Monday, 28 July 2014

Deep Dreamless Sleep as a Protophaenomenon in Advaitic Vedanta

Even though I disagree with the basic approach of Professor Evan Thompson in the trailer to his new book due out in the Autumn Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy I found it stimulating dreamless sleep and I thought a summary of the advaitic position as I understand it from the writings of Sankara might be useful.

In the Upanisads the altering of the felt nature of consciousness as it moves through the various modalities of waking, dream, and deep dreamless sleep (sushupti) is central to the understanding of self-nature and self-identity.  Deep Dreamless Sleep is what S.T.Coleridge would have called a protophaenomenon. 
 The naturalist, who cannot or will not  see, that one fact isoften worth a thousand , as including them all in itself,and that it first makes all the others facts ; who has notthe head to comprehend, the soul to reverence, a centralexperiment or observation ( what the Greeks would perhaps have called a protophaenomenon ) ; will never receive an auspicious answer from the oracle of nature.
From Essay VII on thePrinciples of Method.(The Friend)

That is to say D.S. (the knowledge that we have been in a state of dreamless sleep) is like an experiment of consciousness upon itself revealing its own structure. The core of the insight is simple and yet so profound, and so ordinary that it is overlooked. How do we know that we have slept soundly? In brief, that knowledge cannot be the result of an inference. We might infer as to how long we slept but as to the bare fact it is our experience that we are perfectly aware of it without any external aids. Might we not have been told 'you were asleep' upon waking up in our childhood and associated that experience with 'sleep'. That slow emerging into consciousness &c. In other words it is a learned language game. The assumption here is that D.S. is a state of pure blank nescience that has to be inferred in some way. It is obvious that we do not remember that we slept, for it must be an epistemic bedrock that we can only remember what we experienced. That would also apply to chemical traces left in the brain by the state of sleep which are 'read off' on waking. Those traces would be like the multitude of other somatic processes that we don't need to know about. In any case the trace if given as information is given now and is not 'about' then.

That this has never cropped up as a question in Western Philosophy barring a tangential reference by Thomas Reid in a rebuttal of Locke's theory of Identity and then not in the same sense is an indication of how deep the inner ravine of mental subject/mental objects is. The assumption is that if there is no consciousness in D.S. then how we know we were in it must be from an external source. If not, the knowledge should never have occurred at all. There would simply be sensations of tiredness, a blessed abatement of consciousness and that succeeded by the slow ascension to the waking state. In between there would be nothing.

Sankara and Ramana Maharshi stress this indication of the fact that - "the knowledge of the knower is never lost”.

Brhadaranyaka Upanisad:
That it does not know in that state is because, though knowing then, it does not know; for the knower's function of knowing can never be lost, because it is imperishable. But there is not that second thing separate from it which it can know.
IV.iii.30 trans. Swami Madhavananda pub.Advaita Ashrama.

In the Commentary Sankara deals with some objections which he goes into in a more detailed way in Upadesasahasri untrammelled by linkage to a text. Remember he is approaching it from the objection to the eternal nature of knowledge and its identity with the self, his philosophic milieu was broadly nondualistic so the fact of the knowledge that we have been in a state of deep dreamless sleep is not in dispute.

#92: Disciple: -"But I have shown an exception, namely, I have
no consciousness in deep sleep."
#93. Teacher.-" No, you contradict yourself."
            Disciple - "How is it a contradiction?"
            Teacher.-" You contradict yourself by saying that you are
not conscious when , as a matter of fact, you are so."
            Disciple. - "But Sir, I was never conscious of
consciousness or of anything else in deep sleep."
            Teacher. - "You are then conscious in deep sleep.  For you deny the existence of the objects of knowledge (in that state) but not
that of Knowledge.  I have told you that what is your consciousness is nothing but absolute Knowledge.  The Consciousness owing to whose presence you deny (the existence of things in deep sleep) by saying, `I was conscious of nothing is the Knowledge, the Consciousness which is your Self.  As it never ceases to exist, Its eternal immutability is self-evident and does not depend on any evidence; for an object of Knowledge different from the self-evident Knower depends on an evidence in order to be known.  Other than the object the eternal Knowledge that is indispensable in proving non-conscious things different from Itself, is immutable; for It is always of a self-evident nature.  Just as iron, water, etc., which are not of the nature of light and heat, depend for them on the sun, fire and other things other than themselves, but the sun and fire, themselves always of the nature of light and heat, do not depend for them on anything else; so being of the nature of pure Knowledge, It does not depend on any evidence to prove that It exists or that It is the Knower."
(from Upadesa Sahasri tran.Swami Jagadananda pub.Sri Ramakrishna Math)

