Hi All –
Recently wrote an article for the National Science Teacher’s Association about educational assessment and serving the needs of the student. Please check it out if interested!
writings about the process…
Hi All –
Recently wrote an article for the National Science Teacher’s Association about educational assessment and serving the needs of the student. Please check it out if interested!
Many thanks to Brad Miele, for making a transcript of my TEDx talk on Science and Spirit, for anyone interested. It’s below:
Three years ago was a turning point in my life, because I finally had everything I thought I needed to be fulfilled, and I still had this voice in my head saying “I’ve got to do more to be happy”. The more that I looked at my own suffering deeply, the more I saw it in every single person around us. We have trouble standing in lines, we’re impatient with our own children. It’s as if we all think the future holds the promise for our fulfillment. I come from a scientific background, and so I wanted to use that background to understand the real root and source of why there is so much suffering. Where it’s led me has totally changed my views of the current scientific paradigm. More importantly than that, it’s changed my views on what it means to be a human being, and to be alive. I want to share this theory with you, and it is way out there, so I ask you to have a critical but open mind for the next 14 minutes, because you might not actually be what you think you are.
So who am I? I’m a human being, and I am 33 years old. But if you take a microscope and you look at any part of me, you see cells. I am a community of fifty trillion cells doing a magic dance, but if you look at any one of those cells with an even closer microscope, you see twenty trillion atoms. So I am also a community of a thousand trillion trillion atoms, but when you look at those atoms really up close they fade away, and all you see is energy. And 13.7 billion years ago, at the Big Bang, everything that we’ve ever found in the universe was was one infinitesimal, undifferentiated, pure energy.
All of us are energy. A human being is a very complex pattern of energy. I stand here as a 33 year old basically motionless, but when you look at any single part of me, I’m moving the speed of light, and I’m the age of the universe. So the question for me is: I know this conceptually, why don’t we feel it? Why do we walk around and we are so sure that we are a human being all the time, and we never feel like we are energy? Because it sounds awesome. I think the reason that we don’t notice it is because we are so distracted by the human levels of our experience that we fail to notice what is always sitting beneath. So I want to look at those distractions.
Take five seconds, and think about something that you are going to do tomorrow. What you just did is something that as far as we understand, no other organism in the entire universe can do. You just built an alternate reality inside your head. You just made a prediction about the future that has never happened in reality. This power for prediction, when you can compare alternate realities, allows you to plan for the future. From agriculture to your retirement, this has changed the face of the planet. It’s probably the most significant evolutionary step forward since walking upright.
I want to look at this tool in your head, because your mind is a thought generating machine, to make, proliferate predictions about the future, to guide and goal-orient your behavior. What does this machine look like in all of our heads in 2011?
Another experiment: take 10 seconds and stop thinking…
…Did anyone make it 10 seconds? I make it about two and then I start strategizing about how I’m going to stop thinking and then I think about that the whole time. What this means is you have such an evolutionarily advantageous tool that it’s become completely compulsive, but you’ve got to remember, no other organism does this at all. And the side effect of having the most evolutionarily advantageous tool in the entire universe sitting in your head is that you have no control over it, and when you have no control and you compulsively generate all these possible realities, you always compare them to where you are, to try and goal orient your behavior. This creates an entirely new class of human suffering. Things like jealousy, and regret about something that happened in the past, and anxiety about your future, no other organism can feel. I want to understand if it’s possible to totally eliminate those sources of suffering from humanity.
This is just a brief list of all those possible sources of suffering.
In order to find out if it is possible to remove those sources, we have to take a kind of scientific experimental objective look at ourselves. We have to look at all the layers of our own experience and try to be as objective as possible about them. This is amazingly difficult because we’re so emotionally involved in our own lives. As any of you know, if you go to a movie and you are emotionally involved, two minutes into it you totally forget that you are at a movie, and the lights turn on at the end and you are shocked back into reality. So this is even more difficult because we have to look at our own movie, the movie inside our consciousness.
We are going to do two quick experiments, which will only give a taste of something that takes much longer to kind of understand the depth of.
