The rapid advancements in technology have brought about both awe and apprehension for humanity, prompting us to seek guidance from the wisdom of ancient philosophers, such as Aristotle, and their four foundational concepts that frame our experience: truth, beauty, goodness, and unity.
These four dimensions can provide a modern-day rubric to help us establish the “right and wrong” to technology’s advancement, intrusion into, and transformation of our lives. Truth represents the cornerstone of various aspects of society, while beauty can extend into the user experience and craft a multidimensional sensory experience that redefines our human world. Technology shapes our perspective and opinion and should be driven by the moral path forward. Finally, connectivity and the democratizing of everything make technology a collaborative partner that aligns with humanity through these four dimensions.
How do we begin to understand the complexities of, complexity itself? Technology offers humanity a path forward, but the bumps, curves, and detours make the journey one of both wonder and fear. It seems that the guideposts of today’s technology and innovations are more a function of this contemporary reality than one anchored in the fundamental human truths and transcend the electron to offer a perspective of flesh, blood, and dare I say, soul.
Sometimes, the best way to look forward is to look back. Our history of thinkers, rebels, and philosophers can offer the “first principles” of humanity and provide a template for reflection and analysis. In his book If Aristotle Ran General Motors, Tom Morris takes a fascinating and critical look at modern business and how fundamental insights from varied philosophical traditions can provide the guideposts for business and humanity. Published over 20 years ago, Morris’ wisdom can be applied to how technology impacts all our lives and provides a strategic framework that can ground our contemporary reality in a timeless perspective.
Let’s take a step back — a philosophical step back to Aristotle’s world. Grounding his (and our) reality are four foundational concepts that frame our experience: truth, beauty, goodness, and unity. From ancient Greek times to the modern world, these pillars have been the foundations of human experience. These four dimensions — a philosophical hypercube — create our human reality and establish a moral compass, that today more than ever, is an essential tool for interpreting our reality and navigating our path forward. Perhaps, it’s this ancient wisdom that can provide a modern-day rubric or even an operating system that helps us establish the “right and wrong” to technology’s advancement, intrusion into, and transformation of our lives.
In today’s world, truth is often a perceptual reality driven by influence, groupthink, and search engine algorithms. It sometimes feels as truth has emerged as more a point of view than a basic and fundamental reality. While truth represents the cornerstone of various aspects of society — from relationships to governments — this very foundation is under stress from technology’s ability to reproduce or even “fake” a reality that cannot be discerned from the original. Our senses no longer provide a safe haven for reality but are subject to technological victimization. Yet, truth is the clarion call that can stand counterpoint to the contrivances of technology.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Yet today’s technological influences can project a reality where beauty can extend into the very process of viewing — the user experience. Augmented, virtual, and mixed reality will become the new artist’s brush to translate a conventional sense of beauty into a multidimensional sensory experience. Technology can become a new architecture of the mind that can craft much of what we can conceive. Pushing on the bounds of our senses, technology can open a grand vista of experience that redefines our human world and, in the final analysis, places us in a more rich reality that can make us even more human.
Technology feeds both our hearts and minds. As we seek wisdom and guiding principles to help, tech — from social media to GPT-4 — plays a tremendous role in shaping our sense of right and wrong. From politics to personality, today’s tech oracles are spewing a precarious collection of algorithms, data, and perspective. What’s right is now reinterpreted by what possible. And outcomes are freely accepted as another permutation of reality that fits the fashion of the times. Further, vague influencers who manage these processes are hidden behind corporate walls and have little or no accountability. The moral path forward must be the defining element that drives technology forward, not the other way around.
Technology is making the world smaller and bringing individuals closer together. Human connectivity is growing, and a new collective reality is being established. From the ancient “thou art that” to the contemporary idea of crowdsourcing, these connections drive art, wisdom, commerce, and even a new human understanding around politics and world peace. Our collective engagement results in a democratization of data, ideas and the very social structure that can exercise power in the interest of all.
Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle and other great philosophers defined first principles as the basis from which a thing can be understood or known. Today, we use a similar framework to analyze and solve our problems. As we break down complicated issues, we establish the ability to deconstruct problems to the core ideas that allow us to both comprehend and solve what was once almost an insurmountable combination of abstract ideas. First principles allows a method to unravel life itself and establish a basis to understand, live, and enjoy our own lives. Truth, beauty, goodness, and unity are the very building blocks of our humanity. And as technology becomes our collaborative partner, we need to look to these four human dimensions as our timeless benchmarks that help us define the path forward.
Yet, technology can be dizzying, overwhelming, and sometimes scary. We can easily become lost in the maze of tubes, wires, and blinking lights. In the vastness of the digital world, it’s often difficult to see the forest for the trees. Amidst all the chaos, we need a way to make sense of technology and our relationship to it. Philosophy can provide that lens. Philosophy is a tool that helps us break things down into their basic parts. It allows us to see the big picture by dissecting complex issues into manageable pieces. When it comes to technology, philosophy can help us understand the origins of technology, how it affects us emotionally and mentally, and where it might be headed in the future.
More importantly, philosophy, and these 4 pillars, can help us manage technology. It provides a framework for evaluating technology and helps us ask the right questions about its impact on our lives. By understanding the underlying philosophical principles of human achievement, we can make better decisions about how to leverage technology and how to protect ourselves from its potential dangers. The lens we use is can focus the truth, beauty, goodness, and unity into a perspective that aligns technology with humanity.
John is the #1 global influencer in digital health and generally regarded as one of the top global strategic and creative thinkers in this important and expanding area. He is also one the most popular speakers around the globe presenting his vibrant and insightful perspective on the future of health innovation. His focus is on guiding companies, NGOs, and governments through the dynamics of exponential change in the health / tech marketplaces. He is also a member of the Google Health Advisory Board, pens HEALTH CRITICAL for Forbes--a top global blog on health & technology and THE DIGITAL SELF for Psychology Today—a leading blog focused on the digital transformation of humanity. He is also on the faculty of Exponential Medicine. John has an established reputation as a vocal advocate for strategic thinking and creativity. He has built his career on the “science of advertising,” a process where strategy and creativity work together for superior marketing. He has also been recognized for his ability to translate difficult medical and scientific concepts into material that can be more easily communicated to consumers, clinicians and scientists. Additionally, John has distinguished himself as a scientific thinker. Earlier in his career, John was a research associate at Harvard Medical School and has co-authored several papers with global thought-leaders in the field of cardiovascular physiology with a focus on acute myocardial infarction, ventricular arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death.