Artificial Intelligence and Wisdom
David Brooks in his New York Times opinion piece on A.I. published on July 13, 2023, titled “Human Beings Are Soon Going to be Eclipsed” quotes Douglas Hofstadter, “Hofstadter has long argued that consciousness comes in degrees and that if there’s thinking, there’s consciousness. A bee has one level of consciousness, a dog a higher level, an infant a higher level, and an adult a higher level still. We’re approaching the stage when we’re going to have a hard time saying that this machine is totally unconscious. We’re going to have to grant it some degree of consciousness, some degree of aliveness.”[i]
This was a good prompt for me to start writing my talking points at the “A Symposium on Wisdom and Pedagogy,” France, 2023. I am a scholar-practitioner of Śākta Tantra. The title of my panel was “Dharmic Perspectives on Wisdom.” So, here I am at my desk, having brainstormed this topic with a few dear friend-colleagues, thinking of levels of consciousness, wisdom, and Śākta Tantra. I will return to A.I. at the end. For now, let us begin with consciousness.
In Kashmir Śaivism, a text called Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam, (“The Heart of Self-Recognition,”), written in approximately 11thcentury by the philosopher Kṣemarāja, a disciple of Abhinavagupta, explains the nature of the individual sentient being in the context of the vast universe. Citti refers to “Consciousness”—a boundless field from which all things in the universe arise. Our own consciousness is a miniature version of universal or absolute Consciousness. Universal Consciousness tends to forget its true nature as it contracts into particularity. However, through the power of revelatory grace (anugraha śakti) —yet another of Consciousness’ inherent capabilities—Consciousness “recognizes” itself in the capabilities and movements of our own particular consciousness.
The English word “wisdom” may be translated as Prajña. But here is a problem. Prajña is translated as the highest and purest form of wisdom, intelligence, and understanding. In other words, Prajña is the state of wisdom which is higher than the knowledge obtained by reasoning and inference. Then what is wisdom? I cannot answer this for the vastly diverse Hindu traditions. What I will reflect on is what it means for me, a scholar-practitioner of Śakta Tantra.
In the larger Tantra traditions, we have the category of knowledge. There are two types of knowledge Vidyā (knowledge), and Jñāna (gnosis).[ii] I will add a third category here, which is, jñāna (gnosis) also has different degrees. The highest form of jñāna (gnosis) is prajña.
In the tantric way of living, we acutely focus on performing rituals, studying scriptures, delving into philosophy, and listening to narratives, i.e. our concerted effort is to gain vidyā in order to be blessed with jñāna chakshu (gnosis sight). It is the gnosis sight that allows for the binaries to dissolve and with this sight, we experience the interconnectedness (weave) amongst all sentient and non-sentient beings. The absolute union of apparent binaries is prajña, the highest form of tantric wisdom. Therefore, prajña cannot be communicated and prajña cannot be taught. What is in our control is to pursue vidyā.
So, what entails receiving vidyā with the hopes of being blessed with gnosis sight with the pan ultimate goal of receiving prajña?
The tantric path begins with dikṣā (initiation). It involves meditative practices and ritual training, shrouded in secrecy. A guru through the process of dikṣā begins the process of preparation of the corporeal body, i.e. the vessel of the seeker. All of us have the inherent ability to be aware of anything (chit śakti). We came from the pulsation and we continue to pulsate with the power of expansive joy (ānanda śakti). This allows for the power of effective intention (icchā śakti). Which in turn gives us the capability to know and understand (jñāna śakti). This in turn leads us back to the force behind creation, which I believe is prajña, the highest form of wisdom.
The elaborate ritual structures and meditative practices help with progressive knowledge of the false binary structures and slowly but steadily the gnosis eye opens. It is only from this eye, we receive prajña.
As a friend and colleague, Aaron Michael Ullrey, put it as part of my brainstorming exercise for my talk in France, “Tantric wisdom is an antidote to our current anxiety about thinking. Wisdom is not thinking. Thinking is not being. Wisdom is closer to being. Perhaps being is closer to wisdom than thinking is to wisdom. Wisdom, therefore, is authentic, embodied, self-conscious being … and that being may be accompanied by thought.”
Returning to, A.I., as promised, thinking is just connections but wisdom is a profound realization of the nature of being and consciousness, so no robot can really have wisdom, and it is doubtable that wisdom comes from thinking. It comes from meditation, rituals, and conversations. Therefore, I do not think a computer can have prajña. It is because it inherently lacks the self-reflexive awareness that it is a miniature version of absolute consciousness.
In short, A.I. develops vidyā. In the future as the A.I. become more and more sophisticated, it may obtain the gnosis eye (jñāna). But I do not believe it can acquire Prajña.
Now this whole argument of mine will be invalid, IF and when we can initiate the A.I. into Śākta Tantra 😊.
[ii] The opposite of Jñāna is Ajñāna. But Ajñāna is not negative. It is NOT the absence of something. Ajñāna itself is a category.