Friday, October 16, 2009
Like many fundamental questions, 'what is knowledge' is surprisingly difficult to answer in a satisfactory way. This is because it is an important philosophical question that forms the basis of the division of philosophy called epistemology. A dictionary definition yields the following:
1 information and skills acquired through experience or education - the sum of what is known. Philosophy true, justified belief, as opposed to opinion.
2 awareness or familiarity gained by experience.
- PHRASES come to one's knowledge become known to one. to (the best of) my knowledge 1 so far as I know. 2 as I know for certain.
- ORIGIN ME (orig. as v. in the sense 'acknowledge, recognize')
The most basic meaning is of being aware that some thing or situation resembles another one that has been previously experienced and exists as a memory. For example, recognizing a face is a skill that does not require conscious, volitional learning but happens automatically: hence familiarity gained by experience, which is not peculiar to humans but is present in all animals who modify their behaviour in response to pain or pleasure. The usual example given is the pain a child feels before learning to avoid contact with fire. This becomes encoded in language as the proposition, "fire burns" or the more general form, "fire is hot", signifying that fire belongs to a more general category of phenomena which can be harmful or useful to mankind. This introduces the fundamental role of knowledge as not only helpful to the conduct of life but essential for survival. In this sense, both humans and animals are knowing beings.
The first meaning distinguishes between information and skills. The latter may be motor skills, like sawing a piece of wood or playing the violin which involve a different process of repetitive practice from learning, say the multiplication tables, the latter requiring some minimum understanding of numbers and their properties. When Bertrand Russell was a young child he was reduced to tears by his inability to learn the multiplication tables and he records, in his autobiography, that what delighted him most was learning that blue mixed with yellow produced green. Here is what he had to say about learning some basic algebra.
The beginnings of Algebra I found far more difficult, perhaps
as a result of bad teaching. I was made to learn by heart:
"The square of the sum of two numbers is equal to the sum of
their squares increased by twice their product." I had not the
vaguest idea what this meant, and when I could not remember
the words, my tutor threw the book at my head, which did not
stimulate my intellect in any way.
This example of the failure of rote learning by a child of exceptional intelligence shows that the acquisition knowledge is affected by the form in which it is presented to the student. The translation of the symbolic form of the mathematical expression into words, instead of explaining the relationship between the parts of the algebraic expression (a + b)2 = a2 + b2 + 2ab, was the cause of the problem, since Russell had no problem learning his Euclid. For Russell, the linguistic proposition was not knowledge because it was meaningless relative to his understanding. It follows that, for the student, knowledge must be understood and meaningful in relation to existing knowledge. Knowledge, therefore, exists in clusters, not in isolation.
It is clear from the rest of the definition that, for the philosopher, empirical knowledge is always provisional and subject to revision. This has become a basic principal of science but is often ignored in daily life where certainty about common knowledge is usually assumed. Even apriori knowledge may prove inadequate, as non-Euclidean geometry shows. The lesson here is that absolutely true knowledge is always subject to prior assumptions as expressed by the term ceteris paribus. The experimental scientist must restrict his variables by excluding possible but highly improbable factors from the variables. The discoveries of empirically established 'facts' become knowledge, but always subject to the conditions of the theory and experiments within which they are constructed.
Outside the laboratory and the University a great deal of information is taken on trust as factual. The inadequacy of human records and memory becomes clear when they are disputed in the adversarial system of the courts, where arriving at the truth is a tedious process of forensic examination. Such analysis is usually impractical in business or government, where highly educated individuals are trusted to use their skills and experience in making informed judgments about what are true facts and what are doubtful propositions. The idea of facts being beyond reasonable doubt or of high probability has become an essential tool of administrators as well as scientists. The necessity for scepticism about unusual proposals is well understood and undermines the simplistic assumptions that we always deal with true facts rather than those that common sense and experience suggest are probably true. For practical purpose, therefore, one is always dealing with facts that may turn out to be false, albeit with a small probability.
The corollary of all this is that the bulk of what the non-specialist knows is a mish-mash of well established common knowledge, which is probably true, and a great deal of assumptions deduced from this knowledge which might be flawed due to inadequate reasoning. While most intelligent people reason correctly about everyday affairs, when faced with complex circumstances involving a huge number of facts and assumptions, this reasoning proves inadequate, and intuitive judgments are applied instead. While humans are capable of reasoning, it would be wrong to assume that they are predominantly reasonable in their judgments as opposed to intuitive, reactive and emotive.
