Tao-machine: Bridging Taoist Symbolic Logic and Computational Image-processing Syntaxes through the Model of Speculative Process Metaphysics
MFA Computational Arts, Goldsmiths, university of London
An interdisciplinary research on 2D generative art and Taoist Symbolism.
This generative art project and research take forms in the analogous analysis between western process philosophical thoughts and Chinese Taoist symbolism as an analytic-interpretive strand to investigate self-regulating moving images as automation of “creativity”, which evokes the Taoist aesthetic called “confusion”. The twofold virtual system of Tao-machine is bifurcated into two interconnected subsystems representing “Actuality” and “Potentiality” in which “Potentiality” is computed as the regulating syntaxes guided by the semantics in Taoist symbolic logic. The art project “Confused Objects” produced by Tao-machine, arouses the aestheticisation of this convergent model of both western speculative process metaphysics and Taoist symbolism through a series of dynamic visual abstraction.
Speculative Process Metaphysics: computationally generated Taoist ontological representation
We are currently living in an era where historical and scientific rumination seems no longer accountable for our societal tenability. The unpredictability yielded by the principle of non- contingency has broken the promise made by even the most fundamental scientific description. Science seems to fail in paving its way to the shrine of omniscience as any demonstrable empirical consistency and validation break down facing the ruthless catastrophes such as the human-caused disruption in the ecosystem as well as the imbalance between the techno-semiotic emanation (unorganised and unregulated Info-sphere) and human’s sentient nature of being. Besides, in the realm of pure logic derived from scientific methods, there seems to be unavoidable catastrophe resulted from the product of automated algorithms that does not refer to material failure, but rather to the failure of reasoning (Yuk Hui, 2015). The pressing issues such as the pandemic COVID-19, ethically biased algorithms in Artificial Intelligence, and ubiquitous censorship and surveillance are questioning the roles of scientific logic with series of ambivalent discourses. However, the current situations do not indicate that scientific logic lost its efficiency and local validation . It rather provides us with the critical moment to reconsider the entangling relationship between scientific description and the emergence of phenomena. We are looking for whether their seeming separation could be bridged and how the ascension of scientific description to fundamental accounting can be realised by a speculative, rather than dogmatic employment of the scientific method (Epperson, 2016).
During the early decades of the twentieth century, Alfred North Whitehead has championed explicitly the notion of speculative process metaphysics in his work of “philosophy of organisms” that is firstly mentioned in his book “Process and Reality”. Speculative process metaphysics as a whole theoretical framework employs three different methodologies simultaneously: empiricism (knowledge from experience such as axiomatics in western science), rationalism (knowledge from deduction), and speculation (knowledge from imagination such as mythology, metaphysics), which could potentially initiate an early process of knowledge integration towards the notion of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity . From the opening pages of his opus Process and Reality (Whitehead, 1929), it is written “Philosophy begins on the ground with the concrete reality of lived experience. Experience provides us with the raw data for our theories. Then, our thought takes off, losing contact with the ground and soaring into heights of imaginative speculation. During speculation, we use rational criteria and imagination to synthesize facts into a (relatively) systematic worldview. In the end, however, our theories must eventually land and once again make contact with the ground—our speculations and hypotheses must ultimately answer once again to the authority of experience.” Whitehead humorously calls this procedure of thoughts “taking the airplane flight” and underscores it as a model for speculative process metaphysics. He envisions the process of speculative metaphysics to consist in ever-lasting seriality of “test flights”, as our metaphysical conclusions are never final and always hypothetical.
According to Whitehead, “Philosophy is the critic of abstractions as well as the survey of the sciences” (Whitehead, 1978). Therefore, philosophical concerns are considered as the inquiry into both abstract metaphysics and logical sciences, which remains both speculative and dogmatic. In this vein, speculative process metaphysics became the hallmark of an integrated framework that is used not only for the interpretation of philosophical concern but also for the provision of illuminating scientific thought. Based on the model of speculative process metaphysics, American-German philosopher Nicholas Rescher endows speculative process metaphysics with the responsibility to provide a cogent and plausible account of reality at a synoptic and comprehensive level. And it is for us to characterise, describe, clarify and explain the most general features of the real that process philosophy addresses itself in its own characteristic way (Rescher PP, 2012). Thereby, on the basis of speculative process metaphysical model proposed and developed by Whitehead and Rescher respectively, I intend to develop an integrated model consisting of Taoist symbolism as philosophical and ontological concern and a computation-generated image-processing system as its analytical-interpretive scientific method that is conceived to be a virtual machine called Tao-machine.
The very nature of process philosophy also lies in Chinese culture and philosophy, specifically in Taoism. There are two aspects in which western process thoughts resonate with Taoist thoughts. The first aspect occurs at the ontological level in both philosophical concerns. On one hand, in process philosophy, being is dynamic and that the dynamic nature of being should be the primary focus of any comprehensive philosophical accounts of reality and our place within it (Seibt, 2020). On the other hand, in Taoism, all beings are manifested through the dynamics and inter-transformation of Yin and Yang (Gao, 2011), whereas Yin and Yang per se do not indicate to any specific individual entity but a wide range of entities. It is their representations and dynamics that account for reality and our place within it. Note that in both western and Taoist philosophical concerns, dynamicity (the condition of being dynamic) and process become the ontological representation of the cosmological existence. With this analogy, it is possible to advance the proposed model of speculative process metaphysics further in details.
