There’s so much now, to pay attention to, attempt to discover, research and explore, debate and discuss. So many “hot” topics du jour. So much to chew on. Most of it utterly meaningless in the grander scheme of course. Especially when you add in the variable of time. Unless you habitually skip all the mainstream BS and jump right into the real meat, particle physics, ancient history, civilization theory, cosmology, ontology…all come to mind. And yet… even then, with such tantalizing subjects to sink one’s teeth into with a few like minded individuals, when faced with the agonizing reality of the human condition, or bigger picture, all life, still just as much a random roll of the dice as it was tens of thousands of years ago, even conversations of that ilk seem unimportant. Just got off the phone with one of my oldest friends. 30+ years we’ve been there for each other to laugh love party rave about the music we love and rage against the politics we hate. His cancer, though in and out of remission for years, has ravaged his body beyond the level of him being able to live a comfortable life anymore. When he first told me a few days ago about the decision, I could not for the life of me feel the grief i knew should be there as he relayed his plans to me; could not bring it down into FEEL. I was too caught up in my head, in THINK, trying to find solutions. My mind racing around scrolling through decades of collected data searching for what would save the day and save my friend’a life. As we’ve continued to talk everyday it’s become more and more real. My friend is going to leave his body behind soon. Very soon. Last night we really had to have the heart to heart. He needs and wants me to get to acceptance with him about his fate, for my own sanity and peace of mind, as much he needs me to be there for him whenever he wants to talk or vent or cry or rage at the cruel gods and soulless cycles that govern we the lowly and vulnerable. When something wonderful happens to a human being who claims to believe in one god or another, they exclaim “thank god! God is good!” When something unimaginably tragic happens to that same human, they dishearteningly sigh “I guess it’s god’s plan”. They can’t square the 50/50 success rate of their preferred god. Because there’s no squaring it. This problem with humanity’s various gods has been tossed around in theological and philosophy circles for thousands of years. The problem, or the philosophical exploration of it, is called Theodicy. If there’s a god he’s either all powerful and cruel as hell, or he’s all loving and just not very powerful. I lean toward the latter if we’re going to assume the existence of one purely for the sake of exploring this, one of the many Problems we debate in the field of Philosophy. Last night as we talked and made plans for me to come up to his place to say a final goodbye, no easy feat for me still because I cannot walk for more than 5 minutes at a time and an hour and half car ride will be excruciating on my back, the reality finally, suddenly, profoundly hit me. Last week as he was relaying this new information to me, it was through deep, low growling sobs and moans and cries out to a God or fate or the universe in the most raw vulnerable and painful manner I’ve ever heard or witnessed. “Ed i don’t want to die! Bro why? Why bro?!?” he screamed between deep gurgly sobs and gags. “It’s so cruel bro! My wife! My mom! My daughter !” This was a human being begging for his life, wailing like a baby begging anybody or anything in the universe to let him live. Deep guttural sobbing, choking, wailing. Humanity at its purest core. To the f*^king bone. I just kept listening. Appreciating. Flowing love. Kept saying “I know brother. I’m so sorry man. I know… I’m so sorry brother…” Last night the tables were turned. He called to let me know it’s going to be sooner than later. And that I needed to find a way to get to acceptance and stop trying to solve it, and stop fighting it. “I’m worried about you man,” he said. “I’m going to die Ed.” And then it hit me. This was real. This is happening. All the gods and prayer and avatar and meditation and affirmations and money in the world was not going to stop this reality. I burst into a primitive childlike sobbing that I’ve never experienced before. I sounded like an animal. “Dude I don’t want you to go man!” I let out through garbled choking uncontrollable sobbing and tears… “I don’t want you to die bro! Please don’t go man! Please..! Please don’t leave man!” An unbearable and painful grief. Rage. Biblical level wailing. Couldn’t catch my breath. Kept choking on my own throat and spit and sobbing. Huge inhales to prepare for the next wave. This time he listened to me, appreciated me, flowed love to me and my pain. “I know bro. I know. But I’m never going to leave you Ed. I’m leaving this body. But I’m never gonna leave you bro. I would never do that to you Ed. I’ll always be here for you.” We both just sobbed, caught our breath, sobbed more. What a man he is. What a man he was in that moment. To be that selfless. To be there for ME. Like that. When he’s the one suffering so much and dying. I’ve never respected anyone as much as I respect this beautiful man that I’ve called friend for the last 30 years. How blessed we are to know friendship. To love and be loved. And as randomly tragic and tragically random as it is, to have and to know life. For even as brief and fleeting as it is, how blessed we are to have lived.
As you may have noticed, Princess Little Tree subtly cut me off mid-sentence with a “uhh…” this morning in our meeting. I’m accustomed to this, so it would be understandable if you didn’t notice it. And because I trust her implicitly, i stopped speaking. She felt I “was just about to get too passionate” in her words, and felt it best to cut me off.
I recognize My views are extreme and can be viewed as harsh because I dare To point out what would be the obvious to anyone who is not religious in the world, but I do so in a christian environment filled with christian people. That’s the only thing that makes it controversial in the least. And yet I admit I do Feel a tad of compunction for doing so, just out of consideration for the feelings of others who may not be aware of the things I say.
But I get the feeling you do…
The problem for me, the problem for so many all over the world right now, are the people who vote to disaffiliate — why can’t they just say separate? — from the Methodist Church, ostensibly because they don’t support the church because they are about to revolutionarily change its 200 year bylaws to openly accept the LGBTQ community… and personally yes, I’ve been having a very tough time with this.
Hence my tens of hours of studies this past week trying to understand the whole big picture of why more than half the Methodist community nationally is right this very minute voting to leave Methodism…. I wanted to understand. Turns out, it appears they just don’t like gay people. Or at least they believe their “god” doesn’t like gay people.
And as many people have pointed out, there are only 3, at best, references to homosexuality in the entire Bible. So this idea that it’s “sinful” “in the eyes of a god” is a bit far fetched seeing how human beings wrote the damn thing in the first place. And even they didn’t dedicate more than 2-3 sentences to it in a book that’s thousands of pages and was written over a span of time of more 800 years.
So are human beings really anti-homosexuality because it’s Bible based or against their religion, or is it something else?
