Thursday, 28 February 2019

Advaita Vedanta's theory of the Mind going out to the Object

Many odd philosophical theories are more instructive about the core issues than those which align with our common sense beliefs. Berkeley’s immaterialism is an example. Understand that and the rationality of empiricism will seem specious. An analogue within the classical canon of Indian Philosophy is Advaita Vedanta’s theory of perception generally discussed within the context of the six valid means of knowledge or pramanas.

It’s quite complicated because in the Indian way each element in the theory is itself a subject of discussion and subdivision. Therein lies the danger of distraction that lures the fine forensic mind of the advaitin away from the central insights. It is significant that Shankaracarya does not indulge himself in the fine slicing and dicing that is so attractive to a certain kind of thinker. What then is his central observation, his protophaenomenon? It is the aporiai of realism. How can we know the object out there as it is?

In Shankara’s preamble to the Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya he uses this aporiai as a departure point for the superimposition theory of avidya (ignorance/maya)but it also might be held that it is foundational for a theory of perception as such with the ‘out there as it is’ status of the object as the knot which has to be unpicked. If the object is ‘in here’ or ‘in’ my mind then the alienation of the representational presents itself. The advaitin move is to assert that the mind goes out to the object and takes its form. This sounds like sheer voodoo unless we bear in mind that in Advaita the mind is regarded as inert or as material that only becomes conscious when it is pervaded by pure consciousness. The human mind is the complex of brain/body being conscious. Mind is matter, a monism which avoids the causal problem of the interaction of mind and matter in Western thought. In perception we have a physical interaction which is pervaded by consciousness and becomes knowledge. It, as I understand it, then becomes perceptual knowledge through the power of superimposition on the consciousness of the subject. It becomes ‘owned’ by the individual subject.

The organs that go out and take the form of the object are not to be confused with the actual physical organs of sight, touch etc. They are in Shankara’s words in his commentary on the Brh.Up. II.iv.11- but modes of the objects in order to perceive them. They are, so to speak, empty modalities that become informed by the object.

That in broad outline is the advaitin theory of perception. To investigate the full complexity of Manas, Buddhi, Citta, Antahkarana, and Indriyas refer to the The Six Ways of Knowing by D. M. Datta:
The Six Ways

Monday, 25 February 2019

My Beautiful House

As I was saying – live in someone else’s house for a while and your own will seem strange to you. Philosophers don’t like moving house. Where will they keep all the little knick knacks and keep sakes and the snow globes that keep their papers down. It’s so upsetting. Changing your mind is a chancy business but sometimes your house burns down and you have to move. Saving that catastrophe can we move out for a while and savour the different order of business? When we read novels we accept a voluntary precipitation into another sphere of being and it’s often good for us. I don’t mean the trifling scenarios of science fiction that conform to our prejudices but the mondo bizarro of Roskolnikov or K. The knife is passed across us and we fall into the torpor of the gazelle under the lion. Our sister is weighed against a grasping hag. Now is the time to be cold as ice, implacable.

Philosophers are like picky children. They don’t like the yoghurt with bits in it. Panpsychism is nonsense they mutter, there is no philosophy in the Upanishads and they kick the legs of the table. Well, I’ve got news for you, there’s a lot of hungry….

Entertain the very different. Find the thinker’s protophaenomenon and spin out like an excogitating mental spider the web of his thought.

The naturalist, who cannot or will not see, that one fact is often worth a thousand , as including them all in itself, and that it first makes all the others facts ; who has not the head to comprehend, the soul to reverence, a central experiment or observation ( what the Greeks would perhaps have called a protophaenomenon ) ; will never receive an auspicious answer from the oracle of nature.
(from Essays on Method by Coleridge)

Go East young philosopher where the spice of the utterly odd is to be found. When you come home again you may find yourself Once in a Lifetime:

You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
You may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The Letters of Horace Walpole

I am having a fine morning of old technology. The primary contact with a more sedate era is a beautiful edition of Walpole’s letters published by George Newnes in his Thin Paper Classics Series, bound in limp lambskin, 6.5 in.x4in. .75in. Thick, gilt top edge, endpapers by Garth Jones. pp.849

My portable typewriter is an Olivetti Lettera DL. A beautiful machine in brushed aluminium framing black leather look plastic. Light, robust, elegant.

My fountain pen is a Lamy Logo with their black ink. I’m not sure about this one. It,s taking a while to get used to and it,s too long with the cap posted.

