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!