Getting to know… Weimo Liu


A series introducing the Visiting Scholars & Fellows in residence at HYI this year

Weimo Liu (Associate Professor, Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24)
“A Comparative Study of the Cosmologies in Ancient Greece and China”

What got you interested in your research topic?

My project at HYI 2023-24 is researching comparative cosmologies between ancient Greece and China. It has taken me a long time to get into this field. I did my B.A. in Philosophy and M.A. in Religion, during which time I developed an interest in Kant, the phenomenologists (e.g. Husserl and Heidegger), Wittgenstein, and ancient philosophy, as I wanted to better understand the roots of Western civilization.

I then completed my M.Phil. at the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge, UK. At that time, I had two choices for my research topic – music or place/space. My supervisor, David N. Sedley, suggested the latter and advised me to start by reading Aristotle’s De Caelo (On the Heavens), which became my “formal” start to ancient cosmologies. At that time, my tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge, was Liba Taub, who was also the Director of the Department of the History of Science and Curator of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. This provided me opportunities to delve into the history of science, such as ancient astronomy and meteorology.

Cambridge is in a sense a center for comparative studies between ancient Greece and China, because of the Needham Institute and also because of the great influence of G.E.R. Lloyd. While I was there, the Needham Institute happened to be holding a conference to celebrate Sir Lloyds’ 80th birthday. Distinguished scholars in that field from Europe and the United States came to attend and deliver speeches. Although I was concentrating on studying Greek philosophy, in retrospect I think that event planted some seeds of doing comparative studies in my heart.

When I graduated from Sun Yat-sen University with a Ph.D. thesis on Aristotle’s cosmology, I was thirty years old. I realized that I had some understanding of ancient Western thought, but was confused about ancient Chinese thought. Specifically on cosmology, I basically could not understand the ancient Chinese astronomy and its cosmological, so I decided to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to study Chinese astronomy. I hope that by the time I am 40, I will “no longer suffer from perplexities”. (cf. Confucius says: “At thirty, I had planted my feet firmly on the ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities.)

Nowadays, my research at the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences basically focuses on two main parts: one is ancient Greek philosophy, mostly on Plato’s and Aristotle’s natural philosophies; the other is comparative studies, including cosmologies and mechanics, medicine and body theories, as well as music and perceptual theories. As I said in my application to HYI, antiquity for me always functions as a method, and Greek and Chinese theories and practices offer me different perspectives.

Outside of work, where can we find you?

I love classical music and watching movies. You can find me at Symphony Hall and the New England Conservatory in Boston, as well as the Harvard Film Archive and Brattle Theater in Cambridge.

What would you want to do most as a career if you were not in academia?

In my current work, I deal with “arguments” almost every day. But the older I am, the more I realize the limitations of words. I am not sure that language’s ability to connect and improve mutual understanding can overcome its role in deception, pretense, and increasing conflict. If I had a different career path, I would want to focus on non-verbal forms of expression and storytelling.

I find the work of architects, exhibition curators, and conductors to be very compelling. A good architect is always dealing with the relations among human, natural environment and artificial objects, while her creature can not only realize its function, but also either improve intimate relationships or incubate and build a healthy community. Being a reflective curator, she can bring new perspective to the collection and the space, encouraging museums to tell stories which haven’t told before. A conductor for me is both like Hermes in Greek mythology and a magician. As a magician, she is turning everything physical into emotions and psychic turbulence. As Hermes, she conveys messages between the divine realms (a soundscape realized by musicians’ live performance), the underworld (the absent composers), and the world of mortals (the present audience), guiding us to have a glimpse of the transcendent and creating an utopia which cannot be realized in our secular world. I am still dreaming of being a conductor one day. Probably I will come back to Boston to learn conducting. Or I can combine all above options, joining a multi-disciplinary media lab to be a multi-media designer. Who knows?

Read Prof. Liu’s bio on our website!

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