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
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:
Jesse, Council on Spiritual Practices
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
Agabra Goldstein, Co-founder of Goldstein's Bagel
Bakeries and President of the Board of a progressive elementary
school in Pasadena
Peterson, University of Toronto Department of Psychology
Chaos, Order, and Paradise Lost
Kleiman, UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research
Coulson, UC San Diego Department of Cognitive Science
Embodiment and Language Comprehension: Event-related
Brain Potential Studies
Intriligator, UCLA Departments of Economics, Political
Science, and Policy Studies
Kahneman, Professor of Psychology, Princeton University
and Nobel Laureate in Economics
Towards a Science of Well-Being
Chair: Scott Hutchinson, UC Extension
What Makes Great Game Great, or How to Create Csikszentmihalyi's
'Flow' Experience in a Virtual Environment
Chair: Maria Jimakas, psychologist
in private practice
Zak, Claremont Graduate University Department of Economics
and Center for Neuroeconomics Studies
The Neurobiology of Trust
Awakening to your true nature, life's meaning and purpose
and other tidbits associated with enlightenment.
Terence McKenna sound bites
McKenna at Palenque, January 1999
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.
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
"Why Is There Anything At All"
"An evolutionary Christology: Teilhard de Chardin and
"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
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 184.108.40.206.
This is a space created by some extremely talented artists
whose primary medium is consciousness. Highly Recommended.
From: The Intergalactic Dream
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
We called it the Shift, and it changed everything.
- | -
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.
We are your futuremind.
[Editor's Note: For more about Kevin
Warwick see "Computer/Human
Symbiosis" in The Spirit of the Internet]
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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?
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.
the Full Text of this fascinating and informative paper.]
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.