The distinction between knowledge and assumptions is latent in human affairs, and the incorporation of statements in printed or electronic media raises the status of such information from provisional to established facts.
Editorial or peer review, or the category opinion rather than fact, goes a long way towards ensuring the quality of recorded knowledge, but the vast quantity of such widely available information reduces the overall quality of such knowledge.
Disputes about whether a certain body of knowledge is true are commonplace. Prior to the 18th Century is was unthinkable or at least unwise to challenge religious orthodoxy, whose vast repositories of doctrine went largely unchallenged, except within the upper reaches of the various churches. Theological debate, like today's science, was the preserve of specialists. In our world, specialists abound and represent a process of creating bodies of knowledge that can be widely applied. Fields of doubtful knowledge abound, including psychoanalysis, literary theory, new age regurgitations of Eastern philosophy and many more fields where pseudo-knowledge stakes its claims. This only matters when they affect important government or business decisions, or individual welfare. Familiar examples are the definitions of human personality that underlie the vexed debate over contraception and abortion. This is a case of a conflict between new knowledge or understanding versus old knowledge based on redundant religious beliefs. A more important example is the more complex question of global warming, which turns upon a vast number of facts and theories developed by many different scientific specialists relevant to understanding climate change.
Big questions like 'has peak oil been reached' or 'will average temperatures rise by more than 3% in the next 20 years' do not admit of definite answers, only informed opinion arrived at by scientific or technical experts. The problem of deliberately distorted information about these important questions is evident in the biased reports and lobbying that is currently taking place. It is clear that politics, at all levels, has an impact on what can be accepted as true, just as religion is often the enemy of truth in both past and present. Indoctrination by the mass media on these and many other sensitive issues shows that many facts commonly held to be true are artefacts of propaganda. In other words, orthodox knowledge is manufactured by ruling elites to serve their interests. An examination of what constitutes knowledge must take account of this fact of life.
The import of this is that finding reliable sources of information depends not only on doing enough research but making judgments about these sources based on ones own flawed judgment. When faced with hundreds of thousands of seemingly intelligent people who question, say, Darwin's theory of evolution, it becomes evident that untutored opinions are the norm rather than the exception. Like the esoteric theological doctrines of the past, advanced knowledge of, say, biotechnology lies beyond the competence of the average person. Furthermore, advanced specialist in one discipline lack competence in most others fields of advanced knowledge.
What is knowledge and what is contestable theory is an ongoing problem when viewing human knowledge as a whole, no more so than in the field of economics, where the ever increasing complexity of society casts doubt on theories widely adopted by governments. Knowledge in the social sciences is generally agreed to be less reliable than in the physical sciences, where controlled experiments are possible. Unfortunately, it is in the human sciences that solutions to social problems exist and the need for reliable knowledge can be critical to control by both government and management. The very idea of such controls calls up the philosophy of ethics, which is yet another field of knowledge which can only be established by making arbitrary assumptions or appealing to 'facts' derived from social sciences such as psychology and anthropology.
In today's complex societies, stability increasingly depends on narrow specialist, but also on generalists, usually managers or administrators, who specialise in generality, or comprehending and judging the work of specialists and coordinating it towards the achievement of certain goals. Such generalists have always existed as eminence grises in the corridors of power. The training of administrators in Britain and France, as well as other nations has long been focused on the task of making future mandarins. What kind of special knowledge should they be taught to equip them to deal with the great generalisations appropriate to the government of millions? Beginning with the works of Plato and Aristotle seem somehow inadequate but choosing alternatives is a difficult educational decision in itself. Who will train the Guardians and then protect us from them is an insoluble problem.
From a philosophical point of view, knowledge is the totality of true propositions. Unfortunately this set is potentially infinite and its contents mostly irrelevant to the imperatives of individual or collective purposes. From this point of view, it is the engine of human purposes, rational or not, that create the demand for existing knowledge or for the creation of new knowledge. Knowledge, then, is a mental artefact, discovered or created for human use. The body of pertinent knowledge is what is actually in current use or is being created by science or other disciplines. As pointed out above, a great proportion of this knowledge will be doubtful or false, if only because humans have a preference for the useful or interesting rather than the true.
