Knowing and “Knowing”


As Gregory Bateson says, all knowledge has to be knowledge of distinction, and it is of something other than the self. Equally one might say that all experience is experience of difference. Even at the sensory level we cannot experience anything unless there is a change or difference: our sensory nerves quickly ‘fatigue’, and we become accustomed, for example, to a smell, or to a sound. Our senses respond to the differences between values- to relative, not absolute, values. ( It seems that knowledge and perception, and therefore experience, exist only in the relations between things. Perhaps indeed everything that exists does so only in relationships, like mathematics or music: there are aspects of quantum physics that would support such a view). This fact..implies that we can come to an understanding of the nature of any one thing, whatever it might be, only by comparison with something else we already know, and by observing the similarities and differences”

McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary, page 97.

There is no doubt in my mind that one of the biggest reasons why people drop out of tai chi is that they do not spend the requisite amount of time practicing in order to seal in the novelty, export the feeling into at least some demarcated part of the daily ritual, and try out the différance. When they first come to class, the right brain is excited by the newness, the sense of adventure, the sense of pride in finally getting round to doing something they had wanted to do for a while. However, ineluctably, the luster pales, and despite my Barnum Bailey pyrotechnics, Xhosa clicks, somersaults and electric cattle prods to keep them amused, provoked, shocked, thrilled and agog, there are slinkies who sink away, unable to “get it”; and contrary to expectation, it is not only the agèd: many young men arrive full of garrulous gusto or post-karate swagger. By the end of the first course, sometimes before, they mutter their excuses and whiten into the air, the reality of real realness not synching with a digital click into the role-playing dungeons of their retarded adolescence.

Learning physical movements that need to replace existing programmes of motion is difficult, and requires patience with onself, and time. More, and pertinently to this essay, it requires the capacity to discriminate between the routine and the holiday feeling. Differentiation (be careful of this word) between stepping forward as you have done since you were three, plunging the foot down vaulting the weight onto the thigh down to the foot, and lowering the front leg with a gentle slow controlled deftness, pawing down with the light tread of a stalking panther, relying on the power of the back leg- this requires the capacity to be aware, to identify two contrasted concepts. Using the arms and back with novelty is of a far more difficult nature, mostly on account of the scarceness of nerves in the back.

However, the adept who is well trained will eventually “get” the new feeling, understand the new way of moving, and initiate the move as part of a new movement paradigm from the whole,  and not from itself.

More dangerous is the left-brained trap for the teacher; continuing to stick to whatever initial change was made in their first training, and then teaching on auto-pilot, with little awareness or inclination to improve their current status, not learning, not cross-training, not questioning, content with just enough security in their little territory, fond of routine, habit and rhythm; this is fine for a dog, not a teacher. Sclerosis, arrogance and mediocrity result.

The left brain likes repetition and regularity- “ experience of any kind-whether it be of music, or words, or real-life objects, or imaginary constructs-engages the right hemisphere. As soon as it starts to become familiar or routine, the right hemisphere is less engaged, and eventually ‘the information’ becomes the concern of the left hemisphere only” ( McGilchrist, page 94). Hence, a teacher like this becomes stuck in a bad groove, and can’t or won’t learn anything new.

“ To know ( in the sense of kennen) something is never fully to know it ( in the sense of wissen) at all, since it will remain for ever changing, evolving, revealing further aspects of itself- in this sense always new, though familiar, in the original sense of coming to belong among our chosen ones, those with whom we stand in close relation, our familia ( McGilchrist, page 96)


Jung “ All cognition is recognition”

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