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

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