Thursday, 3 April 2014

Ultimately, Reality is Personal

Yesterday morning Rabbi Lord Sachs presented a provoking Thought for the Day on Radio 4.  In light of new research and development at Ohio State University into algorithms that identify human facial expressions, he asked what differentiates humans from machines.  A fascinating question to with which all worldviews must come to grips, but which I think Christianity handles in a more truthful and hopeful way, particularly in contrast to monistic faiths and philosophies.  Lord Sachs concludes that the distinguishing feature of humans vis a vis technology is the particularity of love. Quoting his former philosophy tutor, Sachs says:
We love individuals, not types.  We love what is unique and irreplaceable, not what can be mass produced.  That is what gives love its poignancy: its inseparable connection with the possibility of loss.  It’s what makes human life sacred: the fact that no one is a substitute for any other.
This calls to mind the dystopian vision of the film Never Let Me Go in which clones are produced and raised to ultimately perform the task of supplying organs to their originators.  Loads of moral and ethical ideas here on the nature of what it means to be human.  I’d really like to hear how monism addresses some of these.  From what I know of some of this thinking, reality and the particularity of the individual are supposedly illusions which would seem to indicate that the clone concept might not be much of a problem at all.  The particularity of love means that it is personal, that ultimate reality is between individuals/among community.  I think many people assume that the foundational notion of compassion in Buddhism is akin to empathy or love, but this isn’t the case.  As Marcia Montenegro explains on her website:
Many admire Buddhism because its teachings on ending suffering often include references to compassion. Compassion, karuna, arises from wisdom and in Buddhism, wisdom is "understanding or discernment of the Buddha's teaching, especially the teaching of anatta, no self." Compassion is the desire to free "all sentient beings" from rebirth. "Sentient beings" include all living creatures, including animals, residents of all the realms (similar to worlds of spirit beings), and demi-gods. One must be human to attain enlightenment, so compassion is needed for these non-humans (including demi-gods) to be reborn as human.
It seems that if the goal of monism is an ultimate reality where all life is freed from rebirth into enlightenment, then ultimate reality wouldn't be characterised by love, but perhaps something more akin to an endless void, dare I say a world of algorithms and nothing else.

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