The problem of the ego in the bhagavad gita

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The problem of the ego in the bhagavad gita

  1. 1. Resolving the conflict caused by social credit assignment Kamesh R. Aiyer
  2. 2. THE PROBLEM OF “I” Preview: The social-cognitive-linguistic term “I” is, despite its simplicity, hard to understand. It was apparently simple and easily used It spread very quickly – maybe even the first viral “meme” Difficulties arose with the easy generalizations that caused immediate problems Thesis: The Bhagavad Gita is one attempt at a solution © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 2
  3. 3. THE INVENTION OF THE SELF Philosophers, scientists, religious teachers, etc., use the words “self”, “consciousness”, “intelligence”, and so on, as though their meaning was obvious When they come across the paradoxes, i.e., dissonance between the concept and observation, they spin elaborate explanations Thesis: These concepts are used to solve certain problems in language. When generalized and applied to other situations, they don’t work (sometimes). © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 3
  4. 4. THE PLANNING PROBLEM A pride of lions does not “plan” a hunt. They go out as a group, surround the migrating wildebeest, do some ineffectual forays, then slowly focus on one weak animal Lions are far apart and not talking to each other! The first foray proves the weakness The lions surround and go in for the kill The point being, they do not talk to each other The actions of the individual lion are determined by context They have almost the same problem-solving behavior What happens when you put two lions together from different prides? I don’t know, but my guess is that they will have difficulty hunting together Is it even possible? © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 4
  5. 5. COMMUNICATING ABOUT ROLES AND ACTIONS Two small bands (of humans) need a language for supporting cooperation Language needs concept of “actors” in “roles” Awareness of roles is the initial representation of consciousness in language For other definitions that don’t work: Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 5
  6. 6. ON AVERAGE, GROUPS DO BETTER Where Julian Jaynes goes wrong – role of self for resolution of the Credit Assignment problem E.g., recent work (CMU+MIT) on effectiveness of small groups in problem-solving Better communicators do better than expected Not correlated to “IQ” of members (min/max/mean)! The social problem: Assign credit for group performance But the group does not do better because of any one person So, the key societal question: WHO gets the credit? © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 6
  7. 7. THE PROBLEM OF CREDIT-ASSIGNMENT A pride of lions goes out to hunt. They bring down a wildebeest and all sit down to eat. The male lion gets the first bites Because he is bigger Psychological – he was bigger, now they defer to him Who gets the credit for the successful hunt? What if it was a failure because one lion (lioness) did not perform his (her) role? Who gets that “credit” In human groups, positive credit is appropriated Sometimes by consensus Sometimes by assertion Sometimes by right © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 7
  8. 8. CHIEFDOMS Small tribes appear to have been egalitarian with occasional self-appointed Big Men organizing pot- latches Read Malinowski on New Guinea, but also Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings Big Men take credit for their successes At tremendous sacrifice on their part and their followers’ parts “We did it”. Note the “we” Big Men grow lean while everybody else is fat! Praising the Big Man pays off once a generation (or less) when a disaster (natural or otherwise) strikes Big Men make the key management decisions Followers get spin-off benefits Others are “saved” © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 8
  9. 9. “BIG MEN” ORGANIZE GROUPS The organizer of the group takes credit But in social discourse, the group is “We” “We” are celebrated, the chief takes credit in the name of “Us”. “We” come first As groups become larger, they are structured into a hierarchy of subgroups Not necessary, but refer back to CMU/MIT study of small groups I.e., Harder to communicate effectively in larger groups “We” works up the hierarchy Credit flows up the hierarchy The ROYAL “We” comes first (no “I” yet) Dissonance between subchief’s use of “We” and chief’s use of “We” Dissonance between subgroup leader’s use of “We” in different contexts Solution: Boss is “We”, subordinate is “I” © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 9
  10. 10. WHAT IS BEING ASSERTED? There is a hierarchic social organization that solves social problems There is a cognitive problem of how to assign credit within the social organization Within a single human this is done by the architecture of the brain Language is the tool used by humans to provide an architecture for social problem-solving “We” with multiple contextual meanings is the first attempt “I” is the second, simpler attempt, subsuming “we” © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 10
  11. 11. “WE” BECOMES UNIVERSALIZED TO “I” But solution creates new problems, because humans generalize language concepts/memes “I” becomes attached to physical and mental associations of the subject Something “We” never did “I” has a body, has mental states, owns property, has emotions, and so on “I” can conflict with “We”! “I” is a much more grounded and concretizable concept! Suddenly credit assignment is back as a problem Can’t have that! © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 11
  12. 12. PROBLEMS OF “I” “I” comes with a raft of problems “We” survived death, how does “I” survive? Invention of “spirit” “Discovery” of “out-of-body” experiences “I”-s can contest credit assignment Selfishness, jealousy, etc., can be NAMED! Blame can be explicitly assigned DOWN the hierarchy We all know how this works! “I”’s relationship to objects can be named and contested External Object: Common/Private, Use, Human relationships: bound/free, friendship/enmity, superior/inferior Internal Feelings: (navarasa) love, mirth/laughter, fury/anger, pity/sorrow, disgust/nausea, fear/horror, courage/persistence/self- sacrifice, wonder/awe/amazement, serenity/calm © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 12
  13. 13. “I” AND “WE” MUST BE RECONCILED The relationship between “I” and “We” is a problem. What is it? What should it be? Why should this ”I” be the “We” and that “I” not. The core problem is credit/blame assignment. But there is NO solution to the credit assignment problem! In any complex feedback system of variables, you can usually arbitrarily choose one as the base and another as derived. There is no universally computable problem (no algorithm exists to solve it) i.e., there is no solution Gita says, “I” should do its duty to “We” w/o worrying about “fruits”, i.e. don’t worry about who gets credit! Hindu: Vedanta generalized “We” to “Brahman” and “I” to “Atman”, both abstract entities, devoid of a body! © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 13
  14. 14. “I” AND THE PROBLEM OF SUFFERING People have always suffered. But now, we can say Why am I suffering? Why am I in pain? Previously, the reaction to a threat or injury could be automatic Now you can name the associated “feeling” That leads us to Cause-and-Effect © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 14
  15. 15. CAUSE AND EFFECT Another built-in mechanism in the architecture of the human brain Refer: experiments that show ~300msec as the dividing line between cause and non-cause Everything else is generalization, validated by test Aristotle’s classification – immediate/contingent/etc. Causal relationships that are not immediate must be discovered and tested -- if you can’t test it, it isn’t real The Law of Karma – ultimate untestable generalization of Cause Everything that happens must have a cause The cause must be in the same problem space as the effect Moral effects have moral causes © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 15
  16. 16. THE BHAGAVAD GITA Brings these two together “We” dominates “I” – do your karma (i.e. your assigned acts) If you do your karma faithfully, the law of Karma will not apply, you will not suffer, you will “attain moksha” (be liberated from the cycle) Do not be concerned about credit assignment – it will get done. In any case, “God” gets the credit/blame © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 16
  17. 17. OTHER SOLUTIONS Buddhist: Suffering is caused by attachment – act reasonably (whatever that means), without attachment. Jain: The Atman is reborn repeatedly and the Law of Karma applies across lifetimes Christian: The WE hierarchy terminates with God; Each “I” has a direct love/hate relationship with God and is the only important one. All other I-We relationships are mundane. All actions have consequences on Judgment Day © 2012 Kamesh R. Aiyer Slide 17

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