Saturday, 16 November 2019

Don't identify with your identity

Sanskrit is such a beautiful language.

Queen Madālasā sings to her young son, advising him not to get too entangled in the roles and identities that Samsara is trying to impose upon him.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Does an Addict Have to Sober Up Before Treading the Buddhist Path?

"If I were going there, I wouldn't start from here"

Is there a spiritual path out of this particular neighborhood of Samsara, or do you need to move somewhere else first?      Nina Müller discusses this at Buddhist Door

 "Refraining from consuming intoxicants may be the most controversial of the five Buddhist Precepts. Indeed, there is debate as to whether the precept means restraining entirely from all alcohol and drug use, or just restraining from getting out-of-your-face drunk (or high). Others debate whether the precept applies to laypeople, or only to monastics. And even then, many disagree as to whether it is acceptable for a monastic to indulge in a glass of wine here and there. Despite the myriad opinions on the matter, I think most would agree that having an addiction to intoxicants will inevitably cause a great barrier to one’s practice. And yet. . ."     Read it all

Friday, 13 September 2019

What If Consciousness Comes First? by Sharon Hewitt Rawlette

Here's an excellent article in Psychology Today  by Sharon Hewitt Rawlette     (hat tip Raschau  )

Points of especial interest to Buddhists...

"...The issue is that physical properties are by their nature relational, dispositional properties. That is, they describe the way that something is related to other things and/or has the disposition to affect or be affected by those other things. Most notably, physical properties describe the way that something affects an outside observer of that thing. But there is something going on in conscious experience that goes beyond how that conscious experience affects people looking at it from the outside. For this reason, the “what it’s like” to be a conscious mind can’t be described in the purely relational, dispositional terms accessible to science. There’s just no way to get there from here..."

"...The key to resolving the hard problem of consciousness lies in the following observation. While physical properties cannot explain consciousness, consciousness is needed to explain physical properties..."

"..If we look carefully, we can see that all of the physical properties that science has so carefully measured and cataloged ultimately derive their meaning from the effects they produce on a conscious observer: the person who’s holding the yardstick or looking at the fMRI or gazing at the interference pattern produced by the double-slit experiment. Even the properties of the basic particles of physics derive their meaning from the ways that these particles ultimately affect the conscious observations we make of them. Scientific experiments cannot tell us what a photon or an electron is in itself..."

"...Ultimately, the hard problem of consciousness is the result of a category mistake. We have been trying to reduce consciousness to physical properties when it is consciousness that is the more comprehensive category..."

Read it all  

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Life is but a dream...

From Tricycle 

'Enlightenment Rests on the Dream' by C. W. Huntington, Jr.

... From the Buddhist point of view, the dream is real in a sense—it is a real dream—but its true nature is veiled as it masquerades as waking life. When I’m dreaming, I experience myself as an individual moving through a world populated with objects and people separate from me. But the truth is that there is no real difference between the “I” and the objects or other people—it’s all an effect of the imagination, a vivid fantasy. To be lost in a dream means, then, to be unaware that the perceived distinction between “me” and “not me” is an illusion created by the mind.

So it is that when I wake up in the morning I say to myself, It was all just a dream, and I marvel at how profoundly I was deceived while I slept. Then I get out of bed and go about my business. The fact that only hours before I was wholly betrayed by my mind—taking imagination for reality—does not, as a rule, provoke me to question the contours of my waking life and its fundamental distinction between self and other.

This is somewhat curious. Where do I derive this unreflective confidence that I and my world are exactly what they seem to be even though I am routinely misled in my dreams? What would it require to shake my certainty that things are not as they appear..."


Saturday, 23 March 2019

'The Observer is Part of the System' - revisited (again!)

'Two contradictory versions of reality can exist at the same time, quantum experiment shows

Experiments suggest there is no such thing as objective reality

From The Independent   by  Josh Gabbatiss

Two versions of reality can exist at the same time, at least in the quantum world, according to a new study.

Scientists have conducted tests to demonstrate a theoretical physics question first posed as a mere thought experiment decades ago.

Within the concept, two imaginary scientists are both deemed to be correct, despite arriving at totally different conclusions.

Demonstrating this in practice therefore calls into dispute fundamental questions about physics and suggests there is no such thing as objective reality.

The results were published on arXiv, a site for research that has yet to undergo full peer review, by a British team based at Heriot-Watt University.

They set out to explore “Wigner’s friend”, named after Nobel prize-winning physicist Eugene Wigner who came up with it 1961, which is based on the idea that a photon, or a particle of light, can exist in two possible states.

According to the laws of quantum mechanics, this “superposition” means the photon’s polarisation – or the axis upon which it spins – is both vertical and horizontal at the same time.

However, once one scientist in an isolated laboratory measures the photon, they find the photon’s polarisation is fixed at either vertical or horizontal.

