The question of Mu

In Zen here is a famous koan known as Mu. A koan is sort of a riddle that a teacher gives a student to work on. These riddles have no definite answers as regular questions have. The purpous of a koan is to break conventional though patterns and, in a way, short circuit mind in order to access knowledge behind reasoning. It is a way of studying reality as it is when not reasoned about or understood by a human observer.

A monk asked Master Chao-chou, “Has a dog the Buddha Nature or not?” Chao-chou said, “Mu!”

That’s it. One question, one answer. Case closed.

There are of course numerous interpretations of what Mu really means. I suggest the point made by the master is this – mind will never stop asking questions, and the sooner you realize this, the sooner you know the mind, and knowing mind opens the door to knowing Everything. So why say Mu? Mu is not an answer to the monks question. Mu is a negation of the questioning itself. It doesn’t answer that particular question. Instead it answers the natural function of mind to persistently put reality into question. Mu is just another way of saying “God did it”. It is the end of further questioning. Now, the Master, being a Master, didn’t Believe in God or any other diety. Knowing mind fully, he didn’t Believe in anything mind told him. Neither did he reject anything of minds content. To the Master of Reality, there is ultimately nothing being wrong or right. There is just what is. Instead of saying God or Buddhanature is Everything, including dogs, he says “There is no definite answer to any of your questions, so stop asking”. The message is this – if you stop asking questions that require an answer where reality is reduced to separate parts with inherent properties, you might just realize that there’s a whole reality that includes all seemingly subjective and unique phenomena. You may be enlightened by the fact that reality is conceptual and understandable only to mind itself, but unknowable when absent minded.

But there’s trap in this, waiting to catch mind red handed. The reflexive response of mind when “understanding” Mu is to, yet again, trying to understand it. Mind cannot help itself from repeating the act of questioning. Mind Thinks – Oh, so reality is something else than how it appears to my mind. My experience is not of reality but of illusion.

No you don’t. You will never “get it”. You missed the point of Mu. Mu said “Beware of questioning reality because that habit of mind will keep it from knowing the essence of it”. Instead of “getting it”, you immediately questioned the reality of minds experience. You stupid fool!

Mu is relentlessly wrecking everything you believe to be important aspects of knowledge. If you ask “What mind”, you miss the point.
If you ask “What is real”, you miss the point.
If you ask “What is the point”, you miss the point.

You see, mind has to keep asking questions, never accepting a definite answer. That’s the very function of human mind. It is not wrong or “illusory” at all. It is perfectly normal and fully functional. You need not do anything about this response/function of mind. But if you want to know reality in its most ultimate sense, you must realize this mind function first hand. You must learn the essence of mind in order to understand how it “knows” reality. Mind gains knowledge by not accepting input as experienced, but by questioning reality as it presents itself in the experience of mind.

This is why a Theory of Everything can never be accepted by anyone else than s/he who puts it on the table. Imagine gravity being the cause of vortices in condensed matter. Let’s say that is essentially the creative force behind Everything. Whatever it is, someone will inevitably respond – Ok, but what causes that to happen? If reality is such that the ultimate cause cannot be caused itself, mind will never settle for that kind of Everything. It will keep asking – Has a dog Buddhanature?



On the object of subjectivity

Recently I had a great conversation in the Facebook Group “Strong Artificial Intelligence“. The thread was about AI-safety and people worrying about machines taking over the world. There’s a lot to say on that, but that’s for another post. What happened was that Dan Luba responded to a comment of mine, and in a way that had me update how I think about objectivity vs. subjectivity. Such feed-back is particulary useful and valuable, so I made an effort in clarifying myself, to both Dan and my… “self”. Anyway, I will paste our exchange of ideas here for others to respond. The definitions of object/subject vary depending on context. In this case, we are talking about it from the perspective of a human being interacting with its Environment.

Niklas Grebäck
If they only knew the only AI developed is totally stupid mega processors of speed and accuracy. Zero unpredictable creativity and subjective behavior make for useful servants, but a “threat”?
The useless machine is still state of the art in strong AI.


Dan Luba
That’s easily the best machine I’ve ever seen.

Niklas Grebäck
What makes it human-like is the stubborn rejection of input value. It seems to have a mind of it’s own. That is essentially what humans look like. Assuming there is no ghost in the machine, that there is no “responder” that “does” the responding, we are the same. The difference is in the level of complexity, and that our responding is plastic and dependent on continous conditioning.

Niklas Grebäck
Oh, and we have the response of deception. Read the paper and think about the deictic relations and how they are conditioned and integrated by means of language and “cognition”. Once learned and internalized, they become our whole truth. Unless you ask yourself “Who am I” and do a couple of years worth of meditation. Then you might realize reality pre-conditioning of deictic relations. Voila´, there is no separate “self” that is subjective. Never was, never will be. Now it will be easier to imagine how to build strong AI.
Not that anyone here will take note so I’m just saying.

