What is a Machine?

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Article Introduction and Overview

In the last article, I discussed the nature of Personhood as six traits—self-awareness, intention, emotion, cognition, conation, and relation. Modern science depersonalizes persons as machines governed by laws. Therefore, in this article, I will discuss what I mean by a machine in contrast to a person. I will then discuss how the progressive influence of matter converts a person into a machine and its multifarious implications. Then I will discuss why a process of demechanization and dematerialization is prescribed to regain the lost personhood.

Six Traits of Personhood Revisited

The six traits of personhood entail very specific things in life. A person is self-aware, self-searching, self-satisfying, self-analyzing, self-organizing, and self-correcting. By the six-fold processes of the self, the self becomes self-perfecting. The self-awareness is “I”, the self-searching is “Who am I?”, self-satisfying is “How can I be happy with myself?”. To answer these questions, there is self-analysis, followed by self-correction. If faults are corrected leading to self-satisfaction, whatever satisfies us more is designated as our primary nature. Conversely, the things we are dissatisfied with, are designated as our secondary nature. Due to this primary-secondary difference, people may not see their faults easily; they remain satisfied with whatever they are. Others, however, may see numerous faults in their persona. This contrast is presented by psychologists as between “How I see myself” vs. “How others see me”.

Due to our need to become self-satisfied, there is considerable arbitrariness to self-satisfaction. For example, I could be riddled with faults and say: “I’m happy with myself”. This arbitrariness arrests the process of self-perfection. The person who is more self-dissatisfied remains restless but keeps perfecting himself. Conversely, the person who is more self-satisfied remains content with imperfection. Thus, for example, there is a sense in which even the beasts, birds, fishes, and trees are self-satisfied.

However, self-satisfaction is not, ultimately, arbitrary because there is a standard for self-satisfaction in God. This standard of self-satisfied nature is called complete self-satisfaction, which means that we have a choice for arbitrary self-satisfaction, but that choice is not contrary to the standard of self-satisfaction.

Bhakti vs. Mukti Processes

If we remain unaware of God, then we can be satisfied with anything. But if we become aware of God, then we will try to perfect ourselves in comparison to God. This perfection takes two forms.

  • First, we see the perfection in God, find ourselves lacking, and try to perfect ourselves. When the self gets more perfect and satisfied by it, then God becomes even more perfect and satisfied, because the self is a part of God. This is an indirect satisfaction of God called mukti in the sense that the self is satisfied first, and God is more satisfied as a consequence.
  • Second, after we see the perfection in God, the attention never returns to the self. We forget about self-perfection and simply admire and love God. This process is bhakti. By it, the self is also satisfied because God is in each self as the innermost core. This is the direct satisfaction of God, in the sense that God is satisfied and the self is satisfied as a consequence.

These two ways of perfection and satisfaction can be understood through the relation between a parent and a child. When a child gets educated, self-reliant, independent, and successful, the parent gets very satisfied—I produced a child who is now independently successful, self-reliant, and prosperous. However, the parent gets even more satisfied if the child returns to the parent and cares for them. Now, the parent becomes the child of their former children and depends on their care and love. The process of liberation or mukti is the parent getting satisfied by the children’s self-perfection. And the process of devotion or bhakti is the child getting satisfied by the parent getting satisfied due to the child’s love.

Two Kinds of Spiritual Personalism

Thereby, there are two kinds of Personalism in Vedic philosophy. In the first—called liberation—a person is defined as something that is self-perfecting. As mentioned, to perfect oneself, there is self-awareness, self-searching, self-diagnosis, self-correction, and self-organization. As a person perfects themselves, there is more self-satisfaction. However, because God becomes even more satisfied by seeing His children’s perfection and satisfaction, therefore, the standard of satisfaction and perfection expands or increases. Thereby, the process of self-satisfaction and self-perfection is unlimited, because the standard is God, and God gets more satisfied as the children become more perfect and satisfied by that perfection.

