Cognitive Differences and the Constitution of Objects
|Rajesh Kasturirangan||Sep 2, 2006|
I have been talking to my friend, Sushumna, about the differences between Indian and Western (religious, literary etc) traditions, from the point of view of anthropology, which led me naturally to the question “to what extent are cultural differences cognitive differences?”
Traditionally, in the west, this question of cognitive difference is discussed in terms of the Whorfian, “Language influences Thought” paradigm, which basically says the Indians (or Eskimos) are different from Westerners because Indians believe in A while Westerners believe in B, and that Indians have belief A because their languages have some particularity that biases them towards believing A while westerners have belief B because their languages have some particularity that biases them towards believing B .
But, as S.N Balagangadhara points out in his study of Indian religious traditions, The Heathen in His Blindness, cultural differences can cut deeper — in fact they are not diferences between different belief systems at all, since, according to Balu, one side ( i.e., Indians in this case) do not believe at all, atleast not in the western sense of the term belief. According to Balu, while western religious traditions make truth claims about the world (their beliefs are claims that the nature of world is X or Y), Indian traditions are ways of acting, which makes sense to me. Since childhood I have been told “do not do this or do not do that” but nobody ever told me “Believe this or else”. which I think is the norm in Hindu families.
Therefore, the distinction between belief and action has to be acknowledged as a source of cognitive differences, since one would expect that a way of thinking that is grounded in action is different from thinking grounded in belief. To cut a long story short, we could have a revolutionary take on cognitive science by saying that particular western modes of cognizing have been taken as universal and normative, when in fact the range of phenomena is much larger, which would automatically lead us to the question of how the objects of cognition are constituted in Indian communities versus European communities.
If we take a concept like religion, or caste, or literature, we find that certain western ways of theorizing have aggregated phenomena under each one of these concepts that are actually not the way Indians would aggregate them. In other words, each one of these concepts comes along with a theory of how to apply that concept that really doesnt hold in the Indian context, since (to use a Balu-istic analysis) the way we experience and reflect upon experience is not the same as the western theorist.
So far so good. But there is something more I think — the debate is not just about whether western theorizing about religion in the Indian context is true to their experience but not to ours, but also how objects are constituted in their experience versus our experience. For example, a culture that is literate is always going to constitute its notion of literature as being made of fixed texts with unique authors etc. These texts are the objects of study for them. But the Mahabharata, to take one example, cannot be constituted as an object in the same way — hence the usual western claim that its not really a text, since it was composed by different authors over several centuries and has several layers. Sure, that might be their experience, but I would say that for an Indian, thats not how we constitute a literary object at all. So the problem, I think is not just about theories and concepts but also the objects of our experience.<! — D([“mb”,”
In the case of religion we could say that for a western theologian, the object of experience is always out there (God for example) and religious beliefs are true statements about these objects. But for Indians, according to Balu as I understand him, the objects are nconstituted by actions. What kind of objects are these, if they are not out there, but constituted by actions?
In your case, I wonder if some of the problems of the feminist readings of Akka are not just about using modern feminist theories but also that they constitute a text as an object in a completely different way than Akka would have and her listeners would have. In other words, if you ask the question (as you do in your thesis), what kind of knowledge does Akka have, one can only answer that relative to the objects of that nknowledge.If the objects are constituted in ways that are incommensurate with feminist theorizing about patriarchy etc, as one might think they are, then one cannot make claims about Akka precisely because you cannot claim something that applies to apples when the object is really an orange. n
I am just trying to point that there is another critique of the appropriations of Akka etc that are not just critiquing the mode of theorizing, but also of the mode of the object-ing (I didntg want to use the term objectifying, since that has other connotations).n
Hope the Jeans are A+.
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In the case of religion we could say that for a western theologian, the object of experience is always out there (God for example) and religious beliefs are true statements about these objects. But for Indians, according to Balu as I understand him, the objects are constituted by actions. What kind of objects are these, if they are not out there, but constituted by actions?