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Buddhist Perspectives on Consciousness, Evolution and AI

An interdisciplinary project

An international symposium of creative thinkers who explore how Buddhist resources contribute to understanding and addressing emerging challenges related to scientific, technological, and societal change.

The project focuses on three interrelated arenas of intersection along the frontiers of science, societal transformation, and ethics: consciousness, evolution, and digital transformation

The interdisciplinary team is committed to the interfusion of science, technology, and contemplative practice. Attuning Buddhist views to contemporary cultural, historical, scientific, and technological dynamics opens possibilities for responsive and responsible engagement in ways that both broaden the contemplative path and secure its deepening relevance as a guidance system for better understanding and affecting those dynamics.

The symposium members

PROJECT LEAD: Peter D. Hershock (East-West Center – Director of the Asian Studies Development Program; Coordinator of the Humane AI Initiative)

Martin T. Adam (University of Victoria – Pacific and Asian Studies Department)

Gunter Bombaerts (Eindhoven University of Technology – Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences, Philosophy & Ethics)

Charles A. Goodman (Binghamton University – Department of Asian and Asian-American Studies)

Soraj Hongladarom (Chulalongkorn University – Department of Philosophy)

James J. Hughes (Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies)

Jenny Hung (The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology – Division of Humanities)

Shi Juewei (Nan Tien Institute – Humanistic Buddhism Centre)

Jeanne Lim (beingAI)

Chiara Mascarello (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice; Italian Buddhist Union Research Center)

Beverley F. McGuire (University of North Carolina Wilmington – Department of Philosophy and Religion)

Stuart R. Sarbacker (Oregon State University – School of History, Philosophy, and Religion)

Francesco Tormen (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice; Italian Buddhist Union Research Center)

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A full day of roundtables at Villa Selvatico

November 17, 2023, 9.45 am – 6.00 pm

Join us for a full day in dialogue with the symposium members! 

Coming from all over the world, they will share their expertise in various fields in lively roundtables that will focus on the topics ranging from consciousness ethics, to digital transformation and evolutionary futures. 

The event will be held at Villa Selvatico (Padova), a seventeenth-century Venetian villa in the heart of the Euganean Hills Regional Park, 50 km from Venice. Embraced by an eleven-hectare park, with secular trees and thermal lakes, Villa Selvatico is a perfect balance between nature and art.

Free admission, limited tickets: pre-registration by November 5 and selection process required.

The event will be held in English and in person only. 

For further info, please contact us

How to reach Villa Selvatico – Viale Sant’Elena 36, 35041 Battaglia Terme, Padova

The themes of the symposium

Consciousness Ethics

How consciousness is theorized matters ethically. Studies that pursue an objective understanding of consciousness typically presume the ethical neutrality of theorizing consciousness. Buddhism theorizing of consciousness has, in contrast, been undertaken in normative support of therapeutic practices aimed at altering consciousness in pursuit of liberation from conflict, trouble, and suffering. Indeed, insofar as theories of consciousness affect technological horizons and the terrain of knowledge application, they have the potential to powerfully affect qualities of consciousness and thus have significant karmic ramifications.

Evolutionary Futures

The evolution of intentions and values matters. Evolutionary theories have focused primarily on the evolution of lifeforms, and more recently on the evolution of cultures, and have emphasized natural selection and fitness for survival. Buddhist theorizing of the interdependent origination of sensing presences, sensed presences, and consciousness suggests that the evolution of species and cultures is concomitant with the evolution of environments (both actual/material and virtual/immaterial), and that natural selection success is potentially subordinate to responsive selection improvement and the evolution of environments conducive to increasingly liberating relational dynamics. 

Digital Transformation

Humane AI will not happen as a matter of course. Artificial intelligence and machine learning systems are in the process of radically transforming societies. This technologically mediated transformation cannot be one that leaves humanity intrinsically unchanged. If all things arise interdependently, technologies are best conceived as values-laden relational media that arise out of and shape human conduct much as ecosystems arise out of and shape species relations. To the extent that machine learning systems are scaling up human intentions and values in keeping with past human karma, AI technology has the potential to “lock in” social norms and reinforce patterns of conflict, trouble, and suffering, but also to further societal advance and foster human-with-planetary flourishing.


Looking ahead: the next steps of the project

After the full day of public roundtables, the symposium will unfold with closed-door, creative brainstorming and group discussions reflecting the expertise of the members, the inputs received from the audience, and the symposium’s themes. 

The project will result in an edited volume that will be published through Ubiliber, the publishing house of the Italian Buddhist Union, as well as some video products, such as a documentary based on the footage realized as the project unfolds.

Stay tuned!