Thursday, 25 May 2017

Understanding the minds and motivations of the Muslim bombers


I wrote this analysis of Islamic terrorism as a meme-induced mental illness  four years ago.   The situation has continued to deteriorate since then, with the attacks becoming ever more frequent, and the latest one specifically targeting children, leaving little girls killed, maimed, mutilated and disfigured for life, with faces ripped apart by shrapnel deliberately added to the bomb for that purpose. 

Saffie Roussos, youngest victim of Islamic human sacrifice

The well-intentioned but dangerous delusion of the 'Religion of Peace'
It is dangerous and deluded wishful thinking, no matter how well-intentioned,  to claim that every major world religion, including Islam,  advocates peace, love and compassion at the heart of its teachings, and that all violent manifestations are a corruption of the original faith. 

- It is wishful thinking, because we are wishing that all the jihadists, and their supporters and enablers, are mistaken about the true nature of their faith. 

- It is deluded, because half-an-hour's investigation of the teachings of Islam, the character of its founder, and the history of its expansion, will demonstrate that the jihadists are correct. The ideology is indeed powered by hatred, intolerance, ignorance and aggression. Islam is an arrogant, expansionist, totalitarian and supremacist faith, commanded to world domination. It always has been and always will be.

- And it is dangerous wishful thinking, similar to the well-intentioned 1930's propaganda that the Nazis wanted 'Peace in our time', which lulled the civilised world into complacency, and allowed the forces of evil to gather strength. Hitler could have been stopped much earlier, and with far less bloodshed, if the appeasers had not deluded themselves, and most of the gullible public, about the true nature of his ideology.  


Malware of the Mind
Perhaps if we were to reclassify militant Islam from being a religion, to being a contagious form of insanity, we might find better ways of dealing with it.  Maybe if we regarded jihadism as a public health problem, we could use some of the epidemiological approaches to eradicating it that have been so successful against other contagious scourges of humanity, such as smallpox and polio. 

Using the public health analogy, we could employ immunization. We could deliberately spread the metameme (a meme about memes) to give immunity to more pernicious Islamic memes by stimulating critical thinking in Muslims, much like the harmless cowpox virus can block out the lethal smallpox virus by stimulating the immune system.

The mental infection of jihadism is transmitted by a collection of memes (mind-viruses), which when they come together in an organized, mutually-reinforcing system such as Islam are known as a memeplex.  A malignant memeplex takes over the normal mental processes of its host, just like a virus takes over the normal biochemical processes of the body to ensure its own reproduction and spread, even if it means destroying its host in the process.

As Nobel-prize winning author V.S. Naipaul pointed out, hatred of non-Muslims is the pivot of Islamic existence, and this is the central meme around which all the other components of the jihadist memeplex revolve.   The hatred is so psychopathically intense that the host will destroy himself in order to further the purposes of the memes. 

This isn't to say that all Muslims (and especially pseudo-Muslims such as Ahmadiyyas and Sufis) automatically hate us. It's just that 'Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them' is the pivotal commandment of the Koran, with the phrase 'wherever you find them' presumably including children's concerts.    

So the devout Muslim will always have this genocidal commandment ticking away at the back of his mind, ready to explode into Sudden Jihad Syndrome as soon as he becomes mentally unstable.   

For mentally unstable people who have been brought up in Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu cultures, the internalized commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' may have a restraining influence.    But for the mentally disturbed Muslim, the commandment 'Thou shalt kill!' has the opposite effect. 

From the Buddhist point of view, jihadists such as the Manchester bombers deserve compassion just as much as their victims, for their lives are also being ruined by this contagious viral memeplex of self-reinforcing delusions. A rabid dog suffers from the rabies virus just as much as the people he bites. 

