- Compiled by Dr. Jayapaul Azariah
President, All India Bioethics Association
New No 4, 8th Lane Indira Nagar, Chennai 600 020
Vice-President for India, Asian Bioethics Association
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2004), 10-12.
When we were school going students, friends used to ask us "What is the difference between a woman and a soldier?" Or "what is the difference between a stationmaster and schoolteacher? " The answer to the latter question is "The stationmaster minds the train And the schoolteacher trains the mind!" Both aspects are necessary. The mind should be trained and at the same time we should mind how our minds are put to various uses in society and in the development of science and technology.
The human genome has been mapped. Taking a clue from this success Prof Darryl Macer, Institute of Biological Sciences, Tsukuba University, Japan developed a research project to map the mind and presented it as a proposal for an integrative mental mapping project (Macer, 2002). He raised, besides many other points, the view - a hypothesis that the number of ideas that human beings have is finite (Macer, 2002, 2003). Obviously ideas are one of the parameters by which we can map the mind. Are there any other parameters for such characterization of the mind? Is behavior one such parameter? Or is it the culmination and the synergy of the confluence of ideas, environment, education, religious/spiritual upbringing and self-reliance on the benefits and development of Science and Technology?
Bodymind or Body and Mind
Azariah (2003a) raised another aspect of the mind, which is its memory component. He posed the question " If mind is "memory" then where is the "mind" in the human body? He pointed out that from a biological perspective, memory is found three entities, the brain, the DNA and the immunological systems. Hence, the dichotomy of body and mind may not hold much water. Zen Buddhists do not say "body and mind", but their view is "bodymind", which may be a viable preposition. Mind is found all over the body!! Is it then an abstract subject, as suggested by Sheriff (vide infra)? He also proposed some names to identify the various sub-non-meta-physical components of the mind. At the same time he identified that there are many other facets to the Asian mind. The later point he reiterated in his recent book (Azariah, 2003 b), claiming that he is a person with an eastern mind! However, some scholars responded with the statement "there is no distinct eastern mind". Such a divide was used as the basis for the discussion group of AIBA. AIBA set up a listserve in December 2003. The first topic for discussion in our humble group was posted to all members who have joined the group electronically. A note of caution was added: " your comments will be automatically passed on to all members to read. Please do not confuse the theme of these discussions with other discussion groups you may be engaged in."
Following topic was recently announced for chat-discussion.
"Professor Jayapaul Azariah, in his book entitled "Food In/security in Genesis" - One Eleven Genesis (Eubios Ethics Institute 2003) has claimed that he is "a person with Eastern mind". Some Western scholars are of the opinion that there is no Eastern mind or Western mind! Do you agree with these two opinions? Do Easterners think differently? Can the mind bear regionalism? Is mental ability different from the characteristics of a mind of a person born and brought up in a given geographical area? What do you think?
In the early part of Tamil Culture there was a "Sangam" which means a gathering of scholars and thinkers who debated and discussed about a theme/issue or a given topic. Such is the nature of this AIBA's Bioethics chat Club. The chat group is a "bioethics Sangam. Shall we think collectively and see what is the creative activity of the collective mind?!!"
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The opinion on the characterization of mind geographically is divided. Based on his living experiences in South Africa, Vaz thinks that 'mind' is influenced by the family, culture, society, religion and country and hence thinking pattern and life style differs according to the environmental influence and the country. He emphatically endorses the view that there is a western and eastern mind (Vasudevan 2003). The view point of Sheriff while agreeing with Vaz extends into the very way of life - the behavioral aspects. But he considers that mind is an abstract subject, which thinks as you want it to think" This means mind has no "free will" and it is not autonomous and it is not quantifiable! Unlike the western people, in the "eastern mind is influenced...by the value system you imbibe from your learning experience, religious influence and parental guidance" This consideration leads us to ask "how do we experimentally analyze whether the mind is an "abstract subject" or not? However, he wants to remain 'neutral" and wants to "have a neutral mind on this subject".
Renuka Devi of Malaysia also shares such a neutral position. "There is an element of truth in saying that environment and other factors have a role to play in molding the character of a person and the society, that does not mean to reflect his writings. Since "human beings are the same all over the world, it is we who compartmentalize as eastern, western and the like". She concludes " people who look through the blue glasses think it is blue even if it is not". Does it mean that people can be deceived or doped? How do we protect the mind from this pit fall?
