After The Cognitive Revolution Comes The Mindful Revolution

Mankind seems to have reached a cross­roads. At envi­ron­men­tal, polit­i­cal, and eco­nom­ic lev­els more and more urgent haz­ard warn­ings appear. Man has to cope with this high-speed change, and there are many well-intended activ­i­ties already under­way. How­ev­er, what we need to sur­vive exceeds fast-track res­cue plans and well-meant com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment. We have to bethink our­selves of our inher­ent abil­i­ties and lever­age our entire skillset — after the Cog­ni­tive Rev­o­lu­tion there comes the Mind­ful Revolution.

Media out­lets switch from the term cli­mate change to cli­mate cri­sis because envi­ron­men­tal devel­op­ments have to be addressed urgent­ly if we want to keep our plan­et hab­it­able. Polit­i­cal­ly, we notice a strength­en­ing of par­ties at the far-right and far-left spec­trums and increas­ing­ly irra­tional behav­ior of lead­ing politi­cians who seem not to be aware of their respon­si­bil­i­ties as heads of gov­ern­ments. Due to envi­ron­men­tal, but also eco­nom­ic rea­sons, there is a mass migra­tion under­way that brings mil­lions of peo­ple from the south­ern hemi­sphere to Europe and other rich areas. — a migra­tion caused by pover­ty, wars, and other con­flicts with the refugees’ sin­gle hope for liv­ing peace­ful, secure lives. This inflow of immi­grants also results in huge chal­lenges for gov­ern­ments and peo­ple liv­ing in rich coun­tries hav­ing to some­how share many aspects of their rich lifestyles with mil­lions of new arrivals, most of them not used to west­ern con­ven­tions and demo­c­ra­t­ic mores.

At the moment, con­vinc­ing strate­gies to meet these chal­lenges are miss­ing. Now and then, some politi­cians, sci­en­tif­ic task forces, or entre­pre­neurs come up with bold plans, such as installing bases on other plan­ets in order to relo­cate humankind when plan­et earth has stopped func­tion­ing. Then there is AI, a tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment that awakes the same amount of enthu­si­asm and belief in the future as skep­ti­cism and fear of an uncon­trol­lable behe­moth that will sub­ju­gate human beings based on its supe­ri­or intel­li­gence. And there are thou­sands of most­ly grassroots-driven, well-intended activ­i­ties, many of them some­what extreme or soli­tar­i­ly designed and there­fore rather impractical.

Lan­guage And Storytelling

In his fas­ci­nat­ing book Sapi­ens, Israeli his­to­ri­an Yuval Harari describes lan­guage and sto­ry­telling as the most dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing abil­i­ties of homo sapi­ens com­pared to other mam­mals. For him, mod­ern man has suc­cess­ful­ly sur­vived and dis­placed other hominins because of this Cog­ni­tive Rev­o­lu­tion. The lan­guage was the tool to sup­press speech­less con­tem­po­raries and to eas­i­ly pass knowl­edge hor­i­zon­tal­ly with­in huge pop­u­la­tions as well as ver­ti­cal­ly from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, wars of reli­gion, auto­crat­ic juris­dic­tions and the more mod­ern phe­nom­e­non of fake news have uncov­ered the flip side of lan­guage and sto­ry­telling: sim­ple sto­ries make peo­ple around the globe kill each other, allow gov­ern­ments and reli­gious lead­ers to dic­tate terms for cor­rect cloth­ing and enable demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed pres­i­dents to trick and deceive as only con artists do.

Begin­nings Of A New Era

At the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, there were first indi­ca­tions of a new era in under­stand­ing human capa­bil­i­ties. When, in 1890, Har­vard psy­chol­o­gist William James pub­lished The Prin­ci­ples of Psy­chol­o­gy, he was praised in Amer­i­ca and Europe both by aca­d­e­mics and lay read­ers. Some declared it a clas­sic and likened it to Moby Dick. James trans­formed both, psy­chol­o­gy and phi­los­o­phy by pop­u­lar­iz­ing his the­sis of prag­ma­tism, a way of think­ing that argues human beings must test their beliefs and deci­sions by results. James invent­ed the phrase “stream of con­scious­ness” to describe the work­ings of our minds. For him, our think­ing is not order­ly or log­i­cal, but chaot­ic, and our moods con­stant­ly and inex­plic­a­bly shift­ing. With­out the knowl­edge of mod­ern neu­ro­science, the synaps­es that con­nect bil­lions of neu­rons, and neu­ro­trans­mit­ters, such as dopamine and oxy­tocin, he wasn’t able to peer into the brain. Still, he was (one of) the first to state that human beings should be aware of the com­bi­na­tion of their men­tal and phys­i­cal abil­i­ties that by far exceed their phys­i­cal abil­i­ties, alone.

In the past, devel­op­ment in most parts of the world has been regard­ed as a pri­mar­i­ly tech­ni­cal devel­op­ment — first in terms of hard­ware and, with the advent of the com­put­er, increas­ing­ly in terms of soft­ware. Any con­fer­ence, task force, or sci­en­tif­ic study that address­es “the future” main­ly cov­ers tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments. I think, this is — an absolute­ly nec­es­sary — but entire­ly insuf­fi­cient strat­e­gy to ensure the sur­vival of homo sapi­ens on plan­et earth. It is my belief that humans liv­ing in the 21st cen­tu­ry must meet a very indi­vid­ual chal­lenge first, in order to com­mon­ly sur­vive as a pop­u­la­tion: we must start the Mind­ful Revolution.

