I enclose a cutting from a piece of the Daily Telegraph in which some dāna was wrapped (these scraps of newspaper provide me with a window through which I can see what is going on in the outside world—a strange landscape, with English football and the Belgian Stock Exchange occupying the foreground). The cutting provides a fair example of the muddled thinking about which I wrote to you earlier. You will see from it that, whereas you and I (and presumably Mr. Coghlan too, who wrote the letter) seek food when we feel hungry, a cat seeks food when its stomach is empty: it does not feel anything at all. All its actions—such, for example, as screeching and bolting when boiling water is poured on it—take place simply as a result of a stimulus to its cybernetic brain. It would, it seems, be a great mistake to suppose that a scalded cat suffers pain. The cat is perfectly indifferent to what is going on since it feels nothing—indeed this statement is excessive, since the cat does not even feel indifferent.
Actually, the 'cybernetic brain' is a considerable advance on Professor Jefferson, and is the subject of Dr. Ross Ashby's book Design for a Brain. The principles of cybernetics, of teleological or end-seeking or purposive behaviour (which can be expressed mathematically) are very instructive provided the proper order is observed—consciousness or experience first, and the body, if at all, a bad second. But Ross Ashby and his disciple Coghlan follow the prevailing fashion of 'scientific common sense', and put the body first. The argument runs something like this. Our own experience, and the observed behaviour of others, is teleological (which is perfectly true); and since our experience or behaviour is entirely dependent upon the state of our nervous system (which is exactly half the truth, and therefore false), our nervous system (or brain) must therefore be a cybernetic machine. It is then the simplest thing in the world to assert that our experience or behaviour is teleological because our brain is a cybernetic machine (explicable, of course, in 'purely physiological terms' as Professor Jefferson would say)—an assertion for which there is no independent evidence whatsoever. Confusion is then worse confounded by the unexplained addition of 'conscious intelligence and will', whose connexion with the cybernetic mechanism of the nervous system is left completely in the dark. However, enough of this.
I notice that at the top of the hospital notepaper there is the motto 'Ārogya paramā lābhā'. Everybody naturally takes this to mean that bodily health is the highest gain, and it might seem to be a most appropriate motto for a hospital. But perhaps you would be interested to know what the Buddha has to say about it. The following passage is from Majjhima Nikāya Sutta 75 (M.i,508-10, in which the simile of the leper who scratches and roasts himself also appears). The Buddha is talking to Māgandiya, a Wanderer (paribbājaka—follower of a certain traditional school of teaching):
Then the Auspicious One (Bhagavā) uttered these lines:(The Buddha then goes on to indicate to Māgandiya what is really meant by 'good health' and 'nibbāna'.)
—Good health is the highest gain,
nibbāna is the highest pleasure,
and the eight-factored path is the one
that is peaceful and leads to the deathless.
(Ārogya paramā lābhā nibbānam paramam sukham,
Atthangiko ca maggānam khemam amatagāminan ti.)
When this was said, the Wanderer Māgandiya said to the Auspicious One:—It is wonderful, Master Gotama, it is marvellous, Master Gotama, how well said it is by Master Gotama 'Good health is the highest gain, nibbāna is the highest pleasure'. I, too, Master Gotama, have heard this saying handed down from teacher to pupil by Wanderers of old 'Good health is the highest gain, nibbāna is the highest pleasure'. And Master Gotama agrees with this.
—But in this saying that you have heard, Māgandiya, handed down from teacher to pupil by Wanderers of old 'Good health is the highest gain, nibbāna is the highest pleasure', what is that good health, what is that nibbāna?
When this was said, the Wanderer Māgandiya stroked his own limbs with his hand.—This, Master Gotama, is that good health, this is that nibbāna. At present, Master Gotama, I am in good health and have pleasure; there is nothing that afflicts me.
