About amartingarcia

Surgeon, retired. Student of non-duality and advaita vedanta

Consciousness & AI

We are in the midst of a technological civilization or culture the consequences of which at long range are unpredictable; a future where technological growth could become uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization. This conditioning would bring about an ‘explosion’ in intelligence resulting in a powerful superintelligence that qualitatively far surpasses all human intelligence. This change or event has been called a ‘technological singularity’, as a result of which, it is stipulated, the human race could not continue.

What follows is an exchage on the ‘Quora’ forum from Oct. 2015 – anticipating today’s current concerns by over 7 years. The question asked was: “Could the technological singularity occur without computers ever becoming conscious?” And the following are comments by David Eager (Zen seeker, metaphysical tweaker) and myself.

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Dharma and Ishvara

There are two notions that are intimately involved in this topic – ‘justice’ as seen from the Eastern perspective: 1) Dharma, and 2) Ishvara or the creating and controlling aspect of God or the absolute reality.

The notion of dharma is paramount in the Eastern philosophico-religious traditions and is used in many combinations of words. The main meaning is ‘law’ or ‘order’ as it exists in the universe. Rather than man-made, it is a divine ordinance or, alternately, a cosmological law that maintains all things in equilibrium. As such, it cannot be far distant from the Western idea of justice (‘law and order’ and all its derivations and conditionings). It is a universal law from which nothing can deviate (literally, ‘what holds together’), whether in the social, the individual, or the moral realms.

The four important divisions or goals of life in the Indian tradition are artha (re material possessions), kāma (pleasure and love), dharma (religious and moral duties), and mokṣa (spiritual release or delivery). Some of the Dharmaṣāstras – Books of the Law – are attributed to mythological personages, such as Manu, ‘forefather of man’, and are filled with religious, social, and ritual prescriptions.

An important treatise, encyclopedic in its coverage, is the ‘Kauṭiliya Arthaṣāstra’, from the 4th Cent. BC.

 As far as the individual is concerned, the particular application of the law (dharma) is called ‘sva-dharma’, for s/he cannot escape it – in this or in another life (‘reincarnation’). There are different ways to look at it: merits and demerits, intimately tied up with (the law of) karma; duties pertaining to one’s station in life: student, householder, retiree, and, finally, renunciant or liberated one (mukti) – released from all duties and tasks and dedicated exclusively to contemplation of the divine or ultimate reality (traditionally referred to as ‘forest-dweller’).

The Indian tradition is prodigious in its elaboration and codification of all the branches of the sciences and of the arts: music, dance, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, geography, rituals, types of meditation, moral laws, etc.

Q.530 Maya, Brahman and Ishvara

Q: Can Advaitins explain how Maya can be an attribute of the supposedly attributeless Brahman? (Quora)

A (Martin): Maya is not an attribute of Brahman which, as you say, is attributeless. Maya is a diffuse, or polyvalent, concept that gives rise to much confusion, particularly when translating it as ‘illusion’

This concept can be viewed from psychological, epistemological, and ontological perspectives. Purely from the standpoint of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, Maya is tied in with the concept of ‘ignorance’ (avidya), which is prior to it; that is, avidya is the necessary condition for Maya. Once ignorance is annihilated by knowledge, Maya disappears. That means that from the higher (of two) points of view, Maya does not exist. This is contrary to most post-Shankara authors, with the exception of Suresvara, who taught that Maya is a positive entity or force. If that were the case, how could a positive entity be removed by knowledge? Swami Satchidanandendra, practically alone in the 20th Cent., has defended the former, Shankarian position.

Maya can also be viewed as the power or energy of Brahman to create the world, and etymologically the word comes from ‘magic/magician’. But note that the (phenomenal) world is not a pure illusion, as stated above, but mithya (‘provisionally’ real)

Q: Why was the creation needed if Brahman alone existed?

A (Martin): ‘Brahman alone is real. The world is appearance.The world is not other than Brahman’ (one of the ‘great sayings’ or mahavakya).

Q: What is Ishwara?

A (Martin): Ishvara is Brahman considered as creator and ‘personal’ by those who need or are proclive to a devotional relationship (creator/creature). It is also known as ‘saguna brahman’ (Brahman with attributes), as (apparently) different from ‘nirguna Brahman’.

Plato – a non-dualist philosopher?

Q (Martin): Was Plato a monist or a dualist?

I am not so sure. At the top of the pyramid of knowledge, the summum bonum or supreme Good reigns by Itself: it is the supreme archetype (arché) or nous. Plato’s is a scalar ontology, the lower steps or hypostases being subservient to the higher ones (like the 5 koshas of Vedanta and the 5 levels in Sufism). Contemplation only can afford such view. I think that would make Plato a monist – or non-dualist.

A (Tom McFarlane): Despite Plato’s Theory of Forms, which is widely viewed today as a form of dualism, there is good reason to believe that Plato was not a dualist and did not view his Theory of Forms as his final position.

In fact, none other than Plato himself demolished the Theory of Forms in his Parmenides dialogue. In the first half of that dialogue, he has the character of Parmenides point out to the young Socrates all the problems and contradictions that result from such a dualistic theory.

