Those of us who practice some form of Buddhism do it from the confines of our comfortable houses and apartments in the midst, not of a forest or cave, but of a buzzing big city or town.
None of us is willing to renounce, like the young Buddha did, our personal wealth and riches, no matter how big or small it is.
Yet most of us who are looking for a ‘refuge’ in Buddhism have the same goal that originally moved the young prince into renouncing his wealth and social life: a quest to understand the origin of our personal and social suffering and to find a ‘cure’ to it, all through an understanding of how the mind works. Of course, we can’t fool ourselves into believing that there is a chance any of us will become ‘a Buddha’ while we are worrying about the next iPhone model.
The point is that we use the Buddhist’s millennial study of the mind for humane purposes, to advance the well-being of individuals and society at large; ALWAYS the individual and the society together. I’ll like to compare that goal with the intentions of our modern scientists and their brain/mind research.
Today more than ever we need to ponder on that suffering, for we are being dragged by our modern scientists into a maelstrom of technological ‘progress’ that will end up alienating us from our own selves and disrupting our social relations.
Human Relations or Artificial Relations?
Buddhism is about the ethics and psychology of HUMAN RELATIONS. You can apply it to every aspect of your life: social relations, personal friendships, family, political relations (which is why I discuss current politics in this blog) and, yes, your relation with that iPhone (probably the most important relation you can ponder about).
Scientists, however, are asking us to allow them to disturb the integrity of our brains for the benefit of their ‘new science of the mind’: ‘mind uploading’, ‘brain emulation’, ‘mind copying’, so that they can turn us into computers, not ‘like computers’ but computers. Actually, they are not asking, they are just doing it without our consent. And, of course, any and all new gadget created by that science will be in private hands, accessible only if you have the money.
The Soul Issue
One of the attacks on Buddhism is on its denial that the soul exists. This is the same attack on communism, but somehow it is not an accusation aimed at our modern scientists.
The one thing missing in their new science and research is the soul. There is no mentioning of it almost anywhere, not only because they don’t care about it, but also because, as we all know, machines have neither soul nor spirituality. They are pieces of metal and plastic and ceramic. It’s a mute issue, the soul in the machine, no need to bring it up for them.
No matter if scientists are able to convince you of it, there is NO WAY a man can create ‘a soulful, compassionate machine’. If they can, then they can give a soul to a cactus. The few human behaviors that a machine is programmed to imitate are not the same as the natural ones displayed by a person.. The consequences, though, may be the same: most ‘thinking machines’ being built by the military today (with the help of Silicon Valley’s computer experts) are for the killing of humans. Men put into their machines’ ‘brain’ the same attitudes they have in theirs for living things.
The Buddha said (I’m paraphrasing, of course) that there is a soul but it is not permanent; it is suited to the human condition in this existence. He said that humans are by nature formed of both material and psychic ‘elements’. The soul is part of our mental process, and how well-developed it is can be intuited by the attitudes we assume in our relations to everything in this life.
For Buddhists, the goal is to develop our mind power so that we become better and happier human beings: to grow a ‘heart’ where one is missing or broken.
For our modern scientists, the goal is to turn us into computers and computers into ‘sentient beings’. Theirs is a totally soul-less science. Buddhism has a ‘functioning soul’ built into it, albeit impermanent, but it is not denied.
Questions for them and for you
It is up to you, especially you who is fascinated and looking forward for this technology of ‘computerization of the human mind’, to ask and question these scientists about their views with respect to the soul, spirituality and compassion in their science.
How free they envision a human mind being controlled by software?
Is compassion something that scientists have discarded from their goals?
Where is the soul in their mapping of the brain’?
How they justify morally their research on the brain of living humans and animals without their consent?
How is society improved by us becoming computers with programmable minds controlled from the distance by anonymous technicians?
You should ask your self:
If you resent Buddhism’s ‘denial of a soul’, why don’t you resent that same denial in our modern science? Keep asking ‘why’ to each answer you give yourself.