Understanding what qualifies as knowledge is an example of what Wittgenstein called a language game, where meanings are not separated by sharp boundaries. A final, complete and perfect definition of knowledge for all purpose, therefore, is not to be expected. Far more useful is to address the prior question, why do I want to know what knowledge means and what use will such a definition be to my present purposes. This question is relative to the individual and would produce a commensurately different set of propositions about what knowledge means to them.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Extending chess to an infinite domain involves defining the required space and also redefining how the chessmen move within it. The conventional chessboard has 64 squares, which are indexed from a1 at the bottom left hand corner to h8 at the top right. This provides a convenient notation for recording the moves of a game. So, the rows are indexed by the first eight numbers and the files (columns) by the first eight letters, as shown below.
The board can be rendered unlimited simply by allowing the index to include all the finite numbers and all the finite combinations of letters. For example, a square such as g100 or ay39 would be legitimate. In this way the chessmen could move about in an infinite space, without changing the conventional rules by which they move.
A peculiarity of this extended index is that the bottom and left hand boundaries of the board are preserved. On such a board the white chessmen can move forward or to the right without limit but remain constrained to the left and behind. However, it is not clear where the opposing black pieces are to be located or whether they should be symmetrically constrained behind and to the left like the white pieces, which would clearly never do.
One solution is to confine the starting positions of the opposing armies to the dimensions of the standard board but relativise their position in the infinite plane. This can be done by extending the index to include negative values, analogous to the notation of the Cartesian plane. For example, ac42, -ac42,
ac-42 and -ac-42 would be legitimate and distinct locations, where ac represents 26 + 3 = 29 squares.
The extension to an infinite board would affect the powers of the chessmen differently. The queen, rook and bishop could make unlimited moves but the king, knight and pawn would be restricted to a single move, and so would gain limited freedom on the extended board. Their relative powers would be diminished accordingly.
An alternative scheme is to separate the white and black chessmen by an infinite space. The immediate consequence would be that no matter how far the queens, rooks or bishops moved according to their enhanced powers, they could never engage the enemy. To rescue the game from this impasse requires a further extension to the powers of the pieces and the pawns.
The solution is to allow all the chessmen to make infinite moves, from one domain to another, according to strict but familiar rules. These rules are as follows:
Rule 1: A man may either make a short (finite) move or a long (infinite) move but not both.
Rule 2: In making a long move, a man must move from one domain to another in the same manner as required by a short move.
Rule 3: A move from one domain to another preserves the finite position of the man.
The first rule is self-explanatory. The player may either make a move within the domain the man occupies or move the man to another domain, subject to rules 2 and 3.
The meaning and relation of the infinite domains needs to be explained before elaborating on rules 2 and 3. Each domain is a replication of the infinite space defined above. The domains are arranged in a square matrix, which must be sufficiently large to allow long moves as defined in rule 2. For example, a 5 x 5 matrix is necessary to allow the knights access to every domain. Any larger matrix could be adopted but, for aesthetic purposes, an 8 x 8 matrix of domains is ideal.
A system of notation can now be defined to locate the men within both domain (board) and its finite subspace. Each of the 64 infinite boards is indexed from A1 to H8, analogous to the indexing of the conventional chessboard. A double reference of the form XYxy locates an individual square within a domain. For example, the white king is located on the square E1e1 at the start of the game and the black king is on square E8e8.
The initial positions of the 32 men can now be described. The rule for setting up the board is simple. On the conventional board, the white queen sits on square d1: on the infinite board she sits on square D1d1. The trick is to duplicate the local reference in the board reference. The white queen’s pawn conventionally starts on d2, so it occupies D2d2 on the infinite matrix. An infinite bird’s eye view would show the initial set up to be identical to that of the conventional game.
Rules 2 and 3 can now be explained more fully. The white king’s knight begins on square G1g1. The knight is free to make a short move to either G1f3 or G1h3. In addition, the knight can make a short move to G1e2, because all the pawns start off in domain 2. The knight can make initial long moves to F3g1 or H3g1 but not to E2g1, because this square is occupied by the king’s bishop’s pawn.
A notable feature is that all the pieces can make unrestricted finite moves at the opening, because each one is alone in its domain. This allows the players to jump into a new domain from an unlimited number of positions. Like many art forms, it is the constraints rather than absolute freedom that leads to interesting works. No less so in the game of chess. For this reason the proposed game can be modified by restricting each domain to the usual finite 8 x 8 matrix of squares. The result is an extremely complex finite expansion of the traditional game of chess.
