Furhat and the illusory Self

By Desmond Yeoh SC

pexels-photo-312839.jpegMeet Furhat the robot, a three-dimensional bust with a projection of a human-like face. Furhat tilts his or her head, smiles, exudes empathy and warmth, and encourages us to open up. The robot has been used in Frankfurt airport as a multi-lingual concierge, helping travellers find their way, but also for customer services training. Every Furhat robot can have different personality; it can be male or female, old or young, wisecracking or serious[1].

Each Furhat Robot’s personality is programmed into it and it learns new things as its experience grows. This is similar to how our illusory Self develops except that our programming takes a longer time. Initially, we are programmed mainly by our parents and other care givers. Later on, as we grow up, we become more exposed to the world and these experiences are added to our programming. Then education and media adds to the building block.

Does every Furhat Robot have a “Self”? Can it die? How different is our illusory Self compared to the illusory Self created in each Furhat Robot? When a Furhat robot is scraped, does it die? Do we die?

Just as a Furhat is programmed to differentiate between right and wrong based on the rules established by the programmer, we have also been similarly programmed by society. Human beings in different social environment will hold different human values. Most of us today view killing another human being as vile and horrible. On the other hand, during the time of Genghis Khan, a warrior is respected and revered while the healers are frowned upon as weak.

When we are able to perceive our illusory Self, we can truly understand that we are not fixed entities that exist independently and cannot change. We empathise more and are more patient with others because we understand that they are the way they are due to past conditionings and it takes to time to undo certain negative programs.

One of the benefits of meditation is to see the programs that affects our mental and emotional well-being. When we sit in silent meditation, we are able to see the spontaneous thoughts and mental formations which dominates our mind. It enables us to question our perception of right or wrong and our view of the world to determine if they are really true and realistic. We will then gain the power to understand and let go of the negative mental habits which bring unnecessary mental suffering. This is what it means by overcoming karma.

[1] Source: The Star Online, 28 November 2018

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