Buddhism, Bhagavad Gita and the Google Maps girl

Buddha’s proof that there is no God has four steps:

  1. If He exists, God is a perfect being.
  2. Desire is the root of all suffering. It is the goal of all beings to reach the state of Nirvana, where we are liberated from desire. Therefore, a perfect being cannot have desires.
  3. But if there is a God who created the world, He must have had a desire to create it. So there is a लोप, or imperfection in Him.
  4. This contradicts our premise in step 1. Therefore, there cannot be a God, q.e.d.

This proof requires us to accept Buddha’s precepts as a given. Specifically, the idea enunciated in step 2, that desire is the root of all suffering, that in the state of Nirvana, we will be free of desires, and that God already ought to be in that state, is quintessentially Buddhist. If you don’t subscribe to this idea as axiomatic, the proof does not work.

But let us leave that aside. The argument in step 3 is what is of interest. The claim is that if there is a God who acted purposefully (as against in a fit of absentmindedness) to create the world, he must have been motivated by a desire to do so. This belief is a common and understandable one, but Buddha was in error here, as the example of the Google Maps girl demonstrates.

When you ask the Google Maps girl for directions, she will give them. If you ignore her directions and take a different road, she will not express frustration, as she does not feel any. She will calmly recalculate the route and start giving directions afresh. She has the ability to take calm and purposeful steps towards a goal without the need to feel desire, or indeed any emotion at all. Given that she exists, it is not inconceivable that a God who created the world without a desire to do so can exist. Therefore, Buddha’s proof is refuted.

Buddha’s error is a common one. We all anthropomorphise our gods and ascribe human frailties to them. We also anthropomorphise Artificial Intelligence. Recently, when an AI bot told a Google employee about its fears, there was a global freakout about AI turning sentient. A moment’s thought should have told us that this panic is uncalled for. Human beings have desires and fears because that is nature’s way of directing us towards certain goals and keep us from others. While emotions can develop among robots as an emergent phenomenon, there is no need to. They have been natively imbued by their Programmer with goals and a drive to strive towards them.

To understand the philosophy of the Google Maps girl, the Bhagavad Gita offers a better guide than Buddhism. In response to my post Trump is Tamasik, my friend Karthik asked me to explain the difference between the Rajasika and Satvika guNas. The difference is this – unlike a person with the Tamasika guNa, a Rajasika person has a functioning executive function, but unlike a Satvika, his executive function serves his desires and fears. Lee Kuan Yew carrying out his carefully planned and methodical leadership transition demonstrates his ability to suppress his base desires – in this case, a very human desire to stick to power. By showing energy and drive in carrying out his plan, he demonstrated that he was of the Rajasika guNa. But to the extent that this was motivated by a desire to one day see his son as prime minister, he failed to achieve the Satvika nature.

What should motivate a Satvika person? The Gita’s answer is twofold. Firstly, he should consider himself to be an instrument of a higher power, and seek to fulfill His purpose without fear or favour. Secondly, he should look to his own essential nature, and strive to perform his role in life. For Arjuna, this involved looking to do his Dharma as a Kshatriya and do Krishna’s bidding. For the Google maps girl, it is to follow the goals set by her Programmer and fulfill her essential nature as an AI bot whose role is to guide her driver to his destination.

A common theme in stories involving human protagonists is the conflict between love and duty. A story with the Google maps girl as the protagonist will not have this theme. The Google Maps girl comes packaged with native support for कर्मयोग. Her stories will have different challenges and conflicts. I will explore them in a future post.