B. Alan Wallace, 03 Sep 2014
In an enormously compelling and emotional talk Alan once again tackles how scientific and contemplative communities have tackled “the hard problem”, that is how one can explain the relationship between qualia and its neural correlates. Alan first looks back on the 8th and the 14th century to show how Tibet was once a barbaric force that was then completely transformed by Buddhism. This brought about an immense contemplative culture and tradition that now reaches our Western/modern civilization by way of e.g. Gyatrul Rinpoche teaching Padmasambhava’s text “Natural Liberation” to everybody who is filling to listen with faith. All the while the European civilization was in relation to its philosophical tradition still nowhere! That it didn’t exactly “get better” in Europe shows the dominance of behaviorism in the 20th century and scientific materialism. Furthermore, Michio Kaku’s book “The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind”, which sounds very promising and is all the more disappointing and - if anything - proves that a theoretical physicist with no training in psychology, neuroscience or any kind of mind science should not write a book about the mind. As it turns out, Michio Kaku boldly states that there is a smooth continuum of consciousness from the thermostat (as the lowest form) to humans (the highest form). Thus, the human brain is nothing else than an extremely complex thermostat - which sounds very much like Aristotle’s theory (which is equally unempirical) that the brain is nothing but a refrigerator that keeps the body cool. Taken the absurdity of that argument (especially because it’s not backed up by evidence), it might come as a surprise that there are even more people who share that opinion. One of them is Daniel Dennett, a philosopher, who argues that humans are simply largely autonomous robots with no qualia at all! This is exactly what Descartes once assured Europeans of in relation to animals. That very view was then used as a justification for treating animals in such cruel ways that leave most of people speechless. The same view was then used to justify the violence against black people, Native Americans, Jews, and with every other group of people that somehow stood in the way of the dominant in-group. And as different as the historical contexts might be in all these cases, the argument always ran: “They are not like us, they don’t feel the same way we do, they are just animals”. The view that Dennett and the like represent is what Alan calls human racism as the whole of mankind is being treated like mindless robots. One does not even want to think about what atrocities could be justified with such a view of people as robots… Alan, however, ends on a positive note by quoting John Searle and most and foremost Shantideva to inspire us all to do our best to change the world for the better.
Meditation starts at 00:13
*Transcriptionist note for our listeners: Due to technical difficulties, the audio output can only be heard through the right speaker, the audio output for the left speaker is silent.
O la so! Let’s go straight in.
[0:30] As we venture into the retreat of shamatha, and from that retreat spring forth to the expedition of vipashyana, it’s ever so important that behind all of this, both the retreat and the expedition, the withdrawal inside and the venturing out, that the motivation is one of benevolence, the aspiration to heal ourselves, other people and the world at large. To find freedom from suffering and its causes that we may all awaken. It’s an aspiration of loving-kindness for all sentient beings. And with this motivation, then settle your body, speech and mind in the natural state. And for a little while, gently subdue your mind with mindfulness of breathing. [1:35]
[3:47] So having settled the mind, rested in some degree of meditative equipoise, a balance, a clarity, where the signal to noise ratio has gone in our favor, as you allow your awareness to rest in stillness and clarity, without being veiled by clouds upon clouds of rumination and dullness. [4:08]
[4:22] So to the extent that you’ve been able to make your mind serviceable, through the practice of shamatha, we return to the practice of vipashyana, engaging in the search for the mind, following the teachings of Padmasambhava.
And so I continue with his instructions, and he recommences, Likewise, let yourself check to see whether it [that is, to say, the mind] has any color, size, or dimension. Again these are all physical attributes, so once again, regard this not as a rhetorical question but as a radically empirical one.The mind can be observed only with mental awareness, not with any other of the senses nor with any instrument of technology, so use what you’ve got and examine closely. Does the mind have any physical characteristics at all, including color, size or spatial dimension? [5:24]
[6:32] Padmasambhava continues, If you say it has none of those, then observe whether it is an emptiness that is nothing. Is consciousness nothing at all? If it has no physical attributes, does that mean it doesn’t exist at all? Padmasambhava’s question posed in the eighth century, coming to light in the fourteenth century, and now again in the twentieth and twenty-first century - if it doesn’t have any physical characteristics does this imply that it doesn’t exist at all, that it is nothing? Examine closely. [7:13]
[8:33] If you say it is an emptiness that is nothing, then how could an emptiness that is nothing know how to meditate? [8:42]
[9:41] What good is it to say you cannot find it? In other words, merely not finding consciousness doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Not finding anything doesn’t mean that what you couldn’t find doesn’t exist. You just may not have tried hard enough or looked in the right place. So, does consciousness exist or not? Might it exist even if it has no physical qualities? [10:17]
[11:49] If it, that is the mind, is nothing at all, what is it that brings forth hatred? So, commentary: Doesn’t hatred come from your mind? Doesn’t it dominate your mind? But how can it dominate the mind or come from the mind if the mind is nothing, just and emptiness, a sheer vacuity? [12:13]
[13:17] Is there someone who thinks the mind has not been found? Have you drawn that conclusion? You looked for the mind, the mind that is really there, and you can’t find it. Is there someone who thinks the mind has not been found? Look steadily right at that. That someone who concludes the mind has not been found, look at that. [13:46]
[15:28] If you do not discover what it is like, that is, if you do not discover what the mind is like, carefully check whether the consciousness that wonders where it is is itself the mind. Is consciousness the mind? [15:48]
[17:15] If it is, that is, if consciousness is itself the mind, what is it like? If it exists, there must be a substance and a color, but are they forthcoming? Commentary: as you look into consciousness, does it have a color, any fast physical attributes? Does it have some essence? Is there something really to it, something substantial there? Examine closely. Does it really exist, consciousness? [17:50]
[18:44] If it that is consciousness were not to exist, you would be like an unconscious corpse; but isn’t there someone who thinks? [18:53]
[20:01] And then he concludes, Thus, within the parameters of existence and nonexistence, decisively observe how it is. How does consciousness exist? How does the mind exist? And he concludes, In that way draw your awareness in and direct it.
Let’s continue practicing in silence. [20:28]
[24:52] O la so!