My notebook is Leuchtturm 1971, a nice gift.

As I read I have my tablet to one side to look up the cast of characters as they appear. The Ency. Brit. bought at enormous expense is in the attic . (I pulled out the volume with a bio of Lady Mary and found much less information in it than Wikipedia)

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was the son of the Prime Minister. The book opens with letters to Richard West, a Cambridge chum, a lunger poet that died young. They are light, airy, gossipy. He remarks of Lady Mary Wortley Montague:

Did I tell you Lady Mary Wortley is here? She laughs at my Lady Walpole, scolds my Lady Pomfret, and is laughed at by the whole town. Her dress, her avarice, and her impudence must amaze any one that never heard her name. She wears a foul mob, that does not cover her greasy black locks, that hang loose, never combed or curled; an old mazarine blue wrapper, that gapes open and discovers a canvass petticoat. Her face swelled violently on one side with the remains of a-, partly covered with a plaster, and partlv with white paint, which for cheapness she has bought so coarse, that you would not use it to wash a chimney.-In three words I will give you her picture as we drew it in the Sortes Virgilianae- Insanam vatem aepicies.
(from Florence, Sept.25, 1740. N.S. on the Grand Tour)

At this time she was in hot pursuit of Francesco Algoretti. Or had she caught up with him? She did not spare his youth, he being a mere 28 and she 51. The whitewash was a early form of cosmetic pollyfilla to disguise the cratering of smallpox which ruined her beauty. She promoted the practice of vaccination a la Turke.

Walpole has a natural easy flowing style. You hear his voice and imagine his raised eyebrows. There is no attempt at close description of the sights.

Dear West, One hates writing descriptions that are to be found in every book of travels; but we have seen something to-day that I am sure you never read of, and perhaps never heard of. Have you ever heard of a subterraneous town? a whole Roman town, with all its edifices, remaining under ground? Don't fancy the inhabitants buried it there to save it from the Goths: they were buried with it themselves; which is a caution we are not told that they ever took. You remember in Titus's time there were several cities destroyed by an eruption of Vesuvius, attended with an earthquake. Well, this was one of them, not very considerable, and then called Herculaneum. Above it has since been built Portici, about three miles from Naples, where the King has a villa. This under-ground city is perhaps one of the noblest curiosities that ever has been discovered. It was found out by chance, about a year and half ago. They began digging, they found statues; they dug, further, they found more. Since that they have made a very considerable progress, and find continually. You may walk the compass of a mile; but by the misfortune of the modern town being overhead, they are obliged to proceed with great caution, lest they destroy both one and t'other.
(from Naples, June 14, 1740 N.S.)

His complaint that the antiquities are being neglected is still heard in our time. They have so many of them. It’s a yard to pick up or more correctly, not pick up.

I am very glad that I see Rome while it yet exists: before a great number of years are elapsed, I question whether it will be worth seeing. Between the ignorance and poverty of the present Romans, every thing is neglected and falling to decay;
(from Rome, April 16,1740 N.S.)

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Dear Faustina by Rhoda Broughton (1897)

Faustina Bateson is a cuckoo in the nest of the Vane family. Through her friendship with the widowed Mrs.Vane she has insinuated herself into their affairs and even wishes to participate in the conclave of the family following the startling announcement that their mother is going to go full time into her political activism. This is a shocking contravention of Victorian mores. Her husband is only six months dead. Althea Vane the second eldest daughter is under the spell of Faustina. The other four children are decidedly not.

(Edward)’Our mother has, at all events, the merit of dotting her is and crossing her t’s.’
As he speaks he wheels round, and discovers the fact, before unsuspected by him, of the presence of Miss Bateson. The displeased surprise which that discovery engenders in his already gloomy young eye must be patent enough to its object.

Edward is the new head of the family only at the stage of sitting his Greats at Oxford. Claire is next – engaged to be married. Then Althea followed by Tom who is at Eton and Fanny the youngest who will go with Claire to her married home. The description of Mother Vane in the library before her abdication speech indicates the authors views:

The library is a good sized room—for London a large one—dark with the books that climb the walls to the ceiling, with the dusk of the eighteenth century wainscot and doors, and with the habitual sombreness of a back look-out. The books are for the most part old—obviously the accumulations of respectable generations—but the litter that covers the large writing-table is as obviously new : reports, schedules, books of reference, type-written letters, Socialist journals. At this table is seated a lady, who, as soon as her ear tells her by the cessation of any rustling or footsteps that her audience are arrived, and awaiting her, rises, and, turning slowly round, faces them. Were it not for a slight condescension in the matter of petticoats, it would not be obvious to a stranger that it is not a slender man who is preparing to address the little group, so austerely masculine is the just-gray-touched thick short hair parted on one side, the coat, the tie, the waistcoat. This widow might at a pinch, and behind a table which would conceal the degradation of the female skirt, well pass for a little widower. 

