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The Neurobiology of the Good Life was the title of a recent (April 30, 2004) one-day workshop at UCLA that featured some of the leading minds in their fields. This was one of a series of workshops UCLA makes available to the public each year, many of which require no admission charge. Even if you don't live in the area, these workshops are well worth the travel expense it might take to get here. Seldom will you find such interesting people to mingle and exchange ideas with. Here are some of the people who participated in this fascinating workshop:

Chair: Bob Jesse, Council on Spiritual Practices
Speaker: Edward Slingerland, University of Southern California Departments of Religion and East Asian Languages & Cultures
Taking Joy in the Way: A Confucian Meditation on Embodied Morality and Modern Neuroscience

Chair: Bridget Agabra Goldstein, Co-founder of Goldstein's Bagel Bakeries and President of the Board of a progressive elementary school in Pasadena
Speaker: Jordan Peterson, University of Toronto Department of Psychology
Chaos, Order, and Paradise Lost

Chair: Mark Kleiman, UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research
Speaker: Seana Coulson, UC San Diego Department of Cognitive Science
Embodiment and Language Comprehension: Event-related Brain Potential Studies

Chair: Michael Intriligator, UCLA Departments of Economics, Political Science, and Policy Studies
Speaker: Daniel Kahneman, Professor of Psychology, Princeton University and Nobel Laureate in Economics
Towards a Science of Well-Being

Chair: Scott Hutchinson, UC Extension
Speaker: Mark Terrano, Microsoft
What Makes Great Game Great, or How to Create Csikszentmihalyi's 'Flow' Experience in a Virtual Environment

Chair: Maria Jimakas, psychologist in private practice
Speaker: Paul Zak, Claremont Graduate University Department of Economics and Center for Neuroeconomics Studies
The Neurobiology of Trust


Awakening:
Awakening to your true nature, life's meaning and purpose and other tidbits associated with enlightenment.

Terence McKenna sound bites          Terence McKenna at Palenque, January 1999

(Also see the Foundation for Global Awakening in our links section.)


Quantum Consciousness by Adam McLean
There still remains the problem of our consciousness and its relationship to our material form - the Mind / Brain problem. Behavioural psychologists such as Skinner tried to reduce this to one level - the material brain - by viewing the mental or consciousness events from the outside as being merely stimulus-response loops. This simplistic view works fine for basic reflex actions - "I itch therefore I scratch" - but dissolves into absurdity when applied to any real act of the creative intellect or artistic imagination. Skinner's determinism collapses when confronted with trying to explain the creative source of our consciousness revealing itself in an artist at work or a mathematician discovering through his thinking a new property of an abstract mathematical system. The psychologists' attempts to reduce the mind/brain problem to a merely material one of neurophysiology obviously failed. The idea that consciousness is merely a secretion or manifestation of a complex net of electrical impulses working within the mass of cells in our brain, is now discredited. . . . In the Quantum picture of the world, each individual event cannot be determined exactly, but has to be described by a wave of probability. . . . Thus on the large scale we can effectively apply a deterministic physics, but when we wish to look in detail at the properties of the sub-atomic realm, lying at the root and foundation of our world, we must enter a domain of quantum uncertainties and find the neat ordered picture dissolving into a sea of ever flowing forces that we cannot tie down or set into fixed patterns. . . . Some people when faced with this picture of reality find comfort in dismissing the quantum world as having little to do with the "real world" of appearances. We do not live within the sub-atomic level after all. However, it does spill out into our outer world. Most of the various electronic devices of the past decades rely on the quantum tunnelling effect in transistors and silicon chips. The revolution in quantum physics has begun to influence the life sciences, and biologists and botanists are beginning to come up against quantum events as the basis of living systems, in the structure of complex molecules in the living tissues and membranes of cells for example. When we look at the blue of the sky we are looking at a phenomenon only recently understood through quantum theory. . . . In treating our consciousness as if it were a digital computer or deterministic machine after the model of 19th century science, I believe we foster a limited and false view of our inner world. We must now take the step towards a quantum view of consciousness, recognising that at its base and root our consciousness behaves like the ever flowing sea of the sub-atomic world. . . . We can I believe go a step further than this recognition of the quantum nature of consciousness, and see just how this overlays and links with the mind/brain problem. The great difficulties in developing a theory of the way in which consciousness/mind is embodied in the activity of the brain, has I believe arisen out of the erroneous attempt to press a deterministic view onto our brain activity. . . . At around 10 to the power -43 of a second, time itself becomes quantised, that is it appears as discontinuous particles of time, for there is no way in which time can manifest in quantities less than 10 to the power -43 (the so called Planck time). For here the borrowed quantum energies distort the fabric of space turning it back upon itself. There time must have a stop. At such short intervals the energies available are enormous enough to create virtual black holes and wormholes in space-time, and at this level we have only a sea of quantum probabilities - the so called Quantum Foam. Contemporary physics suggests that through these virtual wormholes in space-time there are links with all time past and future, and through the virtual black holes even with parallel universes. . . . It must be somewhat above this level that our consciousness works, weaving probability waves into patterns and incarnating them in the receptive structure of our brains. Our being or spirit lives in this Quantum Foam, which is thus the Eternal Now, infinite in extent and a plenum of all possibilities. The patterns of everything that has been, that is now, and will come to be, exists latent in this quantum foam. Perhaps this is the realm though which the mystics stepped into timelessness, the eternal present, and sensed the omnipotence and omniscience of the spirit.


