What’s an Operating System?

Wikipedia defines the term ‘operating system’ as “the system software that manages computer hardware and software resources and provides common services for computer programs.” More simply put, an OS is the interface between your hardware device and loads of particular programs, all given user-friendly screen faces so that we can put them to all sorts of uses from organizing our lives to playing and shopping online to connecting with each other for better or for worse. 

The immense Internet developed from these hardware/software capacities is now running our entire lives to an unprecedented degree. However, we can no longer ignore the fact that our globalized human culture is running off the rails, for all our technological prowess!  So let’s ask the next question:  

What is a Human Operating System?

A great deal of thought has been given to this question by Robert Gilman, founder of In Contextmagazine, which morphed into YES! magazine. In his series of Context Institute articles at https://www.context.org/foundation-stones/. From this diagram In his first article on Culture as Interface, which puts human Culture between Us and our Wider World, as a kind of OS + programs:  


Gilman goes on in the second aticle, on the Human Operating System, to draw a simple analogy between the operating systems of animals and humans (think physical body as hardware and behavior as software programs) 


In my own work as an evolution biologist, I have often pointed out that we humans, in gaining the freedom to choose how to live, sacrificed knowing what to do, as do other animal species, which have far more instinctive coding than we do. That amazing evolutionary freedom has been cherished, but we rarely acknowledge the immense responsibility coming with it: to make our choices well—to build human cultures as operating systems providing for our own wellbeing and that of the Earth we depend on for our livelihoods. Many human cultures have either ignored those goals or otherwise failed in the effort.

Every human culture has had a Creation Story, or Worldview (I like to call them Vistas) that acts as its core OS, from which behavioral rules are developed. These stories or worldviews become the programs defining the human context within all Nature and how humans are to behave toward each other and their greater world. But as times change, the stories, along with the rules, can become outmoded and put a human culture into trouble.

Gilman, in his series, goes on to point out that the past century brought unprecedentedchanges in population, technology, the economy and the environment, and that:

  • These changes present us with unprecedented dangers,including that humanity already exceeds the long-term biocapacity of the Earth to sustain us in our current way of life.

  • These changes also open up unprecedented opportunities,including the prospect of real peace on Earth.

  • Our response to both the dangers and the opportunities is beinghobbledbecause we are trying to address them throughinstitutions and conceptsdeveloped in and for a very different time in history. The gap between the needs of our times and our ability to address those needs grows greater with each passing year.

Being this out of sync with the on-the-ground reality created by the driving forces of population, technology and the economy, and their impact on the environment…The core challenge of our times, he says,  is to bring our cultures, including our institutions (like government, the economy, etc.), into sync withthe on-the-groundreality of today and tomorrow.


Robert’s analysis is in sync with our propsal to reconsider everything about our current cultural HOS to build a newHOS—one that emerges from our group genius to do so in a very open, playful, creative venture that is risk-free!  If we use our free-to-choose brains, look to Nature for Her best, most successful collaborative strategies, as well as to those indigenous cultures which were free of political and other oppressions and kept their ecosystems healthy, we can catch up with our times and challenges by consciously creating an open-ended and ever better HOS suited to our corrent and future capacities, technological and other. 


Toward this end, we, GEM, put our own heads and hearts together to devise the following ‘axioms’ (short for core worldview features and operating principles) toward a HOS we believe might work for a better future:

  • Humanity is embedded within a living Earth, which in turn is embedded within a living Universe, forming a nested self-organizing holarchy.

  • All species are inherently intelligent and tend to follow a natural maturation cycle from youthful, competitive expansion to mature, cooperative communion.

  • Globalized humanity is at the tipping point - a rite of passage - between its youthful and mature phases, reflected in our navigating a perfect storm of crises.

  •  Choices we now make together as conscious agents will determine our path toward either devastating regression or the possibility for all living beings to thrive. 

  • The mechanistic hierarchical systems that served humanity’s youthful phase have now become our greatest threat to realizing our maturity.

  • Building the required holarchic systems to support our maturity must be a global collaboration among diverse human cultures, initiated and developed by ‘we the people’ of all generations, present and future.

  •  Recognizing that we are prisoners of old ways of thinking, we see that higher levels of complex thinking are required to match our world’s increasing complexity. We use game theory and a game to stimulate complex systems thinking, knowing that once systems thinking is adopted in place of reductive thinking, design of self-organising governance is facilitated.

  • Intentionally seeking the interface between inner and outer development is essential to our rite of passage, individually and collectively.

  • All human cultures have Nature in common and those who have survived longest have embraced its guidance, along with core human values, playfulness, celebration and galumphing.

  • The dominant globalized culture made Ecology subservient to Economy by reducing Nature to a collection of resources for human use, while a wise society - an Ecosophy - would nest the economy harmoniously into Nature’s ecosystems.

  • New technologies, notably collaborative platforms and gaming, can enable our transcendence from linear, mechanistic hierarchies to self-organising holarchies informed by Nature.

  • When the principles of healthy living systems are obeyed at every embedded layer of holarchy -  from family to community to ecosystem to Earth - we will have realized our destiny as a mature humanity.