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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Aether and sound

I am still struggling with the theory of sound of the Vaiśeṣikas. As common also in pre-18th c. Europe, Vaiśeṣikas imagined aether as the substrate of sound. More in detail, aether has for Vaiśeṣikas the only function of being the substrate of sound. This is probably due to the fact that sound travels through air, liquids and solids alike –it was hence easy to be tempted to assume a special medium, ubiquitous and accountable for the spreadth of sound.
But, what aspect of aether is sound? Vaiśeṣikas answered defining sound as a "quality of aether". Their theories seemed preposterous to me until I started identifying various historical steps:

  1. An ancient theory where sound as a quality would be originated because of contact or separation of substances in a certain portion of aether and move from there to the hearing organ (hinted at in the reconstructed *Tarkasiddhi (TS).
  2. A less ancient theory where sound as a quality would be originated because of contact or separation of substances in a certain portion of aether and create another sound, which creates another sound, until the succession reaches the hearing organ (discussed in *TS).
  3. A later theory which incorporates the Phonetic account and the role of air. Here, the sound originated because of the air, probably because of the contact of the air modified by the articulatory organs with the aether.
Can readers help me with that? And, more in general, why did Vaiśeṣikas accept claims which appear contradictory, such as that there are parts in the partless aether, that a contact with a portion of aether is conceivable, that contact causes a quality of aether?

7 comments:

Aleix Ruiz Falqués said...

Hi Elisa, I think the question with the parts of the indivisible aether has to do with the concept of upAdhi. I don't have the proper tools here but maybe you could check it out in TarkasaMgraha - if I'm right, I've read it there.
I've tried to find a pdf of tarkasamgraha but I'm still searching.

elisa freschi said...

You can find the Tarkasaṅgraha at GRETIL. I'll check immediately for the upādhis…it suits nicely my last post!

Aleix Ruiz Falqués said...

Please check this:
http://www.archive.org/stream/TarkaSamgraha/TarkaSangrahansp#page/n43/mode/2up

right page, bottom "sopadhika iti" and so on.

I don't know it that will solve your problem.

michael reidy said...

Elisa:
You are taking the common approach of representational realism to the problem which is to say that an 'event' such as sound is the end result of a process that has passed through awareness. It is in this view a precipitate. The Vedic ontology as in the Quintupling cosmological speculation (Panchikaranam) holds that what has subsistent existence is sound/space, unmediated by any human experience. In a commentary on the Brh.Up. Shankara says that the organs and the objects are of the same category (II.iv.11)"The organs are but modes of the object in order to perceive them". The mystical AUM has significance here.

Bergson has a similar idea in 'Matter and Memory' where he speaks of the 'aggregate of images' that are out there. He steers a way between the pure interiority of Idealism (Berkeley) and the Lockean representational realism. This is very much contrary to our normal psychological view of the nature of perception. Bergson offers an interpretation of the experimental data about lesions/aphasia etc which at first was rejected but later came to be seen as genuine difficulties for the conventional view.

elisa freschi said...

Michael,
thanks for the comment, but I am afraid I need your help on a few further points:
1. You say that I use a "representational realism" approach. Am I? I have always understood Vaiśeṣikas as rather direct realists, claiming that sound exists as a quality of ether independent of our perception of it. Indian ontology in general shares the idea that the sense faculties (indriya) need to be of the same constituents of the sensible qualities they can seize. This is because there must be a fixed relation between what seizes and what can be seized, in order to avoid the possibility that every sense faculty could seize every sensible thing. I somehow miss the implications you seem to see in this theory.
2. Are you claiming that the anti-reductionist stance of Bergson is similar to Śaṅkara's? Or to the Vaiśeṣikas'?

elisa freschi said...

Aleix,
the passage you point to explains that the syllogism
yatra yatra kṛtakatvam, tatra tatra anityatvam
works because there is an upādhi of the sādhana (kṛtakatva), namely bāhyendriyagrahaṇārhatva. Hence, it is true that something is non-permanent *because* it is a product. And it is true due to the condition of being grasped by the external senses (which is invariably present in whatever is a product but not in whatever is non-permanent).
śabdo 'nityaḥ is a stock example of syllogism in Nyāya, probably because it is a controversial topic.

michael reidy said...

Misunderstanding on my part, let me clarify:
Any kind of realism based on the western division of the answer to the question ‘what are we aware of’ into broadly speaking Idealism and Realism would be problematic for Vedic ontology. This would I think apply to both Direct and Indirect Realism though I will grant you that Direct Realism is nearer to the mark. How that ‘Direct Realism’ works is something that is subtly different from the normal Western understanding. It is different because the notion of an object is different. The substratum of the object is consciousness and it is this that allows the subject and object to be one with each other on that plane. Tat tvam asi. There are analogies to be drawn to the Bergsonian conception of the object and our awareness of it but that is a very complex and tortuous discussion.

The Sankarite conception as delineated in his commentary on Brh.Up. is what I had in mind.

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