The first experiment is with sight. From what we understand in physics, all light is a vibration of electromagnetic field. None of those light waves intrinsically have any color, there’s just this change in frequency. But once those waves go into your eye and into your brain, you create the subjective experience of color. What this means is that you all think that you’re seeing me out here with a red shirt on, but this red only exists in your head. This entire picture you are seeing is happening inside your head; in a movie inside your consciousness, and if you remove a little bit of the attention from me directly, you can start to have some attention on yourself – noticing that you are seeing me – inside your head.
So lets do a second experiment that is even more subtle than that one. Read this sentence twice, silently to yourself…
…It’s weird, right? But you can get this very weird, subtle perspective that you can look at your own thought process objectively. You are actually listening to the soundtrack of thoughts inside your head; in your movie of consciousness.
Now imagine that I do this process for thousands of hours, and I just try to look as objectively as possible at my thoughts, my emotions, my perceptions, and even the way that my brain has modeled space and time. The more I pull the attention away from the thoughts and perceptions, the more I seem to notice myself noticing these things inside my consciousness. Eventually maybe I can pull all of the attention way from all of those layers of thoughts, perceptions, my body, my sensations – and there’s nothing left to perceive. There’s nothing left that I can consider myself because I have seen it all in front as not me. Yet the one thing that remains is this feeling of existence. I am remains. This feeling of I am. What I find when I sit in that state is that what my identity is, is beyond perception. It cannot be perceived, but it is still experienced. This I am is the root of our entire existence. I am is latent in every single aspect of our existence, but just like a fish might never notice the water that it swims in, we might never notice the I am, because it’s covered.
I am is a completely empty experience. It’s devoid of any content, and when I experience it directly, on its own, there’s the possibility for a realization.
Maybe I’m not a human being that has consciousness. Maybe I’m consciousness that is shaped into a human being.
When I see this totally empty experience, there is no content, form, structure – there’s not even a model of space and time that is generated in the mind. We’ve seen those conditions before. 13.7 billion years ago when the entire universe was an undifferentiated pure energy. So just maybe there’s the potential to realize directly, I am that energy. I always have been that energy and I always will be that energy.
Einstein said that thoughts suffer from an optical illusion of consciousness. This illusion that there is a separate person inside an environment, when in reality there’s just energy in motion, everywhere. Just like an ocean is water in motion – we can call a certain part of that ocean a wave but that gives us the illusion that the wave is a separate entity in the ocean. A wave is not in the ocean, a wave is the ocean. Similarly we might not be waves, maybe we’re the ocean. Maybe all of us are energy and we can realize that directly.
This experience could never be reduced to words – because it makes words, but it could be experienced. I think that is such an important experience that people have been trying to name it for thousands of years. They call it spiritual enlightenment. I think that the first human beings started realizing that they were fundamentally energy about 2500 years ago. All of them say the same thing – it is the complete ending of human suffering. Of course it’s the end of human suffering! All suffering is based on the illusory separation that there’s an individual in the environment, that there’s a person that has to survive, that this specific collection of a thousand trillion trillion atoms has to hold itself together. However, if I realize directly that I am energy, and I realize that the body and the mind are a temporary manifestation of that energy, then I can fully accept that the death of the body and the mind was never something that happened to me, because I was always energy and I always will be.
If I were to experience that directly, this voice in my head that tells me I have to do certain things in order to be fulfilled loses all of its power. At this very moment I never have to listen to that voice again. Everything in life becomes a game, for fun; a play. We’ve all experienced that, but it’s very hard to remember, because we were so young. Maybe we were at the beach building a sand castle and the entire world faded away because we were only building it to build it – and we weren’t trying to get somewhere else. We hadn’t even learned how to plan, so the only moment that mattered to us was right now. I think that this experience is so important and powerful that every religious tradition at its core has been trying to convince us of its importance, and if it’s true. – if the true end of all human psychological suffering is actually possible – it is the most important thing science could be studying.
When we look at monks and nuns who have meditated or prayed for thousands of hours we see remarkable shifts on their brain scans. Trillions of neural connections have changed configuration. Along with this quantifiable, objective change in the operating system of the brain, they describe a feeling of undifferentiated, infinite, oneness. To me that sounds like they are having the direct experience of being energy. Enlightenment science and enlightenment engineering would study these ancient technologies of prayer and meditation as data sets to understand what has to change in the structure of a human brain for a human being to understand that they are energy directly. We still have no idea how much modern technology could completely change our ability to understand that. Maybe it’s possible that within our lifetimes we could eradicate human suffering.
