Higher intelligence, even one aided by Artificial Intelligence (AI), is not the solution that will end our suffering — a view that is promoted by transhumanists, who believe that the human race can and must evolve beyond its current constraints through science and technology.
I believe that something else is needed to live a balanced, fulfilling, and meaningful life other than a massive upgrade of intelligence.
What is necessary is the understanding that all our troubles stem from another source — the burden of our psychological self.
The psychological self is the conditioned mind. It keeps track of everything that went wrong in the past and warns of future dangers up ahead. It is a constant source of grief, perpetually evaluating other people to see if they might be harmful and scanning the environment to detect any emerging threats.
But before we discuss ways to escape the psychological self, let us discuss why intelligence is not enough to fix the world, save civilization from its looming threats, and finally give us a chance to be happy.
The Human Condition
Let’s first talk about the human condition.
Life is difficult for most people most of the time. They are constantly bombarded with problems that appear just beyond their ability to manage. While there are some breaks in this journey from one crisis to another, these are only short interludes of pleasure before the chaos resumes.
Obviously, if one is unintelligent, problems appear even more difficult because one does not have the perspicacity to come up with effective solutions. But this leads to an erroneous conclusion about intelligence.
For this reason, many people devote many hours of their days, year after year, trying to master a field of knowledge, hoping this ability to discern will give them a winning edge. For this reason, we are trying to go beyond the limitations of mental confusion, forgetting, and emotional turmoil by creating machines that will process data far more effectively.
But if you happen to be a highly intelligent people, you see things in a different way.
For one thing, you are often ostracized by those less able, who try to whittle you down to size. This is why intelligent children are often bullied in school by their less astute peers. This is why exceptional people like William Sidis went into hiding from the mockery of the press and never made “a dent in the universe” despite his formidable intelligence.
For another, you still have problems, only they are different in size and scope than those experienced by others of less intelligence. What’s more, because of your ability to see more deeply and clearly, you can see how difficult your problems are and what a mess the world has been in since the beginning of recorded history.
Here’s the thing: intelligence is not enough to overcome the troubles and constraints that life throws upon us all. It is not enough to escape from the difficulties of life.
Is Life Just Simply Problematic?
It’s easy to assume the problem is out there. That we are constrained by limited data and poor processing skills and live in a potentially hostile world. But if we look at it more closely, we will see that our burdened minds are the cause of most of our woes.
While developing new technologies and more innovative ways of coping with everything from political ineptitude, murderous dictators, corporate crime, and the lust for war, might indeed be solved by increasing our intelligence, particularly with the enormous help of AI, we are still not going to be happy on this planet. In fact, we might even make AI a new problem.
Yes, by increasing our intelligence through natural and artificial means might get rid of the many issues that are troubling our world, even threatening to destroy the planet, we are still the source of our own difficulties.
We will continue to create problems for ourselves because problems are the illusion that makes us feel alive.
We invent problems because it distracts us from the pain of the past and our anxiety about the future. We seek refuge in crisis. The psychological self constantly needs chaos to feel relevant.
Escaping the Psychological Self
We cannot escape the burdens of the conceptual mind by coming up with more concepts. We need another route — cultivating the pure consciousness that is within us. How we do this, of course, is a matter of choice. Many spiritual technologies already exist, and there is nothing to stop you or me from discovering our own way to connect with our deeper consciousness.
Increasing our capacity to know and understand the world is only a partial solution to putting an end to our suffering as human beings. While it might resolve many of our immediate problems — ranging from politicians to power and from poverty to pollution — the real culprit is the psychological self that keeps stirring up fresh dilemmas because it is in a constant state of angst.
Real solutions will emerge on a global scale not when we are smarter, but when we are more soulful. Simply improving our ability to crunch data by building thinking machines is not enough to save a planet in crisis, we also have to develop our humanity.