” and “truth” in one sentence! I spent a lot of efforts on eliminating all dogmas (I mean, beliefs that can’t be further reasoned) from my worldview. As a teenager I called myself “atheist”, but in the meantime I found that I am rather an agnostic: I just don’t know if there is a “God”, but it also doesn’t really matter. My most plausible explanation: God stands for the principle of basic harmony, the driving force of the universe. Buddhists call it “love”, Daoists “Dao”, Muslim “Allah” and Christians “God”. Believing can be a strong source of inner peace, hope, inspiration and balance! But I define “religion” as “belief plus politics”. Church exploited mankind over centuries in order to have power and wealth. What people need is faith and knowledge! But religion makes people blind and keeps them small and stupid. Without religion peoples’ faith would be more pure and peaceful!

The combination of a PhD in Chemistry (with research in a Nanotechnology field) and a Master in Applied Ethics gave me a job at the “European Academy for Research on Implications of Scientific and Technological Developments”, a technology assessment institution in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany. I was involved in a large research project of the European Union with 15 partners (universities, hospitals, companies) researching on “Nanoparticles for early diagnosis of Arthritis”. My task was to do “accompanying research” on the ethical and social aspects of Nanomedicine (using Nanosized materials for medical applications). Our work was quite political: the final report was taken by the EU as help and orientation for making useful regulations for this new field of technology. That is what this job is good for: Help shaping the future in a way that risks are minimized and peoples’ benefits are maximized. First, it needs to be defined what is “good” for people, values have to be pointed out. Then, the current and near-future development have to be analysed in order to identify aspects that violate or endanger those values. Controversial debates are unavoidable, of course, because every stakeholder has different interests and viewpoints! The main task of an ethicist is to “moderate” the discussion, to sort and classify arguments, to point out errors and unlogic statements in argumentations, and to bring different opinions to one conclusion.

For my new job I moved to Bonn. I found a nice apartment with a kitchen, a bathroom, two rooms (living room and bedroom) and a balcony. Here I could live out my third hobby (after playing music and cooking/baking): constructing furniture and decorating my home, making it a nice and homy place. I built a multifunctional bed with many features, a decorative shelf structuring the living room, chose the wall pictures and other decorations carefully by colour (mainly red, combining well with white walls and black furniture), installed comfortable lighting and put many plants and flowers everywhere. Especially a well-equipped and well-organized clean kitchen is important to me! In this respect I might be typically German: The “home” is the center of my life, here I can be myself, be creative and let my mind fly around freely (another hint that I am intraverted). That apartment in Bonn was so far my most comfortable living place…

My girlfriend (the religious one) was psychology student. I often helped her to write homeworks or her Bachelor and Master thesis, and we talked about psychological topics often. I was more and more interested in understanding the mechanisms of “mind”. In Biochemistry I learned the molecular basis of how the human body works, the “chemistry” of perceptions and of thinking. Psychology added a new “flavour” to it by trying to answer the question “why?”. Before my reflections on “emotional intelligence” or “Matrix” had psychological elements, but they were very amateurish. I learned a lot from my girlfriend and got many new insights into the “inner structure” of people, the effect and usefulness of emotions, the connections between environment and mental health, etc. By discussing with her (a strong dualist) I was more convinced of a monistic worldview. I am by far not professional psychologist, but I am sure that on my list of “majors I would have studied if not chemistry” psychology is on top! Followed by anthropology (the american understanding of it) and architecture…

After the failed third relationship I threw myself more than ever into studying Buddhism and its healing effect on body and mind. I blamed Christianity for “destroying” my partnership and wanted to prove to myself that Buddha’s philosophy is much more efficient in leading to happiness and inner peace than the Bible! After months of studying theoretically I found that I can only make progress when I apply the findings and practice actively. I decided to spend all my annual vacation for a trip to Korea to do a “templestay”: Four weeks in a Buddhist temple, living like a monk, meditating, chanting, bowing, having vegan meals, cleaning the body, purifying the soul, clearing the mind. The temple I chose for it (Golgulsa) had a specialty: it is headquarter of Sunmudo, a traditional Korean form of martial arts, that I had to practice three hours per day. This time was really intense, very helpful, a great source of inspirations and one of the best things I ever did in my life. But I also learned this: I am not a Buddhist! In the western world we often underestimate that Buddhism is mainly this: a religion! The templestay didn’t make me more religious but intensified my interest in the philosophical and psychological aspects of Buddha’s teachings.

The templestay experience changed my mind about many things. I identified so many “unhealthy” things in my life! But most of all I started to question my way of life. First I felt very happy with my change from the lab to the office desk, but I began to doubt that this job is the right thing for me. After all this institute was a kind of “company” with interests that I had to follow. But I wanted to do research! I wanted to publish my findings and write articles with my own arguments and viewpoints, convincing other people. I wanted to be free and indipendent! I can reach that goal only with an academic career at universities. After thinking thoroughly about it, I decided to quit my job and look for a postdoc job in Korea! I had the plan to find such a job first, but then a Korean friend came up with an unusual idea: Her friend is headmonk in a small new temple that is still under construction, I could stay there and help building it as long as I don’t have a job yet. With high confidence I quit my job, sold all my stuff (except a few personal things and my musical instruments), quit all contracts, left my apartment and Germany towards Korea…

This second templestay in the middle of nowhere deepened my insights into Buddha’s teaching, but more from the perspective of religious practice which – as you know – is not so much my interest. My attempts to find an academic scholar as collaborator for my postdoctoral project failed, mostly because South Korea wasn’t open for reflections on science ethics and social implications. After three months my visitor visa expired and I had to leave the country for a trip. Therefore, I visited my friend in Taiwan in September 2013. I didn’t know much about Taiwan at that time and assumed it must be like China (the mainland). During that visit I noticed that it is very different: more developed, more “civilized”, with everything available that is necessary to maintain a good lifestyle (e.g. doctors, well equiped supermarkets, public transport, a certain degree of freedom). I also felt welcome after meeting a Professor at a University in Taichung who didn’t hesitate to host me as a postdoc in his institute. A few months later I moved entirely from Korea to Taiwan.

The above-mentioned friend is now my wife, and you are the offspring of our love. Therefore, my connection to Taiwan is very strong and, somehow, even sealed by a contract! I call Taiwan “home” for now because it is the place where I reside and live my life, not just visit. Therefore, I try to keep a certain distance that allows me to “observe” and reflect. I don’t “love” Taiwan unconditionally and I don’t hate it totally. Compared to Germany and Korea, my former two “homes”, Taiwan is far less “socially developed”, it has much bigger environmental problems, the education level is low and the historical and political situation is very different. In many respects it would be unfair to compare Taiwan to Germany or Korea, but since Taiwanese regard their Island as a “modern” country it should be possible to face the truth: There is a huge gap! I often find myself cursing at the stupidity of people and wish a volcano would wash this damn island  with all its dirt and scooters and stupid idiots back into the sea. But then I realise that my “problem” lies within myself. I guess, this is the real “Buddhist practice”: the challenge to lead daily life with a mindset of forgiveness, loving-kindness and compassion.