May 30

Beyond First Person Egoic Epistemology

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Consciousness is primary only from the experiential or empirically conditioned stage of existence, within the cidabhasa or shadowy reflection of reality [cf. Plato’s cave dwellers]. I think you may be familiar with the three epistemological forms of knowledge called pratyaksa, paroksa, and aparoksa. Pratyaksa refers to knowledge gained through direct, first person, perception and understanding. Paroksa refers to knowledge gained from other respected persons. Aparoksa refers to deductive knowledge gained by rational means or reason, either directly or through association with others who have reached that stage of spiritual realization. This is sometimes referred to as transcendental knowledge. I explained in another article that Reason extends beyond consciousness or knowing in the region of chidabhasa. Sometimes this knowledge is also described as descending or deductive because it begins from the universal or logical concepts to deduce particulars from it, unlike the problematic inductive process that starts from limited experiential data and hypothesizes universal conclusions,

Even beyond aparoksa there are higher principles of knowledge for one who enters into the stage of spiritual realization. To know that one must first get beyond the shadowy stage of consciousness, come to know the self or atma as self-consciousness, and then the stage of reason can be reached, beyond which lies the spontaneous plane of spirit whose substance or being is freedom. This path has been explained and laid out in the revealed scriptures and taught by the spiritual masters who have realized it. The method for learning it has also be explained, beginning with hearing (sravanam). The method of following one’s own ruminations is the negative process of learning what does not work.

May 25

The Logic of Life

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I think it will be very useful to look at the way Hegel organized
the various types of objects that we observe in Nature, viz. the
mechanical, chemical and biological, according to what he called
the Concept (Begriff). The Concept, for Hegel, is basically a
dynamic or organic unity of the different moments or parts that
make up the Concept and its content. We will start with his
application of this idea to the mechanical object.

Mechanical Objects

Mechanical objects do not have an internal relationship of parts.
Thus you can divide a rock and it becomes two rocks, but the
basic nature of the rock does not change. What lacks internal
relation like this, is said to have merely an external relation to
what is other than itself. Thus rocks are related to other rocks by
the external force of gravity, or other causal factors. Objects that
lack internal relatedness possess merely external relatedness.
Planets relate to each other externally, as in the solar system,
explicable by the laws of gravity and motion. Newtonian gravity
depends upon mass, but the internal composition of that mass
does not play any role in determining their attraction to other
planets. Thus gravity acts in a purely external way to unite the
planets into the solar system.

In mechanistic objects, the unifying Concept (in this case,
gravitational force) exists only implicitly, and therefore only
explicitly or externally to the object. Mechanics views a system
as having separable, independent parts that are fully
understandable outside their connection within the system of
which they are parts. When the parts of a system retain the same
identity when isolated from the system as when connected within
it, it is called a mechanical system. This is the particular logical
character or nature that is implied when we refer to a system as
being mechanical.

Chemical Objects

Now, those entities that show an intrinsic affinity toward other
entities leads to the next type of object – the chemical object.
Chemical objects have parts that are internally related. They are
not the same when isolated from each other as when they are
connected or united with each other. Thus, for example, a salt
crystal cannot maintain its identity when divided at its most
fundamental molecular level since sodium and chloride atoms
when divided would form two distinct substances – sodium and
chlorine. External relations are formed due to the intrinsic
properties of the individual parts of a chemical reaction. Thus an
acid is intrinsically related to an alkali, which combine to form a
neutral salt. Their unity, the neutral salt, is a completely different
substance compared to the distinct parts in their isolation.

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Apr 13

Beyond the Modern Monolith of Consciousness

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The right question is: which came first, consciousness or the thought/concept of consciousness?

As explained in Part 1, consciousness is a derived subordinate concept to the self-thinking Idea or Absolute.

Consciousness is a concept and concepts are formed by thinking. We could not refer to the word “consciousness” and what it means or represents unless we had first formulated the idea by thinking it. But what must be a surprising fact for the modern thinker, is that the idea of consciousness does not come from within us – solipsistically as it were. The idea of consciousness comes to us from experience of others who exhibit whom we theorize to have consciousness.

This is explained in a very simple but extraordinary way by three prominent child psychologists, Alison Gopnik, Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl who argue that children are not simply passive vessels to be filled with knowledge, but act in a way that is similar to scientific investigators who make and test theories.

[Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl, The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains and How Children Learn (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1999).] They explain that for a child –

“All that really reaches us from the outside world is a play of colours and shapes, light and sound. . . what we really see are bags of skin stuffed into pieces of cloth and draped over chairs. There are small restless black spots that move at the top of the bags of skin, and a hole underneath that irregularly makes noises. The bags move in unpredictable ways, and sometimes one of them will touch us. The holes change shape, and occasionally salty liquid pours from the two spots.

This is, of course, a madman’s view of other people, a nightmare. The problem of Other Minds is how we somehow get from this mad view to our ordinary experience of people.”
Perception only gives us bags of skin, and other minds are something more than bags of skin. To encounter other minds we need something more than perception. Gopnik argues that the something more is a theory. The infant is a theoretician who comprehends her world, and other minds appear in that world as the explanation of phenomena.

In other words, to understand other persons as having consciousness we need something more than perception. Gopnik explains that ‘something more’ as a theory. The infant must be a theoretician in order to make sense of its phenomenal experiences.

In this way we come to understand ourselves as having consciousness by recognizing that others consist of a consciousness that is aware of myself as having consciousness. This is how we come to understand that I must have a consciousness. In other words it is a socially constructed and shared concept. This explains why the word consciousness is derived from the Latin root con-scio, or knowing with others.

Reason is beyond consciousness

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