The second aspect that bridges western process-based thoughts and Taoist thoughts lies in both of their conceptualisation of symbolism as differentiated events or stages that manifest the processes in a particular spatiotemporal node . Whitehead developed a scientific ontology and a new theory of perception: the internally related events underlying the externally related bits of matter. And his theory of perception holds that our perception is always mixed in the mode of symbolic reference, which usually involves a symbolic reference of what is given in the pure mode of presentational immediacy to what is given in the pure mode of efficacy (Whitehead,1959). Human perception assumes a significant role in our understanding not only of ourselves as human beings (subjectivity), but also of the universe (objectivity). Therefore, historically, the study of human perception has become one of the primary disciplines in philosophical concern. According to Whitehead’s definition of human perception, the mixed symbolic reference could be construed as a mixed mode of signifiers representing all beings and things that are regarded as the reflection of our inner subjectivity. When human attention towards objectivity arises, the pure mode of presentational immediacy emerges as the instinctive perception reflecting upon the pure existence of objectivity through its shape, colour, smell or sound as the “symbols” that are differentiated. Meanwhile, the pure mode of efficacy arises based on individual knowledge from experience, which interplays with the pure presentational symbolic reference. Whitehead also denotes that “symbolic reference is the interpretive elements in human experience, the failure to lay due emphasis on symbolic reference...has reduced the notion of meaning to a mystery”. In other words, science results from the extraction of comprehensible symbolic references that can be formulated into logical interpretation and mathematical equation, while those that remain ambivalent or ambiguous become the materials to weave the mystery and metaphysics. In Taoism, symbolism is invented to bridge human consciousness or mind (the internally related events) and the environment where we live (externally related bits of matter). To be more specific, Taoist symbolism represents the primary logic underlying the universal appearance of being (Fu,2012). As is written on the first line of the first chapter in “Tao De Jing”, “The Dao that can be spoken of is not the ever-constant Dao. The name that can be named is not the ever-constant name” (Laozi, 2015). For its explanation, once a notion is conceived, named or labelled (the pure mode of presentational immediacy), it does not become the state of constancy but the phenomenon that manifests efficacy for human understanding (the pure mode of efficacy). Everything being filtered through our mind will never be constant because they are immanently dynamic and are always involved in processes, as it is similarly conceived in Whitehead’s two pure modes of perception.
To demonstrate this idea in bridging western process-based thoughts and Taoist symbolism, modern technology – computation is considered to be the most effective and appropriate tool to realise this idea through programming. To begin with, in the late 17th century, the German mathematician and natural philosopher Gottfried Leibniz was regarded as the inventor of the binary code that constitutes the rudimentary elements of today’s digital computer. However, after his Jesuit friend Father Joachim Bouvet who stationed in Beijing sent him a Taoist diagram of the 64 hexagrams, he was duly surprised and immediately wrote another paper to credit the Chinese Taoist thoughts with having invented the first binary code. In tandem with this recognition, computation naturally becomes one of the most relevant scientific interpretation of ancient Taoist symbolic system. Furthermore, the application of image-processing system (Tao-machine) could provide a direct visual reference of the interplay between the Taoist symbolic reference (pure mode of presentational immediacy) and the moving images (pure mode of efficacy), which might yield an innovative form of process-based computer vision influenced by Whitehead’s new theory of perception. In the art project “Confused Objects” generated by Tao-machine (see figure 1), the symbols alongside the moving image are the presentational immediacy that shows two different stages of an event, whereas the moving image plays a role in the direct visual reflection upon the process between two stages. To be more concise, the moving image becomes the continuous visual representation or visible processes engendered by the alterations of Taoist symbols. In this new model of computer vision, the symbol becomes the carrier of those underlying processes that links the critic of the abstraction and the survey of the sciences.
The correlation between western and eastern philosophical thought is not coincidental, rather it takes a further step in the proof of the very nature of process philosophy, being internally diversified, geographically and culturally distributed, yet being endowed with analogous structure, epistemological and ontological qualities. Hence, the adoption of Taoist symbolism could serve as an effective constitution in the establishment of a speculative process metaphysical model with the help of computation.
1. In philosophy and logic, the principle of contingency is the status of propositions that are neither true nor falseunder every possible valuation. The non-contingency here refers to the orthodox scientific analytic propositions that are true without regard to any facts about which they speak. Gaonkar, Dilip Parameshwar. "Contingency and Probability." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 156.
2. Techno-semiotic emanation refers to all the information provided by the signifiers that are produced or induced by technologies. Franco Berardi, “And phenomenology of the end”, Aalto University publication series, 2014. 32.
3. In Ramon Amaro’s article “as if”, the algorithm-induced ethical fallacy such racism and racialization are unveiled through a computer vision recognition project made by Buolamwini. https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/becoming-digital/248073/as-if/
4. In quantum mechanism, local validation refers to the universal manifold of local Boolean contexts that is representable as a partial Boolean algebra – essentially an induction of the global validation (rather than a deduction from it. S. Kochen; E. P. Specker (1967). "The problem of hidden variables in quantum mechanics". Journal of Mathematics and Mechanics. 17 (1): 59–87. doi:10.1512/iumj.1968.17.17004.
5. As the prefix "trans" indicates, transdisciplinarity concerns that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond each individual discipline. Its goal is the understanding of the present world, of which one of the imperatives is the overarching unity of knowledge. Basarab Nicolescu (Ed.) Transdisciplinarity – Theory and Practice, Hampton Press, Cresskill, NJ, USA, 2008.
6. Process philosophy is based on the premise that being is dynamic and that the dynamic nature of being should be the primary focus of any comprehensive philosophical accounts of reality and our place within it. Seibt, Johanna, 2020, "Process Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
7. Yin refers to one of the two fundamental essences that constitutes all beings in Taoist ontology. It represents body, female, moon etc. Yang refers to one of the two fundamental essences in Taoist ontology. It represents mind, male, sun etc. Gao, Yong Ping, 2011, “Tu Jie Yijing”, JiangXi Science and Technology Publication, ISBN 978-7- 5390-4475-0
8. Events for Deleuze are part of the process of becoming and differentiation – while they are connected, the events do not comprise a unity because each instance is marked with differentiation. Christian Beck & François- Xavier Gleyzon (2016) Deleuze and the event(s), Journal for Cultural Research, 20:4, 329-
333, DOI: 10.1080/14797585.2016.1264770
9. Spatiotemporal node is where Spacetimemattering take place. Spacetimemattering are forces in producing material-cultural worlds through the intra-actions between human and nonhuman (matter) that also recognizes that time is entangled with space and matter. Barad K: Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2007.
