Experiments at the Intersection of Buddhism, Technology, and Global Culture

[This is part 3 of a 3-part series entitled, "Neural Correlates of Enlightenment: The Buddha Helmet."]

Buddhism has found intriguing middle ground, if not complete compatibility with the concept of the Technological Singularity. The philosophy behind the futurist concept of the Singularity, most often attributed to the ideas of Ray Kurzweil, is essentially an attempt at redefining and, ultimately, recreating God. Theorists predict that technological progress will increase exponentially such that eventually a machine may be built that is more intelligent than a human. If that machine is built, it logically follows that said machine could build an even more intelligent machine, and so on and so forth—technology would continue to increase exponentially. Whether this machine would have Buddha-nature, if it would be more capable of reaching enlightenment, and if it would be enlightened simply by its superior nature are all consequent questions that must follow with time.

Thus far, active efforts separate advocates of the Singularity into two branches: those that seek to create an AI more intelligent than a human and those that seek to better humanity. Unlike the goal of improving and perfecting humanity, the task of creating complete artificial intelligence is tangibly within reach – indeed it stands to reason that smaller efforts would accomplish more in the field of AI than in factoring humanity into the Technological Singularity. However, this is not to say that the path of least resistance should be taken. Advocates of the Singularity still involve a large range of specialities, from computer programmers to biochemists and it is in the interest of humanity that the second approach be carefully examined and explored.

It is undeniable that technological progress demands careful scrutiny of future advances and laying out guidelines for even remotely imaginable possibilities, providing moral and ethical groundwork. Most current elective treatments may be considered as plausible future theoretical methods: TMS and drug regiments. Because it is obvious that many may find objections to the above, these concerns should be addressed. While the process of determining the brain region responsible for certain functions may not conjure much religious controversy, the proposed method of purposefully affecting that brain region may create a divisive line in the sand.

In fact, one of the precepts of Buddhism specifically states not to use intoxicants and it can be merely semantics to argue that a drug that encourages compassion does not necessarily fit the description of an intoxicant, especially by current paradigms. Traditionally, there are many types of drugs that are classified accordingly by their effects—intoxicants such as alcohol and dissociative like ketamine are blatantly intoxicants and may fit the description of clouding the mind. However, can something like Depakote or other anti-epileptics, that are commonly used to treat such disorders as bipolar disorder or epilepsy and are thought to facilitate neuronormal functioning, be thought of as intoxicants? Indeed, can DMT or MAOIs be seen harmful to one’s mental development?

Many have questioned this issue—and while the same question must be asked of theoretical drugs, it is not the only moral dilemma. The very decision to go through with the process of willfully changing one’s biochemical processes, through technological means or otherwise, can be argued until the end of time and will doubtlessly be reduced to the question of whether an easy path to evil justifies creating an easy path to good. Of course, this is not to say that the path to permanent good, as conceived by Buddha, will be anywhere near easy—however, the point remains. In the end, I only seek to presuppose the idea of what may be called a “Buddha Helmet.”

Photo by: ~C4Chaos

Jean-Paul Wiegand