Princess Little Tree felt that I was On the verge of letting my passion get the best of me, saying something out of line or offensive to some folks. She recognized immediately that I was Aiming my speech toward certain kinds of people…. Which I was In a way. Trying to understand more than anything… because it breaks my heart. It’s NOT what I signed Up for. But she was right. Despite my own beliefs and feelings, it wasn’t appropriate for me to start demonizing others so outspokenly.
I started attending Christ Church in New York for research purposes because of that supernatural spiritual experience I speak of, yes. Voices whispering in your ear “What you’re feeling is God’s love. Ed God loves you so much…”, an event that last for a good 4-5 minutes. Over and over again they whispered these kinds of ideas into my ears. Who wouldn’t pay attention to something like this? Only a fool wouldn’t return that Sunday a few days later after an experience like that…. At the very least just to see if it happened again.
(And it did. This time the voices said things like “this is your home Ed. These people are your family…come closer to God who loves you. Stay…” So i stayed a little longer. Kept coming back. I was still skeptical and cynical of religion… But I kept Coming back. Out of respect of and honor to “my idea of a potential God” and this experience of these voices, not a “normal” thing and I recognized that. I did not want to be one of those people we read about who miss out on some incredible divine gift because they’re stubborn or close minded. And I was Right to do what I did. It was indeed some kind of divine blessing. I get it. And I have been blessed multiple times by the decision i made.
I can honestly say I believe in a Divine Force, that which others call “God”. And though my view is that this Divine Force is a scientific phenomenon like gravity or electricity and yet at the same time is also conscious like sentient beings i.e. think dark matter and energy if you want the major key to understanding God, I still believe we are all speaking about the same thing. And though no I have not figured out the puzzling problem of Theodicy, I believe we will eventually… it’s most likely due to what we vibrate in our consciousness… combined with higher purposes that we are not or can not fathom from this level of Awareness….
And yes I can often FEEL the presence of, hear the voice of and connect with this Divine Force. I get what a gift that is. So yes in that respect I am “religious” or at least spiritual or “of God”, or “of believing in a God”. But again, as “a force with sentience and consciousness.”
But I became a Methodist precisely BECAUSE the church had such a wide diversity and gays were a big part of the congregation. It was the opposite of how “Christianity” is and is viewed in this country. Gay people serving me Communion?!?! Work trips alongside blacks and Hispanics and Indians and Asians?!?! It was a revelation to me. Black people taking me and welcoming me to their home country in africa?!?! So humbled. So grateful for those whispers…
But then all this. The plastic bags come off the faces and it is revealed that nothing’s changed.
American Christians for the most part are still exactly what the rest of us, the majority of us, in America believe them to be. Using religion to be the problem, and never part of the solution. Always dragging the rest of us back hundreds of years.
And trust me when I say that the rest of us, the majority of the American population are extremely resentful of having to deal with Christians and these shenanigans. Whether it’s Trump or Israel or gays or immigration or abortion, Americans do not look fondly on religious people, specifically Christians and the negative influence they have on society as a whole.
Then there are people like me who totally don’t make sense and boggle the mind of the “regular folk”. After 20 years they still think I’m “undercover for some secret project” or why else would I “attend a church”… when I’m clearly on the opposite side on all the issues, including the intellectual side of proclaiming there to be some invisible all knowing higher power. It doesn’t go over well in academic or intellectual circles. It’s baffling to 99.9% of my friends.
But I try to explain that “some churches are different” AND “because I had a supernatural spiritual experience” they would be perfectly fine had that happened to me through Krishna Consciousness or Buddhism or Avatar or Baha’i or Hinduism etc….
So why not accept that it happened to me through Christianity?!? Hell, I get it. It’s not optimal. It’s not what we expected. It’s not aligned with being “cool” nor “intellectual”. I get it. But it’s real. And it’s honest.
And it’s better to be honest about finding God through something as uncool as American Christianity than it is to walk around pretending that you’ve found God through practicing buddhist meditation yoga and sat sangs when you’ve never even heard the whispers or felt the Presence, which is what so many do.
The point is it’s worked up until this point because CC has always been so progressive, so ahead of the curve, caught up (almost) with modern society and the progress we’ve made. As you stated, we are still in perpetual repentance because of some of the mistakes we made in the past. I LOVE that. I can totally get on board with that. Especially if we continue. As has been hinted at regarding this 2024 General Conference and the potential changes the church might make.
Do people have any idea how revolutionary that is?!?! How exemplary that is to the world? The leadership it shows and will show?
For once the christian church actually shows the world it supports what’s RIGHT instead of old-world backwoods dogma?!?
People like me can step out of the shadows and consider the idea of embracing and connecting with a divine force…tens of thousands of them… hundreds of thousands worldwide. Hungry for spiritual fulfillment but far too ashamed to get even close to a religion because religions are far too close minded and exclusionary and harmful.
Because “the church”, i.e. “religion” will no longer be “the dark hearted uncompassionate unintelligent enemy” we’re always fighting. Religious people have no idea they’re viewed that way. Or maybe they do, but they just persist in their “who cares? We’re right because we have Jesus on our side and we’ll be proved right when He returns or in the afterlife”…. Which just further stokes the flames of the viewpoint that “religious people are ignorant and batshit crazy”. That’s the general viewpoint of Christians in America or Jews or Muslims. There are simply way too many fallacies involved in leaping toward embracing it.
I haven’t minded being part of that group in the minds of some because at CC we are NOT part of that group. We stand out and rise above because we truly are different.
But all this “separating from the UMC Organization because it’s too progressive” threatens the ability of people like me to stay true and loyal to the whole affair, not just Methodism, but Christianity as well.
After all, if it’s always going to be on the side of stifling equality and human rights then how can people like me stay a part of it? Let alone not openly fight it publicly?
So yes I got a little too passionate. I said some things in the wrong way. I was a bit too challenging… but it’s precisely because I’m fully on board with us aligning with the ideals of the Gospels. And I’d like us to preserve that.
Banning abortion or banning pastors from marrying gay couples or banning gay people from becoming clergy is NOT aligned with the ideals Jesus preached while he was alive.
And yes I’ve read what Paul says in Romans about gay people and I could Care less what Saul-Paul said. He’s not the foundation of the faith and practice. Jesus is.
