Jayary Newsletter # 95

Storytime

Story time, as we know is not the same as real time. In the Adi Parva Jaratkaru is forced by his beleaguered ancestors to bear a child and continue their lineage. Two thousands pages later, Agastya becomes a householder after running into his beleaguered ancestors.

There's no doubt that Agastya's story echoes Jaratkaru's story; they're almost identical. You could say that Jaratkaru makes Agastya possible within the logic of the story.

Of course, Agastya precedes Jaratkaru in mythic time - Astika, who is Jaratkaru's son saves the snakes from being decimated by Janamejaya. Since Janamejaya is Arjuna's great-grandson, Jaratkaru is roughly a generation younger than Yudhisthira. Agastya, is a much older figure. We hear his story in the Vana parva as part of the long series of conversations between Dharmaraja and the rishi Lomasha.

The usual past-present-future flow of temporal influence is reversed within the logic of the story. Of course, stories aren't the only contexts in which temporal logic is replaced by a different logic. Inferences can reverse the flow of time too: while fire causes smoke, we infer fire upon seeing smoke.

Which poses a serious question: what kind of thing is an inference? Is it even a thing of any kind?

Inference

Clearly an inference isn't a causal event - for causality always proceeds from the past to the future. Wait! Isn't it the case that perceiving smoke causes the cognition of fire?

Let me spell that out: let's say there's smoke on top of the hill you're climbing. Is there a causal chain connecting that smoke to your inferring fire on the top of the hill? After, photons from the smoke plumes hit your retina (that's a causal event), rods and cones fire (another causal event), photonic energy is transformed into electrical energy (causal event) and that signal is carried into the brain where an internal fire alarm goes off (causal event) .

All causal events.

Now that's not a real problem, for we can divide the world into two:

  1. Fire causes smoke.

  2. The perception of smoke causes the perception of fire.

There would be no problem at all if the two were unrelated event streams. We know Shakespeare writes plays. We know monkeys love playing on typewriters. Neither of those statement worries us one bit. But monkeys typing out a Shakespeare play: that's a real eye opener.

Similarly, it's not a problem that fire causes smoke. It's not a problem that stimulation of your retina causes your brain to fire away. However, it's rather strange that the retina-brain chain is the mirror image of the fire-smoke chain. The inference is not in the events themselves; it's in the relationship between the two pairs of events. Where does that come from?

Causation and Inference

Let's recap for a moment: fire causing smoke is a physical event. The perception of smoke causing the perception of fire is a causal event. The perception of smoke being the perception of smoke isn't a causal event.

That confusion between causation and inference causes (or is it infers?) trouble for all of us. Let's start with an undeniable feeling: when you open your eyes, you experience the world. It doesn't feel like you experience the inside of your brain. The world has flowers and trees and Donald Trump. The inside of your brain is a gooey piece of flesh.

Think about it: a deer runs away from a tiger because it doesn't want to be in the same place at the same time as the tiger's jaws. Causation - jaw meets neck - happens at the very spot that the causal influence is exerted - the deer's neck. But when the deer sees the tiger the perception doesn't happens at the spot that the photon strikes the retina. Instead, I perceive the tiger where it is, ideally, more than a hundred yards away from me. What good would it be for me to see the tiger only at the moment it's grabbing me by the neck?

If we buy the causal story of perception, seeing smoke consists of a long chain connecting the smoke on the hill with some neurons firing in your brain. But you don't see neurons firing. You see smoke!

Swayambhu

So why does causation here make me perceive there? How do I end up seeing smoke on top of the hill when all the photons are right here in my retina?

There's one answer to that conundrum: perhaps you don't see smoke at all. What you see is what the brain conjures out of the neural firings caused by retinal stimulation caused by photonic travel. The smoke is just the shadow that your mind casts on your consciousness.

If so, the real world is completely different from the shadow it casts via the mind. Smoke isn't anything like the smoke you see.

There's a big problem with statement: how is the brain able to turn causality into perception? I mean, if we retreated into the brain because we weren't willing to accept that we see the smoke on top of the hill, we only see its shadow, then why is the brain any better?

Why is the brain able to throw shadows on the wall when the hill can't? Where does the brain get its special powers? There's only one credible answer: God or some other supernatural force.

What? Why?

Let me take you through the steps once again:

  1. All natural events are caused.

  2. Causal events can't cause experience.

  3. If there's anything we are sure of, it's that we have experiences of shapes and sounds and smells.

  4. Therefore, these shapes and sounds must have a supernatural cause.

Or else, consciousness is a swayambhu, a self standing entity. That makes consciousness even better than god.