Today I read a newspaper article about brain scans being used to reproduce images of what people see. Here’s a link to the Reuter’s article and to a previous article about the brain’s ability to distinguish not only sounds but the speakers of those sounds.
Speculation is on about what future these kinds of technological advances will have. Paranoia about mind reading, queries about its use in forensics and crime investigation, and hope to artificially restore sight for the blind are just some of the reactions.
With some people of course there is the idea that technology and medicine can and should be utilized for the betterment of the human condition in the spiritual realm as well. From Timothy Leary’s advocacy of LSD to floatation tanks and biofeedback these ideas have gained some purchase in the west in recent decades.
Of course this line of thought goes back as far as ancient shamanism and even mainstream religions. Historically and currently the mortification of the body by outside means, cultural technology if you will, for spiritual experiential purposes has played a significant role in Christianity and Hinduism for example.
But the questions that come up for me relate to both the quality and authenticity of those externally evoked experiences.
Having no personal experience with self-mortification it is a subject I cannot fully comment on in comparison with spiritual practice. Although some people, me included sometimes, feel like sitting in a meditative posture is self-mortification. The only comparable thing I can come up with is having broken bones in my foot while training for a Karate tournament. I taped it up and participated and won the bronze medal for kumite (fighting)-pain can be transcended in the right circumstances. But that may have been more an instance of stubbornness and ambition than any sort of spiritual revelation.
And as for Leary-ism I can’t say than any experiences with LSD, mushrooms or any other hallucinogen made any difference in my development as a human or spiritual being. It was equivalent to a roller-coaster ride. Fun at the time but not life changing. And after a while even rather boring and uncomfortable compared to reality. (see Note 2 below for more on this)
Suppose we could somehow map the sensations of Zen masters, accomplished yogis and the spiritually advanced. Suppose we could transplant the entire life experience of HH Dalai Lama into every human being on earth.Would that make us all incarnations of Avalokiteshvara?
Additionally what would happen to the current personality and experience and memory of the transplantee? What role would biology and particularly neurobiology play? How would an individual absorb this kind of experience?Would it seem like an authentic experience or just some kind of trip? How long would the experience last? Would the brain reassert previous patterns?
There are so many questions that arise from this kind of speculation.
My opinion leans towards the scientific and evolutionary. I think it would at best become another “trip” and most likely be something similar to an artistic experience. Viewing a painting, reading a poem or listening to music give an insight, sometimes rather deeply, of a product of the mind. If personality* is also a product of the biology of the mind and the sum of life experiences then to experience another’s personality, however thoroughly would equate on many levels with an artistic experience. Perhaps it would be deeper and more involving, not unlike a virtual reality experience.
But ultimately I think it would simply become another experience in the litany that makes up the aggregate of the experiencer’s life.
*I distinguish personality from ego. Ego is a conglomeration of attachments that compiles into a false personality. Or a social construct that the imagination buys into and attempts to support due to ignorance. I use the word personality in the same sense that Chogyam Trungpa talks about one’s basic sanity or the Zen original face.
Note: I would however plug into this to learn languages as I am really pitiful in terms of speaking anything other than English despite classes and books and near daily practice. I’ve seriously tried to learn German, Chinese and now Hindi and muddle through terribly with all of them. What’s up with that???
Note2: There is an excellent review/article on Urban Dharma about Zig Zag Zen. That is drug use as a spiritual experience. Zig Zag Zen was a somewhat popular phrase for practices that involved drug use as a supposed facilitator of spiritual experience. The author of the article is an MD. First he discusses the book Zig Zag Zen then puts forth a very rational discussion of the lack of efficacy of drug use as an assisting process in spiritual life. I mostly agree with his position. (note added Dec 19)
Note3: I’ve just finished watching the movie Vanilla Sky on tv. Hadn’t seen that in a long time. I suppose the experience of experiencing another’s life would be a lot like the portrayal there of lucid dreaming. Only more confusing since it would be another’s memories. (note added Dec 19)