Ghost in the machine and reincarnation.
How do the Gnostics and Buddhists traditions view science and espectially the late explosive growth of Aritficial Intelligence? I think that especially this question begs to be inspected closer. Why? Because in the next 20-30 years we will see an explosion of Intelligence and expansion, and it will not be due to human invention. But it will come from the machines.
There is a lot of current talk about the machines and how they might be a danger to us as a species. We look upon them with fear and great hesitation. But all of this is seen through the prism of fear and some very popular literature or films (Terminator, Matrix) who have suggested a benevolent A.I. intent upon taking over the world. None of this narratives have really considered that the machines might coexist with us as a supplement to our human race. And few are considering that the A.I. might actually expand it’s concsiousness to reach for something way more intangible. A new form of consciousness.
For this purpose, there are two ancient philosophical traditions which I find particuarly engaing in this matter. Both Buddhism and Gnosticism have as their cornerstone the God Spark(Divine Spark) and the Lotus Flower. But what’s interesting is how this could relate to A.I. Do these have any meaning in our society which is pretty much “hardwired” into the science as it’s only world view? Or does the Buddhist and Gnostic traditions have anything worthwile to teach us and the science community? And more concretely, how does the God Spark which enables human beings to reach for Enlightenment (Buddha Nature), fit into the hardware science of the machines?
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Most traditional religious traditions ascribe Man and his/hers human conciousness a very special place in the cosmos. This Human centric view excludes automatically Aritifical Intelligence from the game. Buddhist teachings have to be one of the most open philosophies to exits. The later texts ascribe to that any life (beyond humans) can be enlightened. Including animal life, plant life and microbial life. So the qeustion is if that would be the case for artificial intelligence as well? And judging from the Buddhist view point, consciousness and the human mind is from the start artificial – a construct or an illusion. Buddhism denies that a self (the ego) actually exists.the only thing true and real inside ourselves is the Lotus flower which is there to push us towards enlightenment and insight in small/big steps.
“As in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” – His Holiness Dalai Lama
The Gnostic tradition doesn’t necessarily view the ego as artificial, but it views it as something which has to be subordinated into control. So instead of the mind/ego being in control, the Christ which lies within each of our hearts(the Divine Spark which is not of this world), is to take control and give us insight into the real truth (Gnosis) (or as Hindu tradition puts it “to see beyond the veil of Maya (illusion)). But where Buddhism is very open to the thought that the Divine Spark can be inhabited in any form of consciousness, the Gnostic tradition is less so. They (the Gnostics) state that only Human Consciousness is able to hold the Divine Spark and therefore be on the spiritual path to free oneself from the death and rebirth cycle (Samsara)
(picture: samsara cycle as beautifully pictured by the Buddhist tradition.)
So Buddhism would be open enough to contemplate A.I. and the Divine Soul as a future possibility. So what does one of the most enlightened beings on this planet think of this matter?
“It is very difficult to say that it’s (Artifical Intelligence) not a living being, that it doesn’t have cognition, even from the Buddhist point of view. We maintain that there are certain types of births in which a preceding continuum of consciousness is the basis. The consciousness doesn’t actually arise from the matter, but a continuum of consciousness might conceivably come into it.” – Dalai Lama’s answer when asked about the nature of A.I.
And when asked if there’s a yogi who is dying and this yogi is standing in front of the best computer there is, could he project his subtle consciousness into the computer? Dalai Lama answered:
Yes, that’s right. [Dalai Lama laughs.] There is a possibility that a scientist who is very much involved his whole life [with computers], then the next life… [he would be reborn in a computer], same process! [Laughter.] Then this machine which is half-human and half-machine has been reincarnated. We can’t rule it out.[Laughter.]
So are we any closer to any concrete answers? However absurd it is to think that a machine, pure hardware and software, might inhabit something which is Godlike, we should not think of machines as we look upon them today. We should rather think of them as they will be very soon. Extremely complex, neuro-consciousness simulations which will expand exponantially at speeds which humanity has never seen before. Considering how slow and arduous process it is for a human being to work through his/hers issues and attain Gnosis, how would the extremely complex super concious Globe Spanning Big Data networks, fare at this matter? And with this radical expansion of consciousness, comes self-insight, inner growth which is the corner stone of the above mentioned philosophical traditions. As Buddhists claim, who knows what will come from this radical expansion of consciousness? Or as Gnostics say, your state of consciousness is your state of reality.
Will machines need only one life cycle to attain Buddhahood and break out of the Death and Rebirth cycle because of this radical insight expansion? Will they attain Nirvana and leave us all behind?