The Kelly Thesis and the BIG QUESTIONS
     The question 'Why is there anything at all' is often taken to be the most fundamental Big Question. If what there is, the 'universe and everything', lacks a sufficient reason for existing, if everything just happened by chance, then our existence is largely futile. If on the other hand there is a sufficient reason for everything that exists, then we exist within a rational order, and that should make a difference to how we live.

     Here is a list of some really Big Questions. They are all questions of the type which have puzzled people for a long time, and the answer to each one could have profound consequences for humanity.

Why is there anything at all?
Is the Universe a process?
Why is there evil in the world?
Why would a perfect God make an imperfect world?
Does the Universe evolve?
Does mankind have a purpose?
How could we know it?
What could it be?

     These are some of the questions Dr. Kelly answers in his book, The Process of the Cosmos.

     The thesis argues that the world can be understood as a process involving the possible self-creation of an entity like God. In the series of the emergent ontological strata of reality, the physical, biological, conscious and spiritual strata, each stratum is less rigidly determined, and exercises greater freedom than does the previous stratum. The laws of nature vary from stratum to stratum, becoming less deterministic at each new stratum. The present human moral-cultural, or spiritual stratum, exercises complete freedom in relation to the law of this stratum, the moral law. The moral law commands but can not compel. The possible outcomes of this process of Emergence could be either the self-creation of a stratum which is not significantly different from God, or the self-destruction of humanity. In this context, Christ could be considered to be a proleptic exemplar of the final emergent stage.

Papers by Dr. Kelly that are available on his website include:

"Why Is There Anything At All"
"An evolutionary Christology: Teilhard de Chardin and Beyond"
"The Scientific Paradigm"
"Natural Theory of Emergence"
"Rethinking Christianity in the Light of Process Thought"
"Early Days and Camel Patrols"
"Understanding Aboriginal Culture"
"Aristotle, Teilhard de Chardin, and the Explanation of the World"
"The Search for Meaning in Philosophy and Theology"
"Why do we have a Physical Body? And Why is there Anything at all?"


The Problem With Botox and the puzzle of prosperity
(Washington Post, April 17, 2002)
Once countries reach a certain level of income, further advances do not appear to generate extra happiness. . . . researchers reckon the transition occurs when GDP per head reaches about $10,000 -- roughly the point where Portugal or Slovenia is now. Richer countries such as the United States have failed to register measurable increases in happiness during long periods of rising income . . . Money inflation occurs when the supply of money increases, pushing prices up. Beauty inflation occurs when the supply of beauty increases, forcing you to be even more gorgeous than you are already in order to stand out from the pack. . . . Botox is the latest sign of this inflation. Injecting a sterile form of the poison that causes botulism erases facial wrinkles . . . As Botox grows more popular, frown lines will come to be frowned upon, and citizens will be increasingly worried about displaying outward signs of worry. Will this make anybody happier? The answer may remain mysterious. Some Botox patients apparently lose the ability to show facial expressions. The happiness researchers will have their work cut out.

