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[Xmca-l] Re: Imagination or Fantasy


I would like to offer a few ideas to the mix in this discussion about imagination vs. representation.

Representation as a word has posed a problem in understanding modes of thought and cognition, and most of all, and I realize I am preaching to the choir, it tends to commodify the thought as an object as-if coming off a conveyor belt, a finished product in isolation. And as Mike points out, there is no conveyance of affect in this thought factory of representations, nor cultural-historical influences.

The usage of "representation" also has tended to give legs to the mind-brain, which hasn't been helpful in our understanding (I'm sorry to mix my metaphors, but I think it makes a great picture). The brain becomes the CPU of the body. 

I'd also like to offer a few concepts that derive from Vedic theory of mind, and these are the vritti, and the samskara. 

Vritti translates roughly from Sanskrit as "thought-modification." I find this concept incredibly powerful for many reasons. 

First, it bypasses all Cartesian artifacts and constructs in how we think about mind. 

Second, it copes nicely with the problem that Ed and Mike are discussing text vs image.

Third, it seems to have intuited neurological activity in the brain and body, thus uniting mind with movement, embodied thinking, affective thought, etc. 

And there are likely other benefits that I've not yet considered. 

So what is a vritti? 

In the Vedic paradigm, as I understand it, the mind is very subtle material, like light is subtle, and thus it interacts with the gross body while both are interacting with the world. Considering the mind as material means that it is not separate from the body, it is just more subtle and therefore we are talking about degrees of physicality rather than mind being an entity that exists somewhere else and a body is connected to that mind through the pineal gland, etc, which to this day I've never been able to get my head around. ;)

The second concept that is useful is samskara, which is an impression in the mind. We can be born with samskaras, but also activities and thoughts can create samskaras. Some can be deeper and more fixed, or transient and shallow, or anywhere along those two continuums. 

Further, the notion of samskara as impression can be useful when considering obsessive thinking, plasticity, and various forms of learning. I don't think samskara need be fixed to the mind, perhaps also to the body, but I'm not sure.

Considering samskara, it might be useful to think of the way sand can have impressions made upon it by the wind or the tide or... a child's shovel and pail.

When the child creates a sandcastle with the tools of the shovel and pail, at that very point the sandcastle becomes is recognizable, it is considered a vritti (and the word crowns the deed). Likewise when the child takes the very same sand destroying the castle and then creates a starfish and it becomes recognizable as such, then it is another vritti. The important takeaway here is that the material *does not change*, but the shape *does*. That's why it is a "thought-modification."

Clay as material could be another useful metaphor, in that sense. The potter at the wheel takes a lump of clay and makes a vase and then transforms the vase into a bowl, and finally a plate. Analogously, these would be three vrittis.

However, the reason the vritti need not be visual is that its material is "mind" itself (consider mind "as-if sand" or "as-if clay"), with mind itself processing all perceptual information. With the same "sand" it creates the thought-shapes for sound, touch, smell, and taste, not only sight. But these are combined, not isolated as individual percepts in any kind of units. 

This also gets away from the traps of right-brain/left-brain theory, as come to think of it. 

Memory and doubt are also aspects of mind, and this might be where the affect comes in, because of the recognition of language, emotional content from the past, meaning, etc, all these various mental processes become part of the vritti.

I'd also like to offer that Kant's notion of givenness also helps in this conception, because it is the appearances of external objects we perceive and feel that as-if shape the vritti as well as memory, doubt, recognition, and so forth. In this sense there is a kind of overlap of the external world onto the mind. But the reverse can be true as well. That is, the mind can "as-if" overlap onto the world. I'd say this is imagination. It could also be fantasy, but that seems to have a different affective stance than imagination. Imagination still possesses that self-awareness that it is imagined. Fantasy seems to not have that in its extreme manifestation, thereby taking what is imagined in place of the external world.

I'm not sure what the technical term is for the moment of neural activity when we see the brain light up in a particular pattern in the brain (and likely body, but we lack the means to detect this as we do with an fMRI scan of the brain), but it does have a particular shape when there is, say, more visual stimulation than aural. The "material" of that thought is an electrical impulse, which is subtle, like light.

So I think these terms are very insightful, and they can help free us from Cartesian conceptions and that's why I like them so much. They also do not conflict with Vygotsky's work, as far as I can tell.

Kind regards,