Why Sāńkhya Doesn’t Have Objects of Action

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Introduction and Overview

Even a casual look at Sāńkhya reveals an apparent asymmetry in its ontology, namely that there are five sense-objects called Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether, corresponding to the five senses of knowledge Nose, Tongue, Eyes, Skin, and Ears respectively, but there aren’t corresponding sense-objects for the five senses of action, namely, Hands, Legs, Anus, Genitals, and Speech. Why do senses of knowledge have their corresponding objects and the senses of action don’t? This article delves into this question and demonstrates how action and sensation are unified in Sāńkhya. In getting to this conclusion, the article also discusses why many fundamental ideas in science such as “force”, “property” and “law” have to be discarded to solve the problems of empiricism.

Matter and Force in Modern Science

Since the time of Newton, science has used three distinct but interdependent ideas regarding causality. First, Newton postulated a property called mass which constitutes matter. Second, he postulated a force called gravity which causes masses to move. Third, he formulated a gravitational law that prescribes the declining strength of gravity with distance.

The distinction between matter and force was generalized into the idea of particles and fields, and even in atomic physics matter particles are called fermions, and force particles are called bosons. The Standard Model of particle physics comprises 6 quarks and 6 leptons (fermions) and 5 force particles (bosons).

Due to the distinction between matter and force, all perception is described as matter exerting a force on other matter. For example, vision is attributed to an electromagnetic force that travels as a photon to the eyes, enabling us to see. The photon has a frequency that determines the light’s color and the light’s intensity is due to the number of photons impinging on the eyes. Thus, eyes detect color and intensity which leads to vision.

The Sāńkhya Model of Perception

In Sāńkhya, matter is described directly in terms of perceptual qualities such as redness, sweetness, hardness, etc. In other words, there aren’t “matter” particles (with properties such as mass and charge) that then exert a “force” on the observer’s senses, thereby creating the impression of color and intensity. Rather, the color (e.g. redness) is itself is an objective property of matter. Thus, in Sāńkhya redness is attributed to matter, but in modern science, redness is an artifact of human perception. All color is, therefore, an illusion in modern science (since external reality doesn’t have color) whereas color can be perceived correctly in Sāńkhya because it is an objective property of matter.

The claim that “this apple is red” is, therefore, a claim about our perception in science, whereas it can be a claim about the reality in Sāńkhya, provided we have perceived the color correctly.

In modern science, color perception is created by a traveling photon. But in Sāńkhya this perception is created when a perceptual quality from an object traverses up and down a hierarchical tree. For information to be exchanged, a communication channel has to be opened by another material entity called karma (which acts in two directions). Therefore, the fact that some material object exists doesn’t mean we are going to see it until karma opens the channel. Once the channel is opened, information can be transacted.

Matter and Information in Sāńkhya

Unlike modern science where there are physical properties that are converted into perception through a force, in Sāńkhya, matter is directly an objectified representation of the perception. For example, in the case of vision, matter is a “sound” or a word the encodes the meaning “red”, “blue”, “green”, etc. The material world exists objectively as knowledge—the “words” that encode the information about color—when then becomes perception when knowledge of the object is acquired by the senses.

The foundational idea underlying quantum theory—namely that there are packets of energy which encode the color of radiation (given by Max Planck’s equation E = ħν)—is essentially correct, although color isn’t the property of the “force” that impinges the eyes but rather of the material object itself. The fact is that we only see the color, and we have no way of getting “behind” this perception to know that it is caused by mass and charge. Ideas such as “mass” and “charge” are speculative constructions used to explain the sensations. The question really is: Should we use speculations that are unlike our perceptions (e.g. color and touch) or should we attribute reality to the perceptions?

In Sāńkhya, the sensations themselves are potentially real properties of matter—i.e. we don’t say that the world must be red just because I see redness, because it is possible that I might be hallucinating. However, just because I might have a hallucination doesn’t mean that all perceptions must always be unreal. The world is objectively a sound or words whose meanings may be correctly or incorrectly grasped. My perception is, thus, manas (meanings) and the external world is vāk (words). Perception is expected to correctly decode the meanings of the words; correctness is not guaranteed, but it is possible.

The Dissolution of the Matter-Force Distinction

If the light that impinges our eyes brings the same information that exists externally, then the distinction between force and matter is unnecessary. This distinction is needed only when light is a frequency wave and matter is mass and charge particles. If both light and matter encode information about color, then their distinction is unnecessary. Therefore, hypothetical physical properties such as mass and charge, which exert forces such as gravity and electromagnetism, in order to produce sensations such as heat and color, are not needed. Instead, we describe matter directly as the perceived properties.