At the same time, for someone who is outside the laboratory and is not aware of the result, the unmeasured photon is still in a state of superposition.

Despite these apparently conflicting realities, both are correct.
Read it all here, then get a Buddhist view at 

Quantum Buddhism  

How things exist - according to Buddhism and Science

Buddhism, Quantum Physics and Mind


Friday, 15 March 2019

I Can't Get No Satisfaction revisited - the Diderot Effect

Here's a sequel to the post about the Hedonic treadmill.  It's a discussion of The Diderot Effect  from the BBC

No matter how much stuff you get it won't bring lasting happiness - just an increase in the desire for more of the same (or more of the very similar but newer).

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Mental Health Benefits draw Americans to Buddhism

By Olga Khazan in The Atlantic

"...This was the first of two meditation sessions of the Kadampa Buddhism class I attended this week near my house, in Northern Virginia, and I did not reach nirvana. Because we were in a major city, occasional sirens outside blasted through the quiet, and because this was a church basement, people were laughing and talking in the hallways. One guy wandered in to ask if this was an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The more we focused on our breath, the teacher assured us, the more these distractions would fade away.

After we had meditated for 15 minutes, the teacher shifted focus to the topic of the class: letting go of resentments. This was the real reason I had come to this meditation class, rather than simply meditating on my own at home with an app. I wanted to learn more about Buddhism and how its teachings might be able to improve my mental health—and that of the myriad other Americans who have flocked to some form of the religion in recent years. These newcomers aren’t necessarily seeking spiritual enlightenment or a faith community, but rather hoping for a quick boost of cognitive healing.

The people I spoke with were young and old, but few were Buddhist by birth. Perhaps some have just run out of options: Mental-health disorders are up in Western societies, and the answer doesn’t seem to be church attendance, which is down. There’s always therapy, but it’s so expensive. My meditation class was $12.

As she opened a book on Buddhist teachings, the teacher told the class that holding grudges is harmful. Resentment feels like clutching a burning stick and complaining that it’s burning us. And yet, being harmed by someone also hurts. So, the teacher said, the question was this: “What do I do with my mind if I feel like I’ve been harmed by someone?...”

Read it all


Saturday, 2 February 2019

Triple whammy of Consumerism, Jihadism and Evangelism threatens Buddhism in Asia

...and in addition to the philosophical threat to Buddhism covered in the earlier article...

"Buddhist scholars attending the 1st Makhapuja International Conference on ‘The Future of Buddhism in Asia’ have warned that consumerist trends within the monastic order and aggressive proselytism by Islamic and Christian groups are a threat to the future of Buddhism in Asia..."  Read it all

Friday, 1 February 2019

Computationalism: the Threat to Buddhism in China (and everywhere else)

In a recent comment on the article on intentionality,  a Buddhist from China states that 'Currently, Chinese Buddhism, traditionally a bastion of Mahayana, is booming but also undergoing tremendous intellectual challenge from computationalist philosophies (similar to the issues you addressed in some of your other posts)..'

So we Buddhists need to disprove computationalism,  (aka the 'Computational Theory of Mind), which 'holds that the mind is a computation that arises from the brain acting as a computing machine...  So the computational theory of mind is the claim that the mind is a computation of a machine (the brain) that derives output representations of the world from input representations and internal memory in a way that is consistent with the theory of computation'.

Computationalism is a form of materialism (in fact is the logical foundation of all forms of materialism, but more of that later). It denies any spiritual or transcendental dimension to human life. Everything is mechanistic.

The popularity of the Computer Theory of mind seems to be linked to the intensity of hype surrounding Artificial Intelligence.  We are currently going through the peak of another Artificial Intelligence (AI) hype cycle (an 'AI summer').   AI-hype assures us that computers are now so powerful that machine simulation of the human mind is imminent (as it has been for the past 60 years).  

Hype and reality

These AI-hype bubbles seem to occur every decade. In the 1950's the hype was about 'electronic brains' which could do dozens of calculations per second and would soon surpass humans in all mental functions. Then in the sixties, computers were on the verge of being able to understand human language, enabling true nuanced translation between languages, rather than clunky word-substitution. 

In the seventies, the microprocessor revolution was predicted to enable  massively parallel brain-emulators to be built, bringing about the long-promised AI revolution.  The eighties were the decade of expert systems, which would replace human technical and medical professionals by omniscient computers. 

In the nineties, we were assured that neural nets would at last provide the solutions to the failures of previous hype cycles.  In the noughties, the interconnection of millions of computers via the internet would finally give enough power to produce a global brain to surpass the human mind, and solve the problems that neural nets couldn't.  The current decade's hype cycle concerns robotics, which promises us that connecting computers to sensors and actuators will at last solve the Hard Problem  and lead to true artificial sentience, within a year or two at the very most - and this time it's really going to happen!