To my mind the instructions sound incredibly contemporary. I see nothing eighth century about them, or for that matter fourteenth century, when this terma, this earth terma, was revealed. [It] just strikes me as incredibly contemporary. Padmasambhava gave these teachings in the eighth century, introducing Tibetan Buddhism into quite a barbaric country, frankly. They were, Bob Thurman calls them a rogue, militant nation; and he loves Tibet, and so do I, but they were a rogue, militant nation. They were a bunch of mean bastards back then. Man, they were tough! The Mongolians learned a lot from them, you know. Genghis Khan, and so forth, they got the cue from Tibetans. Before Buddhism came in, they were mean mmmmmmm. I have going to say something, but you can’t say that in public. They were tough! They just went around marauding Central Asia, beating the crap out of everybody. They sacked the capital of China. They forced the emperor to give one of his daughters to this barbarian king, you know. Barbarian, call it what you like, but, you know, he was one tough guy. They really terrorized Central Asia. They were not nice people. That was back seventh century. [26:16]
They were tough, they were really tough. Padmasambhava came in, he was tougher. He was, he was tougher. He subdued them. He subdued them and all their nasty spirits. All these diabolical forces in Tibet, he subdued them all. Shantarakshita, he was sweet, he was nice. Good cop, bad cop. Shantarakshita was invited by Trisong Detsen to Tibet, right? Please invite great monk, great Bodhisattva, great scholar, great, great. Wasn’t he from Nalanda? I’m pretty sure, one of the great abbots of Nalanda, a superb scholar, Bodhisattva, perfect monk. “Please come, bring in the flawless Dharma to our barbaric country.” And he did try to build Samye. [It] just was ripped apart, ripped apart, shredded, shredded, shredded. He couldn’t get any progress at all. The good cop routine didn’t work. So they called in the muscle, called in Padmasambhava. He subdued things.
Eighth century, eighth century, where were we, we Eurocentric people? We were in the dark age. We were a bunch of barbarians. That was maybe the nadir of western civilization for the last twenty-five hundred years. Probably the worst we’ve ever had. Eighth century, the Greco-Roman Empire collapsed into sheer barbarism. The only people really in Europe that were holding together, holding a little flickering candlelight, flickering, flickering like it can go out at any time, really, the ones who were holding together some flickering candlelight of civilization for all of Europe, they’re the monks in their monasteries. They were the ones, by candlelight, holding together, maintaining the richness, the depth, the beauty of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, tremendous civilization there, and the Greco-Roman. It was the monks. They were holding it together, you know, they were the ones. And then as the centuries went by, then gradually universities formed. But for so many centuries there, they were really the dark ages. There were kind of no upside to it all, except for these sweet monks, and I’m sure there were nuns, just holding together a whole civilization, but just by the fingernails, you know. So slender, it could have been snuffed out. [28:43]
So that’s when Padmasambhava lived, you know. And it was glorious in India, oh my goodness, that was the time of Shantideva, of Shantarakshita, of Kamalashila, of Nalanda, Vikramashila. These are the greatest universities on the planet. This was the golden age in India. Of Mahayana Buddhism, it was never stronger. It was sublime. That was the time of mahasiddhas, the great mahasiddhas, one after another after another, these incredible adepts with extraordinary powers. But His Holiness, the Dalai Lama so strongly emphasizing the Nalanda tradition, these were not simply a bunch of sweet people, who were really bodhisattvas and were really, really sweet and, oh, some of them had magical powers if you believe that. These people were mighty, they had intellects like Mount Everest. This was Nagarjuna, this is Shantideva, Chandrakirti, Dignaga, Chandrakirti, Bhavaviveka, Buddhapalita, the list goes on and on. These people were towering, these were the Himalayan range of the intelligentsia within the Buddhist tradition, Hindu tradition also, Argus, Shankara and so forth. Massive, really massive, and in terms of a contemplative civilization, best on the planet. [29:58]
But over there in China too, nothing to sniff at there, the Tang dynasty, same period, as I recall, I think it was eighth century, could be wrong, but I think so. Again, massive, extraordinary, very great depth, great depth, Chinese Buddhism was alive and well. Whereas Europe, we run around scratching our armpits, going, “Ooh, ooh, ooh!” You know we were really primitive. We were really pathetic. But things started to pick up with the late medieval period, the rise of scholasticism, the rise of the universities. We get so… Okay, let’s move ahead in history. Isn’t it kind of interesting to see, look, we’re taking a global perspective here. Eighth century - the pits, the absolute pits, and then we get to the fourteenth century. Now we have universities in the West, now we have universities, Oxford, Sorbonne and so forth. I don’t know exactly when each of them were founded, but around that area, around that period. But of course this was the time when philosophically Aristotle dominated. You had Biblical theology and you had Aristotle, of course other philosophers as well, but Aristotle was known as the philosopher. And Saint Thomas Aquinas, he put these two together, that defines scholasticism, which dominated the European intelligentsia for about two hundred and fifty years.
And so the time of Karma Lingpa, when this earth treasure manifested in Tibet and then proliferated, spread like wildfire, you know. That was the time when in Europe, philosophy of mind was dominated by Aristotle, you know Mr. refrigerator-head. So I think there’s not much comparison there really. Padmasambhava - refrigerator-head, you know, there’s not a whole lot of comparison there. And so Aristotle really stifled empiricism throughout the entire scholastic era, both for the mind as well as for physics. It took Galileo to rescue Europe from Aristotle in terms of terrestrial physics, astronomy and so forth. But then as I mentioned, then Gyatrul Rinpoche then brought this text from the eighth century to the fourteenth and then six hundred years, he brought it, made it public, so now it’s been available for ten years, the same text, in the twentieth century. So now it’s coming into our civilization, right? Arising first in the Dark Ages, and then in the scholastic era dominated by Aristotle, and now, our world. [32:20]
And so… I’ve been criticised sometimes when I kind of ridicule behaviorism, you know, John Watson, B. F. Skinner, and I’ve cited why. You know, how can I respect those views; they’re not logical, they’re not empirical, they insult the intelligence and deny our very experience. I don’t find anything to respect. How can I? Why would anybody expect me to? But then I have people say, “Oh, Alan you’re beating a dead horse. Get over it! The age of behaviorism - we’re over that. We see the limitations of it. Yes it was really stupid. Why are you still talking about that? It kind of fizzled out. It was a dead end. Nineteen sixties, nineteen seventies it fizzled out. Get with it Alan, wake up, you know. We’re in the late twentieth century, twenty-first century now, don’t keep on beating dead horses. I mean it’s unkind to beat dead horses, you know.” [laughter]
So, I listen. So I want something really cutting edge. I want to have something really contemporary because beating dead horses, they can’t beat you back. Right? They just sit there and rot. So I looked into something that was very contemporary and written by a man that I must say I find very endearing. His name is Michio Kaku, and he’s Japanese-American.