“Actuality” and “potentiality”: the two-fold structuring of Tao- machine
The bridging of western process thoughts and Taoist symbolism is realised in both theoretical and practical aspects, most importantly, through the speculative process metaphysical model that connects them. The speculative process metaphysical model is based on the convergence of interdisciplinary fields in computer science, computationally generated art, and religious epistemology in Taoist symbolism. Scientifically, the computational methodology could assume a fundamental role in encoding the binary system from Taoist symbolism into Tao- machine. Metaphysically, the eastern philosophy, Taoism has abstracted the underlying principles of internal events into symbolic representations. The Taoist symbols can be interpretively analysed to formulate computational diverging syntaxes as the regulating system of the externally manifested actual event that is represented by a moving image. This interdisciplinary framework takes generative computer images as an indeterministic visual abstraction that can lead to the investigation of speculative process metaphysics by the integrative interpretation of the scientific result. Based on this proposed framework, a virtual machine is designed into a twofold image-processing system regulated by computational syntaxes with the semantic approach in Taoist symbolic logic. And it is called Tao-machine.
Tao-machine is designed as a virtual machine that processes still image to generate moving images through the regulation of computational syntaxes. It has a two-fold structure which is bifurcated into two subsystems. The two-fold structure is based on western process thoughts that originate from both Aristotle’s notion of kinesis and energeia as well as Whiteheadian new theory of perception. The Greek philosopher Aristotle poses the notion of “Kinesis” and “Energeia” that are counted as an important contribution to process thought (Kühl,2008). The two-fold structure Kinesis-Energeia is used by Aristotle as an analytical structure firstly to study change and movement in linguistic expressions. In Metaphysics 6 6, Aristotle draws a distinction between energeia and kinesis(1048b18-35); “the kind of actions whose descriptions can contain compatibly both present tense verb and perfect tense verb is energeia.” Its paradigmatic case is “seeing” (As we can say that one is seeing and has seen at the same time). On the contrary, “the kind of actions whose descriptions cannot contain compatibly both present tense verb and perfect tense verb is kinesis.” "(As we cannot say that one is house-building and has house-built at the same time). Later on, as this two-fold literal structure developed in physics, assigning dynamic phenomena to substances or physical matters in its state of being, the systematic function of Kinesis-Energeia is to render and provide an insight into the dynamic structure of being itself – or it can also be called the “dynamicity” in process philosophy, which appropriately fits into the prospective schema of Tao-machine. Apart from this distinction, Aristotle also characterises kinesis as an energeia in a wider sense to reconnect their separation, i.e., an actuality as opposed to potentiality. The reason is that the relation of the potentiality of kinesis to the actual kinesis is analogically regarded to be equivalent to the relation of potentiality to actuality (Hiroshi,1997). Nevertheless, kinesis is incomplete as it is shown in the former tense distinction, because it stands for the transitive processes as yet to be directed to their proper ends and limits. This well-defined functionality of kinesis (potentiality) are indeed what the computational regulating syntaxes supposed to realise through its process of directing and diverging. Whereas energeia (actuality) is the momentary consequence of kinesis(potentiality), hence maintains its completeness through specified formation. Therefore, energeia (actuality) could effectively manifest the upshots caused by kinesis (potentiality), which becomes the moving images in Tao-machine. Based on this analogous analysis, the two subsystems in the two-fold structure of Tao-machine are thus named after “Actuality” and “Potentiality”, as the indications to the complete result shown in a moving image, and its incomplete regulating syntaxes, respectively.
The two-fold structure of Tao-machine is also designed to simulate the Whiteheadian theory of perception to form a new model of computer vision. Whitehead promotes a radical empiricist methodology, which relies on our perception, not only sense of data but also a manifold of natural relations entangled in an electrodynamic like worldview, in which the fundamental concepts are no longer simply located substances or bits of matter, but internally related to processes and events (Whitehead, 1929). In this vein, what we can perceive is simply not about the perceivable data that are manifested through various forms such as colour, texture and sound (actuality). There are also underlying processes or pure events (potentiality) that are constantly regulating and modifying our perceptions. Following this philosophical principle, two subsystems are programmed intentionally to represent these two modalities of perception.
“Actuality” represents the perceptible quality of the physical world. As we can also call it the “energeia”, it does not provide more information rather than what it is or appears to be depending on human’s acknowledged senses. The first subsystem is named after “actuality”. It takes a still image from an external source and displays the moving pixels processed by the other subsystem. The subsystem “actuality” will extract all the pixels from the image based on their brightness and regroup them into two groups named after “Yin” and “Yang”. The “Yin” and “Yang” pixels are programmed to be black and white, respectively. As a consequence, those extracted and reorganised pixels’ information will be stored in computer memory and later used as raw materials to compose the moving image. “Potentiality” or “kinesis”, on the other hand, represents the transitive processes that yet to be realised. It is thus not directly perceivable through “actuality”. However, it could be comprehensibly grasped through the observation on the constant dynamic alterations of the moving images shown in “actuality”. The other subsystem of Tao-machine is thus named after “potentiality” which consists of a variety of algorithms regulated by the permutational process taking place between different Taoist symbols. When a different Taoist symbol is activated compared to the original one, the corresponding algorithm will be applied to the moving pixels in “actuality”, generating a widely ranged dynamics of pixel motion. In addition to the direct link between each symbol and image processing algorithm, there exists another hidden layer in subsystem “potentiality” that reflects to the causal relatedness among the alterations of the symbolic components such as each line or bar in a single symbol. This causal relatedness appears within the content and relationship (semantics) in Taoist symbolic formulations, which will be unravelled in the next chapter.
