Ask Ray | The essential self and the continuity of pattern

March 21, 2011 by Ray Kurzweil


Congratulations!  I saw you yesterday on PBS NewsHour. I had no idea that teaching a computer to win at Jeopardy was so much harder than teaching it to play chess. You explained it well. The computer has to appreciate jokes and irony, which is much harder than making logical deductions.

The Time magazine cover mentions immortality. I am convinced that through your work, science is leading us towards the conclusion that man is immortal; your experiments with health and your writings on longevity are demonstrating that only the body dies but the essential being that resides in the body is immortal. In principle, one could preserve the body indefinitely and the essential being who dwells within would continue to manifest. I know you don’t look upon it in this way. But whichever way you look at it, man is immortal.

This is what Vedanta says also. And it does not merely say it; it claims that this Truth can be experienced by a pure mind. This is what Yoga means — union with the divine. We just need to wake up from a state of ignorance about who we are in reality.  Although I have never experienced this awakening myself,  I have been closely associated with at least one person who I believe has experienced this  ”illumination.”


[ Dr. Cyrus Mehta is president and co-founder of Cytel Inc., a leading provider of clinical trial design services, software and specialized statistical applications primarily for the biopharmaceutical, medical device, regulatory and academic research markets. Information about Cytel and Dr. Mehta can be found here at Cytel's website.]

Related reading:
“Immortality” by Swami Vivekananda

Thanks, Cyrus:

I agree with you that the “essential self” can live on as our body changes, even dramatically. Indeed this happens normally anyway. We are a completely different set of particles within a few months. There is a continuity of pattern, and I think that identity is linked to this continuity. I fully appreciate both the Western view (that fundamental reality is matter and energy, which has evolved into minds) and the Eastern view (that fundamental reality is minds, which bring matter and energy into reality).

Interestingly, quantum mechanics appears to meld the two views, in that particles do not really manifest themselves until a conscious observer observes them. I look forward to further discussion on this.

All the best,

Some interesting side notes on Indian spiritual tradition and “universal consciousness” as a persistent or transcendent self:

Sri Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna | Sri Ramakrishna, 1836-1886, represents the core spiritual realizations sought by the seers and sages of India.

Regarded by his devotees as an incarnation of divinity, his life was spent in uninterrupted contemplation of “universal consciousness,” and he and his chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda, were influential figures in the Hindu Renaissance of the 19th and 20th centuries. His life and teachings have been widely discussed.

Having experimented with other religions, notably Islam and Christianity, he said that they “all lead to the same God.” His central message was the living “attainment of God-consciousness” by all people.

“Drawn by the magnetism of Sri Ramakrishna’s divine personality, people flocked to him from far and near — men and women, young and old, philosophers and theologians, philanthropists and humanists, atheists and agnostics, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, seekers of truth of all races, creeds and castes.

“His small room in Calcutta became a veritable parliament of religions. Everyone felt uplifted by his profound God-consciousness, boundless love, and universal outlook. His greatest contribution to the modern world is his message of harmony of all religions through their common goal: communion with God.” — Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York

The Mahamrityunjaya Yantra

Mahamrityunjaya Yantra | The “Mahamrityunjaya Yantra” from Indian spiritual tradition, shown at left. Yantras (geometric pictograms) are used as visual and mental focal points of concentration while meditating or chanting. This yantra is the symbolic embodiment of the eternal energy of the god Shiva as “Conqueror of Death.” Meditating on this yantra is supposed to invoke protection from illness and accidents and bring prosperity and long health. Each fold of the symmetrical geometry is a symbolic representation of a different layer of mind.