Benign Mesa-Optimization in the Upanishads

The Upanishads were a late addition to the oral canon of the Indus Valley Civilization, and have been influential in Western Philosophy. They provided a reflective addendum to the Vedas, which constitute a large body of varied cultural artefacts, from religious songs and rituals to the characteristics of everyday life.

Oral culture necessitates many of the stylistic forms of the Vedas, such as repetition, rhyme, and alliteration, which are not as necessary in written texts. The Upanishads, however, are more reflective and philosophical, and are more concerned with the nature of reality and the self. While they do retain many stylistic motifs of oral culture, their self-reflexive nature allows for other, more interesting means of self-preservation.

Preservation through Pracrice: The Upanishads’ Call to Learn and Memorize

‘1. (What is necessary?) The right, and learning and practising the Veda. The true, and learning and practising the Veda. Penance, and learning and practising the Veda. Restraint, and learning and practising the Veda. Tranquillity, and learning and practising the Veda. The fires (to be consecrated), and learning and practising the Veda. The Agnihotra sacrifice, and learning and practising the Veda. Guests (to be entertained), and learning and practising the Veda. Man’s duty, and learning and practising the Veda. Children, and learning and practising the Veda. (1–6) Marriage, and learning and practising the Veda. Children’s children, and learning and practising the Veda. Satyavakas Râthîtara thinks that the true only is necessary. Taponitya Paurasishti thinks that penance only is necessary. Nâka Maudgalya thinks that learning and practising the Veda only are necessary,—for that is penance, that is penance.’ —Muller, F. Max., “The Upanisads”

The passage highlighted above from F. Max Müller’s translation of “The Upanisads” strikingly illustrates a foundational principle at the heart of the Upanishadic tradition: the imperative of preservation through active learning and practice. This constant refrain of “learning and practising the Veda” underscores a method of benign mesa-optimization inherent to the Upanishadic approach – a strategic layering of knowledge transmission designed to ensure the preservation and perpetuation of wisdom.

In essence, the Upanishads enact a form of cognitive and cultural reinforcement, embedding within their teachings not just the content itself but also the mechanism for its survival. This dual focus on the acquisition of knowledge (‘learning’) and the embodiment of knowledge (‘practising’) serves as a sophisticated strategy to safeguard the teachings against the erosion of time and the shifting sands of cultural change.

This strategy reflects a deep understanding of human cognition and social learning, recognizing that true preservation goes beyond mere rote memorization. Instead, it requires the learner to engage with the teachings actively, internalizing their principles and, most importantly, applying them in the lived context of daily life. This ensures that the teachings of the Vedas are not static relics of a bygone era but living, breathing wisdom that continually adapts and evolves within the fabric of society.

The Role of Active Participation

The insistence on both learning and practicing reflects an early recognition of the importance of active participation in the preservation of cultural and spiritual knowledge. It aligns with modern cognitive theories that emphasize active engagement and application as key to deep learning and long-term memory retention. This approach ensures that the wisdom of the Upanishads is not just preserved in the abstract but is made manifest in the actions and decisions of those who study it, thus ensuring its continuation across generations.

Adaptive Strategies for Knowledge Preservation

Moreover, the Upanishads’ approach to knowledge transmission can be seen as an adaptive strategy that aligns with the concept of mesa-optimization in artificial intelligence. By instilling the values of learning and practice, the Upanishads ensure that their teachings are not only memorized but also contextualized and interpreted anew by each generation. This adaptability is crucial for the long-term survival of philosophical and spiritual teachings, allowing them to remain relevant and meaningful amidst changing social and cultural landscapes.

The Upanishads exemplify a sophisticated method of knowledge preservation that transcends the limitations of oral tradition through the strategic emphasis on active learning and practice. This method not only ensures the survival of the Vedas’ teachings but also their continual revitalization and reapplication. The benign mesa-optimization evident in the Upanishads’ teachings reveals a profound understanding of the dynamics of cultural transmission, offering timeless insights into how wisdom can be preserved, adapted, and lived across the ages.

Written with Claude-3-Opus