Finding the Science of Consciousness: SAND 2015
If the number of cars in the parking lot at the Dolce Hayes Mansion were any indication, the SAND community is exploding exponentially. Wi...
With a warm welcome video from Zaya and Maurizio this year’s amazing conference got underway with a talk by Peter Russell on What is Nonduality?
Peter “defined” nonduality as its name suggests – “not two” and went through both scientific and philosophical bases to make the case that consciousness must be primary. Everything knowable is within consciousness–even science.
What sets this conference apart, besides the incredible vibe, is the confluence of top scientists along with nondual and Eastern philosophers in a lively dialogue.
And with this year’s title, the unstated aim of the conference was another attempt at coming to a “Science of Consciousness.”
A major contributor to this endeavor is Stuart Hameroff of the Center for Consciousness Study at the University of Arizona who has done extensive research into the very tiniest of organisms and their components in order to find “Where’s the Bing?”
The Bing being essentially BEING – the energetic and presumably intelligent first cause that leads to life.
Stuart makes the point eloquently that “computation and information storage is not consciousness.” His research has discovered the presence of Pyramidal neurons and Microtubules within cellular structures of even one celled organisms that seem to behave consciously albeit on a very basic level.
From his famous Microtubules, Stuart has found that the universe wants to feel good – hence Life.
Just as bacteria in a petri dish will move toward nutrients and away from toxins even without a nervous system to guide them, Stuart’s discoveries have led him to conclude that the impetus behind Evolution is a move toward the experience of pleasure, on whatever level that unfolds.
How Close Is Science To Understanding Consciousness?
He also participated in the essential panel of the first morning: How Close is Science to Understanding Consciousness? The panel included Hameroff, Julia Mossbridge, Chris Fields, Henry Stapp and Donald Hoffman, facilitated by A.H. Almaas.
This incredibly stellar panel of scientists from various fields including physics, mathematics and neuroscience were familiar with one another’s work and engaged in a lively dialogue over whether science is the right way to understand consciousness.
If they were attorneys several of them might have concluded with a “Demurrer” that for science the “hard problem of consciousness” is simply not the issue (so what?) but they gamely tackled this topic.
Chris Fields made the point that science needs to accept certain concepts as undefined – like “energy” and proceed from those assumptions because by its nature it cannot define more deeply.
The very language of Science leads to uncertainty (Heisenberg aside) because everything we know or can know is the phenomenal awareness of something or other.
In studying awareness, Chris suggests that science focus on the less known senses like raw touch and taste as opposed to vision and hearing to discern the working of consciousness.
Ultimately Chris said that “We have no theory as to why there is awareness.” All scientific theory is for predictions based on initial assumptions and postulates with no ontological implications (that is, why something is the way it is).
Science, as practiced currently, has nothing to do with being beyond the fact that we understand conditions required for consciousness and its study, but no organization of material objects explain consciousness.
He went further to maintain that no concept of a “boundary” conforms to our best science – all such constructs are artificial overlays of our minds and that any science of consciousness would require us to change our perspective in what awareness is doing, presumably from our materialist predispositions.
Julia Mossbridge was perhaps the most skeptical of the entire endeavor to deal with consciousness in a scientific way because of her belief that there must be a “My” consciousness to be scientific.
What happens to this “me” in deep sleep? And once there is a me, there is apparently a “not me.”
There is that sense of separation which leads to the apparent but elusive objectivity of scientific inquiry.
Julia also said that the manner of inquiry also depends completely on the specific field of science conducting the work. “Math people want math” and so on.
Her contention was that Science doesn’t (need or intend to) answer why questions, just how questions, echoing Chris Fields’ initial suggestion that science only “works” once certain assumptions or ground rules are set.
Julia said that any scientific inquiry into mind (she is a neuroscientist):
- Must understand the idea of causality
- Must understand time
Aspects of consciousness that suggest that A comes after B violate any such notion of causality.
Demurring on “the hard problem” she asked scientists like Stuart Hameroff whether the issue of how consciousness functions scientifically is soluble and more important, and if it is necessarily even an interesting or significant question?
[From a scientific rather than philosophical or metaphysical perspective.]
From her perspective she concentrates on discerning the relationship between the “my experience” and everything else (and presumably is not concerned with who or what this “my” fundamentally is).
For Julia, consciousness is all we got, and not all that there is. She insists on focusing on what is empirically and objectively knowable.
Quantum physicist Henry Stapp also challenged Hameroff saying that there is simply “no history of ‘Bing” (as something definable). The quantum state is a state of universe and the role of observer is choice without prior rules or definitions.
According to Stapp all math explains dualistically. His conclusion: “Matter behaves like an idea.
We have an idea-like universe and the one fundamental fact is that consciousness exists.” Science properly focuses on not why consciousness exists but why is it needed scientifically to understand reality.