After The Cog­ni­tive Rev­o­lu­tion Comes The Mind­ful Revolution

For me, the Mind­ful Rev­o­lu­tion is the log­i­cal next step built on top of Harari’s Cog­ni­tive Rev­o­lu­tion. A com­mon fea­ture of both rev­o­lu­tions is that nei­ther one solves any major prob­lem per se — but each one pro­vides human beings with a toolset that can be used to lever­age the abil­i­ties of indi­vid­u­als and pop­u­la­tions to the next level of life. As with lan­guage and sto­ry­telling, mind­ful­ness isn’t some­thing that has been invent­ed quite recent­ly, but some­thing that has been around for hun­dreds if not thou­sands of years. Where­as some sci­en­tists believe that Nean­derthals liv­ing 300,000 years ago, could speak, Guten­berg invent­ed the first print­er quite some­time later, around 1440. That machine allowed sto­ries to be dis­trib­uted effi­cient­ly for the first time. The first signs of mind­ful­ness appeared with the advent of Bud­dhism, in the 5th cen­tu­ry BCE. In today’s Tibet, China and India many schol­ars teach behav­iors and atti­tudes such as com­pas­sion, self-compassion, altru­ism, and oth­ers. In West­ern sci­ences of recent date, these teach­ings have been regard­ed as eso­teric or folk­lore, mea­sured against mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic frame­works. This chasm has start­ed clos­ing due to the fact that more and more knowl­edge about and results of mind­ful­ness prac­tice has been con­firmed with sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly col­lect­ed and com­put­ed data gauged by high-tech med­ical gear.

High Demands On Ourselves

At the begin­ning of the 21st cen­tu­ry, we know for sure that human beings know lit­tle about them­selves, that we only use a tiny frac­tion of one of our mots impor­tant endoge­nous resources — our brains. In other words: we run the show — i.e. ruin our plan­et and kill our fel­low human beings — with­out know­ing our­selves in-depth, uti­liz­ing just a frac­tion of our capa­bil­i­ties. This must not be our expec­ta­tions. As a human­ist, my expec­ta­tion must be to learn to know myself, to feel self-compassion, and there­by com­pas­sion for oth­ers. As an enlight­ened aca­d­e­m­ic, I must uti­lize my endoge­nous resources in the best pos­si­ble way — and I must not accept to cap­i­tal­ize on only 10% of my skill set.

What is the Mind­ful Revolution?

In short, Mind­ful Rev­o­lu­tion means that human beings know them­selves (gnothi seau­ton), feel self-compassion and com­pas­sion for oth­ers. The Mind­ful Rev­o­lu­tion enables mankind to cap­i­tal­ize on the max­i­mum of each individual’s phys­i­cal and men­tal abil­i­ties. The Mind­ful Rev­o­lu­tion enables human beings to devel­op a new, much broad­er per­spec­tive on life in gen­er­al and on them­selves and fel­low human beings specif­i­cal­ly. The Mind­ful Rev­o­lu­tion allows for more tol­er­ance, com­pas­sion, and under­stand­ing, enables peo­ple to devel­op ways and tools for coöper­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion, and in the best case, a new way of joint­ly sav­ing our­selves and our planet.

Mind­ful­ness is a change that starts with­in and stays with­in the indi­vid­ual. By chang­ing one­self, a per­son becomes more aware of her­self, her sen­sa­tions and capa­bil­i­ties, and, in the next step, more open for her envi­ron­ment includ­ing her fel­low human beings. With­out cre­at­ing strate­gies, devel­op­ing tac­tics, and plan­ning details, the mind­ful per­son opens her­self up for any exter­nal input. She expe­ri­ences more sen­sa­tions on a deep­er level and is able to act and behave intu­itive­ly in a seem­ing­ly effort­less way. There are more good things that hap­pen to her, peo­ple treat her in a friend­lier way, find­ing solu­tions to prob­lems becomes easy. The rea­son for a bet­ter flow in life is not any kind of magic of ran­dom­ness — it is a bet­ter uti­liza­tion of the individual‘s resources, espe­cial­ly her brain. I am not speak­ing of anec­do­tal evi­dence — these effects have been mea­sured and quan­ti­fied in many sci­en­tif­ic studies.

Whether it’s about school­child­ren with expe­ri­ences in mind­ful­ness prac­tice, inhab­i­tants of retire­ment homes, ath­letes, or the aver­age work­ing per­son, mind­ful­ness results in a quan­tifi­able improvement,ent of a person‘s lifestyle. In recent years, more and more indi­vid­u­als have learned about these pos­i­tive effects of train­ing with­out side effects. If this knowl­edge could be spread fur­ther and faster, more peo­ple, groups, and, final­ly, pop­u­la­tions could ben­e­fit. We should teach our chil­dren, and we should inte­grate mind­ful­ness into school cur­ricu­lums. Mind­ful­ness should become a manda­to­ry sub­ject in any kind of edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tion. In 2013, Ohio con­gress­man Tim Ryan took this chal­lenge seri­ous­ly and start­ed Mind­ful Nation, a non-profit foun­da­tion and edu­ca­tion out­let teach­ing mind­ful­ness to every­day Americans.

Mind­ful­ness beats AI

Mind­ful human beings don‘t have to fear any kind of mali­cious AI. Where­as AI can eas­i­ly take over com­putable tasks from human beings and out­per­form us in cal­cu­la­tions, it should take ages before an AI would be able to emu­late our mind. The human cor­tex alone has 30bn neu­rons and is capa­ble of mak­ing 1 mil­lion bil­lion synap­tic con­nec­tions, i.e. at least 10 fol­lowed by a mil­lion zeros. Know­ing that the uni­verse con­sists of 10 fol­lowed by 79 zeros par­ti­cles, it becomes clear why mind­ful­ness beats Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence, easily.

Beside all mean­ing­ful activ­i­ties, and liv­ing a peace­ful and eco-conscious life — we have the abil­i­ty to and must start the Mind­ful Rev­o­lu­tion — now!

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