What would the world look like then, if every single one of us felt complete, felt whole, and felt interconnected?
When you let go of individual survival, all of your priorities change because you actually see the entire world as your body. You see the suffering of others as your own suffering and you want to help. What is the actual power of a human being to really benefit the world, when they are able to put the priorities of the whole system in front of themselves, even if that means they have to die in the process? How many of us can do that right now?
What if seven billion of us did that?
Maybe the one thing that keeps us from actually solving all of the other problems in the world is this persistent, flawed thought that we are separate from the world. Maybe it’s time we change our minds.
Hey all –
I think there is a scientific theory of spirituality/religion, and that both sides could benefit greatly from this theory. I recently gave a 15 minute TEDx talk exploring the idea.
If you’re interested in connections between science, technology, spirituality, religion, perception, and consciousness, and open to a new possibility, this may interest you. I would love to know what you think.
There have been many books over the years that have greatly influenced me, but I’ll keep it to a few that I think have some very powerful ideas. I’m glad to try to recommend anything people are looking for specifically. Many works about self-knowledge have the odd property that you may find them completely meaningless and then come back to them later in life and they may become quite important to you. Keep this in the back of your head!
Also, anyone interested in learning more about the evolutionary origins of art, I recently wrote a 15 page chapter about that. You can download it here.
This is the classic text from roughly 2500 years ago. A very short overview of Taoist wisdom, Lao Tzu has an amazing way of trying to speak about something that is, by definition, impossible to talk about. Translations by Stephen Mitchell are well-regarded and available in a pocket edition — the only book I always carry around with me.
I think of all the books about self-knowledge that I have found, this one is the most accessible and straightforward. The book opens: “In case you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops. It just keeps going and going. Have you ever wondered why it talks in there? How does it decide what to say and when to say it? How much of what it says turns out to be true? How much of what it says is even important? And if right now you are hearing, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a voice inside my head!’ — that’s the voice we’re talking about.”
From there he goes into the exploration of why that voice exists, which takes us into an understanding of meditation, mindfulness, and enlightenment. A potentially very powerful work.
Andrew Newberg was one of the first neuroscientists to brain-scan people who either had deep meditative or religious/mystical experiences. He found definitive brain changes after people had spent several thousand hours introspecting. His book examines evolutionary theories of how religions started, and talks about the possibility that these brain changes might enable us to see deeper into reality.
Ken Wilber is one of the major thinkers of our time, who focuses on studying consciousness and its relationship to mysticism. A Brief History of Everything is a long but quick read, discussing theories on the nature of the universe around us, subjective experience, stages of consciousness, evolution, etc. — I especially enjoy how he made me think differently about the stages of consciousness that humanity has been through so far (reflected in your growing up, such as beliefs in magic as children, etc), and where they may lead in the future.
Eckhart Tolle was on the verge of suicide one night when he was about 30, and the thought occured to him “I can’t live with myself any longer.” Suddenly, he realized, if he was having this thought, then there must be two of him, and he finally became distinctly aware of the voice in his head. This changed his life deeply, instantaneously, and many years later he became a teacher for others looking to understand themselves better.
For those seeking an understanding of Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle is someone who writes in a way that will either affect you quite deeply, or be meaningless to you. I have found it (this, as well as his other major work “A New Earth”) very powerful and it hits on some things that at first you may completely ignore or deny, but that may eventually revolutionize the way you see around you.
Nisargadatta was an uneducated poor villager in Bombay, India, who in his thirties became enlightened, or ‘realized his true Nature,’ as he might say it. People around him could tell something about him was very special, and spent the next 50 years crowding his cigarette store asking him spiritual questions. He never wrote a word, but enough recordings were made of his conversations with spiritual seekers that they were transcribed into this book, “I Am That.”