In short we are conscious in deep sleep for we can say - 'I was conscious of nothing'. To throw this idea aside as a species of trifling sophistry is a temptation given that we are so much under the sway of the contents of consciousness picture of awareness - no contents, no awareness.

The significance of the bare fact as explained through an analogy struck me in the way that analogies often will. We feel their explanatory power more than we understand them in that they baffle the system of thought that we are at the moment using. It works like a wisdom virus unmaking our ignorance.

Tripura Rahasya or The Wisdom beyond the Trinity was where I encountered it. Though famous in Sanskrit; Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi regarded it as one of the greatest works expounding the Advaitic philosophy, it was not available in English, a fact which he regretted.  A devotee translated it and the ashram have since taken over the copyright.  It is a most peculiar work. Allegory is mixed with legend and deep reflection on the nature of reality and the sorts of samadhi.  Scholars distinguish it from Advaita Vedanta and ally it to the system called the Tantric or the Sakta.
However in both systems the favourite example of the world being an image reflected in consciousness as images in a mirror is used.
  -"Distinguish between the changeless truth and the changeful untruth and scrutinise the world comprised of these two factors, changeful phenomena and changeless subjective consciousness, like the unchanging light of the mirror and the changing images in it". pg. 86 Tr.Ra.

            Further down page 124/5 in Tr.Ra. the mirror analogy is carried on into the state of Deep Sleep.  It is given in the form of a dialogue between the sage King Janaka and a Brahmin interlocutor.
-"O King, if it is as you say that the mind made passive by elimination of thoughts is quite pure and capable of manifesting Supreme Consciousness, then sleep will do it by itself, since it satisfies your condition and there is no need for any kind of effort".
            Thus questioned by the Brahmin youth, the King replied,
  -"I will satisfy you on this point.  Listen carefully.  The mind is truly abstracted in sleep.  But then its light is screened by darkness, so how can it manifest its true nature?  A mirror covered with tar does not reflect images but can it reflect space either?  Is it enough, in that case, that images are eliminated in order to reveal the space reflected in the mirror?  In the same manner, the mind is veiled by the darkness of sleep and rendered unfit for illumining thoughts.  Would such eclipse of the mind reveal the glimmer of consciousness?.........

Moreover pursue the analogy of the tarred mirror.  The tar may prevent the images from being seen, but the quality of the mirror is not affected, for the outer coating of tar must be reflected in the interior of the mirror.  So also the mind, though diverted from dreams and wakefulness, is still in the grip of dark sleep and not free from qualities.  This is evident by the recollection of the dark ignorance of sleep when one wakes".
(Pgs.124/5 Tripura Rahasya. tran. Swami Ramananda Saraswathi.publ.
Sri Ramanasramam)
The image of the tarred mirror was the crystallising one. The quiescence of the physical brings a natural darkness to the awareness of the individual but the nature of the pervading consciousness does not change.

I still hold to the view that 'recollection' is not correct for the immediate knowledge that we have on waking that we were asleep. It is that peculiar sort of knowledge that we cannot not know.  It might be said that what we cannot not know we cannot know either.  There is no coming or going in that awareness it always is.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Philosophy V Science: Positively Final Rematch

Christian Coseru is worried that Philosophy is not putting its hand up enough with an answer in the scientific sense. whither Indian Philosophy It’s at the back of the class in a reverie conjuring strange shapes out of the motes of chalk dust. To me that seems, no, actually is, a misapprehension. Suppose an astronomer said ‘I’m a Copernican really or there’s something to be said for epicycles’ people would say ‘that’s old Brian having a laugh’. On the other hand if a philosopher were to claim ‘I’m a Platonist’ (like Michael Jubien) or Bradley wasn’t all wrong you know, that would be normal. Philosophical theories do not get exploded by new data. Granted the corners may be knocked off but the judicious application of filler and careful sanding will leave them as good as new. Panpsychism and dualism are back and have respectable proponents. The late Professor Sprigge offered A Vindication of Absolute Idealism.