Empiricism only requires a mapping between material properties and our perception. This mapping is artificial in modern science. For example, to measure temperature we use a thermometer in which mercury expands as it is heated. To create a thermometer, we need a law that describes mercury’s rate of expansion with temperature. But we cannot formulate this law without measuring temperature—which is the property that we intend to measure after a thermometer is available. To design a thermometer to measure temperature, we need temperature measurements, which begs the question of such a measurement would be done when no thermometer exists.

The result of this circularity is that we arbitrarily choose a scale—e.g. Celsius or Fahrenheit—and the resulting values (e.g. 25 0C or 77 0F) are related to our choice of the measurement scale. This leads to the question of what the objective scale of nature itself is, and whether we can ever know that scale. Since we cannot know if there is indeed a natural scale for temperature, we also cannot be sure that temperature is a physical property of nature. It may well be an effect that we chose to measure and regard as a physical property. The so-called objectivity of all physical properties is thus illusory unless we can define a natural scale in which nature itself measures such properties.

In Sāńkhya, the observer’s senses are the natural scales of measurement. These senses don’t measure speed, temperature, mass, etc. but color, taste, smell, or touch. Philosophers of science such as George Berkeley have justified this idea that physical properties are only derived from sensations. Therefore, treating the physical property primary and the sensation secondary is an inaccurate representation of how such properties are originally conceived and later measured.

Once we collapse the distinction between the so-called primary properties (mass, charge, temperature, etc.) and secondary properties (color, taste, smell, etc.) then the distinction between matter and force also becomes unnecessary. Now, we have rejected both the idea of a force, as well as the idea of objective physical properties. We are left with sensations, which may or may not be true. But nature is now described as the objectification of sensations—e.g. color or taste—because this is no worse than any other physical property.

Rejection of Materialism and Solipsism

There is a further nuance in Sāńkhya regarding properties and values. Color, taste, and smell are properties, while redness, bitterness, sweetness, etc. are their values. We don’t say that color or taste exists objectively in matter because these are attributes of the senses (they are called tanmatra in Sāńkhya). Similarly, we don’t say that redness or sweetness exists in the senses because these are attributes of the external world.

This leads to a rather sophisticated approach to perception in which color is in the eyes and redness is in the external world. The world is therefore not colorful by itself because color is a property of my vision. Similarly, the eyes are not the cause of redness because redness is an external fact about matter. The perception of redness is thus produced by the combination of color (in the eyes) and redness (in the external world).

In this description of perception, we cannot say that the world exists as red color even when nobody sees it. We also cannot say that the perception of redness is simply a creation of my senses or the mind. The former is called materialism and the latter solipsism and both positions are false in Sāńkhya. The external world is redness but not color, and the senses are color but not redness. Only when the two are combined the perception of redness is created, but this perception doesn’t entail that the external world has the “property” of color, nor does it entail that the eyes are responsible for “redness”.

The senses are abstract conceptual properties such as color, taste, smell, etc. To these concepts, details such as redness, sweetness, etc. are “attached” like fruit grows on the branch of a tree. The result of such attachment creates the overall perception: i.e. color is red. Numerous problems of empiricism (e.g. primary vs. secondary properties, mass vs. force) are addressed in Sāńkhya by making material properties (e.g. color) not facts about the external world but facts about the senses.

The Status of Natural Laws

A direct outcome of this resolution of the problems of empiricism is that natural laws—as defined by modern science to be based on properties (e.g. mass, charge, energy, etc.)—become unviable in Sāńkhya because matter doesn’t have any property (these properties are in the senses, while matter is only values). For example, Newton’s gravitational law computes the force F = G M1M2/R2 which requires each object to possess a property called mass whose value changes with different objects. The law of gravitation relies on each object possessing a property called mass, and therefore if all properties (such as mass) are in the senses and not in the objects, then these laws become unviable.

All scientific laws that depend on the computation of dynamical forces in matter—such as gravity, electromagnetism, strong, and weak force—are therefore fictions in Sāńkhya for two fundamental reasons: (1) the properties such as mass and charge which the laws employ are fictions since the only real material properties are sound, sight, touch, taste, and smell, and (2) even the properties like smell, sight, and taste are properties of the observer’s senses, not of the material objects.

The dynamical laws of nature are replaced in Sāńkhya by two kinds of laws. First, the meaning of a complex symbol is a product of combining the meanings of the individual symbols; this law is identical to the hierarchical structure of space which creates a tree of meaning. Second, the changes to these meanings are governed by karma which is the only dynamical law in Sāńkhya; karma enables the exchange of information by opening the channel on which information is exchanged.

