Sentient Noosphere
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5 days ago
Alan W. Watts
1966

Here applies the French proverb plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose—the more it changes, the more it's the same thing. Change is in some sense an illusion, for we are always at the point where any future can take us! If the human race develops an electronic nervous system, outside the bodies of individual people, thus giving us all one mind and one global body, this is almost precisely what has happened in the organization of cells which compose our own bodies. We have already done it.

In Depth
“I think right now everybody is already perceiving that this is the decade of artificial intelligence. And there is nothing like artificial intelligence that drives the digitization of the world. Historically, artificial intelligence has always been the pioneer battallion of computer science.”

When something was new and untested it was done in the field of artificial intelligence, because it was seen as something that requires intelligence in some way, a new way of modeling things. intelligence can be understood to a very large degree as the ability to model new systems, to model new problems.

And so it's natural that even narrow artificial intelligence is about making models of the world. For instance, our current generation of deep-learning systems are already modeling things. They're not modeling things quite in the same way with the same power as human minds can do it—they're mostly classifiers, not simulators of complete worlds. But they're slowly getting there, and by making these models we are, of course, digitizing things. We are making things accessible in data domains. We are making these models accesible to each other by computers and by artificial intelligence systems.

And artificial intelligence systems provide extensions to all our minds. Already now, Google is something like my exo-cortex. It's something that allows me to act as vast resources of information that get in the way I think and extend my abilities. If I forget how to use a certain command in a programming language, it's there at my fingertips, and I entirely rely on this like every other programmre on this planet. This is something that is incredibly powerful, and was not possible when we started out programming, when we had to store everything in our own brains.

I think consciousness is a very difficult concept to understand because we mostly know it by reference. We can point at it, but it's very hard for us to understand what it actually is. And I think at this point the best model that I've come up with—what we mean by consciousness—it is a model of a model of a model.

That is: our new cortex makes a model of our interactions with the environment. And part of our new cortex makes a model of that model, that is, it tries to find out how we interact with the environment so we can take this into account when we interact with the environment. And then you have a model of this model of our model which means we have something that represents the features of that model, and we call this the Self.

And the Self is integrated with something like an intentional protocol. So we have a model of the things that we attended to, the things that we became aware of: why we process things and why we interact with the environment. And this protocol, this memory of what we attended to is what we typically associate with consciousness. So in some sense we are not conscious in acutality in the here and now, because that's not really possible for a process that needs to do many things over time in order to retrieve items from memory and process them and do something with them.

Consicousness is actually a memory. It's a construct that is reinvented in our brain several times a minute. When we think about being conscious of something it means that we have a model of that thing that makes it operable, that we can use. You are not really aware of what the world is like. The world out there is some weird [viewed?] quantum graph. It's something that we cannot possibly really understand—first of all because we, as observers, cannot really measure it. We don't have access to the full vector of the universe.

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One Day, You Will Completely Forget Yourself

   March 6, 2017

As a rule, people aren't prepared for death; they just vigorously avoid the issue. You feel like Buddhism is preparing you for death. That is your vague thinking (not feeling). If you're not clear on the aim of Buddhism, why not find out instead of going on excursions based on vague opinion?

Preparation for death is a human issue, not just a Buddhist one. The actuality is that nearly all humans live as if in a dream. We think and act as if we will live forever, but that is not at all true. So we are very divorced from reality. We don't live with awareness. Our days are very dreamlike without that perspective, and therefore our days are without the meaning that the perspective brings.

Without knowing in your heart (not just as a distant concept) life's end, you lack awareness of life's beauty and preciousness. You lack awareness of the preciousness of these real days, these common events, these ordinary relationships. Because there is the underlying belief that you will always have access to them.

Without awareness of death, you lack meaning. To the degree that you are aware of death, the meaningfulness of everyday events is present for you.


There was a great scene from The Hurt Locker, where the main character, James, finally comes home from the insane, hellish stress of war and finds himself in a grocery store which seems to be hellish in its bleakness. Although violent and senseless, the imminence of death on the battlefield did bring forth a sense of vitality, of being extremely alive. Our task is to connect with the vitality and meaning brought by awareness of death, without requiring the insanity of pursuing death.


When death does come to us, surprisingly and contrary to all common sense most of us are shocked, aghast, bewildered… as if the most unexpected tragedy had befallen us; even though, since as far back as the prehistoric reach of human memory, the certainty of death has been evident all around us.

But we avoid it, don't we? We shut ourselves away from our tribes, and we hide the dead and dying from sight. Even in our spiritual pursuits, we talk in lofty terms about eternal life, avoiding the more pressing and personal fact of certain death. First know impermanence deeply; then you can reasonably connect with your undying nature.

A great many people die very poorly, in extreme mental torture because throughout their lives they have denied and avoided the fact of their vulnerability and impermanence. People rail and wail and curse the heavens when a family member or loved one dies; and how much more so when they themselves (we) receive a terminal diagnosis or otherwise head toward the end.

Armchair philosophers (you?) keep the issue of death at a distance, as if it is merely a theoretical event. Do you imagine that your death will go as smoothly and comfortably as slipping into a warm bed and falling asleep? It may happen violently. It may happen decades before you expect it to happen. It may happen before you ‘get it all together.’

Your aging may involve great loss or suffering. You may be sick for long periods; you may lose the use of your limbs, or your eyes, or your brain… or all three. You may not be able to digest food for years; or you may not be able to pass urine. Pain and debility may increase in your body for ten, twenty, thirty years—if you are fortunate enough to live long enough. Or you may quickly hurtle toward death, ravaged by cancer or heart disease or some influenza or new viral strain. You may think “If only I could live another year, I would gladly bear the pain,” or you may think “Oh, God, let me die quickly to end the pain.” Or you may have both prayers turning within you at the same time.

So many people and their families are horribly unprepared for death, caught off guard by their helplessness and by the certainty of their end. They can't help themselves, and they can't deal with the reality of their situation. If you actually spend time with those who are dying, you will find that it is actually a bit rare for someone to be able to die with grace and contentment. The rule is generally that the habits built up during life are continued when the pressure rises: more avoidance, more self-distraction, more ominous pressure without knowing what to do with it. More denial, more clamoring for control. Dullness, anxiety, confusion….

And even if a person can muster the courage and presence to be with their situation, in so many cases their family and society won't allow them to die in clarity and dignity. Others around them, caught in the same habitual denial, will often impose small talk and distraction at times when the dying person wants and needs to feel and communicate deeply. Family and friends often bring their noise and busy-mindedness and emotional clinging at a time when the dying person needs space and freedom. And even those who are supposed to be serving the dying—the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals involved—obscure the truth or almost cynically impose bureaucracy and technology as if they are battling a video-game opponent rather than caring for a human being.


If you actually spend time with the dying, this won't be a distant theoretical issue for you—something you can make opinions about from the comfort of your living room. And if you have the illusion that you are already prepared for death, just consider how easily you can let go of things right now: can you give up your opinions freely; can you avoid being triggered by insults; can you be happy in situations that aren't your favorite (like, say, living with the smell of feces and urine on a daily basis)? Is it easy for you to give away money and possessions? Can you gladly live without your favorite food for a year? Are you unmoved by the desire for praise and fame (to be well-thought-of)? Can you give up your favorite activities, no problem? No addictions, no attachments? How openhandedly do you give up friendships or romantic relationships? How harmonious is your mind when you lose your job?

Most of us get upset enough about not getting the last piece of cake! We have a long, long, long way to go to achieve the contentedness that can face death without suffering.

Because all of these and more will have to be given up when you die. So: are you ready for that?

Factor in the shock and terror of it—the dreaded finality—as all the things that you relied on previously are stripped away: no friend or family or loved one can help you; no status can help you; no social or professional standing can help you; no knowledge can help you; no memory can help you; no possession can help you. You lose your strength, your ability to move, your ability to communicate, your power to assimilate food and water, your senses, your brain activity…. Everything you previously depended on will go away. So how will you do?

This is not just Buddhist. Every being faces this.

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