Objects in Non-conceptual Cognition

Mental Holograms in Non-conceptual Cognition

In sensory non-conceptual cognition, an external object (phyi-don) casts (gtod) a mental aspect (rnam-pa) – or mental impression, mental image – of itself on the sensory consciousness that cognizes it. Mental aspects or images are somewhat like mental holograms.

  • An external object is one that exists prior to the cognition of it and functions as the natal source (rdzas) of the mental hologram that arises in its cognition.
  • natal source of something is what produces it, like the potter’s wheel for a clay pot or an oven for a baked bread.

The mental hologram may be the mental semblance of a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, or a physical sensation. It is a mental semblance, however, of only the objective entities that the specific sense consciousness can cognize. Visual consciousness, for example, cannot take on the mental hologram of a sound or a taste.

Moreover, in cognizing an external object, a cognition gives rise only to a mental hologram resembling the external object. It does not give rise to the external object itself.

According to the Chittamatra (mind-only) tenet system, there are no such things as external objects. In sensory non-conceptual cognition, the mental hologram that arises comes from the same natal source as the sensory consciousness of it – namely, both come from the same karmic tendency (sa-bon, karmic seed, karmic legacy) as their common natal source.

According to the Vaibhashika system, sensory non-conceptual cognition directly contacts and cognizes external objects, without giving rise to a mental hologram resembling them.

Gelug

The external object that casts a mental impression on a sensory consciousness of itself is a commonsense object as an objective entity.

  • Consider the example of sensory non-conceptual cognition of an apple, such as seeing an apple or tasting an apple. Like a mental impression, the mental hologram of an apple that appears in the sensory cognition resembles the external commonsense apple in all the nonstatic features that are explicitly apprehensible by the sensory consciousness that assumes that mental aspect (the mental hologram).

Sensory non-conceptual cognition can explicitly apprehend only forms of physical phenomena specific to it and such obvious noncongruent affecting variables as gross nonstaticness.

  • For example, in seeing an apple, the apple casts a mental impression on the visual consciousness that sees it. The mental impression or hologram resembles both the patches of colored shapes that comprise the sight of the apple and the commonsense apple itself. But, not only that, the mental hologram also resembles the gross nonstaticness of the apple. This is because visual consciousness can also “see” the gross nonstaticness of an apple when it falls apart while cooking it.
  • Visual cognition of an apple being cooked may decisively determine either the sight of the cooking apple or the gross nonstaticness of the apple, depending on what the cognition decisively determines concerning its mental hologram. Only what the cognition decisively determines of its mental hologram is the involved object of that cognition.
  • Thus, not all features or qualities of the mental hologram that appears in a valid sensory cognition are necessarily its involved objects. Only those qualities that the valid sensory cognition apprehends are its involved objects and only those qualities are decisively determined. Others qualities may appear in the cognition, but if the cognition pays little attention to them – such as the color of the apple while watching it cook – it lacks decisive determination of them as “this” and “not that.” Consequently, they are not the involved objects of the cognition and are not apprehended by the cognition.

Non-Gelug

The external object that casts an impression (a mental hologram) on sensory consciousness of it is a moment of sensibilia, such as a moment of colored shapes or a moment of sound. Only such individual items are objective external entities.

  • According to a minority position within the non-Gelug camp, as represented by the 15th-century Sakya master Shakya Chogden (gSer-mdog Pan-chen Sha-kya mchog-ldan), the external object that casts a mental impression here is a moment merely of molecules. In the case of objects of visual cognition, the molecules would be similar to colored pixels. Only moments of molecules are objective entities, not moments of sensibilia, such as patches of colored shapes. Sensibilia are metaphysical entities.

Since sensory non-conceptual cognition does not decisively determine anything about its object, the mental hologram that appears to sensory non-conceptual cognition cannot resemble some nonstatic features that are its involved objects and some that are not its involved objects. The entire mental hologram that appears in sensory non-conceptual cognition resembles the involved object.

  • The mental hologram (the mental hologram) in the cognition is the directly involved object.
  • The external object (a moment of external sensibilia or a moment of external sound) is the indirectly involved object. The difference between the two will be explained further, below.