The Tao-machine’s two-fold structure consists of two subsystems namely “actuality” and “potentiality”. “Actuality” assumes a role in identifying images, deconstructing images in pixel units and displaying generative moving images on a square-sized canvas. “Potentiality” is responsible for two tasks. The first task is to function as the regulating syntaxes that enable the dynamics of the moving image. And the second task is to display a correspondent Taoist symbol alongside the moving image (see figure 1), which will enable a new model of process-based computer vision. Generally, in computer vision, the processes that generate an outcome are concealed behind the scenes. For instance, the programming language is one of those already systemised processes that are normally hidden behind what is running upfront. Even though some computational art projects (live coding) utilise codes directly as the artifact to show the processes of the transformation from codes to their various outputs, for most of the spectators and audience, those processes inadvertently remain too specialized and complex to be logically construed or aesthetically appreciated. However, in tandem with Tao-machine, the most unprocessed elements in computation, “1” and “0” in the binary system can be visually conveyed by Taoist symbolism to enable a philosophically interesting and aesthetically uniformed modality of process-based computer vision.
Within the new model of process-based computer vision, the underlying regulating syntaxes are visually represented by each Taoist symbol alongside the moving image. Note that the Taoist symbol itself is a symbolised binary expression derived from Yin (0) and Yang (1), therefore it becomes the most suitable visual representation for the underlying processes that are pragmatically impossible to be fully captured. Besides, the Taoist symbol could be seen as the symbolic amalgamation of mixed regulating syntaxes as opposed to the algorithms that are expressed in codes. As a consequence, the Taoist symbol in subsystem “potentiality” could probably engender a new model of computer vision that exposes its underlying processes in the most fundamental way. We will delve deeper into the Taoist symbolism in the next chapter.
Regulating syntaxes: Yin and Yang pixels and semantics in Taoist symbolic logic
In “DaodeJing” tenet 42, it is written, “Tao begets One (nothingness; or reason of being), one begets two (Yin and Yang), two begets three (Heaven, earth, human; or Yin, Yang, breath Qi), three begets all things.” The “Oneness” can be construed as Taiji that unifies all the universal principles. Taiji is a Chinese cosmological term for the “Supreme Ultimate” state of undifferentiated absolute and infinite potential, the oneness before duality, from which Yin and Yang originate. Taiji manifests itself by the formation of Taoist ontology and Taoist epistemology into a variety of natural and ethical phenomena. For instance, Taiji is the astrological principle derived from the cosmos; the geology derived from the study of earth; the physics in the matter; the mereology in relationships and ethics in social interactions. It is the infinite aggregation of all the perceivable and unperceivable energy entities and fields.
In Tao-machine, the notion of Yin and Yang is taken to represent an initial dualistic divergence of pixels in the subsystem “actuality”. Yin and Yang are born from Taiji, as the dualistic paradigm of Taoist ontological representations. They describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to each other (Feuchtwang, 2016). Yin and Yang together represent two corresponding counterparts such as dark and light, moon and sun, night and day, earth and heaven, female and male, down and up etc. In the anthropic domain, Yang stands for mind, rationality and community while Yin stands for the body, desire and individuality. They are eternally entangled, intertwined and mutually encouraging and inhibiting simultaneously. They can also transform into each other under such conditions when the tendency of growth in Yang reaches its expected peak, or the tendency of decrease in Yin arrives at its valley.
In the last chapter, we discussed that the subsystem “actuality” can assign extracted pixels into “Yin” and “Yang” groups depending on their brightness values. To envision the immanent qualities of Yin and Yang, each group of pixels are programmed with normative functions that can be partially influenced by another subsystem “potentiality”. Each group of pixels has an indeterministic infinite-state automaton that is formally defined as quintuple of A(yin) and A(yang) such that:
1.L is the initial location of each pixel that are stored by the subsystem “actuality”. And L will be constantly altered by the other two elements: 𝑓(𝑠) × 𝑓(𝑒) → L
2.𝑓(𝑠) is the finite entropy state of each pixel that is also the motive vector containing the possible velocity and direction of each pixels. It can be accessed and altered by variable “s” in subsystem “potentiality”. Yin and Yang pixel groups each has their own initial entropy state whose value lies between 0 and 1 as a float number. As default, Yin pixels have the value 𝑆0 which is equivalent to 0, whereas Yang pixels have the value 𝑆1 which is equivalent to 1. Another rule is that the sum number of 𝑆0 and 𝑆1 always remains 1 as the reflection on the bifurcated oneness of Taiji from which Yin and Yang originate.
3.𝑓(𝑒) is the energy state of each pixel which defines the stableness of each pixels. The more stable a pixel is, the less possible it will transform into the pixel in another group. 𝑓(𝑒)’s value can also be accessed and altered by variable “e” in subsystem “potentiality”.
4.c is the colour of each pixel. As default, Yin pixel is black and Yang pixel is white. However, during the transformation between Yin and Yang pixels, c will be in different degrees in greyscale.
5.𝑓(𝑐) is colour transition function that represents the transformation between Yin and Yang pixels. 𝑓(𝑐) is an oscillating function between Yin and Yang pixel group. It can be accessed by variable “c” in subsystem “potentiality” under the condition when the transformation between Yin and Yang occurs, which is also dependent on different degrees of stableness in 𝑓(𝑒).
The design of Yin and Yang groups are based on three premises that are both intentional and intuitive. First, the attributes of Yin and Yang pixels are rendered by their metaphysical meanings in Taoism. As the rudimentary elements that constitute the subsystem “actuality”,their attributes such as colour, location, entropy state and energy state are ontologically correlated to the metaphysical meaning of Yin and Yang that originate from Taiji. As stated before, this seemingly opposite pair of counterparts tends to be complementary, interconnected and interdependent. Thus, their attributes are implemented to show their representations in Taoism. The second premise is that the intentionality behind the configurations of Yin and Yang pixels are aligned with the responsibility of speculative process metaphysics brought up by Nicholas Rescher. The ontological representations of Yin and Yang are demonstrated by the innovative adoption of computational methods that are able to deliver a plausible account of reality at a comprehensive level. Whereas the consequences always stay abstract and speculative. In the third premise, the dualistic quality of Yin and Yang are used as the unitary pair to construct and implement a modality of encapsulated and diversified binary system which are later abstracted into the Taoist symbolism. Aligned with Whitehead’s philosophy of science, symbolic reference is the interpretive elements to enact human perceptions. In Tao-machine, Yin and Yang pixels become the fundamental units to display series of time-based visual phenomena presented by both sub-systems “actuality” and “potentiality”.
