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Reading- no longer, as simple as it was.

— Nita V.Kapadia

Reading is no longer just reading, and to let a book influence you, you have to read it. So then everyone pitches in to help and things get so complicated that you cannot write anything. Of course, then it becomes a moral obligation to write, though it was more fun to read what everyone else had written.

Wikipedia set the tone by defining reading as decoding symbols. That’s when my troubles began. Were words symbols? I had never thought of them that way. Then the media went berserk with the symbols. National Geographic wrote all about cave art and it’s being the symbolic representation that marked a civilization that had just started communicating by using symbols or better, communicated symbolically. They described the period we are living in as being symbol centric.

Faces became symbols on par with words-courtesy a song from Baazigar that kept playing in my head despite zero intention. Nevertheless, it was easier to get things in perspective. Suddenly underhand codes went overhead. For us, reading is a very great skill. This, now I know is itself strange.

Then came Tattvarthasutra, the first chapter of which has the ways in which we cognize the world around us. The first two involve the use of our five senses and our mind. The other three don’t need them-but this is not necessary here.

This of course makes us wonder-if we have our five senses and the mind. Why do we read so much, or why do we spend so much time decoding symbols instead of simply cognizing the world? As Seneca said, we are not short of time. We are just extravagant with it. The function of understanding is the defining characteristic of a living being. It cognizes the world indirectly in two ways. Indirectly because it is through the sense organs and the mind. Both these can comprehend an entity.. Now the entity is characterized by both - the generic as well as the changing modes.

One, notices a substance only through its various aspects. So, it only partly notices the object concerned.

When one looks at the ocean, one sees the waves, the water, but not every detail concerning its depth or the creatures living in it as far as general awareness goes. This is because no sense-organ taken singly can grasp all the modes belonging to an entity. E.g. the ear will only grasp the mode of the form of sound belonging to the material particles that have assumed the shape of speech and no other mode belonging to the entity being observed. Similarly, the mind too reflects over only some particular aspects of an object, for certainly it is incapable of simultaneously reflecting over all the aspects of the object being thought about.

Since the sense organs and the mind are all different, the emergence of the stream of cognition is also different for each instrument of cognition, in this case, the sense organs and the mind. These streams of consciousness could be fast or slow. When the object comes in contact with a sense organ, the process of cognition is slow. It starts with just a general awareness that such a thing exists. So, our curiosity, if aroused, we will try to cognize the particular features of the object. This leaves behind an impression. If the interest is strong to begin with, the impression is then stored as memory.

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When the object is not in contact with a sense organ as in our visual sense, the cognition is different. The object just has to be present for it to be understood. The process starts faster. This can be understood by thinking of a mirror. As soon as a mirror is kept in front of an object, the reflection is visible. There is no need for the mirror to be in contact with the object. This is unlike the cognition process concerned with hearing. The sound waves have to be in contact with the ear in order to be heard. If not waves, then quantum particles, but some matter needs to be in contact. Mere attentiveness and the presence of the object in this case would not be enough.

The eyes and our mind, cognize in the way the mirror reflects the object. We can see across distances without coming in contact with the landscapes.

We can reflect over things that we cannot touch, taste, smell, hear or see.

Now if the above way of cognizing is taken as a cause, what follows? Determinate cognition follows as it is helped by the indeterminate cognition which we say was the cause.

Indeterminate cognition is always a function of that which exists now. We cannot even begin to grasp what is not now. So, the word was not there in the beginning, if you consider indeterminate cognition. We could and did survive in spite of there being no word, as we will now know.

Determinate cognition has for its object something that is beyond time. It could be in the past, future, or present. Also the word is now there. Without the word, determinate cognition would not exist. It would remain indeterminate.

So, both these ways of indirect cognition are similar in their dependence on sense organs and the mind.

They are different where the symbols are concerned. Here, in the beginning is the word.


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