What is familiarity?

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Thundering Cloud
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What is familiarity?

Post by Thundering Cloud » Mon Oct 08, 2018 2:38 pm

To my understanding, Buddhism teaches that it is incorrect to think of the universe as objectively extant, as a thing of substance "out there" with which we are interacting. It is better, instead, to think of reality as a byproduct of our experience, rather than the other way around. External phenomena do not have substance unto themselves.

Given this, how should the experience of familiarity be understood? How can I understand the experience of recognition of a loved one, or the comforts of coming home, without thinking of such things as having their own essence to be recognized and to trigger those feelings?

Jeff H
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by Jeff H » Mon Oct 08, 2018 3:50 pm

I’ll venture my understanding before the more experienced folks get here.

The primary causes are our karmic propensities cultivated by prior intentional actions. The triggers you refer to are the secondary causes. They stimulate our primary reactions in response to the environmental conditions and actions of other beings as we perceive them. They are not inherent in the world around us.

Ignorance is the factor that makes the world seem substantial. That substantiality takes the form of subject/object, us versus them, because our personal perspective makes it seem as if we ourselves are the center of the universe. Everything else is categorized as either helpful to us, harmful to us, or immaterial to our interests. We form our relationships and actions based on those three judgments.

That which we deem helpful is clung to as familiar, comfortable, and loving. That which we deem hurtful is to be avoided or eliminated. Everything else is treated with apathy.
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva

Thundering Cloud
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by Thundering Cloud » Sun Oct 28, 2018 3:03 pm

Jeff H wrote:
Mon Oct 08, 2018 3:50 pm
I’ll venture my understanding before the more experienced folks get here.

The primary causes are our karmic propensities cultivated by prior intentional actions. The triggers you refer to are the secondary causes. They stimulate our primary reactions in response to the environmental conditions and actions of other beings as we perceive them. They are not inherent in the world around us.

Ignorance is the factor that makes the world seem substantial. That substantiality takes the form of subject/object, us versus them, because our personal perspective makes it seem as if we ourselves are the center of the universe. Everything else is categorized as either helpful to us, harmful to us, or immaterial to our interests. We form our relationships and actions based on those three judgments.

That which we deem helpful is clung to as familiar, comfortable, and loving. That which we deem hurtful is to be avoided or eliminated. Everything else is treated with apathy.
What puzzles me is what causes one's thought experience of memory to align with one's sensory experience so as to produce an experience of recognition. What causes an experience of recognition or familiarity, exactly? From a conventional standpoint the phenomenon is very straightforward — there is an independently objectively-extant thing / place / person / etc out there in the world that you have encountered in the past, hence you recognize it. Simple. But if I abandon the view that my experiences originate from outside of myself, independently, and that they are substantive unto themselves, and that the past is just as "real" as the present, then what should I make of the experience of something familiar to me? What is the cause of this experience, versus the experience of something foreign?

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Aryjna
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by Aryjna » Mon Oct 29, 2018 8:05 am

Thundering Cloud wrote:
Sun Oct 28, 2018 3:03 pm
Jeff H wrote:
Mon Oct 08, 2018 3:50 pm
I’ll venture my understanding before the more experienced folks get here.

The primary causes are our karmic propensities cultivated by prior intentional actions. The triggers you refer to are the secondary causes. They stimulate our primary reactions in response to the environmental conditions and actions of other beings as we perceive them. They are not inherent in the world around us.

Ignorance is the factor that makes the world seem substantial. That substantiality takes the form of subject/object, us versus them, because our personal perspective makes it seem as if we ourselves are the center of the universe. Everything else is categorized as either helpful to us, harmful to us, or immaterial to our interests. We form our relationships and actions based on those three judgments.

That which we deem helpful is clung to as familiar, comfortable, and loving. That which we deem hurtful is to be avoided or eliminated. Everything else is treated with apathy.
What puzzles me is what causes one's thought experience of memory to align with one's sensory experience so as to produce an experience of recognition. What causes an experience of recognition or familiarity, exactly? From a conventional standpoint the phenomenon is very straightforward — there is an independently objectively-extant thing / place / person / etc out there in the world that you have encountered in the past, hence you recognize it. Simple. But if I abandon the view that my experiences originate from outside of myself, independently, and that they are substantive unto themselves, and that the past is just as "real" as the present, then what should I make of the experience of something familiar to me? What is the cause of this experience, versus the experience of something foreign?
What is the difference between an experience of familiarity specifically and any other experience? There is nothing more to make of it than there is of an other experience.