Subsystem “potentiality” contains two layers of regulating syntaxes that can influence Yin and Yang pixel groups. The first layer is evinced straight through the depiction of Taoist symbols, while the second layer is related to the semantics in Taoist symbolic logic in order to form the causal relatedness between the two layers as well as between subsystems “actuality” and “potentiality”.
In ancient China, people considered that language have its limits on the interpretation of the mystic phenomena of the world, especially the arcane quality of human consciousness and thoughts. Therefore, the eastern saints FuXi, Laozi and Emperor Wen from Zhou Dynasty invented the eight trigrams to express a profound level of cognition and recognition of our universe. Each trigram, also called glyph, consists of three vertically placed horizontal bars or lines in which each line is either broken in the middle or intact, representing Yin and Yang, “0” and “1”, respectively, as well as forming the binary numbers 000-111(0 to 7). Because of their tripartite structure, there are eight forms of trigrams in total. After the successive complementing of comments and explanations were integrated into the eight trigrams during hundreds of years, a complete symbolic system was established using finite symbols to represent infinite phenomena in the cosmos. Each trigram in the eight trigrams system symbolises one of the different metaphysical entities that have similar energy dynamics or states in nature (Ancient Chinese contemplated the possible forms of discrepant natural energy and separated them into eight forms which are heaven energy, marsh energy, fire energy, thunder energy, wind energy, water energy, mountain energy and earth energy). Besides, each trigram also represents different aspects of human and the universe, such as binary value, elements of the planet, personality, human body, eight meridians, Greek titan, 24 hours and cardinal direction and more. (See Figure 2). With the invention of the eight trigrams system, ancient Chinese elevated the complexity of the system and developed a more enriched system which consists of sixty-four pairwise permutations of trigrams, referred to as “hexagram”, along with commentary on each one. In Taoism, it is believed that all matter and Qi come from the source of subtle energy and it is the entrainment between subtle energy and physical vibrations that manifest the universal life forms.
10. Religious epistemology as a broad label covers any approach to epistemological questions from a religious perspective, or attempts to understand the epistemological issues that come from religious belief. The questions which epistemologists may ask about any particular belief also apply to religious beliefs and propositions: whether they seem rational, justified, warranted, reasonable, based on evidence and so on. Religious views also influence epistemological theories, such as in the case of Reformed epistemology. As here the religion refers to Chinese Taoism. Clark, Kelly James , 2004. "Religious Epistemology". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ISSN 2161-0002.
11. In traditional Chinese culture, qi or chi or ki is believed to be a vital force forming part of any living entity, which is the central underlying principle in Chinese medicine and Chinese martial arts. Yu, Deng; Shuanli, Zhu; Peng, Xu; Hai, Deng (1 January 2003). "Ration of Qi with Modern Essential on Traditional Chinese Medicine Qi: Qi Set, Qi Element". Journal of Mathematical Medicine. 16 (4).
12. Entropy is a scientific concept, as well as a measurable physical property that is most commonly associated with a state of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty. In information theory, the entropy of a random variable is the average level of "information", "surprise", or "uncertainty" inherent in the variable's possible outcomes. Cover, T.M., Thomas, J.A. (2006), Elements of Information Theory - 2nd Ed., Wiley-Interscience, ISBN 978-0-471-24195-9. In this paper, entropy state is metaphorically used for the representation of different levels of disorder and randomness of the pixels.
13. Energy state, also called energy level, in physics, any discrete value from a set of values of total energy for a subatomic particle confined by a force to a limited space or for a system of such particles. In this essay, the term is borrowed to metaphorically represent the value of pixel stableness on a limited digital canvas. Britannica, (2011), The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Energy state". Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 Dec. 2011, https://www.britannica.com/science/energy-state.
14. Eight Trigrams, also known as Bagua are eight symbols used in Taoist cosmology to represent the fundamental principles of reality, seen as a range of eight interrelated concepts. Wilhelm, Richard ,1950. The I Ching or Book of Changes. translated by Cary F. Baynes, forward by C. G. Jung, preface to 3rd ed. by Hellmut Wilhelm (1967). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 266, 269. ISBN 069109750X.
15. Subtle energy is often assumed to mean different forms of energy more subtle than conventional physical instruments can detect. Subtle energy can also mean finding new understanding of how measurable forces produce effects; for example, processes in which electromagnetism can either produce profound changes with only tiny forces or can register profound changes with only tiny forces. Yet it is identified scientifically using the AMI (Apparatus for Meridian Identification) interpreting the energetic potentials of the acupuncture meridian systems. Williams, Bernard. 2016. Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine, Volume 21, Number 2, Page 5. https://journals.sfu.ca/seemj/index.php/seemj/article/download/447/408#:~:text=The%20concept%20Subtle%20 Energy%20is,that%20are%20not%20physically%20measurable.
16. The process of making something have the same pattern or rhythm as something else. And in physics, it is the process whereby two interacting oscillating systems assume the same period. Cambridge English Dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/entrainment
Therefore, the pairwise trigrams in one hexagram are meant to symbolise and simulate the possible entrainment of two isolated energy entities. Each hexagram consists of two trigrams, thus six lines representing Yin or Yang, respectively. These six lines are positioned in a down-up order where each line is called the initial line, the second line, the third line, the fourth line, the fifth line and the upper line subsequently. From the initial line to the upper line, six lines also represent the vicissitudes of any natural event where the initial line represents the “occurrence”; the second line the “development”; the third line the “growth”; the fourth line the “culmination”; the fifth line the “achievement” and the upper line the “decay” or “cease”. Altogether, the sixty-four hexagrams envelop all the vicissitudes of tendency or potentials with their individual statement derived from their metaphysical meanings. In figure 3, we can see the differentiation among all the hexagrams with their individual interpretations in multiple aspects.
