Sunday, 13 July 2008

Taoist Philosophy

Before Angels & Demons became a worldwide best-seller, the Philosophy ambigram was the most popular design. This was appropriate, as the most significant influence that led to the development of ambigrams was the yin/yang symbol, central to the ancient Chinese philosophy Taoism. As a result of the meditations on the philosophical principles behind yin and yang, the ambigrams render Taoist ideas as visual word-based art.

The basics of Taoism are concerned with the ebb and flow and natural balances inherent in nature and the lives of human beings as well. Appropriately, the words that were chosen to develop into ambigrams reflect these same principles: ambiguity, symmetry, balance, and synthesis, to name but a few.


Taoist philosophy undoubtedly developed in the same way that Western science did– through the observation of nature. It holds that the universe exists in a dynamic state of balance that ebbs and flows with the interplay of opposites: light and dark, male and female, day and night, the seasons, the tides, and the death of one organism supporting the life of another, all exemplify this balance. This is the way of nature, and the word Tao means The Way, or the path. The path is not a straight line. It is the path of least resistance. Taoism holds that water represents The Way best. A stream must yield to every obstacle in its path, yet eventually erodes each one. In its progress from rain to river to ocean, and eventual evaporation, water travels a neverending circuit.

These ideas came to be graphically represented by the yin/yang symbol. The two halves are not in opposition, but exist in a complimentary relationship. Taoists do not believe, for instance, that "good" will ever win out over "evil." Rather everything has its positive and negative aspects that cannot be isolated, and that therefore, "good" and "bad" will always exist in a dynamic relationship of ebb and flow.

The dot of opposing color represents the idea that in every force there exists the seed of the opposite force. That night is created by the sun, ensures the day. That the tide is low in one part of the world when it is high in another means that the two must necessarily reverse. A philosophy cannot be a dogma. It must openmindedly reflect on any fact or point of view. It must be a way of thinking. A framework within which to observe. It may require looking at things from the vantage point of another person, or another culture, or natural system. The complimentary opposite halves, yin and yang, represent this idea as well. One cannot hold to a yin point of view exclusively. North is not "better" than south, nor day "better" than night.

Ambigrams require the viewer to see from different points of view. The selection of words is oriented towards ideas that represent the natural processes that the yin/yang symbol represents and asks that the viewer consider both points of view.

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