In Feng Shui Made Easy, William Spear explained “the interplay between ‘us’ and ‘other'” as the philosophy of feng shui. Spear also declared that humans are above the limits of the physical world.

We are not just a bag of bones and tissues ruled by certain limiting ‘scientific’ constructs such as calories, gravity, and other conceptual dogma….We control our own energy.

This sounds very different from Daoists exclaiming “The world is my body!” and “The unspoiled self is one with itself and nature.”

Why doesn’t Spear’s philosophy agree with the Daoists’? Shouldn’t the philosophies be the same, or at least similar?

The philosophy Spear advocates is not Chinese or even Asian. It is the philosophy of Plato. And Decartes.

Say the word and it will set you free

Plato was the first to consider matter as inherently evil because it resists the Idea, the perfect form — which was the Logos in later Christian interpretations of Platonism.

Neo-Platonism argues that the soul is chained to the body and one needs to rise above this gross matter that computer wonks call meatspace (meaning your body).

Platonic thought appeals to New Agers because it envisions a world of unchanging reality — a “more real” world — beyond the unpredictable, and often messy, world we live in. Embracing this notion is like being an extreme fan of “The Matrix” — believing that some Hollywood movie reflects true life.

The Dalai Lama, writing in Ethics for the New Millennium, suggests that acknowledging the difference between perception and reality should not push us to such extremes. We are courting madness to think that behind the phenomenal world lurks another that is somehow more real.

The problem with this … is that we may then dismiss everyday experience as nothing but an illusion. This would be quite wrong … the sharp distinction we make between self and others arises largely as a result of conditioning.

The Dalai Lama says that the “us and other” idea is an exaggeration. Spear’s ideas do not necessarily imply a situation that exists. Just because you can think about unicorns doesn’t mean you will ever meet one.

Don’t let yourself be “conditioned” by illusions such as Spear’s. There is no reason to create more Cartesian anxiety than you already have.

Dangerous illusions

The idea that humans can control their energy creates the dangerous notion that we’re somehow different from everything else in the universe. This is not what Daoists believe. Daoists embraced the idea that we’re built from stardust, long before anyone could prove it — Spear’s philosophy ignores that fact at all costs.

Even worse, you can push your illusion of difference — Spear’s “the interplay of ‘us’ and ‘other'” — to the point where you think any creature that doesn’t have your specialness should be assigned a lesser value or even demonized.

If we think we are liberated from “conceptual dogma,” we’ve eliminated traditional moral imperatives to treat everything and everyone with respect.

Because they may not be “special” to the extent you are, you could define other humans, and all of nature, as living tools (to use Aristotle’s term) or automatons (to use Descartes’ term) and believe your specialness gives you the right to use them any way you please. You may believe you are so special it doesn’t matter whether what you do contributes to the pain and suffering of others. You may believe your specialness gives you the right to force others to behave and believe the way you prefer. You may believe your specialness gives you the right to enslave, kill, and vivisect other creatures.

Possessing and controlling is like breathing to Americans and Europeans. Our “specialness” typically takes the form of colonialism. We don’t ask whether a culture would be interested in our superior form of civilization — we have no respect for cultures who aren’t like us. We aren’t the least troubled about forcing our way of life on someone else simply because they are “other.”

Even worse, because we believe our victims are inferior, if the imposition of “superior civilization” is a disaster, we’ll blame the other culture! This is dogmatic presumption, no different than Spear’s philosophy of people controlling their own energy. Alan Watts says it best:

Only Westerners ‘conquer’ or ‘control’ mountains, space, or nature. To Chinese and Japanese ears these are grotesque expressions.

Schizophrenic feng shui

Spear’s “you can control your energy” philosophy influences us to believe that material gain can supply us with total satisfaction. No wonder that people who have enough money but remain unsatisfied keep asking for activation of their so-called money corner.

People who try living the “us and other” philosophy make themselves and others miserable. Alan Watts identified it as “a kind of schizophrenia.” When you believe the world is something separate from you, at some point emptiness and disillusionment creep into your thoughts. Jane Hope, in The Secret Language of the Soul, identifies this as “spiritual listlessness,” which the ancients called “loss of soul.” This loss of soul drives people to embrace any belief that will ease the pain — this is how New Age marketing works, by the way.

Why do so many of Spear’s fellow authors embrace Plato’s philosophy to sell books about an alleged “ancient Chinese art of placement”? Physician Robert Dottesman (quoted in Candace Pert’s biography) thinks he has the answer.

Westerners are used to hearing force-energy-matter as a metaphor. While that’s good enough for building infrastructure (bridges, railways—even bombs), it’s not very useful for understanding the world since the development of quantum theory, chaos theory, or advances in medicine — in other words, most scientific work of the 20th century.

It comforts Spear and his colleagues to stay with Plato. They might be able to pronounce the words of 20th- and 21st-century science, but the science frightens them. It looks too much like traditional Asian philosophy.

Scientific journals from Nature to Immunology have been saying for more than 20 years that your mind does not dominate your body — your mind is your body. The Dalai Lama agrees that there is no “pure sensation without any accompanying cognitive event.” Science corroborates the Daoists exclaiming “The world is my body!”

When science shows the real world functions more like Asian thought and you are not comfortable with that, what do you do? You retreat into a comfort zone — in this case, you put an exotic face on old Western thinking. You use the modern words in the context of a worldview that was swept away at the end of the 19th century.

Thinking is hard work

How can New Age, and New Age feng shui, make its way to the 21st century? By actually embracing Asian thought, instead of deriding it as superstition (it’s explained that way in most feng shui books). By understanding that the Five Elements (wuxing) function as metaphors for how the world works. Wuxing does not mean the Platonic “elements” — that is, they are not necessarily physical substances. Think of wuxing as processes. That’s why a more realistic translation is “the Five Phases.”

“Physical processes aren’t things, they are dynamic and take place in a open, fluid system,” Dottesman suggests. That is how to think about the Five Phases. Physical processes behave more like a metaphor of information.

The Five Phases are a way to think about information. Information doesn’t depend on space, time, matter, or energy. Dottesman advises that if you want to get closer to the truth of how the world works, think information theory.

That is, think Five Element Theory

Think of Bohm’s theory of implicate order where you learn to view everything as part of “Undivided Wholeness in Flowing Movement.” Think of Santiago Theory of cognition. Or autopoeisis.

Just don’t wait for most feng shui “experts” to catch up.

You can test Spear’s “limiting scientific constructs” theory

Do you believe Spear when he says humans are not ruled by calories? Then you can stop eating for six months.

Do you believe that you are not ruled by gravity? Then jump into the air and hold your position midair for five minutes.