Verma thinks that east and west minds are basically similar, but conspecific. He also believes that not only culture is a very strong influencing factor but also globalization (growing internationalization) can erode the specific characteristic of regional differences. Does this mean that we endorse that there is rudimental similarity between eastern and western minds but it can be nurtured by various social, environmental, cultural and religious factors? Will such external influences lead to "eugenic moulding"? If the mind is susceptible for genetic moulding due to extrinsic factors then can this principle be extrapolated to gender differences in the way a mind thinks? Can it be said that there are differences between a male mind and female mind. If 'yes' then why is regionalism in mind not a reality? Quoting the book " God and the rhetoric of Sexuality" (1978) David Goodin of Florida, USA emphatically states, "I encountered ideas that could never come from a male perspective. The term 'feminist theologian' is rightfully applied to her, as the female mind brings something to the discussion of theology that could never be generated by a male mind". On this basis he asserts, " I think in very much the same way, there can be a valid distinction drawn between the western mind and the eastern mind. Again I defer to my own experience. Thanks to the wonderful bioethics conference, I was exposed to much, that was truly new and unique for my western (American) mind. Sometimes it is the simplest things that reveal so much". The forgoing discussion "hint at a basic issue already. This is the difference between acculturation and sociobiology" of the mind.
Religion - a better bioethical strategy
Goodin, while summarizing the experiential benefits of the International Bioethics Conference in Chennai, criticises the claim "there is a human epigenetic heritage towards biocentric altruism", which has been based on western antireligious advocates. The later groups of thinkers, some of them are mystically minded reductionists, look for higher meanings within sociobiology/biology without any deference (respect) to traditional religion or God, and cautions that such an approach "may lead down a road which leads to ultimate defeat". By citing many imbalances between the need for the preservation of human beings and the urge for biodiversity preservation, any rationalized selfishness should give way to a biocentric altruism". To have society show deference to appropriate religious ideals might be a better bioethics strategy, and in that way, justify the necessary self-sacrifice needed to have viable ecosystems for non-human life? Is sociobiology or religion the better path for bioethics in environmental applications? These two questions must be discussed in our discussion group.
It is interesting to point out that a discussion on the uniqueness of the cow as the "mother of all food - nothing goes to waste, everything is used". The difference between the western mind and the eastern mind is that the later "venerate the cow in this way, as it shows the human connection to the source of life itself while the former "has forgotten this". The time has come now for a change. Many persons in the world no longer associate " ground beef, cheese, or leather with a living beings known collectively as cattle" Similarly the Indian Palmyra Palm tree bears a resemblance to the cow in that all its parts are thoroughly used. Pretty soon, a time will come, when if you ask a school going child " Where does the paddy grow?", the child will promptly reply from the Hi tech laboratory! The reality of paddy fields can only be seen in a museum, that too in a model!
Azariah pointed out that some Indian tribes in Orissa and Kerala do not eat beef and milk the cow to drink cow's milk as food. There logic is that the milk is for the calf and you steal someone else's property! "It is a philosophy of veganism and no animal products are used or eaten out of respect for these other sentient beings".
Mind the Soul & Mind, the Soul
Another interesting aspect is that of the relationship between mind and the soul. If intellect is mind than Plato considered intellect as the extension of the soul, which has a rational and irrational aspects (vide Goodin 4.1.04). On the principles of a systems approach, these two aspects, through a systemic merge, produce the powerful third characteristic of the soul, namely a "tripartite matrix" with its powers of desire and physical growth (appetitive), the mind (intellect) and the emotional powers (incensive) of the soul. Before we harp upon other ideas, it is better that we elaborate what we mean by the word "soul"? Which doctrine is true: I have a soul or I am a soul? Manoj introduced a third position: "It is my soul", which is a variant of position "I have a soul". Meaning body contains the soul - soul is the prisoner of the body - and it can be liberated. When one says "I am a soul" then he/she accepts that physical body is an integral part of the soul. According to Manoj both the positions are 'right'. For one issue, can there be two moral positions? Can both be right? Do all such categories, where both are right, are all right? A half filled cup is half empty and half full. The statements "Fools seldom differ in their thinking" and "Great men think alike "are also right. In many instances, only one position is always right!
