Knowledge and Perception

Knowledge and Perception

Knowledge (jnana) or cognition (buddhi) is defined as apprehension (upalabdhi) or consciousness (anubhava). Nyaya, being realistic, believes that knowledge reveals both the subject and the object which are quite distinct from itself. All knowledge is a revelation or manifestation of objects (arthaprakasho buddhi). Just as a lamp manifests physical things placed before it, so knowledge reveals all objects which come before it. Knowledge may be valid or invalid. Valid knowledge (prama) is defined as the right apprehension of an object (yatharthanubhavah). It is the manifestation of an object as it is. Nyaya maintains the theory of correspondence (paratah pramanya). Knowledge, in order to be valid, must correspond to reality. Valid knowledge is produced by the four valid means of knowledge— perception, inference, comparison and testimony. Invalid knowledge includes memory (smrti), doubt (samshaya), error (viparyaya) and hypothetical reasoning (tarka). Memory is not valid because it is not presentative cognition but a representative one. The object remembered is not directly presented to the soul, but only indirectly recalled. Doubt is uncertainty in cognition. Error is misapprehension as it does not correspond to the real object. Hypothetical reasoning is no real knowledge. It is arguing like this— ‘if there were no fire, there cannot be smoke’. When you see a rope as a rope you have right knowledge. If you are uncertain whether it is a rope or a snake, you have doubt. If you recall the rope you have seen, you have memory. If you mistake the rope for a snake, you have error.

                    Knowledge is produced in the soul when it comes into contact with the not-soul. It is an adventitious property of the soul which is generated in it by the object. If the generating conditions are sound, knowledge is valid; if they are defective, knowledge is invalid. A man of sound vision sees a conch white, while a man suffering from jaundice sees it yellow. Correspondence with the object is the nature of truth. If knowledge corresponds to its object, it is valid; if it does not, it is invalid. Valid knowledge corresponds to its object (yathartha and avisamvadi) and leads to successful activity (pravittisamarthya). Invalid knowledge does not correspond to its object (ayathartha and visamvadi) and leads to failure and disappointment (pravrttivisamvada). Fire must bum and cook and shed light. If it does not, it is no fire. Knowledge intrinsically is only a manifestation of objects. The question of its validity or invalidity is a subsequent question and depends upon its correspondence with its object. Truth and falsity are extrinsic characteristics of knowledge. They are apprehended by a subsequent knowledge. They arise and are apprehended only when knowledge has already arisen. They are neither intrinsic nor self-evident. Validity and invalidity of knowledge arise (utpattau paratah pramanyam) after knowledge has arisen, and they are known (jnaptau paratah pramanyam) after knowledge has arisen and they have also arisen. Correspondence is the content and successful activity is the test of truth. The Nyaya theory of knowledge, therefore, is realistic and pragmatic; realistic as regards the nature and pragmatic as regards the test of truth.

                    Perception, inference, comparison or analogy and verbal testimony are the four kinds of valid knowledge. Let us consider them one by one.


                    Gotama defines perception as ‘non-erroneous cognition which is produced by the intercourse of the sense-organs with the objects, which is not associated with a name and which is well-defined’. This definition of perception excludes divine and yogic perception which is not generated by the intercourse of the sense-organs with the objects. Hence Vishvanatha has defined perception as ‘direct or immediate cognition which is not derived through the instrumentality of any other cognition’. This definition includes ordinary as well as extraordinary perception and excludes inference, comparison and testimony. Perception is a kind of knowledge and is the attribute of the self. Ordinary perception presupposes the sense-organs, the objects, the manas and the self and their mutual contacts. The self comes into contact with the manas, the manas with the sense-organs and the sense-organs with the objects. The contact of the sense-organs with the objects is not possible unless the manas first come into contact with the sense-organs, and the contact of the manas with the sense-organs is not possible unless the self comes into contact with the manas. Hence sense-object contact necessarily presupposes the manas-sense contact and the self-manas contact. The sense-organs are derived from the elements whose specific qualities of smell, taste, colour, touch and sound are manifested by them. The manas is the mediator between the self and the sense-organs. The external object, through the senses and the manas, makes an impression on the self. The theory, therefore, is realistic.