And perhaps Buddhism might offer some hope of treatment for potential jihadists. It may be possible to use Buddhist meditation techniques to cut through delusions and weed out malignant memes even after they have become established ( more here)

And finally, another intellectual weapon against the ideology of jihadism is the theory of evolution itself (from which memetics and the metameme derive).  Islam is incompatible with evolution. If evolution is true then the Koran is false, and consequently all its incitements to violence are revealed as nothing but the rantings and ravings of a psychopath, rather than the commandments of God.   

Of course evolution is no threat to Buddhism, though Darwinism does raise some interesting questions about what experiences our body censors from our mind. 

See also Malignant memes, memeplexes and the metameme.
and   ISLAM AND BUDDHISM 

 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Rational Basis of Buddhist Philosophy




"It is natural that doubt should arise in your minds.

I tell you not to believe merely because it has been handed down by tradition, or because it had been said by some great personage in the past, or because it is commonly believed, or because others have told it to you, or even because I myself have said it.
  
But whatever you are asked to believe, ask yourself whether it is true in the light of your experience, whether it is in conformity with reason and good principles and whether it is conducive to the highest good and welfare of all beings, and only if it passes this test, should you accept it and act in accordance with it."

- The Buddha



Fundamentals

Buddhism is founded on two fundamental observations, from which the rest of the philosophy is derived. These two basic premises are:

(i) The underlying nature of reality is process and change, rather than stable entities.

(ii) Processes can be divided into two categories -  mental processes and physical/mechanistic processes (nama and rupa) .

Although mental processes and physical processes interact, mental processes are not reducible to physical processes.

According to Buddhism, the basis of reality consists of ever-changing processes rather than static ‘things’.  If any ‘thing’ is analysed in enough depth, and observed over a long enough timescale, it can be seen to be a stage of a dynamic process, rather than a static, stable thing-in-itself. 

This becomes obvious when we remember that the universe is itself a process (a continuing  expansion from the Big Bang), and so all that it contains are subprocesses of the whole.


The Rationality of Buddhism
Of course most religions don't like having their basic tenets subjected to searching analysis, and Jihadism has abandoned reason altogether, to the extent that you're likely to get your head chopped off for being too rational.
But Buddhism is different. In the Kalama Sutra, Buddha said that all religious teachings, including his own should...

(1) Not be believed on the basis of religious authority, or 'holy' books, or family/tribal tradition, or even coercion and intimidation by the mob.

BUT INSTEAD ONE SHOULD

(2) Test the methodology by personal experience. Does it do what it says on the box?

(3) Is the philosophy rational? Or does it require you to believe six impossible things before breakfast?

(4) Judge the tree by its fruits. Is it beneficial, or does it tell you to act against your conscience and 'The Golden Rule'.

 

Reason versus revelation
One advantage of establishing a rational basis for Buddhism is that it gives Buddhism an 'intellectual respectability' at a time when the intellectual prestige of other religions is in steep decline, due to increasing obscurantism, which takes variety of forms varying from creationist anti-science to outright terrorism.

This 'intellectual respectability' also may help to prevent Buddhism being hit by collateral damage from increasing prejudice against all religions resulting from jihadist aggression.

Most religions contain some 'revealed doctrines' or 'dogmas', which were revealed long ago to one person or a few people, and then not to any others.

In all religions other than Buddhism, these ancient, unprovable, unrepeatable revelations are fundamental articles of faith on which the rest of the belief-system is constructed.

In contrast, Buddhism's fundamental doctrines are accessible to reason and investigation in terms of shared, repeatable, reproducible experience... full article



 

Friday, 10 March 2017

Sentience, suffering, and the futile quest for homeostasis


The first priority of all living organisms is to maintain a steady state, known as homeostasis - the regulated stability of structures, organs and internal systems that allows life to continue.

All living things need to protect and maintain a minimum functioning structure to survive.    An animal deprived of functioning limbs, or a plant deprived of leaves, will soon die. 




Metabolic homeostasis

In addition, all organisms need to regulate a complex set of interacting metabolic chemical reactions. 