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‘In truth, Anubhava [Intuition, Intuitive experience] alone is the fountainhead or substrate for all Pramana Vyavahara – transactions involving valid means of knowledge… pursuit of the Absolute Reality, Self-knowledge… culminates in Anubhava, Intuitive experience… the substratum for everything’. (It is the same as saying that Pure Consciousness is behind the apparent individual mind). – From ‘The Basic Tenets of Shankara Vedanta’, transl. from Kannada’s SSSS by D.B. Gangolli, pp. 51,55.

Reasoning in Advaita

In Advaita Vedanta Vedantic (or higher) reasoning is distinguished from independent reasoning or speculation, which invariably is in conflict with that of other individuals and schools of thought – ‘Speculation is unbridled… It is impossible to expect finality from it, for men’s minds are diversely inclined’ (SBh 2-1-11). The former, higher reasoning, is, or must be, in agreement with scripture (Upanishads, etc. called shruti) and is never in conflict with universal experience. There is some syllogistic deduction (‘there is fire on that mountain for we see smoke there’), but it is not prominent in AV.

‘For the truth relating to this Reality conducive to final release is too deep even for a conjuncture without revelation (SBh 2-1-11). Here ‘revelation’ means the ‘deep intuitions arrived at by the sages of old (rishis)’ and compiled in three main bodies of works (chiefly the Upanishads), so you can disregard that word and substitute ‘self-realization’ for it.

But even scriptures are not sufficient to get at the truth: a prepared, mature mind is a requisite, which usually takes years if not lifetimes. After that long preparation, preferably with the help of a qualified teacher, a final intuition (anubhava or brahmavidya) may occur. I won’t talk about the method or methods used or about the qualifications of the student, not a small matter.

Q.525 Consciousness is prior to the universe

Q: What is the scriptural basis for Advaita consciousness being an awareness preceding the universe? [(sic) From Quora]

A (Martin): That’s an ‘easy’ one. 1) Consciousness and awareness are the same for Advaita Vedanta. 2) Atman-brahman, or Consciousness, is the sole reality – the universe is in essence not other than Atman (Consciousness or ‘Spirit’). 3) Consequently, there is no creation – no causation, including space and time which, as everything else, are phenomena, appearances.

Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.10: ‘the world is brahman alone’.

Gaudapada kArikA 3.18: In this karika Gaudapada demonstrates that creation is only apparent, because reality cannot undergo change (and it is taught that the effect is not other than the cause).

Katha Up. 2.1.10: ‘Whoever sees difference between what is here (individual Atman/’soul’) and what is there (brahman) goes from death to death’.

Brihadaranyaka Up. 2.5.19: ‘The supreme being is perceived as manifold on account of mAyA’ (magic).

Taittiriya Up. 2.6: ‘Brahman, which is the absolute reality, became reality (satya) and unreality/appearance (asatya)’. That is, the cause itself appears as various effects due to superimposition, which is itself the core, or definition, of ignorance (avidyA). c.f. Tait. Up. 2.6, Chandogya Up. 2.8.4, and Bhavagad Gita 4.13 and 13.2.

Q524 Time and Timelessness

Q: If we consider humans as finite beings, what evidence do we have that eternity’ has any meaning? (Quora)

A (Martin): It is difficult to fathom what time, and timelessness, are. When confronted with such a conundrum, St. Augustine retorted: ‘If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to a questioner, I do not know’ — such are the limitations of our understanding of reality (physical and non-physical), even though physics and mathematics come to our aid in this and also with the phenomenon of space (space-time). What is more, philosophy and metaphysics have a better grasp of the non-physical dimensions of reality than science, aided and abetted as they are by (universal) intuition. For metaphysics, time does not exist outside of our minds, and it is the same, by implication, with the concept of the ‘present’, even though the latter is what gives a semblance of reality to reality tout court (all that is and ever has been) – almost incomprehensible to the ordinary mind. The concept of space is in the same category. In Advaita Vedanta space (Akasha) is postulated as the subtlest of the five physical elements, which gives rise to the other four and is characterized by pervasiveness. Three types of space are considered: physical, mental, and intellectual or spiritual.

Q.523 Science and Reality

Q: Can we still hold that modern science is far from realizing the unreality of the world, the basic teaching of Advaita? (Quora)

A (Martin): Clearly, philosophical statements such as “the world is unreal”, “life is a dream “or “reality is spiritual” express not empirical but a priori propositions or enunciates. As such, they are independent of sense experience in that their truth or falsity is not determined by the facts of sense experience. Such statements can neither be confirmed nor confuted by sense experience. Observation and experiment are simply irrelevant to their truth or falsity. Thus, they fall outside the realm of the empirical sciences, whatever be the speculations of individual scientists when assuming the role of members of the laity. Further, in the contexts in which they most often occur, such statements are not regarded as provisional truths subject to refutation or revision as in the sciences, but as absolute and irrefutable truths.

In Praise of SSS

Of great men and their opponents.

Only great men (magn+animus), above all others, can be the butt of bitter attacks – be it personal or to their output or works – as was the case with Hujwiri, 6th Buddhist Patriarch, Jesus of Nazareth and, in other realms, Shakespeare in England, Cervantes and Lope de Vega in Spain – and so many others. Such was also the case with, to me the best Advaitist writer of the 20th Cent., Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati. The attacks or resistance to accept their views is often motivated by envy. As it has been well-documented, there was initial resistance to accept or agree with the notion of mulavidya in the early work of Swamiji (SSS from now on) as he unfolded it.

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