Yin and Yang: the Nature of Scientific Explanation in a Culture
ABSTRACT: I explore the nature of scientific explanation in a culture centering on the doctrine of yin and yang combined with that of five phrases, wu-hsing (YYFP). I note how YYFP functions as an alternative to the causal way of thinking, as well as the meaning of scientific explanation in a culture. I also consider whether a scientific concept becomes metaphorical when it is superseded by an alternative organizing concept.
To a Western eye, or even to a contemporary Eastern eye, many explanations given under the doctrine of yin and yang combined with that of five phases (wu-hsing), apparently intended to be scientific, would seem either absurd or too arbitrary at first sight. An intriguing fact, however, is that the doctrine of yin and yang and that of five phases (hereafter YYFP) has prevailed until quite recently in almost all the areas of Far-Eastern cultures including medicine, astronomy, music, dance, architecture, geomancy.
In this essay, I pay attention to the questions such as how YYFP functioned as an alternative to the causal way of thinking, and what it is to be a scientific or theoretical explanation in a culture. I also consider the question of whether a scientific concept becomes metaphorical when it is superseded by an alternative organizing concept. Let me begin with the development of the concept of YYFP, as you may not know in the first place what YYFP is.
Until around the 4th century B.C., yin and yang were current words for "sunshine" and "shade" and were used separately from the five phases of change. Soon after, they came to be included in the six ch'i (six powers or forces) of Heaven. The six ch'i refer to wind, rain, dark, light, yin and yang. Yin and yang as parts of the six ch'i are now powers that would balance the order of nature inducing proper seasonal changes and controlling precipitation or wind.
And yet, it was not until the Warring States (403-222 B.C.) that yin and yang became two opposing forces generating everything in the universe. The concepts of yin and yang as two fundamental forces are most conspicuous in I Ching (the Book of Changes) being epitomized in the statement, "The successive movement of yin and yang constitutes the Way (Tao)" ("Commentary on the Appended Phrases", part I, ch. 5). As they settled into the categories of opposing forces, they came to provide an explanatory apparatus applicable to opposites, contraries, and hierarchical pairs. For instance, heaven, sun, fire, flying, running, being round, and male, on the one hand, belong with the force of yang; earth, moon, water, hibernating, hiding, being square, and female, on the other hand, belong with the force of yin.
The supposed explanatory power of yin and yang grew enormously when combined with the doctrine of the five phases. The doctrine of the five phases provides a system where everything is categorized into one of five groups. Everything in the...