This paper explores the ephemerality of digital spaces by paying special ethnographic attention to removed or deleted spaces—what I call no-longer-places—from the Buddhist corners of the virtual world of Second Life. While some Buddhist informants in Second Life tended to attribute the virtual disappearances to the Buddhist truth of impermanence, the Buddhist communities of Second Life were built to endure for some time. Therefore, the instances of failed no-longer-places continue to have cultural significance in their own meaningful and haunting ways.
This paper examines two self-tracking apps inspired by Buddhist ideas and practices but designed for the broader public: Mitra: Track What Matters Most and Stop, Breathe & Think. It shows how the apps enable users to develop greater emotional and ethical awareness, and it argues that their minimalist and customizable design features help mitigate against users becoming dependent on the technology itself. It then illustrates ways that other apps like Calm instead seek to lure users into their technology and keep them there. It concludes with a discussion of how such hooks and attention-economic strategies strengthen habits of consumption.
Emergent technologies of “Human Augmentation,” typically associated with the related concepts of “Human Engineering” and “Human Enhancement,” are rapidly changing the nature of human embodiment and have profound social and moral implications. Particularly noteworthy among these are technologies that enhance human physical, sensory, and cognitive capacities, from artificial limbs and visual and hearing aids that expand action and perception, to wearables and implants that provide instant access to vast amounts of data and augment knowledge of, and control over, otherwise autonomous physical processes. A counterpoint to technologies that aim to transform human embodiment are those that aim to transcend embodiment entirely, such as “uploading,” in which human consciousness is moved from the “wetware” of the human body and brain to machine-based “hardware.” Some technologists and enthusiasts view such augmentation as potentially ushering in the transformation of humanity into a different order of being—first, as “transitional humans” or “transhumans,” and second, as “posthumans” that represent a new evolutionary era for humanity, and, perhaps, the building blocks of utopia. This paper will argue that the philosophy and practice of Buddhist meditation (Skt. dhyāna) or meditative cultivation (bhāvanā) provides a paradigm for understanding how Buddhist philosophy and ethics might address issues raised by the augmentation of human capacities. It will also demonstrate how emergent philosophical and religious conceptions of the Transhuman and Posthuman can be compared, critiqued, and re-interpreted in light of Buddhist philosophy and cosmology, both with respect to Buddhist notions of the fluidity of the human-divine boundary and the radical transformation of the awakened Noble Person (āryapudgala).
This paper is part of a larger research project that attempts to apply historical social network analysis to the study of Chinese Buddhist history. The underlying research questions are whether social network analysis (SNA) metrics can be gainfully applied to Buddhist history, and whether network visualizations can enable us to better understand historical constellations and discover new patterns. Fundamental to this effort is a dataset of Buddhist biographies and lineage data that has been growing steadily over the past thirteen years: the Historical Social Network of Chinese Buddhism. The current dataset records interactions between more than 17,500 actors in Chinese Buddhist history. It is openly available and, in principle, all visualizations and metrics below are reproducible. This paper focuses on a characteristic formation at the beginning of the main network component, a “triangle” formed by the communities of Dao’an 道安 (314–385 CE), Huiyuan 慧遠 (334–416), and Kumārajīva (ca. 344–413). The first section interprets this joint formation as a factor in the establishment of Mahāyāna Buddhism in China. The second section explores how social network analysis can be used to identify hitherto neglected, but still important, actors in Buddhist history.
For research on Buddhist textual material, citations and similar passages are of major importance. This paper explores the application of continuous word representations and nearest neighbor search in order to efficiently compute a network of parallel passages for the Chinese Buddhist canon. It also discusses methods of evaluating the quality of the detected parallels and demonstrates a potential use case for the resulting data in the form of a web application for philological research.
With the growth of digital humanities, information technologies take on more important roles in humanities research, including the study of religion. To analyze text for further processing, many text analysis tools treat a word as a unit. However, in Chinese, there are no word boundary markers. Word segmentation is required for processing Chinese texts. Although several word segmentation tools are available for modern Chinese, there is still no practical word segmentation tool for Classical Chinese, especially for Classical Chinese Buddhist literature. In this paper, we adopt unsupervised and supervised learning techniques to build Classical Chinese word segmentation approaches for processing Buddhist literature. Normalized variation of branching entropy (nVBE) is adopted for unsupervised word segmentation. Conditional random fields (CRF) are used to generate supervised models for Classical Chinese word segmentation. The performance of our word segmentation approach achieves an F-score of up to 0.9396. The experimental results show that our proposed method is effective for correctly segmenting most Classical Chinese sentences in Buddhist literature. Our word segmentation method can be a fundamental tool for further text analysis and processing research, such as word embedding, syntactic parsing, and semantic labeling.