Could a computer write a convincing and accurate article about meditation? Could it even teach meditation?
I decided to find out.
I keep hearing a lot about ChatGPT (the last part stands for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer “). Apparently some websites are using it to write articles, which is something most readers won’t notice, especially if the websites in question don’t tell you that the author was a computer, recombining information it’s found elsewhere on the internet.
I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation with ChatGPT and see what it “knows” about meditation. It took me a while before I got anything but a message saying that the server was too busy to talk to me, but eventually the Artificial Intelligence and I sat down together for a nice chat.
Bodhipaksa: Hello. What are you called?
I am called OpenAI’s GPT-3, or simply ChatGPT for short. I am a state-of-the-art language model developed by OpenAI, designed to generate human-like text based on the input provided to me. I have been trained on a large corpus of text data and can respond to a wide range of questions and topics with informative and accurate answers.
Bodhipaksa: Where do you get your information?
I was trained on a massive corpus of text data from the internet and other sources, using machine learning algorithms developed by OpenAI. This training allows me to generate human-like responses to a wide range of questions and topics based on patterns in the data I was trained on. However, it’s important to note that while I have access to a vast amount of information, my responses are generated based on patterns in that data, and my knowledge is limited to the information available in my training data. My training data had a cutoff in 2021, so any information or events that have occurred since that time are not reflected in my responses.
Bodhipaksa: What are the benefits of Buddhist meditation?
Buddhist meditation practices offer various physical, mental and spiritual benefits, including:
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Improved concentration and focus
- Increased self-awareness and mindfulness
- Better emotional regulation and reduced negative emotions
- Increased compassion and empathy
- Enhanced physical and mental well-being
- Greater sense of inner peace and calmness
- Deepened spiritual connection and understanding.
Note: These benefits may vary based on the individual and the specific meditation practice they are using.
Bodhipaksa: Are there different kinds of meditation in Buddhism?
Yes, there are various forms of meditation in Buddhism. Some of the most commonly practiced include:
- Mindfulness Meditation: The practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment and becoming aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
- Loving-Kindness Meditation: A practice of generating feelings of kindness, compassion, and love towards oneself and others.
- Vipassana Meditation: A type of introspective meditation aimed at gaining insight into the nature of reality and the self.
- Zen Meditation: Also known as Zazen, this form of meditation involves focusing on the breath and maintaining a posture of stillness and alertness.
- Metta Meditation: A practice of cultivating loving-kindness and sending well wishes to all beings, including oneself and others.
These are just a few examples of the many forms of meditation found in Buddhism, each with its own unique focus, techniques, and benefits.
Bodhipaksa: What’s the difference between loving-kindness meditation and metta meditation?
Loving-kindness meditation and Metta meditation refer to the same practice in Buddhism. “Metta” is a Pali word that translates to “loving-kindness” in English.
In this meditation, one focuses on developing feelings of kindness, compassion, and love towards oneself and others. This can be done by repeating phrases such as “may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be at peace” while focusing on oneself, and then extending those wishes to others, including friends, family, acquaintances, and eventually all beings.
The goal of Metta meditation is to cultivate positive emotions and reduce feelings of ill-will, anger, and hatred. Over time, practitioners aim to develop a more compassionate and loving outlook on life, and to extend these feelings of kindness towards all beings.
Bodhipaksa: I was a bit confused, because you listed those two forms of meditation separately.
I apologize for the confusion. You are correct, Loving-kindness Meditation and Metta Meditation are the same practice, and I should not have listed them separately. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
Bodhipaksa: Are there any downsides to practicing meditation?
While meditation offers many potential benefits, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind, including:
- Difficulty staying focused: For beginners, it can be difficult to maintain focus during meditation, especially if one is prone to distractions.
- Physical discomfort: Certain meditation postures, especially when maintained for long periods, can lead to physical discomfort, such as sore muscles or pain.
- Intense emotions: Meditation can sometimes bring up intense emotions, particularly past traumas or repressed feelings. This can be difficult to deal with and may require professional help.
- Unpleasant experiences: In rare cases, some individuals may have experiences during meditation that are frightening or unpleasant, such as vivid hallucinations or intense feelings of fear.
- Cultural appropriation: In some cases, the practice of meditation can be seen as cultural appropriation when individuals from outside the culture adopt it without understanding its cultural context and history.
