[Advaita-l] Apaurusheyatva of Vedas.
svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Fri Sep 16 11:03:15 CDT 2011
This is the promised "second" part of my posting on the apaurusheya character of the veda.
Many other side-discussions have developed from this, so here I will try to address some
of the points that have not been brought forth so far.
I would like to start with the nature of prAmANya, in a pragmatic sense. There are two
major ways of thinking about this in the Indian philosophical traditions - svataH pramANa
and parataH pramANa, i.e. valid-by-itself and valid-due-to-other, respectively.
What is not often talked about is the flip side of these two positions. The svataH pramANa
vAdin also necessarily accepts parataH *apramANa*, while the parataH pramANa vAdin
also necessarily accepts svataH *apramANa*. That is to say, that which is valid by itself
can be invalidated by another, as far as the svataH pramANa position is concerned. And
that which needs validation by another is not valid in itself, as far as the parataH pramANa
vAdin is concerned.
Now, it is rather easy to show that no parataH prAmANya vAdin (e.g. naiyyAyika) can afford
to apply this kind of thinking about validity to everything. If proposition A is not valid in itself
and needs proof from a proposition B, then B needs validation from C, C from D, and so on.
Unless one stops at a point where the validity of the final proposition is taken as a given, the
parataH pramANa vAdin is forced to an infinite regress. There have to be certain propositions
that every logician has to admit as not requiring logical proof, i.e. as svataH pramANa. For
those more familiar with technical philosophical terms in English, this is the same as saying
that no logical system can work without axiomatic statement(s) at their root. The formal
axiomatic logical statement of this principle is from Godel (I think Sri Sadananda mentioned
In our daily lives, we don't take the above approach. For example, I don't require validation
from another authority that emails signed off with the name Omkar Deshpande indeed are
from someone named Omkar Deshpande. I don't require to see a birth certificate or school
certificate that validates the name and I don't require additional validations to correlate the
name with the posts. I take it as svataH pramANa that an email appearing in my inbox with
that signature is from that person. I further take it as svataH pramANa that EVERY mail with
that signature come from that SAME person. Likewise, Omkar Deshpande makes the same
kind of conclusion about mails appearing from the person named Vidyasankar Sundaresan.
Now, this kind of conclusion, based on svataH prAmANya, can be challenged by a different
piece of evidence. For example, if an email were to appear on this list with the signature
"Vidyasankar" and if it were to say "the philosophy of advaita is wrong; in fact I think only
madhvAcArya was right", this would cause Omkar Deshpande and others to suspect that
something is not right with Vidyasankar. Either his account has been hacked and somebody
else is posting under his name, or there is a second Vidyasankar out there, whose views are
directly opposed to the one known from before, or perhaps Vidyasankar has gone quite mad,
or he has radically changed his philosophical affiliations. Or perhaps some other explanation ...
What human beings do when faced with situations like this is to come up with "reasonable"
explanations that fit the facts and their own interpretation of the facts. Each possibility that
is presented for the hypothetical situation above would sound "reasonable" to different
people. Someone who is inclined to question the sanity or the strength of philosophical
conviction of the person named Vidyasankar might prefer one of the last two explanations.
Someone who has been at the receiving end of being hacked or someone who is generally
aware of the problem might be inclined to be more charitable towards Vidyasankar. A very
few would come to the conclusion that there are two Vidyasankar-s on the same list, but
they would perhaps wait for more evidence from the two possible people posting under the
What would be common to all of them is that each of them would take the incidence of the
strange post from a "Vidyasankar" as svataH pramANa. Thereby, their earlier conclusion,
namely that all the posts appearing on this list, signed Vidyasankar, are from the same
person, would have been invalidated. In other words, this earlier conclusion would now
be parataH *apramANa*.
This is how all human beings operate in this world. All that pUrva and uttara mImAMsaka-s
have done is to give it a formal structure with the terms, svataH pramANa and parataH
*apramANa*. The technical mImAMsA terms for the explanations listed above is arthApatti.