The diagram below shows some examples of long moves. A domain set of 3 x 3 boards has been used for compactness of presentation. It can be seen that knight, bishop and rook can reach across domains. The power of a pawn to take diagonally in a long move is also illustrated. The pawns power to move two squares on its first move allows it to make a double long move. The en passant rule is similarly preserved.
The extension of the game of chess to multiple domains generates a family of games, which may be either finite or infinite. This can be achieved by the addition of the three special rules for long moves and by adding a square or rectangular matrix of boards of one’s choice. The double notation allows the computerisation of the game. The implications for geometry and the theory of infinite number will not be considered here. Suffice to say that the examination of such models should provide useful insights in these areas of enquiry.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Saturday, July 4, 2009
The sage pulled his worn cloak tighter round his neck. The wind from the gorge was spinning the leaves into golden wreaths, sending gusts of cool air into the dimness of the room. The clack of footsteps sounded in the corridor and a house servant, head bowed, entered the room.
“What is it? My master is not to be disturbed,” Lai Tan said, looking over to the old man for guidance. The sage raised his eyebrows and held a finger to his lips, then looked towards the servant with a kindly smile.
“Well, tell the master what you want,” Lai Tan snapped.
“Sir, the Keeper of The Pass respectfully requests an audience, he is waiting outside.”
The old man rose unsteadily to his feet, nodded his assent and signalled with his hand to Lai Tan.
“Shall I leave you to talk with our jailor alone, Master?”
The old man nodded again and remained standing, in readiness to meet the gentleman outside.
“Tell your master he is welcome to come in but that we are unable to entertain him in the accustomed style,” Lai Tan said to the servant.
The servant left, followed by Lai Tan; His Master, Kuan Yin, swept into the room.
The keeper, a tall, spare man, was dressed in his red robe of office. Middle-aged with a neatly trimmed beard and bobbed hair, he bowed respectfully to the grey haired figure standing before the window.
“Master, forgive the intrusion. The King has asked me to enquire about your health and the progress of your book.”
The old man bowed slightly in return and motioned towards the unoccupied chair. The keeper sat down, after a slight hesitation, and looked enquiringly at the old man. The sage sat down again on the window bench and said, “A cold wind is blowing from the North West.”
The Keeper waited, expecting more but was disappointed.
“We are all waiting anxiously for your wisdom to be recorded – especially my lord the King.”
“Has he not wisdom enough from the mouth of Kung Fu Tzu?” the elder replied, smiling softly as he looked out of the window at the clouds, now piled up as if before a storm.
“He teaches the court of familial piety, of bending men to the rule of law, but what do you say?”
“The family is older than Dukes and Kings but the Way of Heaven is older than time.”
“But the Empire is in disorder. Isn’t that why you left the capital? The States war with each other and take no heed of the suffering of the people.”
“The wind is blowing the leaves about, a storm is coming,” the Old Man replied, looking out over the courtyard to the looming mountains beyond.
“I hope you will forgive me, I dared not let you leave Chou, at least not without some token of your wisdom to appease the King.”
Smiling meekly, the old man turned his head to look at the official.
“Does the King of Chou prefer wisdom to its source?”
The Keeper thought carefully, knowing that the question was a test of his sincerity.
“The water is sweeter at the source – to benefit the people it must flow down to the sea. Becoming muddied on the way it attains to saltiness.”
The sage sat quietly, looking down at the pattern on the tiles between his feet. The Keeper felt pleased with his reply: it spoke of the Yellow River flowing from the mountains to the sea, rushing through muddy canyons before nourishing the plain in the East. Listening carefully, one could hear its roar over the rising wind.
“Autumn has arrived, it will soon be spring,” the old man said, by way of acknowledgement.
The Keeper glanced at the table strewn with bamboo cuttings and a couple of completed rolls.
“How long will it be?” he said, worried by the directness of his question.
“About five thousand characters,” the sage replied.
No stranger to the art of writing, the Keeper calculated from the rolls on the table and the shelves that the work was about half complete. He rose and bowed to the old man.
“I must not disturb your thoughts any longer. I will tell your scribe he can return.”The old man rose and bowed his head as the official crossed the room and went out through the doorway.
As autumn turned to winter the old man and his scribe worked on to complete the great book. When the first plum blossom opened in the capital and the snows had melted, turning the great river into a raging flood, Lai Tan had drawn the last character of the five thousand and twenty five and bound up the final roll.
“Master, what will happen now that you have completed Kuan Yin’s demands?”