His parents were living in the United States, as Japanese during the Second World War, and they were both interned in one of these detainment camps by the American government right in Lone Pine, my stomping ground, the same place. You can see it, there’s a little plaque there, “This is where we interned thousands upon thousands of Japanese.” And the reason they were in prison, basically, was because they were Japanese, no other reason at all, just because they were Japanese. You didn’t find any… Oddly enough, go figure, can you explain this to me, that we had plenty of Germans and Austrians in America at that time, but there were no detainment camps for German-Americans or German Austrians. Do… Can anybody explain that to me? Because some of them, where they were one generation Americans and come from Germany and Austria, but they weren’t interned. But the Japanese, they were all rounded up, all of them. And put… And moreover, they ripped them off. They took all their possessions. They lost everything. When they came back, they didn’t have any possessions anymore. They were just put in prison for no reason, and then when the war was over, “Okay, you can go home now. Oh, you don’t have a home, well, tough luck.” [34:43]
So, Michio Kaku must have known quite viscerally about racism, because his parents met there in one of these detainment camps. This makes me very sympathetic because I abhor, I absolutely abhor… Yeah man, it makes me weep. Racism is so terribly awful, you know. And that’s Americans doing it. Right? So, I really sympathize with him. Well any of you who’ve watched American television, science programs, and so forth, Michio Kaku crops up a lot. Uh, he’s a bit older than I am, got this really kind of cool long hair, and I must say when I hear him speak, I’ve heard him speak a number of times, interviews and lectures and so forth, he’s engaging, he’s smart, he’s humorous, he’s warm, and he’s also brilliant. He’s a really outstanding theoretical physicist, recognized very early on, you know. And he’s been at Princeton, he’s been at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He’s been, oh, he’s been an illustrious career. He’s not just some little mouthpiece, you know. No, no, he’s the real thing, a very, very accomplished, distinguished physicist, and he’s also very eloquent. And moreover, I just get a really nice feeling from him. I think if I got to know him I think I’d really like him. Okay? [36:03]
So I’ve spoken about him as a human being. Right? And I mean everything I’ve said, everything. Well he’s recently written a book that has gotten enormous press coverage; they’re all over it. And I just checked out this book on Amazon.com, over three hundred reviews. So… And it’s really selling like hot cakes. And so this physicist has written a book and here’s the title of it, sounds really, really cool to me: The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind. Does that sound cool or what? It sounds like he must be a Buddhist or something! The Scientific… Man, I just love every aspect of that. The future of the mind, the scientific quest to understand, enhance and empower… that’s what I want to do! I want to understand it, enhance it, empower it and awaken, that’s what I want to do. I think he wants to do the same thing I want to do. Right?
And he’s writing this as a physicist now; it’s very bold of him to do that. I like bold. He’s being bold in a very unusual way, because I checked him out. All of his training was in theoretical physics. He has no training at all in psychology or philosophy of mind or neuroscience or any aspect of cognitive science at all, none, no more than a plumber, an accountant or a gardener, none. But he’s written a book on this, the future of the mind, which was pretty confident on his part. If you found a psychologist that had no training whatsoever in physics, and said the future of physics… [laughter] What are you laughing for? Nobody was laughing when I said this theoretical physicist wrote a book on the future of the mind which is selling like hot cakes, incredibly popular, mass media coverage, but at the same… Wait a minute. One was perfectly reasonable, whereas if a psychologist with no training whatsoever in physics said, “I’ve got a book about the future of physics.” you’re all laughing. Why? Does a physicist who has no training in the mind sciences writing about mind have more credibility than a psychologist writing about physics. Why? Is there some degree of prejudice here, a little bit of bias? Ah, got ya! [laughter] [38:27]
So he’s written this book that is selling again like hot cakes. It’s really popular, review upon review, upon review and major media newspapers and so forth and so on; and here’s his starting premise, if you like to know, here’s his answer to the questions that Padmasambhava was raising here. You ready for his answer? When you strip it down the bare bones, what’s the most primitive, primal, raw core essential nature of consciousness? What’s the most primitive organism or entity that has consciousness? Is it an amoeba? Is it a frog, and earthworm, human embryo in the first trimester? What’s the most basic level of consciousness? You ready for the answer? And this is taken very seriously by the media, by scientists and so forth. This is a real hot item, this is a book that’s really talked about. Here it is. You ready? A thermostat has the lowest possible level of consciousness. While humans, with our ability to move through space and project ourselves mentally backward and forward in time, represent the highest level currently known. So, basically there’s a smooth spectrum here between a thermostat and a human being. Right? And the reason for that is because consciousness is, what it actually is is it’s a feedback loop. It’s this feedback loop of information and a thermostat be a temperature then adjust the temperature.
And so what he’s saying here though, is for example a refrigerator, I’m speaking seriously and with respect, right? I haven’t used the word bullshit once. [laughter] A refrigerator has a thermostat built in otherwise your food would freeze or it would all get too hot so a refrigerator has a thermostat. Right? We all know that. And since it has a thermostat and the thermostat is conscious, you each have a refrigerator in your room, they’re haunted. That’s what he said. The thermostat is conscious. Your refrigerator is conscious. There’s a ghost in the machine so call in Consonia, “My room is haunted, it’s both in the refrigerator and in the air conditioning. It’s freaking me out. [laughter] I have two other sentient beings. You said this was a single room and I’m having to share it with two other sentient beings, the refrigerator and the air conditioning system, because they’re both haunted, because they both have thermostats.” And thermostats are conscious because we have it from this brilliant physicist, who is world class - Institute for Advanced Study, that is really prestigious. [41:02]
So, so, I get it though, a refrigerator is conscious because that has a thermostat and it’s a smooth spectrum, it’s just we get more complex, more complex loops of information. It’s a smooth spectrum from a refrigerator with a thermostat to human beings, it’s a completely smooth spectrum. Now the human brain is basically then a really sophisticated thermostat in a refrigerator which means that your brain is a refrigerator that’s conscious and Aristotle was right. [laughter] You follow the logic, right? So your brain actually is a refrigerator or at least the thermostat part of it, you know, and that’s what keeps us cool. [laughter] I’m cool, although somebody told me today that I really have to cool it with the passion. This is like looking at a fireplace and say, “You should be a lot cooler.” Fire’s hot, that’s just the way it is, you know. I’m hot. Born that way.