In the second kind of Personalism—called devotion—a person is defined as something that loves and serves God, which increases God’s satisfaction, and because God is the deepest level reality in the self, therefore, each person becomes more satisfied by loving God. This is also never-ending because God’s satisfaction increases the soul’s satisfaction, which inspires and motivates the soul to love God more, which then increases God’s satisfaction. Therefore, even the world of devotion is ever-expanding. They are different simply as greater perfection leading to greater satisfaction vs. greater satisfaction leading to greater perfection. The emphasis on perfection is mukti and that on satisfaction is bhakti.

The Genesis of Impersonalism

Once we understand these two kinds of personalisms, we can contrast them to spiritual impersonalism.  Impersonalism is produced from a simple problem—the process of perfection and satisfaction is never-ending because there is no limit to perfection and satisfaction. We can imagine a carrot tied to a donkey using a stick; the donkey sees the carrot and tries to move toward it, but the carrot moves further. This example is imperfect because in it the donkey never eats the carrot; the carrot keeps moving forward. The spiritual world is not like that; it is a process in which you eat a carrot, and the carrot gets bigger. However, even this process can be quite dissatisfying—Why can’t I eat the full carrot at once?

I’m reminded of the farmer who kills the goose that lays the golden eggs—one per day—to get all the eggs at once. Life means never-ending, ever-increasing perfection and satisfaction. But there is a death wish in the soul to attain a static state of perfection. It is like the farmer killing the golden goose to get all the eggs at once. By that process, however, the farmer just gets one golden egg. That attainment is not personalism but impersonalism, because personalism is defined as never-ending progress.

The personhood that ends in a static state is called Brahman. In this state, the soul has the self-awareness, self-searching, self-satisfying, self-diagnosing, self-correcting, and self-organizing abilities. However, the verbs—i.e., awareness, searching, satisfying, diagnosing, correcting, and organizing—become nouns by putting an end to the process, to attain a static state. Great Acharyas, therefore, have considered impersonalism a spiritual suicide arising out of the death wish of finality in the soul.

Many people come to spiritual life with a sense of finality—nothing more after this. No more progress, no improvement, and what is already perfect can never become more perfect. In fact, they might argue that more perfect and most perfect are contradictions in terms because perfection cannot be improved upon. The idea that you attain perfection and there is nothing to improve upon is impersonalism.

There are many variations of impersonalism—(a) eternal heaven, (b) Brahman, and (c) dissolution of the self. Personalism is the idea that you keep progressing eternally because there is no limit; the spiritual world keeps growing in perfection, although it was not imperfect, to begin with. Impersonalism is the converse idea that you work hard right now, and you attain a state of final perfection thereafter. Impersonalism is born out of the desire for finality. Under this idea, eternity becomes static.

The Genesis of Materialism

In Bhagavad-Gita 2.40, Lord Kṛṣṇa describes eternity as nehābhikrama-nāśo ’sti pratyavāyo na vidyate, which means there is no loss or diminution in this process. There are two key words here—abhikrama which means progress, process, sequence, and na-iha nāśah which means no destruction in this. It is not static and final, because there is progress. And yet, it is eternal because there is no reduction.

Impersonalism creates a stark contrast between eternity and progress—what is progressing cannot be eternal. Personalism provides a different definition of eternity—what is eternal is non-reducing.

The material world is produced due to a contradiction between eternity and progress because it is a partial truth compared to Personalism where there is eternity and progress. Since Impersonalism is incomplete—finality without progress—the material world compensates it: progress without finality. Just as the soul has a death wish for finality, similarly, it also has a life wish to see progress. Therefore, when the soul gets dissatisfied by the death wish of finality, it falls into matter to see progress.

In Śrīmad Bhagavatam 10.2.32, this is called patanty adhah (which literally means “falling down, falling under, or falling below”): O lotus-eyed Lord, although non-devotees who accept severe austerities and penances to achieve the highest position may think themselves liberated, their intelligence is impure. They fall down from their position of imagined superiority because they have no regard for Your lotus feet.

