December 1, 2007

Buddhism vs Transhumanism? (more)

From the "Buddhism vs Transhumanism?" comments section Casey writes:
Can you amplify your statement about Buddhism being concerned with "the optimization of subjective experience?"

It seems to me that subjectivity, or the idea that there is a discrete "you" to futz with, is the first thing to be transcended through unconditioned acceptance.

Take away the film, the projector and what do yo have? The bulb, which is analogous to the necessarily mysterious, unconditioned mind.

Buddhism is fundamentally against "add-ons" to the individual sphere, as mind is already junked up with the projections of ego as is. The practice, as I understand it, is more about stripping away.

That said, I'm curious about scientific improvements to the biological species, as well as the possible transference of consciousness to a non-bio realm. But for now, I'll continue plodding down the Path.
Indeed, while Buddhists would deny the existence of the self, there is no denying the fact that we observe (what appears to be) reality and are deeply entrenched in the condition that is life. Escape into monastic existence is not in the cards for most of us, and Buddhism is sympathetic to this.

Having a transhumanistically optimized mind is one thing (ie augmented intelligence and memory), having an optimized consciousness is quite another. How we interpret the world and how we internalize moment-to-moment processes (particularly as they are driven by our emotions) is where I think Buddhist discourse is particularly helpful and can work to inform the transhumanist mission.

Working to develop the ideal conditioned mind is the central goal of intrapersonal Buddhist practice, and to this point in history meditation has been the key method in achieving this. Might there be other ways? Imagine a future mod that could immediately rewire a mind to be as disciplined and aware as those of practicing monks.

Sign me up.

Today, a number of Buddhists use the latest in neuroscience to study the make-up of conditioned minds in order to gain an understanding of the neurochemical and cognitive processes behind such functions as happiness and mental acuity. This will not just help to improve meditative and mindfulness practices, but also in the development of the so-called contemplative sciences and advanced neurotechnological interventions.

As for improvements, I do not believe there is anything within Buddhist discourse that forbids human enhancement. Intention is what matters. If we enhance to keep up with social pressures, then that is a problem. If, on the other hand, we work to alleviate human suffering and foster meaningful lives, then I believe modification is in tune with Buddhist values.

The space of all conscious life is likely to be hugely vast, and Buddhists naturally understand the importance of respecting different kinds of sentient life.

On this topic, check out: Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge by B. Alan Wallace and The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality by Dalai Lama.


Anonymous said...

Buddhism Vs Transhumanism, the article is good to read. Any meditational techniques can be taken as individual eaperiences only. One way speaking it is trans human, that is waht I mean is internal or subconscious revelations. Subjectively speaking it is an experiment conducted by a series of meditational techniques only one who is doing it can experience. Since the world is made up of so many individuals each and every persons experiences does vary. It also also depends on cross cultural development of the individual. Since most of the persons in this world are after the materialistic aspects, it is difficult to sum up spiritual experiences to generalize them, unlike in scientific experiments, where one observes the patterns of ones own experiments and analyses them. As Buddha had meditated for the finding of the root cause of misery and death among humans. The solutions for which even science is doing. People have to evolve to the hights of humanism rather restricting themselves self centered-egoistic-materialistc conditions to accept all the culturs as humans. Then only there can be some subjectiveness to this Transhumanism of Buddhism.

Casey said...

I definitely get what you're saying, George. The very act of meditation amounts to a kind of willed evolution, particularly with the discipline of sustained practice.

In this way, it may not be much different than other kinds of enhancement. Well, maybe in the time it takes to achieve a "result." Of course, Buddhism is not so much about the achievement of as it is a way of relating to reality -- with the understanding that subjectivity colors our individual perceptions. The re-framing of that subjectivity in the infinitely vast field of possibility is the key to an awakened state. (Or at least as I imagine it.) If science can get us there, I say full steam ahead.

But I do have doubts as to whether the discrete minuets of mind can be effectively augmented/replicated by tech. How do you put the (Holy) ghost in the machine?

Have you read "I Am a Strange Loop," by Douglas Hofstadter? I myself have yet to dive in, but I understand that he explores those issues in some detail.

Anonymous said...

Is Buddhism subversive to Transhumanist goals? Some forms of Buddhism are as are some Buddhists. Many Buddhists spread the acceptance of doctrine through faith just as with any other religion and do not actively support critical initiatives. Certainly there are examples of Buddhists who are highly active in critical pursuits both scientific and political/sociological. Many practicing Buddhists reject Buddhist dogma and focus on the useful benefits of meditational practices and values. IMO, Buddhists should be putting every effort into testing their body of doctrine for veracity as the Buddha recommended.

Does Buddhism work? Somewhat, but just as the Tibetan Buddhist community is still being controlled by the communist government and the international Buddhist community is powerless - Buddhist techniques must be improved to accomplish the goals of Buddhism.