I’m tired of this. Tired of the fight. Tired of the struggle. Tired of talking about it. Tired of writing about it.
This is an article I came upon recently that I found absolutely fascinating. One, because it’s about a subject I write a lot about in the Transcendence Diaries, knowing full well that it may be the most unpopular and non-topical subject in the society we currently live in — [I am working on a piece presently related to just this, called The Death Of the Intellectual In the Modern Age], and two, because the author, Hoffman, attempts to explore consciousness from a scientific approach, resisting the popular trend of relegating the study of consciousness to the fields of philosophy or metaphysics. There’s hardcore science here. It may not be an easy read in some places; but it’s thoroughly refreshing to follow along the thoughts and thinking process of someone so ravenously intellectually curious and well thought out. A rare occurrence in our time. The piece was originally published in Edge on January 27, 2020. I am re-posting it here in the Diaries for informational purposes and as reference material. I believe it’s a must read for anyone interested in Ontology or Consciousness Studies. – Ed Hale
A Conversation with Donald D. Hoffman [1.27.20]
. . . I want to propose that realism is false, and what we’re seeing is more like a user interface or a virtual reality headset. Think about a virtual reality game of tennis. You’re playing VR tennis with a friend, you both have your headset and body suits on, you see your friend’s avatar on a tennis court and you start playing. Your friend hits the tennis ball to you, and you hit the same tennis ball back to your friend, but is your friend seeing exactly the same tennis ball that you’re seeing? Well, of course not. There’s no public tennis ball. You have some photons being sprayed to your eye by your headset, and those photons are causing your visual system to create your own perception of what you would call a green tennis ball. Your friend has a headset on, which is spraying photons to his eye, and his visual system is creating his own green tennis ball perception.
It turns out that both of those perceptions are coordinated by something else, namely a supercomputer that’s sending the photons to both headsets, causing both headsets to work in coordination. . . .
All the things that we would do to say that objects really exist even when they’re not perceived hold here in virtual reality. . . . That doesn’t mean that the tennis ball exists and has any physical properties when it’s not perceived; it just means that there is some objective reality.
DONALD D. HOFFMAN is a full professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author, most recently, of The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. Donald D. Hoffman’s Edge Bio Page
REALISM IS FALSE
Some of the questions I’m asking myself are about the relationship between consciousness and the physical world. I’m trying to understand the classic mind-body problem—how consciousness is related to the physical brain or to physical systems more generally, perhaps computing systems. That’s been a conundrum for centuries. Gottfried Leibniz understood it, Thomas Huxley understood it, Francis Crick understood it and said we should really study it. So, I’ve been studying it.
What’s bothering me and many people in our field is that we have so far failed to get a scientific physicalist theory of consciousness that starts with neural activity, or starts with computer programs or some kind of abstract functional architecture and, without any further magic, gives us specific conscious experiences, like the taste of chocolate or the smell of garlic, arising in very specific mathematically precise ways from those physical or functional systems.
Right now, I’m trying to start with a theory of consciousness in which consciousness itself is fundamental. So again, it’s a mathematically precise theory. When we try to come up with a mathematically precise new theory, one of the things we have to do is think about the basic assumptions that we’re going to build into the theory. Every scientific theory starts with certain assumptions, certain axioms if you will, and then tries to build up an explanation of the other things. No theory in science can explain everything. We always have a few things that we assume, and then we try to explain everything else in terms of those few things.
In physical theory, for example, we’ve assumed space, time, matter, or quantum fields are fundamental, and then we can explain chemistry and biology. We’ve tried to use that kind of framework so that with those assumptions, we can try to boot up a theory of consciousness that explains exactly what physical systems or computational systems must be the taste of chocolate and could not be the taste of vanilla. There’s not a single theory that’s been proposed that can explain even one specific conscious experience.
So, what are the basic assumptions that we would need to build into a theory of consciousness? We don’t want to put too many assumptions on the table. We want the minimal number of assumptions that will give the maximum explanation. I’ve been playing with the idea of what I call a conscious agent, which has a set of conscious experiences and can act on those experiences. I have a mathematical formalism for it. Briefly, it’s measurable spaces of conscious experiences and Markovian kernels for decisions and actions based on those experiences.
One thing that comes out of this formalism is that it’s computationally universal. Anything about learning, memory, problem solving, intelligence, self, any of those things that we would think should ultimately be part of a theory of consciousness are not part of my assumptions; those are things that I will try to build out of networks of these conscious agents. The idea is that we’ll have these interacting social networks of conscious agents and, by the dynamics of the networks of conscious agents, we’ll build up theories of learning, memory, problem solving, intelligence, and the notion of a self.
I have a wonderful team of collaborators including Chetan Prakash, Manish Singh, Chris Fields, Robert Prentner, Federico Faggin, and Mauro D’Ariano working with me on the mathematics and the network dynamics and so forth. Ultimately, to solve the mind-body problem—how consciousness is related to the physical world—we’re going to have to start with this theory of consciousness and show how the physical world arises. We’re assuming consciousness is fundamental, not space, time, and matter. We’re going to have to get space, time, matter, and all of modern physics coming out from this network of conscious agents. The question is how to do that. Is that something that is at all compatible with some of the best views in modern physics?
Our team has been looking at some of the recent developments in physics, in particular the work of Nima Arkani-Hamed and his collaborators, in which they’re saying that spacetime has been the foundational idea in physics. In some sense, physics has been about what happens inside space and time for centuries. Spacetime has had a good run; it’s been a foundational assumption in physics. But there are lots of indications, especially from quantum theory and general relativity, that spacetime cannot be fundamental. As some of the physicists are putting it: spacetime is doomed. That’s not my quote, it’s theirs. There’s got to be something deeper that’s fundamental, outside of space and time, that gives rise to space and time. We’re not saying quantum mechanics is wrong or general relativity is wrong. They’re beautiful and powerful theories, but at some point, there are questions they can’t answer and problems that cannot be explained.
For example, spacetime itself. If you try to observe it at finer and finer scales with a bigger and bigger microscope, one problem is eventually the energies that are required to look at finer and finer resolution of spacetime, when you get down to the Planck scale, the energies create a black hole and you destroy the very thing that you’re trying to look at. And if you add more energy, the black hole just gets bigger. Physicists will say that if spacetime is not something we can measure with absolute precision, then it’s not a fundamental concept. We need something more fundamental.
