Tuesday, June 1, 2010

ººforking¬ ¬pathsºº

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, (1960).

In emptiness there is no form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness; No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to: No mind-consciousness element; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to: there is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path. There is no cognition, no attainment and non-attainment.-- Paramita Hridaya Sutra

Alfredo Triff

An essential ingredient in becoming is the many: one or whole, part, relation. In Buddhist philosophy there are no wholes: only parts. Similarly, there is no progression to an actuality. The Buddhist moment does not progress toward realization.

Tom Friedman, Big Bang, (Glitter and mixed media on paper, 2008).

It harks back to Nagarjuna's doctrine of Sunyata, a crucial concept in Buddhist philosophy. Imagine a universe of correlations, whereby everything is connected. Whatever "is" at any moment of space-time, consists of conditions or relationships, and these, too, are dependently co-originated:  

"The 'originating dependently' we call 'emptiness.' " "Emptiness is dependent co-origination."

Sunyata does not mean absolute lack, but rather a positive meaning of being, the Ultimate Source of all reality. Lama Govinda interprets the principle:
"śūnyatā is not a negative property, but a state of freedom from impediments and limitations, a state of spontaneous receptivity, in which we open ourselves to the all-inclusive reality of a higher dimension. Here we realize the Śūnyatā, which forms the central concept of the Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra. Far from being the expression of a nihilistic philosophy which denies all reality, it is the logical consequence of the anātman doctrine of non-substantiality. Śūnyatā is the emptiness of all conceptual designations and at the same time the recognition of a higher, incommensurable and indefinable reality, which can be experienced only in the state of perfect enlightenment."*
What does it mean to say that reality is ultimately and intimately relational? Sunyata can be seen as the reverse of Pratitya Samutpada, the Buddhist law of dependent co-origination. There is no self-subsisting, isolated phenomena. Reality is relation(ship), always in flux, always becoming.

Ghada Amer, Anne, (Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas, 2004).

Reality is always digested, interpreted, quantified, apprehended. The common sense, everyday perception of things is one amongst many other constructions or versions of the world. What happens is that we "normally" understand the world as made up of distinct, self-subsisting substances, and hence we are able to put things in rational order according to various rules or laws. So, while Sunyata -negatively- means that nothing has a sufficient basis of its being in itself, Pratitya Samutpada means -positively- that one event is dependent on others.

One concept is implied in the statement of the other. Substance, for example would be dependent only on itself, thus excluding both Sunyata as well as Pratitya Samutpada. Therefore, Buddhism doesn't recognize recognizes substance.

The distinction comes from a passage in the catuṣkoṭi of the Mādhyamikas:
a- It is not the case that x is ϕ.
b- It is not the case that x is not-ϕ.
c- It is not the case that x is both ϕ and not-ϕ.
d- It is not the case that x is neither ϕ nor not-ϕ

It seems very complicated, but one can see it as twotruths: Are you warp-yarn or weft- yarn?

 Kaisa Puhakka charts the stylized reification process as such:

"We are typically not aware of ourselves as taking something (P) as real. Rather, its reality 'takes us,' or already has us in its spell as soon as we become aware of its identity (P). Furthermore, it's impossible to take something (P) to be real without, at least momentarily, ignoring or denying that which it is not (not-P). Thus the act of taking something as 'real' necessarily involves some degree of unconsciousness or lack of awareness. This is true even in the simple act of perception when we see a figure that we become aware of as 'something.' In Gestalt psychology, for each figure perceived, there is a background of which we remain relatively unaware. Now, extend this dynamic to text-analysis or speech acts. In hermeneutics, for every text we understand there is a context we miss. With every figure noticed or reality affirmed, there is, inevitably, unawareness. Is this how a spell works?"**

French philosopher Alain Badiou presents his ontology surprisingly close to Buddhism. For Badiou, 1- Being has no latent structure of its own. 2- Being's multiplicity is irreducible to any totality. 3- Ontology is a theory of the void, which is why "the infinite" is a void. It cannot be reduced to a unity. To think of Being means to posit oneself as as "warp" or "waft" (or both?).