—Suppose, Māgandiya, there was a man blind from birth, who could see no forms either dark or light, no blue forms, no yellow forms, no red forms, no crimson forms, who could see neither even nor uneven, who could see no stars, who could see neither sun nor moon. And suppose he were to hear a man who could see, saying 'What a fine thing is a white cloth that is beautiful to look at, clean and spotless!', and were then to go in search of such cloth. And suppose some man were to deceive him with a coarse cloth stained with grease and soot, saying 'Here good man is a white cloth for you that is beautiful to look at, clean and spotless'. And suppose he were to accept it and put it on, and being pleased were to utter words of pleasure 'What a fine thing is a white cloth that is beautiful to look at, clean and spotless!'—What do you think, Māgandiya, would that man blind from birth have accepted that coarse cloth stained with grease and soot and have put it on, and being pleased would he have uttered words of pleasure 'What a fine thing is a white cloth that is beautiful to look at, clean and spotless!' because he himself knew and saw this, or out of trust in the words of the man who could see?
—Certainly, Master Gotama, that man blind from birth would have accepted that coarse cloth stained with grease and soot and put it on, and being pleased would have uttered words of pleasure 'What a fine thing is a white cloth that is beautiful to look at, clean and spotless!' without himself knowing and seeing this, but out of trust in the words of the man who could see.
—Just so, Māgandiya, sectarian Wanderers are blind and sightless, and without knowing good health, without seeing nibbāna, they still speak the line 'Good health is the highest gain, nibbāna is the highest pleasure.' These lines, Māgandiya, 'Good health is the highest gain, nibbāna is the highest pleasure, and the eight-factored path is the one that is peaceful and leads to the deathless' were spoken by Arahat Fully Awakened Ones (sammāsambuddhā) of old; but now in the course of time they have been adopted by commoners (puthujjanā). This body, Māgandiya, is diseased, ulcered, wounded, painful, sick. And you say of this body that is diseased, ulcered, wounded, painful, sick, 'This, Master Gotama, is that good health, this is that nibbāna.' You, Māgandiya, do not have that noble eye (ariyacakkhu) with which to know good health and to see nibbāna.
Daily Telegraph and Morning Post, Thursday, March 15, 1962
MAN IS THE ONLY ANIMAL ABLE TO THINK AND FEEL
Sirs—In The Facts of Insect Life, Dr. Anthony Michaelis raises the problem of the relation of life and consciousness, i.e., awareness of individuals of their existence.
Insects are automata reacting mechanically to stimulation of a cybernetic nervous system. They act by instinct. Instincts are chains of reactions to stimuli so linked that reaction to the first stimulus causes the organism to receive the second, the second the third, and so on until the goal is reached. The sequence of actions resulting is intelligent in the sense that it is directed to an end.
Dr. Michaelis assumes the activities of mammals are not so explicable and 'vertebrates like the rat are conscious.'
Consider a hunting cat. The first stimulus to its cybernetic brain is an empty stomach causing it to prowl to and fro. The next the rustling noises of its prey in the herbage as the animal accidentally comes within range. Its sonar direction finders swing the head to the direction of the sound, bringing the eyes to bear. Their registration of movement causes the pounce and capture. Grasping claws draw blood, smell provokes the bite, taste then plays its part and the prey is consumed.
The process is repeated till a full stomach coupled with depletion of the brain's fuel brings things to a halt. The animal curls up and sleeps.
Since conscious intelligence is not involved, instinct chains can be set in action by anything applying the appropriate stimulus at any point. Cats hunt rustling leaves blown by the wind or the glimpsed tips of their tails as avidly as real prey. In mammals the instinct-provoking object must apply the correct stimuli in the correct order to five perceptors: sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. In nature this means instinct is in practice infallible.
Our own acts fall into three classes: (1) reflexes which do not reach consciousness; (2) reflexes of which we are conscious but which could equally well be the result of unconscious instinct; and (3) acts impossible to produce without the use of conscious intelligence and will.
The majority fall into classes 1 and 2 and these we share with the animals. Class 3 activities are found only in Man. The inference? Man alone is conscious; Man alone thinks and feels.
J. J. Coghlan Hull
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