 

An Adventure for the Mind
[One of my regular surfing habits is to find a creative website each week and spend some quality time on it, poking around, kicking the tires, and really getting a feel for the thought that went into it. If that idea strikes your fancy, then you couldn't find a better place to start with than at 2.0.1.3. This is a space created by some extremely talented artists whose primary medium is consciousness. Highly Recommended. —Lawrence Hagerty]

2.0.1.3

From: The Intergalactic Dream
Convergence Project
LST: 2.0.1.3.

We are your future dreaming selves.
We send a message from hyperspace into your local spacetime in order to stimulate imagination - the Dream Machine with which you will construct the next world.
During the years 1993 to 2012 the human species experienced a transformation - from an ego-based civilization to Gaian consciousness.
We called it the Shift, and it changed everything.

- | -

Know this:
The Earth is alive, and you are the brain.
Thought creates reality, so do it with imagination.
And what you think is what you get.
Relax, everything is ok,
and there is nothing to worry about.
You survived.
We are your futuremind.

 

[Editor's Note: For more about Kevin Warwick see "Computer/Human Symbiosis" in The Spirit of the Internet]
The next step in human evolution
(The Independent, 26 March 2002)
[Kevin Warwick] will attempt to develop new senses, design electronic drugs and begin exploring the outer limits of his newly created man-machine consciousness. . . . In a few months he hopes to turn his wife into a cyborg. Then he will wire up his lab-mates and, he claims, mankind will take the long-dreamt-of leap into the far future, where man and machine are one and the same. It's William Gibson's sci-fi novel Neuromancer brought to life and, Warwick believes, the next evolutionary step for humankind. . . . In a few months he hopes to turn his wife into a cyborg. Then he will wire up his lab-mates and, he claims, mankind will take the long-dreamt-of leap into the far future, where man and machine are one and the same. It's William Gibson's sci-fi novel Neuromancer brought to life and, Warwick believes, the next evolutionary step for humankind. . . . "I hope my work is a wake-up call for the human race. The military use of this type of technology is terrifying. They will create machines that protect and sustain themselves. You will not be able to switch them off. Where will we humans would fit in? We could become their pets, their slaves or just an irrelevance. I cannot see any future for humans in such a world." . . . But Warwick has a solution. "If you can't beat computers and robots, then join 'em," he says. "We should harness the best of machine intelligence for ourselves. We should build it into our own bodies. The worst thing to do is to ignore this technology and hope it goes away. The future is screaming towards us, whether we like it or not." . . . "When we are all connected, it will no longer be an 'I', but a 'we'. We may all pool our intelligence and consciousness. It would be a kind of meta-consciousness." . . . Warwick claims that as we come to rely more and more on machine intelligence, we will lessen our ability to survive independently. Eventually, the world will be dominated by companies and authorities that are controlled entirely by artificial intelligence. . . . Once this domination is complete, anyone wishing to switch off the machines would effectively be committing suicide. And besides, many machines will be designed to withstand even the most determined assault, so it would not be possible to shut them down. In this scenario, Warwick believes that only cyborgs could compete with intelligent machines. Humans wouldn't stand a chance.

 

Scientists find Prozac 'link' to brain tumours
(Steve Connor, The Independent, 26 March 2002)
Scientists have discovered that Prozac, the antidepressant taken by millions of people around the world, may stimulate the growth of brain tumours by blocking the body's natural ability to kill cancer cells. . . . An international team of researchers led by John Gordon, professor of immunology at Birmingham University, found evidence to suggest cancer cells can be killed by "positive thinking", which could be blocked when people take Prozac. . . . the latest findings could lead to a global re-evaluation of the drug's long-term safety. . . . The scientists tested other SSRIs such as Paxil and Celexa and found they, too, had the same effect in stimulating the growth of a type of tumour known as Burkitt's lymphoma.