The sexual invert tending towards pervert theme is well marked in the novel. Assurances of fidelity go far beyond the girlish gush of innocence. Faustina has moved Althea into her flat in Chelsea and is on her way to a meeting. Althea is staying to type up some letters:
’ Now that you have given me the heads, told me the sense in which you wish these letters answered, I can get through them perfectly well by myself I am really growing quite expert with the typewriter. How long do you expect to be away ?'
‘ You may be quite sure as short a time as I possibly can ‘—using the tone with which in old days that contemptible survival, a man in love, was wont to part from his mistress.’

The vanguard of the “shrieking sisterhood” are depicted as androgynous :

Althea s eyes rove helplessly over the unknown crowd—both over those ladies whose gallant feathers and careful red heads show them to be mere butterfly spectators of the fray, and those others whose wildly cropped grizzled hair and super-manly coats and waistcoats point them out as the nucleus and core—the female ' Old Guard,' as it were—of the army of advance.

Faustina has had a string of acolytes previous to Althea all of whom proved unwilling to give their all to the great work. Will her latest convert revert? A precipitating event is her displacement by Cressida, an airheaded scion of the aristocracy, whom Faustina wants to go on ‘rescue’ work amongst the prostitutes of the Haymarket. Even John Drake an associate of Faustina’s is outraged by this. ‘Twill be the ruin of her. Edward, Althea’s brother is a friend of Cressida’s. If this foolish ‘gel’ goes on that mission she will be disgraced.

This is a satiric novel with the strong contrasts which the genre demands. Due to its challenge to suffragette sanctification and New Woman ideology it is regarded as reactionary by those who would at the same time see Broughton as a feminist. Genius tends to be unclassifiable. It is a finely focussed and well written book, of its time and verging on our own, betimes.

(from Dear Faustina

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Kotsko, Activate the Shield: Aye, Aye Sir.

Adam Kotsko deplores the interference of AIPAC in American politics which I heartily agree with.
like other nations
He also repudiates the anti-Semitism slur which accompanies any criticism of Israel. And then he brings in George Soros who is a famous open and proud meddler and claims that tropes, creepy ones, money bags manipulator kinds, are anti-Semitic. Well he spreads his money about in the promotion of aims that Kotsko would approve of. Activate the shield.

In Ireland the Standards in Public Office (SIPO) forced the Abortion Rights Campaign to return $24,999 to the Open Society Foundation. An order to another abortion campaigner Amnesty International to return $166,000 was not complied with because they did not agree with the law about interference in internal affairs through massive donations. Eventually they were let keep the money. Winning confers rectitude. Now what will they do. Return to prisoners of conscience and tortured dissidents - same old, same old.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Animal Faith

Shankaracarya declares the natural and spontaneous faith of animals in objective reality.

Moreover, there is no difference (of the learned) from the animals (in regard to empirical behaviour). Just as animals and others turn away from sound etc. when these appear unfavourable after their ears etc. come into contact with them, and they move towards these when they are favourable; and just by noticing a man approaching them with a raised stick, they begin to run away thinking, “This one wants to hurt me”, and they approach another carrying green grass in his hands, similarly even the wise are repelled by the presence of strong, uproarious people with evil looks and upraised swords, and are attracted by men of opposite nature. Therefore the behaviour of men with regard to the means and objects of knowledge is similar to that of animals.
(from the Preamble to Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya)

As soon as I would put out my hand with an apple in it the pony in the field would come running over. Must I put Descartes before that horse?

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

The Game and the Candle by Rhoda Broughton (1897)

Rhoda Broughton (1840 - 1920) was one of the queens of the circulating library and I first learnt of her from that chronicler of the common George Orwell in his Keep the Aspidistra Flying, a misery tale of book shop assistant Gordon Comstock. Broughton’s book is by far the better with this proviso - keep her away from scenery. An ink from Harbin which I affect Rose Cyclamen would be suitable for her outpourings.

This is a good opening that gets a grip on you as firm as the staying of the era.