Jeff H
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by Jeff H » Mon Oct 29, 2018 2:09 pm

Thundering Cloud wrote:
Sun Oct 28, 2018 3:03 pm
What puzzles me is what causes one's thought experience of memory to align with one's sensory experience so as to produce an experience of recognition. What causes an experience of recognition or familiarity, exactly? From a conventional standpoint the phenomenon is very straightforward — there is an independently objectively-extant thing / place / person / etc out there in the world that you have encountered in the past, hence you recognize it. Simple. But if I abandon the view that my experiences originate from outside of myself, independently, and that they are substantive unto themselves, and that the past is just as "real" as the present, then what should I make of the experience of something familiar to me? What is the cause of this experience, versus the experience of something foreign?
This moment is a personal experience to my awareness and it influences the experience of my next mental moment, which also influences the next and the next successively. I cannot access the continuum of your experiences -- that's foreign. But the continuum of mental moments that has produced my present experience is what constitutes familiarity for me.
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva

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Naawoo
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by Naawoo » Tue Oct 30, 2018 2:30 pm

Thundering Cloud wrote:
Mon Oct 08, 2018 2:38 pm
To my understanding, Buddhism teaches that it is incorrect to think of the universe as objectively extant, as a thing of substance "out there" with which we are interacting. It is better, instead, to think of reality as a byproduct of our experience, rather than the other way around. External phenomena do not have substance unto themselves.

Given this, how should the experience of familiarity be understood? How can I understand the experience of recognition of a loved one, or the comforts of coming home, without thinking of such things as having their own essence to be recognized and to trigger those feelings?
Nothing exists by itself. When Mind arises, everything exists. If Mind does not arise, there is nothing existent.
Familiarity means that you are accustomed to it and does not mean that it actually exists.
Your mind that feels familiarity even does not exist if you do not bring up your mind.
So if Mind can not be said to be substantially existent by itself, how else will everything else exist?

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Queequeg
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by Queequeg » Sun Nov 04, 2018 5:31 am

TBH, neuroscience might be a better way to understand this.

It's just neural pathways lighting up in response to stimuli.

Abhidharma might be useful to refine the knowledge developed through scientific inquiry, particularly the subjective experience of those neural pathways.

This does not mean the Buddhist teachings are wrong, but they may need refinement in light of present knowledge.

I'm sure I'll get blow back for that.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

joy&peace
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by joy&peace » Tue Nov 13, 2018 3:54 pm

There is something called quantum entanglement which you might look into.

Familiarity is a dharma; as, all things are dharmas.
Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate bodhi svaha

Thundering Cloud
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by Thundering Cloud » Tue Nov 27, 2018 4:18 am

Thank you everyone for your insights! I feel I may be starting to dismantle my confusion…

The reason that the phenomenon of familiarity caught my attention is in part that it is essential to the perception of existence within a realm. From a psychological standpoint, a notion of object permanence is one of the early milestones achieved by infants, and is founded upon the ability to recognize. If I am understanding correctly, the phenomenon of familiarity — this alignment of mental and sensory experiences — is a prerequisite of clinging, one of the links in dependent origination. If such an alignment between the aggregates were to never occur, the chain would be broken.

In studying the 12 links of dependent origination, I can generally see how each step would lead inevitably to the next. I think the question I have been trying to ask (sorry it took a few attempts!) is why familiarity and recognition arise in order to facilitate clinging? Why do the aggregates correlate with one another that way to begin with? I think, now, that it actually follows from the preceding steps, notably the development of craving. Craving would inspire seeking of such correlations between the aggregates so as to more effectively placate those desires. The patterns discovered would be informed by the manner of the search (in turn, informed by one's nature) and a realm of recognizable experiences then results from that. So, there is no need to posit an objective "outside world" as the cause of the experience of familiarity / recognition (nor does such experience demonstrate the existence of an objective outside world); all that is necessary for it to manifest is that we start to look for it. If that makes sense?