Sheriff, on the other hand, took a more comprehensive position. He wrote, " Soul is the core of a personality. It is a part and parcel of every human character...The soul is the essence of human personality, love, compassion, hatred, green and other human qualities add up to make a person" The picture that emerges is that soul is "I am" or "what I am".
Nesy distinguishes the mind from the soul. "In the Indian context mind is only a product or a function of the higher entity called soul or atman. Mind is significant only from the cognitive or epistemological point of view whereas soul is significant from the metaphysical point of view. The original nature of "man is that he is a soul having no difference as eastern or western. But from the mental point of view all differences are applicable to man" Is 'mind' a part and parcel of the soul or lower in its status?
If intellect is equated with mind and if mind is found all over the body, then mind should overcome the bodily basic instincts, using its rational aspects. Alas, many times it is the irrational aspect that reigns supreme! Like the ancient Indian Sadhus we should learn to bring under subjection. Have we ever tried to speak to the excited and wandering mind, which does not permit sleep to set in, by saying, Oh my mind, why are you so excited, don't you know it is time for you to sleep. Come on! Sleep? Have you ever spoken to yourself?
Many in our discussion group have stressed the universality of the mind and the cultural and sociobiological impact resulting in a similarity of minds between the two hemispheres. In this context, Goodin proposed the development of a Global Mind, which is " a mind that is acculturated to respect other cultures and other beings, whether they are human or non human". In this sense it is a local mind with an open mind that has developed deference (respect) to global cultures and other non-human and human beings. A Global mind need not be due to a process similar to "globalization". However, is it possible to enter into the phenomenon of "globalization of mind", by removing all reservations, restrictions, fundamentalism, on the one hand and on the other encouraging tolerance,/ live and let live principle, biocentric altruism, finding common grounds and fixing common aim. If we can have a common global aim then the formation of a Global Mind is not only possible but also probable and ultimately it is the only preferable option for humankind. Manoj agrees that a global mind already exits. Others think not. Development of a global mind is in other words is the development of "thought collective". It is not a move towards 'uniformity" but it progress towards 'unity'. If you think that is 'possible but difficult' then we will not be able to reach it. But if you think that is difficult but possible, then we can reach this aim. We need a base to achieve this aim. So far the base was religion, which has been annulled due to the advancement of Science and Technology. Now there is a need to find a new base or trace back our steps to retain religion.
1 Should we Revere Mother Nature or Regard her as a part of us or Respect her?
2 Wouldn't it be a better bioethics strategy, to have society show deference to appropriate religious ideals, and in that way justify the necessary self-sacrifice needed to have viable ecosystems for non-human life?
3 Is sociobiology or religion the better path for bioethics in environmental applications?
Thanks are due to all the members of the AIBA Chat Group for their sincere contribution. Thanks are also due to V.RM Manoj for maintaining the webpage..
Azariah J. (2003 a) Multiple Facets of the Fantasies of the Asian Mind. EJAIB 13: 39-41.
Azariah J.(2003 b) Food in/security in Genesis. One Eleven Genesis. Eubios Ethics Institute pp 1-48
Goodin David firstname.lastname@example.org 30.12.03
Goodin David email@example.com 04.01.04
Macer, D. (2002) Finite or infinite Mind? A proposal for an integrative Mental Mapping Project. EJAIB 12: 203-206.
Macer, D.(2003) " Bioethical Challenges and Opportunities of greater understanding of Ourseves and Nature: The era of the Human Behaviourome". IN Eco Conference 2003: Nature, Science, Technology and Religions: Our Common Bioethical Issues - An International Dialogue. Chennai. Nov 25-29th 2003. Book of Abstracts. Eds J. Azariah and T. Kumar. Pp 14-15
Manoj, V. R. firstname.lastname@example.org 07.01.04
Nesy. D email@example.com 03.01.04
Renuka Devi K firstname.lastname@example.org 30.12.03
Sheriff, D.S. email@example.com 29.12.03, 08.01.04
Verma K.K. firstname.lastname@example.org 31.12.03
Vasudevan, P.S. email@example.com 28.12.03