The ruling passion is strong in death, and therefore it is no wonder that Henry Etheredge, who through a life of fifty-six years has always postponed other people's pleasure and convenience to his own, should on his last day but one go on holding his wife s hand long after the posture it entailed upon her had become one of irksome fatigue. 

The wife is twenty five years old, the husband fifty six and they have been married for eight years. She married him when she was seventeen and a half. He is a very wealthy man and some sort of major figure in Science and Literature, unspecified. His morbid grip which due to her bent posture over his bed is giving her severe back strain is but an emblem of his posthumous over reach.
He has something to say to her which will decide her fate after his death but first he lets her know that five years previously he had overheard a conversation in the garden during the night when he wandered out sleepless.

' I became aware that you and your companion were parting as lovers’
She does not start now—braced for the worst.
But we were parting !'
Her tone is scarcely one of apology; certainly not one of conscious guilt.
So I gathered.
'And from that day—five years and a month ago—to this, we have neither met nor written.'
There is no eagerness of asseveration in her words, no fevered hurry to convince ; only the statement of an undoubted and undoubtable fact.
‘I am aware of it.’

However that may be, there is a mutual assurance of respect:

' I have always respected you very much!'
The tribute sounds in her own ears almost an insult in its cold baldness, and his answer matches it.
'Thank you. I have always found you very civil and obliging.'

There has been no consummation in that relationship but simply to have heard the conversation makes him threaten to cut her out of his will unless she renounces a marriage to this man after his death. She cannot oblige for she still burns in her heart of hearts though she has not heard from him since that fateful night by the fountain in the circular garden.

So he dies and is buried and the will is read. She is replaced as residuary legatee by Etheredge’s older sister but she still has her settlement of £1000 a year, quite enough to install herself in a cottage in Richmond with only three servants to look after her and a year of widow’s weeds with a long black weeper and a widow’s cap. Richmond by the park she hopes will be a quite time for her to hope that her lover will seek her out. She has chosen this location, location because her friend Clarendon the deceased’s secretary's family resides there The two sisters Maybella and Flora eke out their exigous income and try to keep up with polite society. Broughton details very well the strategems of genteel poverty exercised by the ‘all right’ pair.

They are well-favoured young women, the younger one most so; and their armourplated figures, whaleboned into fashionable slimness, and carefully restrained fringes, make them fully deserve the encomium, which to them would seem the highest possible, of 'looking all right’.

Jane Etheredge knows their situation:

She knows, on their brother's authority, how narrow have been their means; and a pitying speculation as to how much of pinch and effort lies under their successfully achieved appearance of well-to-do all-rightness crosses her mind.
' It is not only rent and taxes, but everything to eat is so dear,' adds the younger sister. ‘One has to pay extravagantly for every sprig of parsley.'
It is the first time that the herb in question has presented itself to Mrs. Etheredge's mind as a serious article of commerce ; and at her look of bewilderment, as she says, ' But surely one can get through life without much parsley,' they all laugh. 

The sisters are champion moochers admiring into possession many items. Broughton is witty and gentle about them, her brisk acerbity for which she was renowned landing on others in the novel. Do you mind coincidences? There’s not many and by the end there’s resolution. A greatly neglected and under-appreciated writer. I have gone straight on to Dear Faustina (1897) a novel which satirises the suffragette movement. It must be a matter of grievous distress to liberals that conservatives write better and hold up better without the staying of bien pensant support then or now.
Rhoda Regina.

Find it at the game and the candle

(a clean epub by the way)

Saturday, 2 February 2019

On the Nature of the Emotions in Vedanta

Dr. Elisa Freschi has been writing on the nature of the emotions in Vishistadvaita Vedanta (qualified non-dualism):


These are very interesting areas of discussion with complex variations between the different schools. I have been trying to get my thoughts together recently on the notion of the mind going out and taking the form of the object as is held by advaitins in their theory of perception. For them, emotion is a perception but my understanding is that emotion only exists as and when it is known. It cannot be an unknown object (ajnanatta satta).

unknown object

This contrasts with the Freudian/Dualist theory of repression or emotions which are there and unconsciously blocked. Emotional energy is dammed up in the classic hydraulic metaphor and requires discharge through abreaction, catharsis, cathexis and all the very Greek engines of liberation.

Is the mind of the sage involved in either going or coming?

mind of the sage

The emotion may not arise. The sky of the mind (cliche alert) is cloudless and any little storm is soon dissipated. The sage catches himself on as it were.