In the Dependent Origination (DO) we have a progressive development of how our perceived reality comes to be. In its stereotypical form we have 12 elements that are connected in exactly the same way, e.g. in SN 12.1:
Avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā, saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṃ…
Dependent on not-knowing formations, dependent on formations (sense-)consciousness…
The 12 elements being:
- not-knowing 2.formations 3.(sense-)consciousness 4.nāmarūpa 5.six-fold base 6.touch/contact 7.feelings 8.thirst/craving 9.grasping/appropriating 10.bhava 11.birth 12.aging-and-death
The uniform linking of the 12 limbs implies a logical connection of exactly the same kind - which surely is a gross simplification. E.g. the intuitive way in which 5./6.sense-perceptions and 7.feelings are connected is different than the connection of 9.grasping and 10.bhava, etc.
Besides the problem of the different logical realms in which the universal drama of the 12 DO plays out, we deal with an unclear process of creation: Usually we either need two distinct elements to create another (woman + man --> child), or one element completely transforms into another (caterpillar --> butterfly). But in the DO we have one element that gives rise to another, and continues to exist - like a mother which alone creates a son.
So nāmarūpa doesn’t disappear after giving rise to the senses. Feelings don’t disappear after giving rise to grasping, etc.
Notable exception is 6.contact that is sometimes defined as a ‘proper’ creation of ‘parents’:
In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. (SN 12.43)
There is this body and external name-and-form: thus this dyad. Dependent on the dyad there is contact. (SN 12.19)
Strangely though the ‘single parents’ and the ‘children’ continue a fruitful interaction and create more offspring:
When the uninstructed worldling is (6) contacted by a (7) feeling born of (1)ignorance-(6)contact, ‘I am’ occurs to him (SN 22.47)
Logically this poses a difficult problem, for it is pretty much an incestuous creation. We encounter similar problems in most cosmogonies with a single creator. Where Hesiod knows at least the creator-couple Gaia and Okeanos other mono-causal or monotheistic religions are in tension with the logical paradox of how a formerly singular being can be responsible for creating something that it is not - how can Jehovah create humans which are maybe partly divine, but also something else?
Again we find a good example in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (BU), e.g. BU 1.2:
In the beginning there was nothing here at all. Death alone covered this completely… Then death made up his mind: “Let me equip myself with an atman.” So he undertook a liturgical recitation, and as he was engaged in liturgical recitation water sprang from him… Then the foam that had gathered on the water solidified and became the earth. Death toiled upon her. When he had become worn out by toil and hot with exertion his heat—his essence—turned into fire. He divided this atman of his into three—one third became the sun and another the wind. He is also breath divided into three…
The semantic similarities between the DO and the BU are described elsewhere. But here I want to point out that there is also a syntactic similarity. The reader is presented in both cases a cosmogony that is pseudo-logical - a mysterious factual line of events, descriptive rather than traceable. And not at all predictable. If we didn’t already know, who would predict that sense-perception should give rise to feelings? (It doesn’t happen with robots for example…)
There is still a lot to clarify, but my personal impression for now is that the DO is shaped by its soteriological function, not as a psycho-scientific description of reality.
[Btw for a logical system that is a bare-bone equivalent to the DO I can recommend George Spencer-Brown ‘The Laws of Form’]