Between uncontrolled chaos and absolute disorder, Mehretu conveys a fractal order:  

Julie Mehretu, Dispersion (Ink and acrylic on canvas, 2002).

What drives this "thirst" for being? Let's see it this way: An entity is reproduced through a replication of its states. Each moment comprising a state of the entity. A complete entity can only be the result of an imaginative reconstruction over a series of states. Schramm presents it as in-between of place and no/place: 

Felix Schramm, Misfit (2005-06) @ SFMoMA

The sequence of the replications is linked together in the mind through the rapid succession of similar moments. This gives the continuity of experience and the appearance of persistence. In Martin Oppel's Untitled, the gravity-defying totem-like sculpture becomes a cipher for legion (one in the many).  

Martin Oppel, Untitled (Strata Fiction C, 2008).

Satkari Mookerjee writes that the arrow in its flight "is not one but many arrows successively appearing in the horizon, which give rise to the illusion of a persistent entity owing to continuity of similar entities." 

At this point, Jorge Luis Borges can lend us a hand:
"The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time; this recondite cause prohibits its mention. To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing it. That is the tortuous method preferred, in each of the meanderings of his indefatigable novel, by the oblique Ts'ui Pên. I have compared hundreds of manuscripts, I have corrected the errors that the negligence of the copyists has introduced, I have guessed the plan of this chaos, I have re-established -I believe I have re-established- the primordial organization, I have translated the entire work: it is clear to me that not once does he employ the word 'time.' The explanation is obvious: The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts'ui Pên conceived it. In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us. In the present one, which a favorable fate has granted me, you have arrived at my house; in another, while crossing the garden, you found me dead; in still another, I utter these same words, but I am a mistake, a ghost."
_______
*Lama Anagarika Govinda, Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness, pp. 10-11.** Kaisa Puhakka, Puhakka, Kaisa (2003). "Awakening from the Spell of Reality: Lessons from Nāgārjuna' within," in Encountering Buddhism: Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings (State University of New York Press, 2003), p. 134, 145.

23 comments:

Julie McConnell said...

Fascinating stuff. Actually, the caption for that painting by Tom Friedman brought me back to that discussion we had last semester about that pending Big Bang theory that’s being researched. I took interest in the subject, so I did a little more research to educate myself about what the details of it were exactly. It basically discussed the notion of brane(s) which create alternate dimensions of reality. However, there are multiple branes in this theory which point to there being multiple dimensions of reality (and could thus explain the existence of a three-dimensional existence): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brane.

There has not been enough substantial evidence to prove this as being necessarily true, but this in itself could help answer our questions pertaining to Eastern Philosophy: Sunyata (nothing having a sufficient basis of itself being in itself) and Pratitya Samutpada (that one event is dependent on others). It’s very possible to say that both of these concepts can be justified in proven, even in a scientific context. Many times, we incorporate the spiritual into our everyday lives and there might be a reason why…

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3077357/

The topic of emptiness in Eastern Philosophy also tends to make me think of optical illusions. Right when you think something is gone, something else is there:

http://malice-aforethought.com/images/op-art2copy.jpg

Julie McConnell said...
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Feminista said...

I agree. The discussions about one or another type of ontology always miss the point. Is life logical? Are we logical?

Ana Maria said...

I prefer to go for the whole, which is bigger than the parts. Question: How can ontology resolve the problems of the world?

miamibourbaki said...

Is life logical? Are we logical?

Good questions. Feminista, we are not logical, but we have reason. And reason finds fault with reason. Logics (there are many) are constructions. You, however, are not a construction.

Ana Maria: Ontology can help in figuring out things. And any help is always welcome.

miamibourbaki said...

The topic of emptiness in Eastern Philosophy also tends to make me think of optical illusions. Right when you think something is gone, something else is there.

Julie, nice way to put it.

Ingrid said...
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Ingrid said...

Ingrid Castillo:

Satkari Mookerjee writes that the arrow in its flight "is not one but many arrows successively appearing in the horizon, which give rise to the illusion of a persistent entity owing to continuity of similar entities." "is not one but many arrows successively appearing in the horizon, which give rise to the illusion of a persistent entity owing to continuity of similar entities."

