Computational Models Of No Mind

Imagine tens of thousands of years ago a couple of our ancestors manage to work out some symbolic representation for something, probably danger.

Symbols are, after all, mostly useful for social formation initially. An aggregate of communicating individuals will, in most situations, have a competitive advantage in spotting threats or food or whatever.

Eventually the symbols become more fine grained and they are used for a wider variety of social functions. I can signal that I want water or a rock or food, whatever.

Humans, eventually get the hang of recording the symbols in such a way that knowledge can aggregate. The already intense survival pressure on the capacity to manipulate symbols for oral communication goes up again.

This aggregation of symbols eventually becomes history and progresses to science.

I’ve been thinking about the Buddhist concept of “no mind” or not knowing. It’s such a counter-intuitive instruction since how does one use a brain, whose basic function is thought, to stop thinking.

Imagine, however, that the process of developing a symbology was somehow incomplete.

If I am talking to a monkey using sign language, I am going to be able to distinguish a green and red ball, but I’m probably going to have a problem describing the difference between sadness and despair.

The problem is likely the combination of two factors: the basic cognitive mechanism of the monkey can’t make the distinction and, to the extent a distinction exists cognitively, the monkey can’t map those internal sensations onto the appropriate symbols.

After all, the monkey’s brain is a cohesive whole on some level and the symbol manipulating bit is simply one part of that. The monkey almost certainly has a richer inner life than it is capable of expressing succinctly in symbols.

We are monkeys with an amazingly complex mechanism for symbol manipulation. So much so that, as the Buddhists say, we confuse the reflection for the moon — the symbol for what is signified.

One result of such a confusion would be to assume that the symbol manipulating mind is the real mind and relegate the experiential component to something only mysteriously understood. For example, Freud’s model of the conscious and unconscious minds.

At the very least, it is very likely that the symbology used for understanding states of consciousness is very limited.

Much like Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, Buddhists have hundreds of words for states of mind. They are able to identify their consciousness with a complex symbology that the bulk of Westerners have no comprehension of.

Even though the Buddhists have specific trainings in self-perception for being able to correctly identify the internal states and properly map them onto symbols, I’ve never met a psychological researcher in the States familiar with them.

This doesn’t even touch on the fact that the ultimate values of all scientists is a product of their mind and most take at best a passing interest in the organization and development of that critical resource.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *