Rocks, stupas, straw heaps, and elephants

On my way back from the University of New Mexico, after three weeks of reading Kumārila's upamāna-pariccheda (the "comparison chapter" of the Ślokavārttika) with John Taber, I experienced what Kumārila calls upamānâbhāsa, or "pseudo-comparison" or "merely apparent comparison."
But where a cognition of similarity arises, having imagined it from what is not really similar, the cognition of similarity in such cases is something imagined, having the nature of a mere appearance (40).
And because the [similarity cognition] is subject to a defeater cognition (bādaka), it is considered to be a merely apparent similarity, just as the similarity of a straw heap with an elephant or so on (41).
For someone standing in close proximity discerns that there is no similarity there [in the straw heap]. That [similarity cognition] which is not defeated when there are such things as close proximity, that, in contrast, is genuine similarity (42).
yatra tv asadṛśād eva kalpayitvā upajāyate |
sādṛśya-pratyayas tatra tad-ābhāsatva-kalpanā || 40

bādaka-pratyayāc ca eṣā sādṛśyâbhāsatā matā |
yathā palâla-kūṭasya sādṛśyaṃ kuñjarâdinā || 41

samīpa-stho’pi jānāti sādṛśyaṃ na iti tatra hi |
na bādhyate samīpâdau yat tu sādṛśyam eva tat || 42
Driving along Highway 191, I saw one of the many rock formations that the US Mountain West is famous for.

"Wow!" I thought to myself "That rock is like a stupa!" I wondered if maybe it was named "Stupa rock" or something--many of the formations in this area have names for the things people take them to resemble. But as I kept driving, I saw the rock from a different angle.

"That rock is not like a stupa!" I thought, as I zipped past. But isn't it? We can list at least two properties that the rock and a stupa have in common: they both have dimension, they have color. Depending on your metaphysics, they might have other properties, like being-seen-by-Malcolm, or existing. So why should I retract my judgment that the rock is similar to a stupa?

One reason would be if my initial judgment was restricted to a particular respect, and not about overall similarity. That is, suppose my judgment was actually "That rock is similar to a stupa in having a circular base and two increasingly narrow round tiers." Since the rock does not actually have a circular base and round tiers, my apparent similarity judgment isn't warranted. At least, this is what Kumārila would say, since for him similarity (sādṛśya) is a positive, real object, a vastu, and depends on the presence of genuine properties, such as universals. His Buddhist interlocutors, of course, have a different story, as do his Prābhākara cousins. The first deny anything more than conventional, constructed reality to similarity, and the latter go beyond similarity's being real, arguing that it's a basic constituent of reality (a padârtha). But that's for a longer post.

[In case you're curious, the rock does have a name: "Church Rock."]


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