Stuart Hameroff reiterated and defended his work with Roger Penrose that suggests that it is a pleasurable feedback function that suggests how life originated.
When pressed on the ultimate origin of this function, Stuart more or less went ethereal in a very interesting way – he said that “Space/Time is based on fundamental [immaterial] Platonic values” (or forms?)
This resonates with other theories that say that mathematical constants like Pi and Phi are universal values (perhaps forming the basis for the assumptions grounding science that are necessary for thinkers like Chris Fields?)
But ultimately Stuart says that the nature of understanding is non-computable and presumably impersonal.
“Hitler happened, evil exists.”The Brain As An Orchestra Rather Than Computer
In a wonderful analogy he went beyond the hard problem of “qualia” (the qualities of experience which we all know) to describe reality or consciousness not in computational but orchestral terms so that “like the painter orchestrates dabs of color into a Mona Lisa via the “agency” of consciousness as it were, the orchestral warmup emerges as “music”.
“The brain is more like an orchestra than a computer.”Don Hoffman took almost a nondual position by zeroing in on the key aspect Qualia or Agency – experience and activity – and asked the core question “take action by whom?”
Don challenges the critical assumption that consciousness has structure that can be objectively known or defined and maintains that “space and time is a format for human experience” and not fundamental.
No scientific theory explains everything according to Hoffman, who said that everybody assumes something and “Consciousness is my given.” Start with consciousness, and physics is not a mystery. If you start with a math model you can make new predictions that turn out valid.
When asked whether consciousness is algorithmic, Hoffman replied simply, “No. Models are not reality. [One can construct an] abstract math model that best models consciousness but the model IS not consciousness.” The mathematical model still requires a “ground” to work.
Moderator Almaas had his hands full trying to establish a definition of consciousness among the scientists who mainly demurred. His contention was that consciousness is not a thing but an activity or agency (verb) — a point that was reiterated later by Rupert Spira and Deepak Chopra who referred to it as an “activity.”
In terms of qualia, Almaas contends that Consciousness makes feelings possible and is fundamental.
Scientists we can rightly only talk about what it does. When he challenged Stuart Hameroff if he had worked out the math of every experience, Stuart remarked, “You’re being hard on me.”
What makes this conference so unique is the presence of the nondualists like Joan Tollifson who eschew a need for scientific validation entirely with the recognition that [All] “Thought leads to a sense of separation.” Separation cannot be sustained through a deeper inquiry.
According to Joan, life is simple – “When we bring attention to the present moment, everything shifts.” It is our inner talk that makes it seem that we are separate things; through direct inquiry we can find we’re inseparable from other “objects”.
She inquires as follows:
“Is there any place in the sensation where chair and body meet? – Can we find the “me”. Is it really there? – We can find stories, thought, mental images but where is me? – Consciousness is dividing Wholeness into fragments (sound bites) – Deeply in any sensation there is nothing. – Me in the body is a thought – Reality is undivided – Awakening is just Noticing and being interested in what is happening. – What is going on is simply what’s happening.”This reminded me of Michael Jeffreys’ wonderful description of being moved by watching a video of a boy singing “Amazing Grace” on television and suddenly realizing that all of the emotion was overlaid by his own being – what was “really” happening was simply pixels moving on the screen.
Ultimately for the nondualists it’s not personal. Just a thought or the movement of conditioned patterns.
“This ‘awaring’ presence is our true nature. We cannot doubt being here now. We can doubt an interpretation but not the experience,” Joan said.Comparing Eastern & Western Wisdom
I have written extensively about philosopher Bernardo Kastrup, and we were fortunate to interview him for Collective Evolution (interview to be featured in an article soon).
One thing I found fascinating was his description of the wisdom of East and West. Science or the quest to understand has three components according to Bernardo:
But the West only uses the last two, while the East focuses on the first two. According to Bernardo the truth must encapsulate all three.
Nondualist Rupert Spira was typically uncompromising in his understated but methodical presentation, maintaining that the ultimate science is the science of mind and the deconstruction of the subject/object nature of language that results in our conditioned perception of separation.
His questions (without answers):
- What is the irreducible aspect of mind?
- What is the nature of knowing and who or what could know the nature of consciousness?
- How can the sun shine on itself?
This type of inquiry leaves no room for a method. It results in a deep knowing that what one “is” is “without dimension”. Not in time or space.
The finite mind is the activity of consciousness vibrating itself to know objective experience. The finite mind is an activity; an agency thru which consciousness is able to know itself as one.
Rupert provided an amazing analogy in which he said first, let’s call consciousness a woman named “Mary” who lives in Los Angeles. Mary goes to sleep and begins to dream that she is Jane in New York.
To do this she needs to overlook “her own mind” and assumes she is Jane. Jane’s experience is now that she is “mind inside and all else is matter outside.” She is separate. Jane believes her knowing is located behind her eyes.