Another idea they have is that in quantum theory you have an observer and a system, and the observer itself needs to be infinite to have infinite resolution in the measurements that it makes of a system. If you have a room in which you’re trying to do a measurement, to get more precise measurements, the observer has to be bigger with more mass. At some point, the observer itself collapses the room into a black hole. As they say, there are no local observables in quantum theory.
The question that I’m dealing with now is, how can I connect this idea of conscious agents and some of the new theories that physicists are coming up with that try to go beyond space and time?
There’s something called scattering amplitudes, the scattering behavior of particles in the Large Hadron Collider. So you smash protons together at near the speed of light. In many cases, you’ll have quarks and gluons hit each other and spray out, so you might have two gluons coming in and four gluons spraying out. You see these things in the detectors, and you can talk about the probabilities or what they call the amplitudes for these various scattering events. They’ve discovered that if you do the computations of the scattering amplitudes in space and time using Feynman diagrams, you get hundreds of pages of math. It’s ugly and you can’t do it in real time because you’re doing a billion of these collisions per second, roughly. They found that they could collapse these expressions to simple expressions, from hundreds of pages down to two or three terms, if they don’t do the computation in space and time.
One of the things they deal with is something called the amplituhedron. It’s a geometric object outside of space and time, and the volumes of various parts of the amplituhedron correspond to the probabilities of these scattering events. This amplituhedron has symmetries that cannot be expressed in space and time. The physicists are discovering that there’s this new realm behind space and time. They don’t know what it’s about. Right now, they’re following the math, which is telling us that there is this structure outside of space and time and it makes the computation simpler, gives us insight into symmetries that you can’t see in space and time.
Maybe this dynamic of conscious agents that we’re thinking about could be the realm behind space and time. My big project over the next couple of years, with the physicists on my team, is to try to understand how the dynamics of conscious agents might give rise to this amplituhedron.
One of the ideas I’m looking at has to do with the dynamics of conscious agents, the so-called Markovian dynamics. That just means that what you’re going to do at this moment depends pretty much on your current state. So, whatever your current state is, it governs all the probabilities of what you’re going to do at the next decision point. You have only a finite memory of what you’ve done in the past, and it’s only a finite memory of what you’ve done in the past that influences your future behavior.
When you look at these kinds of Markovian dynamics, you can look at their long-term behavior. We have a step-by-step behavior of what conscious agents are doing at each step of their interaction. Think of their interactions like a vast social network, like the Twitterverse. There’s a bunch of conscious agents, like a bunch of Twitter users, and they’re all interacting with each other. But what they’re doing is passing experiences back and forth between each other.
We can look at the dynamics of what’s happening at each step of this social network in this interaction, or we can look asymptotically. As the number of interactions goes to infinity, what kinds of patterns do you see there? That’s where I’m thinking we might get the connection to physics and the amplituhedron, not at the step-by-step dynamics of conscious agents. That’s too fine a grain. If we look at the infinite long-term asymptotic behavior of these social networks of conscious agents, that asymptotic behavior erases a lot of the detailed information about the social network and how it works. On the other hand, it’s capturing the long-term patterns. That’s going to be one of those central proposals. What physics has been doing is capturing just the long-term asymptotic behavior of these networks of conscious agents. That’s why it hasn’t looked conscious at all.
For example, if you’re looking at the freeways in Southern California from an airplane, you just see a bunch of little dots moving around. There’s not much evidence of any consciousness or intelligence. You’re looking at it from a high level and you’re erasing a lot of information. You don’t see all the conscious individuals inside the cars. You just see this pattern of flow, of little dots on streets. That’s what physics has been seeing. It’s not seeing the step-by-step dynamics of the conscious agents. It’s only seeing a top-level asymptotic description of the long-term behavior of these social networks of conscious agents. That’s why we haven’t seen things that look like they’re conscious, because we’re only seeing the long-term behavior.
Of course, there’s a lot of specific mathematical steps that we’ll have to take to prove that the asymptotic dynamics of these social networks precisely fits into the structure of the amplituhedron, which they have shown can give rise to the interesting features of quantum theory and relativity theory combined.
That’s one thing I’m trying to work on—flesh out this model of conscious agent networks, look at the asymptotic behavior of these dynamics, and then plug that into the amplituhedron. That whole process will help me with another big problem we’ve got, which is if consciousness is fundamental, there’s this social network of conscious agents out there and they’re interacting—why? The right answer is, I don’t know. I’m trying to first come up with some principled ideas that are at least plausible for what the dynamics of consciousness is fundamentally about.
One idea my team and I are playing with is Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Gödel showed that if you have any sufficiently complex mathematical system, and that system has a set of axioms, there will be truths that are consistent with those axioms, but they cannot be proved from that set of axioms. There are unprovable truths. And if you add those new truths (that you couldn’t prove before) as axioms to a bigger system, then Gödel’s theorem says there will be yet new truths that can’t be proven within your bigger system of axioms.
Effectively, this means that the exploration of mathematical structure is, in principle, endless. There will be no end to the exploration of what we can do in mathematics. Why is that interesting in the context of a theory of consciousness and conscious agents? Well, it turns out that consciousness and mathematics are intimately linked.
There’s a field called psychophysics that has studied conscious experiences since 1860. One thing that we’ve discovered in our psychophysical studies in the lab and with the mathematical models is that conscious experiences are highly structured. We can write down mathematical models that predict not only judgments of similarity between various like colors, but also predict precisely what three-dimensional structures you will see and when you will see them. It’s mathematics through and through. I’m not saying that consciousness just is mathematics; it’s more like consciousness and mathematics are like a living organism and the bones. The bones are the mathematics and consciousness is the living organism. That’s one reason why we can hope to build a mathematical model of consciousness and conscious agents. The mathematics is a genuine insight into the structural aspects of consciousness, but of course there’s more to consciousness than just the mathematics.
This is where Gödel’s theorem comes in. It says the structures that consciousness can take and that these conscious agents can explore are endless. One idea is that the goal of consciousness and of these conscious agents is endless exploration of all the possible varieties of conscious experiences and their structures. It may or may not be true, but at least it seems deep enough that it’s a plausible candidate to answer the question of what the dynamics of consciousness is all about.
