Aware of Being Aware
The atmosphere at this year’s Science and Nonduality (SAND) US conference was relaxed and energized, with a friendly, easy-going, inquisitive vibe. With dozens of speakers presenting talks and workshops in six different rooms and additional areas–including an outdoor dome–SAND provided a veritable smorgasbord of ideas and experiences. The theme at this conference was “On the edge of the (un)known,” graphically portrayed on the main stage backdrop and on conference program books with the image of a person standing atop a rolling 3D topographical map hill and looking up at the stars.
Held at the Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose, California, and attracting hundreds of attendees, this sixth annual conference in the USA filled four days with dawn-to-dusk opportunities to participate in hands-on activities. SAND’s mission is “to forge a new paradigm in spirituality, one that is not dictated by religious dogma, but that is rather based on timeless wisdom traditions of the world, informed by cutting-edge science, and grounded in direct experience,” and it succeeds in creating a welcoming atmosphere for meeting new friends and old who share a common interest in the place where science and spirit meet.
I enjoyed attending many wonderful sessions, taking 56 pages of notes, and spending hours talking with friends and colleagues about the high points of some of the sessions I was unable to attend. There were often at least six concurrent sessions happening simultaneously, making it impossible to see all of everything–and sometimes with so much going on, it was nice to enjoy good food, company, and drink, often with live music nearby.
I greatly enjoyed attending Julia Mossbridge‘s talk about her ground-breaking precognitive research studies at Northwestern University. When showing undergraduate students a series of visual images in randomized order, Mossbridge noted that men and women show very different and readily distinguishable differences in galvanic skin response and heart rate before and after their non-conscious awareness indicates recognition of an image. Men became additionally aroused to find that somehow, their bodies “knew” what images would flash next, and demonstrated an opposite pattern from women, who were not so excited to find out they’d somehow tuned into the future. Mossbridge pointed out how interesting it is that we actually are not aware of what it is to be anything other than ourselves. This may seem to be a trivial point, but indeed it is not. While we may be vaguely aware of levels of our awareness that are non-conscious, we sometimes have difficulty reconciling just how strongly the non-conscious “puppet-master” is moving our “conscious puppet” selves. I’ll be sharing more from Dr. Mossbridge in a future post, since she was so kind as to grace me with an interview where she shared what she knows for sure that most people don’t realize, that can positively change the world.
Donald Hoffman‘s talk about “Conscious Agents” presented his approach to viewing perception and consciousness through the lens of an Evolutionary Interface Theory. Hoffman’s big idea that came to him after years of research in perceptual studies is that all of true reality is something we presume to know, while research continues to show that actually we never see any such “true” reality, but instead only ever actually experience a kind of perceptual interface–something akin to the desktop on our computer in which various icons for folders and trash represent something of deeper levels of complexity that we need not trouble ourselves to fully comprehend.
Hoffman’s colleague, Chetan Prakash, presented a talk on the two fundamental elements of “Conscious Realism” that provide a basis by which Hoffman’s theory can best be understood: Universal Darwinism in which the fittest survive not for best seeing and knowing the truth, but rather when best interfacing with required resources; and Bayesian Inference in which possibilities are constantly evaluating probabilities based on current information.
Henry Stapp‘s talk “On the Nature of Things,” was unquestionably the most referenced by other speakers on a wide variety of stages throughout the conference, and he brightened the stage with his appearance on a panel with Stuart Hameroff, Julia Mossbridge, and Donald Hoffman discussing the definition of consciousness. Stapp posed a question regarding how the Hameroff/Penrose microtubules theory can address the matter that when a “Bing!” occurs in which spontaneous collapse occurs in an experience, there can be times when there is a conscious experience, yet there is no history, which appears to be a problem with their theory. Stapp cited William James’ Harvard lectures stating that without memories of the past, we wouldn’t have history.
Seán Ó Nualláin‘s talk referenced ideas of Gurdjieff and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin while describing the importance of voluntary will in directing consciousness, and “One Magisterium.” Ó Nualláin’s illuminated the distinction between exogenous, automatic attention we don’t consciously control, and endogenous attention that we do. There exists an Archimedean point from where we can step outside and see the self as composed of simple elements, and by which we can observe mind as pure consciousness, observing self from one configuration to another. We can reparse Nature, asking, “What can I know? What can I hope for? What am I?” As we look more closely at we know for sure to be true, and see entangled realities between symbols and metabolism, the best conceptualizations lie beyond 1st and 2nd order tensors constrained by limitations of linear models to chaotic dynamics and 4th order tensor conceptualizations.
Justin Riddle presented his Tri-World model that brings mind-body-spirit complementarity into our view of quantum-digital-fractal computers. Quantum characteristics of superposition of states, wave function collapse upon measurement, and entanglement also can be fitted to this mind-body-spirit triumvirate. Riddle described how neural oscillations come in bursts of neural spiking, with windows of coherence, as part of an oscillating mind in which some neurons become “hyper neurons” and only operate together. We see signs of levels of oscillation in our mind in Theta brain waves oscillating at a rate of five times per second of perceptual awareness, Delta brain waves oscillating at a rate of two times per second for actions and decisions, and Alpha brain waves oscillating at one time per ten seconds for attention associated with the Default Mode Network of the brain, forgiveness and meditation.
