Monday, August 2, 2010

Are unconnected thoughts possible?

Some philosophers conclude that there is no persistent self out of the fact that our thoughts (in a loose sense of the term) follow each other without any necessary connection to the former ones. And, even if there is some connection, this can be due just to the previous thought and not to the fact that both belong to the same subject (cf Kant's "elastic ball" argument while discussing the Third Paralogism, KrV, A 363-4). For instance, Galen Strawson writes:

Consider the diachronic case first: imagine that a series of seff-conscious thoughts or 'I-thoughts' occurs in the same brain, one at a time, while none of them ever involves any awareness of any thought earlier … than itself. […]

Some may want to say that there is nevertheless a single thinker, simply because a single brain is the locus of all thoughts. But why should the fact of non-mental diachronic singlesess decisively overrule the natural judgement that there is no plausible candidate for a diachronically single mental self in this case? ('The Self' in Models of the Self, edited by Gallagher and Shear, 1999)

I remember an acquaintance of mine who, after a training in Vipassana meditation, could described her mind as "pauselessly transmitting stupid spots as a popular radio". However, I wonder whether there can be a similar series of unconnected thoughts. Are thoughts so 'subject-independent' (I'm sorry if this could seem to beg the question)? Is 'my' thought of /pleasure while eating a vanilla ice cream/ the same as yours, given the same sensorial feeling? Let us for instance assume that I am an Italian man, who has been eating ice creams all his life long and you a Japanese chap who never had the pleasure of a home-made ice cream. Isn't my emotion (or "thought") deeply mine since it is connected with my memories of happy days eating ice creams? Isn't yours different in a significant way?
In Pramāṇavāda terms, one might object that the basic thought is the same, whereas just the following vikalpas differ. This might be true. But isn't it the case that the vikalpas are unavoidably part of the flux of consciousness? Can there ever be a series of vikalpa-less "thoughts", which, hence, bear no specific link to their subject?


michael reidy said...

I've noticed that you never mention the works of Shankaracarya when discussing annica and annata. B.S.B. offers many cogent arguments against those positions some of them prevising positions that are quite contemporary in Western Philosophy. I understand that to the professional scholar this niche may be already quite populated and the chance that something new might emerge would seem remote and therefore not a good career option. This I believe to be mistaken however in general discussion to leave out the many and varied arguments of Shankara is to give a less than complete picture of the problem field.

elisa freschi said...

Hi Michael and thanks for that. I guess you mean anicca (=anitya, impermanence) and anatta (=anātman, the confutation of a self), isn't it? Whatever the case, I do not quote out of the BSBh just because I am not very familiar with it (I only read the portion concerning the interpretation of jijñāsā as NOT a desire). This is not due to the desire to have an indological career (since an indological career seems at the moment a *contradictio in obiecto*), but rather to the fact that I have never had the pleasure of reading Śaṅkara with a teacher and, hence, I am quite cautious with him. BUT, I would be glad if you would add some insights out of his writings. This is a further evidence of the fact that a multi-authored blog is a desideratum (see:

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