Suppose we hit a dead end there and that idea turns out to be wrong, that Gödel’s theorem, as interesting as it is, turns out not to be an adequate foundation for our dynamics of conscious agents. If we can take our theory of conscious agents, show how it plugs into, say, the amplituhedron, and then eventually into quantum field theory and general relativity, then what we may be able to do is reverse engineer things. Once we know how to map from conscious agent dynamics into modern physics, can we reverse that map? Can we take what we know about modern physics and its dynamics, pull it back into the realm of conscious agents, and say what kinds of dynamics would get pulled back? That may then focus our attention on certain kinds of conscious agent dynamics that may then help us to grope toward the answer to the question of what consciousness is all about.
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I got my BA in quantitative psychology from UCLA. While I was there, I took some classes on artificial intelligence and neuroscience of vision that caught my interest. One class pulled those together, a graduate class that I took in which we looked at the work of David Marr. He was bringing artificial intelligence ideas together with neuroscience ideas to study human vision. His idea was to be mathematically precise, to come up with mathematical theories that you could implement in a computer for things like seeing in 3D, object perception, and object recognition. As an undergraduate, I thought this was wonderful. This was someone who was using mathematics, computers, and artificial intelligence to solve problems in human vision, and eventually to build robotic vision systems.
I was very interested in the relationship of computing to humans. I was interested in questions like, are humans just computers or are we more than computers? And, what’s the relationship between human cognition and computation? David Marr was at MIT in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and what’s now the Brain and Cognitive Science Department, so I went there, and he and Whitman Richards became my co-advisors.
I worked with Marr for only about fourteen months because he died young, at age thirty-five of leukemia, unfortunately. It was a great loss personally and to the field. But I did have that chance to work with him and the wonderful team that he’d assembled around him. I got to jump in and see what artificial intelligence can do, how far it can go in understanding human vision.
I completed my PhD there, working on human vision. Then I went to UC Irvine as a professor of cognitive sciences in 1983, and I’ve been there ever since. Now my own research is focused on specific problems in human vision, because it’s good to take on specific problems if you’re trying to understand how human nature is related to computation. It’s good to jump in and try to build computational devices that model human nature and see how far you can go. It turns out you can go quite far. In fact, there’s almost no area of cognitive science—learning, memory, problem solving, sensory perception, language development—that isn’t beautifully treated by these functionalist computer kinds of models. There’s only one area that has been a problem, and that is conscious experience.
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There’s an attitude toward things that accepts the possibility that everything I believe is false. But if I’m right about anything, I’m right that I have experiences—that I’m having a headache right now, or that I’m experiencing a chair in front of me, or a table. As philosophers say, I’m having an experience “as of” a table, or an experience as of a chair, or as of a spoon. So, if I look ahead of myself and I see a table, I’m having an experience as of a table. If I close my eyes, then my experience changes and I no longer have an experience as of a table. Then when I open my eyes, I have once again an experience as of a table.
My physicalist colleagues will say that the table is what’s real; it’s there all the time. Even when my eyes are closed, there is a table that exists even if no perceiver were to look at it. The table not only exists, but it has roughly the shape, texture, color, and other properties that I see. That’s a pretty strong claim.
The physicalist is making the stronger and more tendentious claim, that physical objects have definite values of physical properties, like position, momentum, spin, even if no creature observes it. That’s a strong claim, and it might even sound like a non-scientific claim. That’s more than I’m claiming if I just take conscious experiences as fundamental. All I’m claiming is that when I open my eyes, I have an experience as of a table, and when I close my eyes, who knows what’s happening in objective reality. Of course, you could turn it around and say I’m claiming that if consciousness is fundamental and the physical world isn’t fundamental, there is no table when I don’t observe, no object with a definite position, momentum, and spin. That also seems to be a non-scientific claim. How can you claim something about a physical object and its properties when nothing is observing it? How can you possibly have an experiment to test that?
This kind of debate about whether physical objects exist and have definite properties when they’re not observed is one that Einstein was pushing back in the 1920s and 1930s. It seemed to Einstein that quantum mechanics was saying the moon doesn’t exist when no one observes it, at least in the interpretation of quantum mechanics that Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, the Copenhagen interpretation, had.
Wolfgang Pauli was quite impatient with Einstein. He said the kinds of questions that Einstein was asking were like asking how many angels dance on the head of a pin. Who cares? This was a metaphysical thing that couldn’t be answered with experiment anyway, so why bother with it? That was Pauli’s attitude. Pauli was a towering genius, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. It turns out though that he was wrong—this is a question that we can ask and answer experimentally.
A physicist named John Bell, in 1963, found a series of experiments that could test whether something like an atom has a definite value of position, or momentum, or spin even when it’s not observed. It sounds impossible. How could you have a series of experiments that definitely tell you an answer to the question of whether something exists with definite values of properties even when you don’t look at it? Bell discovered that you could test something called local realism, to which there’s two parts.
Realism is the claim that physical objects have definite values of position, momentum, and spin when they’re not observed—that’s realism. Locality is the additional assumption that those definite values of the physical properties have influences that propagate no faster than the speed of light through space. Bell proposed this set of experiments, something called Bell’s inequalities—a beautiful theorem that he came up with. It took a couple of decades, but we got the technology roughly in the 1980s and then started doing the experiments. The experiment has been done many times.
People were blown away by the answer, which is that local realism is false. That has been established by experiment repeatedly. Local realism is absolutely false, but there’s two aspects to it. It could be that either realism is false—particles or objects don’t have definite values of their properties when they’re not observed—or it could be that locality is false—influences can propagate faster than the speed of light. Or it could be that both locality and realism are false.
Then there was another theorem in 1963 and 1964 that Bell and two physicists named Simon Kochen and Ernst Specker proved. It’s about realism and what they called “non-contextuality.” It’s not about local realism, it’s about non-contextual realism. The question here is, is non-contextual realism true? Non-contextual realism is the claim that physical objects, like an atom, have a definite position, or spin, or momentum when they’re not observed. Second, these definite values, their prior nature does not depend on how you choose to measure. The kind of measurement you make does not in any way alter these preexisting values. That’s non-contextual realism.
