I begin this post by overviewing some of the ways I have thought about evolutionary theory and neuroscience using Indian thought, especially Sāṃkhya-yoga and its interpretation in Puranic theology and philosophy. In the next post I will apply some of these ideas to conceptualize Artificial Intelligence. These posting are explorations of some essential terms for discussion between India and Europe.
Due to advances in neuroscience and a widely accepted view that humans are the result of a naturalistic evolutionary process, many today would advocate physicalism, by which I mean some sort of theory that explains all aspects of the human being by natural processes. On this view, then, human consciousness is produced solely of the human brain which evolved without intervention of non-natural forces.
The dualism of classical or the old Sāṃkhya-yoga recognizes two different features of reality: (1) materiality, which includes the physical body/brain and the subjectively experienced mental domain; and (2) consciousness, the eternal and unchanging being that gives materiality the appearance of sentience.
I think that from the Sāṃkhya perspective when neuroscientists examine the correlations between mental events and brain events they are examining the correlations between two forms of materiality. In Sāṃkhya the conscious being that provides awareness to and within the mental and physical aspects of materiality is, however, considered distinct from them. Thus, whether it is the application of a drug or the targeting of specific portions of the brain, in Sāṃkhya the changes that occur are within materiality, i.e. the physical body and the mental realm. Yet in Sāṃkhya consciousness retains a distinction from both forms of materiality; it essential to human awareness, but it is not reducible to the body or mind.
I think the Sāṃkhya perspective is reductionist or physicalist in the senses that it reduces two domains of human experience (the mental and physical) into one single type of being, but it is also non-reductionist and non-physicalist in the sense that consciousness is not a product of matter. There is, then, a sense in which Sāṃkhya-yoga could agree that as bodies evolve new types of cognition might emerge, and it could also agree that quantifiable correlations might exist between the mental and physical aspects of materiality, but it also advocates of type of awareness that underpins both forms of materiality.
Many scientists and philosophers would say that any nonphysical consciousness that is said to exist independently of the human brain is implausible, but what of the other aspects of Indian thought, like karma, the acceptance of a wide range of ontological terms that we might think about as either natural or artificial. A contemporary criticism of the Sāṃkhya in particular is that the introduction of an observing consciousness quiet apart from mental and physical events adds an unnecessary and untenable item, one that neither explains the correlations of mind-body nor has any justification. The Indian tradition, however, was familiar with physicalist philosophies; approximately three hundred years ago Rādhādāmodara addressed Carvaka’s reductionistic view in his Vedāntasyamantaka, a Sanskrit introduction to Vaishnava teachings, but the discussion of Carvaka and related ideas are wide reaching.
Using this ontological framework of Sāṃkhya in the next post I suggest that AI might be thought of as a type of interaction between matter and consciousness, but that the new natural sciences offer opportunities to rethink old debates within India about the nature of the self.