4th July 2011
Pitfalls of “blind” reason
Critical thinking is based on reason AND observation, not on reason (deduction) alone. That is something which people often forget while churning out mental gymnastics that could perhaps "prove" anything. As Ferris writes:
The most sweeping logical claims, the ones that seemed the loftiest precisely because they lay the farthest from ordinary human experience, amounted to little more than shuffling empty abstractions. [p.71, The Science of Liberty]
Critical thinking and the scientific method go hand in hand – indeed, are almost exactly the same. See details in DOF.
Mere deduction is liable to lead us to great folly. That is one reason why "forecasts" of complex systems are generally so wrong, being no better than a dart-throwing monkey.
For instance, the impact of population on an economy is far more complex than appears to be on the surface. Simplistic models like that of Thomas Malthus or Paul Ehrlich completely wrong, being not confirmed through observation. That is what my dissertation does, instead of merely speculating how humans might behave.
And that is why removing corruption is not as simple as enacting a Lokpal Bill and getting worked up enough to fast unto death for its sake. These things require detailed understandings AND empirical evidence.
While reading the section of Vichar Sagar cited below (see full book here), I felt that I was going through the most convoluted gymnastics, in order to prove that the human consciousness is the same as the consciousness of God. If any of you can understand what the author is trying to say please let me know.
Each time I try to find time to read this book I find it difficult to connect the arguments. There is a massive extrapolation from a few similies. It appears to be a work of great logical gymnastics, not something that provides us with hypotheses that can be tested and rebutted. I will try to finish it, though – time and patience permitting.
It was against such use of reason (untested by direct experience, or observation) that Buddha warned when he said:
Do not believe something just because it has been passed along and retold for many generations. Do not believe something merely because it has become a traditional practice. Do not believe something simply because it is well-known everywhere. Do not believe something just because it is cited in a text. Do not believe something solely on the grounds of logical reasoning. Do not believe something merely because it accords with your philosophy. Do not believe something because it appeals to ‘common sense’. Do not believe something just because you like the idea. Do not believe something because the speaker seems trustworthy. Do not believe something thinking, ‘This is what our teacher says’.
Here's the extract from Vichar Sagar:
Now for a consideration of the ‘indescribable’ [Anirbachaniya]. When a subject is seen by the eyes, the internal organ assumes its shape, drives away the ignorance which envelopes it and thus renders it visible; without visibility or light, cognition cannot follow. When a rope is mistaken for a snake, the function of the internal organ projected by the eyes establishes a connection with the rope, but the obstacles or defects as they are called viz, presence of darkness, do not determine the modification of the internal organ, so as to make it assume the shape of the rope, consequently its envelopement of ignorance remains undestroyed; since therefore the conditional relation of its function for the destruction of the envelopement having been created, its ignorance remains in tact, how can the rope already situated in such function (intelligence) excite or stimulate ignorance, so as to make it assume the modification of a snake? And if the action of ignorance -the creation of a snake—be true, then the knowledge of the rope need not be an obstacle to its existence. But it is quite otherwise, for when the actual rope is discovered, then the snake is reduced to an unreality—to non-existence—and if on the contrary, it be non-existent then it is virtually not like a sterile woman’s son; for such a condition is quite impossible, whereas in the rope it is present and continues so long as the mistake is not discovered. Hence (Ignorance) it cannot be non-existent, but quite distinct from it, as also from (Sat) existence, or being. Therefore it is described as something indescribable. The production of silver in nacre is in the same manner termed indescribable; and for these reasons it is called the indescribable mode. As the snake is a modification of ignorance, so is its knowledge a modification of ignorance too, and not of the internal organ. Because, as the knowledge of the rope is an obstacle to a serpent, so is it an obstacle to its knowledge, which should not be, if it were a modification of the internal organ. Hence knowledge is also indescribable, and quite a distinct entity from existence and non-existence, like the snake of ignorance. But the snake is the product of a preponderance of (Tama) darkness present in Ignorance along with the associated intelligence of the rope; and knowledge is a result of a modification of the (Satwa)good element of ignorance inherent in the manifesting intelligence; when the ignorance-associated intelligence of the rope assumes the modification of the snake, the ignorance present in the innate intelligence assumes its modification; for the stimulus of excitation which is a proximate cause of the ignorance-associated intelligence of the chord, is also an excitor of the innate intelligence dependent on ignorance. Hence the source of the mistake in regard to a snake-illusion and its knowledge, proceeds in the same time as the knowledge of the presence of the chord blends with that of ignorance.Thus then, in reference to the production of a snake-illusion its formal or proximate cause is the particle of external ignorance (vahya avidya);and the particle of ignorance situated inside the witnessing intelligence and dependent on it, is the proximate cause of its knowledge or perception. And as in the dreaming condition, the particle of darkness (Tamas)of ignorance dependent in the witnessing intelligence, assumes the modification of a subject, while its particle of goodness assumes the modification of knowledge or perception. Hence in dreams, the internal ignorance assumes both the modification of subject and perception or knowledge, and that ignorance is their proximate cause, consequently the snake in the external rope, and the internal dream objects are said to be discovered by the witnessing intelligence. In other words, what is discovered by the function of ignorance is called the discoverer [witness.]
The discovering of the mistake of the ‘indescribable’ snake in the rope called illusion, or illusory attribution, is a modification of Ignorance; and intelligence is subject to another modification which is called vivarata.Now parinam produces a change of form in the same way as does a formal cause; while vivarata is possessed of properties antagonistic to what an object has. As the formal cause ignorance is indescribable, so is the snake in a chord and its knowledge equally indescribable. Hence, the last two have equal properties in common with Ignorance. That is to say, Ignorance brings in a change of form, or the semblance of a difference from what it was; it is its modification of change or parinam;similarly the predicated intelligence which abides in a rope and distinguishes it from another object is real. But the presence of snake in a rope and its knowledge or perception is quite different from what has just been said to be real. Hence the rope with its knowledge, are antagonistic in nature to the abiding consciousness of the snake etc., (inasmuch as the first is real while the last unreal—illusory); call them naturally different, for they are different in form from intelligence. The seat of the unreal snake is not in the chord but in its associate of intelligence, consciousness, or knowledge; for, like the snake, the rope itself is a designed contrivance and as such, one cannot take possession of, or occupy the other; hence the consciousness associated with the chord (and not the chord) is the seat of the snake. Moreover, if the predicated intelligence of the chord be said to be its seat, even then both the chord and intelligence will be the seat of the snake. But here, to connect the rope with the seat is not possible on account of the obstacle which it introduces, so that the associated intelligence or knowledge of the chord is such seat or occupation itself, and not its predicated intelligence. [— and so on]. Modification stands for parinam; therefore it signifies a changed condition. It applies also in the preceding instances wherever it has been used. With reference to causes it has been said that when a cause undergoes a change of form to produce an action it is called Vikara or Parinam. But when no such actual change of form takes place, it is called vivarta – curdled milk is an instance of the first variety and snake in the rope of the second. —(Dhole’s Vedantasara. p. 34.)