The human operating system

Traditional human operating systems include a standardized language, standardized semiotics, and a “personality,” which is generally understood to be a measure of how the individual has adapted to the standardized language and semiotics of their time-period.

Standardized in this context means that the language the individual uses is some version of a recognizable dialect, while their semiotics is some version of a recognizable subculture, which may include such elements as clothing styles, beliefs, goals, expectations, education, mannerisms, and so on.

When we speak of a person’s psychology, we usually mean their emotional make-up, their habitual thought processes, their fears or talents, the sum total of their experiences, etc. In this context, a person’s semiotics can be understood to be the signs, symbols, and underlying meanings they see, feel, believe, and respond to. Semiotics, as we are using the term, might also be understood to indicate the distinctive features of a subculture.

For example, the musical semiotics of someone who likes jazz and does not like country will be different from someone who likes country and not jazz. This difference may say something about these two people’s psychologies but in many cases it is much simpler and clearer to just talk about the differences between their semiotics. Similarly, their different tastes in music may say something about the subcultures they belong to, but again it is often much more useful to isolate these differences as different semiotics.

Most people are using a traditional human operating system (THOS). A THOS is defined in the first paragraph above. It is characterized by being largely static and roughly agreed upon by many people.

Personality today is generally understood to be something that is sort of defined or indicated by the Big Five personality traits—openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. But how do you measure that? Well, you use tests that explore the standardized language and semiotics that is deemed “appropriate” to the culture to which the testee belongs.

If the testee is not fitting into the standard mold (the standard semiotics), the tester will probably conclude that the testee is either not agreeable, open, conscientious, or extroverted. If the testee is seriously bothered by the standard semiotics for which he or she is being tested, they may also be marked as “neurotic” by the test-giver.

How would you do on a Big Five personality test given in North Korea by North Korean psychologists?

The problem with standardization of “personality” metrics and/or semiotics is standards only help us delineate ourselves in some ways; they cannot be expected to truly define us.

To define yourself, to know yourself, you need an independent operating system (IOS). Obviously, if your IOS gets too far from reasonable human norms (decent ethics, being rational, respecting evidence, etc.), you will lose the good things that humans have figured out over the centuries.

So how do you get an IOS but remain able to draw on all the good stuff of human history and the culture(s) you know best?

You have to change how you use and perceive language and semiotics. You have to find a way to free yourself from being a standardized semiotic between your ears.

If you read the Big Five personality traits and start measuring yourself according to them, what is the basis for your measurement? What does openness mean to you? Gay sex on a roller coaster? Being open-minded about an essay like this one? If you feel sensitive and nervous in North Korea (neurotic as defined by the Big Five) is that good or bad?

What if the society you live in makes you feel nervous and sensitive because you know it can be violent, greedy, hypocritical, and ignorant? Would you feel secure and confident (the opposite of neurotic) if you were in an office where you knew white collar crime (Libor, say) was being done daily? Would you be open to blowing the whistle and risking ostracism or even jail time?

When language, semiotics, and personality are all defined in more or less standard ways and you think you need to go along with that, you can say good-bye to what the Buddha called the thusness or suchness of your being. Buddhism is all about discovering/uncovering the “ultimate reality” of the “real nature” that inheres within us.

One problem with Buddhism, though, is it has become standardized. If you are nice, trusting, and sweet to everyone you meet, you will have your head handed to you in a matter of days in most US cities. We simply cannot expect to model behavior today according to an ancient monastic ideal that we very probably cannot even understand anymore.

The best way to get an IOS, and I believe practice Buddhism in today’s world, is do FIML because FIML practice allows you and your partner to use all the good stuff from human history to develop your own way of talking to each other and understanding each other. A FIML generated IOS frees partners’ semiotics from extrinsic definitions and this allows both of them to comprehend themselves and each other in unique ways that account for their idiosyncrasies—the suchness and thusness of both of them, taken together and independently.

If an individual pursues thusness alone, they will form many wrong ideas because it is impossible for an individual to check their own work. When FIML partners work together and remain mindful of the good things in human history, they are able to check their work and discover the suchness that underlies them.

As mentioned in other posts, FIML does not tell you what to think or believe. Rather, it provides a method to help you and your partner think for yourselves. FIML will change your THOS to an IOS.

If FIML partners are guided by fundamental Buddhist ideas, they will progress more quickly and be less likely to take wrong turns. Understanding the emptiness of standardized semiotics will make it easier for partners to see how cultural norms can interfere with a deep comprehension of life. Keeping basic Buddhist ethics in mind at all times will help partners avoid moral excess or thoughtlessness. Contemplation of dependent origination will give partners a ready guide to understanding the uniqueness of every communicative event. Buddhist teachings on clinging or attachment, especially when understood as clinging to wrong ideas or wrong semiotics, will greatly help partners discard mistaken beliefs and views that may have been influencing them for decades. The Buddha’s teaching on impermanence will make it easier to see through the long history of THOS and why we need new ways to speak, listen, and think today.

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