                    The Naiyayikas maintains two stages in perception. The first is called indeterminate or nirvikalpa and the second, determinate or savikalpa. They are not two different kinds of perception, but only the earlier and the later stages in the same complex process of perception. These two stages are recognized by Gotama in his definition of perception quoted above. Perception is ‘unassociated with a name’ (avyapadeshya) which means ‘indeterminate’ and it is ‘well-defined’ (vyavasayatmaka) which means ‘determinate’. All perception is determinate, but it is necessarily preceded by an earlier stage when it is indeterminate. Nyaya recognizes the fundamental fact about knowledge which is said to be the distinct contribution of Kant to western philosophy that knowledge involves both sensation and conception. ‘Percepts without concepts are blind and concepts without percepts are empty.’ Perception is a complex process of experience involving both sensation and conception. All perception we have is determinate because it is perceptual knowledge or perceptual judgment. Sensation is the material and conception is the form of knowledge. Bare sensation or simple apprehension is nirvikalpa perception; perceptual judgment or relational apprehension is savikalpa perception. Nyaya avoids the fallacy of the psychical staircase theory that we have first sense-experience, then conception and then judgment. Perception is a complex presentative-representative process in which we cannot really separate direct awareness from relational judgment. Indeterminate perception forms the material out of which determinate perception is shaped, but they can be distinguished only in thought and not divided in reality. Nirvikalpa perception is the immediate apprehension, the bare awareness, the direct sense-experience which is undifferentiated and non-relational and is free from assimilation, discrimination, analysis and synthesis. The consciousness of the ‘that’ is not yet determined by the consciousness of the ‘what’. But as the ‘that’ cannot be really known as separated from the ‘what’, the ‘substance’ cannot be known apart from its ‘qualities’, we immediately come to savikalpa perception where the mere awareness of the ‘that’ and the ‘what’ and their ‘inherence’ as something undifferentiated, unrelated, dumb and inarticulate, is transformed into differentiated, relational, conceptual and articulate knowledge involving assimilation, discrimination, analysis and synthesis. For example, when we go, from broad day-light, into a dark cinema hall to see a matinee show, we first do not see the seats or the audience clearly, but have only a dim sensation of the objects present there which gradually reveal themselves to us ; the dim sense-experience of the objects in the hall is indeterminate perception while the clear perception of them is determinate perception. The mere apprehension of some object as something, as the ‘that’, is indeterminate perception, while the clear perception of it together with its attributes is determinate perception. We see in dusk a straight something lying on the road and find out by going near it that it is a rope. We see a white moving object at a distance and when it comes near we see it is a white cow. The earlier stage is indeterminate and the later one determinate perception. We are in a hurry to go somewhere and want to finish our bath before starting. We do not know whether the water was cold and the bath refreshing, though we did feel the coolness of water and the refreshing character of bath. We feel water and we feel its coolness but we do not relate the two. Indeterminate perception presents the bare object without any characterization. In determinate perception we relate the substance with its attributes. The feeling of indeterminate perception is psychological, but its knowledge is logical. As bare awareness, as mere apprehension, we sense indeterminate perception, we feel it, but the moment we try to know it even as ‘bare awareness’ it has passed into conception and has become determinate. Hence all our perception being cognition is determinate and is a perceptual judgment. We can separate indeterminate from determinate perception only in thought and not in reality. Hence, though we feel indeterminate perception as a psychological state of sense-experience, its knowledge even as indeterminate perception is a result of logical deduction. We do feel it directly but only as an awareness, not as a cognition. Mere apprehension, being infra-relational, cannot be cognized. As cognition it is inferred afterwards when conception has transformed mere sensation into a perceptual judgment.

                    Vatsyayana says that if an object is perceived with its name we have determinate perception; if it is perceived without its name, we have indeterminate perception. Jayanta Bhatta says that indeterminate perception apprehends substance, qualities and actions and universal as separate and indistinct something and is devoid of any association with a name, while determinate perception apprehends all these together with a name. Gangesha Upadhyaya defines indeterminate perception as the non-relational apprehension of an object devoid of all association of name, genus, differentia etc. Annam Bhatta defines it as the immediate apprehension of an object as well as of its qualities, but without the knowledge of the relation between them. The substance and the qualities, the ‘that’ and the ‘what are felt separately and it is not apprehended that those qualities in here in that substance or that the ‘what’ characterizes the ‘that’. Indeterminate perception is ‘mere acquaintance’ which William James calls ‘raw unverbalized experience’, while determinate perception is relational apprehension.