It turns out that our best theory, quantum theory, predicts quite clearly that non-contextual realism is false. Local realism is false, non-contextual realism is false, and that leaves it quite open that realism itself is false. If realism is false, that raises a couple of questions. Is that true only for microscopic objects—electrons, protons, neutrons, and photons—and not more macroscopic objects?
It’s turning out that this border between the microscopic and the macroscopic, first, is very suspicious. No one has ever been able to make a principled size or scale distinction. What size is microscopic and what scale is macroscopic? Recent experiments have been showing that we can put bigger and bigger systems of atoms—some getting pretty big now, thousands of atoms—and put them in quantum superpositions so that the quantum effects that the Kochen-Specker-Bell inequalities are true of these systems that involve thousands of atoms. These are huge molecules with thousands of atoms—getting close to the size of a virus. We suspect that as we continue to develop technology, we’ll find that this boundary between the microscopic and the macroscopic is not nearly so firm as you might think.
The bottom line is local realism is false and non-contextual realism is false. So, what does that mean about the notion of public physical objects? What do we mean in science by third-person science and public physical objects? Intuitively, what we talk about is the way science works and the way it’s in some sense objective. I can watch a ball rolling down an inclined plane, I can measure its acceleration, and I can compute the effects of gravity on it. Then you can look at that very same ball and make your own independent measurements of that public physical ball. If your measurements and my measurements agree, then we can start to have objective science.
There’s this notion of public physical objects and third-person science in the sense that independent observers can do scientific experiments on the same object and come to some kind of agreement. Sometimes the agreement isn’t absolute, like if we’re measuring the length of a meter stick. It turns out if you’re moving fast relative to me, you will get a different length for the meter stick than I will. There’s something called the Lorentz contraction that happens. We can take those kinds of things into account and have a dictionary between the distance you measure and the distance I measure. If they’re the same up to the Lorentz contraction, then we would still say that we agree. And even in special relativity, the spacetime interval is something that we would all agree with on the exact number. That’s the general notion that we have of public physical objects and third-person science.
The idea that local realism and non-contextual realism are false leads me to argue that in fact realism is false. I want to propose that realism is false, and what we’re seeing is more like a user interface or a virtual reality headset. Think about a virtual reality game of tennis. You’re playing VR tennis with a friend, you both have your headset and body suits on, you see your friend’s avatar on a tennis court and you start playing. Your friend hits the tennis ball to you, and you hit the same tennis ball back to your friend, but is your friend seeing exactly the same tennis ball that you’re seeing? Well, of course not. There’s no public tennis ball. You have some photons being sprayed to your eye by your headset, and those photons are causing your visual system to create your own perception of what you would call a green tennis ball. Your friend has a headset on, which is spraying photons to his eye, and his visual system is creating his own green tennis ball perception.
It turns out that both of those perceptions are coordinated by something else, namely a supercomputer that’s sending the photons to both headsets, causing both headsets to work in coordination. Notice in this example that it looks like there’s a public object, namely a green tennis ball, but there isn’t. There is your tennis ball that you perceive and that disappears when you close your eyes, and your friend’s tennis ball that he perceives and disappears when he closes his eyes. There’s no public tennis ball in this example.
All the things that we would do to say that objects really exist even when they’re not perceived hold here in virtual reality. We might say, I know that this table exists because I closed my eyes and my friend Joe can see the table even when I don’t look. Or I can close my eyes and touch the table and can feel it even when I’m not seeing it. Or I can take this spoon and close my eyes, drop it, and know exactly where to look when I open my eyes. You can do all those things in virtual reality. I can take my green tennis ball in virtual reality, close my eyes, drop the tennis ball and know where I’m going to see it. That doesn’t mean that the tennis ball exists and has any physical properties when it’s not perceived; it just means that there is some objective reality.
I’m not denying that there is an objective reality. There is some objective reality that exists independent of whether or not I perceive it, but that objective reality is not space and time or anything inside space and time. Those are just human forms of perception. That’s what quantum theory is telling us. It’s telling us local realism is false, non-contextual realism is false, and realism is false, at least what we call realism of objects in space and time. They don’t exist, except when they’re perceived. They don’t have their properties, except when they’re perceived because spacetime is not fundamental. That’s what the physicists are now telling us, like Nima Arkani-Hamed. Spacetime is doomed. There is an objective reality, but it’s not space and time. It’s a deeper reality outside of space and time. Spacetime is emergent and is not fundamental.
Here’s a cognitive neuroscientist talking about consciousness being fundamental reality, not space and time, and that’s surely treading on the turf of physics. So, what do physicists think about this? Do they just dismiss this out of hand? There’s an interesting history of physicists and their ideas about consciousness. Some of the early quantum physicists were very interested in consciousness. Erwin Schrödinger was interested in it, so were Eugene Wigner and John von Neumann. Wigner thought that consciousness was fundamental, and von Neumann said that as well. There are various interpretations as to whether he was serious about it or not, but he did talk about consciousness being fundamental.
There were a number of physicists who have said that, but among modern physicists, I would say that most simply do not take the idea that consciousness could be fundamental seriously. They would be dismissed pretty much out of hand. The idea that spacetime is doomed, that there’s something beyond space and time, doesn’t entail that that something is consciousness.
Some physicists are proposing that consciousness might be a state of matter. Max Tegmark, for example, has the notion of perceptronium, where certain states of matter could give rise to conscious experience. That idea is very different from the kind of idea that I’m proposing. I’m not proposing that consciousness is a special state of matter. I’m saying that consciousness is fundamental outside of space and time. Space and time itself, and what we call physical objects and their matter inside space and time, are interface descriptions of what’s going on in the dynamics of conscious agents.
Other physicists are proposing other models of what’s behind space and time; again, not consciousness, maybe quantum information—quantum bits and quantum gates. I certainly understand why a physicist would not feel inclined to jump all the way in and say consciousness is fundamental. The proof will be in what we can do. If we can get a mathematically precise theory of conscious agents and the network dynamics of those conscious agents, and we can show that it plugs in, say, to the amplituhedron that Nima Arkani-Hamed has been looking at, and it gives us new predictions, then and only then would I expect that physicists take this stuff seriously. I certainly understand them not taking it seriously until I make some new concrete prediction that affects physics.
I heard a talk recently by Nima Arkani-Hamed in which he said something he advised was just speculative on his part. He said that maybe one of the problems that they’re having in trying to get a deeper understanding of physics that resolves some of the paradoxes between quantum theory and gravity is the division between the subject and the object, between the observer and the observed. Somehow that division, which is required by quantum mechanics, is a real source of problems because the observer has to effectively be infinite if you’re going to have any precise measurements in quantum theory. That has to do with the idea that there are all these quantum fluctuations, and if you’re trying to measure something to infinite precision and you have a finite measuring device, then the quantum fluctuations will perturb the measuring device and give you the wrong answers by the time you get to the fiftieth decimal point, or the hundredth decimal point, or ten to the hundredth decimal point. He was saying maybe we’re going to have to figure out a way to either get rid of that division or multiple ways of doing that division. There’s something about the division between the observer and the observed that will have to be changed.
What’s interesting to me is that in this theory of conscious agents, that’s precisely what I do. The observer and the observed distinction goes away. All are the same mathematical structure, and all are conscious agents. In this dynamical theory, when agents interact, they form new agents. You can have simple agents with few conscious experiences, maybe only two. We might call that a one-bit agent; it only has two experiences, but they can interact to create two-bit agents and four-bit agents, all the way up to however big you want. What agents are really observing are other agents. So, the division between subject and object is not this fundamental distinction. The observer-observed are all the same kind of thing. The boundary between them is completely fluid.
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I’m collaborating with several mathematical physicists right now, working to get some predictions that will grab the interest of this community. One of the biggest influences on me, the person who got me into cognitive neuroscience was David Marr. His writing was powerful, his ideas were brilliant, and he grabbed my attention when I was in my early twenties. It was a great privilege to work with David Marr and then with Whitman Richards, who was my co-advisor while Marr was alive. After Marr died, Whitman Richards was my sole advisor. He was just a wonderful adviser. He gave me the freedom to pursue what I wanted to. He gave me feedback, treated me as an equal, and treated my ideas with respect. We were friends for decades afterwards until his death just a couple of years ago. Whitman had a long-term impact.
Another impact on me was a mathematician named Bruce Bennett, who was a professor of algebra and geometry here at UC Irvine. He took me under his wing when I first came here to UCI, and he and I collaborated for fifteen or twenty years. I’m not a mathematician, so he was very patient and taught me a lot of mathematics. Chetan Prakash, who is a mathematical physicist, also has had a big influence on me and has continued to collaborate with me.
More recently, Federico Faggin has been a big influence. Faggin is probably a name that most people haven’t heard but should know. He was the young genius at Intel who invented the microprocessor. He helped perfect the silicon gate technology. He went on to invent the Z80 and the 8080. He was the CEO of Zilog, also the CEO of Synaptics, where they developed the touch pad. Federico is a genius. He’s also very interested in consciousness.
He heard me give a talk six or seven years ago on my mathematical model of consciousness, struck up a conversation with me, and we’ve been friends ever since. We collaborate closely. His ideas are similar to mine. We’re on the same page, but different enough that it’s interesting. We have strong debates on the details, which is very good. Federico has helped to assemble a team that he’s funding. It would be difficult to get the National Science Foundation or the NIH to fund my research because it’s so far out there, but Federico Faggin is funding it from his own foundation, the Faggin Foundation, for which I’m exceedingly grateful. It’s not the funding that’s the primary thing, although it’s very helpful, but Federico’s ideas are extremely influential and helpful to me.
In terms of some other peers in philosophy of mind, I’m quite impressed with the work of Dave Chalmers. I like his thorough analysis, his mathematical sophistication, his philosophical sophistication, and his non-doctrinaire approach. I like how he surveys the various possibilities and looks at the pros and cons of the various possibilities. I never see him getting dragged into ad hominem debates. He always keeps it where it should be, which is not in personal attacks, but just focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of various ideas. I’ve been heavily influenced by Dave Chalmers and his writing.
There are definitely people who would disagree with me, as I believe Dan Dennett does. He is into conscious illusionism. I talk about conscious realism. I think conscious experiences are real and maybe the foundational reality. Dan Dennett says that space, time, and matter are fundamental. What we call consciousness, in particular, phenomenal conscious experiences—the “what is it like” aspect of consciousness—is merely an illusion that comes about when certain processes in our brain are monitoring the activity of other processes in our brain. The way they monitor and the language in which they couch what they’re monitoring is what leads to the illusion of consciousness. Keith Frankish, Dan Dennett, and others are spearheading this illusionism approach.
It’s not my approach and I disagree with it, but I’m glad they’re mapping out that part of the conceptual space. It’s important to have different points of views. Thinking about their ideas forces me to rethink certain aspects of my own approach. Yeah, we disagree, but it’s a profitable and useful kind of disagreement.
One other person that I should mention that was a big influence was Francis Crick. He was the one who gave permission for scientists to jump in and study consciousness. When I was a graduate student at MIT, I was interested in consciousness, but it wasn’t considered a proper subject of science. It was a little bit too woo woo. I studied it, but I didn’t call it that. I published a book with my collaborators, Bruce Bennett and Chetan Prakash called Observer Mechanics (1989). It’s effectively a mathematical model of dynamics of consciousness, but we just called it observer mechanics and left the consciousness out. Within a few years it was perfectly fine to talk about consciousness and that was largely due to the influence of Francis Crick.
Francis also was the intellectual leader of a group in Southern California that I was lucky to participate in called the Helmholtz club. The Helmholtz club brought together thinkers and professors from various universities in Southern California. We all met at the university club at UC Irvine for nearly twenty years on a roughly monthly basis, with some breaks. A group of a dozen or fifteen of us were the core group, and we would bring in guests and outside speakers. We were after understanding this hard problem of consciousness. Francis was looking at it from a hard-nosed neurobiological point of view—the neurocircuits and the activities that cause conscious experiences. He was hoping to demystify consciousness just like he’d demystified life when he and Watson discovered the structure of DNA. He was looking for the double helix of neuroscience that would demystify consciousness. It was a great pleasure to watch him at work, to see him grappling with the neuroscience data, questioning researchers about their latest findings, and then trying to come up with a model of how neuroactivity could create conscious experience.
