Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Henri Bergson on Recognition

 I am creeping along following  my reading plan for Matter and Memory by Henri Bergson.  No more that 3 or 4 pages at a time writing notes as I read as if each observation was a nail to hold it down.  I can see how this dilatory notation could have exasperated Samuel Johnson during his tour of the Hebrides but for a work like Bergson’s it induces the stasis that allows some of the profound insights to penetrate.  Like recognition as a foundational native power.  How do you know that this perception is similar to another that occurred in the past.  Looking for evidence for this knowledge is the reflex of empiricism but looked at closely it chases its own tail.  We can only recognise similarity if we already have it and in many cases familiarity precedes the memory of our previous encounter.

The advaitin Dharmaraja Adhvarindra writing on the Pramanas (means of valid knowledge)  devotes his shortest chapter to upamana  or comparison - “The instrument of the valid knowledge of similarity is comparison”.  Even those astute observers of the furniture of the mind did not see the difficulty involved in the comparison of what is a present experience with an experience which is past and thereby judge their congruence or not or slight resemblance etc.  Here epistemology trumps neuroscience’s engrams.

“But, along with this definite and perceived resemblance which (pg 107) consists in the common element seized and disengaged by the mind, there is a vague and in some sort objective resemblance, spread over the surface of the images themselves, which might act perhaps like a physical cause of reciprocal attraction.[13] And should we ask how it is, then, that we often recognize an object without being able to identify it with a former image, refuge is sought in the convenient hypothesis of cerebral tracks which coincide with each other, of cerebral movements made easier by practice,[14] or of perceptive cells communicating with cells where memories are stored.[15] In truth, all such theories of recognition are bound to melt away, in the end, into physiological hypotheses of this kind. What they were aiming at, first, was to make all recognition issue from a bringing together of perception and memory; but experience stands over against them, testifying that in most cases recollection emerges only after the perception is recognized.” Matter and Memory

Admit it: the ball joint of the philosopher’s neck is made wry by this confounding of the intuitive question - how do we know?  We just know.  A vertiginous prospect rejected by right thinking empiricists.

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