Sunday, 25 October 2009

Generic Images in Buddhism

Twenty iterations of a binary search will generate
a 'logical hole' corresponding to a generic image.

Identification of an object through its generic image

Our mind identifies an object by means of a mental generic image of that object, where the generic image, not the object itself, is the appearing object of our conceptual mind.

A conceptual mind knows its object through the appearance of a generic image of that object, not by seeing the object directly.

However, the generic image is the negative of a negative, a kind of 'logical hole'.

To quote Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Understanding the Mind, page 24:

"When we think of or remember an object, say an elephant, there appears to our conceptual mind an object that is the the opposite of non-elephant. This appearance is the generic image of elephant. Even though there is no actual elephant in front of us, nevertheless there is a generic image of elephant appearing to our mind. Thus our conceptual mind apprehends elephant through the generic image of elephant. We can apply this to all other phenomena"

The generic image is therefore the appearance of a non-non-elephant.

Like a toddler with one of those wooden peg puzzles, it's almost as if when I produce a generic image of a dog, I do so not by producing a stand-alone positive image of a dog, but by producing an image which is specified to fit into a dog-shaped mental hole,

But why is the generic image a double negative? How does this help the mind 'map it on' to the perceived object. The reason seems to be concerned with efficiency of information processing.

Consider the game Twenty Questions, sometimes known as Animal, Vegetable and Mineral (which has now been computerised) . By following the process of elimination (excluding everything that is non-object) it is possible to arrive at a conceptual 'hole' into which only one object will fit, and to do this within only 20 (or 25 in the computer game) yes/no questions.

To quote Wiki:

"The game suggests that the information (as measured by Shannon's entropy statistic) required to identify an arbitrary object [by elimination] is at most 20 bits. The game is often used as an example when teaching people about information theory. Mathematically, if each question is structured to eliminate half the objects, 20 questions will allow the questioner to distinguish between 2^20 or 1,048,576 objects. Accordingly, the most effective strategy for Twenty Questions is to ask questions that will split the field of remaining possibilities roughly in half each time. The process is analogous to a binary search algorithm in computer science."

A positive-to-positive matching of a perceived elephant to an image of an ideal elephant would require tedious bit-by-bit matching (how many bits of information do you need to positively specify an elephant?) The method of elimination is more efficient. The possible elephant is matched to its 'logical hole' and if it fits then it is indeed an elephant.

This also clearly demonstrates how the mind recognises objects without recourse to mapping on to some Platonic 'ideal form' or 'inherently existing other'. In fact, the generic image is a complete opposite of a Platonic Ideal Form. For whereas the Ideal Form is inherently existent, the generic image is totally and completely empty, being a 'logical hole' formed by exclusion of anything and everything else.

However both Platonic Forms and Generic Images claim to specify the same objects. Thus Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.

- Sean Robsville

Madhyamaka Conceptualism, Universals and Category Recognition 


Related Posts
Roger Scruton on Algorithms, Data Structures and Mind

How things exist - according to Buddhism and Science

All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace

Rational Buddhism 



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

>> However both Platonic Forms and Generic Images claim to specify the same objects. Thus Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.

Q: Please explain why-how you think that the second sentence (above) follows from the first.