Appearance and reality

Can appearance itself be doubted?  (Discussion in QUORA)

The question is not about the relation between appearance (things) and noumenon (thing in itself). It concerns only the appearance ITSELF. That means, I’m not asking about whether appearance is capable to reveal the noumenon, rather whether the trueness of appearance can be doubted.

For example, while I’m licking honey, it tastes sweet to me. I’m not asking whether the honey itself is sweet, rather ‘it tastes sweet to me’ can be doubted.

Tom McFarlane. As long as there is some kind of judgment involved, no matter how subtle, there can be doubt. And, as long as there is a characterization of an appearance as being this or that, there is judgment, which can be doubted. And this will always be the case since no experience is a perfectly pure appearance, free of all interpretation or judgment. So, for example, if you lick some honey and have the experience of it tasting sweet, that involves identifying ‘it’ and ‘sweet’ and ‘tasting’ and putting those together in a judgment that can be doubted. If you strip away or suspend all interpretation and judgment, then what is left is not any appearance at all, but the simple naked fact of awareness itself, about which nothing can be affirmed or denied.

AM.Yes, ‘no experience is a perfectly pure appearance… ‘, since usually an interpretation is added or superimposed on the bare primary sensation. However, in Yogacara Buddhism, and also in Advaita Vedanta and Taoism, a pure sensation is distinguished prior to the thought process adding an interpretation to it. The former is an indefinite sensation (nirvikalpa), and is followed by thought-construction (savikalpa), which may be followed in turn by an action – cf. ‘Nonduality – a Study in Comparative Philosophy’, David Loy. According to this view, ‘sensation… directly cognizes ultimate reality… The path of liberation is a return to the bare thing-in-itself…‘.…

T Mc. Indeed, the notion of ‘bare primary sensation’ or ‘pure sensation’ is customarily distinguished from the interpretive thought-construction. However, at a more subtle level, even ‘bare primary sensation’ or ‘pure sensation’ presupposes primitive distinctions that are not ultimate in nature. The notion of ‘sensation’ implicitly involves a primitive ‘interpretation’ of the appearance as being ‘sensation’ as contrasted with ‘conception’ or other type of arising. Nondual insight breaks through this distinction and even the more fundamental distinction between an arising appearance and no appearance at all.

AM. Well, ‘[T]he notion of ‘sensation’ implicitly involves a primitive “interpretation” of the appearance (….)’ because of the intromission of language and thought on the bare sensation or sense data or, rather, as you suggest, on the meaning of words (e.g. ‘sensation’) which carry, along with themselves, particular connotations and associations (e.g. ‘conception’, ‘pure’, or ‘mixed’ sensation, etc). Besides, the word ‘appearance’ is mentally associated immediately with ‘reality’. If, on the other hand, one proclaims (consistent with Berkeley), ‘reality is appearance itself’ – a striking statement – , that statement stands in need of supporting (doctrinal) argumentation despite being, in fact, a/the final ontological and epistemological truth.

The fundamental distinction you mention at the end of your last reply – between an arising appearance and no appearance – seems to allude to objectless consciousness, which is related to deep sleep and to the ‘experience’ of anubhava (of Shankara), which is not a perception (this being always of phenomena) and also ties in with what you write at the end of your post: ‘the single naked fact of awareness itself, about which nothing can be affirmed or denied’.



About amartingarcia

General surgeon (retired). Studied Western philosophy at U of Toronto. Afterwards interest turned to advaita vedanta and non-duality for past 20 yrs, plus a long interlude in Sufism coinciding with that period. Now contributing in ’Advaita Vision’ with regular posts and discussions.
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