 

Ray Kurzweil ponders the Singularity [from Edge.org]
"How can you say that dolphins are more intelligent than we are? Isn't knowledge tautological? How can we know more than we do know? Who would know it, except us?" . . . Ray Kurzweil posits that we will soon be facing similar questions through the merger of human and machine intelligence. . . . But what will the Singularity look like to people who want to remain biological? The answer is that they really won't notice it, except for the fact that machine intelligence will appear to biological humanity to be their transcendent servants....there's a lot that, in fact, biological humanity won't actually notice." . . . We are entering a new era. I call it "the Singularity." It's a merger between human intelligence and machine intelligence [and] is going to create something bigger than itself. It's the cutting edge of evolution on our planet. . . . It is part of our destiny and part of the destiny of evolution to continue to progress ever faster, and to grow the power of intelligence exponentially.To contemplate stopping that - to think human beings are fine the way they are - is a misplaced fond remembrance of what human beings used to be. What human beings are is a species that has undergone a cultural and technological evolution, and it's the nature of evolution that it accelerates, and that its powers grow exponentially, and that's what we're talking about. The next stage of this will be to amplify our own intellectual powers with the results of our technology.

 

[Editor's note: The following link will take you to a chapter from Michael Heim's book The Metaphysics of Cyberspace (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993: 82-108.) We hope the following brief highlights will encourage you to read this thought-provoking book.]
The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace
By Michael Heim
Cyberspace is more than a breakthrough in electronic media or in computer interface design. With its virtual environments and simulated worlds, cyberspace is a metaphysical laboratory, a tool for examining our very sense of reality. . . . If the people who make simulations inevitably incorporate their own perceptions and beliefs, loading cyberspace with their prejudices as well as their insights, who should build the cyberworld? . . . Must we pledge allegiance to a single reality? . . . In the matrix, things attain a supervivid hyper-reality. Ordinary experience seems dull and unreal by comparison. . . . Platonic metaphysics helps clarify the link between Eros and computerized entities. . . . Only a short philosophical step separates this Platonic notion of knowledge from the matrix of cyberspace entities. (The word matrix, of course, stems from the Latin for "mother," the generative-erotic origin). . . . Cyberspace is Platonism as a working product. The cybernaut seated before us, strapped into sensory-input devices, appears to be, and is indeed, lost to this world. Suspended in computer space, the cybernaut leaves the prison of the body and emerges in a world of digital sensation. . . . Filtered through the computer matrix, all reality becomes patterns of information. When reality becomes indistinguishable from information, then even Eros fits the schemes of binary communication. Bodily sex appears to be no more than an exchange of signal blips on the genetic corporeal network. Further, the erotic-generative source of formal idealism becomes subject to the laws of information management. Just as the later Taoists of ancient China created a yin-yang cosmology that encompassed sex, cooking, weather, painting, architecture, martial arts, and the like, so too the computer culture interprets all knowable reality as transmissible information. . . . [Editor's note: The remaining subtitles of this chapter are: “The Inner Structure of Cyberspace,” “Leibniz's Electric Language,” “Monads Do Have Terminals,” “Paradoxes in the Cultural Terrain of Cyberspace,” and “The Underlying Fault,” which begins:] Finally, on-line freedom seems paradoxical. If the drive to construct cyber entities comes from Eros in the Platonic sense, and if the structure of cyberspace follows the model of Leibniz's computer God, then cyberspace rests dangerously on an underlying fault of paradox. . . . With the thrill of free access to unlimited corridors of information comes the complementary threat of total organization. . . . The ideal of the simultaneous all-at-once-ness of computerized information access undermines any world that is worth knowing. The fleshly world is worth knowing for its distances and its hidden horizons.


 

