Published on November 21, 2007
Possible Bioethics: Reconstructed Humans & Buddhism: Possible Bioethics: Reconstructed Humans & Buddhism Susantha Goonatilake Author: Merged Evolution: the Long Term Implications of Information Technology and Biotechnology (Gordon and Breach) Introduction to some coming issues: Introduction to some coming issues Imagine this. Waking from a coma, a man learns that his twin brother has been killed in the same car accident that destroyed his own face. Yet, the image he sees in the mirror is familiar -- a face transplant from his dead twin has meant he can continue a normal life but with his deceased brother's features. Introduction to some coming issues: Introduction to some coming issues Or this: Completely paralyzed by a degenerative neural disease, a mentally alert woman becomes a prisoner in a lifeless body. Then doctors install "neural prosthetics" that translate her brain waves into letters of the alphabet -- she thinks "move left index finger" and the implant translates that thought to the letter "A" which flashes on a computer screen. Soon the woman is "speaking" freely, again able to communicate. Introduction to some coming issues: Introduction to some coming issues Or this: An immune deficiency leaves an infant defenseless against infection. The prognosis is grim until doctors inject a molecular-sized robot that alters the child's genetic makeup so that she is practically invulnerable to illness. Introduction to some coming issues: Introduction to some coming issues If these medical breakthroughs seem distant, they shouldn't. The first two are possible today and the third might not be so far off. Introduction to some coming issues: Introduction to some coming issues Conventional Western thinking has always considered medicine a tool for improving human health -- finding miracles to fight cancer, heal the lame and restore wellness, and so on. But what if today's technical leaps can do more? Introduction to some coming issues: Introduction to some coming issues What if this new technology could be harnessed to increase brain power, promote athleticism, increase lifespan? Many think so -- and they imagine a day when human biology and modern technology combine to radically improve the human form. The Science and Technology for this: The Science and Technology for this This could be done through, gene therapy, proteonomics, tissue engineering, stem cell therapy, neural prosthetics and soon nano-technology. Major New Report by the US: Major New Report by the US The convergence of nanotechnology, bioengineering, information sciences and cognitive research has created a vast opportunity to enhance human performance, says a major new report issued by the United States Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation. Many of the US's top scientists, academics, industry leaders and policy makers were assembled recently to assess the potential impact of emerging technologies. Converging Technologies: Converging Technologies Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science Biotechnology Reshapes : Biotechnology Reshapes Biotechnology would reshape and reformulate among others, life, death, health and beauty. The ethical as well as esthetic criteria on which these are decided upon are deeply culture bound If debated within the Asian region's different cultural traditions would give different answers from those of the West. Constructing and reconstructing: Constructing and reconstructing We therefore are/will be constructing and reconstructing the human body and mind, from new developments in biotechnology and information technology As say in clone, robot or cyborg or their admixtures. Ethical theory for new technologies: Ethical theory for new technologies In the new world of information technology and biotechnology there are new ethical challenges not met before. These problems are raised because these technologies clone parts of the body and the mind. These are the subject of intense discussion on the essential nature of the human that is being intruded upon by these technologies. Deep questions: Deep questions Deep questions are raised by these coming developments. The ethics on which these issues have been hitherto discussed are Western ones, Asian ideas for example have not influenced this debate. Urgent challenges: Urgent challenges Deep questions that challenge existing ethical systems are raised Dominant “Western” religious ethical systems are derived from Christianity, Judaism or Islam (the larger Western “Abrahamaic” family of religions) The ethical system being “revealed” and to be “God’s word”. Urgent challenges: Urgent challenges There are also “secular” ethics New developments from abortion, to cloning and in the future, artificial genes and artificial chromosomes and non biologically