The New Mindscape
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The New Mindscape

A New Human Operating System

What will its ingredients be?

The New Mindscape #12–8.

It’s time to look back at the journey we took in The New Mindscape.

At the beginning of The New Mindscape, I talked about the Human Operating System.

Your Operating system is the interface between your mind and your body, between yourself and society, between you and the world.

It’s what allows you to coordinate all of your powers and to function in the world. It’s also what allows the members of society to coordinate with each other.

A defective or broken Operating System can’t coordinate and interface. It connects some powers, functions, or elements in the wrong way, or it misses out on them completely. The result is individual stress and breakdown, social conflict, global disorder, and ecological imbalance.

In fact, different parts of our lives are governed by different operating systems. The operating systems of the financial system, the health system, the political system, of international relations, of industrial production, of families, of social groups, of individual consciousness and meaning, of dealing with our own body….

These operating systems all have their own logic, and they seem to operate independently of each other, but also to be connected to each other. But their connections don’t work well. The result is systemic dysfunction of the whole.

These operating systems all reach into our own lives, operating on our own consciousness, bodies and subjectivities. Many of them aren’t designed for our own well-being, even if some of them provide us some measure of security, satisfaction, or pleasure.

In our own lives, we learn to live and to operate within all of these operating systems. We develop our own personal operating system — our own interface with the operating systems prevalent in society. Through our education and career, we become experts at one of society’s operating systems.

We hope they will serve us well, and we learn to survive, to thrive, and to find happiness within them.

We’re being programmed by these operating systems. But we’re also writing our own program. When we work on improving our personal operating system, we’re improving the program, or reprogramming ourselves.

To write our own program, we need to know two things:

  1. We need to know about ourselves.
  2. We need to know how operating systems work.

In The New Mindscape, until now you’ve learned a few things about these two points.

  1. Know about yourself.

You learned that you are body, mind, and spirit.

Your operating system needs to develop and coordinate the capacities of all three.

Your operating system shouldn’t suppress or ignore your body, your mind, or your spirit. And it shouldn’t focus on only one of the three, to the exclusion of the two others.

You had many questions about the relationships between body, mind and spirit. And different philosophies, cultures and religions might have different ideas about what we are. You will have your own reflections and thoughts about this.

The key point to remember is that we have a range of capacities. They include material, intellectual and spiritual dimensions. We should avoid radical dualism and dichotomies between them. You need to coordinate between your physical, your intellectual and your spiritual faculties.

You also learned about your mindscape. You learned some things about how to work with your mindscape: about the power of the imagination, of objects of consciousness, and about how to observe and harness these powers.

Operating systems shape your mindscape. But it’s in your mindscape that you can shape your operating systems.

2. Know how operating systems work.

How operating systems work is a huge topic, but you learned one key point: that all operating systems are based on some core assumptions about what the world is made of: an ontology.

You learned about a few ontologies:

  • the dualist materialism of the dominant operating systems of modern societies, which relates to the world as pure exteriority.
  • the animism of many tribal societies, which relates to the world as persons.
  • the analogism of Chinese culture, which relates to the body and to the world through correspondences of forces and processes.
  • the spiritual ontologies of the world religions, which, in different ways, relate to the transcendence of the human spirit and of the ultimate reality.

You gained some glimpses of how to see the world through these ontologies. In your mindscape, you switched between these different operating systems. This opened your mind and your imagination to new possibilities, seeing the world in a completely different way.

What you learned was far too brief and simplistic to truly enter different ontologies and operating systems. But nonetheless, if you followed with an open mind, your old programme was switched off for a brief moment, and you got a glimpse of what it’s like to use other programmes. You gained different insights about your spirituality. And you got inspirations to enrich your own operating system.

Spirituality in your operating system

What is an operating system that nurtures your spirituality?

There’s no simple formula or programme.

But through the materials we’ve looked at in The New Mindscape, we can identify a few ingredients:

It should give us space to reflect on the meaning and purpose of the world.

On the meaning and purpose of our life.

On the meaning and purpose of our death.

To reflect on ourselves, to ask ourselves who we truly are.

To connect with the divine or ultimate reality, and to derive life and faith from this connection.

To connect with our body, and to nurture our body in a healthy and meaningful way.

To connect with the various beings in the world and with the world of nature, and to build living relationships with the world.

To connect with our family, with our community and with people in society, and to nurture authentic moral relations with them.

To transcend conventions and love humanity, starting with those who are excluded, oppressed or discarded by society, creating a true human community.

Religious and materialist operating systems

Religion has been the vehicle through which these ingredients of spirituality have spread into human culture through history. Religions have become full-fledged operating systems designed to integrate spirituality into our lives.

But religious traditions also became deeply embedded into social conventions and power structures, often becoming fully integrated into political and economic operating systems. Through habit, convention and ignorance, the elements of spirituality in religion are often obscured.

Modern civilization has attempted to develop new operating systems based exclusively on a materialist ontology, according to which spirituality is unimportant, irrational, and illusory — people are free to hold onto their illusions, but these should be kept apart from the important things. Spirituality is thus in tension with the dominant materialist operating systems.

The materialist operating systems of the modern world have given us unprecedented scientific, technological and material development.

But they are unsustainable. And our spirit lives, and seeks to find expression.

The New Axial Age

We are in a period of deep transformation. The existing operating systems, both religious and materialist, are showing their limits, and, at a global level and in many societies, are breaking down. The tensions and contradictions between them are harming our capacity to give direction and to coordinate our lives as individuals and societies.

In this “New Axial Age”, we will need to develop new operating systems that integrate and coordinate the material and spiritual dimensions of our existence. It won’t be easy. We will need to learn from both religion and science. We don’t know what the exact outcome will be.

Humanity is entering a new liminal phase. It’s a time of challenges and turmoil, but also a time for new insights, new creations and new breakthroughs. How can spirituality inspire, assist and guide us as old operating systems crash and new ones are devised?

This is a time that many feel to be dark. In this time, the hero’s journey is to seek the source of the light, to hold the candle of your spirit, to illuminate the world around you. You aren’t alone. Let your spirit shine, and others will be kindled. Hundreds, thousands, millions of candles will light up the world.

Image by Public Domain Pictures for Pixabay

This essay and the New Mindscape Medium series are brought to you by the University of Hong Kong’s Common Core Curriculum Course CCHU9014 Spirituality, Religion and Social Change, with the support of the Asian Religious Connections research cluster of the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences.



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David A. Palmer

David A. Palmer

I’m an anthropologist who’s passionate about exploring different realities. I write about spirituality, religion, and worldmaking.