The Findable Cyborg Part 3

It [Buddhist logic]  admitted nothing but the transient flow of evanescent events and their final eternal quiescence in Nirvana.  Reality according to Buddhists is kinetic, not static, but logic, on the other hand, imagines a reality stabilized in concept and names.  The ultimate aim of Buddhist logic is to explain the relation between a moving reality and the static constructions of thought.

Buddhist Logic T.H. Stcherbatsky*

In The Findable Cyborg, I suggested that findability is the quality uniting staticness and movement  in Heidegger’s Standing Reserve/Enframing.  This findability might perhaps be thought of not as a framed photograph, but rather as the movies or videos Cyborgs view on framed screens, silver or electronic.   Screens though are needed only as the framing device.  The kineograh (flip book) embodies the principle.

We can view the  pages or frames either as a series of discrete images or as fluid unified experience.  In both cases, the image(s) are a set, a Standing Reserve, placed in a perceptual frame.  The frame though is only a device to facilitate perception.   Every time a Cyborg views the kineograph, the order of the pages is different.

An important feature of this static movement, this findability, is the flexibility, dynamism of the assessment of objects, persons and process. Their relative importance changes over time with no particular assessment definative.  What is found changes.  What was previously found is not lost or forgotten, but rather no longer selected, viewed, or spoken.

It is as if the order of the pages of the kineograph had no importance at all.  Pages can be reordered, eliminated, added, or replaced by something different.  Any narrative of the images viewed in motion arises only as an epiphenonoma of this constant updating.  Only the findability of each element is important.

The technological understanding of Being encounters the revealing of Being as a challenge.  Responding to this, it seeks to make everything findable, available to, in Harraway’s phrase, the “unhindered instrumental power” of the Cyborg.

*T.H. Stcherbatsky (1866-1942), a Russian Indologist, is important in the development of Buddhist Studies in the West.


The Unfindable Cyborg

Identifying an object, person or process requires some kind of framework, classification system, however intuitive or basic.   In The Findable Cyborg , I suggested that this, in the context of a pervasively coded world, means that everything is findable.  At the same time, this radical findability depends on dynamic, permeable, evolving classification systems.  While the objects, persons and processes become pervasively findable, they also manifest a lack of essential identity.

That is to say, what makes the Cyborg (the aggregation of object, person and process) findable as a functional commodity, part of the Heidegger’s Standing Reserve, also makes the Cyborg unfindable as a specific, essentially determined phenomena.

The Seventh Century Buddhist scholar and reputed bodhisattva, Chandrakirti*, deconstructed a chariot in various ways in his Sevenfold Reasoning..  He showed that no matter how one regards the relationship of parts to the whole, in the end, no inherently existing thing “chariot” is to be found.  He summaries his extensive analysis with the following and extends it past a critique of technology to how the self exists.

A chariot is neither asserted to be other than its parts
Nor non-other; it is not asserted to possess them.
It is not in the parts nor are the parts in it.
It is not the mere collection [of the parts] nor is it [their] shape.

Just so [should a yogi understand a person and its aggregates].
It is like a cart, which is not other than its parts,
Not non-other, and does not possess them.
It is not within its parts, and its parts are not within it
It is not the mere collection, and it is not the shape..

For Chandrakirti, the unfindability of the essentially determined chariot  is the same as the unfindability of the essentially determined self-aware self.  For my purposes, this is the same as the unfindability of technology, of the self-aware self and of the Cyborg (the combination of the two), as anything other than objects, persons and processes defined by their function.

This is at the heart, dare I say, the essence, of my continued use of the word Cyborg.  It is to stress the functional nature of an always changing collection of techno-bio aggregates experienced as wholeness.

*Chandrakirti (600-650 CE) was Indian Buddhist scholar whose works are central to the development of the  Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka view of Emptiness.  Hagiographies of Chandrakirti relate instances of him walking thorough walls to “demonstrate in a concrete and dramatic form the Madhyamaka position that things have no immutable nature of their own.”   Four Illusions Karen C. Lang

The Negated Cyborg

While emptiness’ object of negation is inherent existence, the mere idea of it does little to move one along the Buddhist path.  Traditionally, the process to develop one’s experiential understanding starts with distinguishing two kinds of objects: the self and phenomena.  Of course the self is a phenomenon, but it is one that we are likely to be especially attached to.

Most people experience the phenomenon of the self as inherently existing more vividly than any other.  Even the most ardent deconstructionist or social constructionist, when push comes to shove is likely to exhibit behavior indicating she experiences his self as inherently existing.

Indeed, mapping one’s responses to different negative and positive situations would provide a kind of geography of the self imputed as truly and inherently existent.  The Fifth Dalai Lama wrote an account of this that I find especially compelling.

