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Modeling Suffering

What springs from the deep well-of-ignorance? Dukkha (दुःख) — a word that captures the causal chain resulting from a mind in contact with its environment — a spectrum extending from dissatisfaction, discomfort at one end to extreme suffering at the other. So claimed the Buddha. His genuine insights into the nature of Dukkha had to do with a conscious mind, and by no means were they faith claims or metaphysical, but could be investigated by its practitioners. Based on his investigation, an exchange follows between the Buddha answering {A1, A2, A3, A4, A5} and the naked ascetic questioning him {Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, Q5}) — Acela Sutta (SN 12:17) to gain knowledge.

Is Dukkha created:

  • Q1 (ascetic): … by oneself?
  • A1 (Gautama): No, that is not so.
  • Q2 (ascetic): … by another?
  • A2 (Gautama): No, that is not so.
  • Q3 (ascetic): … by either (oneself or another)?
  • A3 (Gautama): No, that is not so.
  • Q4 (ascetic): … by neither oneself nor another (pure chance)?
  • A4 (Gautama): No, that is not so.
  • Q5 (ascetic): Is there no Dukkha?
  • A5 (Gautama): No, Dukkha does exist. All experience it.

What is the nature of Dukkha? In what sense is it real? He enlightens the ascetic that it takes two to tango. He is quick to dismiss both extremes:

  • Q1 (that it is self-inflicted, thereby alluding to an eternal self and implying eternalist viewpoint) and
  • Q5 (denial of suffering = annihilationist viewpoint)
  • Q4 (pure chance or fate or fiat) is also an extreme view of the nature of suffering

Instead, he takes the middle path to explain Dukkha without veering toward either extreme. Did he reason his way to a decision to adopt the middle way? Or was there a tinge of irrationality?

His analysis is that Dukkha arises from a confluence of requisite conditions. The causal chain of events (a cascade) almost always starts with ignorance of a thing (let us call that thing, 𝜃) on the part of both actors. The actors are the perpetrator and the victim of suffering where the labels apply to both actors. Ignorance of that thing spurs a fabrication (volitional formation) of it (the thing 𝜃) rooted in the desire to know, onto which the mind latches. Then reifying and objectifying of that thing (𝜃) follows. Once conceptualized, 𝜃 gets solidified. Conditions conspire for the actors to make contact with 𝜃, feel 𝜃, crave for 𝜃. The thing (𝜃) now gets transformed into a meme, which takes on a life of its own. That causal chain eventually terminates in suffering (as a consequence of realizing their ignorance). It reminds one of Backson Song from Winnie The Pooh.

  • Let ∑ be a propositional calculus with formulas, 𝗟 = {A, B,…}. A mapping, V (using a truth value table) maps 𝗟 to 𝗠 = {0, 1} where 0 = false, 1 = true. V is called a valuation.
  • V(A) = 0 means the valuation maps a formula A to 0 (false). The valuation can map any number of formulas {A, B, …,} with logical connectives, yield either 0 (false) or true (1). There are some special formulas:

Special Cases:

If V(β) = 1 for all β, V is a tautology (⋎)
If V(δ) = 0 for all δ, V is a contradiction (⋏)
If V(ξ) = 1 for some ξ, it’s satisfiable

With the above definitions, we can look at what the Buddha implied by his statements. Let us denote the two propositions (formulas) by letters:

A = Dukkha arises by oneself (as in Q1),
B = Dukkha arises by other (as in Q2)

In a tuple of four formulas {Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4} = {A, B, (A ∨ B), ¬(A ∨ B)} all were negated {A1, A2, A3, A4} = {0} by the Buddha. What does he mean when the logic of four (tetralemma) maps onto zero (false)? If there are two valuations:

  1. V₀ such that V₀(A) = 0, V₀(B) = 1 and
  2. V₁ such that V₁(A) = 1, V₁(B) = 0

If A and B are distinct letters of the calculus ∑, they must be independent (i.e., separable). For any formula P, the valuations yield a pair of truth values that are:

(V₀(P), V₁(P)) = {(0,1), (1,0), (1,1), (0,0)}

Preventing two (or more) actors from coming into contact with each other or their world to keep Dukkha from arising is patently absurd! Both start with ignorance as their state of mind (about each other and the world) and contact is inevitable.

A != ¬B and B != ¬A (where != means not equal to)

All the above implies

  1. we cannot assume (A ∨ B) is identically true
  2. we cannot assume ¬(A ∨ B) is identically false.

Denial of all four alternatives is a claim that any formula (P) of any propositional calculus ∑ cannot explain the concept where A and B are independent formulas.

Dukkha is subjective that can hardly be conceptualized by pure reason into AGI, perhaps if ever. It has a dependent origination — a causal chain that gets kick-started by ignorance, which defines the default condition of all humans. It cannot be attributed to any individual but is real. The exact sense in which it exists cannot be captured by propositional calculus, not even by the logic of four (tetralemma). It exists akin to a wave function exists but makes contact with reality and has real-life consequences.

The cessation of Dukkha comes about by wisdom — perceiving the world clearly, an antidote to ignorance. And this objective claim is purely the result of self-investigation as claimed by the Buddha. He encouraged not to take his words on faith or treat them as dogma. Instead, to verify them in the laboratory of our minds — by cultivating clarity in mindfully viewing the world. AGI has neither access nor can model the quality of our subjective experience in our conscious minds. Not yet.


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