Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The Inert Mind of Advaita (2)

In advaita the mind goes out to the object and covers it. For knowledge to be evoked the mental state and the object must occupy the same space. How is that managed? It’s complicated and relies on a different concept of mind from the neuro-scientific one. To lead into that here’s a post from 2012 which I would write differently now. I would retain the ‘whimsy harpoons of Daniel Dennett’.

The Inert Mind of Advaita

The mind is said to be inert in Vedanta. This seems a surprising and counter intuitive position to hold because if the mind is anything it is surely conscious. Clearly their view of mind is somewhat different from that which we usually encounter in Western psychology and epistemology. Without going into the detail of the structure of the Jiva or individual person it could be said that Vedanta begins with a radically non-dualistic picture of human nature. It is the person as a whole that is pervaded with consciousness. The mind in broad terms is the body pervaded by consciousness. The mind of the jiva/person reflects the complexity of the brain/body. It is in this sense that the mind is said to be inert because without consciousness it is just matter. It is very complex matter certainly which is why that the information that it gives and receives from its environment reflects that complexity and its information can be information for itself in the form of the running commentary that we associate with mind in psychology.

Consciousness as running commentary or talking into your own ear is not the same as what is capitalised as Consciousness in Vedanta. All manifest being whatever is 'that' or Sat, Cit, Ananda/Existence, Consciousness, Bliss. It is in this sense that I can follow the beckoning arm of Daniel Dennett as he plunges, tied by the cords of whimsy harpoons, into the deeps of the counter-intuitive.

That this Vedantic view is establishable in any empirical manner is denied by Advaitins (Non-Dualists). There is no objective mark that we can recognize as a sign of abiding in non-duality. This is so because you are already there.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

The Mind of the Sage

What is it to be real in advaita? It is to be uncontradicted in all three moments of time; past, present,future. The ordinary changeful mental activity which we identify with is therefore unreal in that ultimate reckoning. However for everyday purposes we can distinguish between reality and illusion, delusion and confusion. Normal confirmation or disconformation applies.

‘Unreal nescience’ is therefore a technical term for the ontological foundations of the subject/object divide. The ‘opponent’ impugning the advaitic understanding fails to realise this:

Opponent: How, again, can the means of valid knowledge, such as direct perception as well as the scriptures, have as their basis a cognizer who is subject to nescience?

Vedantin: Since a man without self-identification with the body, mind, senses etc., cannot become a cognizer and as such the means of knowledge cannot function for him since perception and other activities (of a man) are not possible without accepting the senses etc. (as his own) ; since the senses cannot function without (the body as) a basis since nobody engages in any activity with a body that has not the idea of the Self superimposed on it; .....
(from the preamble to B.S.B.)

The knowledge that this superimposition is always taking place does not annihilate the mind of the realised sage. Nisargadatta Maharaj explains:

I see as you see, hear as you hear, taste as you taste, eat as you eat. I also feel thirst and hunger and expect my food to be served on time. When starved or sick , my body and mind go weak. All this I perceive quite clearly but somehow I am not in it, I feel myself floating over it, aloof and detached.
(from section 57 of I am That /Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj)

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Note on the Preamble to the Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Shankaracarya

A Note from 2008 on the preamble to Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Shankaracarya translated by Swami Gambhirananda published by Advaita Ashrama.

With primary texts that are encrusted with commentaries I think it is vital to read the text first before our minds are clouded by a view which gets between us and the initial experience. It thus can speak directly to us. That may in fact be difficult when the matter is very abstruse. Certain errors which one is liable to fall into can be avoided by a general grasp of the problem fields and the characteristic approaches. It can happen that one is not reading what is on the page because of the interference of received views. How does one get over that? You need to get the sense of strangeness of the text to have it grow into you unimpeded by a veil.
So having read it, now read on: (original text bolded)

It being an established fact.

Now that’s interesting; Shankara believes that there are established facts. He is at least not a sceptic because he accepts that there are some things we just know or that are given. I may even take it that when a fact is established the implication is that there is general agreement. It is not dependent on my personal validation.

that the object and the subject

This seems to come under the notion of what is given as an established fact, stuff that we don’t have to think about, that is just there. Take it or leave it, you can’t deny it. This is important. Objects exist, subjects exist. Odd though it may seem there are some philosophies that hold that only the existence of a subject is immediately given and that the object is the result of an inference that ‘explains’ sense-data.

that are fit to be the contents of the concepts "you" and "we" (respectively)

This again marks the direct intuition. I mean intuition in the sense of the sort of things we know about without having to think about them i.e. the world has stuff that is not us. The pencil on the desk is not an event in my brain.

and that are by nature as contradictory as light and darkness

One seems to cancel the other out as the light does the dark. The consciousness of the subject is being compared to the inertness of the object as object.

cannot logically have any identity

They are utterly different from each other. I am here and the object is out there.

it follows that their attributes can have it still less.

