Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Maya of Henri Bergson

This is worth quoting in full:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words
again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and opernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ver took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
(from Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Mindful of the penetrating awl eye from the podium, I, as a matter of mental economy, try to save on my negative capability against the rainy day of outright paradox. So then finding that the metaphysics of Bergson and Shankara are both genial I hereby justify my simultaneous adherence.

To keep my very distractable mind focused I am in the habit of writing notes as I read. One of those files on that excellent little app Fastnote is called The Maya of Henri Bergson. Maya though generally understood as illusion is much much more. The use of the term ‘illusion’ indicates a judgment that can be corrected by
analysis. Maya is a natural state that makes the subject/object dyad possible. It therefore underpins veridical perception. It is unavoidable but contains within itself the aporia - how does that external object come to be, in some sense, in me? It is the object’s ‘perceptuality’ that corrects Maya while at the same time leaving perception as it is. Our understanding has changed not our experience.

The leading analogy in the case of Maya and superimposition is that of the rope that is taken for a snake in poor light conditions. In Bergson the leading analogy re the lapse from duration is the cinematographical mechanism. The core of both of those analogies is the concept of in Bergson's case 'superposition' and in the case of Advaita/Shankara superimposition'. There is more than just a simple similarity of term here, there is a fundamental congruence of a metaphysical standpoint. What both assert is that a practical view of how things are, the one led by mathematics and the other by the inevitable subject/object dyad , both of these views are metaphysically incomplete. They do not represent an ultimate reality.

The trouble with analogies is that in order to understand how they are to be taken you must already have a grasp of what they analogise. If you don't you are almost certainly going to focus on some point which is irrelevant. In the case of the cinematographical mechanism some people have taken it as a critique of the cinematic art's i.e. the film's, capacity to represent reality. In the case of the 'adhyasa'/superimposition concept some people have become fascinated by the epistemological problem of illusion and its psychological foundations.
So what then are those analogies good for if they distract from their true import? My tentative answer is that they are a mnemonic device that holds a complex philosophical position in a single image. The internal elements of the analogies draw together a complex of abstract elements.


Anonymous said...

"it holds a complex philosophical position in a single image" how does this work?

ombhurbhuva said...

Thanks for your comment. An image in these cases is like a picture which holds all the elements together. The rope taken to be a snake in the advaitic analogy is simple but it brings in its train the concept of adhyasa/superimposition, of upadhi/form of limitation, of vritti/mental modification, of the transfer of the object ‘into’ the subject, the notion of non-numerical identity etc.

In the case of Bergson’s cinematographical mechanism all one has to do is to imagine a film unrolled and a still selected, as simple as a logo. I shall be posting a note on this later using Chap.4 of Creative Evolution. Taking reality to be a series of immobilities i.e. frames, added together is useful for science, the notion of the length of time isn’t an ultimate. It is a catenary of moments. Change itself is the reality and is more than the compounded sum of the moments. Here comes Zeno.