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Thread: Zen and Transhumanism

  1. #1

    Zen and Transhumanism

    One of our members wrote for my opinion on the linked article, "Transcendental Transhumanism" and Zen. For the reasons I explain below, I think that the aims and ideals of the kind of "transhumanism" described in the article are too extreme, but I also feel that the writer's assertion that Zen is totally incompatible with transhumanism is too extreme as well. I will describe my "middle way" at the end.

    http://jetpress.org/v24/evans.htm

    First, what is the "transhumanism" described in the article?

    The Cyborg Buddha Project (CBP) of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies promotes “discussion of the impact that neuroscience and emerging neurotechnologies will have on happiness, spirituality, cognitive liberty, moral behavior and the exploration of meditational and ecstatic states of mind” ... [A]s one transhumanist-meditator puts it, we are entering a new stage of an explicitly “transhumanist meditation” that offers “the promise of an exponential uptake in human intelligence and evolution” ... Transhumanism, like many religions (including Christianity and “Pure Land” Buddhism), focuses on a moment of human dissolution and reformation; we will be torn apart in a cosmic drama and come out of it transformed and deified. ... on the way toward the “Ultra-human” and “Trans-human” destinations of salvation as Singularity and Omega-Point ...

    ... Meditation is, in this light, a tool for programming the “programmable” self (Cvercko 2014), and may be considered analogous to “software enhancements” ...
    If I might summarize this vision of "transhumanism in a nutshell: There will be such a melding of man and machine, technology and theology, that we will build paradise here on earth. This will include using technology to achieve the goals of meditation and to reprogram the human mind.

    In contrast, someone writing on behalf of a Zen lineage rejects this:

    Within Buddhism’s Soto School, we find little concern with any transcendental aims that could be shared with transhumanism. Zazen is “the form of meditation at the very heart of Zen practice,” ... If Zen can be said to have a goal or an aim, it may be that zazen itself – meditation itself – is the only aim ... Buddhism is focused on the present moment. Again and again, we find a focus on “here and now” in its various branches. In contrast, transhumanism is concerned with what we will become, and how the universe will change in the future. “The Singularity is near,” but not yet here. Not now.
    I stand between both opinions (as I outline in a book I am currently writing, "Zen of the Future!")

    Yes, the melding of human body and machines, mind and enhancements, changes to our DNA and the like are all coming (and some of it is already here) whether we like it or not. Whether it is used just to build better soldiers for the military, designer babies for the rich and better workers for factory owners, or instead, better, nicer and more 'humane' human beings, is my concern. Of course, if the technology is unavoidable, I support its use for the improvement of life and the human condition.

    However, this world will always be imperfect, so it is wrong to think that technology will solve all the world's problems (and it is certainly going to make some new ones).

    On the other hand, the Zen Buddhist fellow is wrong, for while Zen is about accepting things "as they are," and sitting Zazen without goal, that does not prevent us from also having some goals to make the world better! Zazen should not be used as a tool, but after sitting, we can get up, discover some medicine to cure a disease, work to repair a social problem, etc.

    So, I do foresee and support the future use of some technologies for the betterment of humankind (and, as I said, the technology is coming anyway, and we cannot stop it).

    - I foresee various means being used to cause individuals prone to child abuse or violence done in anger etc., no longer to have such tendencies. For example, instead of sending convicted rapists and child abusers to prison and throwing away the key, implants and drug treatments will be used so that they simply do not feel the drive to engage in such behavior. They can then live fairly normal, non-violent lives, productive to society.

    - Changes can be made to human DNA in order to make us, as a species, slightly more charitable and loving toward our fellow man, i.e., a bit more like kind and sharing bonobos than violent and greedy chimpanzees. Child abuse, murder in anger, rape and perhaps even most wars will nearly vanish.

    - We will be more easily satisfied in our material needs so that there is less wasteful consumption with its effects on the planet.

    - I do believe that technology will partially replace some aspects of Zazen, e.g., one will be able to experience the radical satisfaction of "non-attaining" or to transcend the self/other divide, experiencing emptiness, more easily at the push of a button. HOWEVER, that alone is only part of the battle, as such insights and attitudes must be incorporated into our living over time.

    Sorry to run long.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-07-2021 at 01:00 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    Ah, that last line in your post dots the i. It is a generalized thing where people forget that there is the whole of daily life AFTER the sitting on the zafu and if insight is gained cause of sitting, if realization happens, it is to be used off the cushion. Fascinating thoughts you present here!