In my personal journey with understanding the world and myself better, this book has affected me more deeply than any other. However, given the language and the depth of his direct understanding, it can be a very difficult and challenging work to read at first. I found that I needed about 80 pages to start understanding what he was talking about, but then the realizations became deeper and deeper.
I hope these books reach you, if you are searching. Please email me or leave a comment if you’re looking for anything specific — I spent a lot of time in a deep reading phase of this journey.
After almost three years, my second patent has finally gone through, for a “System and Method for Device Suspension and Wireless Power Transmission.” You can see some picture details below.
The funny thing to me, is that during the interim of all of this, I have lost most of my belief in the goodness of the patent system. My only justification at this point is that, if I patent something myself, then some large corporation can’t horde information from other people by patenting it themselves.
As my friend Dan would say, “Information is free!” Can we keep it that way?
Hey everyone – A really brief note. I’m halfway through my KickStarter campaign, trying to sell an open-source kinetic sculpture for the first time, and it just yesterday crossed its goal of raising $15,000 to make over 100 of these… very exciting!
I’m including the link below in case anyone else is interested. Obviously if I’m going to be making them anyway, I want to reach as many people as possible with it. I’m selling them at $150 each, a steal — barely covering my expenses and time. They will be hand-assembled by myself and shipped to you, shortly after the campaign is over. I’m more interested in people being able to enjoy these pieces than I am in making a ton of money here.
All the details are through the link below. Thanks for reading, and please share with anyone you think might be interested…
Zoz and I recently finished teaching a Do-It-Yourself Hacking seminar for high school students at the NuVu Studio, showing them (hopefully) that they can create anything they imagine, with a combination of the right sensors, computer intelligence (using the Arduino environment), and actuators. After some brainstorming and teambuilding sessions, the projects that got developed were:
1. Joystick-adjustable backpack
2. Keep-awake-while-driving hat
3. Temperature regulation for Xbox controller
4. Accelerometer-based Wah Pedal for guitar
5. The Human-Avoiding Chair!
At first we were trying to lay the proper theoretical foundation for people to learn to code as efficiently and cleanly as possible — to develop the best habits. But we realized within the first day how much more important it was to just get them working on their individual projects. It’s ironic because as a teacher, we end up teaching the same thing separately to all the mini-groups, and we want to teach it at once; we naturally desire the simplicity of that. However, when a team gets stuck on something and can’t proceed because they are lacking a piece of knowledge, that is when the iron is hot to strike. It seems that that is really the most effective way to teach (even if as a teacher it takes five times as much work!), because, as usual, emotional motivation trumps rationality. If a student isn’t motivated internally to learn, you have to repeat the same thing five or ten times anyway. If they want to know something because it’s keeping them from moving forward on their own work, then the whole game is changed. I knew this implicitly but somehow had still not remembered to implement it from the beginning.
I had an amazing and thought-provoking time teaching (and really, learning from) all these students. They did an amazing job in a ridiculously short time. Check the film for project details or the NuVu blog post. Thanks to Saeed, Saba, and David for having Zoz and I and for all the help along the way!
I have been getting into an interesting conversation with my friend Javier, about the potential intersections between science and spirit. We’re getting into raises issues that might be relevant to many people, so I’m sharing our emails, when they come, as a dialogue about the potential in spirituality that may be consistent with science. I think this potential could represent a revolution of the current scientific model.
__________________________________________Jeff, Let us start at the beginning: I do not believe that God exists. You do, but I suspect that our concepts of God (or god) are different. I define God as the Designer, an intelligent being that created the universe with the intention that humans will live and die in it. To be clear: it is a necessary condition of God (with a capital G) that humanity is not the accidental phenomenon that emerged from this universe’s complexity. While certainly it may be the case that a designer created the universe with no idea that humans would pop up in our little corner of the cosmos, or even that the designer fully expected sentient life forms to stochastically evolve — both sufficient conditions for the existence of god (lowercase g) — it is the stronger God, the ascription of a universe designed for humanity, that I reject. That is not to say that I accept any lowercase-g theories, but the capital-G theories get the most air time. So which do you believe in, Jeff, God or god?
Hey Jav. I’m really excited to have this conversation with you publicly. Right now your mind is hitting on some of the things that have been big issues in my head recently.
