Naive Realism

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    Danakeli Dasi

    I understand that Naïve Realism refers to people being guilty of assuming that what they perceive w/ their senses is directly correlated w/ the real, or objective, world, taking that perception to be an accurate “snapshot” of reality. Although how one views the real world through the mind & intellect may be a better approximation of the real world than that approximated w/ the senses, it also is not an accurate snapshot of reality.
    My question is: If we travel up the tree of lifeforms in the 14 planetary systems of this universe, which (if any) being is capable of perceiving the material reality directly w/ the senses? Or which being (if any) who may not be able to do so w/ the senses could do so w/ the mind or intellect? What about Brahmā & Śiva? What about a fully self-realized pure devotee?

    Ashish Dalela

    In the material world, all observation is conditioned, which means (1) we focus on a certain part of reality instead of the whole reality, so we cannot say that we know the whole truth, (2) we understand the object of knowledge in terms of previously acquired concepts, and (3) we are attracted to a certain part by our innate sense of incompleteness. Now, there are three kinds of approaches you can use to overcome the effect of this experiential conditioning.

    First, you can say that the knower must be a ‘blank slate’ — i.e. no preference for anything, no presuppositions about anything, and no specific focus on anything. The problem is that once you become a blank slate you have no preference, no focus, and no presuppositions you can know anything. You can’t say that you know anything without these things. So, this idea that we can know the truth by removing the conditioning and being a ‘blank slate’ fails.

    Second, you can say that if that reality reveals itself and says — “this is what I am” —  then we can accept it as the presupposition in terms of which we cognize and then we can say we know. However, this raises the question of whether the authority that revealed oneself knew oneself perfectly. The short answer is that every relationship reveals something new. So, you might think that you know yourself as a calm and peaceful person, but something can make you go wildly angry. You don’t know that you had anger in you until you encounter that situation. In that sense, it is almost impossible to say that even the authority revealing himself knows the whole truth. Thus, it is sometimes said that even Krishna doesn’t know what He is in entirety because new things about Himself are revealed to Him through every new kind of relationship interaction.

    Third, you can say that the thing we know is actually known differently through many perspectives. What we know is contingent on the relationship and method of knowing and the part we chose to know. Other relationships, methods of knowing, and parts may be different from what we know. So, if we qualify our knowledge by the relationship, method of knowing, and the choice of the part we know, then we can say that we know. But we can’t preclude other ways of knowing, through different kinds of relationships, and different kinds of conscious focus. So the path to overcoming ‘conditioning’ is to check against other perspectives.

    Once we realize that all knowledge is subject to perspective, then the question becomes: Whose perspective is better? In general, the perspective that is higher is better, which means if you see the forest, it is better than if you just see the leaves. But once you have seen the forest, then you must also see the leaf. So, one has to keep traversing up and down and find everything. Since it is infinite, nobody can say that we know everything. But that doesn’t mean they are in illusion. They just have knowledge relative to their perspective(s) and they are eager to know how things are from other perspectives. The person who knows is still eager to listen to that same thing again and again. So knowledge doesn’t mean the end of discussion on that knowledge.

    Danakeli Dasi

    Thank you for that explanation. One question then…
    Since everyone in the material world perceives & knows from their own perspective, no perception of the reality being 100%, would we say that the speakers w/in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam are also giving their own perspective understanding of cosmology, rather than a complete perspective?
    If the ŚB speakers are not describing cosmological reality w/ a 100% vision, how can an accurate & precise planetarium be built based on their descriptions, albeit those descriptions being significantly better than our puny human knowledge of cosmological reality.

    Ashish Dalela

    We can understand these perspectives as the branches of the tree. The lower the branch the more limited is the perspective, and as we rise higher, the perspective becomes more complete. But every perspective discards something. For example, from the root, we will see the forest and not the leaves of the individual trees. However, if we observe the leaf, and know the connection to the root, the perspective will be limited (incomplete) but not wrong or false. To know the smallest part of the universe completely, we have to know the root. If we know the connection of the leaf to the root, then we can know the part completely and truly, even though it is just a part. So, even when the part is described, when it is described in relation to the whole, there is knowledge of the whole present in it. That is a much superior form of knowledge than just the part without the understanding of the whole. In that sense, the descriptions of SB are much better.