The material world becomes problematic because both endless progress (Spiritual Personalism) and endless finality (Spiritual Impersonalism) are rejected. The world remains endless, but it is neither progress nor finality. The negation of both progress and finality produces a cycle of change. That cycle would end if it were endless finality. And it would be a straight line if it were endless progress. When the soul rejects both endless progress and endless finality, then it gets an endless cycle of change.

The Genesis of Mechanization

The material world is deterministic due to the effect of time—it operates in cycles of changes. Due to the effect of time, there is the rise and fall of societies, cultures, ideologies, and economies. The same types of things happen over and over again. However, the soul is not required to be a part of the same society, culture, ideology, or economy. The universe is what deterministic but not who deterministic, because time controls the material energy, but the soul still has free will due to its personalism of never-ending progress. Mechanization is the denial of the existence of this personhood of the soul and reducing the soul to the predictable, repeatable, and controllable process in matter controlled by time.

This happens if the soul turns from God-awareness and self-awareness to matter-awareness. When self-awareness becomes matter-awareness, then self-seeking becomes matter-seeking (seeking material things), self-satisfied becomes matter-satisfied (fulfilled by possessing material things), self-analyzing becomes matter-analyzing (trying to understand the world), self-organizing becomes matter-organizing (trying to create an ordered world), and self-correcting becomes matter-correcting (trying to fix the problems in the world). All the six aspects of the self are thereby materialized. Furthermore, since matter is working deterministically due to the effect of time, the soul becomes deterministic.

Materialization of the self is due to the identification of the consciousness with the content. The content is in the consciousness, and outside it. For example, when we see an apple, there is a picture of the apple in our consciousness, but there is also an apple outside our consciousness. If we remember both, then we say: We are seeing an apple—i.e., the image in our consciousness is non-different from the apple. Not different means it is not an orange or a banana, and different means that by knowing the apple we don’t become the apple. Together, different and not different are called non-difference. However, if non-difference is equated to identity, a person becomes a material mechanism.

The process is simple: Substitute the apple you are seeing with a reflection of you in a mirror. You are unlikely to identify with an apple, and hence by seeing an apple, you don’t think you become an apple. But when you see a reflection of yourself in a mirror, you say—I am actually the thing that I am seeing. This reflection in the mirror is called the ahaṃkāra or the ego. It is the reflection of the soul in matter. It is just like an apple, and yet, we don’t identify with an apple, although we identify with the ego. The question is: Why? And the answer is: We want to be a certain kind of thing. It is that which we wish to be, aspire to be, analyze ourselves to be, organize ourselves to be, and are satisfied by being so.

The Genesis of Delusion

The material energy works on the soul just like flattery works on almost everyone. The flatterer says: My dear lord, you are beautiful, powerful, knowledgeable, famous, and rich. And the soul approves because he wants to believe all that. Flattery works if we want it to be true and if someone flatters us, we think that it is indeed the truth. Thereby, the soul identifies itself with flattery and becomes what it is not. Unlike the progressive and final versions of self-satisfaction, flattery gives us temporary satisfaction. When the soul wants to be praised like God, but without perfection, it accepts a life of flattery.

The ahaṃkāra or the ego is false flattery. It is not the true nature of the soul, but the soul wants it to be true and accepts it as its true nature. Thus, the self, which is separate from matter, identifies as what it is not. Flattery would not work if we knew our true nature and realized that the flatterer is deceiving us. But due to the absence of self-awareness and God-awareness, and the desire for the self to become great, the soul accepts flattery as the truth. The rest of the material creation proceeds from this false flattery called ahaṃkāra or the ego, as described in Sāñkhya philosophy, and it is all false. This falsity doesn’t mean the world is unreal. It means that it is flattery and not the soul’s true nature.