Trance Dancing - The Rave (Can trance-dancing save the planet?)
By Jason Keehn
Shouldn't we be putting our time instead into ecological or political activism, or at least doing some kind of charity work? What about the serious spiritual disciplines that claim to offer the only true path to personal--and thereby social--transformation? What good does all our drug-taking and revelry do for the hundreds of millions of dispossessed, fucked over and starving around the world--not to mention all the untold species and eco-systems being destroyed? . . . Hard to answer. And yet some of us still have this inescapable feeling, maybe even faith, that what we are doing, confused, silly and commercialised as it often is, is at its core absolutely necessary. . . not just to us, but in the bigger picture, somehow. . . . At moments, some hundreds, and maybe even thousands or tens of thousands, of "ravers" have probably found themselves sensing/feeling/wondering that what they were doing might be something really big, something that could really change things at a larger scale. . . . As all "ravers" know, there is a mysterious something that makes a rave different from just another club or party-scene. We call this "the vibe"--a mixture of intangibles impossible to find anywhere else, except maybe at a dead show or a rainbow gathering. . . . Here is a radically new take on Gurdjieff's philosophy and mission, one that has a direct bearing on our neo-psychedelic-rave subculture. . . . Is it possible that trance-dancing is one of the most basic forms of intentional suffering and conscious labour? . . . Is it possible that such dancing, performed by the right people in the right way with the right intentions, is capable of producing exactly that same energy Gurdjieff believed Mother Nature needs from us? Could it be that the use of psychedelics in conjunction with intensive dancing to certain specific rhythms, by a new breed of individuals, may be a way to fill our cosmic obligation without the life-long spiritual training otherwise required? . . . Under different names, tribal peoples seem to commonly believe that their dances are essential to the gods, a form of offering, sacrifice, or service. Something necessary to keep the balance, to keep the rain falling, to keep the sun coming up, to keep things moving. That's why they're sacred dances. And so maybe it's not just the form of the dance that's sacred, or even what the dancers experience, it's in what they do: the energy they collectively release. . . . In some of his late writings, Bennett speculated that recent decades are seeing the birth of a new kind of person, maybe even a new race of sorts, with spiritual capacities different from the rest of society. . . . Could that be us?

 

The Global Mind Hypothesis
The next stage in evolution (in fact the current one) is a socialization, the development of a Noosphere, consisting in a continuously progressing integration of the individual mind contents. This process culminates into a global or universal unanimity of minds, with an intense global interaction, but without losing their individuality, and thus conserving the ability to stay aware of, and to consciously control reality, each individual at the highest possible intellectual level. Of course, devices from Internet to direct computer-to-brain connections will significantly enhance this ability. The arguments for this hypothesis state that such a vision is perhaps more in compliance with the general laws of universal evolution than the Global Brain hypothesis does. . . . That a global information technology is developing at light speed is beyond doubt, and that its implications are still unpredictable is a certainty. As happened with calculators, it's highly probable that important intellectual functions will be assisted by or even replaced by "intelligent" devices. We are already enhancing our global awareness thanks to information tools, and this technology could eventually yield very "enriched" human brains. The Global Mind hypothesis only suggests that, whatever the technological progress, man will eventually remain at the controls of his destiny and probably the destiny of universe, by a complete awareness and comprehension of all important things to know, enabling him to intervene at a planetary and later at a cosmic scale, and replacing Coincidence (or Design) by his conscious actions, to finish cosmic Evolution. [Read the Full Text of this fascinating and informative paper.]

 

Is Taking a Psychedelic an Act of Sedition? (Charles Hayes, Tikkun Mar/Apr 2002)
Depending on individual circumstances, of course, there are now even more compelling reasons to sanction the practice of judicious psychedelic use. . . . if you're not sure who the real enemy is, if you're inclined to ask more questions about the nature of the reality that's just swung out into a broad new arc, or if you're seeking solace and healing from trauma or debilitating stress, it could well be the time to venture out into new psychical frontiers by means of certain time-tested plants and chemicals. . . . How many thousands of Americans in the Sixties, tripping out on acid, grass, mushrooms, or mescaline, got a heightened sense of the utter absurdity of killing Vietnamese in their own country? Anti-war activists declared openly that LSD was a guerrilla weapon of pacifist resistance, and one that ultimately helped to end that war. . . . Declares [Rick] Doblin, "I honestly believe that psychedelics used sensibly and therapeutically can help bring peace to the Middle East, by reducing both personal and social conflicts." . . . Echoing the great religion scholar William James, Smith notes that the ephemeral nature of peak experiences sparked by psychedelics makes them no different from any other sort of mystic encounter with the mysterium tremendum. Such soul-rocking events are indelible in spite of their transient nature, whether you're a born-again Christian or an acid mystic turned Buddhist monk. But the degree to which they will affect you over time, and the tenacity of your newfound conviction, depend on how well you integrate the often alien or otherly vision into your daily life. . . . The weapon that psychedelic consciousness brings to the War on Terrorism is as a perceptual laser that dissolves the blind rage of which it is a symptom, dispelling the rumor of our disparateness.


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