                    Perception, again, may be ordinary (laukika) or extraordinary (alaukika). When the sense-organs come into contact with the objects present to them in the usual way, we have Laukika perception. And if the contact of the sense-organs with the objects is in an unusual way, i.e., if the objects are not ordinarily present to the senses but are conveyed to them through an extraordinary medium, we have Alaukika perception. Ordinary perception is of two kinds— internal (manasa) and external (bahya). In internal perception, the mind (manas) which is the internal organ comes into contact with the psychical states and processes like cognition, affection, conation, desire, pain, pleasure, aversion etc. External perception takes place when the five external organs of sense come into contact with the external objects. It is of five kinds— visual, auditory, tactual, gustatory and olfactory, brought about by the sense-organs of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell respectively when they come into contact with the external objects. The external sense-organs are composed of material elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether and therefore each senses the particular quality of its element. Thus the sense-organ of smell is composed of the atoms of earth and perceives smell which is the specific quality of earth and so on.

                    Extra-ordinary perception is of three kinds— samanyalaksana, jnanalaksana and yogaja. Samanyalaksana perception is the perception of the universals. According to Nyaya, the universal are a distinct class of reals. They inhere in the particulars which belong to different classes on account of the different universals inhering in them. An individual belongs to a particular class because the universal of that class inheres in it. Thus a cow becomes a cow because it has the universal cowness inhering in it. Ordinarily we perceive only the particulars and not the universals. We perceive particular cows but we do not perceive a ‘universal cow. Hence the Nyaya maintains that the universals are perceived extraordinarily. Whenever we perceive a particular cow we first perceive the ‘universal cowness’ inhering in it. The second kind of extraordinary perception is called jnanalaksana perception. It is the ‘complicated’ perception through association. Sometimes different sensations become associated and form one integrated perception. Here an object is not directly presented to a sense-organ, but is revived in memory through the past cognition of it and is perceived through representation. For example, I look at a blooming rose from a distance and say ‘I see a fragrant rose’. But how can fragrance be seen}It can only be smelt. Fragrance can be perceived by the sense-organ of smell and not by the sense-organ of vision which can perceive only colour. Here the visual perception of the rose revives in memory the idea of fragrance by association, which was perceived in the past through the nose. The perception of the fragrant rose through the eye, therefore, is called jnanalaksana perception or perception revived in memory through the cognition (jnana) of the object in the past. Other examples of it are: ‘the piece of sandalwood looks fragrant’, ‘ice looks cold’, ‘stone looks hard’, ‘tea looks hot’, etc. etc. The theory of illusion accepted by Nyaya called ‘Anyathakhyati’ is based on this kind of perception. When we mistake a rope for a snake, the idea of snake perceived in the past is imported in memory through this extraordinary jnanalaksana perception and is confused with the object (i.e., rope) which is directly presented to the sense-organ. When shell is mistaken for silver, the idea of silver perceived in the past in a shop (apanastha) (or anywhere else) is revived in memory through jnanalaksana perception and is confused with the object (i.e., shell) which is directly presented to the sense-organ. The past impression represents the object to our mind. Error is due to a wrong synthesis of the presented and the represented objects. The represented object is confused with the presented one. The word ‘anyatha’ means ‘else wise’ and ‘elsewhere’ and both these senses are brought out in an erroneous perception. The presented object is perceived else wise and the represented object exists elsewhere. The shell and the silver, the rope and the snake are both separately real; only their synthesis is unreal. The shell and the rope are directly presented as the ‘this’ (when we say: ‘this is silver’ or ‘this is a snake’), while the silver and the snake exist elsewhere and are revived in memory through jnanalaksana perception. The third kind of extraordinary perception is called yogaja perception. This is the intuitive and immediate perception of all objects, past, present and future, possessed by the Yogins through the power of meditation. It is like the Kevalajnana of the Jainas, the Bodhi of the Buddhists, the Kaivalya of the Sankhya-Yoga and the Aparoksanubhuti of the Vedantins. It is intuitive, supra-sensuous and supra-relational.

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