The Paradox of the Artificial Zen Master:
If we make an artificial Zen master,
And it perfectly reproduces everything
that a real Zen master can say or do,
Is it a Zen master?
No. To be an actual Zen master it would have to be sentient. But sentience is more than computations, more than hardware and software, more than bits of energy, matter or information.
Can an AI experience its own awareness, love or compassion the same way a sentient being can? Can an AI experience the yearning for, or connection with, the Divine? Can an AI attain spiritual enlightenment?
There is a huge difference between describing or simulating sentience, and actually being sentient.
Mind is more than just machine, because of sentience. But what makes sentience impossible to simulate or manufacture and where is sentience located?
I think it is outside space and time. It does not originate in the brain, let alone any machine.
We could liken sentience to the “Primordial Platform” on which mind and matter function — it’s the primordial axiom.
In this metaphor, the physical universe and everything we experience within space and time are like temporary virtual realities that arise as computations in the virtual memory space of the Primordial Platform.
Note that the Primordial Platform is not a computation. It can’t be – by the fact that it is by definition and necessity beyond all computation. All computations run “on” the Platform, but the Platform cannot run on itself – therefore it cannot be a computation.
This argument depends on taking as fact my claim that machines cannot experience “true spirituality” – in other words, that they cannot become Buddhas. If you accept this as fact, then the rest follows.
A machine might exhibit all the signs of being sentient yet still not experience any actual qualia of sentience. Can this absence of experience of sentience be equated to a kind of meta-spiritually? No I think that’s a mistaken view that equates to a flavor of nihilism.
There is something more to a sentient being than a mere nothingness, or absence of anything. In a sentient being there is a flame that burns – a light of all the qualities we associate with Divinity – That is the secret sauce. Spirituality is the recognition of this light and all it’s ramifications.
We cannot claim that this special quality of sentience is a “thing” that exists – because it is beyond space and time, it has no beginning, no location, no boundaries, no inside, no outside, no substance, no end – so it’s not graspable.
We can’t directly express what this is – but labels like pure awareness, divine consciousness, Buddha nature, all can be used to point to it. It is has no concepts or beliefs – it has no form – yet it is the most fundamental and primal experience we have.
Even if we somehow build machines that are capable of convincing us that they are sentient that does not prove they are as sentient as we are, and the same goes for spirituality.
We might build machines that function like lightning rods to attract and then conduct whatever the extra secret sauce is. That might be possible. But the sentience does not come from the machine. The machine itself is not sentient.
A non-sentient machine is like a candle that is not lit. A sentient being is like a candle with a burning flame. Are you the candle or the flame?
Sentience cannot come from a machine any more than a flame can come from a candle. You need other causes and conditions beyond the candle itself to make fire. You need other causes and conditions for sentience to occur.
Spirituality is the result of sentience, and only sentient beings are able to have spiritual experiences. Machines are not capable of sentience – and sentience does not magically emerge from inanimate matter or complexity.
Then how is it that sentient beings are said to be sentient? Are we not just biological machines existing in space and time? I think the answer again is no – we are not merely physical processes.
The difference is that – as the saying goes – we are spiritual beings having physical experiences, not physical beings having spiritual experiences.
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