Is the Ear Less Reliable than the Eye? ——About the Story of Jiao Wei Qin by Gu Junzheng ~ 顾均正 《耳闻不如一见——从焦尾琴谈起》 with English Translations

作品原文

顾均正 《耳闻不如一见——从焦尾琴谈起》

在郭老新编的话剧“蔡文姬”里,提到了蔡文姬的父亲蔡邕(yōng)所造的那张焦尾琴。最近我看了“蔡文姬”的演出,自然而然想起了焦尾琴,想起了关于焦尾琴的故事:

蔡邕因为不愿趋附权贵,怕被人陷害,曾经亡命江南,往来于吴会之间(今江、浙一带),计十二年。据说他在吴(今苏州)的时候,有一天听见邻家烧饭的柴火中发出一种爆裂的声音,他熟悉这种声音,知道这声音来自一种极好的桐木,这种桐木是造琴的最好材料。他就跟邻家主人商量,把这段烧焦了的桐木要了来,造成一张琴。这张琴弹起来果然非常好听。因为它的一端是烧焦的,所以大家都叫它焦尾琴。

当我想起这个故事的时候,使我对“耳闻不如目见”这句成语不能不有所怀疑。的确,我们认识这个物质世界,有时候不是用眼睛来看而是用耳朵来听的。蔡邕能够从木材燃烧时发出的爆裂声来辨别木材的好坏,充分说明了“耳闻”不一定“不如目见”。当然,“耳闻不如目见”这句话的原意是指间接经验不如直接经验那样可靠,这是完全正确的。但是,如果对这句话只是从字面上来理解,认为耳朵听到的总不如眼睛看见的那样可靠,那对耳朵来说,却是极大的冤枉。

我们应该承认,眼睛是直接经验的主要来源,可是我们也承认,眼睛是最会骗人的。举一个极普通的例子来说,我们大家觉得早晨的太阳比中午的太阳大得多,可是如果你用照相机给太阳在早晨和中午各照一个相,你就会发现摄得的相片是一样大小的。谁会想到,在这个每天接触到的日常现象上,从古到今,无论是什么人,无论在什么地方,都一直在受着眼睛的骗?并且骗得我们好苦,不但古代的大学问家如孔子,没有能回答为什么早晨的太阳看起来会大于中午的太阳,连现代的科学家,对这个问题也不曾有一个令人十分满意的解释。这个现象对迷信眼睛的人来说,是一个有力的讽刺。

当然,我们这样说,并不是要否定眼睛的作用。我们只是说明,眼睛虽然有非常广阔的活动范围,可是它是有缺点的。我们不能迷信眼睛,小看了耳朵的作用。

耳朵的活动范围虽然小,可是它的作用也不只是听听讲话,听听音乐。它还有其他的特殊功用。在某种场合,它不但无愧于“以耳代目”这句话,而且比眼睛做得更好。

英文译文

Is the Ear Less Reliable than the Eye?
——About the Story of Jiao Wei Qin
Gu Junzheng

In the play CaiWenji, newly written by venerable Guo Moruo, reference is made to jiao wen qin,a zithern partly made of scorched wood by Cai Yong, father of Cai Wenji.Recently, after I saw the play on the stage, my mind naturally went to jiao wenqin and its story.

Cai Yong dislikedplaying up to bigwigs and, to avoid frame-ups, he went into exile in the South,wandering about for twelve years in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces. It is saidthat one day during his stay in Suzhou when he heard the crackling of firewoodfrom his next-door neighbour at cooking time, he knew the familiar sound camefrom paulownia, a kind of choice wood best for making zitherns. Now, talking itover with his neighbour, he was given the piece of scorched wood, which hesubsequently made into a zithern. This musical instrument, when played, turnedout to be extremely pleasant to the ear. People called it jiao wei qin becausethe tail of its sound-board was made of scorched wood.

When I think ofthe story, I cannot help having doubts about the validity of the proverb,“Seeing is better than hearing.” Fact is, to know the material world, wesometimes use not the eye, but the ear. That Cai Yong could tell the quality ofwood by listening to its crackling sound while it was burning in the kitchenstove makes it crystal clear that “hearing” is not necessarily less reliablethat “seeing”. The above-mentioned proverb literally means that secondhandexperience is less reliable than firsthand experience, which is perfectly true.But, if we should take this saying at its face value and regard the ear asinvariably less reliable than the eye, we shall do the former a grossinjustice.

While we agreethat the eye is the main source of direct experience, we must admit that it isalso most misleading. Take a most common example. We all agree that the sun ismuch bigger in the early morning than at noon. But if we take a photo of it inthe early morning and at noon respectively, we shall find it of the same sizein both cases. Who would have thought that, when it comes to this commonphenomenon in our daily life, people the world over should have been fooled bytheir own eyes ever since time immemorial? The optical illusion has indeedlanded us in indescribable trouble. Not only were great ancient sages likeConfucius stumped by the question why the sun was seemingly bigger in the earlymorning than at noon, even scientists of today have failed to give a whollysatisfactory explanation. This is a keen satire on those having blind faith inthe eye.

Of course I do notmean to deny the role played by the eye. All I want to show is that althoughthe eye has an extremely wide scope of activities, it is, nevertheless, farfrom being faultless. We should, therefore, never over-trust the eye andunderestimate the usefulness of the ear.

Although the earhas a smaller scope of activities, its functions are not confined to listeningto conversation or music only. It has other specific functions of its own.Under certain circumstances, it is not only worthy of the saying, “Let the eardo duty for the eye,” it can even excel the eye.

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