Observation on Shankara’s ideas on the attributes of the subject and those of the object:

In this first sentence Shankara has set out the field so that we are clear about the basics which are the stuff of everyday intuition. Having done that he now springs the paradox that lies at the heart of perception on us.
Let's talk about the attributes for a moment. The attributes of the subject as subject and those of the attributes of the object as object. The chief attribute of the subject viewed as subject is consciousness otherwise there would not be an object; the two being linked together conceptually. There is more to be said on this but as we are strictly adhering to the development of the argument in the text we will restrict our remarks to that alone. An object has location, weight, dimension etc. What is the weight of a thought? Does it have extent? Their attributes are incommensurable. Some philosophers have been led by this consideration to psycho-physical dualism. This is "the view that human beings are made up of two radically distinct constituents (body, constituted by matter like other natural objects, and an immaterial mind or soul)" (Penguin Dict. Of Phil.)

Accordingly, the superimposition of the object

Here the concept of superimposition is introduced. There would have to be an assumption that most students that have come to read the B.S.B. have a notion of what 'superimposition' is in the technical sense of a transfer of attributes.

referable through the concept "you", and its attributes on the subject that is conscious by nature and is referable through the concept "we" (should be impossible), and contrariwise the superimposition of the subject and its attributes on the object should be impossible.

The idea here is that the thing that is inert and of material dimensions somehow comes to be in the consciousness of the subject which is immaterial in nature. Inert in the advaitic philosophy carries the connotation that even though it is of the nature of pure consciousness the witness element is missing in it and therefore it is not conscious unto itself. Consciousness has to be applied to it for it to reveal itself as an upAdhi/limiting adjunct.
Perception is such a common thing that it is difficult to enter into a sense of its fundamental oddness. At the level of the psychology of perception there is much that can be learned about it but this learning does not dissipate the paradox at the ontological level. We cannot say that the activity in the brain is consciousness and claim that we understand what this might mean. The physical and consciousness are incommensurable. Therefore it is the case that subject/object awareness ought to be impossible.
Clearly this is not so. This brings Shankara on to his next point:

Nevertheless, owing to an absence of discrimination between these attributes, as also between substances, which are absolutely disparate,

'Absence of discrimination' has the tone of blame about it because we generally think of discrimination as a good thing. Here I think it is a neutral description of the ontological/epistemological basis of perception. For it to take place there must be an ignoring of the patent difference between the conscious and the inert. That ignoring applies also to the substances or the free standing entities at issue viz. the subject and the object. The object somehow comes to be in the subject.

there continues a natural human behaviour based on self-identification in the form of "I am this" or "this is mine".

Before the individual has begun to reflect on the nature of perception and the puzzle at the heart of it, he will be stuck at the level of the everyday acceptance of the disjunction between the subject and the object. Without philosophical analysis this may seem a fixed and final condition. Even with philosophical analysis one may end up with a view of self-luminous cognition that approximates to the Buddhist shunya vAda .

This behaviour has for its material cause an unreal nescience and man resorts to it by mixing up reality with unreality as a result of superimposing the things themselves or their attributes on each other.
Here we have large blocks of ideas being introduced such as 'material cause' and 'unreal nescience'. First we must get the general purport of the sentence and then how the blocks of meaning move within it. Essentially what Shankara is saying is that we have a limited understanding of reality and suppose that it is complete. We accept perception as a fact and go no further to enquire as to how it is possible. Perception has already been presented as superimposition of the inert on the conscious and the conscious on the inert. Simply sticking at that we are left at the stage where we take the gulf between subject and object to be fixed and final. It is our ignorance of the reality of the unity of being and consciousness, an ignorance exacerbated by the material conditions of perception such as location, ambient conditions, presence etc that make us accept a narrow view of the self. I take material conditions to be what Shankara means by 'material cause'. It is an extension of the base concept of being made out of something or arising out of something.

