Intelligence, Computers and the Mechanical Mind

From Krishnamurti’s Book THE WAY OF INTELLIGENCE

Krishnamurti: Asit and I have been talking about the relationship of the human mind to the computer. He is involved in the manufacture of computers. And we have been trying, in different parts of the world, wherever we met, to find out what is intelligence. Is there an action which the computer cannot possibly do, something far more penetrating than anything man can do externally. And our conversation has been going on for several years. So I thought this morning we should meet and go into this matter.

A.C.: The Americans are developing supercomputers, and we as human beings have to, in a sense, do the same thing. We have to be more intelligent than the technology of the Americans to counteract the threat of that technology. And the technology is not only in computers, it is also in genetic engineering, cloning, biochemistry, etc. They are trying to control genetic characteristics completely. Since the brain has no nerves, during brain surgery the patient is conscious. One can communicate with him. I’m sure it’s a matter of time before computer-brain interfaces are created. Then, in Russia, there is a great deal of research being done on the ability to read thoughts and transmit them to someone else.

I would like to speculate a little bit; I am using the word ‘speculate’ in the sense of seeing certain problems now which are solvable technologically in the next few years. I think it is important to do this because you are not merely talking to us but you are also talking to those in the centuries to come, to whom all this will be a reality. For example, consider the role of the teacher today. You can get a small computer, you put a magnetic strip in it and it will communicate in French with you, put another strip in and it is fluent in Arabic, Japanese, instantaneously. Suppose the strip could be put into a human brain; the problem is only the interface between the brain and the strip, because the brain operates as an electrical circuit. Then what happens to the role of the teacher?

The next point is that in affluent societies, because of the tremendous increase in physical appliances like motor cars and washing machines, the body has deteriorated. Now, since more and more mental functions are going to be taken over by computer, the mind is going to deteriorate not only at the level of what you are talking about, but even in ordinary functioning. I see this as an enormous problem. How does one face this problem in a world which is moving in this direction?

K: If learning can be done instantaneously, if I can be a linguist when I wake up in the morning, then what is the function of the brain? What is the function of the human being?

P.J.: Is it not a problem of what is humanness? What is it to be a human being apart from all this?

K: Apparently, a human being, as he is, is a mass of accumulated knowledge and reactions according to that knowledge. Would you agree to that? And as the machine, the computer is going to take charge of all that, what then is the human being? What is the function of a school then? Think a great deal about this. This is not something that needs quick response. This is tremendously serious. What is a human being if his fears, his sorrows, his anxieties are all wiped away by chemicals or by some implanted electric circuitry? Then what am I? I don’t think we get the fullness of it.

P.J.: If you take a strong tranquillizer, your anxieties are temporarily over. That is not arguable. But if you can clone, you can do anything. We are missing something in all this. I don’t think we are getting to the central thing. There is something else also involved in this.

K: Look, Pupulji, if my anxieties, fears, sufferings can be allayed and my pleasure increased, I ask then what is a human being? What is our mind?

A.P.: Do I understand that while, on the one hand, man has developed these extraordinary capacities, there is also a corresponding process of deterioration in the mind which is a side-effect of super mechanization?

A.C.: If you have a car and you stop walking, your body will deteriorate. So, if the computer takes over mental functions, the mind deteriorates. I mean just that.

K: I don’t think we understand the depth of what is happening. We are arguing over whether it can happen. It is going to happen. Then what are we? What is a human being then? And then, when the machine, the chemicals – I am using the word ‘computer’ to include all that – when the computer is going to take us over completely and we no longer exercise our brains, they physically deteriorate, how shall we prevent that? What shall I do? I must exercise my brain. Now it is being exercised through pain, through pleasure, through suffering, anxiety, all the rest of it. But it is working. And when the machine and chemicals take over, it will cease to work. And if it is not working, it will deteriorate; because we have problems, it acts.

Can we start with the assumption that these things are going to happen, whether we like it or not? They are happening, unless we are blind or uninformed. Then, let us enquire if the mind is deprived chemically of its problems or by the computer, whether it can survive at all.

A.P.: I am not quite clear about one point. There is in each human being a feeling of a void, of emptiness, which needs to be filled.

K: It will be filled by chemicals.

A.P.: It cannot be filled. No, sir.

K: Oh yes, it will be.

A.P.: I am questioning that. There is a strange void in every human being. There is a seed that is groping.

R.B.: What he is saying is that there will be other forms of LSD without the side-effects which will fill that gap.

K: Take a pill and you will never feel the void.

A.P.: At some point you have to see that there is something which will remain untouched.

A.C.: What if you don’t find that?

A.P.: Before you come to that, the finding of that, at least you must posit a need for that.

K: I am positing a need.

A.P.: What is the need?.

