Sunday, April 17, 2011

Non Universality of Mental Constructs

“How did you come here, O King, on foot or in a chariot?” “I did not come, sir, on foot. I came in a chariot.” “If you came in a chariot, explain to me what that is.” “Is it the pole that is the chariot?” “Certainly not” “Is it the wheels, or the frame, or the ropes, or the yoke, or the spokes or the goad that is the chariot?”
To all of these King Milinda still answered no. “Then is it all these parts that is the chariot?” “No, Nagasena.” “But is there anything outside them that is the chariot?” And still he answered no.
“Then, ask as I may, I can discover no chariot. 'Chariot' is a mere empty sound. What, then, is this 'chariot' you say you came in? Your Majesty has spoken a falsehood, an untruth! There is no such thing as a 'chariot'! You are king over all India, a mighty monarch. Of whom, then, are you afraid that you speak untruth?” ……………Questions of King Milinda, Book II Chapter 1

The above dialogue is taken from the chapter on “The distinguishing characteristics of ethical qualities”.
Human beings in our evolutionary journey have accumulated a vast store of what is known as ‘percept’.
Perception (from the Latin perceptio, percipio) is the process by which an organism attains awareness or understanding of its environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. Perceptual constancy is the ability of perceptual systems to recognise the same object from widely varying sensory inputs. There are usually two or more steps involved in this process of our objective awareness.

The term percept or concept used herein denotes "An accumulation of related facts and/or processes to which a symbol (representational or abstract) is assigned".
When a percept is activated by sensory data it evokes a symbol of that data. Thus, a dog has a percept 'man' (a mental picture with two arms, two legs, a head and a certain smell but with indistinct details). The perceptual symbol is the 'form' of the percept as required by the law of embodiment.

Concepts involve the recognition of the process of percept symbolism and subsequent advancement to abstract symbolism. (Note: The act of forming percepts is contextual data.)
A concept is, in part, a percept with an abstract rather than a representational form.
Thus, an animal which ponders non-physical principles requires the abstract tools with which to think abstractly, i.e. language, mathematical symbols, etc. as well as a 'standard of abstract symbolism'

This is exactly what Nagasena tries to point out to King Milinda. Abstract symbolism has no intrinsic validity and its limited validity is endorsed through a constancy of usage in a limited environ and need not have a universal authenticity. There is an often told event of how the Native Americans looked upon the sea and they did not see the Spanish Armada sailing towards them. Sail ships, that large, were so outside their concept of what was possible their brains simply filtered out the image and all they saw was the open sea.

This story and the conversation between King Melinda and sage Nagasena illustrates the fact that any mental construct and its associated symbolism has its meaning only at the mental level of someone who voluntarily chooses to endorse this symbolism through a past perceptual association.

When seeking universal truth, the mind which has been so used to associated symbolism is a totally inadequate tool.

Love to you all.

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