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Friday, March 11, 2011

Unity of the subject of memory and experience

The argument from memory has possibly been historically the most powerful tool in favour of the persistence of a subject through time. And this not only in the West, but also in India.

Raffaele Torella has recently identified and edited some large fragments of the previously unedited vivṛti (long gloss) of Utpaladeva on his own Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā (The Strophes about the Lord's Recognition). The fragment edited in Tantric Studies in Memory of Helène Brunner begins with the following passage (my translations, R.Torella's own one has not been published yet):

The author [of the Strophes] shows that:
1. at the time of recollection, there cannot be any difference [between the subject who is recollecting now a certain pot and the one who saw it in the past], because what is manifested in the present memory is the appareance of the object further determined [as having been perceived in] a previous time,
2. the same physical object of both the appearances [of it] in the [past] experience and in the [present] memory implies the unity of both.
By doing that, he proves that the [past] seer and the [present] recollector are one and the same.
(smṛtikāle ca pūrvakālāvacchedenārthābhāsasya samarthitasya vārtamānikasmṛtiprakāśād bhedo nopapadyata ity anubhavasmṛtyābhāsayoḥ śarīrībhūta eko ’rthaḥ tayor apy ekatam ākṣipatīti copadarśayan draṣṭāraṃ smartāraṃ caikam upapādayati.)

In other words, the object of memory is the same that has been experienced before. The only additional feature it displays is the fact that it is recollected as being related to a previous time. Since no one else could have access to that past object, apart from the one who saw it originally, the recollector and the original perceiver must be one and the same person.

The above translation has been modified after a discreet reader pointed out that "congruous" is a rather unusual English word and that the whole passage sounded cumbersome. Thanks!

On memory and the self, see here. On translations, see here.

8 comments:

Jayarava said...

The problem is that experience of self is not purely subjective - the sense of being a self depends on various conditions including mental and physical; or internal and external; subjective and objective. And experience of objects is not purely objective either. We don't have direct contact with objects, but the experience of objects is also conditioned by mental and physical factors. The experience of remembering an object similarly.

The sense of selfhood, the perception of objects, and the recollection of memories of objects, are all complex phenomena which are experiential. They arise from the interaction of objects - both physical and mental - and the perceiving mind (with all the attendant associations, and internal narratives).

So the argument rests on naive realism: the idea that the experience of something -- the self, the object, and the memory of the object -- is the thing itself.

But the map is not the territory. Basically the conclusion of the argument is equal to the starting assumptions of the argument.

I'd be interested to know why you chose the obscure word 'strophes' to translate kārikā and not something like 'verses'? I had to look it up in my dictionary.

Best Wishes
Jayarava

elisa freschi said...

Dear Jayarava,
you are right (if I understand you correctly, if not, please correct me): the idea of memory as an evidence for the unity of the subject rests on the idea that the object I am now remembering is the same that I saw before. In fact, there could be just a "memory-event", endowed with details, which do not need to have occurred in the 'outer' world. In this sense, the argument from memory *presupposes* naive realism, instead of demonstrating it.

As for 'strophe', I might be wrong, but 'verse' describes each half (2 padas) in a kārikā. 'strophe' refers to the metrical unity of … verses (2 in the case of a kārikā, 14 in the Shakesperean sonnet…).

Jayarava said...

Yes, I think we agree on perception.

I have never seen the word 'strophe' before today, and was kind of surprised to find it in my dictionary as it seems an unlikely word. It's in the Concise OED, but not in the Pocket ed.

I don't know much about meter. But looking up various terms I would suggest pada = line, kārikā = verse, or stanza (per Monier-Williams as well).

Wikipedia sv 'sonnet': "A Shakespearean, or English, sonnet consists of 14 lines".

sv 'verse' "A verse is formally a single line in a metrical composition, e.g. poetry. However, the word has come to represent any division or grouping of words in such a composition, which traditionally had been referred to as a stanza."

Which sounds about right to this non-poet. Compare the relative frequencies over the last 200 years.

elisa freschi said...

I see your point, but I hope you can see mine. Can we agree on verse for 2 padas and stanza for the kārikā?

michael reidy said...

Identity and memory has been treated in the Brahma Sutra bhasya by Shankara. Basically he says that memory displays identity rather than establishes it. The subject of identity can be looked at via the identity of material objects as well and that is simpler to do. We don't have to consider the factor of self-identity i.e. consciousness of being x. Take for example a rubber ball. It bounces, if you let go of it, it rolls down an inclined plane, etc, etc. All these qualities are what make it to be a ball and if it suddenly lost them we would be deeply puzzled and look for factors that made it not be what it is. This identity is how the object informs the world and how it receives information from the world. If Momentariness/annica is the suggestion that this identity is something that is paused and renewed at every moment then we are bound also to accept acausality and the lapse of physics as an intelligible science. There seems to be no good reason to consider this course of action.

elisa freschi said...

Michael, I see your point, but I guess Kant would say that there is a possible foundation for physics, if only we do not look for it "out there".
Could you point out the passage in the BrSūBh?

michael reidy said...

That reference to memory and the Buddhist position is at B.S.B. II.ii.25

Physics and identity as real i.e. out there independent of our mind or in the Kantian way as transcendental are necessarily joined at the hip I would think. quarks will be quarks.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Michael,
I think we slightly disagree as for the Kantian project. I do not think that physics (for Kant) is transcendental, but rather that the condition for its *validity* depend on the trascendental categories of the I-think (I am only avoiding the term "subject" in order not to make the I-think seem something different for each one of us). Whether quarks are quarks or not is in itself beyond our reach. But we can meaningfully speak about them.

Thanks for the reference about BrSuBh. I really have to decide to read it...

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