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Juggling with the Mind

“I would like to be able to download the ability to juggle. There’s nothing more boring than learning to juggle.”1 That’s artificial intelligence scientist Marvin Minsky, talking about a new AI project at MIT. He points to the fact that his iPhone can download thousands of applications, instantly allowing it to perform with new capacities. Why not do the same with the brain?

Minsky believes that we can separate the ability to juggle from the internal transformations that take place while learning to juggle. Knowledge, in the Cartesian style, is seen as something “pure,” removed from subjective participation and the involvement of our body/mind.

Scientists who claim to be at the forefront of human progress are still entangled in paradigms hundreds of years old.  Given Minsky’s vision, even inner knowledge can be represented digitally and downloaded to our neurophysiology, just as we do with a computer application. Kurzweil and others forecast such a future.

Here is Aldous Huxley’s view:

Some artists have practised the kind of self-naughting which is the indispensable pre-condition of the unitive knowledge of the divine Ground. Fra Angelico, for example, prepared himself for his work by means of prayer and meditation; and from the foreground extract from Chuang Tzu we see how essentially religious (and not merely professional) was the Taoist craftman’s approach to his art. Here we may remark in passing that mechanization is incompatible with inspiration. The artisan could do and often did do a thoroughly bad job. But if, like Ch’ing, the chief carpenter, he cared for his art and were ready to do what was necessary to make himself docile to inspiration, he could and sometimes did do a job so good that is seemed “as though as supernatural execution.” Among the many and enormous advantages of efficient automatic machinery is this: it is completely fool-proof. But every gain has to be paid for. The automatic machine is fool-proof; but just because it is fool-proof it is also grace-proof. The man who tends such a machine is impervious to every form of aesthetic inspiration, whether of human or of genuinely spiritual origin. “Industry without art is brutality.” But actually Ruskin maligns the brutes. The industrious bird or insect is inspired, when it works, by the infallible animal grace of instinct – by Tao as it manifests itself on the level immediately above the physiological.” 2

When we don’t feel “presence” in our actions or value our activities as media for our growth, we move toward automating everything that can be automated, including activities which expand our soul’s capacities. In Zen monasteries, even the most repetitive tasks—like cleaning the rice—are used as a path for awareness. But the contemporary ego wants goals – and wants to reach them fast.

1Chandler, D.L. “Rethinking artificial intelligence”.  MITnews.  http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/ai-overview-1207.html

2Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, New York: Harper & Row, 1945, p. 171.

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The Tao of Google ranking

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When I was a child I believed that somewhere, somebody had the answers to all my questions about the world and about existence. It was because of knowing that sooner or later even I would have access to that knowledge that quietened my cognitive anxiety.

The very fact that knowledge was present somewhere, though hidden, I felt it was certainly obtainable, as if it was present in the air and just needed the proper antennas for being picked up. The Web didn’t exist then, nor did Google that provides almost the entire repository of human knowledge, and of course neither did I know Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic fields theory, much less the mystical ideas on universal consciousness.

But what happens to the process that produces knowledge, when we get it instantly through a Google search? Any media, mentioning McLuhan, is at the same time an extension and a castration. Google is an extension and a castration concerning our research and answer-finding capabilities.

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Da piccolo mi confortava pensare che “qualcuno” da “qualche parte” avesse le risposte alle mie domande sul mondo e sull’esistenza. Immaginavo che in questo modo prima o poi anch’io avrei potuto accedere a tale sapere. Questo pensiero mi placava l’ansia conoscitiva.

Il fatto che la conoscenza fosse da qualche parte, per quanto nascosta o poco accessibile, la sentivo comunque come disponibile, come se questa fosse presente nell’aria e necessitasse solo delle antenne giuste per essere captata. A quei tempi non esisteva il web nè Google che ci mette a disposizione quasi l’intero scibile umano, naturalmente non conoscevo le teorie dei campi morfici di Sheldrake e tantomeno le parole dei mistici sulla coscienza universale.

Ma cosa succede al processo interiore della conoscenza quando possiamo accedervi in pochi instanti tramite una ricerca con Google? Ogni media, ricordando McLuhan, è allo stesso tempo un’estensione e una castrazione. Google lo è rispetto alla nostra capacità di ricercare e di trovare risposte.

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