K: The need is for chemicals, and the computer is going to destroy me, destroy my brain.

A.C.: I am saying something slightly different, that is, if this technology continues, there won’t be any void in any human beings because eventually they may die out as a species. At the same time, as a human being, I feel there is something else which I don’t know but want to find out. Is there something which is different, which needs to be preserved? Can I understand intelligence? How am I going to preserve that against all these dangers?

K: Asit, it may not be preservation at all. Look, sir, let us take for granted that chemicals – the computer – is going to take man over. And if the brain is not exercised as it is being exercised with problems of anxieties, fears, etc., then it will inevitably deteriorate. And deterioration means man gradually becoming a robot. Then I say to myself, as a human being who has survived several million years, is he to end like this? It may be so – and probably will.

A.C.: It seems to me that the movement of this technology is a very evil thing because there is a certain goodness which is being destroyed.

K: Agreed.

A.C.: The technology is created by human beings. There seems to be a movement of evil, and the evil thing is going to take over.

K: Is that evil? Why do you call it evil?

A.C.: Evil because it is destroying the world.

K: But we are destroying ourselves. The machine is not destroying us. We are destroying ourselves.

A.C.: So the question is how is man to create this technology and yet not be destroyed by it.

K: That is right. The mind is deteriorating because it will not allow anything to penetrate its values, dogmas. It is stuck there. If I have a strong conviction or opinion, I am deteriorating. And the machine is going to help us deteriorate faster. That is all. So, what is a human being to do? Then I ask, what is a human being, deprived of all this, if he has no problems and is only pursuing pleasure? I think that is the root of it. This is what man seeks now, in different forms. And he will be encouraged in that by the machine, by the drug. The human being will be nothing, but involved in the pursuit of pleasure.

A.C.: And the computer and television will provide the pleasure right in his home. We are saying there are not only computer scientists but there are also genetic scientists and multinationals engaged in entertainment electronics and they are going to converge to a point where man will end up either by destroying the capacity of the human brain or as a human being in a constant state of pleasure without any side-effects. And the pleasure will be obtained through the computer and chemicals, and direct relationships with other human beings will gradually disappear.

K: Perhaps no chemists, no computer experts have gone so far as yet but we have to be ahead of them. That is what I feel. So, what is it that man has pursued all through his existence? From time immemorial what is the stream he has always followed? Pleasure?

A.C.: Pleasure, but also the ending of sorrow.

K: Pleasure, avoid the other, but essentially pleasure.

A.C.: He pursues pleasure and at some point he sees the need not merely for pleasure, but in the negative sense, the ending of suffering.

K: Which means pleasure.

A.C.: Is the ending of suffering pleasure?

K: No. You are missing my point. I want pleasure at any price and suffering is an indication to me that I am not having pleasure. Dispute it; don’t accept it.

A.C.: What I am saying is, historically man has always pursued pleasure.

K: Which means what? Go on, analyse it.

A.C.: The self has pursued it.

A.P.: When you say ‘self’, are you talking of the physical self or the psychological self?

K: Both. I want to survive physically and psychologically, and to survive, I must do certain things, and to do certain things, they must be pleasurable. Sir, look into this very carefully. Ultimately man wants pleasure. The pursuit of god is pleasure. Right? Is that what is going to be encouraged by the machine, drugs – that man will be merely an entity that is concerned with pleasure? Is the conflict to find a balance between the two? Pleasure is the most destructive thing in life.

I don’t think you understand the significance of this. The conflict between good and evil has existed from time immemorial. The problem is to find a balance or a state where this conflict does not exist, which is pleasure. And pleasure is the most destructive thing in life. Right?

A.P.: In terms of what you are saying, does the search for freeing the mind from bondage come into the realm of pleasure?

A.C.: We, in fact, reduce everything to that: That is what human beings have done. Attachment, bondage create suffering. That is why we want freedom. Can we see that all human actions ultimately end in wanting happiness or pleasure, and they are enormously destructive? They have ended up in a technology which is also a pursuit of pleasure, which is self-destructive. There must be some other movement of the mind which is not seeking pleasure, which is not self-destructive, I don’t know if there is, but there must be.

K: Asit, let us get this clear between ourselves, you and I. It is a fact that human beings historically up to now have always been in conflict between good and bad; their ancient paintings indicate a struggle. The spirit of conquering pervades, which ends up in pleasure. I have looked at it and I realize instantly that the whole movement of man has been this. I don’t think anybody can dispute this. I am saying the whole of it, not only physical, but also psychological. Self-preservation is also part of that movement. That is a fact. Is that destructive of the mind, of the brain?

R.B.: Sir, what do you mean by good and evil when you say it is trying to balance the good and evil which is pleasure?

K: You have seen those cave paintings, fifty thousand years old, paintings in the caves of France and Spain. There you see man struggling against the bull.

