So this week, yet again, my zen class has discussed topics that connect extremely well to the last chapter in Sebastian Seung’s book. I know, another post on zen, and I apologize if the following rant is a little difficult to follow but I think this stuff is just so cool!
First of all, we’ve begun looking at zen aesthetics in my Zen and the Arts of Asia class, most recently zen gardens. Zen gardens overall are extremely stylized. Every stone and shrub in a zen garden was transplanted there unnaturally, the point being to make the viewer aware of how the rest of the natural world is just as fake. The Perfect Enlightenment Sutra, which states “practice illusion by means of illusion”, sums up this idea. Recall that zen Buddhists believe that everything we perceive in the world is actually an illusion. So by calling attention to the illusion and studying it we will, hopefully, learn to see beyond it to the “ultimate reality”.
My first thought when considering this idea from a science mindset was, “well, how can we know that what we see around us everyday isn’t an illusion?” Our perceptions are entirely our own. We have no proof that what we see, feel, etc. is what is truly there, so it could be that this world we have become so familiar with is entirely made up by our own minds. Once I read the last chapter in Seung’s book, I began to see even more connections to neuroscience. The last chapter, especially the subsection entitled Save As… is about whether we will ever be able to create a successful simulation of human life. How would we objectively measure the subjective feelings and experiences of such a machine? Scientists have become fixated on this idea because if we successfully recreate the human mind then we will have learned and replicated everything about it. In a way, we are attempting to recreate the illusion of our own illusions. Perhaps the scientists who attempt to create these supercomputers will eventually gain enlightenment from such study like the Perfect Enlightenment Sutra claims. Could they eventually realize the ultimate reality through attempting to create artificial intelligence?