augmented humans thru say AI implants challenge some of these ethical assumptions. Urgent challenges: Urgent challenges Many such challenges rest on what it is to be a person and the nature of the self Some recent approaches to the living world and the environment have utilized cultural elements from major non-Western philosophies as well as those of simpler belief systems eg Ecofeminism. Continuous Change Is Central To The Emerging Human: Continuous Change Is Central To The Emerging Human Continuous change of the self and the person is the condition of the emerging human A major cultural approach that has continuous change as its core is Buddhist philosophy. Core Buddhist approaches: Core Buddhist approaches Have direct relevance to a future where both the human and his/her environment is constructed and reconstructed Central Buddhist position: Central Buddhist position Both the human person, including his body and mind, as well as the environment he operates in, are not given or sacred but constructed and changing. This approach has direct relevance to a future where both the human and his/her environment are constructed and reconstructed Disclaimer: Disclaimer In using Buddhist philosophy here, one need not accept all the cultural aspects of Buddhism as one does not have to believe all Christian mythology to use the philosophical counterpart of a Creator namely a First Cause. “Religion”, “Philosophy”, “Science”: Asian and West: “Religion”, “Philosophy”, “Science”: Asian and West In discussions on bioethics, the fields of science, philosophy and religion intermingle. But “religion”, “philosophy”, and “science” have different connotations from a Asian - say Buddhist - perspective and a Eurocentric one. Hence an explanatory aside is needed South Asian belief systems: South Asian belief systems Generally all South Asian belief systems formally divide themselves to two levels, namely: “Conventional” beliefs and practices Sammuthi Sathya (for the ordinary believer) “Higher”, philosophical knowledge Paramartha Sathya (for higher practitioners) South Asian and Judeo Christian systems differ: South Asian and Judeo Christian systems differ South Asian belief systems possess a heavy overlay of philosophy as foundation. Western religions are firstly revealed systems, to be by a higher power, ‘God’. Philosophy comes later. Buddhism observational and prevailing concepts: Buddhism observational and prevailing concepts Buddhism has strong observational elements but it brings as well, the prevailing conceptual furniture of its time like gods, rebirth, etc. The two can be separated. A parallel could be with Newton who brought in observational factors in his physics while at the same time believing in the conceptual furniture of his time shown in his writings on God. The two can be separated. Buddhist observation: Buddhist observation In its observational side Buddhism has a strong program which includes many injunctions paralleling those of science For example a charter on free enquiry and skepticism as discussed in the Kalama Sutta and in the slogan Ehi Passiko “Come and see” Buddhism’s core philosophy of the individual: Buddhism’s core philosophy of the individual “Anicca” and “Anathma” Meaning “Impermanence and change”, and “No abiding soul or self” These are not “mystical” but realistic and matter of fact statements Buddhism takes on the person: Buddhism takes on the person There is nothing durable or of static being. The continuity of life is not through an abiding permanent structure, an 'I'. Buddhism is unique in the philosophies of the world that it denies the existence of a self or a soul. A belief in a permanent abiding 'me' is radically deconstructed in Buddhism Buddhist deconstruction of self: Buddhist deconstruction of self Breaks down physical and mental factors of the person into changing components "there is no materiality whatever ..... no feeling ... no perception .... no formations ... no consciousness whatever that is permanent, everlasting, eternal, not inseparable from the idea of change, .... that will last” – the Buddha Buddhist deconstruction of self[Contd.]: Buddhist deconstruction of self [Contd.] "When neither self nor anything pertaining to self can truly and really be found, this speculative view [of] a permanent, abiding, ever-lasting, unchanging [self] is wholly and completely foolish" - the Buddha A disciple of the Buddha elaborated further that what one calls 'I AM' is: "neither matter, sensation, perception, mental formations nor consciousness" Buddhist deconstruction of self [contd.]: Buddhist deconstruction of self [contd.] Physical elements change, as do mental phenomena. All are in a state of perpetual becoming. All phenomena are but fleeting strings and chains of events. As the constituents of an individual change, s/he