Particularly, the semantics in Taoist symbolic logic refers to two aspects in the way each hexagram is formulated and another aspect regarding the change of the hexagram. Firstly, within a static hexagram, the semantics is the ontological and ethical content each of the six lines conveys depending on their positions and state of being Yin or Yang. The other aspect lies in the six lines’ relations and how they give rise to another layer of interpretations. As for the change of a hexagram, the semantics are derived from the difference between the changed one and the original one, which is generally used for practicing divination in Taoism. The semantics in the constitution of the sixty-four hexagrams are essentially intuitive approaches to forming an encapsulated and diversified binary system (See Figure 4). Each statement alongside the hexagram, such as the statement “Force” for the hexagram “111111” double “Qian”, is extracted and summarised from the semantics in its symbolic logic according to their ontological and ethical interpretations from both empiricism in Taoist epistemology and rationalism in Taoist symbolism. The content of each line and the relations among each line are a highly complex network that envelops and encapsulates multiple layers of binary representations.
The semantics in Taoist symbolic logic is also formulated by the categories and relations of the components in each hexagram. In general, there are three methods to classify the six lines and five basic relations among the six lines. The first classification method is based on the difference in the degree of significance in the placement of the six lines that stand for the process of a proceeding event. The six lines within one hexagram can be classified into three different classes according to their placements in the glyph. The first class contains the third and the fourth line that lie in the middle of each hexagram. Being positioned at the centre of each hexagram, they represent the essential quality of a proceeding event, which sets the tone for the overall content and meaning of the hexagram. The second class of lines includes the second and the fifth lines that are placed beneath the third line and above the fourth line, respectively. Being placed at the centre of each trigram in the same hexagram, they occupy the best positions that can add a distinguished “flavour” to enrich the meaning of each hexagram. The last class consists of the initial line and the up line. Compared to the other two classes of lines, their peripheral positions that represent the beginning and ending phases of an event, are less significant concerning the proceeding event, thus merely serving as signifiers to diverge the meaning in subtle measurement.
The second classification method is to distinguish the ontological representations of the lines in each hexagram. The up and fifth lines are metaphorically endowed with the implications of heaven and celestial entities. Whereas the initial and second lines represent earth and subterranean entities. As for the third and fourth lines, they are implied as to the representations of human beings and human activities between heaven and earth. In addition to the two former classification methods, the third classification method is to differentiate the lines following the premise that whether each of the six lines is placed or misplaced on its proper slot. To be more specific, the position of each of the six lines is assigned with a predetermined slot called Yin and Yang slot. The initial, the third and the fifth lines’ places are Yang slots by default, contrarily, the second, fourth and up lines’ places are Yin slots by default. If an intact (Yang) line is sitting on a Yang slot, it is called a proper placement. On the contrary, if a break-in-the-middle (Yin) line sits on the initial line’s slot which is a Yang slot, it is called a misplacement. To sum up, the three classification methods initiate three different approaches to bifurcate and rearrange the meanings behind Yin and Yang. In figure 5, the three methods are illustrated clearly to show how to establish an encapsulated and diversified binary system.
Apart from the three classification methods of the six lines in one hexagram, there are five basic relations among the six lines, which also contributes immensely to the semantics in Taoist symbolic logic. The relation among the six lines is specified by the appearance of the line as Yin or Yang as well as its positioning relative to other lines. The first relation is called “supportive relation” in which one or more Yin lines will support one or more Yang lines that are placed above them. The second relation is called “dominating relation” in which one or more Yin lines dominate one Yang line that is placed beneath them. The third kind of relation between the six lines is called “occupying relation” in which one or more Yang lines occupy one or more Yin lines that are placed beneath them. One exception in this relation is that when there is only one Yang line in a hexagram, it occupies all the other Yin lines no matter where they are placed. The fourth relation is called “analogous relation” which can be furthered to positive analogy and negative analogy. Two same lines form a negative analogy, whereas two opposite lines form a positive analogy. Analogous relation only occurs between two adjacently placed lines so that there are only five pairs of analogous relations in one hexagram. Among the five pairs of analogous relations, the one between the fourth and the fifth lines is considered to be most important of all because they represent the relationship between heaven and human beings. The last kind of relation is called “comparable relation” which can also be furthered to positive comparison and negative comparison. Two same lines form a negative comparison while two opposite lines form a positive comparison. However, comparable relations only occur between two lines that are not adjacently placed. Another rule in comparable relation is that the lower the amounts of Yin or Yang lines are, the more important they are considered to be in this relation. In figure 6, five different but correlated relations formulate the semantics in Taoist symbolic logic. With three classification methods of the lines and five relations among the lines in the hexagram, an encapsulated and diversified binary system gradually comes onto the surface.
In Taoism, the hexagram system can be used to practice divination, using the metaphysical interpretations of each hexagram to predict the expected felicity during a proceeding event at that moment. In Tao-machine, the semantics in Taoist symbolic logic is translated into the principles to program the regulating syntaxes in the subsystem “potentiality”. The subsystem “potentiality” is visually presented on-screen with one hexagram that has a variety of sixty-four forms. Each permutation of the hexagram encapsulates and demonstrates the binary relations between Yin and Yang pixels through the classification methods of lines and various relations among lines, which ultimately constitutes the regulating syntaxes in subsystem “potentiality”.
Each hexagram in “potentiality” has a deterministic finite state that is formally specified as quintuple of P such that:
1. H refers to the finite state of one of the sixty-four hexagrams that will be displayed on the screen as visual reference.
2. s is the finite potential entropy state for the pixels stored in subsystem “actuality”. 3. e is the finite energy state for the pixels stored in subsystem “actuality”.
4. c indicates to the conditions that activate the colour transition function in subsystem “actuality”.