If it be asked; "what is it that is called superimposition?" - the answer is: It is an awareness, similar in nature to memory, that arises on a different (foreign) basis as a result of some past experience.
He now finds it necessary to give his account of the place superimposition has to play in Advaita. Here I must say that I have found the extensive discussion of the various sorts of confusion, illusion and delusion to be excessive and contrary to the purport of Shankara's basic use of it. He uses superimposition as an analogy for the way in which the object comes to be in the consciousness of the subject and also the way that the consciousness of the subject 'covers' the inert object. He later makes it clear that confusion is not a parallel for superimposition i.e. that all sorts of superimposition must conform to the example of confusion. In fact it is taking an analogy as an example that is the problem. An analogy is like that which it seeks to clarify in one fixed facet only and not in a global way. The facet that is focused on is the coming to be in the mind of an object. That the object in the case of confusion is not really there is not a relevant consideration. It is not the purport of the analogy. Many generations of over-interpretation have befogged this.
Shankara goes on to make it clear, to me at least, that this is his intent.

But others assert that wherever a superimposition on anything occurs, there is in evidence only a confusion arising from the absence of discrimination between them. Others say that the superimposition of anything on any other substratum consists in fancying some opposite attributes on that very basis. From every point of view, however, there is no difference as regards the appearance of one thing as something else. And in accord with this, we find in common experience that the nacre appears as silver and a single moon appears as two.

What we have there is a swift review of all the theories of confusion which were an important topic for the philosophers of the day in their discussion of error. The paradigm or central case of error is taking something to be that which it is not. That is a very interesting discussion in its own right, but what Shankara is using the phenomenon of error for, is to bring out is the notion of the mutual transference of attributes i.e. superimposition. He is not interested in the minutiae of the mechanics of confusion.

there continues a natural human behaviour based on self-identification in the form of "I am this" or "this is mine".

Before the individual has begun to reflect on the nature of perception and the puzzle at the heart of it, he will be stuck at the level of the everyday acceptance of the disjunction between the subject and the object. Without philosophical analysis this may seem a fixed and final condition. Even with philosophical analysis one may end up with a view of self-luminous cognition that approximates to the Buddhist shunya vAda .

This behaviour has for its material cause an unreal nescience and man resorts to it by mixing up reality with unreality as a result of superimposing the things themselves or their attributes on each other.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Thatcher Speaks

By all means let us give the whole quotation which is supposed to represent the heartless self centeredness of the Conservative party.

They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours." –Margaret Thatcher in an interview in Women's Own in 1987
That attitude does not represent classic conservative thought as even a cursory reading of Edmund Burke and F.H. Bradley will demonstrate. It is perhaps a direct descendent of the libertarian individualist anarchism of William Godwin and the sacred tenet of Private Judgement.

What would she do with Brexit? Out, Out, Out as she said in relation to Northern Ireland dismissing the woolly nostrums of Garret Fitzgerald. Brexit might be just the thing to break the U.K. union as the impossibility of not having a land border in Ireland became evident. The irony of history is a cliché that is sometimes unavoidable.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Swimming for Ireland and the U.S.A.

Liberal intelligentsia are like synchronised swim teams. No one wants to have his arse in the air while the others are going around in circles. Being on message, always on message is important if you want to remain on the team. Larry Donnelly writing in thejournal.ie swims on two national teams the Irish and the American: (Boston attorney lecturing in Galway Uni.)

irish journal article

Throughout the piece Larry sprinkles signals to show that his heart is in the right place
"These women and men deserve credit for being well ahead of those we elect – and of most pundits, this one included – in assessing where their fellow citizens were on the topic. “

It struck me, however, that almost no dissenting voices were heard. Without re-litigating the case – which some on the pro-life/anti-abortion side regrettably seem resolved to do.

Larry regrets that abortion laws is not accepted as a done deal like gay marriage. One is real and the other is a parody might be a clue to sentiment on those issues. As an intelligent observer of the political scene Larry knows that abortion will be an election issue. Proportional representation ensures that last seats will be decided on transfers. The not-talking-about second preferences for Peter Casey in the recent presidential election tells me that politicians are nervous about the deep anger lurking in the long grass.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Born in Exile by George Gissing (pub.1892)

George Gissing’s rate of production worked against the development of a good style. He wrote eight hours a day producing a novel every year. When he showed a publisher two volumes of Demos that had as a theme contemporary worker agitation he was told that if he could produce a third volume they would publish it immediately. In those days novels came in 3 volumes. He set to and wrote it in two weeks. No, one doesn’t read Gissing for the exquisite bouquet of a fine style. You are liable to find periphrasis and bathos and unconscious humour on every page but even so there is a documentary fever in his work as he strives to leave nothing out. My gude and I have been having fun with Godwin Peak’s first meeting with the nicely bred Sidwell Warricomb.

