Padma awardee in the field of technology, Subhash Kak is
one of India’s greatest minds in the field of artificial intelligence,
cryptography, neural networks and quantum information. His writings show that
Indian Vedic technology was a precursor to many of the developments in
Artificial Intelligence today
were among the pioneering modern writers seeking to re-establish or restore the
value of Indian Vedic heritage. How has the journey been and would you say that
significant gains have been made in the last 10 years?
Subhash Kak: It’s been an exciting ride. There are several
aspects to it. First, is a proper appreciation of India’s contributions to
scientific subjects. I believe I have been able to convince a vast majority of
scholars who work on the texts and also those in the general scientific
community who want to understand the role India played in the rise of science. A
part of this work was bringing findings from the scholarly world to the general
public, and then I have done some analysis of Indian scientific topics myself.
Everyone acknowledges that Panini’s grammar anticipated the
computer program in its logical structure, and in the formulation of a
metalanguage about rules. Likewise, it is generally accepted that the binary
numbers were first formulated in India and Navya Nyāya, which is equivalent to
mathematical logic on which modern machines are based, arose several centuries
It has been a greater effort and time to make people understand implications of ātma-vidyā since it is so much outside of the modes of thinking familiar to Western scholars and to naïve people. But science is increasing accepting that the mystery of consciousness is the frontier of research in neuroscience, physics, psychology, and computer science. Therefore, there is much more understanding of the Vedic view, where this is its central focus.
Basically, the Vedas speak of two kinds of knowledge: aparā (lower,
amenable to linguistic analysis) and parā (higher, which is related to
consciousness). Traditional sciences that one learns through formal training
(śikṣā) is aparā, whereas deeper knowledge that arises out of inner inquiry is
vidyā or parā.
Western academia there are still deeply entrenched Left wing Anti-Hindu
pockets. Have they been losing legitimacy?
Subhash Kak: The Left dismisses the idea of higher knowledge
related to consciousness, so it has deep antipathy to Hinduism. But the Left’s
campaign is losing legitimacy as the idea of Consciousness Science is accepted
by the scientific world. After all, all that we do occurs in our consciousness,
so finding how it arises is most important.
The anti-Hindu attitude arose partly to justify colonialism and
racism. The world is rapidly changing and India’s economy is already the third
largest in the world based on PPP (purchasing power parity), and is rapidly
growing and become one of the two largest within the next decade. Western
academia will listen to Hinduism’s self-characterization much more seriously as
these changes unfold.
have spoken about consciousness change when we engage with our Vedic texts and
practices. Yoga, Sanskrit, Yagnas all of them transform the Sādhaka. How does
one explain this change in modern scientific terms when modern science is
inadequate to such study such phenomenon?
Subhash Kak. Although modern science is inadequate to deal with the process of transformation, it has developed evidence that makes it impossible to ignore the question of agency, or freedom of the individual. For example, how do you make sense of the discoveries of mathematical formulae Srinivasa Ramanujan would report on waking up from sleep? The process of discovery anywhere cannot be fitted into a machine-like framework. But we do need gifted scientists and authors to bring these ideas before the scientific world.
there a correlation between Indic Knowledge Systems and AI?
Subhash Kak. The Indic tradition goes to the very heart of the
question: what is Self? We have a body which is machine-like but within it lies
the Self, who is pure and untainted by what we do. This creates a paradox. It’s
our ignorance caused by a covering on our pure self that makes us take our
embodied self to be the real thing.
We are a machine with the Self within. A computer, on the other
hand, is just a machine of dead parts. A computer, therefore, will not be
conscious. We may rest confident that AI will not lead to conscious machines,
and AI will not be creative the way humans are.
your article on Yoga, you say that the diverging positions of whether the
spirit arises out of the material ground or whether the spirt is different from
matter, is responsible for a lot of misunderstanding of yoga among laypersons
and yoga practitioners. Is it possible to resolve this conflict between mind
and matter? Why are Indians not putting this debate to rest?
Subhash Kak. Sometimes it is not a question of misunderstanding, but rather of a different starting point. If one approaches reality from a materialistic and reductionist perspective, then one sees everything through that prism. But that view leads to despair and unhappiness about the pointlessness of life. Consider the current opioid epidemic in the United States which took over 70,000 lives this past year (more than the dead in the Vietnam War, which went on for over a dozen years). People seek opioid prescriptions for physical pain, but in many cases the underlying problem is deep psychological pain.
it possible to go back in time and understand the Vedic mind - the mind of the
Rishis. Would you be able to throw light on how they thought and analysed
Subhash Kak: The way the Rishis obtained their insights was
through a direct connection to the ātman within. How can one do it? First, by
getting away from the supposition that we are nothing but the contents of our
mind. If we are not the contents, which is what we normally suppose, then who are
we? Can we be one with the dispassionate sākṣī (witness) within us? This is where
spiritual practice and sādhanā comes in. All that is in the domain of yoga,
which is the lived Sanātana Dharma. As curtains that separate us from our true
self fall, we gain exceptional powers and understanding.