Level of Transparency of Mental Holograms

Gelug

The mental impression cast on a sensory consciousness by an external objective entity is cognitively transparent. In other words, when non-conceptually cognizing the mental hologram of an external objective entity such as a commonsense object, the mental hologram does not veil the commonsense object. Rather, the sensory non-conceptual cognition directly contacts the external commonsense object, albeit through the transparency of a mental hologram.

Thus, in the sensory non-conceptual cognition of a commonsense object, the external commonsense object actually appears through the totally transparent mental hologram cast by it on the consciousness.

Non-Gelug

The mental impression cast on a sensory consciousness by an external objective entity, such as a moment of an external patch of colored shape, is opaque. Only the mental hologram appears in sensory non-conceptual cognition.

  • The mental hologram is directly cognized (dngos-su rig) by the cognition.
  • The moment of the external patch of colored shape that casts a mental hologram on the sensory consciousness of it is indirectly cognized (shugs-la rig) by that sensory cognition.

This distinction derives from the non-Gelug literal assertion of the momentariness of nonstatic phenomena. The moment of the external patch of colored shape that existed as the direct cause (dngos-rgyu) of the sensory cognition of it has ceased to exist the immediately following moment when the sensory cognition with the mental hologram cast by it occurs. In this sense, the moment of the external patch of colored shape is hidden (lkog na-mo) in the sensory cognition.

  • Being hidden in a cognition, however, is not equivalent to an involved object being obscure. Obscure phenomena can only be validly known inferentially by relying on a line of reasoning or renown. The presence of a moment of an external patch of colored shape that is cognized by a sensory cognition, however, is not something that can only be inferred. The moment of an external patch of colored shape is cognized non-conceptually by sensory cognition, but only indirectly.
  • Nor is the indirect cognition of a moment of an external patch of colored shape a case of a cognition of something in which little or no attention is paid to an object. In such cases, the object not paid much attention to is still present and appears to the cognition. Here, however, the moment of an external patch of colored shape indirectly cognized by the sensory cognition of it no longer exists when the sensory cognition of it occurs the next moment. Therefore, the attention in the cognition is focused only on the mental hologram (the directly involved object of the cognition).

Focal Objects and Focal Holograms

The focal object (dmigs-yul) is the object toward which a cognition aims and which serves as the focal condition (dmigs-rkyen) of the cognition. Focal objects exist prior to the cognitions of them and have their own continuums different from those of the cognitions of them. They are the external objective entities that cast mental impressions of themselves on the consciousnesses that cognize them.

According to the Chittamatra system, although sensory non-conceptual cognitions have involved objects, they do not have focal objects. They do not arise from the focal condition of external objects existing independently of mental activity (mind).

  • Instead, sensory cognitions have focal holograms (dmigs-rnam, focal aspects), which are the mental aspects (mental holograms) that sensory consciousnesses assume in cognizing their involved objects.
  • The focal hologram in a sensory cognition arises from (is produced by) the same natal source as the sensory consciousness of it – namely, from the same karmic tendency (sa-bon, karmic seed, karmic legacy). It does not arise from (it is not produced by) an external focal object as its natal source.

Gelug

Only those features of focal objects (commonsense objects) that are decisively determined by sensory non-conceptual cognitions of them are the involved objects of those cognitions.

Non-Gelug

In sensory non-conceptual cognition, the focal object of the cognition (a moment of sensibilia) is only indirectly cognized. Nevertheless, the focal object, in its entirety, is still an indirectly involved object of the cognition.

Appearing Objects and Cognitively Taken Objects in Non-Conceptual Cognition

The appearing object (snang-yul) is the direct object (dngos-yul) that arises in a cognition, as if it were directly in front of the consciousness (blo-ngor). It is a mental derivative (gzugs-brnyan, mental reflection) of a cognitive object, like a reflection in a clear mirror.

In sensory non-conceptual cognition, the appearing object is equivalent to the mental hologram that appears. It is a mental derivative of an external objective entity.

Gelug

The appearing object (the fully transparent mental hologram) in sensory non-conceptual cognition is equivalent to the cognition’s cognitively taken object (gzung-yul, held object). It is a full transparency of an external commonsense object.

Because the appearing object includes not only sensibilia, which are forms of physical phenomena, and such noncongruent affecting variables as gross nonstaticness, the appearing object in sensory non-conceptual cognition is a noncongruent affecting variable. As such, it lacks any form of its own. It appears with the form of the aspect cast on it by the external object that serves as the focal object of the cognition.