I might be able to better capture this after still further reflection. It may be that it has just taken me a long time to wrap my head around something fairly simple. ^^;

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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by PadmaVonSamba » Tue Nov 27, 2018 6:04 am

If you see something that you've never seen before, you have no feeling of familiarity.
But, if it is perhaps some kind of machine part, then, because you have seen machines, you establish some familiarity with it in your mind.
If it is round, then because you have seen a ball before, you establish some sense of familiarity with that aspect of it.
If it is soft and furry, because you have seen an animal before, etc. etc.
It's because phenomena are collections of various characteristics and attributes, colors, textures, weight, and so on
and also by process of elimination, we can associate things based on what they are not.
But it all has to do with mentally comparing an object to all of the previously encountered objects in our memories.

There is, however, a part of the brain that if damaged can interrupt this whole process. It's rare, but it occurs.
You should look up The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. It's a true story.

Also, about a hundred years ago, artists who were part of the DADA movement
created sculptures that looked as though they ought to be something identifiable, having shapes held together with nuts and bolts,
but they were not anything identifiable. Nothing that you could label as this or that.
Just bolted together abstract, random shapes and parts.
They did this to break free from conceptualizing.
.
.
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Thundering Cloud
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Re: What is familiarity?

Post by Thundering Cloud » Tue Nov 27, 2018 8:28 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
Tue Nov 27, 2018 6:04 am
If you see something that you've never seen before, you have no feeling of familiarity.
But, if it is perhaps some kind of machine part, then, because you have seen machines, you establish some familiarity with it in your mind.
If it is round, then because you have seen a ball before, you establish some sense of familiarity with that aspect of it.
If it is soft and furry, because you have seen an animal before, etc. etc.
It's because phenomena are collections of various characteristics and attributes, colors, textures, weight, and so on
and also by process of elimination, we can associate things based on what they are not.
But it all has to do with mentally comparing an object to all of the previously encountered objects in our memories.

There is, however, a part of the brain that if damaged can interrupt this whole process. It's rare, but it occurs.
You should look up The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. It's a true story.

Also, about a hundred years ago, artists who were part of the DADA movement
created sculptures that looked as though they ought to be something identifiable, having shapes held together with nuts and bolts,
but they were not anything identifiable. Nothing that you could label as this or that.
Just bolted together abstract, random shapes and parts.
They did this to break free from conceptualizing.
.
.
.
Looking back, I think I would summarize my query as "How can I understand cause for the experience of familiarity without relying upon a concept of independently extant reality?", a question I felt was of some importance in helping me let go of the idea of independent existence. Even if I think of things as mere collections of attributes, and even considering that it is my mind which combined attributes together into a whole, I can't help but think of those attributes as having existence "out there in the world". I would still be supposing, at a minimum, the independent existence of some phenomena. I accept that, like any concept, the notion of independent existence is a useful mental model for functioning within the world, but it is ultimately a heuristic, a human creation… not to be mistaken for reality. Indeed, as joy&peace hinted, quantum entanglement poses a serious challenge to the conventional sense of existence! But if I am only able to understand the causes of my experience of familiarity (or any other experience, really) by thinking of them in terms of independent, objective reality… then I can't let go of the concept. It has become a delusion. Even if I know intellectually that it is not quite right (Bell's theorem has been experimentally tested, for instance), I still cannot avoid thinking in such terms, and understanding my reality and experience in those terms.

I think I can understand the experience of familiarity in terms of cravings / aversions giving rise to a practice of utilizing the physical and mental experiences in conjunction — as necessary for recognition — for more efficient pursuit of satisfaction. This becomes habit, and as experience is increasingly processed in this habitual way, perception of familiar and unfamiliar things naturally emerges (leading the way for development of a sense of external reality, as in infants learning object permanence). Looking at it like this, I do not need to tacitly assume an external reality to begin with… and can also see how conditioning from a prior existence would carry over into a new lifespan.

In retrospect, my question was a bit subtle. I appreciate everyone's replies tremendously, as this has been a stumbling block for me. I also apologize if I appear to be intellectualizing; I think of nearly everything a bit abstractly, possibly due to being on the (high-functioning end of the) autism spectrum. In approaching Buddhism, it is important for me to be able to thoroughly dismantle troublesome concepts I have become stuck on, else I will not be able to see past them. Independent existence has been a troublesome concept for me — it generally has led me to nihilistic views.

I took a peek at The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, and it does look interesting! Thank you for the recommendation! I might look for photos of those sculptures you mentioned, also…

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