Although 'AI-hype' and 'computationalism' aren't totally synonymous, there is a close relationship (known as 'strong AI').  To see why AI always fails to deliver, and computationalism is a non-starter, and always has been, and always will be, we need to consider the following factors:

Computationalism implies that all mental processes can be modeled by suitable combinations of the members of the instruction set of a general purpose computer, the instruction set being functionally identical to a Turing Machine (TM).     

So, if we can demonstrate any functions and activities of the mind which are beyond the capabilities of a Turing Machine (and hence all its derived instruction sets), then we have demolished the foundations of all forms of computationalism*.

When we examine the components of the TM in detail, we find that none of them...

(i) are capable of holding meaning. They do not possess any semantic capabilities, or 'intentionality' to use the technical term.

(ii) are capable of registering qualitative states ('qualia') such as sensations of pleasure, pain etc.

And when we check the basic repertoire of operations that the TM can carry out (and the derived and hence equivalent instruction-sets of general purpose computers) we fail to find any combination of these operations that can operate on the components to produce semantic or qualitative phenomena.  Thus two major functions of the sentient human mind are beyond the capabilities of machines.  These arguments are explained in more detail here, here, here and here.

This is why the Mother of all Algorithms is itself NOT an algorithm, and never could be programmed.

Tail wagging the dog?
The Turing Machine was, and is, an object of consciousness, a mathematical thought-experiment  first imagined by Alan Turing. For many years it remained just that - a mathematical structure with no physical instantiation, existing only in the minds of theoreticians.

Computationalism claims ontological primacy for this disembodied object of the mind, making it more basic than everything else, including the inventiveness that first created it.  The computationalists claim (explicitly or implicitly) that the Turing Machine is the foundation of consciousness, yet the TM is itself a product of consciousness. 

Buddhists would believe that there is a phenomenon even more fundamental than the TM, since the TM is an object arising out of thought.  That more fundamental phenomenon is the experience of creating, imagining and thinking about the TM in the first place.    

As the Kadampas put it: 

'..If we check, we can see that we cannot in fact separate out the objects of our thoughts from the thoughts or awarenesses holding them, any more than we can separate out a wave from an ocean or a reflection in a mirror from the mirror itself. There is no such thing as an object not known by mind, which is the definition of object, “known by mind”.

Can you even think of an object that is not known by mind? There is no world outside of our experience of the world. What is going on for you right now, for example, is your experience of what is going on – if you go looking, you cannot find anything going on out there. Your whole world cannot be separated out from your experience of the world – you cannot point to any world outside of your experience of it. As soon as you do, you’re experiencing it.

Waves are the nature of the ocean, not outside the ocean. Appearances are the nature of the mind, not outside the mind...'

Demolishing all forms of materialism
The Church-Turing-Deutsch Principle (CTDP) states that a universal computing device can simulate every physical process.

If the CTDP is true (and it's never been disproved) and computationalism is false (which seems to be the case) then all other physicalist and materialist theories of the mind are consequently false.  It follows that the non-computationalist mind exists outside the scope of the CTD, and hence it is outside the scope of all physical, mechanistic and material theories, no matter how they may be expressed.  By defeating computationalism we have removed the foundation of  all other physical/materialist explanations of the mind.  

Our next (and most important) task is to understand the true nature of this non-physical mind.

* Turing machines and instruction sets
Turing completeness is the ability of a system of instructions to simulate a Turing machine. A programming language that is Turing complete is theoretically capable of expressing all tasks accomplishable by computers  

In computability theory, a system of data-manipulation rules (such as a computer's instruction set, a programming language, or a cellular automaton) is said to be Turing complete or computationally universal if it can be used to simulate any Turing machine.

Although physical TMs can be built, they are generally demonstrated to students in the form of emulations using standard programing languages.     Hence, it works both ways,
TMs can emulate computer instruction sets, and computer instruction sets can emulate TMs.  

It's quite remarkable just how few instructions are required to provide full and complete computing capabilities - fewer than twenty:  SET, MOVE, READ, WRITE, ADD, SUBTRACT, MULTIPLY, DIVIDE, AND, OR, XOR, NOT,  SHIFT, ROTATE, COMPARE, JUMP, JUMP-CONDITIONALLY, RETURN

Increasing the power of a computer cannot expand its functionality beyond this instruction set, since any general purpose computer can simulate any other computer, albeit slowly.  Hence if machine sentience ('strong AI') were indeed possible, it could have been demonstrated in the 1950's!  Throwing newer, faster more powerful hardware at the problem won't produce any fundamental breakthrough in functionality, just as increasing the working temperature, spin-speed and capacity of your washing machine won't suddenly make it capable of mowing the lawn.

See also Buddhist Philosophy,  Why Materialism is Crap 

SWOT Analysis - Strengths. Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to Buddhism