Sunday, August 27, 2017

Garfield: Reflections on reflectivity

Continuing this post on the lack of a center of gravity in human self hood and consciousness, Jay Garfield, Buddhist scholar, has a bone to pick with Evan Thompon's conception of a self in Waking, Being, Dreaming. He said:

"The apparent unity to my experience is a construction. If to be a self is to be a subject, a unified center of consciousness, we are not selves. Persons, yes, but not selves. Our subjectivity is too complex, too fragmented, too multilayered for that. The transcendental unity of apperception that Kant thought was necessary to our identity (an idea carried over through Husserl into Thompson’s thinking) is, from the standpoint of Buddhist philosophy and from a lot of cognitive science, alas, not even actual. Agency is equally fragmented. Our sense that there is a unity of decision making when we act is simply false. The springs of action are manifold, and we often rationalize our motives ex post facto. These are precisely the phenomena to which Candrakīrti as well as Asanga and Vasubandhu advert when they say that the self as a narrative center of gravity (to use Daniel Dennett’s apt term) or as a center of agency or as something supervenient upon our aggregates—the thing to which we take ourselves to advert when we say“I”—simply is non-existent."

Therein Garfield also challenges Thompson's notion of consciousness, in effect similar to Wilber's notion as consciousness per se, in that it is a mystification.
"The smoke gets thicker when we turn consciousness into a kind of inner mirror in the context of analyzing it as reflexive awareness, a temptation to which Thompson succumbs partly in the thrall of Yogācāra Buddhism and partly due to the influence of Husserl and his contemporary interpreters. Candrakīrti, as Thompson is well aware, would have none of this (he is one of the most trenchant critics of the idea of the reflexivity of awareness), and neither should we. [...]

"Thompson is right to say that the self-illumination viewpoint regards consciousness as self-luminous like a lamp. But it also regards it as a thing, and it regards the metaphor of illumination, according to
which this property or substance, or process, shines out on things in the world so that I can see them. I think that is a terrible metaphor. Things in the world become apparent to us by virtue of their effects on us, not by virtue of a light we shine on them. They shine forth; we don’t."

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