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.