#BGeeks11 – Towards a Science of Enlightenment: A Keynote by Shinzen Young

Have you ever seen those James Bond or Mission Impossible movies wherein there’s non-stop action in the opening sequence? Well, that’s how it felt like with Shinzen Young’s opening keynote at Buddhist Geeks Conference 2011.

Shinzen Young @ Buddhist Geeks Conference 2011

Shinzen Young @ Buddhist Geeks Conference 2011

Shinzen presented his vision (aka “happy thought”) for a Science of Enlightenment. I’ve already heard him speak about this in his audio CD with the same title, but his keynote presentation was a lot juicier, funny, inspiring and mind-blowing. For someone who had only presented with PowerPoint for the first time Shinzen’s slides pack a lot of punch, and very geeky too. I thought that I already know everything he has to say in the presentation since I’ve read, listened, and watched virtually all of Shinzen’s lectures and interviews online but I was still surprised by some of the stuff he included in the lecture. I won’t attempt to rehash Shinzen’s lecture because I might screw it up. Shinzen’s lecture is already a summary in itself. (And besides, I believe all the lectures are recorded and will be made available online on the BGeeks site after all the necessary editing is done. So you just have to watch it yourself.) Each slide in the presentation would probably take hours of deep discussion so I’ll just jump to the conclusion.

Shinzen Young's version of a technological singularity

Shinzen Young's version of a technological singularity

Shinzen’s vision is equivalent to Kurzweil’s technological singularity but its emphasis is not on life-extension or A.I. or things of those nature. Shinzen’s emphasis is on the application of science and technology to bring about the classical enlightenment experience (aka “stream entry”) to the masses (as in millions of people). Like I said, very geeky.

Shinzen said that there’s no guarantee that this will happen. In fact he even alluded to some obstacles that might prevent it from happening. But in Shinzen’s moments of happy thought he is optimistic that the marriage of modern science and Buddhism would make his vision *plausible*. For this to happen it would require a combination of deep practice, scientific rigor, and “thinking outside the box.” At this time, we’re only at the ground floor. But that’s the nature of exponential trend. It appears to starts slowly for a long time and then just when you least expect it, it skyrockets.

Shinzen Young riffs on The Sopranos

Shinzen Young riffs on The Sopranos

Unfortunately, the lecture stopped there. Shinzen can only squeeze in enough information given the time limit of his keynote presentation. I have a lot of questions and some objections racing through my head while listening to his talk. So I caught up with him after his presentation and asked him my number one objection.

Let’s say we succeed in creating a technology or paradigm that will bring about the experience of “classical enlightenment” to masses of people, how can we guarantee that the experience will result in a positive way? For example, even if people have enlightenment experience they will still interpret the experience based on their psychological development and cultural upbringing. We’ve all heard of highly enlightened people who “screwed up.” So having a mass enlightenment doesn’t necessarily guarantee that people will no longer make trouble. In short, how can we have a “fail safe” mechanism that would ensure that people will have a healthy interpretation of their enlightenment experience?

Shinzen’s answer was cut short because it was already getting late. But he told me that this is one of most common objections he hears from people. Shinzen said that it’s basically “a numbers game.” Although it’s true that there are enlightened people who screwed up, it’s only very few compared to the rest who didn’t screw up. He used the analogy of pharmaceutical drugs. Just because tens or hundreds of people would suffer from side effects, it doesn’t mean that we should withhold a medicine that saves millions.  He said that he has more to say about this topic but we’ll discuss this in another time. So I’m looking forward to hounding Shinzen in the next couple days during the conference because I really want to hear his take on this issue.

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