RE: Zen and the Singularity

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sun Jun 30 2002 - 21:08:11 MDT


> Ben Goertzel wrote:
> > OK Eli,
> >
> > Here is some straight poop for you
> >
> > I asked a Zen Buddhist abbot (one step up from a priest) whom I know
> > your question, via e-mail.
> I've always wanted to have a long talk with a knowledgeable Zen
> practitioner one of these days. But I understand that it may be usually
> required to spend a bit of time as a student before getting to talk to a
> master, and alas, I have not the time.

I've never talked to a Zen master, actually.

My wife's master speaks only Chinese, and neither I nor Gwen speaks Chinese,
so no verbal interaction is possible!

So, yeah, masters can be hard to get to, but priests and abbots are much
more accessible, and often willing to talk Zen with the outsider.... (This
particular order of rank is Chan, Chinese Zen... other kinds of Zen have
different hierarchical structures).

> However, I have already said that Zen is a special case.

What Aldous Huxley pointed out in "The Perennial Philosophy" (a book I
highly recommend) is that Zen is not a special case. It's perhaps the
purest form of a tendency that's present in nearly every religion. Sufism
is the Islamic correlate of Zen. Gnosticism was a correlate of Zen in
early Christianity, and Huxley cites many others in more recent

Nearly every religion has a sect whose teachings are nearly identical those
of Zen.

> If Zen is a
> way of looking at the world that is beyond desirability or
> undesirability - much like science in that respect, I've always thought
> - then within Zen a Friendly AI is not desirable or undesirable; it
> simply *is*, whether the existence of a Friendly AI is a truth that
> would be reflected in the internal experience of a Zen practitioner, or
> an illusion to which no attention at all should be paid. A Friendly AI
> might fully understand a Zen practitioner, but what would the
> practitioner care?
> The original question I asked was whether a Friendly AI, if a given
> religion were true, would be able to jump to that despite being
> programmed by atheists. If Zen as described above is true, the Friendly
> AI doesn't even *exist*. So that still works out.

What my abbot friend said was a little different. What he said was that the
AGI mind's intelligence was irrelevant to whether it would experience the
truth of the universe or not. Intelligence and truth-finding, in his view
(his interpretation of the Zen view), are simply unrelated.

In a sense, Zen is about learning to ignore your programming and simply be.
So it might be said that the AGI's prospects for finding Zen-style truth are
pretty much independent of what kind of programming it's been given. If it
has an inner stream of awareness, then it can focus on the truth of that
inner stream and transcend its programming, like any other mind. But its
greater intelligence is just as likely to be a hindrance as it is to be a

One thing that's clear is that Zen Buddhists do not generally think of
themselves as following any kind of "correspondence theory of truth." You
may make a model of them and say that subconsciously they really are
following a correspondence theory of truth (and you could be right), but
that is not how they seem to consciously view their definition of truth.
Because correspondences are part of the analytical and perceptual mind,
whereas truth in the Zen view is about letting all that sort of thing fall

-- Ben G

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