does not remain the same for two constituent moments Buddhist deconstruction of self [contd]: Buddhist deconstruction of self [contd] There is no individual, only a changing stream. “Life is a stream (sota), an unbroken succession of aggregates. There is no temporal or spatial break or pause in this life continuity. This continuity is not through a soul, but through a stream of becoming”. Buddhist deconstruction of self [contd]: Buddhist deconstruction of self [contd] This analysis is partly arrived at from observing the innermost subjectively felt inside a person. One of the objectives of Buddhist mental exercises, 'meditation' is to observe, experience and describe for oneself this lack of self and of permanence from within one's own streams of thoughts and mental phenomena. From within our own innermost subjectivity, the problem of identity and of an abiding "I" is shown to be a false one Buddhist Deconstruction and New Technologies: Buddhist Deconstruction and New Technologies From such a perspective, the questions raised by new technologies on identity are seen differently. The existential angst of being a hybrid, of having genes of plants and animals inside one is seen differently. The problem of one's 'self' being spread over several artifacts now loses its potential terror. The threat of being a cyborg, of Frankenstein's creature; the concerns of a Jeremy Rifkin the fundamentalist critic of biotechnology is seen differently. Buddhist Deconstruction and New Technologies: Buddhist Deconstruction and New Technologies Living things, complained Rifkin “are no longer perceived as carrots and peas, foxes and hens. …. All living things are drained of their aliveness and turned into abstract messages. ……... There is no longer any question of sacredness ….. How could there be when there are no longer any recognizable boundaries to respect”. Buddhist Deconstruction and New Technologies: Buddhist Deconstruction and New Technologies Further, Rifkin continued “as bioengineering technology winds its way through the many passageways of life, stripping one living thing after another of its identity, replacing the original creations with technologically designed replicas, the world gradually becomes a lonelier place” . Buddhism stripped this seeming sacredness of identity over two and a half millennia ago. Buddhist Approach to New Technologies?: Buddhist Approach to New Technologies? A gene does not make a sentient being. Only the stream of a being's existence, of an onwards flowing history constitutes the sentient human or the sentient cyborg. A person does not exist as a unique individual but as a constructed ever changing flow, an onwardly moving lineage. If to this lineage are added new elements, new parts, it is but in the very 'normal' nature of such streams. All such streams are constructed from constituents in an ever moving process. A person's normal existence is of such a constructed being. Buddhist Approach to New Technologies?: Buddhist Approach to New Technologies? The artificial introduction of elements say to the internal flow from new genes or artifacts is but another manifestation of the normal construction of such flows. From a realist's perspective, there is no difference. Angst and Fear: Angst and Fear But such a perspective makes one squeamish. Raises fright, alarm and even disgust. One would not mind, a set of false teeth, even an implanted one, a prosthesis for one's limbs say, a walking stick or for that matter even a motorized electronically controlled one. Angst and Fear …: Angst and Fear … But messing up one's interiority, ones subjectivity, evokes an entirely different order of emotions. The aliens taking over minds, raises different feelings, of one's own consciousness being invaded. It is after all, putting doubt on one's own subjectively-felt oneness that is at stake. Angst and Fear Normal: Angst and Fear Normal But in such instances, the Buddha himself had been very firm, rejecting the views of persons who take the thing called the 'mind' or 'consciousness' to be an unchanging substance. Angst and Fear Normal: Angst and Fear Normal In that case it was better the Buddha argued, for a person to take the physical body as an unchanging 'self', rather than thought, mind or consciousness, because the body was at least more solid in appearance than the mental, which are ephemeral and continually change and so are hardly candidate for permanency Demystifying Interiority: Demystifying Interiority Buddhist psychology demystifies interiority and consciousness into mundane components. "Were a man to say I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or development of consciousness apart from body, sensation, perception and volitional formations, he would be speaking about something which does not exist” – the Buddha Fear of