R.B.: Yes. It exists everywhere in some form or other.

K: Yes. This conflict between the two – what is called good, what is called evil – has existed from time immemorial. Right? And man has invented the good and the evil. Watch it, watch your own mind. Don’t theorize. Look at yourself if you can, and see what is good and what is evil. The fact is never evil. Right? Anger is anger. But I say it is evil, Therefore, I must get rid of anger. But anger is a fact. Why do you want to name it bad and good?

R.B.: Whether you name it bad or not, it can be terribly destructive.

K: It can be very destructive, but the moment I have called it bad, it is something to be avoided, right? And the conflict begins. But it is a fact. Why do you call it anything else?

P.J.: Take the pursuit of black magic. Would you say the pursuit of that in its very nature is evil or not?

K: What do you call black magic?

P.J.: Black magic is the pursuit of something with the intention of destroying another.

K: Which is what we are doing, though we may not call it black magic; but what is war?

P.J.: Let me go slowly; you are rushing us. What I speak about brings into operation, supposedly, powers which are not physical powers.

K: I had seen here at Rishi Valley some years ago, under a tree, a figure of a man or a woman in which they had put pins. I asked what it was about, and they explained it to me. Now, there was the intention to hurt somebody. Between that and the intention to go to war, what is the difference?

You are losing an awful lot; you are missing an awful lot. You are all so damn clever, that is what is wrong with you. Light is neither good nor bad. Which means what? Look, sir, the computer, the chemicals, are taking over man. This is neither good nor bad – it is happening. Of course, there is cruelty; of course, there is kindness. It is obvious. The mother beating up a child and somebody having compassion and saying, don’t hurt anyone – there is a difference, that is obvious. Why do you call it good or bad? Why do you call it evil? I am objecting to the word, that is all.

Can we move to something else, which is, pleasure is always in the known. I have no pleasure today but day after tomorrow it might happen. I like to think it will happen. I don’t know if you see what I mean. Pleasure is a time movement. Is there pleasure that is not based on knowledge? My whole life is the known. I project the known into the future modifying it but it is still the known. I have no pleasure in the unknown. And the computer, etc. is in the field of the known. Now the real question is whether there is freedom from the known. That is the real question because pleasure is there, suffering is there, fear is there, the whole movement of the mind is the known. And it may project the unknown, theorize, but that is not a fact. So, computers, chemicals, genetics, cloning are all the known. So, can there be freedom from the known? The known is destroying man. The astrophysicists are going to space from the known. They are pursuing the investigation of the heavens, the cosmos, through instruments constructed by thought, and they are looking through those instruments and discovering the universe, watching what it is; it is still the known.

P.J.: A very interesting thing struck me just now. The present mind of man, in the way it is functioning, is threatened. It is being destroyed. Either the machine takes it over and it is destroyed, or the other freedom from the known will also destroy its present functioning. The challenge is much deeper.

K: Yes. That is what I said. You got it. What Pupul is saying is, if I understand rightly, the known in which our minds are functioning is destroying us. The known is also the future projections as the machine, drugs, genetics, cloning all that is born out of these. So both are destroying us.

A.C.: She is also saying the mind of man has always moved in the known, in pursuit of pleasure. That has resulted in technology which will destroy it. Then she is saying that the other movement, which is freedom from the known, will also destroy the mind as we know it now.

K: Yes. Freedom from the known? What are you saying?

A.C.: There are two movements, she says. The movement of the known is leading to greater and greater destruction of the mind. The way out is freedom from the known, which is also destroying the movement of the known.

K: Wait. Freedom is not from something. It is an ending. Do you follow?

A.C.: Are you saying, sir, that this freedom from the known is of such a nature that you are not destroying this movement, that thought has its place, mind has its place? Are you saying in that there is freedom?

K: I say there is only freedom, but not from the known.

P.J.: I say the mind is functioning in a particular way, what we call the human mind operates in a certain way. That human mind is put under pressure by technological advances. This other, freedom from the known, also is totally destructive of this function of the mind. Therefore, a new mind – whether born of technology or one which is free of the known – is inevitable. They are the only two things; the present position is out.

K: Let us be clear. Either there must be a new mind or the present thing is going to destroy the mind. Right? But the new mind can only exist actually, not theoretically; it can only exist when knowledge ends. Knowledge has created the machine and we live on knowledge. We are machines; we are now separating the two. The machine is destroying us. The machine is the product of knowledge; we are the product of knowledge. Therefore, knowledge is destroying us, not the machine. So, the question then is, can knowledge end? Not can there be freedom from knowledge? Then you are avoiding or escaping from knowledge.

A.C.: The question is, can knowledge or the action born of knowledge end? Action out of knowledge can end. Knowledge can’t end.

K: It can.