In Bhagavad-Gita 18.61, Lord Kṛṣṇa says bhrāmayan sarva-bhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā, which means: All the living entities are wandering seated on the machine of delusion. The world is māyā or delusion because it is produced from the flattery of ego. It is real because it is separate from the soul, and yet, the soul identifies itself with the flattery, like its own reflection in a mirror. Then, it is a machine because it is operating deterministically and predictably under the control of time. The soul is seated on this machine because the soul goes wherever the delusion of the ego takes it. Lord Kṛṣṇa’s greatness is that He can summarize the complete situation of the material world into a single perfect sentence.

Basically, the reflection in the mirror moves due to the effect of time, the soul identifies with it and says: I am moving; the reflection is moving because of my movement. In Bhagavad-Gita 3.27, Lord Kṛṣṇa says: All activities are carried out by the three modes of material nature. But deluded by the false ego (ahaṃkāra), the soul considers itself the doer. We can also understand this description through the lively proverb—”the tail wagging the dog”—where the soul is the dog, and the tail is its flattering ego.

The soul’s free will would be seen if it stopped enjoying the flattery and actually tried to become perfect. This happens when the flattery turns into criticism. By suffering, we wake up to our real situation. Thereby, the spiritual journey begins due to suffering and is hampered by material success after we have begun, if we start enjoying the flattery. The advanced soul is not disturbed by flattery. He says: Whatever I have attained is due to the grace of my spiritual master and the Lord wanting to glorify His devotees.

The Meaning of Mechanization

Once the soul identifies with the flattering ego, then it becomes completely mechanized, because the ego is moving according to natural laws. Now, its self-awareness is ego-awareness; its intention is whatever the ego intends; its emotion is whatever emotions the ego produces; its cognition is whatever the ego cognizes; its relations are whatever the ego considers itself related to; and its conations are whatever the ego does under the control of time. There is absolutely no free will. The soul loses its capacities for self-diagnosing, self-correcting, self-organizing, self-cognizing, self-seeking, and self-awareness. Everything is delegated to the material energy, which moves deterministically.

By the presence of intention, the soul has the capacity for free will; it cannot be controlled by force. By the presence of emotion, the soul feels self-satisfied and has the capacity for love, and doesn’t need to be selfish. By the presence of cognition, knowledge springs automatically within the soul, and ideas need not be fed into the soul from outside. By the presence of conation, the soul has enormous power to do things under the control of its will and doesn’t need to be given any power from outside. And by the presence of relation, the soul has complete freedom to associate or dissociate from the world.

But when the soul identifies with the ego, it progressively loses everything. Of course, the ego is not uniform in everyone, because the ego has literally infinite flavors depending on its composition by the effect of three qualities called sattva, rajas, and tamas. Thereby, some ego is better than others.

The ego of sattva has the capacities for self-analysis, self-diagnosis, self-correction, self-seeking, self-organization, and self-awareness, where the “self” pertains to the inner reality such as the senses, mind, intellect, ego, and morals. The ego of rajas has the capacity to analyze, diagnose, correct, seek, organize, and know the world. Finally, the ego of tamas is confined to analyzing, diagnosing, correcting, seeking, organizing, and knowing one’s body. Thus, under sattva, a person can understand mental reality very easily. Under rajas, a person can grasp the problems of the world and solve them easily. And under tamas, a person can only take care of his or her body.

When the consciousness is focused on the body, then a person cannot see how he is connected to the world at large, and how there is a deeper reality unperceived by the senses. The world is then modeled as distinct bodies, separated from each other, giving rise to the idea of modern science which studies the world as separated objects, quantities, mathematical laws, destroying all notions of personhood.

Worsening of Mechanization

Once the self and world understanding are lost, then the sense of meaning and purpose in life is completely destroyed. There is no morality. The tamas ego is moved by fear and greed—sticks and carrots—and not by any rational or ethical principle. There is no capacity even for mundane love or the ability to see the pains and joys of other people. The ideas of truth and right are lost; only the good remains, which is nothing more than sensual pleasure. There is no desire to serve anyone, help anyone, or assist anyone because these are not sensually pleasing. All relationships are based on demands of pleasures with minimal supply.