Suffering is the price of her separation and she tries to ease her suffering through more matter – things. Finally a friend she meets invites her mind inward. Her mind sinks into its source divested of its own limitations. Jane falls asleep. Mary wakes up. Jane was never an entity but an activity (“Mary” = Consciousness = One = Everything).
“Like a spider who spins her world from herself and loses herself in the web.”Your Body Is A Metaphor For Experiencing Reality
The formal presentations climaxed with who else – Deepak Chopra. I have watched Deepak with appreciation since his days as the “weird guy on Larry King” I am always enchanted by his style and clarity.
He began his presentation with a story of an encounter with a young boy who asked where the ocean came from and similar questions and Deepak turned these around and finally he asked the boy where did the Universe come from?
The reply: another dimension The audience laughed and Deepak said he asked the boy where he had gained this wisdom. The reply: Pokemon.
Deepak then outlined the two fundamental mysteries:
- What’s universe made of? (We don’t know)
- What is the biological basis of consciousness? (We have no answer).
According to Deepak there is simply no explanation for perceptional or mental experience or “Qualia” without somehow addressing the question of precisely “Who is having experience?” — which is precisely the question he poses to conventional scientists that inevitably bring them to what Deepak said was simply a “dead end.”
He asks, “Where is the I?” The reality is that the I center of experience cannot be found. Deepak said, echoing Rupert Spira with whom he shared the stage later that evening, that consciousness has “no dimension” – as his colleague Eckhart Tolle says, it is “no thing.”
Deepak continued with an amazing Prezi presentation of the history of scientific theories about reality culminating in the fact that Wikipedia has at least 15-20 current “explanations” of quantum mechanics. Nobody knows what’s going on. The math works but no one knows.”
He smirked as he summarized some theories like an “infinite casino infinity of universes,” which made me happy I moved to Las Vegas. For Deepak, Science has become a “math guessing game leading nowhere.”
He went on to describe his own and his colleagues’ work in Qualia which now includes 40 scientific principles of this mysterious phenomenon.
The mysteries of cosmos do not end, they expand – Deepak provided the mind blowing fact that the visible universe is 0.1% of everything that our math tells us exists. There is also dark matter which is 40% (and we don’t really understand it) and then there is the rest, which is (?) space?
“Your body is a metaphor for experiencing reality.”Deepak’s new book which goes into more detail about the latest scientific advances is Super Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being by Deepak Chopra M.D. and Rudolph E. Tanzi.
Rudolph Tanzi is a renowned neuroscientist specializing in Alzheimer’s (Deepak also was kind enough to sit for an interview with CE which will be posted shortly).
Everything Offered Something Of Great Value
Much of the conference goes to the community that exists from Wednesday until Sunday and the exchange of ideas. Here are some other participants of note:
Scott Kiloby, a renowned nondual teacher has an addiction recovery program in Palm Desert and spoke on the topic. On a personal level I discussed my own challenges in this area as a result of moving to Las Vegas with its many temptations.
Scott confirmed my own experience that many people “on the path” become enamoured of “allowing everything” which results in the surfacing of many unresolved traumas that are stored in the body.
Exacerbated by a new self identification with “being enlightened” the subject cannot understand his or her sudden weaknesses and lapses into depression and self hate.
Scott was kind enough to spend a few minutes discussing this issue with me and I suspect that his program is helping many many people.
Om Orgasmic Meditation from OneTaste had a nearby table.
“Orgasmic Meditation (OM) is a wellness practice (like yoga and pilates) that is designed for singles and couples to experience more connection, vitality, pleasure, and meaning in every aspect of their lives.”CE has covered virtual reality and CoreReboot has a new VR app from Dorote Lucci that provides experiences of deep rest and relaxation.
Those who feel the urge to follow their breath inward will be fascinated by the Spire app. As beautiful as it is functional the Spire is no ordinary stone –it provides information on your breath and stress levels to lead to a harmonious and fulfilling experience.
Another app from Kathleen of Lockwood United Divine Intentions is intended to promote healing vibrational energy to world and local leaders for transformation (a la Lynn McTaggart).
The app and website “present evidence that Subtle Activism can create positive social and environmental change. As spiritual beings we enact change through our thoughts – our prayers and intentions. The human experience – the physical world – responds to this energy.”Ex-model and yoga teacher Kristen Eykel presented her Attunement Chakra Meditation. Kristen has founded Sacred Circle Teachings- a physical & spiritual Yoga, Hypnosis & Reiki training academy devoted to empowering the teachers of tomorrow with the sacred knowledge of all time.
And Kristen just published her 6-week planner incorporating her teaching.
I’d like to close my review of this wonderful event by sharing an exclusive interview that we at Collective Evolution had with one of the event’s co-founders Maurizio Benazzo.
Maurizio’s passion is an inspiration to many and an integral part to why the SAND Conference continues to be as successful as it is. Check it out: