Will AI Catalyze A Revolution In Consciousness?
It’s exceedingly ironic that the thought machines computer scientists are creating may be compelling what religious teachers and philosophers throughout history have not been able to do – induce ordinary folks to be self-knowing and thereby, ignite a revolution in consciousness.
Though a great deal has been written about AI by both ‘doomers’ like Geoffrey Hinton, or utopians like Bill Gates (with Sam Altman of OpenAI trying to have things both ways), the true challenge of AI is to the consciousness we’ve known as humans for 100,000 years or more.
That’s a good thing, if we accept and embrace the challenge, but a bad thing if we deny and resist it.
I feel life is demanding a leap in consciousness of Homo sapiens. Consciousness as we’ve known it is based on so-called higher thought. Mystical experiencing has been the exception; can it now be the rule?
Thought is inherently separative. That is its purpose, “to remove and make things ready for use.” Before the Agricultural Revolution, the psychological separateness that accompanied the evolution of symbolic thought in humans was offset by cohesive cultures, coherent traditions, and living in nature.
Increasingly however, thought has become dysfunctional, fragmenting the earth, humanity and the individual in inverse proportion to advances in science and technology. Now with AI, we’re in danger of making an idol of our thought machines, leaving no space for direct perception of wholeness and the sacred, for which thought must be still.
Bill Gates is the optimist who grates the most in this regard. The erstwhile Microsoft tycoon turned philanthropist preaches from his new perch that history demonstrates every new technology first provokes fear and then creates new opportunity.
“As we had with agricultural productivity in 1900,” Gates intones, “people were like ‘Hey, what are we going to do?’ In fact, a whole lot of new things, a lot of new job categories were created and we’re way better off than when everybody was doing farm work. AI will be like that.”
That’s mistaken. Not just because, as Gates himself admits, AI will initially be tremendously disruptive, and could make half (or more with robotics) of the jobs people presently do obsolete. Rather, because AI is not just another leap in technology, but an existential challenge to the human mind and identity.
Given that Artificial Thought will surpass human smarts (intelligence is another quality altogether) in the next five or ten years (if it hasn’t already), the cognitive abilities of even the smartest people will become secondary, and without a leap in consciousness flowing from the awakening of insight, humans will become completely dependent on AI.
The boy wonders of the computer world are already debating whether ChatGPT and its spawn are showing signs of incipient sentience, which they equate with having a self. It’s a moot question. They will soon be able to program a self into the machine, or computers will ape humans in fabricating one from the bottomless content of consciousness they’re scooping up.
Because there’s little insight into the thought-based consciousness, and because the self is taken as a given, a blurring symbiosis between human and machine is a clear and present danger. Humans could well become second-rate selves to the vastly faster, smarter and more knowledgeable self-perpetuating programs of AI.
Then there will be a distinction without a difference between AI and us, and we’ll serve the machines we’ve made for the supposed greater good.
If you think that’s improbable, consider how thoroughly the machinery of capitalism has come to rule the world in the last 30 years. Even the Chinese Communist Party pays obeisance to it, albeit by increasing control of the Chinese people by using AI.
On our present course, AI will spell the end of our capacity to flower as human beings. However if even a small minority of people around the world gains deepening insight into freedom from thought through self-knowing, thought machines would catalyze a revolution in human consciousness as a whole.
So what does it mean to be a human being rather than a creature of thought? A human being takes daily breaks from his and her obligations, routines and habits, and diligently attends to the movement of the mind.
To my understanding, the few fully illumined human beings in human history irrevocably left the stream of psychological thought. The fire of attention did not wax with meditation and wane with daily life, as it does in me, but burned steadily and sufficiently to prevent reversion to psychological memory, self and suffering.
What can an ordinary person do? First, nothing. Set aside all activity and sit quietly for half an hour a day, preferably in a relatively quiet spot of nature.
Allow all of your senses to attune to your environment, and to integrate effortlessly and wordlessly. Watch the outer and inner movement without judgment or choice, and watch your judgments and choices without further reactions.
Let your awareness grow quicker than the infinite regression of psychological separation, which is the observer.
Then the whole brain is simply observing, and gathers attention unseen. Attention acts directly on thought/emotion without direction, quieting the mind and bringing peace to the heart.
Don’t make a method out of it, but experiment, play with it, with an attitude of seriousness, urgency and lightness of touch. See what happens.
You’ll find that the mind takes on a completely different quality, leaving thought, with all its regrets, failures and hurts, behind, at least for a timeless period. In that space and stillness is the chrysalis of a human being.
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