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Buddhism, Dialetheism and the 'Mind versus Machine' Problem

A paradox?  A paradox!
A most ingenious paradox.
We’ve quips and quibbles heard in flocks,
But none to beat this paradox
How quaint the ways of Paradox
At common sense she gaily mocks!

- Pirates of Penzance

A computer is a universal machine which can simulate any physical system including any other machine, or the software running on any other machineIf the mind can be shown to possess abilities that no machine has, or can have, then this would be evidence for the Buddhist view that the mind is non-physical.

The view that the mind can be modelled by a computer is known as computationalism.

So is there anything that the mind can do that a machine cannot? Appreciate art? Compose poetry? Feel love and compassion? Lie convincingly?... 

Every statement on this webpage is a lie.
So the statement in italics is a lie. So at least some statements on this page must be true. Perhaps including the one in italics. Which if it is true must be a lie.

There are similar sentences such as

'Them' can never be the first word of a grammatical sentence. 


The Ultimate Truth is that there is no ultimate truth.


Postmodernism demonstrates that all philosophical systems are invalid.

Or my favourite

This sentense contains three erors.
There are only two spelling mistakes and the sentence is grammatical so what's the third error? Well it's obviously the factual error in counting three errors when there are only two. So that explains how the sentence comes to have three errors. In which case the sentence is factually correct, hence there are only the two spelling errors. So the sentence is incorrect.

Or consider

The barber shaves everybody who doesn't shave himself. 
Who shaves the barber?

This latter is a simplified form of Russell's paradox, which is

The set of all sets that are not members of themselves.

Incidentally you can find one of these not-true-not-false statements in the Bible. Take a look a Titus 1: 12 - 14.  It certainly gives a new perspective to the phrase   'gospel truth'! Or maybe its just God's little joke to tease the inerrantists.

But what's all this got to do with mind versus machine?

Any machine will represent truth and falsity as discrete states or numerical values. A computer represents the truth of a statement as a single bit.  For exampe TRUE = 1 and FALSE = 0.

You can also have fractional truth values if you are dealing with probabilities. Thus 0.5 is the truth value of an unseen tossed coin being heads. But this actually is the average of the two possible truth values. An act of observation will always resolve the coin as heads or tails. (We'll exclude the coin remaining standing on its edge by assuming we're aboard a trawler in a force nine gale).

Individual truth states can be manipulated and combined to give long chains of logical reasoning which should form the basis of artificial intelligence.

But when we examine the statements in italics it's apparent that their truth-states do not lie on a scale of 0 to 1, or even on a scale of 0 to 42. In fact they're off in another dimension. These paradoxical truth-states (known as dialetheia or dialethia in the trade) have more of a qualitative, intuitive feel to them than anything quantifiable.  It seems that the human mind can access states which cannot be represented or manipulated within any machine (remember a computer is a universal machine which can simulate any physical system including any other machine). 

If dialetheist truth states were purely inconsequential curiosities, none of this would matter too much.  But as Russell and later Gödel were to show, such dialetheia lie at the very heart of mathematics.  It is also possible that the ability to deal with indeterminate truth states is an important factor in 'open-ended' mental processes such as freewill and artistic creativity.

Similar arguments that the mind can understand what a machine cannot have been developed by the eminent physicist Sir Roger Penrose, whose work has done much to lead to the 'rediscovery of the mind' which took place among philosophers in the 1990s. 


The Boolean logical processes implemented on any sort of physical machine are inadequate to describe the capabilities of human mental processes. (See computationalism). This limitation will not be solved by hardware improvements.

No matter how many terabytes, gigaflops, neural nets or iterations of Moore's law we throw at the problem of producing a machine-mind, the difficulties will remain insurmountable as long as the hardware is only capable of dealing with truth values which can be treated as binary or numeric/probabilistic.

But what other hardware architecture is there?

There's an interesting article on dialetheism 'Nagarjuna and the Limits of Thought' by Jay L. Garfield and Graham Priest at
which shows that there are 'true contradictions' (ie real unresolvable paradoxes) at the limits of logical thought, but the limits of logical thought are not the limits of mind. (Yet this should not be used as an excuse for rampant irrationalism.)

At least that's what I think it shows. The tetralemmas made my brain
hurt, and when I came to W={x:j(x)} etc I gave up and went for a pint.

Buddhist Resources


If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith?

Christian versus Buddhist worldviews

Buddhism in Everyday Life
The Daily Meditation