Thursday, June 4, 2009

What Computers Can Teach Us about Intelligence, Logic and Life

If you’re reading this blog you use computers, so I suspect that perhaps you’ve had this experience:

You’ve downloaded or installed a new program and you’re too headstrong to open the manual, so you plunge in and begin to do some cool stuff until you get stuck. Some button is grayed out or some dialog box doesn’t pop up as you expect and for the life of you, you can’t figure it out.

Then, after hours of fiddling, you open the manual, click Help or consult an online resource, and the problem is explained—you have an “ah ha” moment and the process which led to the stuck point is completely clear and you get it.

Not only that, suddenly the logic behind the program makes sense, and your own prior assumptions and way of thinking are revealed as flawed.

So what just happened?

You were able to connect to the logic of the programmer(s) as opposed to your own and an entirely new set of goals and means of attaining them was exposed to you as equally valid—or in fact even more valid than your own previous perspective.

I believe that this is what happens when you meditate: you distance yourself from your own assumptions about how life and universe should be, and open yourself up to a different set of possibilities and influences.

Just as you ultimately have to accept a program’s logic over your own preferences (or uninstall it), at some point you also need to accept what life is offering rather than continue to think that your conceptions of how things ought to be must unfold.

This latter misconception is sometimes called ego and leads to much suffering.

Literature is filled with stories of kings and warriors who learned this the hard way (often running afoul of the Gods which basically mirrored their own arrogance back at them), and you’ve probably experienced a more mundane version of the same reality, perhaps at the bank, market or the dry cleaners.

On a planetary level our species is also learning this lesson, and hopefully it will sink in before it’s too late.

In Jacob Needleman’s “A Sense of the Cosmos”, he describes attending a medical lecture where a doctor claimed that in some aspect of human bodily function, “nature had made a mistake.”

Oh really?

That’s sort of like geneticists saying blithely that because they haven’t yet discovered its meaning, that a large part of our genetic code is “junk DNA.”

Oh really?

There is a field emerging in biology and life sciences called biomimicry that goes in the opposite direction, and embraces and models the designs in nature to create more successful products—for example, I think that a bullet train in Japan is based on the aerodynamic beak of a hummingbird (or something like that).

But of course most of what we are doing (mainly as governments and multinational corporations) is trying to bend nature to how we think it ought to behave. In our hubris, we are not reading the manual, not giving due respect to the obvious intentions of the designer or master programmer, and ultimately we may find that we are the odd humanity out of a system that expels us.

We’d better get with the program and realize that we are a part of nature, and that our ideas and beliefs are hopelessly flawed when compared to the big “What Is.”

Meditation, I think, is a great start. Reading the manual for humanity, like our genetic code, might enlighten our species some, but only if we recognize that before we start tinkering, we need to understand its ultimate objective, rather than our own (like patenting genes)—and consider whether comprehending such higher truth is even remotely possiblef or a limited organism and brain like ours .

But the best way to start is to observe ourselves closely and recognize the common fallacy of assuming we know better in any specific instance. Because if you’ve ever upgraded any software, you know that “the way you always did something” may no longer be valid, and that someone, somewhere, has a different idea of how things ought to be—and they may be running the show—not your monkey mind.

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