And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away — Percy Bysshe Shelley
As profound technological changes sweep the globe, this article searches for the philosophical side of technology by looking at Eastern and Western philosophy for answers. It tries to capture different thoughts. Metaphorically, it appears we are all blind men trying to figure out the proverbial elephant.
The word ‘antarabhāva’ is a Sanskrit word that means a transitional or intermediate state between death and rebirth. In Buddhist schools of thought, the word Bardo means a stage where life is suspended between an end and rebirth. A state of suspended animation. If the world operates in cycles, life is traversing the Bardo and our attempts at recreating everything we know from atoms to bits is a timeless search for universal truths. Only the methods differ.
Traditionally, Eastern philosophy has focused on rebirth while Western philosophy focuses on union with a higher power. However, I see different approaches of seeing the same truth. Eastern and Western thinkers believe humans are alike everywhere, only customs and traditions differ.
The transient nature of our existence means that our education is not yet complete. The search for THE answer continues. Science and technology provide light while crossing the Bardo.
We are constantly tearing away at the fabric of life as if to unravel a mystery that is as old as our origin or perhaps time itself. When I look at advances in genetics, Artificial Intelligence, robotics or prosthetics, I cannot help but question: are these an attempt to recreate the world that was created by science or a higher power? Men and women of science may look to the Big Bang for the beginning of the cosmos while others may feel there is a different story.
Finite Memory In An Infinite Time Space Continuum
Think about it: how many people will remember us 10 years from now? You might say some. How about a century, or millennia later. If you extend your thoughts further, you realize it’s foolhardy to take ourselves too seriously. No matter what we achieve, we will remain a speck in an infinite universe that has limited memory defined by everything we can record. Some things slipping away through filtered memory. In short, laugh often because it is perhaps not too wise to take yourself too seriously.
As P.B. Shelley implies in the poem Ozymandias, even the legacy of kings is soon forgotten.
Lessons From Technology
The human genome project, CRISPR CAS 9 and the Chan Zuckerberg Human Cell Atlas initiative seem to be attempts at understanding and perhaps, recreating life as we know it. In a similar vein, AI is an attempt to mimick the human brain.
Blockchains, Quantum Computing, Internet of Things and the Internet of Value can be viewed as attempts to create a parallel virtual ecosystem that mirrors the natural ecosystem.
It is uncanny to see our technologies searching for an answer to the ultimate question that HAL 9000 (in Arthur C Clarke’s A Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy) attempted to answer: what is the meaning of life?
Ironically, it will take technology to teach us what makes us truly human. For instance, it is only empathy that can allow us help our fellow humans in times of turbulence such as these when job displacement is on the minds of many. Also, in a post AI world, skills such as creativity, resourcefulness, communication and interpreting machine consciousness would achieve primordial importance. Again, the very qualities that make us human.
Maybe, the socioeconomic and political upheaval created by profound and sweeping technological changes is a journey through the Bardo.
Create Art, Play With Children, Search For Timeless Answers
When I say don’t take yourself too seriously, I am not advocating just sitting around and waiting for things to happen. On the contrary, I want to encourage everyone to create pieces of art — poetry, painting or even composing a musical masterpiece that will collectively serve as clues to what makes us human. Art can traverse time and can also serve as a memory of a long lost era.
To laugh often and enjoy the company of fellow humans as they journey together to discover the purpose of life is a truly powerful experience.
Ultimate knowledge could result in destruction that could lead to rebirth. However, in order to be reborn, we need to leave clues of our humanity behind to recreate a better world later.
If it takes technology to understand what makes us human, it is our humanity that will teach us what makes us alive and perhaps timeless.