So I’ve got a refrigerator in my head and it’s conscious like a thermostat in a refrigerator. By the way, did he give any evidence for that? That is these feedback loops of information are actually equivalent to consciousness, that’s why you can say a thermostat is conscious. Is there some logic there? I mean did he provide compelling logic? I mean a scientist should do that, right, a person who’s a brilliant theoretician of string theory and quantum mechanics and so forth, you want some logic. That’s reasonable, he’s a scientist, not a poet, or a musician, he’s a scientist. So what we know is that there are information feedback loops in this immensely complicated thermostat of the brain. We know they’re correlated with mental states or consciousness. They’re correlated, so shall we conclude that if two things are correlated, which is a scientific fact, that if two things are correlated they must be identical? Well that’s stupid. I mean what else do we say? If two things are correlated that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing, that means they’re correlated then you try to understand the nature of correlation. You don’t just say they’re the same because there’s no logic there at all. And so the notion that somehow the feedback loops in a thermostat are conscious makes no sense. It has no logic to it at all. And then we can go, well but how about empirical evidence? Oh, there’s none. There’s just no evidence at all that the feedback loops of information in a thermostat are conscious. There is no evidence at all, and there’s no even way of imagining how you would test that theory.
So it’s not a scientific theory, there’s no evidence for it, it’s completely illogical; but it’s said by a very brilliant physicist and it’s being lapped up like puppies lap up warm milk by the media, by the scientific establishment and so forth. Because he’s a physicist he can say gibberish and it’s fine. Gibberish, I mean gibberish is something that has no logic behind it and no empirical evidence behind it and is totally untestable. And you have to start out with this one little leap of faith: “By the way, you do believe your thermostat is conscious.” If you believe that then you can believe anything because there’s no evidence for that at all. Then you can bring in Tinkerbell and Peter Pan and tooth fairy and everything else for which there’s no evidence whatsoever. So, why not? Why not just invite Santa Claus into the party too, you know? [44:51]
So, why should we take this seriously? And by the way, isn’t there something about consciousness, you know, actually the experience of being conscious? Were you able to interview the thermostat to say what’s it feel like to feel cold and to feel warm and then to adjust accordingly? What about subjective experience? When you’re reducing consciousness just to physical feedback loops of information, what about consciousness? What about the hard problem of… just the hard problem? Well here’s an answer to that. I quote from his book: There is no such thing as the hard problem. Okay? Well you might wonder what the hard problem is. It’s called the hard problem of consciousness - David Chalmers, very well know by people who’ve studied philosophy of mind. He studied philosophy of mind enough to assert, “There’s no hard problem. There’s no problem at all.” What is the hard problem? Here it is. You ready? The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why we have qualia or phenomenal experiences, how sensations acquire characteristics such as colors and taste. And that is, how is it that we’re experiencing anything? That is we have these chemical, electrochemical events in the brain, which are very well understood in principle by chemistry, biology and so forth, there’s no mystical particles in there. Physics, chemistry, biology, they will describe these complex interactions, electrochemical events in the brain where there’s only chemistry and electricity, that’s all there is. How do you go from that, which chemists and biologists understand, physicists and that, how do you go from that to your subjective experience? How do you move from one to the other? What’s the relationship? That’s the hard problem. And Michio Kaku says, “There is no hard problem. There’s no hard problem. It’s not an issue.” Is anybody kind of perplexed, like, why do you say that? Well, we can find out. [47:06]
He’s relying on the work of another of the two most prominent philosophers of mind in the United States and really probably globally. John Searle is very eminent, and I’ll quote him shortly. But another one who’s really the darling of the neuroscientific community and especially of artificial intelligence, they love this guy, his name is Daniel Dennett. And he’s contemporary, he’s not dead, he’s alive and well, very highly regarded, quoted ever so often in the press, Scientific American, New York Times, etcetera, etcetera. He’s really high profile, really high profile, and highly respected. Okay? So Daniel Dennett clarifies… He’s written a book called Consciousness Explained. I would like to read a book that explains consciousness, because I’m really intensely interested. So Daniel Dennett is really a philosopher that people like, Michio Kaku and the people in artificial intelligence, neuroscience rely on very, very heavily. He’s extremely prominent, very highly regarded, quoted everywhere. Okay? So here’s Daniel Dennett, if you’re interested in what’s your nature as a human being, you know, what is it like to be human. He’ll tell you. You ready? Here, I quote him: A human being is nothing more than “an assemblage of roughly a hundred trillion cells,” each of which is “a mindless mechanism, a largely autonomous micro-robot.” So now you know who you are. He’s explained consciousness.
