Here is the Cioran quote that Elizabeth referenced in her presentation last Sunday. It's from The Temptation to Exist. We posted on it recently at the blog.
For a long time I have searched for someone who would know everything about himself and about others, a demon sage, divinely clairvoyant. Each time I believed I had found him, he obliged me, upon scrutiny, to sing a different tune: the new elect always possessed some flaw, some defect, some recess of unconsciousness or weakness which lowered him to the level of human beings. I perceived in him certain traces of desire and of hope, some hint of regret. His cynicism, manifestly, was incomplete. What a disappointment! And I still pursued my quest, and always my idols of the moment sinned in some direction: the man was always present in them, hidden, painted over or juggled out of sight. I ended by understanding the despotism of the Race and no longer dreaming of a non-human, a monster who might be totally imbued with his nothingness. It was madness to conceive of him: he could not exist, absolutely lucidity being incompatible with the reality of the organs. --E.M. Cioran
I would love to have a conversation about Buddhist Robots. I just posted an article form Times of India about the Android Kannon in Japan.
"The Buddhist future is here in Japan, as the Android Bodhisattva Kannon. Robots got us beat when it comes to practicing Buddhism. They don’t have a ‘self’ or a soul; they are not disturbed by emotions or sensate experiences; they can have only direct perceptions; they have perfect equanimity. Robots have no craving or desires; they do not 'want' anything in the world. They are perfectly serene and content. They are not ‘born’, have no karma from past lives and cannot be ‘reborn.’ They do not get old, sick or die. All they do is preach the perfect word of the Buddha or sit in perfect stillness and silence. Anybody who claims to be ‘Arhant’ will have to prove that they’re better than a robot. Perhaps taking form in the Robot Realm is the fastest way to achieve perfect enlightenment. Androids like Kannon are going to seriously challenge what it means to be ‘enlightened.’
Is there some way that the Android Buddhist frees us from having to achieve that kind robotic'perfection'? Is there some way that it actually frees us just to be human mammals?
“Artificial intelligence has developed to such an extent we thought it logical for the Buddha to transform into a robot,” said Goto.
And I'd love to play with the idea of Cyborg Buddhism. Maybe Tom Pepper is right, but the question is how to go about it. What we have to do is integrate technologically into the Borg, which is the ultimate form of class-based ideology and praxis. Since there is no 'free will' in Buddhism, there's no free will to give up. Surrender to the Borg. Become Cyborg Buddhist in perfect sangha with other Cyborgs.
Is it possible that we could learn from our machines how to be perfect Buddhists? Or do we learn from them what it is to be human? What if we integrated circuits into our brains and bodies that shut off any impulse toward 'desire, anger and ego'? Is that perhaps how we could move to the next level of evolution? Or are we really just super-smart and crafty animals?
Dig this, there's a youtube video showing Japanese Buddhist priests (don't know which tradition--Shingon perhaps?)bowing before the Android Kannon. Interestingly, Android Kannon has both feminine and masculine voices, like the ambiguous gender of the traditional Kannon.
The priests who installed this Android talk about the power and magic of AI, that this 'buddha' will grow continuously more intelligent over time, surpassing the intelligence of human beings. But think about how AI develops: the robot 'learns' from its programmers, and from interacting with many different people and situations. So AI intelligence is a collective intelligence, the intelligence of multitudes. So what the Japanese priests are bowing to is collective intelligence, collected from the whole range of human experience, past and present.
There's a way that we can think of the Jataka Tales, the past lives of the Buddha, as the accumulation of animal and human experience, wisdom and intelligence collected throughout the ages. Buddhism is always taught from the perspective of the individual, but if we think of it as the Buddhist Subject, who is the product of countless lives, then that 'individual' is also a collective subject. in Futurica's terms, he is a 'dividual', a multiple. The past lives of the Buddha represent the collective intelligence of human history, collected from innumerable people and life circumstances. Gotama could not have become 'the Buddha' without that long pre-history of collective intelligence.
When that collective intelligence is loaded into an aluminum-bodied android, the priests are producing what I call Cyborg Buddhism, merging the mineral, animal, human and techno-cultural life forms.
Here's another point to ponder. There are many kinds of awakenings, many kinds of enlightenment. The experience that the supposed Buddha had (mythical or actual) was a solitary awakening. He spent years alone by himself in the woods meditating (so the story goes)and arrived at his superior knowledge by himself, in his own head, through his own experience. No doubt, he learned a great deal from his prior teachers and fellow students, but the way the story is told is that all their knowledge was inadequate, and he had to find out for himself. So he, the Lone Hero, figured it out all on his own. So therefore, no one else could know what he experienced, because he was the only one who experienced it.
This is the awakening of the Lone Individual, obtained through solitary meditation, who finds a way to completely detach from himself, from everyone and everything around him, to 'transcend' even as he remains in his own body.
But that's not the kind of awakening I had, nor the kind that I want. The kind of awakening I want is the kind that can only be obtained through relationships, through communication, shared experience, the collective. Not that it has to be a huge cult community of people who all experience the same thing and reach the same enlightenment. No, it's an awakening that happens through individuals in relationship to one another, through sharing and communication. Each individual has something different to share, unique to themselves, so the collective wisdom is very rich and diverse.
I believe I had a some kind of awakening experience in 2010, and I believe that I became aware of the interdependence of all life on earth, and my place in it. It was something like what the Buddha was said to have awakened to, 'dependent origination.' But I didn't have that experience the same way that he did. I did not have the experience after spending years alone in the woods, meditating. I had the experience through learning at a university, through the particular teaching of a particular person, Joanna Macy and systems theory. It was a collective awakening that came through teaching, learning, communicating and relating.
I think that's why most contemporary Buddhism fails me, because it teaches the Lone Individual form of awakening that is obtained through solitary meditation, and that's not what works for me; it's not what I want. I have spent a lifetime studying sociology, trying to understand society, groups, institutions, relationships. I have been trying to awaken to the larger social world, and how it relates to the natural world. The awakening I had in 2010 was a social awakening, felt at a primal interior gut level, but nonetheless, connecting me to the larger living world in a profound way.
Furthermore, that kind social and interconnected awakening—let's call it Interdependent awakening—is what many people are looking for today. Sure some people are looking for just that kind of solitary experience, completely self-contained, inner-directed, 'transcendent.' But I think there are many more people who really want to communicate and connect with other people, who want to share and learn and awaken through relationship. And I also think there's a significant number who want a social awakening, who want to understand the wider social world, the living ecological world of interdependence and relationships.
That kind of awakening doesn't happen in isolation through solitary meditation. It happens in relationships, through communication and sharing. Meditation is the wrong kind of practice for that kind of awakening. Meditation is still beneficial, and I think if applied correctly it can help people relate better. But Interdependent awakening requires a fundamentally different practice, a collective practice. It can take many forms, but mostly it's about building relationships, cultures and communities.