Buddhist Epistemology

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Buddhist Epistemology

Postby Ikkyu » Tue Oct 16, 2012 4:14 am

Split from here:

viewtopic.php?f=77&t=8856



@ Huseng and undefineable:

I can't help but feel that I'm reliving the creationists' spouting off "transcendent truths" and how they go beyond science because "science is only concerned with the material". This anti-science rhetoric you've got smacks of the normal religious person's argument when they're backed into a corner of facing irrational beliefs. Yes, in some way it is certainly possible that Buddhist metaphysical theories are true because, yeah, not everything is necessarily a part of the material world. But here's how I'm thinking about it, and just to sum it all up I'll reiterate and condense:

1. We can believe anything without evidence if we already have an underlying notion that anything is in a sense possible because our senses don't fully determine all of reality. ("brain in the vat", Descartes' dream world, etc.) Yes, there are perhaps realities beyond our five senses but in any case wouldn't it be prudent to assume, just for practical purposes at least, that our senses and thus the empirical observations we make with are the most probably the most accurate ways of determining reality that we know of, and thus can't we trust them more than abstract concepts thrown at us from antiquated religious texts? We experience things with our senses. The only reason we know about Buddhism is because we HEARD about it or READ (as in seeing) it somewhere or from someone. We use our SENSES in order to contemplate Buddhism. Buddha used his MATERIAL body in order to convey his ideas. People LISTENED to him using their sense of HEARING. In short, our senses are quite obviously the best way of determining reality and the reality we determine through them is probably, based on the evidence, a material, physical world. That's how we know that meditation-consciousnesses or jhanas take place in the brain, in our neural framework. That's how we know that when we feel empowered or spiritually enlightened by the Dharma it is dopamine being released in our brain causing us to feel happy. Everything we know comes from and is a part of the material, as far as we can directly tell. That isn't to say there may not be a spiritual world beyond the material. There may very well be universes outside of the material one that function in ways we cannot comprehend with our normal state of mind, but how can we infer this with absolute proof? Quantum physics provides some insight into this but to get as detailed as the Buddhist texts do about metaphysical realities seems like sort of a stretch, no?

2. Evidentialism would suggest that instead of believing in bodhisattvas, karma, rebirth, etc. and then working out the evidence as to why these things are true, that a more logical approach would be to learn and gather evidence and come to a conclusion based on that evidence. A priori knowledge clearly doesn't include bodhisattvas, rebirth, etc. We learn these things.

I would actually be very interested in reading about the Buddhist approach to epistemology since there doesn't seem to be a lot written on the subject.
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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Oct 16, 2012 4:49 am

It is a mistake to say that because the extent of my ignorance is boundless,
therefore,
the chance that anything I can imagine as true is thus much more likely to be proven.
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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby viniketa » Tue Oct 16, 2012 4:52 am

Ikkyu wrote:I would actually be very interested in reading about the Buddhist approach to epistemology since there doesn't seem to be a lot written on the subject.


You're in luck, because quite a bit has been written on the topic:

https://www.google.com/search?as_q=&as_ ... istemology

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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 16, 2012 5:59 am

Ikkyu wrote:I can't help but feel that I'm reliving the creationists' spouting off "transcendent truths" and how they go beyond science because "science is only concerned with the material".



Materialist science is chiefly concerned with physicality. It has an arbitrary belief that only matter and energy really exist, and everything else is either an epiphenomenon of matter/energy or simply unimportant.

However, this is entirely arbitrary and based on a priori assumptions which are easily undermined given common human experience. There are plenty of human qualia which are clearly not physical processes yet possess causal efficacy.

Our experience as human beings is not limited to what we perceive through the senses. Such sensory experience is not invalid of course and it reflects the physical world of matter and energy which contemporary science so skilfully explores, manipulates and categorizes.

But there is more to our experience than that.

There are perceptions of subtle energy or forces closely tied to life. In Indian traditions this is prāṇa while in Chinese traditions qi (in Japanese ki). Yogis learn to master this force and achieve remarkable physical feats, to say nothing of what they do mentally. Likewise Taiqi practitioners become intimately close to their body's qi. Likewise with martial arts traditions which use it for their own purposes. This force is not scientifically documented to exist at all, but millions of people alive today can attest to its existence via their own personal experience.