But then you might wonder, “Wait, wait a minute. What about qualia. You know, we actually are alive. You know, I have feelings and thoughts and emotions and desires and visual perceptions and I hear sounds and so what about that? How do you explain that? You know, qualia. You know the hard problem, how do you explain that? Because Michio Kaku said that’s no problem at all, that it doesn’t need to be explained, that it’s so insignificant or nonexistent that there’s just no problem. There’s just nothing to talk about. So, Daniel Dennett, please clarify this for us. You’re really the most prominent philosopher, just inspiring this whole generation of Michio Kakus and artificial intelligence people and so forth.” And so I quote Daniel Dennett, There simply are no qualia at all. There are no qualia at all. Qualia are the colors you see, the sounds you hear, the feelings in your body, your emotions, your thoughts, your dreams, your hopes and fears, your ideals, your enjoyments, your hopes, your sadness and so forth. Those are qualia. Well they don’t exist at all. And he wrote a book, Consciousness Explained, based on that premise, that qualia don’t exist at all. Okay? Okay? [50:08]
Now this guy’s not dead and he didn’t live in the medieval period or in the eighth century, the dark ages. He’s alive and well and has enormous influence we can see on Michio Kaku, basically a disciple of his it seems. No qualia at all, I’ve heard that before, no qualia at all. Remember who? Descartes said that of animals. They have no qualia at all, that’s what he said. He didn’t say it in those words, but he did say that. Animals have no souls therefore they have no consciousness, therefore they’re not aware of anything, therefore they have no feelings at all. They are what Daniel Dennett said we human beings are. They’re just a bunch of cells, unconscious, semi-autonomous robots that have no qualia.
Now that sounds to me like, if I may say or so rather blandly, a silly idea. But it’s not just silly, that has justified the horrific things that human beings, especially Eurocentric human beings have done for the last four hundred years to animals. The way we’ve tortured them in animal experiments, in ways that you would just think absolutely grotesque but you shouldn’t worry about that because animals have no feelings; they’re not conscious. So even though they scream and they wail and they cry and so forth don’t take that seriously, that’s just an unconscious response. That was the justification for much of European history because they actually took Descartes seriously. And even in the twentieth century some of the animal experimentation is utterly grotesque but the justification is, “Don’t worry, they don’t feel like we do.”
When I was a boy I’d have taken on backpack trips up into the mountains by a beloved uncle of mine, he was a wonderful man. We went trout fishing; that’s what you do when you’re a backpacker. And so, I reeled in my trout and the task set before me was bash the trout over the head with a rock until his skull caves in and then… because that’s the nice thing to do, that’s the nice thing to do, bash it over the head until his skull crushes in because you see it otherwise writhing and writhing on the sand and so better bash its brains out. And I asked my beloved uncle, “This seems very harsh.” And he said, “Don’t worry. They don’t feel like we do. They don’t feel like we do.” If they don’t feel like we do, why don’t we just let them writhe on the sand? If they’re not feeling anything why would we bash their brains out as an act of kindness? There’s no answer to that. So that’s when I was a kid. That was not eighth century that was, you know, more recent. [53:06]
But of course it’s not just animal experimentation which they always justify saying, “This is for the good of us human beings and we’re infinitely more valuable than these rhesus monkeys and the rats and the pigeons and other animals that we give cancer to and so forth.” But also look at any of the animal factories, beef, chicken, pigs and so forth and it makes Auschwitz look like a pretty nice place, you know. But as justification I guess it’s, well because they don’t have feelings like us. Right? So that they don’t have any qualia has justified the most barbaric, inhumane and savage treatment of animals for the last four hundred years and it still does. They’re just animals.
But does it stop there? Some of the most horrific imagery that I’ve ever encountered in my life was the treatment by the English and the Americans in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century. When they would sail off to Africa, kidnap people, put them in their boats, and treat them… They created hell realms out of their boats. I’ve read descriptions of what they were willing to subject human beings to and it staggers the imagination. But it was justified by these Christians, they were all Christians, that they’re just animals, you know, these black people, they’re just animals and therefore it’s fine. And then we enslaved them for centuries after that. That’s okay though, but they’re just animals, but they’re not like us. So we see the smooth continuum. The animals have no feelings. The blacks are just animals. Therefore they have no feelings, really they’re not like us. You know, it’s importantly they’re not like us.
And then we see the treatment by the Eurocentric people, my predecessors from Scotland, Germany, England and so on, their treatment of Native Americans. They treated them with incredible savagery. Just wiped them out, genocide. I went to Amherst College. Lord Jeffrey Amherst, after whom Amherst College was named, very high in the English military, he treated the Native Americans on the East coast to blankets infested with smallpox to wipe them out with biological warfare. Because, “They’re not human, after all. So just wipe them out, you know. You don’t have to shoot you don’t have to spend bullets, just give them blankets. They’ll take your blankets and they’ll die by the thousands.” We have a college named after him, my college, Amherst College. “They’re not human, don’t worry about it.” When we brought the Chinese over to create the railroads, we treated them with incredible savagery. “But they’re not like us. They’re just animals.” [56:19]
The Jews have been pretty much a minority wherever they’ve been for the last 2,000 years until the establishment of the state of Israel. Minorities are really easy targets. Anti Semitism has been around for a long time not only in Germany and Austria, America and so forth. They’ve been treated, oh, the things that… Let alone just killing 6 million of them, but the experiments that the Nazis did on the Jews stagger the imagination, stagger the imagination. How could they do that? They look just like us. I mean they look like any other German. They’re not even black. They don’t even have different shaped eyes, they look just like us. How could you do that? You’re all Christian. How can you do this? “They’re not like us. They’re just animals. They have no qualia. They’re not like us.” So whether it’s racism against Blacks or Native Americans or Chinese or Jews and so many other groups, any minority will do, let alone gender, it’s always with the same justification. “They’re not really like us. They’re animals.” And then the animals are just one step away from being robots. [57:40]
So now we have people at the top of our academic citadel, people like Michio Kaku, Daniel Dennett and many, many others, they’re not dead, and they are saying not just the Jews or the Blacks or the Native Americans or the Chinese, all human beings, all of us, we’re all robots, mindless robots. Qualia don’t exist. All of us. All of us. I’m trying to be very calm here. But there’s racism against Blacks and Jews and Native Americans and Chinese and so forth and so on. Those are despicable, horrible, grotesque, utterly evil. This is not racism against Blacks. This is what I call human racism. It’s pointing the same gun but at all of us. We human beings, we have no qualia. There’s no hard problem. We’re mindless robots. This is not by some sinister, diabolic, psychotic sociopaths hidden away in some mental asylum. Right? This is by people who have endowed chairs, who are quoted in Time magazine, Scientific American and so forth and so on, telling us this is true for all of us. Human racism.