A tight, firm mind thinking “I” exists in our mental continuums on all occasions of sleep and waking.  However, like a mirror and an image of your face,… when you encounter conditions of happiness and suffering, the mind [misconceiving “I”] manifests very strongly, but on occasions when such conditions are not encountered it is a little unclear…

Therefore, you need a clear notion of pleasure or pain that someone else actually caused you.  If not [occurring now], you should recall a former occurrence of such to the point where it appears clearly to you mind.  For example, if someone [falsely] accused of being a theif…you could have strong hated for this person….At that time, this “I” which is the object of the accusation of theft and which is held tightly and firmly in the center of the heart, seems even as if it can be seen with the eye and grasped with the hand.

Similarly, if another person caused you to achieve a desired aim and you reflect that such and such help was rendered, the “I” that is the object helped appears vibrantly from the center of the heart.  In reliance on you cultivating either of these two modes, the manifest mind thinking “I” causes other coarse thoughts to become dormant.  You should allow the consciousness innately conceiving “I” to increase in strength, then analyze the way the mind conceives the “I”.  – Fifth Dalai Lama [1]

For the cyborg, this meditation could be expanded to include the artifacts of technology that she has aggregated into his experience of self.  For instance, many people might experience the theft or malicious destruction of their cell phone as an assault.  Some may relate to the field of information their communication technology produces as a part of their inherently existing self.  So the cyborg may experience data mining and the Boundless Informant program as a personal assault as well.

Indeed this negated inherently existing cyborg is one of the best proofs of the existence of the contingent, functional cyborg.

[1] Fifth Dalai Lama, Sacred Word of Manjushri. Tanslated by Jeffrey Hopkins, Practice of Emptiness. quoted from Jeffrey Hopkins Tantra Techniques

Related post: Negating Emptiness

Negating Emptiness

In the Tibetan Buddhist interpretation of emptiness, it is important to firmly and clearly establish “the object of negation”.  That object is both the idea and experience that phenomena inherently exist.  Only a clear sense of  what the “object of negation” is, provides the basis for the idea of emptiness to mature into experiential understanding.

We can begin to establish the nonexistence of inherent existence by noticing that everything that exists is impermanent itself or depends on impermanent phenomena to exist – space for example.

Elaborating on this, the one conducts a series of analytic meditations.  The first focuses on the idea that all phenomena come into being because of causes and conditions.  When the causes and conditions supporting something no longer exist, the thing also ceases to exist.

The next meditation notices that parts make up everything that exists. Any whole is  a collection of aggregates.  Each part has parts and each whole is part of some other whole.

In the Consequentialist version of emptiness, a phenomenon seems to exist the way it does because the perceiving awareness imputes the idea or experience of inherent existence onto it.  This point requires more analysis to penetrate than the preceding two.

It is this reflexive sense that things exist in the way they seem to exist that creates the experience of Conventional Reality made up of objects and processes.  This is a step before the ideas such as that reality is socially constructed.  A chair appears as a chair first because we impute the mode of being as inherent existence onto appearances.  Once we have done that, we can interact with other beings and the environment to construct the boundaries of this and that.

This can occur on a subtle level that we not only are not aware of, but can be counter to our stated beliefs.

This point is traditionally elaborated in dense writings featuring among other elements nesting negations.  The purpose is not only to demonstrate the point logically but to erode and eventually eliminate that reflex view that things are the way they appear ie inherently existing.

The danger of over-abstraction in some areas of dGe lugs thought is great, but the intricately woven arguments, when probed over time, lead to an internalization of knowledge and palpable experience of principles, which are then the basis for verbalization. In the beginning, the words seem to use the person, but later, a changed person is using the words

 Jeffrey Hopkins “Reason as the Prime Principle in Tsong kha pa’s Delineation of Deity Yoga as the Demarcation Between Sutra and Tantra”

At some point in this process one is likely to ask if emptiness itself truly ie inherently, exists, or even if it is the ground of existence for everything else.  Here the importance of establishing the object of negation becomes clear.  The object of negation is the inherent existence of phenomena.  This is a simple negation.  It does not assert the existence of something else.

Emptiness exists only when  appearances are imputed to exist. To understand emptiness one must negate it.

Note:  Different schools of  Tibetan Buddhism have different presentations of emptiness.  There can be considerable controversy on some points.  I’m using here an understanding of emptiness held by the Gelugpa (“dGe lugs” in the Hopkins quote) school.  This view of emptiness is also known as the Middle Way Consequentialist or Prasangika Madhyamika school of emptiness first fully developed by Tsong-Ka-Pa.

I undertook this post to test my understanding of these concepts.  Any errors are mine alone and I apologize for them.