Furthermore, there are feelings that are inexplicable yet quite tangible. The feeling one gets about a certain object or place. There might be a consistent sense to someone that persists. In modern slang we might hear, “I just get a bad vibe from that guy...”

There is also cognitive experience of intangible yet causally efficacious forms such as language, written words and symbols. These can readily prompt physical processes. If a stranger utters wo hui sha ni! and you don't know Chinese it won't do much, but if they say I will kill you! then an increased heart rate is likely and a clear response felt through the nervous system head to toe. There is nothing intrinsically potent about words themselves, but in the right conditions they possess immense power over even the physical world. This aspect is related to mantras and dhāraṇīs which are words or phrases of power which when understood have causal power in the mind and consequently the physical world as well which is a product of the mind.

Some perceptions are also not directly related to the sensory realm, but still nevertheless possess a function in structuring the world: patterns such as those found in mathematics or logic. We know and perceive such patterns, albeit they are not directly perceived through the senses, though they might be prompted by them.

Finally there are experiences which are beyond anything normally experienced. This is mystical experience. In yogic and western magic traditions such experiences are part of the spiritual process of evolution and growth. These cannot be reproduced under laboratory conditions and are often described as “beyond words and letters”. Such qualia are closed to you unless you personally experience them.



This anti-science rhetoric you've got smacks of the normal religious person's argument when they're backed into a corner of facing irrational beliefs.


Not really. Philosophers, who may or may not be religious, have a skill at undermining the assumptions of materialists. Some people pride themselves on being "rationalists" with everyone who disagrees with them being "irrational", but this is just hyperbole and hubris. It isn't conducive to healthy discussions. We can just as well turn the tables and ask the materialist why they believe reality is essentially based on matter and energy regardless of experience and phenomena which indicate otherwise.



Yes, there are perhaps realities beyond our five senses but in any case wouldn't it be prudent to assume, just for practical purposes at least, that our senses and thus the empirical observations we make with are the most probably the most accurate ways of determining reality that we know of, and thus can't we trust them more than abstract concepts thrown at us from antiquated religious texts?


As I outlined above, however, there are plenty of our experiences which are not sensory yet possess causal efficacy. In terms of science, as well, you need mathematics to make sense of things, yet mathematical principles are clearly not physical. You perceive numbers in a non-sensory manner, no? Given what you are saying here we shouldn't trust mathematics because such abstract concepts thrown at us from antiquated mathematical texts are unsuitable for determining reality.

Of course that's nonsense because mathematics can be tested in everyday experience and readily perceived by any human. However, it is still abstract, but still seems to reflect well in our collective reality, both in the physical and mental spheres. The metaphysical ideas proposed by basic Buddhist thought (skandhas, karma, dependent origination and so on...) can likewise be verified by any human, though some ideas like karma are less immediately apparent.



We experience things with our senses. The only reason we know about Buddhism is because we HEARD about it or READ (as in seeing) it somewhere or from someone.


Language isn't matter or energy. A certain sound uttered from a vocal apparatus of another human can prompt ideas and images in my mind provided I understand the language. The sensory reception of that language through my auditory faculty is only part of the process. Why give so much priority only to one aspect of the process of hearing?


In short, our senses are quite obviously the best way of determining reality and the reality we determine through them is probably, based on the evidence, a material, physical world
.

I'm unconvinced. How about mathematical principles? Symbols? Logic? Without equal deference to these immaterial experiences our reality will make little sense.


That's how we know that meditation-consciousnesses or jhanas take place in the brain, in our neural framework. That's how we know that when we feel empowered or spiritually enlightened by the Dharma it is dopamine being released in our brain causing us to feel happy.


Nobody has proven this. I would be hesitant to accept experiments which purport to prove this anyway because such an experiment would probably be done in a materialist paradigm and hence akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy (if you believe only matter and energy exist from the start, your whole methodology will produce results which indicate this).

You also have to explain conscious experience. If we reduce consciousness to matter, then it begs the question at what point and in what sequence or configuration of matter does it appear? Or does all matter inherently possess mental qualities (i.e., panpsychism)?

