Re-examination of the Perceptual Process (based upon some questions
raised on the previous material) – Part 3
I will next address some epistemological issues that
have been raised. I will paraphrase the questions raised
in relation to the above description of attributive
knowledge of an object. Some of the objections have
already been addressed but they are being repeated in
order to focus on the issues involved.
1. Objection: That the mind gains
only attributive and not substantial knowledge from
the vRRitti is similar to the philosophy of vij~nAna
vAda of Buddhism and to Western Idealism. For them also
there are no objects out there. That object knowledge
is only attributive knowledge counts against Vedanta.
Response: Absolutely not.
There is a difference between attributive-object knowledge
and vij~nAna vAda or Western Idealism. When the
senses gather attributes from a perceived object, those
attributes are not created by the seer or his mind.
There is an objective or empirical reality or vyAvahArika
satyam. The objects, together with their attributes,
are the creation of Ishvara. The jIva’s creation manifests
only in dream states, whereas Ishvara’s creation
is in the waking state. According to Advaita Vedanta,
Ishvara himself became many (bahusyam - let me become
many). The different objects, and the divergent attributes
that distinguish them, stem from a creation that is
based upon previous karma. Each object is an assemblage
of the basic elements, the pa~ncha bhUta-s, the five
primordial elements that come from Ishvara. Ishvara’s
creation includes the minds of those beings that
perceive the objects through their senses. The minds,
the objects they perceive, and the attributive knowledge
of the objects gained through the senses and mind,
are ontologically in par. The only difference is
that the mind is made up subtle elements while the
objects are made with gross elements. This is one
of the reasons why physical objects do not enter
into the mind.
2. Objection: How do we know that
the senses bring in only attributes and not the substance,
since substance and attributes are inseparable?
Response: It is well known
that when I see an object, the image of the object is
formed on the retina and this image is then transmitted
as an electrical signal to the brain. The projection
of 3-D forms occurs because of the presence of two
eyes. The object remains outside while the image
is formed on the retina and transmitted to the brain.
This is where physics ends. The electrical input
is transformed (though how is not yet understood) into
what Vedanta calls a vRRitti in the mind. Hence,
only those attributes that can be measured by the senses
are fed into the brain and thence to the mind. The
mind being subtle and the object being gross, it
is just as well that the substance does not enter into
the brain and therefore into the mind! These are
facts that we understand so far.
3. Objection: Form and color are
not the only attributes. There are other sense inputs:
shabda, sparsha, rasa, gandha, etc. Image formation
is only at the optical level. Hence, the above explanation
is not valid.
Response: The optical signal processing
is very clear and is faster than the processing of other
signals. All sense-inputs are transferred via electrical
inputs to the brain. If the nervous system fails, then
electrical signal input fails and the input from the
corresponding senses also fails. If all senses fail,
no knowledge of the external world occurs. These are
facts that we know. There are no assumptions involved
here. Having more than one type of attribute does not
make the process any different. All signal processing
is the same. There may be parallel processing instead
of series processing, i.e. simultaneous information
feed rather than sequential feed. However, at the vRRitti
level, the thought in the mind appears to be sequential
not parallel. One does not have two simultaneous thoughts.
4. Objection: The mind is not a two dimensional
screen for projection, as the analysis implies.
Response: The analysis does not assume that
the mind is a two-dimensional screen. Virtual images of 3-D
can be made easily and can be seen. Conceptually, the process
is the same. The above analysis is valid even if one considers
the mind to be 3-D or even multi-dimensional. The mind remains
subtle even if it is multi-dimensional, while the matter
outside is gross. According to Vedanta, the mind is a part
of the subtle body, which is formed by the subtle elements
before pa~nchIkaraNam [literally causing anything to contain
the five elements]. The matter (bhautika) outside is gross
and formed after pa~nchIkaraNam. The objects are made up
of gross matter and their attributes are subtle. Sensory
communication takes place via transmitted, coded signals.
The senses form part of the subtle body.
5. Objection: An object is not just a substance.
It has attributes which may differ from the attributes of the
substance of which it is made. For example, a ring is different
from gold, the material substance. When VP says that an object ‘ring’ is
perceived, the ring object that is perceived by the mind does
not necessarily have only the attributes of the ring itself.
Response: No. The substance is in
the form of an object, where form constitutes an attribute
of the object along with other attributes. The object
itself is notional, since it is the material or substantive
itself in that form. When attributes are perceived,
a locus is formed for the attributes and that locus
is the vRRitti in the mind. That vRRitti is the ‘object
ring’ that is perceived. The ‘object ring’ that
is perceived is as real as the mind that perceives it.
Within vyavahAra, ontologically both are equally real
or equally unreal, depending on one’s vision or
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