Monday, May 29, 2017

Reply to Vedanta Society discussion of types of knowledge

Thank you for posting a review of three types of knowledge according to Vedas/Upanishads. Unfortunately, I read your post when I was on travel for a month, and cannot copy the original, but the issues are important and easy to remember. 

Your post reminded me of warm memories of reading the Hume translation of principal Upanishads in 1963, initially sitting on the concrete floor of the Princeton (undergraduate) library and then later in the house I lived in at Lawrenceville. It also reminds me of a friend who knew Oppenheimer very well, who discussed how Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit just in order to be able to read the Upanishads in the original.

If I understand you correctly, you are reviewing and applying a three-fold classification of knowledge into: (1) knowledge based on direct personal experience (essentially, the flow of direct sensory inputs) to a person; (20 knowledge based on what we impute the experience of others to be, and (3) knowledge based on logical reasoning. As I recall, some parts of the Upanishads suggest that mystical enlightenment, the seeing of the world through many eyes at once ( i.e. the brahman/Atman viewpoint), appears as a manifestation it extension of the third principle, the reasoning.

In 1964, that was my interpretation of what I saw in the Upanishads and in reality. It seemed more elevated and pleasing and logical than the "yoga alternative," present in other parts of the Upanishads, in which enlightenment could be seen "merely" as an extension or manifestation if the first type of knowledge, the direct and substantive personal experience. Sometimes an abstract concept or representation is of real value only to the extent that it "opens our eyes," by enlarging what we consciously see, expanding the power of the direct personal experience. That is how I see this now, after many years of reassessing based on all three types of knowledge.

On netlix there was one great season of a show called "sense8," which ultimately failed commercially (perhaps due to unnecessary confusion and baggage related to sex) but which did contain beautiful images of what it means to see through many eyes at once.

This is not just an academic issue. At the present stage of development of the economy and technology of humanity, the species itself us under very clear threat to its very existence, and traditional concepts of balance of power may not be enough to offer us hope of a sustainable resolution of deep conflicts of ideas. The yogic approach in general (which has manifestations in all the great cultures of the world) is more and more essential, and of course in need of more advanced development.

Just as parts of the ocean nay be mapped according to depth and longitude, not just latitude, the ocean of knowledge can also be mapped according to other dimensions in addition to .., .. and .. For example, there is great value in being mindful of the distinction between knowledge which takes the form of strings of words, versus knowledge which takes a form like images in fields of neurons exactly as we see in the brains and minds of other mammals who do not use words. A key part of the yogic approach, and of some enlightened aspects of Confucianism (like Meng Tzu's concepts of zhengqi), is to respect always the nonverbal "half" of our minds. Professor James Anderson of Brown has compared the formal "half"  to a "new but still buggy alpha version of software." It gives a great extension to the power of the mind, but we do need to get the bugs out, and put it into proper relation with the bigger, older part. 

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