A good friend of mine, but can’t say good friend, but I know him, we’ve had cordial relationships, Owen Flanagan, again one of the most distinguished philosophers of mind in the country, United States. He said human beings are animals, you’re 100 percent animals, there’s nothing more to you than animals. Very respected philosopher of mind where animals are nothing more. Then it goes a step further, you’re robots and nothing more. There’s no hard problem because there are no qualia. You have no subjective experience. It doesn’t exist. If that was the justification for diabolical treatment against animals and Blacks and Japanese and Chinese why wouldn’t this be the justification for diabolical treatment of any human being. It’s the same reasoning exactly but now it’s for all of us. Why then can’t we not treat any human being with unlimited savagery because none of those human beings have any subjective experience at all. There are no qualia at all. I am trying not to burst into volcanic flames here. I’m speaking gently and softly. Right? Why is this not insane? Not only insane, why is it not criminally insane? The people who ran those experiments on Jews during the Nazi era, they were rounded up and killed, crimes against humanity. Right? The people who ran the concentration camps, rounded up, they were killed. Nuremberg trials, they were killed. “This is just unacceptable behavior on the part of human beings. You may not do this. We will kill you.”
I don’t want to kill anybody. I don’t want to kill anybody. But they’re using the same justification for all of us that was used for the Jews, the Blacks, Native Americans and so forth and so on. It’s not only wrong, irrational, anti empirical. I can’t avoid the conclusion that it’s evil. It justifies any inhumanity by humans against humans let alone animals if you believe this. But then we look at a person like Michio Kaku, watch him on television, see if he looks like some hideous, deformed, evil, sinister, terrible sociopath and he doesn’t at all, at all. I meant everything I said about him and he’s saying that. I don’t know Daniel Dennett, never met him, never debated with him. But a friend of mine, somebody I know attended a conference with him in Las Vegas. I don’t know why. I don’t think they went for gambling, some conference. And if you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, it’s kind of like the center of hedonism for all of North America and the place just lights up. I mean at night all of Las Vegas is just brilliant lights. In other words your qualia are just bombarding you, you know. And this friend who is not a disciple of Dennett, who actually believes in qualia, he turned to Dennett and said, “You really say that none of these appearances exist?” And Dennett said, “You really know how to hurt a guy.” I don’t think that Dennett’s an evil man. I’ve never met him but I have no reason to believe he is. Michio Kaku seems like a very nice man as far as I can tell. [63:04]
So what we have here to my mind is kind of like what I would call a psychotic split between your worldview and your life. What you say you believe and you’re advocating in your books and so forth, and then you go home and you engage with your husband, your wife, your children, your next door neighbors, your friends and there’s a complete disconnect. Like a profound bipolar disorder or multiple personality disorder of complete dysfunctionality of an absolute separation between the worldview you’re espousing and what you come home and live. Because I don’t think these are evil people at all. I have no reason to believe that. But because people are not evil that doesn’t mean they don’t espouse on occasion views that are terribly, terribly, terribly detrimental. So happily, even though these are very dominant forces and voices in modernity they are not the only ones. [64:02]
So if you go to John Searle, he’s another, again, as I mentioned before a very high profile, very prominent, very highly regarded philosopher of mind. I’m quoting from his book The Rediscovery of the Mind and he’s commenting on behaviorism, which I cited with John Watson, B.F. Skinner. Here’s what he says, I quote: The absurdity of behaviorism I don’t think that’s showing much respect. When you take a whole school that dominated Western academia for fifty years and just introduce it by saying, “The absurdity…” He didn’t show any respect. I don’t think I need to either. The absurdity of behaviorism lies in the fact that it denies the existence of any mental states in addition to external behavior… That is there is anything such as a mental state that is something other than external behavior. That’s the absurdity of it. [which] runs dead counter to our ordinary experiences of what it is like to be a human being. In other words, it’s insulting to your intelligence, insulting to your very existence and to common sense.
He continues, Because mental phenomena are essentially connected with consciousness, and because consciousness is essentially subjective, it follows that the ontology of the mental is essentially a first-person ontology…The consequence of this…is that the first-person point of view is primary. In other words, this is not one monolithic, single view dominating modern philosophy of mind or psychology and so forth. He could hardly be more diametrically opposed to Dennett than he just… that statement right there. He continues, Consciousness is not a subject that is treated as a worthy topic in its own right, but rather simply as an annoying problem for the materialistic philosophy of mind. Like Daniel Dennett, if you don’t know what to do with it, why don’t you just say it doesn’t exist. Then you don’t have a problem any more. “There is no hard problem.” Just, you’ve got a gnarly problem you can’t suss it, you just say that it doesn’t exist and then you’re happy. You’ve just obliterated your own existence, your own subjective experience entirely but now you don’t have a problem for materialism. It just puts a cannon to your head and blows your brains out.
And he concludes here, John Searle, Earlier materialists argued that there aren’t such things as separate mental phenomena, because mental phenomena are identical with brain states. So earlier materialists said mental phenomena are identical to their correlated brain states and therefore there are no mental phenomena, no subjective experience other than brain states because they’re the same as brain states. That’s one way of doing away with the problem. But he adds, More recent materialists argue that there aren’t any such things as separate mental phenomena because they are not identical with brain states. So, either they don’t exist in their own right because they’re identical to brain states or if they’re not identical to brain states, then they don’t exist at all. I find this pattern very revealing, and what it reveals is an urge to get rid of mental phenomena at any cost. [laughter] [67:38]
So, the dead horse is not dead at all but alive and well and its reincarnations, Michio Kaku, Daniel Dennett and a myriad of other philosophers of mind, neuroscientists, people in artificial intelligence, psychology and so forth who are ever so eager to tell us that all psychological problems are physical problems; the mind is nothing more than the brain or it simply doesn’t exist at all. It’s alive and well and very dominant right now. And so compare what I just read to what you just heard from Padmasambhava, and you don’t need to tell me, but answer in your own mind which is a scientific approach to the mind and which is utterly dogmatic, irrational and non-empirical as in the case of religious fundamentalism. Which is which? I mean, look where the shoe fits. Which one starts with radical empiricism and which starts with a leap of blind faith that is irrational with no empirical evidence whatsoever, such as, “The refrigerator is haunted. [laughter] Because it’s conscious.” You just start there, right? The Christians start, in the beginning - God. The Buddhists start - there is suffering. The materialists start - your refrigerator is haunted. [laughs] Start where you like. So there we go. Let’s get out of this before we all go crazy.