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  3. #3
    Very interesting, reminds me of Harari's book Homo Deus a brief History of Tomorrow.

    Transhumanism though? I'm a bit weary. Nietzsche and his idea of Übermensch had very unfortunate and unexpected implications...

    Gassho
    Sat

  4. #4
    I thought of Homo Deus as well as I was reading this. Honestly my feelings are conflicted when it comes to topics like this. I have bias and preferences but they are really irrelevant as I do agree that such merging of human and technology is a genie that can not be put back in the bottle. My feelings and preferences are something I will need to sit with.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  5. #5
    Tairin I’m with you; having an objective conversation about this requires some serious dropping of preferences; I think we’ll likely do some ethically questionable things until regulations catch up; it seems a pattern with our species and maybe necessary for how we evolve; I’m an optimist so will stay hopeful this would be a good thing but who knows?

    gassho

    risho
    -stlah

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Inshin View Post
    Transhumanism though? I'm a bit weary. Nietzsche and his idea of Übermensch had very unfortunate and unexpected implications...
    Well said. Thank you. The idea of a Transhuman Manifesto sounds very Unabomber-ish to me.

    I agree with Jundo that technologies will be part of the future development of our species, and that the way forward will hopefully be small tweaks in a positive direction. (And not tweaks in the direction of military applications and/or increased productivity and/or universal blondeness or some such.) So we need to embrace this future and guide it towards the hopeful positive outcomes and away from the scary outcomes.

    Jundo has already covered the article's claims about Zen and Transhumanism. I will simply add that the "fit" between Transhumanism and Christianity seems very poorly explored in this article. For a beautiful book on that subject I would recommend C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man.

    Gassho, Jim
    ST/LaH



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    No matter how much zazen we do, poor people do not become wealthy, and poverty does not become something easy to endure.
    Kōshō Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  7. #7
    Frankly, it was easier to write about masturbation today.

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...urbation-Porno

    Really, I am not so sure about what the future looks like, or the "Omega Point" at the climax of "transhumanism" ...

    ... but I have a pretty good idea what is at the climax of "masturbation."

    (tee hee, I couldn't resist)

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Frankly, it was easier to write about masturbation today.

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...urbation-Porno

    Really, I am not so sure about what the future looks like, or the "Omega Point" at the climax of "transhumanism" ...

    ... but I have a pretty good idea what is at the climax of "masturbation."

    (tee hee, I couldn't resist)

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Jundo, if I ever start Koan practice the Rinzai way, and by any chance I'll get "the sound of one hand clapping" I'll hold you accountable for my failure to break through the Kensho!

    Gassho
    Sat

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Inshin View Post
    Jundo, if I ever start Koan practice the Rinzai way, and by any chance I'll get "the sound of one hand clapping" I'll hold you accountable for my failure to break through the Kensho!

    Gassho
    Sat
    To be honest, that sound is very different for women... :-o

    Perhaps that is the kōan.

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    -----

    流文

    I know nothing.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Inshin View Post
    Jundo, if I ever start Koan practice the Rinzai way, and by any chance I'll get "the sound of one hand clapping" I'll hold you accountable for my failure to break through the Kensho!

    Gassho
    Sat
    And you should then go immediately to our ethics committee to report it!

    Treeleaf Ethics Committee ( Complaint Box )
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...plaint-Box-%29

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Ryumon View Post
    To be honest, that sound is very different for women... :-o

    Perhaps that is the kōan.

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    There's risk of ditching Zen to seek enlightenment in Tantra

    Gassho
    Sat

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Inshin View Post
    There's risk of ditching Zen to seek enlightenment in Tantra
    Right? That always sounded like a lot more fun...

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    -----

    流文

    I know nothing.

  13. #13
    Member Seishin's Avatar
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    An interesting article. But I am always dismayed, that while all other species on the planet just evolve as Nature intended, yet again the Human Race interferes with the natural process. And look where that has got us. Yes some of these desired states and behavioural changes would make a better society but our track record suggests that thing will go pear shaped. Folk would be better off helping to tidy up the current mess, rather than creating a new one for the future. There is only now Right Now this moment.

    So when I am torn asunder atom by atom and reconstructed, please reform me as an ant. I will sit with this.

    sat


    Seishin

    Sei - Meticulous
    Shin - Heart

  14. #14
    I haven't really given this enough thought but the idea of introducing technology to engineer human behaviour to obtain goals, no matter how worthy, makes me feel a little uneasy. Something to sit with for sure.

