This is the first in the Meet Your Mind series of articles aimed at providing the core concepts needed to provide a practical understanding of how our minds work, an understanding I call hOS literacy.
If you have gotten to this article via the Foundation Stones Main Thread, you know that the point of developing hOS literacy is ultimately to help you become a more effective agent of positive cultural change. Yet that’s just one of the benefits of hOS literacy. It’s helpful for personal growth, relationship health, organizational change and anywhere human beings are interacting with themselves, each other and/or the world.
It’s pretty foundational for just about anything you want to do.
Let me give you a preview of the ground we’ll cover. I expect this series to include the following topics:
- Introduction – This article
- Themes – The central and pervasive roles played by consciousness, patterns, imagination, learning, optimal zones and feelings
- The Inner Workings – The various parts of the brain and what they can tell us about the mind’s capabilities
- Mind Bundles – The “stuff” of the mind and how it functions
- Frameworks & Metaphorical Sources – Two primary types of mind bundles that provide key leverage for both personal and cultural change
- We All Have Issues – An exploration of various types and degrees of psychological dysfunction
- Take-aways – A summary of the key points in the series.
To set the stage, I’d like to begin with three orienting questions:
What is the human operating system?
Since I’ve already covered this in a previous article (The Human Operating System), I’ll be brief here.
The hOS is my term for the innate psychological capabilities on which learned behaviors and knowledge are built. All cultural behaviors and knowledge must mesh with the hOS, so hOS literacy is essential for understanding existing cultural patterns — and even more so for developing successful new patterns.
In that previous article, I used the following kind of diagram to show how we are made up of 1) the various parts of our innate human nature (in green) and 2) whatever we have learned.
Consider the example of driving a car. The actual driving requires your physical body and depends on learned behaviors and knowledge. But these two can only come together with the bridge provide by innate human capabilities. You need to be able to coordinate your hands (steering) and feet (speed and braking) with what you are seeing and hearing, and with what your muscles and inner ear are telling you about your acceleration. You need to have an internal sense of the 3-dimensional space around you and the objects in that space. You need to be able to anticipate how the objects around you are likely to move. These basic capabilities — sense-muscle coordination, internal representation of external space and ability to anticipate motions — are all part of the hOS.
In developing my description of the hOS, I’m going to be particularly focused on how the hOS supports what we can learn. We have less need to understand the internal workings of the hOS or how it interfaces with the physical body, although both of these may provide useful insights. (Geek note: in computer operating system terms, we are particularly interested in the application programming interface (API).)
I’m not the first to use the term “human operating system” but I have not found any previous usage that is close enough in meaning to merit linking to it. Thus the approach to the hOS that you will find here is original and grows out of my combined understanding of human psychology and computer operating systems.
With all of the current excitement about neuroscience, you may wonder why I’m not calling this series of articles “Meet Your Brain.” There is a lot to be learned from modern neuroscience, but for hOS literacy, “mind” (in the broad sense that includes emotions and the subconscious) provides a better core concept. Here’s why:
Whole body – While the part of the nervous system that we call the brain is certainly important for understanding the hOS, there is no real system division at the neck. The whole nervous system — down to your toes — is involved in the capabilities that make up the hOS. And it’s not just the nervous system. Your hormones, your muscles, indeed every part of your body has its role. As a concept, mind can be inclusive of and welcome all these players.
Like distinguishing software from hardware — Focusing on the brain, or even the whole body, emphasizes physical structures, yet what we want for hOS literacy is an understanding of capabilities and processes. As we will see in the upcoming article on The Inner Workings, the physical structures do provide valuable clues about capabilities and processes, but once we’ve used those clues it is easier to work with the hOS by focusing directly on the capabilities and processes in their own terms rather than attempting to keep working through the lens of the physical structures.
Note that this is just a pragmatic question of finding the right conceptual language for the subject at hand. It does not require a philosophical mind-body dualism any more than distinguishing software from hardware does.
At the same time, while dealing with mind in its own terms doesn’t require any philosophical dualism, it does allow for it, which leads to the next reason for using “mind” rather than “brain.”
No need to take a position on the relationship between consciousness and the body — From a worldwide perspective, there is no consensus on whether consciousness can exist apart from the body, as, for example, in life after death. I want to be respectful of the wide range of opinion and experience here. Speaking in terms of “mind” rather than “brain” allows for common ground to be found among all of those points of view. Once that common ground is established, perhaps then progress can be made on this age-old question of the relationship between consciousness and the body.
What do I mean by “mind”?
As I mentioned above, I am using “mind” in its broad sense. I’d like to expand on that now. In its broad sense, mind includes thought, perception, emotion, will, memory and imagination, and encompasses subconscious levels as well as conscious. It includes everything that has to do with information or information processing from anywhere inside the body that can reach or affect our conscious awareness.
As a first step, you can think of all these categories floating in the conceptual container called “mind”:
On the diagram of human nature, mind includes everything other than the physical body:
It’s a big territory. Fortunately we only need some essential understandings to make real progress on gaining hOS literacy.
We’ll start, in the next article, with some core themes.
Robert Gilman, April 28, 2013
Do you see ways this article could be improved? If you do, please let me know.
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