In the focus on consciousness itself within shamatha, that awareness of awareness you find in the Pali Canon, quite there. So that whole presentation of shamatha without a sign, the opening section of the vipashyana section of just resting on consciousness, looking at consciousness that’s there in Pali Canon. It runs all the way through Buddhism, Pali Canon, all the way through. So it’s common ground with the Pali Canon. Right? But now we’re venturing beyond that into the engaging in the search for the mind. We’re seeing how he’s proceeding. He’s not trying to understand the mind as a psychologist would, how do emotions operate and so forth but rather what’s its mode of existence. How does the mind exist? You can see the question for yourself. How does it exist? Not this mind and that mind. Mind, how does consciousness exist? Is it an entity? Can you identify it? Does it have qualities? Is it physical? Non-physical? Is it simply a nothing, it’s an emptiness or is it not? How does it exist? That whole mode of questioning, that line of research is common to Mahayana, common to Mahayana and I’d like to end this afternoon with Shantideva. [70:40]
If I’ve harmed you by quoting these statements without ridicule, I’ve tried to be very even, but I think you have some sense of the passion behind it. Uhh, let’s end on a more uplifting note. Let’s go back to Shantideva. Eighth century, same time - Dark Ages in Europe, same time - Padmasambhava. This is material that’s not in publication, so listen well. But I have put this on the web. He’s written a book that’s not so well known because it’s not been well translated. Translated a long time ago but it was very early days, not a good translation but it was hard back then. It was like fifty years ago. It’s his (Ṣikśasamuccaya) Compendium of Practices. It’s much longer than the (Bodhicharyavatara) A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life. It’s quite brilliant. And so it’s a compendium of practices where he draws very heavily on the Mahayana sutras, examining many aspects but he has one chapter, chapter thirteen, which is his chapter on the four close applications of mindfulness. And I’ve translated all of it, we covered that in an earlier Phuket retreat a couple of years back. And I’m just going to read here without much commentary at all, eighth century Shantideva, his investigation of the nature of mind which I would say would almost be like a commentary to what we’ve read here, okay, Padmasambhava, but separate. He’s writing from Nalanda. He was right there in the hub. He was at the Oxford, the Cambridge, the Harvard of India at that time, right there in the center of it. Umm, and this is what he writes with great erudition. And we end on Shantideva. [72:21] So,
The close application of [this is Shantideva, direct quote,] “The close application of mindfulness to the mind is discussed in the Ratnacūḍa Sūtra: [as follows… So now we’re citing the Buddha in this Mahayana sutra.] “Consider this, ‘While thoroughly experiencing the mind, what are those minds that become attached, or hateful, or deluded? [What are those minds?] Do they arise in the past, future, or present? Any mind that is past has vanished. Whatever is in the future has not come. Whatever arises in the present does not last.’ Kāśyapa, the mind is not found to be present inside, or outside, or both inside and outside. Kāśyapa, the mind is formless, undemonstrable, intangible, devoid of a basis, invisible, unknowable, and without any location. Kāśyapa, the mind has never even been seen, is not seen, and will never be seen by any of the buddhas. Apart from phenomena that arise from mistaken identification, how can one know the kind of process of anything that has never even been seen, is not seen, and will never be seen by any of the buddhas? Kāśyapa, the mind is like an illusion, for it apprehends many kinds of events by way of unreal conceptual projections… Kāśyapa, the mind is like the current of a stream, for it does not remain, but arises, passes away, and vanishes. Kāśyapa, the mind is like the wind, for it goes on for a long time and it moves without being able to hold it. Kāśyapa, the mind is like the radiant light of a lamp, for it arises in dependence upon causes and conditions. Kāśyapa, the mind is like the sky, for it is temporarily obscured by mental afflictions and derivative mental afflictions. Kāśyapa, the mind is like lightning, for it instantly vanishes and does not linger…Kāśyapa, because the mind produces all suffering, it is like an enemy. Kāśyapa, because the mind destroys all the roots of virtue, it is like a sandcastle. Kāśyapa, because the mind mistakes suffering for happiness, it is like a fishhook. Kāśyapa, because the mind mistakes the identityless for an identity, it is like a dream. Kāśyapa, because the mind mistakes the impure for the pure, it is like a blue-bottle fly. Kāśyapa, because the mind inflicts many kinds of injuries, it is like an adversary. Kāśyapa, because the mind always looks for faults, it is like a predatory goblin. Kāśyapa, because the mind always looks for its chance, it is like an enemy. Kāśyapa, because the mind is imbued with attachment and hostility, it always vacillates. Kāśyapa, because the mind robs all the roots of virtues, it is like a thief. Kāśyapa, because the mind is attracted to forms, it is like the eye of a fly. Kāśyapa, because the mind is attracted to sounds, it is like a battle-drum. Kāśyapa, the mind is attracted to smells like a pig that likes disgusting odors. Kāśyapa, the mind is attracted to tastes like a maid who eats leftovers. Kāśyapa, the mind is attracted to tactile sensations like a fly stuck in a dish of oil. Kāśyapa, even though one looks for the mind everywhere, it is not to be found. Whatever is unfindable is unobservable.  Whatever is unobservable does not arise in the past, or in the future, or in the present. Whatever does not arise in the past, or in the future, or in the present really transcends the three times. Whatever really transcends the three times is neither existent nor non-existent…” [77:39]
Shantideva then continues to quote. He quotes…
The Ārya Ratnacūḍa Sūtra also states, “By looking everywhere for the mind, one does not really see it inside or outside, nor does one really see it both inside and outside. It is not really seen among the psycho-physical aggregates, or among the elements, or the sense-bases. Since the mind is not really seen, asking, ‘From what does the mind arise?’ one looks everywhere for the continuum of the mind, and one considers, ‘Perhaps the mind arises from the presence of an object.’ Further, one ponders, ‘Whatever object that might be, is it other than the mind? Or is that very object the mind? If the object were different from the mind, then the mind would be bifurcated. On the other hand, if that very object is the mind, then how could the mind see itself? It is implausible that the mind sees the mind. Just as the blade of a sword cannot cut itself, and a fingertip cannot touch itself, I think the mind is incapable of seeing itself…’
Son of good family, furthermore, that which moves swiftly, ever so swiftly, without remaining still, like a monkey, like the wind, like a waterfall, and like the flame of an oil-lamp, travels far away. It is incorporeal, craves objects, experiences the six sense bases, and is conscious of one thing after another. ‘A stable mind’  is said to be one that is still, single-pointed, not agitated, not scattered, single-pointedly quiescent, and free of distraction.”