None of them would really be an inference, although all of them would be based partly on the
pratyaksha of a strange email signed by a Vidyasankar. They would also be based on another
means of knowing called upamAna, comparison with previous posts from Vidyasankar and on
yet another means of knowing abhAva or anupalabdhi, i.e. the non-availability of the expected
behavior from Vidyasankar. We are all, by default, acceptors of svataH prAmANya, whether
we choose to describe ourselves as such or not.
And I would venture to suggest that scientists also behave the same way when they do science.
They come to their conclusions, based on the evidence that they have. When faced with a new
piece of evidence that overturns their conclusions, they like to repeatedly observe it, they only
reluctantly accept a new explanation of the newly observed facts (rarely has a new theory been
enthusiastically accepted in the history of science), or else, if they are already convinced of a
different theory, they work hard to do experiments to uncover more pieces of evidence and try
to invalidate the previously accepted conclusion. None of the possible experiments that can be
devised by a scientist remains totally independent of a prior theory, whether accepted for many
centuries or newly proposed.
Not only this, they also do have an unstated dependence on the testimony of others. A physicist
may know nothing about the science behind biological evolution, yet accept it because of his
trust in the modern science called biology and the scientists involved in it. Or he may not, as he
may really be a creationist when it comes to non-physical entities like the human soul and God.
The biologist may know nothing about quarks and leptons, yet accept that the physicist knows
what he is talking about, reposing his trust in the physicist or at least in the body of science
called physics. Or, if he cares to have an opinion about it, he may believe only in the classical
Newtonian physics and may regard all of quantum physics as being of doubtful validity. If he
meets a physicist who talks of multiverses, or a string theorist who talks of numerous other
unseen dimensions to physical reality, a biologist is likely to lose all trust in physics and in
physicists. In other words, scientists do give a significant place of importance to the category
of Sabda or Aptavacana, although this remains totally unstated. What is explicitly stated in the
business of modern science is that the SishTa is privileged - the process of peer review and
editorial decisions before a scientific paper or patent is published is the formal mechanism by
which an established body of SishTas regulates the acceptance of new scientific discovery and
Speaking for myself, I have a science education, up to a PhD and I work in a technology job,
but I have never physically done the experiment myself that proves that the speed of light is a
constant. I have never myself physically examined the fossil evidence behind evolution. As far
as my own "scientist-ness" is concerned, these scientific truths are known to me only through
Aptavacana. I don't see any conflict between my science education and occupation on the one
hand and my involvement in vedAnta on the other. I can get into details later, if necessary.
I will leave the obvious conclusions regarding veda as Sabda/Aptavacana and apaurusheya
to be drawn by readers, to keep this post within a manageable size. I will address only one
possible view, namely that the AptavAkya-s of science are not given by some non-human
agency and their truth value is not dependent on any kind of extraordinary claim. True.
Science addresses observables and does not set out to interpret any revelation. mImAMsA,
on the other hand, whether pUrva or uttara, tackles what is beyond the range of observation,
sets out to interpret the veda and never claims to be the same as or like modern science
(except for a few mostly misguided efforts in the last century).
In a separate post, I will take up a few other points and hopefully highlight the small ways
in which pUrva mImAMsA and vedAnta differ in their approach to the apaurusheyatva of the
veda. Omkar, I quite appreciate the way in which you have raised your questions about
epistemology and I hope the responses given on this list by a number of people are of some
use to you. In particular, I think if you keep in mind that svataH prAmANya vAda is a coin with
a back side called parataH *apramANa*, a number of issues will be easily resolved.
ps. I think it should be obvious now that pratyaksha alone should not be privileged as svataH
pramANa, while keeping all other means of knowing as subordinate to it. pratyaksha alone
does not always lead you right. The sun rising in the east is pratyaksha to all of us, yet we
all know that the sun really never rises in the east nor sets in the west, and that it is the
earth that moves in the opposite direction. The moon increasing and decreasing in size
periodically is pratyaksha, but we all know that the moon does not change size really and
that it is all merely an effect of the illumination from the sun and relative motions of the
sun, earth and the moon. We know these truths only through means other than pratyaksha.
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