07 MAY, 2012
By: Maria Popova
Pain, pleasure, and what sets man apart from machine.
Last month, in response to the impossibly fantastic conversation between Einstein and Indian philosopher Tagore, reader Feña Avila recommended an intriguing collection of conversations between the Dalai Lama and prominent Western scientists across physics, neuroscience, biochemistry, mathematics, artificial intelligence, and cognitive psychology. Gentle Bridges: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of Mind is an extraordinary exchange of ideas in its entirety, but this particular excerpt from the Dalai Lama’s opening remarks articulates an incredibly important point, one C. P. Snow passionately addressed in 1959 and Jonah Lehrer called a “fourth culture” half a century later.
For quite some time I have had a great interest in the close relationship between Eastern philosophy, particularly Buddhism, and Western science. My basic aim as a human being is to speak always for the importance of compassion and kindness in order to build a better, healthier human society, and a brighter future.
Western civilization’s science and technology bring society tremendous benefit. Yet, due to highly developed technology, we also have more anxiety and more fear. I always feel that mental development and material development must be well-balanced, so that together they may make a more human world. If we lose human values and human beings become part of a machine, there is no freedom from pain and pleasure. Without freedom from pain and pleasure, it is very difficult to demarcate between right and wrong. The subjects of pain and pleasure naturally involve feeling, mind, and consciousness.
(This, of course, brings us to the grand question of what consciousness actually is, which is a whole different can of intellectual worms.)