Tuesday, September 13, 2011

More on identity and essence with Rosch

Here are some more of my posts from the IPS thread referenced in the last post:

How we interpret a 'postformal' cognitive level goes to the crux of the essence issue, as I explored at length in the real and false reason thread, i.e., it depends on which perspective(s) one chooses to describe it. There is no 'level in itself' like Kennilingam might suppose, with its own objective kosmic address. As you've noted in this thread it matters who is doing the addressing. So for me it comes down to the issue of postmetaphysics, which generally has a different interpretation of levels than does a metaphysician. I pointed to how Commons et al (the gold standard) are quite metaphysical in formulating postformal levels, whereas others see it as, if anything, not a 'higher level' but one that integrates what came before and is more a move of depth than of height. And minus the metaphysical underpinnings, more intersobjective perhaps. More a-perspectival, we might even say.

From The Embodied Mind (MIT Press, 1999) by Varela et al., p. 176:

“Piaget...never seems to have doubted the existence of a pregiven world and an independent knower with a pregiven logical endopoint for cognitive development. The laws of cognitive development, even at the sensorimotor stage, are as assimilation of and accommodation to that pregiven world.”

Thereafter they launch into a discussion of Rosch and prototype theory*, as well as L&J and image schemas, all reflective of my discussion in real/false reason on the difference between categories as seen by the metaphysicians like Piaget (and his offspring, Commons et al) and the postmetaphysical embodied realists.

* See for example Rosch's “Prototype classification and logical classification” in Challenges to Piaget's Theory (Psychology Press, 1983).

It is interesting to note that in the classical, metaphysical notions of nested hierarchical development the lowest level is obviously the first learned, with subsequent levels thereafter transcending and including their predecessors. But this empirical study showed that children learn basic categories first, which are in the middle of the hierarchy. They learn superordinate (more general or abstract) categories next, and subordinate (more specific or concrete) categories last. Implications?

From the SEP entry on The Philosophy of Childhood:

“This finding [prototype studies] seems to have implications for the proper role and importance of conceptual analysis in philosophy. It is also a case in which we should let what we come to know about cognitive development in children help shape our epistemology, rather than counting on our antecedently formulated epistemology to shape our conception of cognitive development in children.”

Taking a tangential turn within I note that Rosch is (like Varela was) a practicing Buddhist. Or at least a meditator using Buddhist practices. Her home page at UC Berkeley has a link to her works, including this in press paper, "Beginners mind: paths to the wisdom that is not learned." An excerpt:

"What is meant by beginner’s mind? William James speaks of 'that which is seen as most primal and enveloping and deeply true' (James, 1902, p. 34). The beginner’s mind claim, ordinary yet radical, is that we already have such basic wisdom -- the 'innate primordial wisdom in the world as it is,' the 'self revealing truth' that 'God has put into everything that exists' (see quotes above). Thus people do not need to acquire more information, more logic, more ego, and more skills to make them wise. What they need is to unlearn what they have accumulated that veils them from that wisdom. When they do this, it is believed, they find not only what they themselves really are already but what the world actually is, and, from that vantage point, they can live a good life.

"It’s time to pay attention to inner wisdom paths....these paths radically overturn how teaching and learning are imagined in the world of the outer mind. Here are some of the ways: the end-state is already present. One needs to unlearn rather than learn. All one’s concepts need to be seen through. Language is used to transmit rather than refer. The dualities and polarities we use to guide our lives such as self and other or good and bad, rather than being augmented, are to be given up in unity. One traverses a path, but, in the end all the stages are seen as one thing, and there is no path. Rather than promising ego a rose garden, the teachings are adamant that ego is not going to get anything."

Oh my! A metaphysician after all. This is also interesting, from footnote 5:

"Here we come to a watershed in Tibetan Buddhist teachings and, in fact, in Buddhist teachings in general. Three of the four major Tibetan lineages (Kagyu, Sakya, and Nyingma) adhere to the shentong (other empty) interpretation of emptiness in which all things are empty of other than wisdom. Put another way, things are empty of self nature but filled with wisdom (filled with the essence). Put in a yet more advanced way, all that things really are is wisdom essence. Historically shentong is traced from the Buddha nature (Tathagatagarbha) schools of Mahayana Buddhism. The fourth Tibetan lineage, the Gelugpa, adheres to the rangton (self empty) interpretation in which things are simply empty of self nature, a reversion to an earlier Mahayana position. There has been a good deal of conflict in Tibet over this point. Many of the parallels with Sufism that I am exploring in this chapter depend upon the shentong view because it is a view that says there is a way of knowing beyond the limits of the mind. (See Gyamtso, 1986, and Hookham, 1991 for a detailed account of this distinction.)"

The above footnote of course elucidates upon footnote 3, following:

"How can we know what is beyond the mind -- given that the senses, reason, and whatever other states of consciousness one thinks one has are part of the mind? Theistic answers make reference to God. The Vajrayana Buddhist answer is that there is an awareness that is more fundamental and more inclusive than consciousness (from a path perspective Sanskrit: vipashyana, Tibetan: lhagthong; from the more fundamental perspective of nondual awareness Sanskrit: vidya Tibetan: rig pa). This is one of the respects in which the Vajrayana sees itself as fundamentally different from the Mahayana schools (described by Shen, this volume). The Vajrayana teacher might point out (for example, Gyamtso, 1986) that all eight stages of consciousness in the Yogacara (Weishi, consciousness only) school of the Mahayana are only forms of consciousness (vijnana): i.e. six sense consciousnesses, a consciousness that turns everything into ego (the manovijnana), and a storehouse consciousness that contains one’s karmic seeds (the alayavijnana). Prescient as this may be, the Vajrayana argues it is still a description of samsara rather than a description from the fully awakened state."

Also see Rosch's “Reclaiming concepts.” Excerpts:

“The world as perceived or categorized is, to echo Skarda's (this volume) terminology, a seamless whole or seamless web, in which perceiver/categorizer and perceived /categorized are simply opposite poles of the same event. In consciousness, those poles appear to be divided into actual separate things. The first function of concepts is to reconnect those opposite poles into functioning, even if still apparently separate, units. Looked at this way, concepts are partially recovering a state which is more veridical, and thus potentially more scientific, than the way we normally look at the world.

“Since the subjective and objective aspects of concepts and categories arise together as different poles of the same act of cognition and are part of the same informational field, they are already joined at their inception. They do not need to be further joined by a representational theory of mind, such as that of working cognitivism, and they cannot be separated by the solipsistic representational theory of mind of strict cognitivism. Concepts and categories do not represent the world in the mind; they are a participating part of the mind-world whole of which the sense of mind (of having a mind that is seeing or thinking) is one pole, and the objects of mind (such as visible objects, sounds, thoughts, emotions, and so on) are the other pole.

“No matter how abstract and universal a concept may appear to be (square root, for example), that concept actually occurs only in specific, concrete situations. Real situations are information rich complete events... Situations/contexts are mind-world bonded parts of entire forms of life. Concepts only occur as part of a web of meaning provided both by other concepts and by interrelated life activities…. That is because concepts (and the rest of human mentation) are not per se abstractly informative; they are participatory.

“What a thing is is already pre-given as part of the total mind-world situation in which it occurs. The basic function of concepts is not to identify things (just as it isn't to represent)…rather concepts participate in situations in innumerable flexible ways. Much experimental research on concepts and categories, and certainly most models, assume that what is to be explained, disputed, or modeled is the identification function. To be sure, we can participate in specialized identification activities (such as taking a botany exam, playing twenty questions, or being a subject in a concept learning experiment) but these are better considered as particular language games (as in Wittgenstein, 1953) then as the prototypical conceptual activity.

“Concepts only exist against a non-conceptual background. We could not even think to talk about concepts and conceptualization without some contrast of what they are not. All systems, other than cognitivism, have some way of admitting and at least trying to approach the non-conceptual. Some examples: knowing how versus knowing that, Heidegger's Background of habits and practices, private experience with its so-called qualia, body based knowing, Searle's ceterus paribus, intuitions, experiences of all the arts, and ineffable experiences in love, grief, doing mathematics, religions, and everything else. But in cognitivism, it's concepts all the way down! -- there is no way that a cognitivist system can deal with the non-conceptual. Yet it is in just those experiences that people find meaning and integrity in their lives. In cognitivism such things must be relegated to a separate sphere where they are either denied to exist or put fundamentally beyond the reach of cognitive science. In the new view proposed here, the non-conceptual is inherently part of mind-world situations, perhaps of every situation. No science of human existence can afford to straight facedly exclude what is most meaningful to people.”

I have no qualms with Rosch’s descriptions on nonconceptuality or the rest, except for what she herself points out in “beginner’s mind” as the “innate primordial wisdom in the world as it is.” Which of course she identifies with the shentong view, and with which there “has been a good deal of conflict in Tibet over this point” between the rantong view. The latter view also seems to agree with all of the other points she makes, as does the L&J view, except that they might also disagree on this one point as would their pragmatic forbears like Mead. (William James though would likely be on the shentong side.) As I said, same old argument over this sticky point.

Rosch openly admits what her tradition espouses: in the terms of this thread, the identity with essence. There is one thing exempt from emptiness, Tathagatagarbha, awareness of and identity in (Buddha) essence. She also admits that this shentong view in not accepted by the rangton, the “earlier” Mahayana view. I have used experts before to show that this earlier view was indeed Nagarjuna's, and that the shentong was an addition of Yogacara ideas. It's the same difference with how Rosch and Lakoff use the same cognitive research, but again with this core disagreement. Recall 

Lakoff from Philosophy in the Flesh:

“We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, 'get beyond' our categories and have purely uncategorized and nonconceptual experience. Neural beings cannot do that” (18).

Now I've also made arguments that we can allow the nonconceptual and the absolute, but it depends on how we define them. Yes, define, like with the polydoxers doing so in a non-essential and non-identifying way. And they tend to do so with an emphasis on the “compliments” as not completely different nor completely the same, both absolute and relative informing each other. So while there is no “purely” nonconceptual there is also no “purely” conceptual, for it requires the implication of that groundless ground (khora) like we've seen in Derrida. Whereas the more metaphysical notion is where they are extreme and completely different poles of different and pure kinds altogether, contradictions, with one being enlightenment and the other illusion though in some kind of relation nevertheless, generally nested hierarchies with said synthesis.

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