As already mentioned, the appearing object here is not necessary equivalent, however, to the cognition’s involved object, which may be merely certain nonstatic features of the appearing (cognitively taken) object.

Non-Gelug

The cognitively taken object of a non-conceptual cognition is defined as the external objective entity that serves as the direct cause of the cognition.

  • Thus, in sensory non-conceptual cognition, the cognitively taken object is the moment of external sensibilia that the cognition indirectly cognizes.
  • The appearing object (mental derivative) is only the directly cognized opaque mental hologram of the cognitively taken object, and not the cognitively taken external object itself.
  • Thus, appearing objects and cognitively taken objects are not equivalent to each other.

Categories in Reference to Conventional Objects

In the most general terms, a category (spyi, universal, generality) is a phenomenon shared in common by the individuals (bye-brag) on which it is an imputation. Here, when discussing assertions shared by the Gelug and non-Gelug traditions, we are using the term imputation in its most general sense. In some cases, it is clearer to translate the Tibetan term for category as a “mental synthesis” or as a “synthesis” for short.

Among categories, we may differentiate:

  • Categories in reference to conventional objects
  • Categories in reference to language.

In reference to conventional objects, there are three main types of categories:

  • Collection mental syntheses (tshogs-spyi)
  • Kind mental syntheses (rigs-spyi)
  • Object mental syntheses (don-spyi).

Collection mental syntheses are wholes that are imputations on spatial, sensorial, and/or temporal parts. The parts may be connected with each other, as in the case of the parts of an apple or a body. Alternatively, the parts may be unconnected and merely gathered together, such as in the case of a forest and the trees that comprise it.

Consider the example of “an apple.” “An apple,” as a whole item, is an imputation on the basis of any of the following:

  • A collection of patches of colored shapes
  • A collection of tactile sensations of variously shaped surfaces
  • A collection of the previous two collections
  • A collection of peel, pulp and seeds
  • A collection of molecules
  • A collection of moments of any or all of the previous collections.

A whole is a category into which several items fit. This is because it can be imputation on any of the above collections of parts. Collection syntheses as wholes are also called vertical mental syntheses (gong-ma’i spyi). In a sense, they extend “up and down” over all aspects of a specific object.

Kind mental syntheses are the types of objects that a specific individual item is an instance of. For example, “apple,” “fruit,” “food,” “red object” and “nonstatic phenomenon” are all imputations on an individual item having the defining characteristics of each of these kinds of objects. Items sharing a specific defining characteristic may be instances of the kind synthesis apple; whereas other items sharing a different defining characteristic may be instances of the kind synthesis “fruit.”  

An object is an individual member of a kind synthesis if:

  • It is an instance of this kind of object – for instance, an apple is a kind of fruit
  • It and its kind of object share the same identity (bdag-gcig) – being an apple and being a piece of fruit share the same identity as this object
  • There are other instances of this kind of object that are not this specific object – oranges are also types of fruit.  

Kind syntheses are also called horizontal mental syntheses (thad-ka’i spyi). In a sense they extend out to include all individual objects sharing the same defining characteristic.

Object mental syntheses are the conceptual categories of commonsense objects used when thinking of, verbalizing, imagining (visualizing), or remembering commonsense objects.

Gelug

A category is defined as an individual set, class, or whole that is an imputation on a collection of subsets, individual members of a set, individual instances of a class, or individual parts.

There are two ontological types of categories:

  • Categories that are functional phenomena (spyi dngos-po-ba)
  • Categories that are nonfunctional phenomena (spyi dngos-po ma-yin-pa).

Functional phenomena (dngos-po) are synonymous with nonstatic phenomena – objective entities. Nonfunctional phenomena (dngos-med) are synonymous with static phenomena – metaphysical entities.

Let us call categories that are functional phenomena ”nonstatic mental syntheses.” They are individually characterized object exclusions of something else (object exclusions) and may be cognized either non-conceptually or conceptually. They include:

  • Collection mental syntheses
  • Kind mental syntheses.

Let us call categories that are nonfunctional phenomena ”static categories.” They are mental exclusions of something else (mental exclusions) and are cognized only conceptually. They include:

  • Audio categories (sgra-spyi)
  • Meaning/object categories (don-spyi).