The old man looked at the brightening and fading sunlight in the courtyard.
“The moon will be waxing soon,” he replied.
“Shall I tell the Keeper that we have finished?”
The sage turned to look at the young man and nodded.
Lai Tan went to the Keeper of the Pass and knelt before the official.
“Please rise and sit here,” Kuan Yin said, pointing to a low stool set before his chair.
“Have you come to tell me that it’s finished?”
“Yes Master Yin, the great work is now complete. I have come to ask you whether we are free to leave. I was wondering what would happen to the book now. It would be unwise for us to risk it on a journey. Will you keep it safe here for wandering scholars to read?”
“Wandering scholars would soon bring great repute to your master but I must deliver it to the King in Luoyang. When your master has rested from his great task, my servants will make provisions so that you can continue on your way. Return to your master now and give him the good news.”
Lai Tan rose, bowed low and returned to the room where he had worked for almost two years.
“Master Lao, I fear the keeper wishes to steal your book. He intends to present it to the King. What if he claims to have written it himself?”
“Why would a wise man claim to have written so much foolishness?” the sage replied.
Having drawn every character of the book, Lai Tan had often asked himself the same question.
“The Keeper expects us to leave soon. He says he will provide for our journey. When do you intend to leave?”
“When the moon is half full.”
“But where will we go?”
The old man sat with his hands in his sleeves and thought for a while.
“I shall return to the place where I was born.”
“To Hu Hsien?” the disciple asked.
Lao Tzu nodded.
“There too,” he said before nodding off to sleep.
Three days later the Keeper presented Master Lao with gifts from the King that he had withheld until the book was finished. There was a fine yellow robe and a silk hat for the Master, a blue silk robe and a sash for his scribe and a goodly weight in silver. A mule was loaded with provisions for the journey and with the King’s gifts.
The old man was helped onto the back of the ox, the same one that had delivered him to the Keepers lodge, now grown fat with good feed and little work. Kuan Yin bade them farewell and watched the little party until it disappeared behind the rocks on the road to the western pass. At the bottom of the winding road, the Master pointed south and Lai Tan led the mule away from the river, into the hills where the village of Hu Sien lay hidden in the mists.
The next day Kuan Yin rode out with a retinue of guards and servants towards Luoyang, taking the precious rolls with him. The journey was long and dangerous with the constant threat of bandits on the road to the capital. The journey proved uneventful until they came within a few leagues of the city. The captain wheeled his horse round and came up to the Keeper.
“My Lord, we must find shelter, a storm is brewing in the west.”
“Very well, we will improvise a camp behind those trees by the river,” Kuan Yin shouted back over the rising wind.
They left the road and pitched the official’s tent, complete with banner, tethering the horses and mules beneath the trees.
The storm broke just after dark, tearing rotten branches from the trees and flattening the tent.
“Typhoon!” the captain screamed, over the roaring wind, “lie down and cling to the ropes.”
Concerned about the book, the keeper fought his way to the tethered mule and tried to carry the bundle of rolls into the shelter of the trees. The wind was so strong that the big bundle, tied up with hides, was torn from his grasp and rolled down the bank into the foaming waters of the river. Heedless of the danger, Kuan Yin plunged down the muddy bank and tried to drag the bundle back to shore. The raging torrent carried him away with the bundle, towards the distant capital.
One-foot dragged himself back through the mud towards the river. A storm always meant good pickings. He had already come across the body of a rich man, clothed in red silk all smeared with mud. He had stripped away the finery and pocketed the ornaments and rings. He had pitched the naked body back into the water for the fishes to pick clean before hiding the booty in his hut. There had been a big bundle too, probably full of valuables, but it had been too heavy for him to shift alone. He cursed the gods. There was nothing to be done, he would have to get help from his partner in crime before dawn or someone else would take the prize.
He stumbled down the riverbank towards the lights of the tavern. Poking his head through the door he spied One-tooth slumped over a table strewn with food scraps and empty wine bowls. He lay between a fishwife and some other clod; drool hanging from his gaping mouth, snoring in his stupor.
One-foot shook him roughly.
“Get up, quick,” he shouted into a battered ear.
One-tooth woke with a snort and recognised his partner.
“What now” another of your wonder finds I suppose; pots of gold, strings of pearls, precious silks fit for a king.”
One-foot decided to say nothing of the body.
“Get up, it’s a big bundle stuck in the mud bound up with hides; it could contain all kinds of valuables. I can’t move it by myself, it’s too heavy.”
