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What Is the Ultimate Technology?

To answer that question, we might want to start with a definition of technology. According to at least one dictionary, this is "the specific methods, materials, and devices used to solve practical problems." Some of the three possibilities mentioned in that definition can be taken metaphorically, of course. After all, "materials" can be physical things or educational concepts and writings, and the word "devices" can describe practices and techniques.

In that definition, the concept of "practical" is very open to interpretation. We could argue about what results are probable, and therefore what is "practical," and the various purposes of our "practicality" can be at odds with each other as well. For example, the practicality of two different solutions to the to the problem of designing a better weapon could be argued endlessly, while both are entirely counterproductive to the more important and practical goal of peace on Earth. A practical technology for creating personal wealth may take you further from the goals you have imagined that wealth would accomplish. Agricultural technologies can sometimes create more food while making it less healthy for us.

Our technologies are often used to accomplish things that are not good for us because we start not with basic values, but with assumptions based on unexamined desires. For example, as a society we might decide that a "growing economy" is good, and then design a system for achieving that goal, but one which ignores other important values. An economy which creates more and more wealth can be good for people, but it is also clear that there can be other effects which are potentially harmful. Or, for a more mundane example, the technology of television can advance as part of the practical goal of making a profit for the manufacturers, while the results (amazing TVs) can tempt ever more of us into a sedentary lifestyle that is bad for our health.

Technology can be good and useful, or incredibly destructive. With that in mind, I propose a new idea. It is that spirituality or self-development (or whatever we choose to call this collection of related goals and practices) might be the ultimate technology. I will explain this only briefly, and then leave you with some questions...

Using the "specific methods, materials, and devices" of spirituality or self-development we can discover what is most important to our happiness and well-being. Isn't that the most practical problem which needs solving? Starting with the self we focus first on what truly makes us better, happier people, and then all other technologies (we hope) become subservient to that goal.

The alternative, and the current reality for many of us, is that we pursue what is not important and perhaps even what is most destructive of true value. Finding technologies and methods to solve practical problems does not serve us if we are solving the wrong problems and pursuing the wrong goals. But once we have a better grasp of what really needs to be done and what is really of value, all other technologies serve us more faithfully and provide more real value.

I am an atheist, by the way, but that doesn't mean I can't recognize the practical value of some spiritual practices. The word might have religious connotations, but the concept points to the deeper parts of us that are more important than our momentary desires, and there are practices which happen to be called "spiritual" which bring us greater peace of mind and sometimes even a more useful understanding of the world. As an example, consider the technology of meditation developed in the context of several different religions. Those who have learned to meditate generally agree that they are happier and healthier as a result (and this is largely proven by science).

I would say that many techniques which come to us in the form of religious teachings are in fact examples of a technology of self-improvement. When the man called Jesus Christ says to look first at your own sins before judging others, for example, he is describing a specific technique or reducing feelings of judgmental anger and hatred toward other people. I suspect that those who use this technique are likely to have lower blood pressure, less stress, more love, and a more peaceful outlook on life. Isn't it possible that this could contribute to health and happiness?

We often separate spiritual practices from self -improvement or self-development techniques, but isn't the shared goal the betterment of the individual human? I think the distinction is not necessary. There are specifically religious theories and beliefs about our ultimate origins and purposes, and practices or rituals based on these, and I personally have little use for this kind of faith-based speculation. But within all religions there are also spiritual ideas and practices that transcend the particular dogmas of the churches.

So is spirituality or self-development the ultimate technology? Here are a few more questions to get you thinking about this.

1. What are some examples of the "methods, materials, and devices" of spirituality?

2. How does this idea fit with various religions?

3. Is it possible that "spiritual training" (learning to use the technology) is more important than any spiritual beliefs which might accompany that training?

4. If separated from religion, is what we call spirituality (as distinct from religiosity) really just a form of psychological training?

5. Should we drop the word "spiritual" in favor of more "scientific" understandings, or does it provide a useful perspective?

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Ultimate Technology