A.C.: Action out of knowledge?

K: Action is freedom from knowledge.

A.C.: Knowledge can’t end.

K: Yes, sir.

P.J.: What do you mean when you say all knowledge ends

K: Knowledge is the known, except technological knowledge. Can that knowledge end? Who is to end knowledge? The person who ends knowledge is still part of knowledge. So there is no entity apart from knowledge, which can end knowledge. Please go slowly.

A.C.: There is only knowledge?

K: There is only knowledge, not the ending of knowledge. I don’t know if I am making myself clear.

A.C.: So, sir, there is the tremendous force of self-preservation and there is only knowledge. And you are asking, can knowledge end, which means self-annihilation?

K: No, I understand what you are saying. I am leaving now, for the moment, the ending of the self. I am saying the computer, which includes all technology, and my life are based on knowledge. So there is no division between the two.

A.C.: I follow that.

K: This is a tremendous thing. And so long as we are living in knowledge, our brain is being destroyed through routine, the machine, etc. So, the mind is knowledge. There is no question of saying it must free itself from knowledge. See that. There is only the mind which is knowledge.

I am going to tell you something. You see, you have blocked yourself. Don’t say it is impossible. If you say it is impossible, you couldn’t have invented the computers. Move from there. The mind when it says it must be free, whatever it does, it is within the field of knowledge. So, what is the state of the mind that is completely aware, or knows, or is cognizant that it is entirely knowledge?

I have moved. Don’t you see it? Now what has taken place?

Apparently knowledge is movement. Knowledge has been acquired through movement. So, knowledge is movement. So, time, all that, is movement.

A.C.: You are speaking of the state of mind when time comes to a stop.

K: That is freedom. Time is movement. Which means what? It is very interesting, sir. Let me put it together. Mind has invented the computer. I have used the word to include all that technology, genetics, cloning, chemicals. That is born from the knowledge which man has acquired. It is still the known, the product of the known, with its hypotheses, theory and refuting the theory and all that. Man has also done exactly the same thing as the machine. So, there is no division between the two. The mind is knowledge. Whatever it does will be born of knowledge – man’s gods, his temples are born of knowledge. Knowledge is a movement. Can the movement stop?

That is really freedom. That means perception is free from knowledge and action is not of perception, not out of knowledge. Perception of the snake, the danger is action, but that perception is based on centuries of conditioning about the snake. The perception that I am a Hindu, which has gone on for three thousand years is the same movement. And we are living in the field all the time. That is destructive, not the machine. Unless that machine of the mind stops – not the computer – we are going to destroy ourselves.

So, is there a perception which is not born out of knowledge? Because when this movement stops, there must be action.

A.C.: In other words, it is to act in the world, but nothing sticks, no marks are left. Nothing takes root.

K: Which means what? A perception which is not of knowledge. Is there such perception? Of course, there is perception which cannot be computerized. Is this enquiry born out of the instinct for pleasure? We are all enquiring.

P.J.: I don’t know whether it is for pleasure or for something else.

A C.: It doesn’t matter whether the computer can do it or not. It is essential that we do it.

P.J.: Which leads to the position that there is something to enquire into.

K: You see how deep-rooted it is!

A.C.: The question is, what is the mechanism of the mind, what is the structure of the mind which operates with perception, with insight, with no accumulation.

K: But look what we have done – to come to that point, which is perception without record, how long it has taken. Why? Because we function in time.

A.C.: In other words, what you are saying is that you don’t have to go through this process. If we have come to this point, and do not act, it is very dangerous, much more dangerous than not having a discussion at all.

K: That is what I am saying. It is a tremendous danger. Have you come to a point where you see what the mind has invented? – the machine which is the computer, drugs, chemicals, cloning, all this. It is the same as our minds. Our minds are as mechanical as that. And we are acting always in that area. And, therefore, we are destroying ourselves. It is not the machine that is destroying us.

P.J.: One can say at the end of it, tapas, tapas, tapas. It means we have not done our homework.

K: I am not sure if you are not back in time. You know, sir, a pianist once said, if you practise, you are practising the wrong thing.

P.J.: It is not a question of practice.

K: Pupulji, there are all the teachers. What are they going to do? Drop a bomb here? You follow what I mean? We are handling a bomb. It may go off any moment. I don’t know if you realize this. It is a tremendous thing.

A.C.: It is far more dangerous.

K: This is really frightening. I wonder if you realize it. What will you do? This is real revolution.

A.C.: And not only for teachers and students.

K: Of course, of course.

A.C.: I wanted to ask you, does the mind which has gone with you up to a point, the mind which reaches this point, become much more vulnerable to evil?

K: I understand what you mean. We won’t discuss it now. So, sir, the question is stopping movement, ending movement, not ending knowledge. This is the real question.