“Curse you! How far is it?”
“It’s close by. I’ll find someone else if you won’t come.”
One-tooth stumbled to his feet, pushed the woman aside and spat on the dirt floor.
“Lead on then.”
With much cursing and muffled shouts the pair dragged the bundle to the hut and cut the hides open.
“It’s nothing but a bundle of firewood tied up with red string, curse it,” One-tooth shouted angrily.
”No, there must be something inside; unroll it.”
Holding the lantern over the rolls of bamboo, the scavengers beheld the rows of characters painfully drawn by Lai Tan.
“It’s just some stupid official’s tax rolls. It’s worth nothing,” spat One-tooth. I’m taking the hides, they’re good quality at least, you can keep the firewood.”
With a final curse, he rolled up the hides and went on his way.
The Chief Minister of Chou finished making his report to the King about the storm damage to the city.
“There was one other matter, my Lord.”
“A beggar was captured in possession of a mysterious book.”
“A scholarly beggar?”
“No my Lord, a river scavenger and a criminal called One-foot.”
“He still lives?”
“I don’t know my lord. The local magistrate ordered the lopping of his other foot.
“Oh dear, soon there will be nobody left standing.”
“A jade disc and a muddied red robe were found in the scavenger’s hut.”
“Ah, I see. We are in need of a new Keeper it seems. But what of the book?”
“It consists of a great many rolls, Lord. I’ve read some of it. It appears to be some kind of philosophy, so I wondered if it would interest your majesty. Its rather obscure stuff, I’m afraid.”
“How fortunate that Kung Fu Tzu is still within the palace walls. Be so good as to request his presence so that he can explain this mystery to us.”
“Yes my Lord, I will summon him at once.”
A low table and a stool were arranged before the King and a couple of the damp rolls placed on the table. A short while later the stately figure of the sage appeared. Bowing at the waist only, he sat at the table and opened one of the rolls.
“What does it say?” the king asked, a little impatiently.
“It’s full of aphorisms and rhymes about the old ways,” Kung Tzu replied without looking up from his reading.
“Read some out loud,” the King commanded.
“There is a thing confusedly formed,
Born before Heaven and Earth.
It stands alone and does not change,
Goes round and does not weary.
It is capable of being the Mother of the World.
I know not its name
So I style it ‘The Way’.”
“Mysticism,” the King said. “You’ve studied the Book of Changes for years, haven’t you?”
“That is true,” the sage replied, “but this book speaks of that which lies behind the changes.”
“Is it worth anything?” the King asked.
“The Dragon’s ascent into Heaven on the wind and the clouds is something which is beyond my knowledge,” Kung Tzu replied, quoting his own words after his meeting with the old man.
“Make copies for the library right away,” the King commanded, remembering the famous words quoted by the sage.
On the fourth night of their journey, the Sage and the scribe camped under an old chestnut tree overhanging a lake. The evening was calm and the bright moon reflected in the limpid waters.
“How far is it now Master? Lai Tan enquired.
“In another day the moon will be full,” the old man replied.
The next day was a fine spring morning. The old man had already bathed by the time Lai Tan woke up and was sitting under the tree watching the sunrise over the water.
“Master, why are you all dressed up in your new robe and hat? Surely this is not fitting wear for a humble village.”
“See how the blossoms have opened on this tree”, the sage replied.
Lai Tan washed quickly, ate a millet cake and put on the blue gown and sash.
It was noon when they rode down into the clearing where the houses lay nestled among the trees. The sound of the lyre and flute rose up to meet them, where young boys and girls in bright costumes were dancing on the green. As they entered the village, the dancers ran to meet them, followed by the headman and the rest of the villagers.
“My Lord, it is years since a magistrate passed through our village; you are most welcome. Let me help you down.”
The sage dismounted and stood unsteadily among the giggling village girls.
“Master, is it seemly to be among these women? We must go to the headman’s house at once.”
The girls liked the look of the young scribe and rushed over to where he stood with the mule. They touched his blue robe and tried to drag him away to the green. The music began again as the young people continued with the spring festival of the new moon.
“Master, what of your teaching about curbing desire?” Lai Tan shouted over the heads of the dancers.
“Time enough for that later,” the sage shouted back gaily as he entered the headman’s house.
“Will you take a cup of herb tea with me, brother?”
“Is the moon not full?” the sage replied. “Let’s talk over old times.”