Zoran Josipovic talked about “The Unified Context of Consciousness,” in which studies show that when people are taught love and compassion, their brain wave states change in positive ways that reduce epileptic hypersynchrony, and provide people with pervasive sense of having an awareness of being aware.
Bernard Kastrap set the stage for talking about Non-duality and Panpsychism by pointing out that there is experience–aka: behavior of That Which Experiences–and there is That Which Experiences (TWE). A second person perspective emerges through dissociation when one’s psyche creates an “alter” consisting of illusory islands of local perception, with sense perception occurring at boundaries. “Cosmic mind has Dissociative Identity Disorder,” says Kastrap, adding that the error of panpsychists is in thinking of of mind as fragmented. When we assume structure of the behavior of consciousness to be that of consciousness itself, we see that a non-dual perspective does not make this mistake–“The water doesn’t derive its structure from ripples.” Kastrap asserts that Artificial sentience (AI) assumes panpsychism, assuming matter is fragmented and complex minds would be created from the bottom up. “The quest to create a sentient being is a quest to induce dissociation in the cosmic mind,” adds Kastrap, stating that the inner life of each living being is a dissociated alter of One.
Stephan Pollaine shared evidence of reincarnation, ghosts, and other examples illustrating the illusory nature of ego self. We can explore consciousness subjectively with meditation, breath work, prayer, fasting, service, and guidance from a teacher or shaman.
Edward Frenkel gave a talk about “Cartesianism as the Effect of Our Collective Childhood Trauma,” in which he described how much of our suffering comes from fear of death, and bottling up emotions from our childhood. Cartesianism is a process by which we accept representations as being real, thus confusing representations with experiences. With Ray Kurzweil now working at Google, with his eyes on the prize of somehow creating an avatar of his deceased father from memories and photos, it’s clear to Frenkel that when our inner child is hurt, we create stories as defense mechanisms. Frenkel adds, “The pain is finite, and we are infinite. Trust me. I’m a mathematician.” Frenkel encourages scientists to share their personal experiences, and experience the kind of breakthrough he had on stage at last year’s SAND in the USA in which, after dealing with tremendous inner doubts and concerns about ruining his reputation by speaking at SAND, he had an awareness epiphany while being taped for a YouTube video giving his talk and his powerpoint slideshow didn’t work–so he spoke from his heart. Frenkel ended his talk with a quote from Lewis Mumford’s “The Myth of the Machine,” “But for those of us who have thrown off the myth of the machine, the next move is ours: for the gates of the technocratic prison will open automatically, despite their rusty ancient hinges, as soon as we choose to walk out.”
There were many more talks and events than I was able to attend this year, but I heard wonderful buzz about presentations given by: Juan Acosta, Duane Elgin, Stephen LaBerge, Maria Syldona, Adam Bucko, Matthew Wright, Sky Nelson, Mauro Zappaterra, Mikey Siegel, Karla Galdamez, Wolfgang Baer, Peter Russell, Glenn Aparicio Parry, Robert Thurman, Joan Tolifson, Samantha Sweetwater, and Charles Eisenstein. One of the headliners at this conference was Deepak Chopra, who frequented the main stage and halls over the course of the conference, along with the husband-wife founders of Science and Nonduality, Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo.
I will be following this post with several more posts featuring four wonderful presenters I had the privilege to interview at SAND this year: Glenn Aparicio Parry, Joan Tolifson, Julia Mossbridge, and Seán Ó Nualláin, along the lines of the mini interview I conducted with Menas Kafatos included here.
What Menas Kafatos Knows for Sure
Dr. Menas Kafatos is the Fletcher Jones Endowed professor of Computational Physics and the Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, and he has published numerous books and articles. Kafatos is one of the five Science and NonDuality SAND conference board members, and he started a talk at SAND with an experiential breathing meditation, to provide the audience with the feeling of non-duality, and an appreciation for being in a state of receptive witnessing awareness to how we exist in-between inhalation and exhalation, with each breath. Kafatos pointed out, “Consciousness is not a problem that needs to be solved,” and explained that much like breathing, consciousness just is. Kafatos proceeded to outline a framework for understanding reality, with its three qualities of: (1) Integrated polarity (complementarity), (2) Correspondence (recursion), and (3) Creative interactivity (process).
For any serious seeker and scholar in the field of consciousness who’s been attending conferences for the past 17 years like I have, many SAND speakers will be familiar. Yet amidst familiar topics and faces, I share the sentiment Menas Kafatos expressed in his SAND talk when he said, “You don’t have to come to conferences. We come so we can be together!”
I was honored to meet with Kafatos and ask him what he feels he knows for sure that most people aren’t aware of, that could greatly benefit the world. And much to my delight, Menas truly sparkled as he contemplated an answer to my query, as you can see in his response to my question in this YouTube video.