It makes me think that every action, every gesture we make, has a life of its own. Almost as if anything we do can go differently and thus create a series of events different to what one is experiencing. What I’m trying to get at is what if every decision we made or better yet, every decision that we didn’t make, was played out in some other reality? What if our subconscious was a continuing string of possible scenarios? If that were true, then is the mind I have now as I type this, my complete mind? Is it possible that there is a piece of me somewhere in another dimension playing out the consequences of my actions or decisions I didn’t make? It’s very intriguing and at the same time very confusing. There is no way I can prove or dismiss this idea. Yet, when I sit down to think of the possibilities that could have happened had I done things differently in my life, and as I sit here to imagine that “other” life isn’t my subconscious connecting with that piece of me that seems to be wherever that scenario lives? Or am I just daydreaming?

This sounds like rambling but hopefully I made a little bit of sense.

Ted said...

As Ana Maria stated, what is reality? Realty is what we make of it. There is no tangible reason to identify it. Reality is the oneness that passion brings. The one nirvana. The greatness of being and the void that accompanies it.

It is the last piece of the puzzle. It is not the puzzle piece itself, but the "piece" as it fits perfectly in it's place. It is the wholeness of the entire puzzle.

Julie's statement regarding the multiple dimensions, is where "free choice" comes into play. Everything has/is already "written" in the heavens. Steps taken, the movement of the arms, and the words that are spoken...it flows into the groves already made into the ground.

Reality is the flow, the scientific search is the periodic overflow...attempting to find it's own way. However, the attempt to reason with the flow, drives back to the original flow further down, or it dries up on it's own.

Ekarus said...

On the other hand, one could argue that madness is the best example of logic!

Karen said...

I like this idea of what happen is what we normally understand it to be. This is really true. As we grow we develop this understand of what "is" and what "isn't". and when we see something the we are not familiar with it becomes an "isn't". everyday m sure we walk around and recognize many familiar thing and yet our minds may notice one unfamiliar object and disregard it as a matter or material that was never present in the moment that we seen it. Though when we are presented with the opportunity of what the matter actually is then are memory jogs back to the moment in which you first seen it.... or even it maynot jog back because the material was disregarded though the next time you see it amongst your reality you will recognize it because now you have a normal understanding of what it is. Though also with reality and what we hold true to be reality everything has a word i would most definately argue that if it didnt have a word then it would not be part of my reality. Don't know if I make that much sense but hopefully i do... chow

Isabelle Martinez said...

What does it truly meant to say that reality is ultimately relational? As nature is always “digested, interpreted, quantified, apprehended,” it is only natural for us humans to look at reality in respects to the Pratitya Samutpada principle. I see this principle as a seamless embodiment of how we envision our reality, our lives. Aspects of our lives are both connected and interdependent to one another just as the significant events of our lives are an interconnected and dependent chain; ultimately, making our reality quintessentially “relational.”

I see our lives as a manifestation as Peter Coffin’s Untitled. Comparably, these “rapid succession[s] of similar moments” are like those moments of our childhood which eventually are linked to our adulthood. It is the “continuity of [our] experience” that is derived from those when we were once children. But at the same time, like Felix Schramm’s sculpture Misfit, the events of our lives are represented as their own entity in a series.

A.T. said...

What I’m trying to get at is what if every decision we made or better yet, every decision that we didn’t make, was played out in some other reality?

Sure, Ingrid. One can see it negatively! My reading your comment happens as a result of (the not-doing-something I could've done, i.e.,) watching a movie now and not checking out the blog and commenting; instead, going back to my essay on Totalitarianism (almost done).

However, the attempt to reason with the flow, drives back to the original flow further down, or it dries up on it's own.

Good point, Ted, the drying up part is definitely a possibility. One shouldn't count on anything flowing flowinglessly.

Ekarus: You got it! Reason's finding fault with itself also has a double, or rather, a doppelganger, a ghostly double. Madness is not the Other of Reason. It's (perhaps) Reason in-itself, the very possibility of chaos into order.

