Monday, 19 October 2015

Evan Thompson on the 'memory' of having been in a state of deep dreamless sleep.

Sankara talks of the knowledge of having been in a state of deep dreamless sleep (d.s.) as a memory in his commentary on Brh.Up. IV.iii.6:

We see also that the purpose of a light is served in dreams, as, for instance, meeting and parting from friends, and going to other places, etc.; and we awake from deep sleep with the remembrance that we slept happily and knew nothing. Therefore there exists some extraneous light.

Evan Thompson in his paper #37 open mind papers (commentary by Jennifer Windt and E.T's reply_ in epub and pdf)
on the neuroscientific implications of the knowledge that we have been in a state of deep sleep concludes that being in a state of deep sleep is experiental because it is a memory. You cannot have a memory which is veridical without there having been a prior experience. If you remember something e.g. posting a letter, there are not two elements one a letter being posted and two, you being the poster of that letter. That seems an epistemological bedrock.
c.f Brh.Up. IV.iii.6: Similarly, in the case of remembrance, he who remembers being also the one who saw, the two are identical.

So what then are the experiential aspects of the deep dreamless sleep experience asks Professor Thompson? Here I believe that Thompson has gone astray, forgetting the automatic and characteristic M.O. of the advaitin. When Sankara talks of ‘memory’ in opening the discussion he is using ‘memory’ as a handy shelf to park the ‘experience’ on. It is typical adhiropa/apavada or attribution followed by retraction. It is a method of continuous approximation or correction and refinement. In Western terms it is dialectic, Socratic, maiuetic. As the development of the teaching proceeds the real nature of what I have called a protophaenomenon
is made clear. In that post I quote at length from Chapter II of Upadesa Sahasri. Sankara says that ‘the knowledge of the knower can never be lost’. There is no experiencer to have an experience in the state of deep dreamless sleep yet nevertheless there is knowledge. That is the whole point of the insight.

Thompson’s discussion of the neuroscientific implications of d.s. is interesting but his account of the Advaitic position is not correct in my view. It would render Sankara’s thesis self contradictory. Jennifer Windt in her commentary paper writes about spatio-temporal apprehension in normal, lucid, and white, dreams. I will write more about that later. However she too bounces between experience and memory in her account of d.s.


skholiast said...

thank you for this pointer to Thompson's work and to your own previous post which I had missed. Lately I have been much preoccupied by the question of dreaming and waking, so this is timely. What is it that we think is added, what is that special aura about "reality", when we compare the dream and the waking? Methinks it is not mere "object permanence," which is (a) too simple and (b) doesn't really obtain anyway. On the other hand, what is it about the glittery far-off aura of "dream" that is equally alluring? Both of these terms (& you could swap in "appearance" for dream) share a certain mystique, and it isn't the oscillation or dualism between them that is the problem; it's that neither of them really delivers the promise this mystique proffers. A postmodernist at this point just smirks and says "what did you expect? it's just continual deferring of gratification, all the way down." But I don't buy that, either.

ombhurbhuva said...

In advaita dream is distinguished from the waking state by the fact that its events are contradicted/sublated by the waking state. In the dream we are rapt in the stream of events generally without concomitant reflexive awareness. Even the lucid dreams which occur have an awareness which is not reflexive to the same power as the waking state proper. If lucidity of that waking sort intervenes it is likely that one would awaken. Windt in her commentary paper proposes a criterion of the abatement of spatio-temporal sense. That I find to be very interesting and ties in with the fact that a whole series of adventures can happen in a very short space of time as computed by R.E.M. This may relate to imaginal/visionary experience where an absence may not be noted but here one is away with the Sufis.

In Dreams begin Responsibilities said Yeats.