Of Science you could say ‘eppur si muove’. Philosophy remains in the kingdom of the undead.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Israeli Ear Defence

The Iron Dome system works and that’s a good thing. More people are being killed by kicks from camels than by Hamas rockets. The disproportion of being actually killed and being annoyed by sirens could be avoided by the issuing of ear defenders to all Israelis. If they were wireless adapted then soothing messages could be transmitted all the way to the underground shelters.

- 'You are the front line of defence against a vast conspiracy which is well funded. They hate modernity and want to undermine civilisation as we know it. Their insidious tendrils of power reach everywhere, made efficacious by unlimited oil money. They must be eliminated. '

Hamas on the other hand could devise messages with their rockets in the manner of fireworks that would display as they were exploded in the sky. Conciliatory greetings like ‘mazel tov’ or ‘shabat shalom’ might be effective.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Israeli Logic

There’s a logic to the Israeli bombardment. No mistakes are made. ‘There were munitions in that mosque therefore we shelled it. That hospital we shelled also had munitions.’ This reminds me of Lefty the assassin in Donnie Brasco who justifies whacking Nicky:

Nicky was a rat because Sonny Black says he was a rat

There is no need to offer proof and as far as I know none has ever been offered.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Tomatoes of Wrath

After the settlers would be evicted from Gaza people thought that the greenhouses could be turned over to the Palestinian incomers. They weren’t going to be given away, business is business after all, so the effort was made to buy them. Those that weren’t sold were burned by their owners and the others were left for use. The first thing Hamas did on taking over the Gaza strip was to destroy all of them. Wise people shook their heads sadly saying ‘there, savages, self-destructive lunatics’ and so on and so forth’. So subsidised greenhouses built on grabbed land by their oppressors and sold to further enrich their oppressors should have been gratefully received by the Palestinians. How often does food have to be pissed on before it becomes inedible?

So the struggle goes on and the name of it is - we won’t get into those trucks, not even with two suitcases. You will have to kill us right here on the street.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

The epigraph to the novel is taken from Kierkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death
… the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair.

This observation from Henri Bergson might also be apt:
The application of the cinematographical method therefore leads to a perpetual recommencement, during which the mind, never able to satisfy itself and never finding where to rest, persuades itself, no doubt, that it imitates by its instability the very movement of the real. 
(from Creative Evolution)

Binx Bolling is the star of this novel (pub. 1961, won National Book Award) and therefore the narrator. He has his own way of grasping the real which involves the movie certifying the area.

She refers to a phenomenon of moviegoing which I have called certification. Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.

The movie in the book is Panic in the Streets with Richard Widmark and the neighbourhood of the theater is shown in the movie. It was filmed in New Orleans. So if it happened that he was in the village of Cong and he watched the movie The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara which was shot in Cong and its surrounds then Cong would be certified for him. ‘Begod you could get yourself certified after that’.

His various ways of repossessing the reality from which he is alienated are amusing and yet wistful. Our of coincidence and synchronicity he fashions a fate. Or would that be ‘syntopicity’? His Aunt really his Grand-Aunt Emily is the moral centre of the novel and her home is in the elite section of the city. This is the ‘area’ which represents the duties of privilege and giving something back and Binx can’t stand living there. It’s a ‘location vocation’ thing. No he must reside in good middle class Gentilly, ply his stocks and bonds and develop his inherent knack of making money. His Uncle by marriage Jules has set him up in an office there. To keep up his own sense of worth he tells us, his readers, that he is a seeker but yet he wakes early with a firm intention of amending his stock in American Motors. We notice here the double author irony which is deftly wrought. There’s a lot of that.

This is a complex novel that is saved from its existentalist influences by having a sense of humour. It is beautifully written and at 185 pages has a compression that aspires to poetry. Writing this little note I found myself being drawn back into it and finding new corners. What is the nature of Binx’s relationship to Kate his quasi sister though no blood relation having being raised with her from childhood after his father died? Is there a kink in it? He seems to have spent years in the up country house depending on the kindness of relatives. Yes’m.

