17 September 2008

Ungraspable mind

The Diamond Sutra says that ‘Past mind cannot be grasped, present mind cannot be grasped, and future mind cannot be grasped.’ (For an extended elucidation of this, see Dogen's ‘Shin fukatoku’ (Heine 1994, 153-6; Nishijima and Cross 1994, 189-205)). Perhaps Peirce is pointing in the same direction when he says that a sign must generate an interpretant in order to function as a sign (i.e. to enter into a real relation with its object), and beyond that, the interpretant in turn must function as another sign in the same relation to that object, and so on ad infinitum. This is the triadic nature of all genuine signs. Knowing and thinking, cognition and representation, being continuous relational processes, necessarily take time, and thus cannot be pegged to any specific location in time or space.
At no one instant in my state of mind is there cognition or representation, but in the relation of my states of mind at different instants there is. [note by CSP: Accordingly, just as we say that a body is in motion, and not that motion is in a body we ought to say that we are in thought and not that thoughts are in us.]
— (EP1:42)

Just because thinking is unstoppable, and mind ungraspable, does not imply that the object of cognition, or thought, is itself unreal. The laws of nature really do govern what actually happens and are not merely ‘results of thinking’, as ‘conceptualists’ believe. Peirce considered this doctrine a form of nominalism, and thus rejected it, as the scholastic realists had several centures earlier:
The great realists had brought out all the truth there is in that much more distinctly long before modern conceptualism appeared in the world. They showed that the general is not capable of full actualization in the world of action and reaction but is of the nature of what is thought, but that our thinking only apprehends and does not create thought, and that that thought may and does as much govern outward things as it does our thinking. But those realists did not fall into any confusion between the real fact of having a dream and the illusory object dreamed. The conceptualist doctrine is an undisputed truism about thinking, while the question between nominalists and realists relates to thoughts, that is, to the objects which thinking enables us to know.
— CP 1.27 (1909)

The apprehension of thought by thinking could be called ‘grasping’, but it cannot be completed—just as mind cannot be grasped—because it takes time. Since we are in time just as we are in thought, there is no way to get one ‘handle’ on either without letting go of another.

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