Since collection and kind syntheses are objective entities, they appear in sensory non-conceptual cognition as part of the focal objects (equivalent to the mental holograms, appearing objects, and cognitively taken objects). When ascertained, they may also be the involved objects explicitly apprehended by the sensory non-conceptual cognition of them. As objective entities, they are noncongruent affecting variables.

Thus, when we see a collection of parts, we also see the whole that they comprise and the type of phenomenon that the whole is (its conventional identity as a commonsense object). For example, when we see a firm red object with a stem and a distinctively shaped round body, simultaneously we objectively also see a whole commonsense item that is both an apple and a piece a fruit. A whole commonsense apple, which is also a whole commonsense piece of fruit, is what appears in our non-conceptual cognition. This is what we objectively see and explicitly apprehend, both accurately and decisively. 

Although this non-conceptual cognition decisively determines what appears to it as being “this” or “that” commonsense object, as distinct from what is not this commonsense object, it does not actually know what it is that appears to it. It not apply (designate) a word or name to the item. That only comes with conceptual cognition, which imputes (mentally labels) an object category on the commonsense object that appears partly veiled through it and which may also impute (designate) a word on it.

Non-Gelug

  • A category is defined as a mentally constructed synthesis (spros-pa, mental fabrication) of individual items.
  • All categories (mental syntheses) are nonfunctional (static) phenomena, metaphysical entities.
  • Collection and kind mental syntheses are indistinguishable from meaning/object categories.

Because collection mental syntheses and kind mental syntheses are static metaphysical phenomena, they do not appear in sensory non-conceptual cognition. They appear only in conceptual cognition. This is consistent with the assertion that sensory non-conceptual cognition does not decisively determine its object as a “this” and “not that.”

Consider the example of seeing something.

  • In moment one (the moment immediately preceding the moment when the seeing of something actually takes place), a moment of an external patch of colored shapes occurs. This external objective entity is the indirectly cognized focal object and cognitively taken object of the seeing.
  • In moment two (the moment when the seeing actually occurs), a mental hologram resembling the previous moment of the patch of colored shapes arises. The previous moment of the patch of colored shapes no longer exists. This “internal” objective entity is the directly cognized appearing object and the involved object. The mental hologram appears merely as a patch of colored shapes. It does not appear as a whole commonsense object, let alone one that is an instance of “this” and “not that” – for example as “an apple” and “not an orange.”
  • In moment three (the moment of conceptual cognition immediately following the non-conceptual seeing), a mental hologram resembling a whole commonsense item with the conventional identity an apple occurs, as the representation of a mental synthesis. The mental hologram resembling a commonsense apple is the appearing object of the conceptual cognition of the apple. The conceptually implied object being signified, a functional commonsense apple that can be eaten, that provides the form to the hologram is the involved object.

Cognizing a sentence as a whole (based on hearing the sound of only one consonant and vowel at a time) and cognizing the motion of something (based on seeing some item in only one position and location at a time) are similarly conceptual processes.

Some non-Gelug scholars, such as Shakya Chogden, assert that the mental holograms that appear in visual non-conceptual cognition are mental semblances of only a moment of a collection of molecules. The mental synthesis of even colored shapes arises only in conceptual cognition.

Summary of Objects in Non-Conceptual Cognition

Gelug external object Gelug mental hologram Non-Gelug external object Non-Gelug mental hologram
fully transparent mental derivative opaque mental derivative
commonsense object as an objective collection synthesis and an objective kind synthesis, conventional identity as “this” and “not that,” spatial & temporal parts resembles a commonsense object, conventional identity as “this” and “not that,” spatial & temporal parts a moment of sensibilia resembles a moment of sensibilia
appears clearly appearing object,  cognitively taken object does not appear, cognitively taken object appearing object
cognitively taken external item assumes the full aspect of the cognitively taken external item assumes the aspect of the cognitively taken object
focal object focal object
involved object (within the domain of the appearing object) involved object involved object
directly cognized directly cognized indirectly cognized (hidden) directly cognized
  when apprehended, clear-cut object, decisively determined as “this” and “not that” commonsense object merely cognitively taken, not decisively determined as either a commonsense object or as “this” and “not that” commonsense object

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