From the simplest unicellular organisms to the most complex plants and animals, internal processes operate to keep conditions within tight limits to allow these reactions to proceed. Homeostatic processes act at the level of the cell, the tissue, and the organ, as well as for the organism as a whole.  
 
Maintenance of homeostasis requires a continuing input of energy in the form of food for animals, and sunlight for plants.   If the energy needed to maintain homeostasis exceeds the energy input, the organism will die once its reserves are exhausted.  In terms of energy expenditure, you’ve got to keep running just to stay still.




In addition to maintaining structural integrity and metabolic stability, a juvenile organism will have a secondary priority to grow, and an adult organism a secondary priority to reproduce.  But without homeostasis, these secondary aims cannot be achieved.


Conscious and unconscious homeostasis.
Non-sentient organisms, such as plants and bacteria, maintain homeostasis by purely mechanistic processes, using automatic feedback in the same way that a centrifugal governor mechanism maintains a steady speed for a steam engine.    Even in sentient animals, many homeostatic processes are unconscious, and we have no awareness of their operations.



Automatic feedback mechanism

But the game completely changes when sentience comes into the picture.  Two non-mechanistic factors come into play - qualia and intentionality - which allow far more adaptive homeostatic control strategies than purely automatic feedback loops.

Qualia (singular quale) are qualitative experiences including experiences of suffering such as  thirst, hunger, fear, pain and so on.

Intentionality is the property of being ‘about’ something, of having 'an intentional object'.

So the quale of thirst forces the mind to become obsessively intentional about water, the quale of hunger forces the mind to become similarly intentional about food, and the qualia of  pain and fear force the mind to become intentional about avoiding the causes of these unpleasant sensations (objects of aversion).


Did sentience evolve, or was it co-opted?
Now the interesting thing is that neither qualia nor intentionality are physical phenomena (as was first pointed out by the Victorian physicist John Tyndall 140 years ago).  Neither are they in any sense mechanistic phenomena.

 
Consequently, there is no known process by which sentience could have arisen by Darwinian evolution.  Evolution can account for the physical structure of the bodies of sentient beings and their automatic homeostatic control mechanisms, but it cannot bridge the explanatory gap between the physical and the mental.


As Thomas Nagel argues, the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is incomplete, because it cannot adequately explain the appearance of consciousness.

So if sentient minds haven’t evolved, have they nevertheless been co-opted by evolutionary processes to improve the homeostatic behavior of animals?
Suffering, unpleasant though it may be for the individual, has survival and evolutionary advantages for the species. 

To quote Richard Dawkins:

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored."


Mental states such as suffering, unsatisfactoriness and pleasure are qualitative subjective experiences, which carry strong immediate meanings, and do not exist in automata - mechanistic systems such as relay networks or computers.

It is for this reason that complex animals have evolved neural structures which attract and capture minds. Fundamentally, it is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals. The physical body enters into a symbiotic relationship with a non-physical mind.


In Buddhist philosophy, the mind of a sentient being is not a product of biological processes, but something primordial which has existed since beginningless time, and which will be drawn into another body once the present one has died. But reflecting on Richard Dawkins' description of the horrors of Samsara, it's surprising that sentient minds allow themselves to be co-opted by biological systems again and again. Maybe they've got no choice, maybe they're deluded, or maybe they just don't know how to get out.

The brain is a device which has evolved to delude the mind.
It could also be argued that in addition to biochemical and physiological mechanisms for maintaining homeostasis, evolution has also given sentient beings a psychological homeostatic mechanism by constructing the illusion of a stable self, which can and must be maintained.

This false sense of a stable self is, of course, a delusion, though from the evolutionary point of view, a very useful one.


Survival advantages of sentience
In evolutionary terms, any adaptation or feature must have some selective benefit for the organism that possesses it. Obviously, a physical body equipped with sentience will have an improved chance of surviving to propagate its genes over any mindless competitor which is not deterred by pain or motivated by pleasure.

But what does the mind gain from this symbiotic association?   Usually little or nothing. 

When the life of the biological partner comes to an end, the mind has to endure the sufferings of death and then leave its home, being unable to take anything with it. It must then enter the unstable hallucinatory state of the bardo,  and perhaps soon after find a new body


Or even worse, if it doesn't find a new body quickly, it may stay in a nightmarish state of karmically induced hallucinations - a perpetual bad trip that lasts indefinitely: 'for in that sleep of death what dreams may come...'.

Parasitic body, parasitized mind?

In Buddhist terminology these minds are wanderers or migrators in samsara (the realms of suffering and delusions). The mind is non-evolved and non-evolving, at least not by the normal processes of natural selection. The body uses the mind for its own purposes, not vice versa as we may like to imagine.
 

So, perhaps the relationship between mind and body is more one of parasitism than symbiosis. The biological body gets a better chance to propagate itself.  But the mind has to endure dukkha -  the ever-changing experiences of craving, suffering and attachment, that the body imposes upon it in order to force it to do what is necessary for survival, competition and reproduction.



Homeostasis is a mug's game
Since maintaining homeostasis is like running to keep still, sooner or later the body's systems will wear out, with the inevitable results that the Buddha observed on his ride outside the palace...

The Four Sights



See also Buddhist Philosophy

and Can you debiologize yourself?
 


Thursday, 23 February 2017

How things exist - according to Buddhism and Science


Impermanence

At a time when the old feud between science and religion is flaring up again, and common ground between fact and faith seem to be diminishing, one particular branch of Buddhist philosophy may offer some basis for dialog. That branch of philosophy is ontology - or how things exist. Buddhist ontology clearly defines the similarities and differences between the spiritual and scientific worldviews.


Impermanence and Process Philosophy
Buddhism is a process philosophy; it regards change and flux as more fundamental than ‘things’, or ‘things-in-themselves’

According to Buddhism, every functioning object is impermanent and constantly changing. In order to produce a change, all things must themselves undergo change.   This has of course been familiar to science from Newton’s times, with every action producing an equal and opposite reaction.
 

Subsequent investigations have revealed that impermanence is pervasive, right down to the interactions of subatomic particles, which can only interact by giving and taking something of themselves, usually photons and gluons.

And as well as going all the way down, impermanence goes all the way up, so things that previous generations regarded as permanent fixtures are now known to be dynamic.  Continents move, collide and break up.  Stars, like our sun, are formed out of debris of previous stars. They burn themselves out then either explode or collapse

So with regard to impermanence,  Buddhism and science are in increasing agreement


The Three Modes of Existential Dependence




‘One single rose arises from its causes, exists in dependence upon its parts, and exists as a mere imputation by conceptual thought.
There are not three different roses but one rose existing in three different ways.’ 

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso  in Joyful Path of Good Fortune  p349



This is where the difference between the Scientific Materialist (Physicalist) and Buddhist interpretations of reality become apparent.  

Buddhists claim that three modes of ‘existential dependence’ are necessary to explain the world - dynamics, structure and mind. 

Physicalists say that only two modes - dynamics and structure - are needed, with the mind being reducible to the first two.

In this context, near synonyms for ‘dynamics’ are ‘causality’,  ‘function’ and ‘process’.

Near synonyms for ‘structure’ are ‘mereology’, ‘composition’ and  ‘arrangement’

Physicalism is a reductionist interpretation of science, which claims to explain all mental factors in physical terms.  (There are also more participatory interpretations of science in which the observer is part of the system - e g Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics -  but these, whether they acknowledge it or not, are closer to Buddhism than to reductionist physicalism.)


Physicalism and the Church-Turing Thesis
Fortunately, for the sake of discussion, there is a clear-cut definition of physicalism based on the Church-Turing thesis.   To be a purely physical system, a phenomenon must be capable of being completely simulated by algorithms acting on datastructures (without any unexplained remainder).

Buddhists would claim that there is always going to be an unexplained remainder, because algorithms and datastructures are not self-interpreting. Instead, any assignment of ‘meaning’ has to come from outside the system.




So how does this apply to Roses?

The complete quote from Geshe Kelsang is


‘There are three levels of dependent relationship: gross, subtle, and very subtle. Every functioning thing that we perceive directly is gross dependent-related. For example, a rose arising from its causes is gross dependent-related. However, the rose existing in dependence upon its parts is subtle dependent-related, and the rose existing as a mere imputation by thought is very subtle dependent-related. One single rose arises from its causes, exists in dependence upon its parts, and exists as a mere imputation by conceptual thought’


Causality
We can easily see how a rose can arise from its causes - rose bush, water, nutrients, sunlight etc without paying too much attention to the rose itself.

Structure
The dependence on parts is a bit more subtle. We need to look more closely at the rose to appreciate the complete anatomy of what it is in terms of its parts, which may not be grossly obvious. We may need a microscope to see the pollen and cells of the petals. And the cells have components and subcomponents.

Dependence on mental designation
The third mode of dependent existence, dependence on the mind of the observer, is even more subtle, and is best demonstrated by examining the arbitrary way that a rose comes into and goes out of existence.


Not quite a rose


Is a green shoot a rose?
Is a green bud a rose?
Is a bud showing some petal color a rose?
Has it become a rose when you can see all the petals?



Falling petals


Has it ceased to be a rose when the first petal has fallen?

…or a majority of petals, or all the petals?


No longer a rose


Or do you have to wait till it becomes a rosehip until it ceases to be a rose?

There is no rule which tells us at exactly what stage it becomes a rose and at what stage it ceases to be one. 

The decision is a subjective one,  made by how closely the botanical specimen in our hand matches a ‘generic image’ or picture of a basic rose in our mind.   And the judgement will differ from person to person.  


A generic image of a rose in our mind


There is no fixed specification for a rose ‘out there’ that tells us when an opening bud becomes a flower, or when a fading flower becomes a hip, any more than there is for when a high-sided tray becomes a box,  or at what stage of disassembly Milinda’s chariot becomes a heap of firewood.


Neither is there any permanently existing 'specification' , 'divine blueprint' or 'ideal form' of the various rose species that differentiates them one from another, or from other members of the rose family. 

Looking back along the evolutionary timeline, the judgement as to when and at what point the ancestral rosoid became a rose, is quite arbitrary.


The Rose Family (Rosaceae)


The involvement of the observer’s mind in creating reality is very subtle for everyday objects, but becomes more obvious at the quantum scale of reality.




Read more at Buddhist Philosophy

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Why are our minds repeatedly trapped in the bodies of animals and humans?




Sow a thought, reap an action
Sow an action, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap a destiny


 
Why are the minds of samsaric beings repeatedly drawn into the bodies of animals and humans?  If the mind is capable of existing independently of the body, then why doesn't it do so?   What drives it to biological rebirth? 

Why can't we debiologize ourselves once and for all?
 
If there is a path to enlightenment which leads out of this continual cycle of birth, aging, sickness and death, why doesn't everybody take it?   If we all have Buddha nature, why do we always end up in such a mess? Why do we seem to take a perverse delight in spiritual self-harm?

The reason for this endless cycle of suffering is that we always have 'something on our mind'; and that something is karma.  The true nature of our mind is clarity, but that clarity is obscured, distorted and weighed down by the imprints of millions of nasty, brutish and usually violently short lifetimes. 


Our minds are deluded into thinking that happiness can be found in samsara, and though it has never worked in the past, this time we'll finally get it right. So after death we are drawn into another rebirth in the biological realms.

Fortunately, we can accomplish a karmic detox of all this accumulated delusional crap, and bring about long-term mental peace and clarity, leading to release from samsaric rebirth for ourselves and others.


More at Buddhist Philosophy