A slight languor in her movements and her voice, together with the beautiful coldness of her complexion, made it probable that she did not share the exuberant health manifest in her two brothers. She conversed with mature self-possession, yet showed a slight tendency to abstractedness. On being addressed, she regarded the speaker steadily for an instant before shaping her answer, which always, however trifling the subject, seemed carefully worded. In these few moments of dialogue, Godwin reached the conclusion that Sidwell had not much sense of humour, but that the delicacy of her mind was unsurpassable.

‘The delicacy of your mind, me dear, is unsurpassable, I forbear animadversion to your sense of humour’.

Godwin Peak has a plan to woo and win a lady of the upper class but the problem is that he himself is a scion of the working class. ‘There is much of me in Godwin Peak’ Gissing admitted to his friend Morley Roberts who wrote a memoir called The Private Life of Henry Maitland rather transparently based on the authors life. George Gissing was a brilliant scholarship student probably the most learned of any writer in the 19th. century. He knew the classics thoroughly and his favourite topic of conversation with Roberts was obscure points of Greek prosody. Plato he read for the beauty of his writing rather than the philosophy. He spoke French, German, Italian and could read Spanish. He was destined to be a don until he was caught stealing money from his fellow students at Owens College, the forerunner of Manchester University. He was sentenced to one month in prison. It’s all there in his biography but don’t read it in Wikipedia which goes against all known evidence about his relationship with Nell a prostitute.

She is often described as a prostitute, but there is no evidence for this. It is reported that he gave her money in an attempt to keep her off the streets, but, again, there is no evidence.

The classic Wikipedia demand for citation is missing. Very odd.

Gissing being denied any relationship with a woman of the refined upper classes because of his disgrace decided that a ‘work girl’ might be brought to evince delicacy of mind by training. He quite possibly helped to drive his second wife mad.

This extreme snobbery and detestation of the vile working class that he was doomed to live amongst feeds into the character of Godwin, named after William ‘Political Justice’ Godwin. How might one sanitise lowly origins and become a gentleman with access to the unsurpassable? Why; take orders in the Church established by law. A slight moral hurdle is that Peak is an agnostic who thinks that religion is for women and the weak minded who have not understood the Origin of the Species and the ongoing work in biblical criticism and the age of the earth. We are now in the ‘80‘s and there are some, even those of a scientific temper, who resist the evidence . Martin Warricomb, Sidwell’s father, a retired lecturer in Geology is one of those.

The bent of his mind was anything but polemical; he cared not to spend time even over those authors whose attacks on the outposts of science, or whose elaborate reconcilements of old and new, might have afforded him some support. On the other hand, he altogether lacked that breadth of intellect which seeks to comprehend all the results of speculation, to discern their tendency, to derive from them a consistent theory of the nature of things. Though a man be well versed in a science such as palaeontology it does not follow that he will view it in its philosophical relations. Martin had kept himself informed of all the facts appertaining to his study which the age brought forth, but without developing the new modes of mental life requisite for the recognition of all that such facts involved. The theories of evolution he did not venture openly to resist, but his acceptance of them was so half-hearted that practically he made no use of their teaching. He was no man of science, but an idler among the wonders which science uses for her own purposes.

By pretending to be able to reconcile religion and the new science Peak comes very close to Warricomb senior which brings Sidwell to trust him. Buckland Warricomb the son is a different matter. He suspects that Peak is duplicitous. How could a man of such obvious intelligence swallow such trifling rationalisations. He sets out to trace the origins of this unctuous paragon.

There is a great deal in this novel for those who wish to get a feeling for the class system, intellectual currents, blue stockings, intelligentsia, the spiritual turmoil and the rampant hypocrisy of the Victorian age. It’s quite readable, despite the lumps in the porridge. The portrait of the modernising parson Bruno Chivers is amusing. His lineaments are still to be discerned amongst the higher and the lower clergy. (That diction is catching) I recommend it. To be found on Gutenberg in all formats.
born in exile

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

No Sugar, No Trail

A further note on Katha Up. II.iii.13 continuing on from my previous post.

There are two key analogies in Vedanta. The best known one is the confusion analogy or taking the coiled rope for a snake. The other is taken from the Chandogya Up. VI.i.4 and is based on material identity. Earthenware vessels in all their shapes and sizes are fundamentally clay.

 “O good looking one, as by knowing a lump of earth, all things made of earth become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Earth as such is its reality.

