Do Robotic Pet Dogs Have Souls?

Hideko Mori (L) and her sister Yasuko watch their robot pet AIBO playing at Hideko's home in Tokyo ©Toshifumi Kitamura (AFP) {Courtesy: Daily Mail]
Hideko Mori (L) and her sister Yasuko watch their robot pet AIBO playing at Hideko’s home in Tokyo ©Toshifumi Kitamura (AFP) {Courtesy: Daily Mail]

Japanese these days are keeping Robotic pet dogs.  These pets stay with them and also become part of their lives.  These are no ordinary pets.  They are robotic pet dogs AIBO developed by Sony.  ‘AIBOs’ are “world’s first home-use entertainment robots equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and capable of developing their own personality” (source: Daily Mail). Sony has stopped making AIBOs since 2006.  Since then many “pet clinics” have opened up for repairs.  But now even they are closing down.  So as the “life” of the robot comes to an end, many AIBO owners are now preparing for their funerals!  Japanese believe that even pet dogs have a soul.

Do they?  Let us explore.

Quantum Wave collapse has been a phenomenon that has been deeply debated.  The Copenhagen Interpretation, the most important (though one of the many interpretations) of quantum theories, says that at any given time, an electron could be a wave or a particle, and that on observation the wave collapsed into a particle.  While initially this observation was considered to be solely done by the human mind; subsequently, the human mechanism was also considered part of the large wave paradigm. Then the question was “who is the observer?”  It is then that the concept of Consciousness began to emerge amongst the Physicists.

Consciousness was the raison d’etre for the collapse of the wave, as it was in its lap that the particle or matter emerged; as per Henry Stapp.

What this means is that at a broad level we all are at once a Wave and a Particle – Wave and Matter.  While at the matter level, we are distinct and different from everything else in existence, we are one wave in the lap of the substratum, that is – consciousness.  We are One at the subtle level, yet at the physical level we are so distinct that, never.. ever.. ever.. have someone like you and I ever happened in existence!

It is in the interplay of this – Energy and Matter within the lap of Consciousness that the concept of Atman came up in India.  This was taken to the Far East as well.  Atman is a combination of an individual creation and primordial consciousness.  The understanding is clear that while consciousness doesn’t change, is not destroyed or created, the individual however is not there forever.  And this seed of individuality is what manifests as full blown matter at the gross level.**  What is seemingly One at the subtle, is now differentiated between my hand, this keyboard, the desk, the pen, the mouse, the clothes, the chair, the tree, the rocks, iron, wood and everything else.  While some matter is considered “dynamic” in Mysticism, the other matter type is “inert” (but only relatively).  All are nevertheless a vibration in the consciousness.

If we assume Atman and its other Eastern mystical variants to be akin to the Western conceptualization of the “Soul” (which isn’t so, however just for our purpose let us pretend it is); then, since the Soul is a dynamic individual seed, it does not occur in “Inert” matter.  However, if vibration in the Consciousness is existence or “Life” in other terms, then even inert substances have a definite vibration.

Now, let’s go back to AIBO.  With the advent of Artificial Intelligence – where intelligence takes on its own existence – the matters of the Soul in dynamic and inert substances are somewhat blurred.  At least at today’s level.  However amazingly sophisticated these robots maybe, they are still rudimentary compared to the human mechanism.

With the emerging study of “Near Death Experiences” and use of Quantum concepts on the brain, scientists are beginning to question – whether the brain is really the seat of memory and perception, and indeed intelligence, as thought earlier?  If one can remember everything that happened around the body, when one was brain dead and incapable of remembering or perceiving, then is the brain the “real deal”?  It is a fair question.  And a very important question to ask.  Many contend that the brain is a mere container.  Just like you pour hot coffee in a cup and the cup becomes hot.  The cup didn’t create the heat nor did it create the coffee-ness.. it became a mere container.  To confuse the brain with the characteristics of the dynamic life that resides there is akin to saying that the cup, any cup – empty or with coffee – had all the coffee-ness characteristics.

If we view our understanding of a dynamic life through that paradigm, then we find that creating basic calculative intelligence, even one which calculates and propagates itself endlessly, doesn’t have the dynamics of life energy that we talk about when it comes to a living being.  This intelligence is not in mere terms of physicality, but much beyond.

So are the AIBO or other robots “life” or not?

Maybe it is sometimes irrelevant.  For example, here is a scene of one of the scientists from Google’s Boston Dynamics demonstrating how stable a robotic dog – Spot, developed by them was.  He kicks it and it immediately balances itself.  This one scene has created a world-wide stir on ethics in robotic treatment!  Some have called it cruel and in-human.  Is it really so?  What would you say?  Isn’t it a real grey area?

Boston Dynamics courtesy Daily Mail
Boston Dynamics courtesy Daily Mail

So, if you can feel sympathy for a robotic dog, would you blame the Japanese for participating in funerals for their AIBOs?

Kofuku-ji temple chief priest Bungen Oi (R) offers a prayer during the funeral for 19 Sony's pet robot AIBOs, in Isumi, Japan's Chiba prefecture ©Toshifumi Kitamura (AFP) [Courtesy Daily Mail]
Kofuku-ji temple chief priest Bungen Oi (R) offers a prayer during the funeral for 19 Sony’s pet robot AIBOs, in Isumi, Japan’s Chiba prefecture ©Toshifumi Kitamura (AFP) [Courtesy Daily Mail]

** It is important to remember that the Sanskrit word for “Creation” is “Kriti”.  Yet, the Yogis didn’t call this existence “Kriti”, but referred to it as “Srishti”, which comes from the word Srijan – the word used for a tree coming from a seed, where all the characteristics of a tree are unmanifested in a seed and the tree is a manifestation of all that a seed holds.  Importantly, the tree is not a “creation” of the seed!  The closest word in English language to Srijan therefore is manifestation (although not completely similar).  So the Yogis considered this existence as a Manifestation and certainly not a Kriti or a Creation.  Which is in alignment with the Quantum Theory, where it is clear that no “Creation” ever occurs!

Featured Image Source: Flickr

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