    However, we cannot say that SB is the complete description of every planetary system or part of that planetary system. If we read the purana there is a greater detail given on the jambudvipa as its divisions into 9 varsha are described. Then a further 7-fold division of the bharatavarsha is described, then there is a description of bharat-khanda. This has to do with the fact that the speakers are trying to connect the bharata-khanda to bharata-varsha to jambudvipa to bhu-loka etc. This is because the speakers and listeners are personalities on this planet.

    The Srimad Bhagavatam we hear is describing a particular perspective on the universe, the perspective from where we are currently situated. The same Srimad Bhagavatam cosmology (i.e. knowledge) can be presented from another planetary system where the subdivisions of another planetary system, their loka, and their varsha would be described. The big picture will remain the same, but the details can differ in terms of a different emphasis on different parts.

    So, perspective simply means that something is emphasised and something else is deemphasized. However, we begin the description from the root — i.e. the Personality of God — and then describe the energies, and then the expansion of this energy right up to the current situation we are living in. It is not a complete knowledge of everything, but it is a perfect knowledge of something (the thing that we are seeing currently). In that sense, we can define two ways in which we can speak about ‘completeness’: (a) the journey from leaf to root, and (b) journey from root to all potential leaves. If we can complete the first one, then we can extend that into the second one. But by and large, our scriptures are dealing with our current perspective, traversing all the way to the Personality of God who creates. In short, we are trying to perfect our current knowledge rather than completely know everything that exists anywhere else.
    Once we get the perfect knowledge of one thing, then through that we can gradually extend that perfection to other things as well. Just perfectly understanding our limited experience from the body to senses to mind all the way to God is sufficient, because if we enter another body then we can extend that previously developed knowledge to the new perspective as well.

    This is one of the consequences of personalism vs. impersonalism. In impersonalism, the observer gets the nowhere-nowhen experience which means the observer can know everything and he or she has no ‘perspective’ about reality and hence that perspective doesn’t contaminate the knowledge. But it also means that the observer can’t change his or her perspective and remains a passive observer (can’t influence the world he/she observes). In personalism, the observer gets a somewhere-somewhen experience, which means it is incomplete and colored by their perspective, but it also means that the perspective can be changed and from a given perspective there is a different type of interaction with the reality being observed.

    Even in the spiritual world, everyone knows Krishna, but nobody knows Him completely. He is the Absolute Truth, but everyone has a got a perspective on Krishna. There is mutual respect between devotees because they know that their experience is due to their perspective. Even if there is a clash of perspectives, there is humility because everyone knows it is their perspective. There are however many ‘sects’ or ‘branches’ of devotees, each following in the footsteps of another personality. Just like we are called rupanuga or followers of Rupa Goswami. He is one branch of the Caitanya tree, and there are many other branches. There can be differences of opinion between these trees, and that doesn’t matter as long as we are properly connected to Lord Chaitanya and remain consistent with His version of truth. We can summarize this idea succintly as follows: there are many views of truth, but every view is not true.

    In the egalitarian system, since there are many perspectives therefore every perspective is true. In the mayavadi system, since there are so many views therefore every view is false. In the modernist and universalist system, only one perspective can be true. In the personalist system, there are many forms of truth but not every version claimed by everyone is true.

    Danakeli Dasi

    Well that was an excellent explanation. An important point was that we’re not striving for complete knowledge of everything but perfect knowledge of something. Funny how scientists are trying to perfect their knowledge of something by going deeper & deeper inside that something’s details—learning more & more about less & less. But here we’re trying to perfect our knowledge of something by going up to the root, which abstractly is inside the thing, though not in the way scientists think of inside.

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