In Sankara’s commentary on Ka: II.iii.13 he writes ‘All modification is mere name, being supported by speech -- earth alone is real." Applying the purport of this analogy we can know the Self by its effects i.e. the saturation of all states of consciousness with self-awareness. The Self can only be known by its effects because it is the knower and therefore knowing it would lead to infinite regress. The Self therefore is different from both the known and the unknown and is described as non-different from the states of consciousness which it pervades. We infer the existence of the Self but we can’t know it in a quasi-objective manner in the way we are conscious of our states of mind, perceptions etc.

How though does “the Self that has been known, as merely existing, become favourably disposed (for self-revelation)”? Self realisation is not a state that can be achieved, it is already here. We then are enjoined to achieve a detached ego-less awareness. We are to seek without seeking and not identify with any particular state of mind including samadhi/super-conscious bliss.

There is nothing in it for you.

Friday, 11 January 2019

The Tenth Man and the Sugar Bag

The Self is (first) to be realised as existing, and (then) as It really is. Of these two (aspects), the real nature of the Self that has been known as merely existing, becomes favourably disposed (for self-revelation).
(Ka.Up. II.13)

Two parables of the Self come to mind. The Tenth Man relates how a party of 10 travellers were crossing a dangerous river. Having got over the leader of the group counted them to see if everybody was safely over. He counted nine and began to bewail the missing one until a passer by reminded him - ‘you have forgotten to count yourself, you are the tenth man’. Applying that inclusion to the population of the mind it is evident that while all the elements of the stream of consciousness iare counted in the Humean way the counter is not counted.

What is salient is the shock that presents the existence of the Self. You must have the Coleridgean deep thinking as deep feeling experience which is entirely different from the sureties of vapid prattle. We recognise that all mental events, thoughts, perceptions, experiences etc. are saturated with ‘self-ness’ but yet the self is not them. It persists, they pass.

Another koan like parable is the torn sugar bag of John Perry. He relates:

"I once followed a trail of sugar on a supermarket floor, pushing my cart down the aisle on one side of a tall counter and back the aisle on the other, seeking the shopper with the torn sack to tell him he was making a mess. With each trip around the counter, the trail became thicker. But I seemed unable to catch up. Finally it dawned on me. I was the shopper I was trying to catch.

The trail becoming thicker seems to me like the building up of duration in Bergson’s sense. All the previous meditations on the series of conscious states gain a critical mass and evoke an insight into the self as an existent.

Follow the sugar.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Not on our watch Oxford students vow

For their safe spaces and to drive upsetting thoughts from their heads those Oxford students who have signed a petition against Professor John Finnis on the grounds that he’s a terrible person

should know that there are Snowflake colouring books available on Amazon:

colouring books

A snowflake is like a mandala whereby you can enter into the glory of your own personal universe free from discordant views and feel the calm and peace of utter unanimity.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Bricolage and the Noumenal

John Waters’ daddy was a champion bricoleur or a man who could fix things by using whatever materials were to hand. John tells the story of how when he was on the road making deliveries in his van the drive shaft broke. ‘Wait a minute lads’ and off he goes into a field and comes back with a stout ash plant and a length of bull wire which he used as a splint on the shaft. With a light foot they made their way home.

Claude Levi-Strauss in The Savage Mind speaks of myths assembled out of odds and ends already existing in the culture i.e. bricolage. The ancient great grandfather religions are like that. You may find anything in them. Think of the ancient oddities in the Pentateuch and the Vedas. As time goes on these elements are subtilised and turn into theology and metaphysics. The primary thing is the ecstasy and then ‘tents’ are built that try to keep that mysterium tremendum et fascinans close to hand. ( I refer to the transfiguration of Jesus.Mt 17, Lk.9)

The noumenal is one with our consciousness even when most of the time we are alienated from it. Coleridge in Biographia Litteraria writes:

The Imagination then I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary Imagination I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

Opposed to the Primary Imagination is the normal state of mind or the dope tropes that we inhabit:

 Fancy, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.

It is ‘fanciful’, pace Coleridge, to say that religions confound each other. “Truth is one, the wise call it by various names" said the Vedic sage. We confuse the containers with the contained but, you know, use whatever is handy.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Shop Boys rule O.K.

Now that the Xmas is over and the high point of the book buying year has passed it is safe to allow Give us Back the Bad Roads by John Waters back on the shelves of Easons and Dubrays where they were unavailable prior to Xmas. Where there were none there are now stacks.

We don’t need official censorship in Ireland, we can do it for ourselves.