I want to start with Joseph Campbell: The universality of myth, and the universality of the hero. If I were to try to compress everything he offered into one sentence, it would be roughly: “Every religious story is a metaphorical account of a potential transformation of human consciousness, represented in the relevant language of its cultural climate.” All of the differing specifics of each religion offer different paths, a different methodology, to transform the current typical stage of consciousness to a qualitatively different place; a different way to experience life itself. But since our minds work fundamentally through metaphor, these very abstract shifts needed to be put into more ‘everyday’ stories. The fact that those stories differ is a consequence of the fact that the story part isn’t the important part. Only what it points to is. (If there’s interest I am glad to write plenty more about Joe Campbell and these theories).
However, we as humans seem to often miss that, which causes a fundamentalism of sorts; but I would say there are fundamentalists on both sides. Anyone that sticks to the story representation is spending time in a conflict that, although it has merit on its own, ignores the actual root of such conflict — the inability for both sides [I’m speaking science + religion] to realize that a shift in consciousness lay at the root of our misunderstanding, and without confronting it directly, this symptomatic fight will never get anywhere.
If the metaphors point to the same thing, then it seems that this is just as important ‘as if’ a personal God were around. Is it a big enough of a deal to humankind that it is nothing less than that sort of event. And if it is a qualitative shift in consciousness, you can’t possibly understand it directly until you understand it directly — it’s like trying to get a reptile to understand empathy, or a rat to understand self-awareness. It is a layer that encompasses all previous layers, contextualizes them. Spiritual development becomes one more stage in our evolution, a major cultural evolutionary step.
In teaching it (on this animal level), the stories need to reach the reader as directly as possible. But then science came around and starting showing objective inaccuracies in the specific metaphors that were being used. And with their story, a story of how things should follow repeatability in nature, patterns, we lost our connection with the root of the issue. We forgot completely that the stories were just metaphors—pointers to the real thing.
This idea of humanity being an accident, the whole argument comes down to a misrepresenting metaphor. The specific form of humanity is an accident, but this general pattern of how consciousness is layered in complexity (and I mean that literally) was going to manifest at some point or other in self-awareness. And we might still not be on this shift, we might all die off because of the inequities we caused for ourselves, and then 7 billion years later another creature will evolve way further than we do. This general pattern of layers of intelligence and concsiousness has a tendency to manifest on this universe.
It seems possible that, over the last few thousand years, humankind has started to experience a cultural mimetic mutation that fundamentally rewires the qualitative structure of the human mind, into a new operating system. It may not usually be interpreted as such, but it aligns well as a wider contextual (and metaphorical) interpretation of religious texts. Call it whatever you want: God, enlightenment, cosmic consciousness, Nirvana, being, the Tao, presence, Jesus. It seems worthy of a name, even if it may be literally beyond conception (therefore beyond name-ability). Remember, beyond conception does not mean beyond experience; it just means beyond the experience of the rational mind. This may be the current default [in different layers] but by no means the final operating architecture possible with neural connections!
So clearly, I believe in a ‘god’ not a ‘God’ but neither of them is much better or worse than the other. They are both pointers to something else: life itself. Just a different perspective and understanding of life, and your connection with it. An experience worthy of a title, yet unnameable. It is about knowing that you are not only a wave in the ocean, but that you, as a wave, are the ocean itself. If you know that firsthand, where is suffering? Where is death?
Leaving it here in hope of further discussion,
Lately, for the fun of it, I tell people that I believe in god. Everyone has their own drastically varying image of that word, and I can’t say i actually ‘believe in god’ in the way most people would typically immediately interpret it, some guy-with-a-beard who is ultimately controlling things. But when it comes down to it, I think I now understand ‘god’ and ‘spirituality’ from a perspective that fits completely within the world of science, if we would open our eyes just for a second. I see now how it actually simplifies many of the current theories we have, enabling a new paradigm of science, one that most people are currently unaware of. I’m pretty sure there is a revolution about to happen in the scientific world and i want to talk about it. Right Now.
Usually, I’m too scared to talk about this at all. but i’ve decided as a new year’s resolution, that right now this is the stuff I’m riffing on the most scientifically, the stuff that is the most important thing to me right now, and I should be open about it, even if it ends up wrong. We’re searching for truth, right? I’m afraid to talk about it because it’s a new taboo — in the scientific, materialist, atheist regime that has largely given me my identity, I am now the taboo of a ‘scientist who believes in some version of god.’ A new form of publicly ridiculed minority, in some sense.
I’ve been an atheist since 1987, when I was nine years old (more on that later). But this year I’m changing my mind. This year I’m telling people I believe in god. For no other reason than to try to start the conversation. Because I think people should hear why. Because now I think it’s the most important thing, just like ‘all the other people who believe in god,’ and I believe it but think it makes perfect scientific sense, and I’ve been embarrased about it and not discussing it! This is ridiculous and it’s time it changed. The best a scientist can be is critically open, not critically closed.
We act as if the rational mind we evolved over the last 7-or-so-million-years is the end of the story, and only technology is going to continue to change things. But I think our civilization is on the cusp of a serious and total shift in human consciousness. One that is quite well-explained from evolutionary theory, one you might even predict; and when it’s misinterpreted by the minds upon which it acts, the recipients become dogmatic: they get stuck with a mental/rational interpretation of something [which must be told through metaphor and myth], forgetting that all the stories were only there as pointers to an internal shift. We are storytellers, after all; and sometimes we forget that the stories are the beginning and not the end. It is important to be open to the possibility that even if 99.9% of religious people are stuck in dogma, the other 0.1% may be experiencing something fundamentally different, and fundamentally real.
Something from which we can learn. As soon as science wakes up to the fact that this could explain all religious stories and experiences. Underneath all of them, are hidden techniques to engage actively with this qualitative shift in consciousness. It actually simplifies the story greatly.
Sound, color, taste, cannot be described fully in words. These other dimensions of our experience are internal, and incommunicable through rationality — direct experience is necessary. The word ‘God’ is a metaphorical pointer to an unthinkable, unspeakable stage of consciousness. A stage that has actually stepped outside of rational thought to a new way for our neurons to function. A stage that may be best described as a direct experiential knowledge of the unity of all things. This enables new freedoms that help us evolve beyond our current evolutionary limitations. A new layer of consciousness, that contextualizes rational thought. A new layer of consciousness that controls the system of the rational mind, the ‘ego’, the ‘self’. A new dimension of consciousness, one in which you literally see things differently. And one that is being (almost) completely ignored by the current scientific machine.
I will get into the details over time. But I want people to discuss this with me. I want you to tell me how (with an open mind to this as a current hypothesis) I’m wrong. I want to debate this. But there are fundamentalists on both sides. Anything new is bound to seem weird at first. I hope that we have an opportunity to push forward on a theory together. Science has never been a complete theory, and a century from now something we take for granted right now will be shown to be wrong. We are always evolving.
I’ve been looking around, and no one is having this conversation openly and publicly! This should be a huge issue right now. This is possibly the most important unspoken thing going on in science right now and still barely anyone knows about it. If you’d like to be part of the conversation, please keep checking back here. I would really appreciate it. I’d like science to embrace open-source — this is not about me, it is about the ideas.
Anyway. At this point I have a theory for the existence of a new layer of consciousness, that once looked at from a mathematical, molecular, and evolutionary perspective, lines up completely with all the evidence we see today, in a way that simplifies the whole issue that people call “god” with so many different names and tales, into one single storyline. Simplification and beauty is typically a good sign for a scientific theory. But it may also be over-reductive, and I’d like to know if i’m falling into that trap.
If this whole idea of ‘god’ fits into a larger consistent scientific theory than we currently have, it represents a serious revolution with potential benefits to all of mankind. I fully believe it does at this point, so I want to discuss it with as many people as possible and help develop the theory further. Especially if you don’t currently agree with me, but are interested in the conversation. Whether you are an atheist scientist, a born-again christian, or someone who hasn’t decided — I think underneath our differences we have the potential to agree.
Whether or not you see me walking around with a ‘teen heart throb’ wig on, I want to talk to you about this if you see me in person. Xercyn was born at the now of midnight on 1.1.11. Please spread the word if interested.