That's somewhat different from the Buddhist project, however, which is basically a kind of idealism from the western perspective. I say that because rupa is reduced to the four elements, which are further reduced to mere perceptions:

Fire = Warmth
Wind = Movement
Earth = Solidity
Water = Moistness

Generally speaking in Buddhist thought everything boils down to mere perceptions. From there you can leave it at that or go further and contemplate the emptiness of it all, though at mid-level reality is just a bunch of perceptions. Matter holds no special place. It is merely perception. To understand this you need to take a step back from your sensory apparatus and examine what it is you are experiencing moment to moment.

I feel the Buddhist model is quite valid and verifiable, though you have to do it yourself and gain insight via your own efforts.



Everything we know comes from and is a part of the material, as far as we can directly tell.



I've already refuted this above. Your arbitrary belief and diehard devotion to physicality is irrational.



That isn't to say there may not be a spiritual world beyond the material. There may very well be universes outside of the material one that function in ways we cannot comprehend with our normal state of mind, but how can we infer this with absolute proof? Quantum physics provides some insight into this but to get as detailed as the Buddhist texts do about metaphysical realities seems like sort of a stretch, no?


Why are to inclined towards quantum physics yet disinclined away from Buddhist texts?

What you are basically doing here is employing what in Indian philosophy is called śabda-pramana, which means deferring to an authoritative testimony in order to know or prove something. It is a means of knowing, so to speak. However, to do this you need to convince me that what one branch of science is saying is in fact reliable and authoritative.

As you might know, science is an all too human institution. It isn't infallible and immune to dishonesty, especially in the face of self-interest and financial concerns coupled with egos. There is a degree of dishonesty in science where reported results are falsified or tweaked in journals for various reasons, even in areas like medical science. You can investigate this yourself.

On that point then can we really accept the conclusions of neurologists as canonical and matter of fact? You haven't done such experiments yourself (as far as I know), neither have I. To defer to second-hand knowledge as matter of fact is problematic for various reasons. We should consider it of course, though it shouldn't be the basis of our arguments in this context. In ancient India the Vedic Brahmins couldn't defer to the Vedas and likewise the Buddhists couldn't defer to the Buddha. We need to operate on common ground for fruitful discussion.

In discussing things with materialists this is often the problem people run into. We have to accept the canonical resources of their tradition, but they get to dismiss ours. The experiences of twenty-five centuries of yogis are irrelevant, but I have to accept whatever neurological paper they're pushing. This is why we're often at a huge disadvantage or just not invited to the party.


2. Evidentialism would suggest that instead of believing in bodhisattvas, karma, rebirth, etc. and then working out the evidence as to why these things are true, that a more logical approach would be to learn and gather evidence and come to a conclusion based on that evidence. A priori knowledge clearly doesn't include bodhisattvas, rebirth, etc. We learn these things.


Unless you're raised in an environment where such beings are held to be common, you'll probably approach in the way you're suggesting anyway.

Why do I feel there is such a thing as karma? Because I have personally experienced and verified the theory. I can't do that under laboratory conditions because it is based on unfalsifiable claims of course, though in that's irrelevant because reality seems to operate as if karma-vipāka really does occur. Likewise neutrinos are theorized to exist and it seems well enough that reality operates as if they do.

As for bodhisattvas and so on, we rely on testimony and personal experience. This is religious experience. If you don't like it then walk away. Why try to force everyone to believe in things the way you do? Intolerance of differing ways of thinking is a bad characteristic western materialists inherited from their Christian mother.

Incidentally, the existence of immaterial beings is attested to in almost every human culture in every time period. This personally indicates to me the phenomena are very real.


I would actually be very interested in reading about the Buddhist approach to epistemology since there doesn't seem to be a lot written on the subject.


Just read any good monograph on classical Indian philosophy. It will include information on Buddhists. Any number of Vasubandhu's works in translation are suitable for consideration as well.
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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Oct 16, 2012 11:25 am

Huseng wrote:
Our experience as human beings is not limited to what we perceive through the senses.


Please give an example of something that is in our experience that is not perceived through the senses.
Even the subtle energy that you refer to, how do we experience that? Do we feel it?
If not, then how do we experience it?
If so, then isn't feeling a sense?

"perceived" is a tricky term.
"senses" is also a problematic word. In the eastern traditions, mind may be considered a sense.


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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 16, 2012 1:33 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:Please give an example of something that is in our experience that is not perceived through the senses.