    Gassho,

    Heiso

    StLah

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Seishin View Post
    An interesting article. But I am always dismayed, that while all other species on the planet just evolve as Nature intended, yet again the Human Race interferes with the natural process. And look where that has got us. Yes some of these desired states and behavioural changes would make a better society but our track record suggests that thing will go pear shaped. Folk would be better off helping to tidy up the current mess, rather than creating a new one for the future. There is only now Right Now this moment.

    So when I am torn asunder atom by atom and reconstructed, please reform me as an ant. I will sit with this.

    sat
    What if this is the natural process of being human? Not that I like this - it's sounds like we are headed toward a dystopia but maybe that's what we are.

    Gassho

    Risho
    -stlah

  16. #16
    There is a word for using genetic manipulation to make superior human beings. That word is eugenics and people are rightly leery of it. I am not persuaded by the argument from inevitability that we have to just accept it; and I do not believe it will make us better. To think eugenics will end wars is to assume wars are caused by our genes, and not, say, inequality, shortage of the basic necessities of life in some parts of the world, competition for control of resources, unjust economic systems, standing armies and weapons technology, all the messy business of human beings existing within societies, cultures and histories. Buddhism strikes me as much more useful here than genetics.

    Transhumanism, what I have read of it - not a great deal, to be clear - also takes a very reductive view of human beings. We are software, code that can simply be reprogrammed, or copied and uploaded to any sufficiently complex computer. This is the manipulative, controlling aspect of the rational mind almost deified. It is imo untrue, an inaccurate description of this wonderful mysterious thing of being a human, and because it oversimplifies it is dehumanizing.

    Gassho
    Theo

    Sat today

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Bearshirt Buddhist View Post
    There is a word for using genetic manipulation to make superior human beings. That word is eugenics and people are rightly leery of it. I am not persuaded by the argument from inevitability that we have to just accept it; and I do not believe it will make us better. To think eugenics will end wars is to assume wars are caused by our genes, and not, say, inequality, shortage of the basic necessities of life in some parts of the world, competition for control of resources, unjust economic systems, standing armies and weapons technology, all the messy business of human beings existing within societies, cultures and histories. Buddhism strikes me as much more useful here than genetics.

    Transhumanism, what I have read of it - not a great deal, to be clear - also takes a very reductive view of human beings. We are software, code that can simply be reprogrammed, or copied and uploaded to any sufficiently complex computer. This is the manipulative, controlling aspect of the rational mind almost deified. It is imo untrue, an inaccurate description of this wonderful mysterious thing of being a human, and because it oversimplifies it is dehumanizing.

    Gassho
    Theo
    Hi Theo,

    This is my personal opinion, no infallible "Zen teacher" view, and opinions can vary. I lost family in the Nazi death camps, so "eugenics" hits close to home.

    Random mutation and undirected "survival of the fittest" evolution left us in our current state, whereby we evolved to be hunters in the jungle who now live with the same drives, instincts and violent dispositions in modern cities and towns. Our DNA made us animals, and we need to soften our animal natures a bit. Nature did it by hit and miss (if a mutation didn't work, well, the mutant just was still born or eaten by a stronger predator), I think that we can do at least as well, testing treatments the same way we do any medical treatment. Furthermore, I am speaking ... not about building any kind of superman or eliminating all violence from the world ... but very minor tweaks to human nature to eliminate our worst tendencies.

    For example, if it could be shown that a specific genetic alteration to most child predators or an implant (that would release a neutralizing electrical or pharmaceutical treatment when sexual or violent urges arise in a known predator) would eliminate the vast majority of child sexual abuse recidivism, preventing many thousands of children from being harmed each year while also reducing our need for prisons, would you oppose their use? I believe that such medical treatments could be offered to the convicted criminals as a voluntary alternative to prison, while children would again be safe to play in our parks and walk to school alone or, sadly, in their own homes.

    Peace, Jundo

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-15-2021 at 11:33 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  18. #18
    Hi Jundo

    Yes, I should have realized that was a possibility and written with a gentler tone of voice. It's personal for me too, as I have a disabled daughter and this has made me aware how awash we still are in eugenic assumptions about which lives have value and which do not. I just feel that genetic manipulation is the wrong place to look, not that we should not seek solutions to the problems you name (we certainly should).

    All the best
    Theo

    Sat today

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