“ Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. We have achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”
—Omar Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
In a recent article for Medium, Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, a brain expert at the University of California, San Francisco, brilliantly outlined the current state of the human condition: We’re in a cognition crisis, he wrote, one wrought in part by the proliferation of technology. He notes the stark rise in depression, anxiety, and attention disorders and calls for the development of new cognitive capacities — capacities we will need in order to navigate the complexities of modern life.
Etymologically, cognition is derived from the Latin cognosco, a compound of com, meaning together with, and gnosco, which means to recognize or comprehend. True cognition must connect: It must bring us together. This requires the mind — and the heart.
Writing from the perspective of a Buddhist teacher and a psychologist with a strong connection with the world of technology, I know this much: No marvelous technological developments alone — computers and the internet, nanotechnology, space technology, biotechnology, VR, AR, A.I. — will stop continuing warfare, racism, environmental destruction, and global injustice. The source of these sufferings is in the human heart.
Actions based on greed, hatred, disrespect, and ignorance inevitably lead to suffering.
When we consider creating the best future for humanity, the principles for a wise society and a wise life are simple and universal: Actions based on greed, hatred, disrespect, and ignorance inevitably lead to suffering. And actions based on their opposites — generosity, love, respect, and wisdom — lead to happiness and well-being.
That is true for us humans, and it applies to all the technologies we develop and employ.
The United States is the largest producer and supplier of weapons, arms spread across the world, yet we do not feel safe. We have grain elevators full of food, yet millions of children are hungry or starving across the globe. Our heart feels their plight and whispers to us: What can we do? The reality is we have enough food but not enough love. We know this truth as surely as we know our own name.
How can we reengage the heart? As Gazzaley explains, the increasing complexity, speed, and multitasking of our modern environment has overtaken our capacities, and we live disconnected from our own self and from one another.
Technology has given us so much, yet it also can distance us from the mystery of love. As Einstein reportedly once said, “If you can drive safely while kissing a girl, you are simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”
Part of the solution, Gazzaley articulates, is the deliberate and conscious development of our cognitive capacities. What is important to recognize is that these are capacities of heart as well as mind.
There are tools and strategies for awakening and strengthening the human heart — and for applying those principles to our technology.