The Problem of Locality in Science

The dissolution of the matter-force distinction raises the problem of locality—the idea that matter interacts with matter only when two material entities are in contact with each other. Locality historically emerged from the billiard-ball collision approach to causation: a billiard ball moves when hit by another billiard ball, so they must be in contact to cause the motion.

This idea presented a problem of remote causation such as in the case of gravity where two distant objects can pull each other, and to address this problem science devised a physical entity called a field which exists everywhere and therefore can be said to be “local” to all objects due to its omnipresence. In atomic theory, this field was quantized leading to the idea of “traveling particles” which we call bosons (light or photon is a boson, which is, in turn, the quantization of the electromagnetic field).

Einstein refined “locality” by giving it a crisper definition that locality entails that there must always be a finite time difference between cause and effect, and this was then interpreted to entail that the finite speed of light (and other bosons) means that the cause is traveling to the effect. Quantum theory, however, presents problems of non-locality which violate this premise when we can observe events that should ideally be delayed by a finite duration appear to occur simultaneously. Owing to this problem, quantum theory is said to be “non-local” and contradicts Einstein’s relativity, and the reconciliation of the two theories is an outstanding problem in modern physics.

In effect, we now have some causation that is not governed by forces (if these forces create fields, which are then quantized to create traveling particles, which then “carry” the causation). To sustainably solve this problem in modern science, we have two alternatives: (1) we can add to science another method of causation that doesn’t involve “force”, or (2) we can replace “force” with a new method of causation that covers both classical local forces and the new quantum non-local causation.

The Replacement of Force in Sāńkhya

I have described previously how the delay in propagation from the source to destination can be attributed to the time taken in absorption rather than travel. The time taken in absorption depends on the informational difference between the source and destination. Thus, for instance, if you already understand the idea “Dog” then it is easier to understand the idea “Alsatian” than if you only possessed the idea “Mammal”. If the idea “Dog” has been previously absorbed, then the time taken to absorb “Alsatian” is very small. But if you don’t have the preliminary idea then absorbing the new idea takes longer, because the previous ideas have to be acquired and assimilated beforehand.

In a hierarchical space, the “distance” between objects is their semantic difference. But this difference has no relation to the physical distance. We can have two objects that are physically close (e.g. a chair and table) but have little semantic similarity. We can also have two objects that are physically apart (e.g. two chairs) that are semantically similar. The information between remote objects is indeed transferred but it is not physical “motion” because information traverses up and down the conceptual hierarchy. Thus, before the idea “Alsatian” can be absorbed, the previous higher idea “Dog” must be created from “Mammal” after which “Alsatian” can be created from “Dog”. What appears to be the transfer of one idea thus becomes the transfer of two ideas, because the idea of “Alsatian” cannot be attached to the tree until the idea “Dog” exists.

The time taken to transfer ideas, therefore, depends on the relative states of the emitter and absorber. This time can be longer, shorter, or equal to the time we measure through physical distance. Therefore, sometimes, information transfer will appear to be slower than the speed of light, at other times appear to be faster than the speed of light, and yet other times equal to the speed of light. Effectively, the speed of light has no significance in deciding the causality of nature; it’s now a moot idea.

The Senses of Knowledge and Action

The senses of action are instruments that convert manas into vāk or meanings into words, while the senses of knowledge are instruments that convert vāk into manas or words into meanings.

As we have seen previously, gross matter or vāk is created from subtle matter or manas, and this conversion involves the senses of action. For example, the ideas in my mind can be transformed into speech (a sense of action) by prāna. This transformation can be viewed as the creation of new objects, the destruction of existing objects, or the modification of one object into another. The senses of knowledge, similarly, transform gross matter or vāk into manas. The difference between Sāńkhya and modern science is that in modern science the information travels from the senses directly whereas in Sāńkhya this information goes up and down the tree, passing through the higher nodes.

For example, when I see the redness of an apple, the redness is going up the branch of the tree up to the point from where my material body and senses are joined and then descend downwards. To correctly cognize the world, the idea “apple” must also travel up and down the tree, and in fact, this idea must travel to the mind even before I see redness. In effect, I must obtain an object concept (the idea of an apple) before I attribute its properties (the color red). If the object concept hasn’t traveled, and I simply see redness and then try to speculatively create the idea, then I might see a nectarine or a plum.