And then Shantideva quotes another sutra.
The Ārya Akśayamati Sūtra states, “One resolves, ‘I shall strive to achieve this, and I shall not lose sight of this ultimate reality of the mind.’ What is the ultimate reality of mind, and what is the achievement? The mind is like an illusion. Devoting everything to that is called the ultimate reality of the mind. Renouncing all one’s possessions and totally dedicating oneself to the purification of all the buddha-fields is called ‘achievement’…” [80:22]
And that is Shantideva’s presentation of the close application of mindfulness to the mind.
So it’s very interesting I think that for this long history of Buddhism twenty-five, twenty-six hundred years. Buddhism has a living tradition, a tradition that transformed society after society, civilization after civilization, and very disparate ones, India, Korea, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, these are very, very different and yet, one by one, transformed. Tibet, barbaric, rough, raw, transformed it into a country where three out of ten men were monks, six thousand monasteries for six million people. Where the best and the brightest for a thousand years went into monasteries, nunneries. Where the highest ideal was not hedonic but to achieve liberation thanks to Padmasambhava, Atisha and other great adepts. For the last twelve hundred years, transformed so many, liberated so many, awakened, brought out of barbarism, brought out of dark ages, one after another after another. Mongolia being another, really tough. Genghis Khan was one tough, tough guy. Kublai Khan - tough guy. That’s like the Sakya Panchen, various Tibetan Lamas come, come, come disarmed. Mongolia loses all its power. Buddhism was subversive to Tibet as a military power in the heart of Asia. Buddhism totally subversive, took all the gumption out, all that drive to conquer - took it all out. Mongolia, same; Buddhism came in, all that drive to conquer, to conquer, to conquer - it turned inward. “Yeah, let’s become conquerors, let’s become jinas, conquerors of mental afflictions, conquerors of our own obscurations.” Turn that inward, be a true conqueror, true destroyer of enemies, that’s the meaning of arhat: a destroyer of enemies. [83:05]
Enemies are not Daniel Dennett or John Watson or Descartes or any person. Enemies are delusion, craving, hostility. To destroy them irreversibly, eradicate them like smallpox, has transmuted. So, I find it so interesting that Buddhism that really remained within the container of Asia for pretty close to, well let’s say twenty-four hundred years, studied academically a little bit here and there by British, French, and so forth in the nineteenth century, but really until the mid twentieth century or so it was really an academic discipline for Orientalists. They would study what these native people believe, you know. So for about the last, what, the last sixty years or so we’ve seen Buddhadharma come out of China, out of Japan, out of Southeast Asia, out of Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan, Ladakh and become a global phenomenon for the first time in all that time. It took it a long time. But now it’s everywhere, everywhere, not dominant, nowhere dominant, everywhere a minority, everywhere a minority, right, except for in Buddhist countries, but everywhere else a minority.
So interesting that it should happen at this time when in a way we are so much like the eighth century, the Dark Ages, desperately in need of a Padmasambhava. Or maybe not a Padmasambhava, maybe Padmasambhava to come and subdue our demons. And our demons are not on our refrigerators. [laughter] They’re in our minds. You don’t need to project them out there, out into the world. Dudjom Lingpa, Padmasambhava, in The Vajra Essence he goes through that whole array of all these demons, spirits, spooks, goblins, and so forth and so on. They’re just an array that is populate traditional Buddhist countries. There are so many of them, so many different types I just gave up trying to translate, find any English terms. You can only say demon-spirit, demon-spirit so many times and we’ve run out of words and they have so many words, so many words. I just gave up and said I’ll give the Sanskrit, you know. And then Padmasambhava by way of Dudjom Lingpa, he goes through this whole array of all these demonic spirits, you know, and he said all of these are projections of your own mental afflictions. [85:38]
Subdue delusion and ignorance, you subdue all the mental afflictions, subdue all your mental afflictions, you’ve subdued all the demonic and diabolical forces in the world. But you have to be an insider. You have to be a nangpa. You don’t go on a crusade. You don’t try to kill other people who differ from your own views. You seek out this great Mara of delusion in your own mind. You don’t let it possess you. You identify it for what it is and you meet it, face on and you conquer it to the point of total obliteration, never to arise again, and then you’re free.
So here we are and the Buddhadharma has freshly arrived at our doorstep. Freedom is in the palm of the hand. Some very interesting time to be alive. The stakes are very high, very, very high. Tremendous potential for good. And we’ve seen in this reduction of humans to animals and animals to robots, tremendous potential for evil, much of it already manifest. The stakes are very high. So that’s where I wrote one book called Mind in the Balance. In the balance, which way will it go, you know? Will we go to the scenario of seeing the future of human evolution as that we turn into robots, very, very popular in the media nowadays. Some very smart people saying that’s our future evolution. We’ll stop being biological; we’ll all turn into robots. And we’ll be much smarter, much more powerful, but we’ll be robots and that’s our future, that’s our destiny. Some are promoting that in the media through the crazy thought. They love that one. And then another one’s like His Holiness the Dalai Lama saying, “Well our future is to accept universal responsibility, compassion, human kindness and to really explore our inner resources, to find awakening from within and to find a meaningful interface, complementarity between the strengths of science and the strengths of the Buddhadharma and other great contemplative traditions.”
So here we are. We’re not passive observers. We’re not outsiders. We’re here, right? We are participants. And how the future unfolds depends on us. Right, doesn’t it? Not on somebody else. So, the people… Can I quote it directly, “The people who are so crazy to think they can change the world are generally the ones who do.” Milarepa said, “The world thinks I’m crazy. I think the world’s crazy.” So that’s it. So enjoy your dinner, see you tomorrow morning.
Transcribed by Mark Montgomery
Revised by Cheri Langston
Final Edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti