What i have called recreation could also be called renovation – as in the ancient Chinese classic The Great Learning. According to this text, ‘the way of learning to be great (or adult education) consists in manifesting the clear character, loving the people, and abiding in the highest good’ (Chan 1963, 86). And according to Ch’eng, a Chinese editor of the text, ‘loving the people’ should be read as ‘renovating the people.’
The inscription on the bath-tub of King T’ang read, ‘If you can renovate yourself one day, then you can do so every day, and keep doing so day after day.’ In the ‘Announcement of K’ang,’ it is said, ‘Arouse people to become new.’ The Book of Odes says, ‘Although Chou is an ancient state, the mandate it has received from Heaven is new.’ Therefore, the superior man tries at all times to do his utmost [in renovating himself and others].(Chan 1963, 87)
Even the most conservative guidance systems require constant renewal; a wholly predictable life is hardly sustainable by human beings. This is the price we pay for being adaptive systems: in order to realize our nature, we require a constant infusion of new circumstances to which we can adapt, or else new ways of adapting (even though the old ways serve their purpose well enough). For us, it seems, a life submerged in routine amounts to death. Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is first of all a change, motivated by dissatisfaction with the status quo. As Polanyi (1962, 18) puts it, ‘time and again men have become exasperated with the loose ends of current thought and have changed over to another system, heedless of similar deficiencies within that new system.’ N.O. Brown’s last book, Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis, begins with the following inscription:
And be not conformed to this world [be nonconformists]; but be ye transformed [metamorphose yourselves] by the renewing of your mind.— Brown’s translation [with his glosses] of Romans 12.2
Just as recreation is creative, renovation is innovative. In their study of conceptual blending, Fauconnier and Turner (2002, 299) focus on the specifically human aspect of this: ‘in double-scope networks we see the new and fascinating phenomenon of innovation, which is unique to cognitively modern human beings.’ ‘Modern’ here applies to an evolutionary time scale, not to the scale on which we see human history, where centuries and even decades are distinct. But evolution is itself a story about the constant (though irregular) generation of new life forms. What then is so new about the ‘phenomemon of innovation’? Apparently Fauconnier and Turner are referring to deliberate innovation. Only ‘cognitively modern’ humans can consider possibilities before they are realized and tested for their viability, and can carry out the testing consciously, deliberately. Cognitive innovations are like the seeds of newly renovated habits, which have to be consciously selected and ‘cultivated’ in order to grow.
The Great Learning also prescribes that ‘From the Son of Heaven down to the common people, all must regard cultivation of the personal life as the root or foundation’ (Chan, 87) – presumably the ‘foundation’ of social life and good government. As Polanyi (1962) might have put it: all knowledge of any value to society is personal knowledge.