5.𝑓(0,1,2,3,4,5) refers to the six normative functions that are programmed on the basis of the classification methods of the six lines in hexagram as well as the relations among the six lines.
As we stated before, subsystem “potentiality” contains two layers of regulating syntaxes that can influence Yin and Yang pixel groups. The first layer that directly reflects on the appearance of the hexagram is programmed to assign values to “s” and “e” depending on which corresponding trigram is activated. Each hexagram has a different energy value in different degrees that is either infinitely close to the pure state of Yang which is the double placed Qian glyph with the binary code 111111, or infinitely close to the pure state of Yin which is the double placed Kun glyph with the binary code 000000. According to this arrangement, each hexagram can initiate the values for both “s” and “e” in the subsystem “potentiality”. To be more concise, in one hexagram, the upper trigram validates the entropy state “s” for Yin and the energy state “e” for Yang, while the lower trigram validates the entropy state “s” for Yang and the energy state “e” for Yin. According to this arrangement, there will be sixty-four combinations of parametric values for the sixty-four hexagrams programmed in the subsystem “potentiality”. (See figure 7)
The colour transition function 𝑓(𝑐) in subsystem “actuality” will change the original colour of Yin and Yang pixels. The variable “c” stands for the conditions that accounts for the moment when Yin begin to transform into Yang and vice versa. The second layer of the regulating syntaxes is more closely related to the semantics in Taoist symbolic logic in order to form the causal relatedness between the two layers as well as between subsystems “actuality” and “potentiality”. 𝑓(0,1,2,3,4,5) represents six normative functions that can be applied to either Yin or Yang pixels group based on the classification methods of the six lines and the relations among the six lines in hexagram. Besides, these six normative functions also refer to the six stages of a proceeding event which is deduced from the commentary of each hexagram. In the domain of computer science, these six normative functions are programmed based on different combinations derived from the methodologies in image arithmetic and point operation. In one hexagram18, there are six positions that can be placed with either Yin or Yang lines. Therefore, each of the six functions can only be applied to either Yin pixels or Yang pixels in subsystem “actuality”. The figure 8 illustrates how the six normative functions are assigned to Yin or Yang pixels group.
17. Image arithmetic applies one of the standard arithmetic operations or a logical operator to two or more images. The operators are applied in a pixel-by-pixel way, i.e., the value of a pixel in the output image depends only on the values of the corresponding pixels in the input images. Gholamreza Anbarjafari (Shahab), 2014, Digital Image Processing, University of Tartu. Chapter 7 Arithmetic and logic operations. https://sisu.ut.ee/imageprocessing/book/7
18. A point operation is a modification to a pixel value which is based on that pixel value and is independent of location or neighbouring values. Arthur R. Weeks, 1996, Fundamentals of Electronic Image Processing, IEEE Press. https://academic.mu.edu/phys/matthysd/web226/L0129.htm
In conclusion, within the speculative process metaphysics model, computation becomes the “bridge” that conflates western process thoughts and eastern philosophical thoughts in the making of a series of moving images. The micro binary-system “0” and “1”, “Yin” and “Yang” liberates its dualistic form from pure scientific rumination to metaphysical speculation through the integration of an encapsulated and diversified binary system – Taoist symbols and its semantics. Endowed with the speculative and metaphysical quality of Taoist symbolism, Tao- machine takes the benefits of a reality diverged by dichotomy to speculate on a seemingly chaotic, but indeed “confusing” reality that creates the room for manoeuvre meaning and care through the process of collective making and individual being. Therefore, the quality of “confusion” in Taoist aesthetic and ethics will be the main focus in the next chapter.
Aesthetic in “confusion”: the “Confused Objects” produced by Tao-machine
The combination of Taoist symbolism with western speculative process metaphysics enables a hybrid model that is further utilised as the theoretical framework to program a virtual machine – Tao-machine. Tao-machine becomes a critical medium that produces a series of moving images as the experimentation to explore a poetic and intuitively mystic aesthetic, which encompasses both Taoist aesthetic in the notion of “confusion” and the aesthetic evoked by Whitehead’s speculative metaphysics, the harmonisation and resonance of the abstractions of science with those of arts, ethics and religion. In this regard, an artwork titled “Confused Objects” is produced by Tao-machine as an exemplification to analyse and investigate this form of visual expression further in details.