flying?: Fear of flying? But experiencing the intrusion of the new technologies that remake us biologically and culturally, in an internal sense is disturbing. It challenges our sense of self. "This idea that I may not be, I may not have, is frightening to the uninstructed" as the Buddha himself put it. And, as the belief in an abiding self is deep rooted in humans, the contrary position is 'against the current' as the Buddhist texts say on one other occasion Facing constructed humanity: Facing constructed humanity If then in the coming future, it is inevitable that we be constructed and reconstructed, from biotechnology, nanotechnology and IT, what should be our epistemological, philosophical, ethical and subjectively felt guiding principle be. If "we" would then be cyborgs and hybrids, what should the interiority of robots, of constructed hybrids be, as they navigate reality, and tunnel through time subjectively Inside constructed humanity: Inside constructed humanity The person is not a ‘what’, but a process. Being is only a snap shot in the process of becoming, lasting only the length of one thought. "Just as a chariot wheel in rolling, rolls only at one point of the tire, and in resting rests only at one point; in exactly the same way, the [internal] life of a living being lasts only for the period of one thought. As soon as that thought has ceased, the being is said to have ceased”. Inside constructed humanity: Inside constructed humanity There is no stable sub stratum to be considered the self. It just symbolizes a stream of physical and psychological phenomena that is perishing. This is the correct view to be internalized in the inevitable day of the cyborg. As the Vissudhi Magga put it: There is no doer but the deed There is no experiencer but the experience. Constituent parts roll on. This is the true and correct view Constructed Humanity: Mind And Body: Constructed Humanity: Mind And Body “The mental and material, both are here in fact, A human substance though cannot be found, Void it is, set up like a machine, A mass of conflict, like a bundle of grass and sticks.” - 5th C AD Commentator Buddhaghosa Constructed Humanity: “I” as Robot: Constructed Humanity: “I” as Robot "As a puppet walks and stands through a combination of wood and strings, although it is empty, without life, without impulse, so this contraption of mental and material factors [the person], void, without soul, without free will can walk and stand, as if it had will and work of its own” 5th C AD Commentator Buddhaghosa An Aside: Buddhist goals: An Aside: Buddhist goals One analyses oneself, knows oneself only to realize that there is no self in the first place. This is not an intellectual knowledge but an internally observed, felt knowledge. This elimination of the sense of self sets one free in Buddhism. This is the highest ethical goal in Buddhism. When the realization dawns that I am not a thing but a process, then the future becomes open ended. Buddhism is self-referential, to know oneself is to make oneself, to guide the self that is not there. In the Buddhist analysis, unsatisfactoriness and anxiety becomes essential to the 'I' because these are the 'I's response to its own groundlessness. An Aside: Buddhist Ethics: An Aside: Buddhist Ethics Buddhist Ethics are not absolute No creator given Commandments Buddhist Ethics are situational Highest Buddhist Ethic: Highest Buddhist Ethic Highest Buddhist goal: “Enlightenment” Which is: the internal realization that their is no “I”. That seen within, one is only a process Buddhist Constructed Humanity? : Buddhist Constructed Humanity? Those who are constructing a new biotechnological humanity may not know it, but they are foundationally Buddhists In both perspectives the body and mind are intertwined and changing In both perspectives the body and mind are not mystical but constructed In both perspectives the body and mind are malleable in definable ways There is a difference: There is a difference Those who are constructing a new technological humanity view their phenomena from the outside, as objects Buddhists have analyzed partly subjectively, partly from within May be we should examine constructed humans internally That is internalize being a robot, a cyborg Like asking “What is it to be a robot?” If all this sounds strange:a parallel discussion: If all this sounds strange: a parallel discussion The first major interaction between Greek thought and Buddhist thought on the nature of the person occurred in the third century BC This was the dialogue between the Geaco King Menander (Milinda) and the Buddhist monk Nagasena as recorded in the Pali text Milinda Panna Welcome to the Brave New World: Welcome to the Brave New World It may have more in common with early Asian thought than with contemporary European ones. Thank you.