IEET > Vision > Bioculture > Fellows > David Pearce > Contributors > HealthLongevity > CyborgBuddha > Adam A. Ford > Sociology > Philosophy > Psychology > Futurism > Technoprogressivism > Innovation
High Tech Jainism
David Pearce   Aug 10, 2014   Adam Ford  

Adam Ford records IEET Fellow David Pearce talking about desire and suffering in relation to Buddhism and Jainism. Published on August 09, 2014.

“May all that have life be delivered from suffering”, said Gautama Buddha. The vision of a happy biosphere isn’t new. Jains, for instance, aim never to hurt another sentient being by word or deed. But all projects of secular and religious utopianism have foundered on the rock of human nature. Evolution didn’t design us to be happy.

Yet the living world is poised for a major evolutionary transition. Natural selection has thrown up a species able to self-edit its own genetic source code; phase out experience below “hedonic zero”; and engineer the well-being of all sentience in our forward light-cone. Intelligent agents will shortly be able to pre-select their own hedonic range: its upper and lower bounds, and hedonic set-points. Posthuman life can be animated by gradients of intelligent bliss - a default hedonic tone orders of magnitude richer than today’s peak experiences.

Why Does Suffering Exist?
No one knows why suffering exists at all. To the best of our knowledge, unpleasant experience doesn’t play any irreplaceable or computationally unique role in intelligent agents. Inorganic robots can be programmed or trained up to avoid and respond to noxious stimuli without undergoing subjective distress. Likewise, nonbiological machines can functionally replicate the role of our nastier core emotions without their “raw feels” - the ugly implementation detail that blights so many lives today.

Fortunately, solving the problem of suffering doesn’t depend on our first solving the Hard Problem of consciousness. Neuroscanning and the tools of molecular biology are deciphering the “neural correlates of consciousness”. If we use biotechnology to eradicate the molecular signature of experience below “hedonic zero”, then on some fairly modest assumptions, phenomenal suffering becomes physically impossible.

So a practical question arises. Which existing psychological functions should we enrich, replicate or scrap? What kinds of function are best offloaded onto smart prostheses rather than biologically tweaked? Ideally, adaptations such as a predisposition to jealous behaviour might be abolished along with their nasty subjective textures. Such Darwinian traits have few defenders, even among bioconservatives. Other roles, notably nociception, will presumably be functionally essential for sentient beings to flourish for the foreseeable future - and perhaps indefinitely. Initially, preimplantation genetic screening of prospective children can ensure tomorrow’s humans are endowed with benign, “low-pain” alleles of e.g. the SCN9A(1) gene to modulate pain-sensitivity. People blessed with high pain tolerance aren’t vulnerable to the life-threatening information-processing deficits of congenital analgesia. Eventually, the avoidance of noxious stimuli can be offloaded onto smart inorganic prostheses, allowing life based entirely on information-sensitive gradients of bliss.

Sorry to disappoint, but the suffering the Buddha spoke of is deeper than just some sensory inputs which can be filtered out.

According to the Tibetan Dzogchen teachings, as I understand them, the root of the suffering of sentient beings results from the mistake of believing in the separation between self and other and the resultant fear.

Until augmentation permits people to experience the essential connectedness of all life, that is to live with total compassion, suffering will continue.
clfh, I wouldn't presume to speak of the true meaning of Buddhism. Rather, the brief historical quotes were intended to illustrate how there is nothing new in abolitionist bioethics. What's changed is the technology than can turn such religious and secular utopian dreaming into reality. I'm all in favour of technical advances that deliver Vulcan mind-melds, so to speak. But unless we edit our genetic source code, the biology of pain and suffering will persist indefinitely.
David, I just wanted to point out that, from a Buddhist pov, although pain may have a biological basis, suffering does not. Mediators can learn to experience (watch) pain in a detached, non-suffering way.
I just wanted to say that I enjoyed this article. I have searched for a religion I like and out of all the religions I like Jainism the most. Jainism is a very old religion and I like the idea of making Jainism high tech, if that is possible. Once again, I appreciated this article and look forward to hearing more.
clfh, just as the medical administration of morphine can detach suffering from a pain sensation ("I can still feel the pain, but it doesn't trouble me any more" the patient reports), some Buddhist meditators can apparently achieve a similar feat. Yet like surgery without anaesthesia, lesser mortals and nonhuman animals can't go under the knife without undergoing extraordinary distress. And sadly, Buddhist meditation does not recalibrate the negative feedback mechanisms of the hedonic treadmill or dismantle the horrors of the food chain.

Mwk555, many thanks. Jains are perhaps best known in the West for upholding the sanctity of life. This might seem an odd position to endorse for anyone whose ethics are secular and utilitarian. But history suggests that even the noblest ethical schemes have a habit of being perverted. Hence the need for extreme caution as well as boldness.
YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: An Interview with: Professor George Slusser – Eaton science fiction collection’s Curator

Previous entry: Bostrom on Superintelligence (5): Limiting an AI’s Capabilities