Logic, patterns, numbers, language, jhana...

Even the subtle energy that you refer to, how do we experience that? Do we feel it?


Good question. It seems there are channels for it, at least according to both Indic and Chinese traditions.

It clearly isn't a coarse physical apparatus.
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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Oct 16, 2012 6:41 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:In the eastern traditions, mind may be considered a sense.
In Buddhism it's not that mind may be considered a sense, it is considered a sense BUT it's sense objects are NOT material. That is the problem with science it tries to make thought a physical process linked to (a physical structure) the brain. The fact that they are not having all that much luck with their venture is evidence of a mistaken theoretical basis.
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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Oct 16, 2012 7:26 pm

Huseng wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:Please give an example of something that is in our experience that is not perceived through the senses.

Huseng wrote: Logic, patterns, numbers, language, jhana...


how are those not perceived through the senses?
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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Oct 16, 2012 7:28 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:In the eastern traditions, mind may be considered a sense.
In Buddhism it's not that mind may be considered a sense, it is considered a sense BUT it's sense objects are NOT material. That is the problem with science it tries to make thought a physical process linked to (a physical structure) the brain. The fact that they are not having all that much luck with their venture is evidence of a mistaken theoretical basis.
:namaste:


I think the big obvious thing they overlook is that while brains exists in space, thoughts only exist in time.
So, it's sort of like cutting open a saxophone to find out where the music is coming from.
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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby viniketa » Tue Oct 16, 2012 7:42 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
Huseng wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:Please give an example of something that is in our experience that is not perceived through the senses.

Huseng wrote: Logic, patterns, numbers, language, jhana...


how are those not perceived through the senses?


In what way are they perceived by what sense? These are abstractions. For example, the sounds of language may be perceived by ears, the marks by eyes, but 'language' is intelligible only via the intellect (bodhi).

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Re: Buddhist Epistemology

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:44 pm

When it comes down to it, all samsaric sensations are perceived by the sense organ of mind.
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Buddhist Epistemology

Postby viniketa » Tue Oct 16, 2012 10:45 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:When it comes down to it, all samsaric sensations are perceived by the sense organ of mind.


However, abstractions are not sensations.

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Re: Buddhist Epistemology

Postby catmoon » Tue Oct 16, 2012 11:57 pm

viniketa wrote:
gregkavarnos wrote:When it comes down to it, all samsaric sensations are perceived by the sense organ of mind.


However, abstractions are not sensations.

:namaste:


Aren't they? If they are not sensed how do you know they exist?
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Re: Buddhist Epistemology

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:43 am

catmoon wrote:
viniketa wrote: abstractions are not sensations.


Aren't they? If they are not sensed how do you know they exist?


That is whay i said
"perceived" is a tricky term.
"senses" is also a problematic word.


You can have an awareness of something abstract, an awareness, for example, that you are thinking of a number between 1 and 10, or the awareness that you are lost in the woods, and while this awareness is not tasted or felt, if we regard the perceiving mind as a type of sense organ, then one could argue that what occurs soley within the mind is still being 'sensed' because what is in fact being experienced is neurological activity. So, numbers are not really floating around in the mind. rather, electricity is flowing through the brain and the mind experiences that electricity as numbers or as a realization of being lost in the woods.

The sticky part, I think, is determining if awareness itself is regarded as a type of sensation.
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Re: Buddhist Epistemology

Postby viniketa » Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:49 am

catmoon wrote:Aren't they? If they are not sensed how do you know they exist?


One cannot say abstractions exist, do not exist, both exist and not exist, or neither exist nor not exist...

There. The obligatory catuṣkoṭi is out of the way.

In Buddhist epistemology, abstractions are kalpanā (invention, imgination), not parikalpita (incorrectly apprehended).

Even in conventional, Western, English terms, I'm not sure one can say that abstractions are "knowable".

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Re: Buddhist Epistemology

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:51 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
catmoon wrote:
viniketa wrote: abstractions are not sensations.


Aren't they? If they are not sensed how do you know they exist?


That is whay i said
"perceived" is a tricky term.
"senses" is also a problematic word.