But at the same time, like Felix Schramm’s sculpture Misfit, the events of our lives are represented as their own entity in a series.

Well said. That's emptiness!

Though when we are presented with the opportunity of what the matter actually is then are memory jogs back to the moment in which you first seen it.... or even it may not jog back because the material was disregarded though the next time you see it amongst your reality you will recognize it because now you have a normal understanding of what it is.

Karen, thanks. Nicely put.

Hans Chamorro said...
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Rohaidy said...

I think that of all the comments I've read thus far, I really have to agree with what Ted and Julie stated. First off, I found these articles so captivating and i really felt I had to think more than I have in a good while to understand what reality means to me. I see reality as something so complex and misunderstood, yet something that when it is taken into thought and consideration, is so simple and makes sense. Reality, as I see it, is applicable to each individual case. I see it as the level of understanding that we as individuals have when dealing with life, its many twists and turns, as well as how to get through these circumstances, and if possible, keep everything in-tact.

But it must also be noted that Reality is not always easily attained, or understood, and similar to Moksha, I see it as a final liberation or stage.

Ca.Di said...

The key to reality is an understanding of how we perceive reality.
The same is true of every other experience. All that I see, hear, taste, touch, smell and feel has been created from the data received by my sensory. All I ever know of the world around are the mental images constructed from that which is tangible. However real and external they may seem, they are all phenomena within my mind.
This simple fact is very hard to grasp; it goes against all our experience. If there is anything about which we feel sure, it is that the world we experience is real. We can see, touch and hear it. What we don't realize sometimes is that the world of our experience is no more "out there" than are our dreams. When we dream we create a reality in which events happen around us, and in which we perceive other people as individuals separate from us. In the dream it all seems very real. But when we awaken we realize that everything in the dream was actually a creation of our own mind. We create different realities, different realities we experience. There is the reality we experience, our image of reality; and there is the underlying reality that has given rise to this experience. The underlying reality is the same for all people who observe and THINK they understand...

Katherine Irene said...

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Quoting:

1- Being has no latent structure of its own. 2- Being's multiplicity is irreducible to any totality. 3- Ontology is a theory of the void, which is why "the infinite" is a void. It cannot be reduced to a unity…

Thought probe: What drives this “thirst” for being?

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If we accept Buddhist metaphysics, we will have to conclude that events, concepts and objects in experience do NOT have independent existence outside the relationships/ contingencies that produce them.

But if true though, this conclusion will leave us with a very “light” picture of the world: a world in which nothing is final or “solid” in experience. Just change the relevant relationships and everything could have as easily been something completely different…

This “light,” or entirely contingent picture of the world, in turn would leave us with no standard frame of reference for comfort. Since even a concept as taken-for-granted as “reality” presupposes independent existence (viz. from individual perception), Buddhist metaphysics would only grant it the status of “convention”: a merely useful term to name the possibility that actualizes in our experience.

But if the concept of “reality” (as in capital R, Reality) turns out to be metaphysically vacuous—in other words, if it doesn’t refer to anything ultimately real—what is our reaction? Do we accept this conclusion or do we dismiss Buddhist metaphysics?

Many will probably bite the bullet and accept, at least intellectually, that “Reality” does not tag onto anything ultimate: that it is simply a possibility that actualized. But in practice though, not taking reality as ultimate—as something objectively “Real”—is very, very difficult! (For a quick example, think of your reaction if you heard that your loved one died. You would not say “oh, it’s just a possibility that actualized. He/She may have as easily not died.” The death happened and even if just a “possibility,” for you it will acquire ultimacy simply because it actualized in your experience. So you will grieve, and in grieving, you will be taking the death as ultimate).

So if we are able to grasp and accept Buddhist metaphysics only intellectually but not in practice, this inconsistency evidences what Prof Triff calls “a thirst for being”: an insistent human need for reality to be Ultimate Reality and not just an “actualized possibility.”

If we have this intellectual need, what exactly drives it? In other words, why do we insist on reality to be Real?

Katherine Irene said...

