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