Scientific Brains Letting It Go

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche translated today’s  Lojong slogan as “Abandon Any Hope of Fruition.”[1]   Most other Lojong commentaries translate this slogan with simpler language such as “Give Up Hoping for Results”.[2]   I don’t know if Trunga Rinpoche meant to recall the Divine Comedy, but this translation seems to allude to the inscription at the entrance to Hell:  “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”. Perhaps he was intending to give the slogan a greater resonance for his Western audience.

The Lojong slogan itself comes in the sixth (of seven) section of the slogans.  These specify a variety of commitments on how generally to comport oneself in the world with self-control and moderation.

The sense of this slogan is first, don’t hope for results/fruition from one’s Lojong practice, but also from one’s efforts in general.  Lojong is a set of mind training techniques to develop one’s’ understanding of, and living of, Emptiness.   It is in fact a technology, but one that short circuits instrumentality.

As  discussed in my previous post, Heidegger points out that the move from craft based technology to modern technology involves a move from Revealing to Enframing.  The mental technology of Lojong preserves the Revealing function, but adds what we might call a Deframing function.  Modern technology Enframes even its makers, Humans, into its Standing Reserve. Lojong however is a technology that deconstructs, Deframes instrumentality itself freeing us from the hope and fear of results/fruition.

Lojong is a piece of Tibetan Buddhism.  Robert Thurman has called the synthesis that is Tibetan Buddhism an “Inner Modernity” that created a rationalized “technology of life, death and reincarnation”.[3]

That is to say, the science of letting it go.

[1] Trungpa, Chogyam Training the Mind, Shambhala Publications

[2] Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Enlightened Courage Snow Lion Publications (translated by Padmakara Tranlation Group)

[3] Thurman, Robert Essential Tibetan Buddhism Castle Books (p.37-40),

 ←    Scientific Brains Binging It Forth


In Digitism Part 1 (?), I quoted from Beyond Nature and Culture – Philippe Descola.   In these quotes he described what he posited as the four possible ontologies.  He defined ontologies as ” sociocosmic forms of aggregation and conceptions of self and non-self.”

Figure and ground is the basis for perception to distinguish this from that.  I think ground is a  more complicated phenonomen than simply being the undifferentiated backdrop to thingness.  The perception of ground contains a set of assumptions and guesses.  For instance a frog assumes that everything not moving is neither food nor  threat.  Everything that does not move is the backdrop allowing things (foods or threats) to manifest.

Humans require a more complicated backdrop – “sociocosmic forms of aggregation and conceptions of self and non-self.”

Descola’s intent is to distinguish how the experience of interiority aggregates portions of the physical world into the experience of self, leaving the rest as non-self.

Yet the language is also evocative of Buddhist ideas of Non-Self as a mark of existence.  So despite the experience of a Self as not only the referent point for perception, but as  truly existent, self-sufficient essence, its nature is in fact Non-Self.

Training in not only the idea , but the experience of this as well, leads to the recognition of the non-duality of subject and object – Space is Seen.

So meet Red Bob #2 – part of my own ongoing training in non-duality.

Red Bob #2(mask - Atomic Geograhy) (photo - Stephen Appel) Becoming/Unbecoming
Red Bob #2
(mask – Atomic Geography) (photo – Stephen Appel)

Space is Seen

For about 2 years now I’ve been reading, rereading, looking at with various levels of confusion the Final Exposition of Wisdom by Jeffrey Hopkins.  Most of the book is extended excerpts from 3 of Tsong-Ka-Pa’s major works, with extensive footnotes and a final essay by Hopkins.  Hopkins acts as an editor and translator, but the bulk of the book is from Tsong-Ka-Pa’s works.

Tsong-Ka-Pa was the last of the three masters (Padmasambhava and Atisha being the other 2) that taught and developed the “spiritual synthesis of Tibetan Buddhism”* over the course of about 730 years.  He founded the Gelugpa school to which the Dalia Lama belongs.

Only recently I realized that several times in the book Tsong-Kha-Pa quotes a passage from the Verse Summary of the Perfection of Wisdom.  (There are a number of Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, this one being considered one of the earliest.  The Heart Sutra is the most famous.)

The One-Gone-Thus teaches that one who does not see forms,
Does not see feelings, does not see discriminations,
Does not see intentions, does not see
Consciousness, mind, or sentience sees the dharma.
Analyze how space is seen as in the expression
By sentient beings in words, “Space is seen.”
The One-Gone-Thus teaches that seeing the dharma is also like that.
The seeing cannot be expressed by another example.

Somehow, understanding that I had been reading the same passage, in different contexts for almost 2 years without understanding the degree of repetition, without understanding the centrality of the passage, seemed significant.

Until it didn’t.

*Essential Tibetan Buddhism, Robert Thurman p.35