Like you, I can only speculate and so far I have identified three reasons

The first? Comfort. We feel safety in the idea that we “know” something: in short that our minds are gathering and holding onto valid and reliable information (even when this information is only tentative and not to be taken as ultimately real)

The second? Conventions make life in society possible. Even if metaphysically vacuous, concepts such as “reality” serve as conventions--agreed upon “tags”-- that make effective communication in society possible.

The third? Scientific successes seem to lend some credence to our “conventions.” Science has relied on conventions such as “reality” to make successful predictions and produce stunning technology. These triumphs of science, then, have lent some credence to our conventions. There SEEMS* to be something “ultimately real” about them.

*I stress SEEMS because scientific successes can never prove that our conventions have ultimate validity. The successes can only increase our confidence in our conventions.

Final Remarks

Accepting the Buddhist metaphysical conclusion that events, concepts and objects in experience do NOT have independent existence outside the relationships/ contingencies that produce them, is a personal choice. But if there is something significant that Buddhist metaphysics teaches us is that we should not make our conventions “too stark and solid.” Despite their utility in scientific prediction, they are always open to reinterpretation and re-conceptualization.

valeska said...

Emptiness is a difficult concept to try to grasp intellectually. But I think it refers to the idea of absence of self and the impermanence of things. There's no such thing as identity. Life is in constant flux and everything is interrelated. Emptiness would be the void in which the delusion of the self takes place, along with all that which we can experience. The part I like the most is that because no-thing is an independent entity, we cannot be subject to irreconcilable conflicts.
valeska Brieva

miamibourbaki said...

...everyday m sure we walk around and recognize many familiar thing and yet our minds may notice one unfamiliar object and disregard it as a matter or material that was never present in the moment that we seen it.

Sure, Karen, and so we miss a lot. Perhaps the solution is memories.

But I think it refers to the idea of absence of self and the impermanence of things.

Good point, Valeska.

But in practice though, not taking reality as ultimate—as something objectively “Real”—is very, very difficult! (For a quick example, think of your reaction if you heard that your loved one died. You would not say “oh, it’s just a possibility that actualized. He/She may have as easily not died.” The death happened and even if just a “possibility,” for you it will acquire ultimacy simply because it actualized in your experience. So you will grieve, and in grieving, you will be taking the death as ultimate).

KI: I love your example. Then you go:

In other words, why do we insist on reality to be Real?

We do and we don't. See how we've dealt (as humans) with reality and the Real of reality: by creating these alternatives, these parallel worlds of (other than real possibilities) poetry, music, art, performance, religion, sports, i.e., all these symbolic constructions which are not necessarily anti-real (since they're always asymptotic to reality), but sort of other-than-, more-than, real.

Nicolas said...

This example:

“The distinction comes from a passage in the catuṣkoṭi of the Mādhyamikas:
a- It is not the case that x is ϕ.
b- It is not the case that x is not-ϕ.
c- It is not the case that x is both ϕ and not-ϕ.
d- It is not the case that x is neither ϕ nor not-ϕ “

and the example of the yarn weaving remind me of math. Which is appropriate for Buddhism and eastern philosophies because it is very logic based. What I can't understand is that by not doing something we are doing something, so wouldn't that mean we are constantly creating constantly doing something? Can we really ever be in a state of doing nothing? Even if myself in another universe is doing the opposite of me, have I not done both things? From what I can gather from the example that “X is ϕ” is that we are one and separate at the same time. Does the actions I do and the actions of my other selves cancel each out so as if I didn't do any thing, but I did everything? This reminds me of physics and a property called work. A mass does work when it has gone a distance when a force is applied it. If I were to grab a wooden block and move it forward then move it back to where I had originally had it the block of wood has not done any work. But to the observers they saw me move it, they saw my hand move the block back and forth. So who is right? You could say the observers are right because by the time I move the block back to its right spot on the table it will be in a difference place because of the rotation of the Earth. But if we limit our area to just the table physics is correct. Hence everyone is right and wrong at the same moment.

I defiantly need to read this again.

los camaradas said...

I think the piece you labeled Peter Coffin is actually a work by Martin Oppel

A.T. said...

Thanks, it's fixed already.