You can have an awareness of something abstract, an awareness, for example, that you are thinking of a number between 1 and 10, or the awareness that you are lost in the woods, and while this awareness is not tasted or felt, if we regard the perceiving mind as a type of sense organ, then one could argue that what occurs soley within the mind is still being 'sensed' because what is in fact being experienced is neurological activity. So, numbers are not really floating around in the mind. rather, electricity is flowing through the brain and the mind experiences that electricity as numbers or as a realization of being lost in the woods.

The sticky part, I think, is determining if awareness itself is regarded as a type of sensation.
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From memory, the mind doesn't have sensations like the rest of the sense organs do. I forget if it even has perception. It's helpful to use terms from Abhidharma so that we all have a common frame of reference.
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Re: Buddhist Epistemology

Postby catmoon » Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:54 am

viniketa wrote:In Buddhist epistemology, abstractions are kalpanā (invention, imgination), not parikalpita (incorrectly apprehended).

Even in conventional, Western, English terms, I'm not sure one can say that abstractions are "knowable".

:namaste:


If abstractions are not knowable, how can anyone know any math? How can we know about categories?
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Re: Buddhist Epistemology

Postby Ikkyu » Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:56 am

I've often wondered if the Buddhist epistemic approach is similar to the Jain one:

From Wikipedia:

"Although, historically, Jain authors have adopted different views on truth, the most prevalent is the system of anekantavada or "not-one-sidedness". This idea of truth is rooted in the notion that there is one truth, but only enlightened beings can perceive it in its entirety; unenlightened beings perceive only one side of the truth (ekanta). Anekantavada works around the limitations of a one-sided view of truth by proposing multiple vantage points (nayas) from which truth can be viewed (cf. Nayavāda). Recognizing that there are multiple possible truths about any particular thing, even mutually exclusive truths, Jain philosophers developed a system for synthesizing these various claims, known as syadvada. Within the system of syadvada, each truth is qualified to its particular view-point; that is "in a certain way", one claim or another or both may be true."

"According to Jain epistemology, reality is multifaceted (anekanta, or 'non-one-sided'), such that no finite set of statements can capture the entire truth about the objects they describe.

The Jain list of pramanas (valid sources of knowledge) includes sense perception, valid testimony, extra-sensory perception, telepathy, and kevala, the state of omniscience of a perfected soul. Inference, which most other Indian epistemologies include, is interestingly absent from this list. However, discussion of the pramanas seem to indicate that inference is implied in the pramana that provides the premises for inference. That is, inference from things learned by the senses is itself knowledge gained from the senses; inference from knowledge gained by testimony is itself knowledge gained by testimony, etc. Later Jain thinkers would add inference as a separate category, along with memory and tarka or logical reasoning.

Since reality is multi-faceted, none of the pramanas gives absolute or perfect knowledge. Consequently, all knowledge is only tentative and provisional. This is expressed in Jain philosophy in the doctrine of naya, or partial predication (also known as the doctrine of perspectives or viewpoints). This insight generates a sevenfold classification of predications, which can be schematized as follows:

Perhaps a is F (syat asti).
Perhaps a is not-F (syat nasti).
Perhaps a is both F and not-F (syat asti-nasti).
Perhaps a is indescribable (syat avaktavyam).
Perhaps a is indescribable and F (syat asti-avaktavyam).
Perhaps a is indescribable and not-F (syat nasti-avaktavyam).
Perhaps a is indescribable, and both F and not-F (syat asti-nasti-avaktavyam)."
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Re: Buddhist Epistemology

Postby viniketa » Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:56 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:The sticky part, I think, is determining if awareness itself is regarded as a type of sensation.


In general, what is translated as "awareness" is a function of manas. Since manas is a "sense organ", then awareness is a sensation.


tomamundsen wrote:From memory, the mind doesn't have sensations like the rest of the sense organs do. I forget if it even has perception. It's helpful to use terms from Abhidharma so that we all have a common frame of reference.


I recall manas as a "sense organ"; it senses the perceptions of the other "senses"...

Yes, we should use Abhidharma terms to discuss,


:namaste:
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Re: I thought Buddhism wasn't about threatening people with Hell

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:58 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:how are those not perceived through the senses?


1+1=2

The symbols themselves are arrangements of pixels on a screen which if understood are perceived as numbers. The actual process of addition that is perceived is immaterial and not perceived through your senses. It is perceived in the mind.
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