Perception is fraught with multiple defects: (1) imperfect senses, which means that the color such as redness may not be properly received by the senses, (2) illusions and hallucinations, which are created when meanings are not received at the level of the mind, (3) committing mistakes, which is when the truth of the meaning is judged incorrectly by the intellect, and (4) cheating propensity, which is when the true intent underlying a statement is incorrectly understood by the ego. Correct perception, therefore, involves not just the sensations but also the mind, the intellect, and the ego. In fact, the subtle level of perception must occur before the gross perception. For instance, if at the level of the ego you are convinced that someone is trying to cheat, then their statement will be judged false at the level of intellect, their meanings would be deemed illusions by the mind, and their sensations would be regarded incorrect. When the subtle entity is acquired before the gross entity, perception is accurate. When the subtle entity is simply guessed (because it was not acquired due to a subtle acquisition), perception is inaccurate.

The key point is that material information has to ascend and then descend, and since this path goes up and down, the channel of communication is opened or closed due to karma. If the mental channel is open, then the correct ideas will be acquired. If the ego channel is opened, then we will quickly detect intent and whether someone can be trusted. When these channels are closed, we may be cheated, or fall prey to mental illusions.

The Objects of the Senses of Action

The objects of the senses of action are processes by which a task is performed. As we saw above, the correct process for creating an object is the step-by-step method of creating gross matter from subtle matter. In other words, this process constructs the tree from top to bottom. At each step of this process, prāna converts an idea into a sound. But once the process is completed, the result is visible as a hierarchical tree of semantic nodes. Both the process of construction (i.e. hierarchy) and the material produced from this process (the nodes) exist in the end-product, and this process can be understood through the ego, intellect, mind, and the senses, if this hierarchy is gradually deconstructed.

The senses of action don’t have separate objects because the result of this action exists in the hierarchical structure. The object for the senses of action is the step-by-step process of traversing the hierarchy from top to bottom. Therefore, if we described the material reality as a tree, then the process of creating it is known. We don’t need to describe the process separately, although we need to follow the process in order to create that observable.

This is the reason that the senses of action don’t have their separate objects because the five material elements—Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether—are sense objects for both the senses of knowledge and of action. If the senses of knowledge were perceiving individual sensations, and the senses of action were involved in creating a process, then two kinds of entities would be needed. Since the sensations are organized in a hierarchical structure, the process of producing this structure is tracing the hierarchy of nodes in the tree. Since we can observe and create this hierarchy, the “object” for both the senses of action and knowledge is identical—the hierarchy of semantic nodes.

Implications for Economic Value

The true economic value of an object is based on real material properties rather than merely on the perception of value in something as entailed by demand and supply models of pricing. I had also noted that this economic value is the least amount of effort the creator needs to create the product, which constitutes the most optimal designs, methods, and procedures. The optimality is indicated by the fact that to create an object we have to follow a step-by-step top-down procedure. When we don’t follow such a top-down procedure, we create suboptimal procedures.

For example, a book should be constructed by first conceiving a purpose at the level of ego, then by identifying its key ideas or premises at the level of intellect, then by expanding these ideas into chapters and sections at the level of the mind, then by expressing these sections into sentences at the level of the senses. If we were clear about the intent, the key premises, and the book structure, then writing the book becomes very easy; indeed this is how authors are advised to write books.

But if we are not clear about the structure and intent of the book, then we have to iterate in the authoring process. The iterative process is a suboptimal procedure to create a book, but it becomes necessary when the subtle object follows the gross objects. The iterative process—which is very time-consuming—is not the most optimal method to produce a book, and while much time and effort may be expended in that process, the hard work that goes into its production doesn’t indicate the true value of the book. The book’s true value is what it is at the end of this effort, which in hindsight could have been produced through a significantly more optimal process if we had the subtle entities, to begin with.

Thus initial creators generally produce things with much effort, and to understand their original insights we must read or understand their work. However, over time, other people find more optimal ways to explain the same thesis, because they have the benefit of hindsight—i.e. the subtle entities available from the previous work, which can now be expanded into gross entities in a significantly more optimal manner.

The key point is that an object is its method of production and as the method of production is optimized, we attain the true value inherent in that object. Since the sensations grasped by the senses of knowledge are identical to the method of production (the sensations grasped by the senses of action) we don’t require separate kinds of objects for the two senses. This is why Sāńkhya doesn’t have them, too.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "Why Sāńkhya Doesn’t Have Objects of Action," in Shabda Journal, February 7, 2017, https://journal.shabda.co/2017/02/07/why-sankhya-doesnt-have-objects-of-action/.