My purpose here is incitement to read and I never like saying too much that would rob the reader of their personal meeting with a work of art. It’s an American classic which seems not to have crossed the Atlantic. I cannot recall ever having seen a first or second hand copy of it. Get sand in it.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Taking a Leaf from Taylor's Book.

There are several missing pages from the scanned copy of Elements of Metaphysics by A.E. Taylor (Cornell U.). Whether they were abstracted by a student for special study or by accidental loss it is interesting to see what was on them. I hereunder consider pages 254/5 :
It begins:
#8, The question now is, whether the whole of the spatial and temporal construction is more than imperfect and therefore contradictory, appearance.

The argument proceeds quite briskly. Our view of space and time is conditioned by our very own here and now. The Absolute which alone has the grasp of the fullness of reality is not limited by the perceptual data on which our concepts are based.

For Reality, for the absolute experience, must be a complete individual whole, with the ground of all its differentiations within itself.

It is a while since I looked at Peter Strawson’s Individuals. I recall that he too viewed the here and now as the basis of our conceptual schema and that this was irreducible or what he called primitive. I don’t remember him having any truck with ‘Reality’. He certainly wouldn’t have brought it up in the Common Room. One can imagine embarrassed coughing and the energetic stuffing of pipes.

Taylor adds to his necessary elimination of the personal view by the comprehensive.

Perceptual space and time are aggregates of lesser parts, which are themselves spaces and times; thus they are relations between terms, each of which contains the same relation once more in itself, and so imply the now familiar infinite regress.

Strawson stops this backward reeling with his notion of the primitive.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Thomas Reid on Remembrance

Why sensation should compel our belief of the present existence of the thing, memory a belief of its past existence, and imagination no belief at all, I believe no philosopher can give a shadow of reason, but that such is the nature of these operations: They are all simple and original, and therefore inexplicable acts of the mind.
Thomas Reid: An Inquiry into the Human Mind, on the Priciples of Common Sense

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


Similarly, in the case of remembrance, he who remembers being also the one who saw, the two are identical. Thus only can a person, after shutting his eyes, remember the forms he has seen before, just as he saw them. Therefore that is is shut is not the seer; but that which, when the eyes are shut, sees forms in remembrance, must have been the seer when the eyes were open. This is further proved by the fact that when the body is dead, no vision takes place although the body is intact. If the body itself were the seer, even a dead body would continue to see and do similar functions. Therefore it is clear that the real agent of seeing etc. is not the body, but that whose absence deprives the body of the power of vision, and whose presence gives it that power.

Objection: Suppose the eyes and other organs themselves were the agents of vision and so forth

Reply: No: the remembrance that one is touching the very thing that one has seen, would be impossible is there were different agents for these two acts

Objection: Then let us say, it is the mind.

Reply: No, the mind also, being an object like colour etc cannot be the agent of vision and so forth. Therefore we conclude that the light in question is inside the body, and yet different from it like the sun etc.
Brh.Up. IV.iii.6

That Similarly in the case of remembrance, he who remembers being also the one who saw, the two are identical. is the answer to ‘how do you know’ you are the same. No empiricist thinks that ‘I just know’ is an answer because it is a fundamental stance that a demand for a reason must be met with evidence of some sort. I know I was the one who found the wallet because I remember the wallet being found and oh yes i remember it was me that found it. Such an account is not convincing in the least. In fact no one offers a reason because they don’t need one. They may feel that they could but when they try they fail.

The remark about a dead body not being aware is based on the assumption that the life force which is identified with consciousness and the self is not present. A body on its own is not sufficient for awareness. This may seem obvious and hardly an argument but the point is that like in the case of remembrance being a remembrance no argument is required. We just know that a dead body is a dead body.

Is this armchair philosophy or fatuous maundering compared to neuroscience? I think of it as ‘asana’ philosophy after the meditation sitting position. There is no grasping of the self because there is no need. Neuroscience tries to offer evidence for our self-identity but none is required. Any mental state whatever is saturated in self-identity.