Dan Luba
It doesn’t make any sense to me right now to deny that there is subjectivity. Dennett and the Churchlands sound like crazy people to me – despite the mess his religion made of his theory, I don’t see how anyone can refute Descartes’ starting position that “think therefore I am”. However, these days I’ve come aground to thinking that consciousness is not the fundamental element of subjectivity as we have assumed, and that information processing is all as far as the neuroscience and AI people need to go with their explanations or generation of consciousness. My guess is that subjectivity is for the physicists to figure out.
Niklas Grebäck
In an objective, physical universe, I have a problem seeing exactly how a subject “emerges” from the object. Indeed, there is subjectivity, but there’s a lot of things out there that are if fact not “things” at all, only physical events of objects interacting.
There are waves on the water, but there are no waves on the water. There is just “waving” water, and the water need not do the waving. It just happens.
If you look at a hole, you will never see it. All you see is what surrounds that which is not there.
No one has ever seen subjectivity, or the subject having it. All you see are continous events as organic tissue changes as a response to what happens.
If Descartes´had known himself correctly, he might have said “Thinking Is”. That’s the objective truth i.e. what happens (thinking) is (is) ultimately the truth.
But from a subjective perspective, there is the addition of “I”, as if separate from the thinking, and there is “causality” which is the event of a mental concept. You see, the subjective mind is an object that is evolved to “understand” reality so it’s carrier/body can “manipulate” the environment as an “agent”. If objectively concluding “Thinking Is”, there’s not much more to do. Reality just is as it actually is, and there’s no “I” to know it or affect it. We wouldn’t have built all this grandeour based on that.
Subjectivity is an extremely useful event, but not some physical entity in and of itself. There’s no one “having” an experience. There is just experience.
Knowing reality this way is of good for one thing only. It will help you solving the problems with both singularity and AI. Knowledge without a knower is at the heart of both these questions.
Buddha said this knowledge means the end of suffering, and he was of course right, but it can be useful even for people with no aspiration for Enlightenment.
Dan Luba
I agree with you that there is no experiencer as such but only the experience – up to a point, anyway. You have a subjectivity that I can’t experience, and vice versa, so subjectivity doesn’t seem to be one big cosmic experience, but rather it can exist in self-contained ‘pockets’.We don’t know for sure that this IS a physical universe. In fact, it seems to me that a purely materialist world-model presents more problems than a purely idealist one. It seems more difficult to explain consciousness from a materialist framework than it does to explain the appearance of a material world from a ‘consciousness first’ point of view. My point of view is that there is a subjective aspect to reality, just as there is a material aspect. It’s hard to theorise about consciousness in 2016 without sounding like a lunatic.

As for the wave and the hole, I would say that we DO see the hole and the wave, and it is our subjectivity that creates them both. There is no such thing as a hole – it’s a subjective concept, and we create it when we look at a certain arrangement of edges. ‘Thinking is’, as you say. And subjectivity is. And we don’t see subjectivity – subjectivity sees. The very notion of ‘seeing’ would have no meaning without subjectivity.

I think the self, the ‘I am’, emerges as a property of information pathways of the brain. The information itself has a subjective aspect and the information processing of the brain allows the generation of a sense of self from that simple law of (a new) physics. I think Searle’s ‘observer-dependency’ argument against materialism is a good one, except he takes it for granted that computers don’t already possess some form of consciousness. Christof Koch has questioned that assumption, and I think I’m behind him.

I think you and I are almost saying the same thing, but from different perspectives. There’s no ‘separate’ subjectivity that exists outside of the material world. I think we differ only in that you are coming from a materialist framework, whereas I believe we need to incorporate subjectivity into physics. I don’t think either of us believe that there is any need for AI people or neuroscience people to explain consciousness.

I’m not even sure that we disagree in our framework all that much, fundamentally. I think you see my viewpoint as more dualist than it is, and perhaps I see yours as more materialist than it is? I’m not sure.

Niklas Grebäck
“As for the wave and the hole, I would say that we DO see the hole and the wave, and it is our subjectivity that creates them both. There is no such thing as a hole – it’s a subjective concept, and we create it when we look at a certain arrangement of edges. ‘Thinking is’, as you say. And subjectivity is. And we don’t see subjectivity – subjectivity sees. The very notion of ‘seeing’ would have no meaning without subjectivity.”
This is the “problem”. As long as there is a “doer” of “seeing”, that is, more than just plain “sight”, we have ourselves a subject and a hole. As you point out, the 2 come together. What I’m getting at is the ontological level of existence, the one without concepts and creation out of nothing. From my viewpoint no one is ever wrong in the absolute sense. Nothing in reality can be wrong. But subjectively, we are all wrong and right in relation to something (an idea, a theory, an opinion, an experience etc). Only when we relate a and b can we go wrong. So subjectivity is innovative as we create a hole out of nothing. We relate the edges with adjacent emptiness, and we call that “hole”. If we don’t do this, there’s just the objects edges.
Again, the objective perspective is fundamentally useless, and that is why it is always overlooked. Nothing can be done with it. It just is. A subjective perspective can be used to build knowledge and civilizations for example.