Real vs Artificial Intelligence: A Dharmic Perspective

Sachin Modi

Rapidly increasing computing power over the past years has lead to phenomenal success in machine learning and this success translates into software being able to exhibit intelligent behaviour with minimal or without human instruction. Ability of the software to mimic the human intellect at learning and taking intelligent action has been termed as “Artificial Intelligence” and this raises two very fundamental concerns. Firstly, is there any fundamental difference between real human intelligence and artificial intelligence or is human intellect just like some software running on biological hardware instead of silicon. Secondly, if AI can replace the human intellect, what consequences will it have on the individual and on society at large. T

These concerns have been elaborately addressed in the third and fourth battlegrounds of Rajiv Malhotra’s book ‘AI and the future of Power’.

Rajiv Malhotra in his book states that there are two competing theories of consciousness, spiritual and materialistic. In the materialistic theory, a reductionist approach is followed where matter is the primary reality and aliveness, consciousness or intelligence of the human being is just an emergent phenomenon – epiphenomenon like software running on a machine. Whereas in the spiritual approach, consciousness is primary and matter is secondary. Rajiv Malhotra in his book says “I believe the Atman is not only real but the only entity that ultimately exists.” In our scriptures, human beings’s existence is broadly classified into seven layers: body, breath, mind, intellect, memory, ego and Self[2]. Each of these layers become subtler and more powerful as we move towards the Self, contrary to the reductionist approach where body is the primary reality. This conflict between the materialistic and spiritual perspective towards life has been termed as “The Battle for Self” in the fourth battleground in the book.

Sanatana Dharma has given utmost importance to human intellect, it is said that only humans have ‘Viveka’ – the power to discriminate and make choices according to their free will. It is Viveka which guides a human being to perform righteous action and take on higher pursuits in life. Many prayers in our culture call for purification of the intellect, like in the Gayatri Mantra “Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat” means “inspire and direct my intellect towards righteousness”.

Satyam Param Dhimahi” calls for upholding the transcendental truth in one’s awareness. With the emergence of artificial intelligence, it is the human intellect that is getting assaulted like never before. Rajiv Malhotra states in his book how people are willing to give up their free will and agency to AI and live their lives almost on autopilot. This is what the author terms as “The Battle for Agency” in third battleground.

From a dharmic perspective, the faculties of the human consciousness like the mind, intellect, memory and ego are more powerful than the body, therefore an assault on these is in a sense more damaging than a physical assault on the body.

Rishi NItyapragya in his book ‘Celebrating Life’ elaborately explains the functions of each of these faculties of the human consciousness which are starkly analogous to the way artificial neural networks are trained and the way they operate. Mind is the faculty which experiences thoughts and emotions about the past and the future, perceives the outer world through the five sense organs, it also has the ability to observe the inner world of thoughts and emotions,  it expresses itself through actions and words, and it offers multiple options to the intellect to choose from[2]. Intellect is the faculty responsible for understanding or misunderstanding matters, it judges, labels, sorts and categorizes things, and it is responsible for taking decisions[2]

Perception and observation of the mind is like providing massive amounts of training data to the neural network and the field of expression is like various possibilities of response from the algorithm. Function of the intellect is analogous to the actual logic that gets embedded into the neural network after training which results in an intelligent response to a particular input. The AI models are perpetually under training and they keep evolving and getting better, similarly it is essential for us to unlearn and adapt our intellect to the changing paradigms of the world to prevent ourselves from becoming obsolete.  

Like a trained neural network gets stored as an algorithm in the machine’s memory, similarly the actions or any reasoning that an individual repeatedly reinforces becomes a psychological tendency and gets stored as a ‘vrutti’ in the individual’s memory. Every individual’s memory is a storehouse of these ‘vruttis’ which are analogous to algorithms which instinctively drive the decision-making process of the intellect most of the time.  Maharishi Patanjali in yoga sutras says “Yogas Chitt Vrutti Nirodh” meaning “Yoga is to be free from tendencies(vruttis) of the chitt(memory).”[2]  He further says that some vrittis are klisht(harmful) and others are aklisht(harmless). The purpose of spiritual practices like meditation is to recognize our “klisht vruttis”, be free from them and purify our chitt. 

An AI algorithm is trained by defining an objective function which the algorithm attempts to optimize. For example, the social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. want to maximize the time spent by people on their platform, therefore the AI machinery in the background works 24/7 to achieve that objective to the maximum extent possible.

Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha’ are said to the four pursuits of life. An individual should aim towards fulfilment all four of them but the ‘objective function’ one sets for himself is a function of his ego.

Rajiv Malhotra states in the book “AI optimizes the fulfilment of Kama(desires). And the gratification of desire is what the ego wants above everything.” Ego is our limited identification which makes us choose short sighted gratifications over long term higher pursuits in life.

An excerpt from the book:

The amazing success of purely materialistic instant gratification suggests that the emotional mind share of people is shifting away from higher pursuits in life to a portfolio of disconnected pursuits, each of which can be optimized in isolation through technology. Like the app stores of today, a marketplace may emerge where people can download moods and emotions on demand, and send them as gifts to others.”

Rajiv Malhotra explains how market driven AI forces are so precisely able to psychologically profile everyone, AI algorithms are essentially capable of mathematically mapping and encoding the storehouse of “vruttis” in an individual’s memory into artificial neural networks and the market drive nature of these algorithms reinforces the “klisht vruttis” through content on social media and other products. So a ‘non-aware’ individual is not only a slave of his own mind and harmful tendencies but also to the AI algorithms which have figured out how to trigger various psychological states in the him leading to dumbing down or ‘moronization of the masses’ as the author calls it. As individuals we need to spend time in ‘manana’ or contemplation to understand our own ‘vruttis’ and take charge of our intellect and actions.

It is only the knowledge of Vedanta and the Self that can help us intricately understand the Kurukshetra at play between the algorithm and the being so that our intelligence doesn’t become a slave to AI rather reaps the fruits of AI. 


[1]”Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Power” by Rajiv Malhotra

[2]” Celebrating Life: 6 Steps to the Complete Blossoming of Your Consciousness” by Rishi Nityapragya

Sachin Modi
Sachin Modi

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: