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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Can one perceive other people's thoughts?

Śaiva authors believe the subject to be tantamount to cognition. There is no difference between the two and it does not make sense to say that the former has the latter. Consequently, a cognition should never become the object of another one, since it is intrinsically identical with the agent of the cognitive act. And it an agent could not become an object and still remain identical with its own nature of agent! But the upholders of this view have to face two powerful objections, that of memory, where a previous cognition seems to be the object of today's memory of it, and that of the yogic perception. In fact, yogins (or omniscient beings in general, the same applies to Buddhas) can allegedly have access to other people's thoughts. And this seem to imply that these thoughts are accessed as objects!

These objections are expressed in the text translated below, which is an excerpt of Utpaladeva's ĪPK-Vivṛti. Utpaladeva (the X c. Kaśmīrian founder of the "School of Recognition [of oneself as identical with the Supreme Lord]"), in fact, elaborates on these themes in his well-known Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā (stanzas on the recognition with the Lord, ĪPK). The stanzas have been commented by the author twice. His vṛtti is an essential comment, often just clarifying the meaning of the stanzas. The vivṛti, on the other hand, is an elaborated philosophical commentary, which could also be read on its own. To the only extant fragments of this text, Raffaele Torella dedicated several essays and many seminars. In this post, I will examine the text of the Vivṛti ad 1.4.5, edited by this scholar in Mélanges tantriques à la mémoire d'Hélène Brunner.

[Obj.:] But it is impossible that something (e.g., whatever an object) is illuminated if it does not penetrate into the light. Nor is there, by saying so, a singleness of what is illuminated and what illuminates, because the grasped-part, like an illuminated pot, distinct from the grasper, although it is [ultimately] inseparated from the light, shines forth [as if separated from it]. In the same way, in the case of yogins (who can allegedly have access to other people's minds) the cognition of other cognisers apperas as a "this", i.e., as something else. Else, there would follow an error [since yogins would not be able to distinguish other people's cognitions from their own]. Therefore, if [as you claim] the cognition cannot be grasped by another cognition, how can there be a unity of memory, which has as content a [previous] experience and the experience [itself]?
The text seems at first quite difficult, partly because of the overlapping terminology. "Grasper" is in fact the same as "light" and "illuminator" and they all refer to the agent of cognition.


michael reidy said...

The idea of the saksin (witness) as put forward by Dharmaraja Adhvarindra in Vedanta Paribhasa would relate to the idea of an internal perceiver. In the case of mind reading it's as though the vritti in the reader's mind resonates with the mind of the other. As an object that is experienced (mental state)it cannot fall into the category of the 'unknown object' much as an emotion or memory.

I say vritti in the reader's mind but you could as well say vritti of the reader's mind. It takes a whole shape and is experienced as though it were one's own but with a strange eruptive quality.

elisa freschi said...

Thank you, Michael, very interesting. May I ask for further clarifications? 1. Do you mean that the other mind cannot fall in the category of the "unkown object" because it cannot become an object while keeping on being a mind?
2. What do you mean by "eruptive quality"?

michael reidy said...

My idea is that the mind as read object is an unknown object because it is similar to an emotion in that it does not already exist out there waiting to be discovered by our attention to it. On the contrary it erupts in our mind as an experience out of nowhere. This is my conjecture, your mind is opaque to me I assure you.

michael reidy said...

strange thing to report. I hadn't read the comments to your previous post on conferences. Last night while writing that postI guessed that you had a 7 year old child. Maybe you have but buried in the comments is a link to 8 years old Miss Sweetie Poo who is in the grand tradition of obnoxious American children. So resonance hits an area rather than a bullseye on a target.

elisa freschi said...

Well, Michael, it seems that my mind is not that opaque to you;-)

Thanks for the explanation. If I am not wrong, what you mean is that it is impossible to imagine that, e.g., an emotion is an unknown object like a stone is. A stone can exist even if no one sees it. On the other hand, an emotion is either felt or just does not exist (you might remember that I had an ongoing 'conversation' with Amod about whether, e.g., pain can exist without being felt. see:

But what about someone else's mind? It 'exists' insofar as it is known by that other person. Hence, it has already 'erupted' in someone else. So, either it is known by the yogin as an object (by definition, an object which could never be unknown), or it is known by the yogin as if he were its subject. But, then, he would be under the delusion of being someone else… What is the Vedānta Paribhāṣā's solution of this conundrum?

michael reidy said...

On second thoughts I probably read the comments but didn't watch the video. Middle of the night and dog barking to get out.

What VP has to say about the saksin is that it (Witness) is individual because the mind is individual otherwise what Maitra would know Caitra would also know. The Witness/Sakshin is defined as Pure Consciousness with the mind as Limiting Adjunct/upadhi. Displacing the witness in the mind of the other the Yogi would read the mind as though it were his own. Would it be felt as other than his own because of the different vasanas? That's a possibility.
Yogi: Oh my gosh, this can't be my mind. This is a David Byrne experience.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks, Micheal.
This leads to scenarios often discussed in philosophy of mind, e.g., if my neurons were to be electrically 'stimulated' as yours in situation X, with X being "I (Michael) feel love for my wife", would I love her too? Of course not, at least not in the same way as you can love her (supposing you are happily married;-)), but I might feel a similar feeling of affection.
Now, the point as for the yogin is the following: the yogin is believed to be an omniscient (the term yogin is glossed with sarvajña by Utpaladeva in the ĪPKVṛtti). But an omniscient should be able to discriminate and should not be caught in the delusion of feeling 'mine' affection (as if s/he were me) while trying to read my mind. The only way out I can imagine is something like an inner division: part of the yogin's mind feels 'my' affection, while the other part knows it is 'mine' and not 'his/hers'.
Do you have any Vedāntic insight about this split?

Patrick said...

Very interesting also. I've got no answer, but another question : how can Buddhas and Bodhisattvas "bless" anyone ? Do they influence the conditions in the immediate world of an individual or modify his or her "stream of consciousness" ?

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