Once this worst form of material control is attained under the influence of the tamas ego, a person is almost completely mechanized. Thus, materialization exists even under sattva and rajas. But mechanization arises due to tamas. All the traits of personhood are progressively destroyed as the ego descends from sattva to rajas to tamas. Under tamas, spiritual personhood is completely destroyed.

Trait of Personhood Personalism Mechanization
Self-Awareness Self-diagnosis
Diagnosed by Others
Analyzed by Others
Corrected by Others
Intention Free Will
Goal Selection
Forced by Situations
Emotion Love
Cold and Insensitive
Cognition Meaning
Truth, Right, Good
Spontaneous Knowledge
Externally Input Data
Conation Volunteerism
Serving Others
Dominating Others
Relation Structure
Controlled by Others

Every single definition of a machine—e.g., that it is repetitive, has no free will, can be controlled by force, lacks creativity and cognition, makes no judgment, has no love, emotion, or empathy, does what it is programmed to do, and lacks self-correction ability—is a contrast to the definition of a person. And all these effects are caused by the soul identifying itself with a deterministically operating tamas ego.

The Effects of Mechanization

The modern world is excessively dominated by tamas, which means there is literally no capacity for introspection. Vedic philosophy rests on understanding the nature of personhood, which is also partially reflected in the working of the senses, mind, intellect, and ego. All these things require introspection. However, a tamas ego cannot introspect and hence cannot grasp the philosophy of personality. By the inability to understand the self and see it differently from mechanical instruments, personhood is completely destroyed. People can only understand the working of machines, and model everything as a machine, which are objects working under the control of mathematical laws. Thus, due to the near-complete absence of introspection, the capacity to understand Vedic philosophy is almost completely destroyed.

Similarly, any spiritual practice requires self-control, which manifests into sense-control, mind-control, action-control, and ego-control. When there is no self-control, then there can be no spiritual practice.

Likewise, spiritual progress requires self-diagnosis and self-correction. But people cannot see their faults because the ego prevents acknowledging faults. People keep shifting the blame to others: The system is bad, we were not taught properly, the teachers are not good, and the books are incomprehensible. They simply cannot see that the fault lies within them, and they have to make a greater effort.

Finally, spiritual progress requires a sacrifice of pleasures and acceptance of difficulties. However, the tamas ego is extremely sensual. Under its influence, people cannot renounce any pleasures, or undertake hardships. Everything has to be very easy and palatable, like popping a pill into the mouth. Anything that involves endeavor, effort, sacrifices, or hardships, is rejected as being too painful. Instead, whatever seems easy, is understood to some extent, becomes popular, and is elevated to the level of truth.

The net effect of tamas is that (a) people cannot grasp philosophy, (b) they cannot practice self-control, (c) they cannot renounce pleasures or accept hardships, and (d) they cannot see any faults in themselves to make improvements. If we cannot grasp philosophy, then jñāna-yoga is out of the question. If we cannot practice self-control, then aśtānga-yoga is out of the question. If we cannot renounce pleasures and accept hardships, then karma-yoga is out of the question. And if we cannot see any fault in ourselves, then we cannot accept that the rational, mystical, and practical explanation is not grasped due to our faults.

Extreme Reliance on Faith

Once life is mechanized, then the only difference between humans and machines is emotions. Machines don’t need to be motivated, but people do. You don’t tell a machine: You are doing a fantastic job. But you do that for people. Machines don’t feel pain and pleasure, but humans still do. Machines are not sad or happy, but people are. In every other way, humans have become almost completely identical to machines. Emotions are the only way that we can still distinguish humans from machines.

Hence, spiritual progress also totally depends on emotions. Chant and dance, eat sanctified food, love each other, avoid all kinds of aggression or violence (e.g., stop meat-eating), and even those things that can potentially lead to aggression or violence (such as intoxication, gambling, or illicit sex).

Of course, people will say: You are emotional people, not rational and practical people; you rely on blind faith in scriptures, and you don’t have the capacity to prove anything by reason or observation.

But there is nothing we can do because by reason they mean the mathematical modeling of objects rather than the rational understanding of personhood, and by observation they mean meter readings on instruments rather than an introspective method to know the self through the self. People have lost the capacity to understand personhood which is gained via introspection and self-analysis. They can only understand impersonalized, mechanized, materialized, and lawful study of objects, which are external to their minds and senses. Even as problems arise in studying this world, those are marginalized, postponed, rationalized, and ultimately accepted as “the best we can do”.

Now, those who come to religion—dissatisfied by the mechanical life devoid of purpose, meaning, morals, and love—accept things on faith: (a) soul and God, (b) soul vs. matter, and (c) a simple and repeatable process—e.g., the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra—to purify themselves. All faith-based religions however seem equally irrational.

The minor difference is that some religions teach humility, love, and tolerance, rather than aggression, violence, and exclusivism. This distinction is the sole obvious external discriminator between religions presently because the philosophical, introspective, meditative, mystical, and inward approach to religion is either deemphasized or marginalized in favor of the external or outward differences. The noticeable attractions are confined almost exclusively to dresses, rituals, and places of worship.

Why Mechanization is Not Better

We claim that humans are different from machines because they have the capacity to self-diagnose, self-correct, self-organize, self-cognize, self-seek, and be self-aware, which machines do not. But we also know that all the traits of humans that distinguish them from machines—with the exception of emotions—are disappearing rapidly. Meanwhile, the machine capacities are getting better. As the gap between declining humans and advancing machines narrows, there will come a time when it is cheaper, easier, and better to have machines do all the work, and leave the humans to starve and die.

That is when we will realize why the philosophy of personhood is still much better than mechanization because there is at least one thing (emotions) that machines don’t have but persons do. Religions based on faith and love will therefore remain, and more people will turn to them over time. However, they will be driven by emotional needs. They will accept the religion of love and devotion just to be happy.

Why Atheism is Simply Ignorance

The skeptics can say that religion is irrational faith, although it is not. It is a perfect science. However, to understand that science, one has to have the capacity to self-diagnose, self-correct, self-organize, self-cognize, self-seek, and be self-aware. We cannot teach philosophy to a machine. We cannot ask a machine to meditate. We cannot demand a machine to act morally. And we cannot expect a machine to self-correct. When people become just like machines, all scientific aspects of religion also disappear.

For religion to become rational again, people have to recover their personhood. If they can rise to rajas, then we can teach them perfect philosophy through the analysis of worldly scientific subjects. If they can rise to sattva, then we can teach them perfect philosophy through the principles of personhood gained by introspection. If they can realize that their current personhood is flawed, and they can fix these flaws, then we can teach them the perfect science of God by comparing it to a perfect self. But what can we do, if people cannot analyze the world, analyze the self, and correct flaws in the self?

If one takes to the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, then all declining or lost capacities in humans can be revitalized. By the revival of the capacities to self-diagnose, self-correct, self-organize, self-cognize, self-seek, and be self-aware, people will begin to understand how they are different from machines, why are they persons, why they cannot be reduced to impersonal objects and their laws. When humans are superior to machines, then they become indispensable to society—even if machines exist.

If humans advance in their personhood, then they can understand why mechanization has far bigger costs than benefits. We can carry bombs in our pockets to protect ourselves from an attack. However, it is likely that the bomb will explode in the pocket before the attack. When the bomb makes the situation far more dangerous, then the cost-benefit analysis says that we don’t carry bombs in our pockets. However, even to do this cost-benefit analysis, one has to be much better than a machine.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "What is a Machine?," in Shabda Journal, March 28, 2022, https://journal.shabda.co/2022/03/28/what-is-a-machine/.