I saw this story in today's NYT, about scientists baffled by the nature of glass, and it sparked some Taoist thoughts.
First, I thought: a Taoist might not ask that question. Glass is hard; it simply is. As to why, Chuang Tzu might reply in the same way he replied when Hui Tzu asked him about human nature: Tao gives us shape and heaven gives us form (77), which may be a fancy way of saying, "it just is."
That, then, led to other questions as to whether a Taoist would ever pursue scientific research. I would not answer categorically "yes" or "no," since Taoism generally eschews categorical thinking. Perhaps if one's Integrity (te) inspired such inquiry, it would not violate Way. And, of course, historically, Taoists, especially religious Taoists, were great alchemists and physicians, which are obviously outgrowths of a kind of scientific inquiry.
The fact that something so seemingly simple - the causes of the hardness of glass - still is a mystery to modern science would be pleasing to a Taoist, I think. For all of our technology and all of our theories and all of our effort, there are still facets of Way that escape our knowledge. Way is vast.
And then this line from the newspaper story caught my eye:
"A glass is an example, probably the simplest example, of the truly complex,” Dr. Harrowell, the University of Sydney professor, said.
That contrast of simple and complex brought passage 63 of the Tao Te Ching to mind:
If you're nothing doing what you do,
you act without acting
and savor without savoring,
you render the small vast and the few many,
use Integrity to repay hatred,
see the complexity in simplicity,
find the vast in the minute.
The complex affairs of all beneath heaven are there in simplicity,
and the vast affairs of all beneath heaven are there in the minute.
That's why a sage never bothers with vastness
and so becomes utterly vast.
Easy promises breed little trust,
and too much simplicity breeds too much complexity.
That's why a sage inhabits the complexity of things
and so avoids all complexity.
So, to solve the problem of why glass is hard the scientists just have to be nothing doing what they do..... That's all.