Last day I was reading this post by bloggingisaresponsibility and I had a crazy idea. I am so excited about it that I decided to write an article to gauge people’s opinions. It’s one of those things which is either genius or completely stupid. I’m still not sure which one.
Bloggingisaresponsibility’s post talked about a psychological approach to enlightenment. The idea is that enlightenment is a mental state that can be brought about by eliminating certain tendencies in the brain. By telling people to focus on a certain object, we override some of these tendencies and create a different experience: enlightenment.
What are these tendencies that get in the way? You may be familiar with the main culprit: it’s you. The belief in a self is precisely what precludes us from experiencing a unity between us and the rest of the world. Once we perceive this unity and the self evaporates, we instantly become less selfish (“selfish” without “self” is just “ish,” after all) and our worries fade away, since we don’t have a self attached to them.
Seen in this light, enlightenment can be seen as an impairment: the removal of a certain subroutine from our brain, in this case, the self. Why aren’t people born enlightened? Well, probably because going around without a self is not the best strategy for survival. The self or the illusion of one is crucial in self-preservation. The opposite would be not-self-preservation which sounds a lot like death. So when we practice meditation we are in fact training ourselves to cripple our brains: to avoid using certain functionality that came pre-installed. We are trying to get used of all this programming that, while successful for reproduction and survival, is not effective when trying to reach happiness.
Nirvana (Photo credit: Dunechaser)
Now, there are several ways of getting rid of this programming. Continuing with the computer software analogy, I’ll say we can either do it the “hardware” way or the “software” way. Changing the software is called “meditation”: it consists of training our neural net to react to stimuli differently, avoiding the circuitry of the self. It is a lengthy process requiring years of practice, but it is relatively safe. The “hardware” way is much more straightforward: remove the undesired areas. Done.
Of course, nobody likes having a piece of brain removed. Well, nobody I know. So surgery is probably not an option. But we have a next best thing: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS.) TMS is routinely used by neurologists to produce virtual lesions on patients. The way it works is the machine sends a magnetic pulse to a certain brain region, which becomes temporarily deactivated. This allows researchers to find out what happens if you remove certain parts of the brain, without having to actually wait for people to get injured. This is also how we recently found out that there’s a part of the brain associated with morality which, when deactivated, makes people utilitarians. Oh, and the risk involved with using TMS is very low: it can at most produce seizures in patients with some previous condition.
So I did some research and found out that researchers have already found candidate areas for where the self is located. We have a map. Therefore, all we have to do is configure our TMS to deactivate those areas and there you go! No self. Enlightenment with a button.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation uses magnetism to safely stimulate or inhibit parts of the brain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A unit costs around 25,000 dollars. I’m seriously tempted to buy one.
So why would this be so awesome? Well, for one, you’d be able to reach enlightenment without years of mediation. That’s something. Also, you wouldn’t have to take anyone’s word for it. For example, one of the things that keeps me from fully pursuing meditation is a lack of conviction. Yes, people keep telling you that you’ll reach Nirvana. But these people have spent their whole lives trying: of course they won’t tell you that it’s not worth the trouble! Can you imagine? “Spent my whole life doing eight hours of meditation per day. Reached Nirvana. Wasn’t as great as I thought.” Maybe some monks tell themselves they’ve reached Nirvana without having done so.
Buddhists always emphasize their religion is “experimental” because you can go and see for yourself. The catch is, you need to spend years training your mind before you can. After you spent so many years, you’re probably quite invested in the idea of enlightenment or you wouldn’t have done it in the first place. So, when deciding whether to start, I have to take their word for it. And I don’t like taking people’s word for stuff.
But this way, I wouldn’t have to! It’s the perfect shortcut. It fits perfectly with my scientifically-minded persona. Build a machine. Test it. Test it again. Tweak it. Test it. Reach enlightenment. There.
And then, all I need to do is sell it or rent it or give it away and the whole world can become enlightened. Can you imagine? A world of selfless, generous people? A world of happy people? A world of people full of empathy?
So, should I launch a Kickstarter campaign and start building the monster?
Or should I get myself checked?