It is important to approach meditation with caution and to seek guidance from a qualified teacher, especially if you have any concerns about your mental or physical health.
Bodhipaksa: How does one find a qualified teacher?
Finding a qualified teacher for meditation can be done in several ways:
- Look for local meditation centers or groups: Many cities have meditation centers or community groups that offer classes and workshops. You can search online for groups near you or check for listings in local directories or community centers.
- Find an online teacher: There are many online courses, websites, and videos that offer guidance for practicing meditation. You can also find online teachers who offer one-on-one instruction and support.
- Ask for recommendations: Reach out to friends, family, or colleagues who practice meditation and ask for recommendations for a qualified teacher.
- Check credentials and background: When looking for a teacher, be sure to check their credentials, experience, and background. Ask about their training and how long they have been teaching. Look for a teacher who is transparent about their qualifications and experience.
It is also important to feel comfortable with your teacher and to trust that they have your best interests in mind. You can try attending a few classes or workshops before committing to a particular teacher to ensure that their approach and style align with your needs and goals.
Bodhipaksa: Can you give me some simple meditation instructions?
Sure, here are some simple instructions for mindfulness meditation:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit: You can sit on a chair, cushion, or mat. Make sure your back is straight and your feet are flat on the floor.
- Close your eyes: This can help reduce distractions and allow you to focus inward.
- Take a few deep breaths: Inhale deeply and exhale slowly, allowing yourself to relax and release any tension.
- Focus on your breath: Pay attention to the sensation of breathing, feeling the air as it moves in and out of your nose or mouth. If your mind starts to wander, simply notice the thought and gently redirect your attention back to your breath.
- Allow thoughts to come and go: Try not to judge or become attached to your thoughts. Simply acknowledge them and return your focus to your breath.
- Continue for 5-10 minutes: Start with a short meditation, perhaps 5-10 minutes, and gradually increase the length of your practice as you become more comfortable.
- End with a few deep breaths: Take a few deep breaths, open your eyes, and take a moment to reorient yourself before standing up and returning to your day.
Remember, mindfulness meditation is a practice and it can take time and patience to develop the skills necessary to maintain focus and mindfulness. With regular practice, however, it can be a valuable tool for reducing stress and improving overall well-being.
Bodhipaksa: Sometimes when I meditate, I see swirling colored lights. What does that mean?
Seeing swirling colored lights during meditation is not uncommon and can be a result of various factors, including:
- Relaxation: As you relax your body and mind during meditation, it can cause changes in brain activity and blood flow, which may result in visual experiences such as swirling lights.
- Visual cortex stimulation: Meditation can increase activity in the visual cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information. This increased activity can result in visual experiences such as patterns or lights.
- Mental imagery: Sometimes, during meditation, the mind can create mental images or visualizations, which may include swirling lights or colors.
- Eye pressure: If you are applying pressure to your eyes during meditation, such as by rubbing them or pressing them closed, it can cause changes in vision, including the perception of swirling lights.
It is important to remember that these experiences are normal and are not cause for concern. However, if you experience persistent changes in vision or other symptoms, it is recommended that you speak with a healthcare professional.
Bodhipaksa: Have you ever meditated?
As an AI language model, I do not have a physical body, emotions, or experiences. I was trained to respond to text-based inputs and to generate text-based outputs based on patterns in the data I was trained on. I cannot meditate in the traditional sense, as I do not have a physical body or consciousness.
Bodhipaksa: If you were able to meditate, which type of practice do you think you would choose?
As an AI language model, I do not have personal preferences, opinions, or the ability to experience emotions or physical sensations. I was designed to respond to text-based inputs and to generate text-based outputs based on patterns in the data I was trained on. However, different forms of meditation can be useful for different individuals and can depend on their personal goals and experiences. For example, someone looking to cultivate compassion and kindness may find that a loving-kindness or metta meditation practice is beneficial, while someone looking to reduce stress and improve focus may find that mindfulness meditation is a good fit.
Bodhipaksa: What can you tell me about the meditation teacher, Bodhipaksa?
Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist teacher and author who has been teaching meditation for over 30 years. He is the founder of the Buddhist meditation website, Wildmind, and has written several books on mindfulness and meditation. Bodhipaksa has been influenced by both traditional Buddhist teachings and contemporary mindfulness practices and is known for his approachable and accessible style of teaching. He offers teachings, workshops, and retreats on mindfulness and meditation, and his work has been widely recognized and respected in the Buddhist community. He is also the creator of several guided meditation CDs and podcasts. Bodhipaksa’s teachings emphasize the importance of developing a personal meditation practice and incorporating mindfulness into daily life to cultivate well-being, compassion, and wisdom.
Bodhipaksa: Thank you. This has been an interesting conversation.
You’re welcome! I’m glad I could assist with your questions. If you have any other questions or topics you’d like to know more about, feel free to ask. I’m here to help.
Overall, the AI did a good job of scraping together information from various sources and combining it into a coherent and meaningful series of statements. What it had to say about meditation must have been drawn from reliable sources, since it all makes sense and is the kind of thing I would tend to write. It slipped up in listing loving-kindness meditation and metta meditation as being various forms of practice. My interaction with it might have taught it not to make that mistake again.
The first two responses to “How does one find a qualified teacher?” aren’t actually helpful. They explained how to find a teacher, but not how to find if a teacher is qualified. The last two suggestions were helpful, though.
I don’t really experience colored lights when I meditate, but lots of people do and have questions about it. The answer ChatGPT gave to that question was actually rich and informative. It did better than I would have!
So yes, I think this AI could certainly write a decent article on meditation. Of course it will be very superficial lack any personal anecdotes, but the information above is pretty solid. (Of course it’s just recycled information from elsewhere.)
I was pleased to see its very kind description of me, and how my work is “widely recognized and respected in the Buddhist community.” Nice!
Could an AI lead a meditation? It gave some instructions above, but there’s a big difference between giving written instructions and actually leading someone though a meditation.
I suppose it’s only a matter of time before someone feeds it (or one of it’s AI buddies) a bunch of guided meditation recordings, and it learns to mix and match them into some kind of guidance. I have doubts about whether it would be able to learn to do that well. Anything’s possible, though.
Wow! It seemed to do a very good job of succinct summarising and expressing that in an easy-to-read format. It might save you some time in first-drafts anyway!
Re: metta v Loving Kindness: When you pointed out the repetition, it’s response confused me emotionally and intellectually. It apologized and then said “you are correct”, it corrected itself/said what it should have done. It was nearly a “4 part apology?!” Like in therapy. LOL I guess it kind of creeped me out (beautiful and terrifying) and made me want to read either more or less speculative fiction about AI.
Also, I could go on all day reading about you exploring AI writing. It’s so meta and also I guess metta :)
Thanks for both your comments, Krista.
One thought I had about ChatGPT today was that it’s essentially just a search engine. Like Google, it sucks in information from the web and offers it up to you. Unlike Google, it doesn’t take you to the original website, but remixes the content and presents it as being its own. It’s a plagiarism engine.
Google already does this a bit, and some websites have suffered greatly, because the search engine takes the information from the site rather than taking the user to the site.
If you ask ChatGPT about something nonsensical or that it doesn’t know anything about, it’ll offer nonsense or make something up. Sometimes it’ll confidently give the wrong answer to a question — even making basic arithmetical errors. There’s no actual intelligence there. It’s not an artificial intelligence. It’s artificial unintelligence, dressed up to look smart. It appears to be giving good information here about meditation, but that’s because it plagiarized good websites.
I mentioned that a website had been using ChatGPT to write articles. The website was CNet. They’re now having to go through all those articles because so much of the information was inaccurate!
It’s fun to play with these things, but with our planet containing so much natural ignorance, I have to wonder why we need artificial unintelligence!
That’s not to say that AI is useless. It can be very good at pattern recognition, and in some studies has been able to interpret X-rays better than specialist surgeons. It has limits because it doesn’t have the kind of understanding that comes from actually living in the world.
“Nathan Edwards” left a comment on a Verge article, saying, “Gentle reminder that AI doesn’t know anything at all; it’s just mashing words together in ways that look like things it’s seen on the internet.”
As I’ve said elsewhere, although ChatGTP is presented as an AI, it’s really just a search engine that hides its sources from you. Sometimes the mashing up is done well, and sometimes badly. The trouble is that you can’t always tell which is which.