By Subhash Kak
Let me first explain what I mean by “God”. I don’t mean someone who sits in paradise and watches over the world, meting out punishment or reward on the Day of Judgment. Such suppositions are not subject to refutation and are outside scientific and rational argumentation. Though, at the end of this text, I have explained the etymology of the words “God” and “paradise,” to show how they relate to the understanding I use.
God and Consciousness
By “God”, I take its Vedic meaning, that it is the Self (ātman) within each individual. The Śiva Sūtra proclaims caitanyamātmā, or “Consciousness is the Self”. It is elsewhere called Śiva which is Prakāśa or Light. The Bhagavad Gītā 5.29 calls the inner Self “Maheśvara”, the Great Īśvara, another name for Śiva – the “Great Lord”.
The Vedic view is that the individual selves – as experienced by different minds – are like the images of the Sun in different pots of water; the differences in the experience are not because the light is different, but that it has been received in pots with different screens. Instinct and habit throw covers on the light, resulting in the spectrum of felt experience.
The proof that God exists, is the scientific proof that consciousness cannot be derived from materiality. If it were a property of matter, one could measure it. As property of matter, it would be subject to diminution or expansion and determined by the past, whereas in reality consciousness is associated with freedom.
We live in the age of computers, so let us restate our problem in terms of whether computers will ever become conscious. If computers ever become conscious, then consciousness is a property of matter and the circuitry that defines its architecture. If computers cannot become conscious – not just now but ever in the future, then consciousness is distinct from materiality and this is proof of the existence of God.
In other words, if consciousness is not computable then God exists. Materiality and consciousness are two aspects of the same reality, like two sides of a coin.
Consciousness is not computable
In the first published paper, “The limits of machine consciousness” in Journal of Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness, volume 9, pages 59–72, 2022, I argued that while science can explain mind/intelligence – I call this Little-C, it cannot explain Consciousness – this I call Big-C, which is equivalent to Śiva. I use neuroscience, logic, and quantum theory arguments to arrive at my conclusions.
Big-C, or Consciousness, transcends the materialism paradigm, and it is consistent with Vedanta.
We think of ourselves as being outside of our bodies and our conceptions of the universe are, as if, we are not a part of it. Our bodies and mind belong to it, but not our consciousness. If this sense of being outside of the physical world is true, it would be impossible to emulate it by hardware by performing processing that is within the world. It also follows that it will not be a computational property of the physical elements that comprise the system.
If consciousness is not material, it cannot be local, and thus it must be non-algorithmic and non-computable. Consciousness has many paradoxical aspects. Thus in the framework of quantum theory, the observer sits outside the system with the capacity to collapse its state, while remaining unaccounted for by the theory. The paradoxes of consciousness are a consequence of its manifestation in the mind, which has limitations of time and space. Note also that logic itself leads to its own paradoxes.
We can look for the non-computability of consciousness to parallel the un-solvability of the halting problem of computer science. Let us define “consciousness” as some privileged state of the mind that makes its processes halt – we don’t bother to specify it beyond this description, and its contents registered, which is what we imply by awareness.
Humans can get into the state of “awareness” at any time, which means that the earlier computation has halted, and this is irrespective of the initial state of the immediately preceding process. The exceptions are if a person is sleeping or unconscious as in a coma. But such halting to arbitrary input is impossible from a computability point of view. Therefore, it follows that consciousness is not computable.
The consideration of information or entropy in physical theory, which is commonly done in many branches of physics, implies an unstated postulation of consciousness. Information cannot be reduced to local operations by any reductionist program. It requires the use of signs derived from global properties and the capacity to make choices which, in turn, implies agency or freedom.
Layers of reality
Apart from the physical substratum of reality, there are additional categories that play a role in the workings of the mind, and they are called “tattvas”. The flow of consciousness may be seen in an ecological setting as an adaptation to the environment. Therefore, consciousness should sit on top of various kinds of cognitive components associated with reality that bridge down to physical elements.
Traditionally, these components have been seen to equal 25: 5 gross elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ākāśa; 5 subtle elements, tanmātras, associated with smell, taste, form, touch, and sound that help one apprehend the gross elements; 5 organs of action that is excretion, procreation, locomotion, grasping, and speaking; 5 senses of smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing; mind; ego; intelligence; prakṛti, Nature; and puruṣa, undifferentiated consciousness.
There are an additional 11 tattvas, related to veiling and unveiling of consciousness, called the Rudras in the Vedas, for a total of 36 in Śaivism.
My companion paper in the same journal titled “Number of autonomous cognitive agents in a neural network” shows that this number, which may be taken to equal the tattvas, is 25, and the brain’s structure is optimal.
The literal meaning of “God” and “paradise”
The meaning that I have used for “God” is its literal meaning, traced to the Sanskrit original “svatavas” meaning “self-strong”, which is attested in the literature. In the Vedas, we have “tavas” (a. strong, great; -n. strength, power) and in the Ṛgveda 3.1.1 “somasya ma tavasam vaskhyagne”. The meaning of “free” for “svatas” is attested in “datayam bandhavesttsyat pravibhakterapi swatah”, Manu Smṛti 8.166.
Just as the Sanskrit “svar” (sun) of the Ṛgveda, becomes xwara of Avestan and Khar of Persian, the word sva-tava (self-powered) becomes xwatāw in Avestan and Khotanese, and xudā, and khudā in Farsi, and via Iranians became German Gott and English God.
Thus the original meaning of “God” represents the “self-powered” and “free” – independent of materiality, aspects of Consciousness. The word “paridhāyas” (sustaining, supporting all around) which via its Avestan derivative “pairi-daiza” – wall enclosed garden, is the basis of the word “paradise”, which means the space that is characterized by inherent freedom.
This is precisely the Vedic conception of God proclaimed forcefully by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gītā as ātman that is ajo nityaḥ śāśvataḥ (unborn, eternal, immortal, BG 2.20) and in the Śaiva tradition, which asserts that each person is Śiva, as in the Sanskrit slogan Śivoham – I am Śiva.
(The writer is an Indian-American computer scientist and historical revisionist. He is the Regents Professor of Computer Science Department at Oklahoma State University–Stillwater, an honorary visiting professor of engineering at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a member of the Indian Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council.)