The post Chinese Philosophy: the yin aspects of the sun discusses what the yin and yang properties of the sun are according to Daoism.

  1. What is the explanatory value of yin and yang, what is explained when considering the sun from the dichotomic viewpoint of yin and yang?

  2. In case you can indicate some explanatory value: Do yin and yang explain a property of the sun taken as a heavenly body, or do they explain how humans experience the sun?

  3. In case the explanation holds for the sun as a heavenly body: Does the explanation also hold for all other stars? - As we know there is no qualitative difference between the sun and all other stars.

2 Answers 2


The question of "what is the explanatory value of yin and yang" is quite a profound one. The ancient Chinese viewed the entire universe from the perspective of yin and yang. Unfortunately for Western philosophers, history has shown that the meanings and explanatory value of the terms are remarkably hard to convey in English in a few paragraphs. It has been tried many times, to no effect, so I will not try to do so here. I will, however, do my best to capture some portion of its essence, within my limited understanding.

The explanatory value of yin and yang is that those two were considers universals. Everything was believed to use them, and in basically the same way. The Chinese used yin and yang not just to explain the sun itself, which could be explained one of many ways, but also to allow the Chinese to explain things about themselves by observing the sun. It also allowed them to relate this to others. Many things associated with oneself are hard to describe to others. Through the metaphor of sun and moon, daytime and nighttime, Chinese found ways to arrive at a common meaning for the words yin and yang, allowing them to use them to communicate.

Your second question is very perceptive. Describing the yang side of the sun is really more akin to describing one's experience of the sun. Given that we all (currently) live under the same sun, that is a human experience of the sun, and it was treated as a universal experience to the Chinese philosophers.

All stars would be considered to have a balance of yin and yang, just like the sun. But that's no more profound than saying "Water is water." The Chinese believed everything balanced yin and yang. However, because human experience is involved, they would treat stars different. Nobody on Earth would feel the raw power of any star besides sol, so the yang-heavy balance of a star would be of more academic nature... we simply wouldn't perceive much of it. However, send a Chinese person schooled in this philosophy to one of our newfound exo-planets, and they would immediately asset that the star is very yang heavy. They would do this not because they know sol was yang heavy, and this star was like sol, but they would instead do it simply because they perceive the star as very yang heavy.


The explanatory value of mythological tropes is of a different nature than that of scientific facts. Humans construct internal mythological models, whatever the source material. In fact most of those who think they are working from a scientific model of the world have just assembled metaphors afforded by scientific facts into a mythology.

The specific Daoist imagery around yin and yang embodies specific messages that are of value, among them: 1) Weakness and incompetence are largely illusory, and apparently weak behavior is often adaptive leverage that simply works more slowly and involves a broader range of action. 2) All strength involves some underlying weakness and actually derives its ability to persist from the flexibility imparted by that weakness. 3) But without looking within the weakness for the underlying strength and within the strength for the underlying weakness one may often be legitimately weak or unexpectedly fragile.

You can get the same message from metallurgy, if you want, via a different kind of metaphor. But that is just constructing mythology out of science: Annealing gives you a basis for a metaphor. It does not actually say that, or mean it, it just makes the impression stick. And the fact this can be embedded in a more modernist framework does not mean those messages are not reasonably communicated by this directly mythological trope.

It does not matter which thing you take as a metaphor, this particular message is so broad as to be buried within any situation that involves durability or power. So you can look at the sun as a physical object, and find the metaphor reflected that way, or you can look at the Classical Chinese interpretation of the sun through human experience that appears in the framings of the Yi Jing. They both net the same insight, if you just take up the framing. And you can also look at any other star. The meaning might be easier to capture if that star happens to have a planet around it with life on it. But that is not truly necessary. For that matter, you can look at your own exercise regiment, or at the fish in a koi pond, and find the same message.

From a Jungian perspective, a lot of our shared psychology evidences archetypes like this. In the West, the elements, the layering of worlds, the sequence of aspects, etc. from Alchemy, Astrology and Kabbalah are equally not nonsense. They don't realistically predict anything. They are not physical facts, or even 'spiritual truths'. But they encode messages that are easily shared, and that can be used easily to greater psychological effect than more correct facts.

When a computer scientist takes up a pattern like Model-View-Controler, 90% of the intuition here is captured in the Astrological notion of the three aspects: that the durable aspect of something (the Model, its Fixed Nature), the representation of it (the View, its Mutable Nature), and the mechanism of control it affords (the Controller, its Cardinal Nature) are best understood separately, even though they are different perspectives on the same interaction. By not mixing them, they will be easier to communicate. This is not really 'true' in any deep way, but it is conducive to human psychology.

And when the Japanese and Korean car industries decide to adopt a hyper-egalitarian, just-in-time approach that disowns specialist knowledge and explicit strategy and empowers the random worker on the assembly line, it is invoking an acknowledgement of yin, and the understanding that human mastery of machines needs to employ both forms of power.

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