The conception of “Confused Objects” is gradually formed during a long period of solitude. Since the social interactions in real life being constrained during the global pandemic, I start to shift my focus from the carelessness towards objects to the vicissitudes in the perception of different domestic objects and how computation could influence, affect and interfere with our perception towards the images of those objects. “Confused Objects” is a series of moving images produced by Tao-machine based on still digital images that are made to imitate the form and shape of real objects. Among all the domestic objects with which I interact most frequently in my daily life, I choose a bowl and chopsticks that could metaphorically represent Yin and Yang in Taoism. Bowl, as a utensil to hold things, is normally shaped round and quasi- spherical, which relates our intuition to the maternal quality as tenderness. Its functionality as holding things can also be referred to as the meaning of adoption, acceptance and tolerance. And its usage for serving food is related to the purpose of nourishing. Therefore, the bowl is endowed with the passive quality of femininity that sustains our society, which corresponds with the notion of Yin in Taoism. As opposed to bowl, chopsticks are tools for feeding. They are shaped as long and lean sticks in a pair to easily control the food inside a bowl. Its functionality as control things can also be referred to as the meaning of manipulation, assembling and deconstructing. Therefore, chopsticks are endowed with the active quality of masculinity that creates or destroys our society, which corresponds with the notion of Yang in Taoism. Based on the images of the bowl and chopsticks, their curvature and straightness are used as the basic visual elements to create a series of still digital images in black and white on a 500x500 pixels two-dimensional digital canvas. The observer perspective of these two objects is freed from the two-point perspective and the cavalier perspective to attain an approximate visual balance between black and white, Yin and Yang in the image. The shifting of perspectives also prepares the Tao-machine for a more diversified visual output. After being processed by Tao-machine, a series of moving images is produced as the “Confused Objects” which is developed from the still images in “actuality”; regulated by computational syntaxes that are represented by Taoist symbols alongside the images as well as extended to infinite “potentiality”. (see figure 9)
19. The cavalier perspective, also called cavalier projection or high viewpoint, is a way to represent a three - dimensional object on a flat drawing, and more specifically, a type of oblique projection. Margolin, Jed. 2007. The Cavalier Perspective. http://www.jmargolin.com/patents2/pilotrefs/refs/cavilier.pdf
With the help of Tao-machine, the ordinary and generally ignored daily objects are transformed into codified objects as moving images with infinite possibility in its dynamic and a sense of “confusion”. According to Taoist master Tchouang-Tseu, confusion is one of the most important components that constitutes Taoist aesthetic and ethics. Being confused means that the Taoist is not able to distinguish between the beautiful and the ugly, but the process that makes the beauty or the ugliness (Yip, 2004). Similarly, in western process-based thought, the essence of being is nothing other than the absolute potentiality of the whole change in dynamicity and the transformational process compared to a momentary phenomenon frozen in space and time. Therefore, confusion is possibly only situated in the horizon of discrepancy and, by the same token, of in-differentiation and of equality value. Nevertheless, confusion is not equivalent to ambiguity as such blurred horizon but to entangled situatedness with potential elucidation from multiple perspectives. It recoils from direct confrontation and any potential occurrence of violence, yet once a particular elucidation is validated or invalidated, confusion resumes itself. Confusion makes it possible to see what as free and emancipatory from any rigorously determined order. Confusion enables care for all the beings regardless of the predetermined canon. As a consequence, we can thus engage ourselves into boundless openness, without discrimination and prejudice. The essence of the quality in confusion, the appraisal of discrepancy, in-differentiation and equality value, might have emerged as well in western process thoughts, especially within the Whiteheadian speculative process metaphysics. Its three concomitant methodologies: empiricism, rationalism and speculation, proceed as a rhythmic synchronisation that promoted the harmonisation and resonance of the abstractions of science with those of arts, ethics and religion, as well as the inclusion of more concrete intuitions in our perception—stretching from our mathematical and physical intuitions to our poetic and mystic intuitions (Desmet, Ronald, Irvine,2018). Empiricism and rationalism yield the objective discrepancy through human endeavour in disciplines such as mathematics and physics, which in modern times, has been further developed into theoretical speculations through the course of the grand unified theory20 and quantum mechanism in physics. They are infinitely close to the in-differentiation and equality value in Taoist ontology of the bifurcated oneness in Taiji. The grand unified theory, proposed by Howard Georgi and Sheldon Glashow in 1974, is to unify all known forces into one single force, which could potentially corroborate the metaphysical claim of the oneness in Taoism. With three forces namely electromagnetic, weak and strong forces already comprised into one single force at the experimental level, the gravitational force is the only piece of the puzzles left for the accomplishment of the grand unified theory. Surprisingly, Taoist epistemology has also been rigorously analysed and studied for this final task in a transdisciplinary research paper “Quantum gravity and Taoist cosmology: Exploring the ancient origins of phenomenological string theory” written by Steven M. Rosen, which will not be explicitly expanded here in this paper. This study case again supports the proposed model in this paper, which is based on Whiteheadian speculative process metaphysics that occurs between western science and Taoist epistemology and phenomenology. In “Confused Objects”, the difference between all the moving images and the discrepancy among frames in one moving image could be seen as a specially composed computational expression resulted from the dynamics between Yin and Yang, the oneness in Taiji, and the confusion that all elements create together.
The conception of “confusion leads to infinite openness and in-differentiation” in Taoist aesthetic has also been adopted by western artist Walter De Maria and musician John Cage in their individual artistic approaches. In De Maria’s sculptures titled “360 ̊ I Ching”, he directly replicates the forms of 64 hexagrams from Taoist symbolism and spread them on a huge red carpet across two galleries at Dia: Beacon. For De Maria, form in itself has a finite amount in combinations, materials and possibilities, however, when a subject is present, the possibilities become as endless as the question one can ask. The visually uniformed but slightly discrepant sculptures provide spectators with the first impression of both “singular” (oneness) and “confusion” (discrepancy), which engenders a poetic and intuitively mystic ambience. Unlike the directness in De Maria’s work, in John Cage’s “10000 things”, the notion of “confusion” and “in-differentiation” has been elevated to another level. Cage takes the finite combinations of instruments to an endless kaleidoscope of musical invention. The indeterminate performance and randomly combined notes, intervals and volumes evoke not only a sense of confusion but also a quality of in-differentiation that erases his ego and unleashes what he called the “divine unconscious”. In Cage’s own word “it is an oversimplification of the situation where we actually are, its infinite play of interpenetration shows the diversity of the empirical world.” In “Confused Objects”, the dynamic musical elements are replaced by moving pixels on the screen and the “over-simplicity” in performance is transformed into the direct visual reference of Taoist symbols.
In conclusion, this dissertation provides the intention of bridging computational image- processing syntaxes and Taoist symbolic logic with both theoretical schema and pragmatical approach. Theoretically, through the lens of Whiteheadian speculative process metaphysics, speculation arisen from intuition and religions must assume a significant role in its conflation with empiricism and rationalism arisen from sciences. Pragmatically, computation might be one of the most apposite scientific approach to connect those two subjects as well as be in support of the model of speculative process metaphysics. In addition, the art project “Confused Objects” is a visual experiment on the aestheticisation of the model yielded by both western process- based thoughts and Taoist symbolism. Endowed with the speculative and metaphysical quality of Taoist symbolism, Tao-machine takes the benefits of a reality diverged by dichotomy to speculate on a seemingly chaotic, but indeed “confusing” reality that creates the room for manoeuvre meaning and care through the process of enabling an actuality that is constantly regulated by potentiality, which allows us to engage ourselves into boundless openness, without discrimination and prejudice.
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