I’m not going to be here forever. I need to help the next generation understand the ideas and carry on when I’m no longer able to do it. There is a balance that we all have to strike up between how much time we spend communicating the ideas and how much time we spend having fun exploring the ideas. That’s what it’s like climbing a mountain. You climb it because it’s there. We’re exploring these ideas because it’s incredibly fun to explore them, but then it’s time to stop having that fun. I do enjoy the communication process, but it’s different than the exploration of the ideas.
I try in my public communication, in podcasts and so forth, to communicate to a broad, intelligent but non-specialist audience. I would hope that intelligent, lower division undergraduates could understand what I’m saying. That’s my goal, because that’s often my audience. On the other hand, I’m hoping to catch the brilliant minds who know high-level physics or mathematics and could push this thing to heights that I can’t push it. I try to make it interesting to a broad audience, but also have enough beef that it is not dismissed by people who are talented and could find a real project in this.
I’m planning to officially retire from the UC Irvine this July. I’ll still be on the faculty, but I’ll be emeritus. I still plan to bring in grant money and do the research. As anybody who is a professor knows, you spend a lot of time teaching, and doing committee work, writing grants and reviewing grants, so all of the extraneous duties disappear. That’s one reason why I’m retiring. I’ll have more extended time to sink deeply into the ideas, especially when I’m trying to make this connection, which is my goal between the long-term behavior of conscious agent networks and perhaps the amplituhedron, or these interesting structures that physicists are finding that seem to be prior to spacetime and may give rise to spacetime.
My goal is to work with my team to get a mathematically rigorous theory over the next four or five years, and to get this far enough along that even if we don’t have the whole thing worked out, the ideas are promising enough that it’s worth writing a book that focuses on the idea that consciousness is fundamental. Even if I can’t bring that all the way home, I would like to bring it part of the way and then entice a new generation that’s mathematically sophisticated and sophisticated in physics to then bring it all the way home, and do it quickly enough that I can read it. I want to know the answer. That’s my real motivation. I want to know the answer to the hard problem of consciousness. Does the idea that consciousness is fundamental and could give rise to physics pan out? I am exceedingly interested in that. If I don’t get it, I need to get a book out there to have brighter people work on it so I can read their papers. That’s my goal
Most of us can quickly and easily reflect on and recall the various different physical or mental traits (good or bad) or anomalies that we’ve genetically inherited. Primarily because 1, they stick out, i.e. they aren’t “the norm” for our background, race, age, species, and yet there they are… flat feet, asthma, back problems or weak discs, being great at sports or music, poor eyesight, high blood pressure, etc etc.
We recognized for thousand of years there was some kind of mysterious magical system at play beneath the surface that predisposed people to these things if someone in their family was also predisposed to it or possessed it, long before we even knew about genes… So, we knew there’s “something” going on.. long before we discovered the genetic code.
We also made inbreeding within the same family against the law pretty early on in our evolution simply because we noticed the results of it often had a “bad” outcome, physical deformities or mental disabilities, etc. Again recognizing that there was something going on beneath the surface that we just hadn’t yet discovered.
We’ve been breeding dogs to our preference for a hundred years, knowing that if we did X to Y we’d end up with an XY eventually, again knowing there was something powerful and mysterious going on that we could harness beneath the surface… and again we didn’t know what it was, had no physical proof we could point to.
But alas now we do. I remember when we / they first cracked the human genome… how historic it seemed. Not that long ago. And now we’ve got tens of thousand of companies both private and public working 24/7 on very specific tasks and ventures, dreams and goals, in order to invent and create and discreate a literally infinite variety of different genetic potentialities in humans, animals, insects, fruits and vegetables.
It’s become as common as any other scientific field, maybe the most expansive scientific field of them all. Because the proof is right there, both on the screen (under the microscope projected onto the computer imaging monitor) AND in the physical manifestation of whatever actions we take in the microscopic genetic world, i.e. the result of our tinkering.
I personally started becoming interested in and then an obsessed student and knowledge hoarder in genetics because it very quickly overtook several other sciences I was already well versed in like civilization history, anthropology, archeology, etc. Before the discovery of genetics, they all suffered from the lack of proof problem, always theoretical. Post genetics, we can easily proof them out. No more need of the theoretical.
One of the most profound aspects of our discovering genetics is it’s reliability factor. Anyone who’s taken a genetic test and seen the results of it is aware of this. And of just how transformative the whole field has become in how we view the world and our species. Now we refer to ourselves in terms of which “generic tribe(s)” someone is of/from — because we knew everybody, every human on earth, at some point stated off being part of some “tribe”, and we’ve used that term for thousands of years.
But as we migrated around the earth for longer and longer periods of time, inter-breeding with people from other tribes, it became more challenging to determine just who someone was or where they fit in. We started using terms like nationality or race or country of birth or religion to categorize ourselves.
But none of those labels made any sense, because they were too surface and didn’t capture who a person really was. Now of course we can just take a test and see exactly which genetic tribe or genotype someone is originally of/from. And it’s usually a healthy dose of several. Those terms now supersede the old terms we used to use like nationality or even race. Being able to pinpoint exactly where and when on the planet a person’s lineage began…. It’s a mind blowing transformation of how we view and understand ourselves and the world.
Of course what fascinates us is the fact that despite how concrete genetics seem to be, there are often certain anomalies where a person doesn’t manifest or exhibit the exact result we predict based on their genetics, certain traits or diseases or skills or tendencies that “should” show up or be there but aren’t. And it boggles the mind still of our best and brightest. The old question returned “how is this possible?” How can X and X not predictably result in XX if everything we know about the genetic code is concrete and true? and once again we are thrown back into the world of having to use language like “prone to” “potential for” “tendency to” instead of “most definitely will”.
Is there just more to the science that we haven’t yet discovered? Or is there something more transpiring that transcends the science? Something like Consciousness…? The smart money would say it’s a little bit of both. Just how much can consciousness affect genetics and genetic outcomes…? That’s the question. Can consciousness completely supersede and unravel reliable predictable genetic outcomes? Can consciousness completely transcend something so seemingly concrete and solid like genetics?
Let me just pull out the rabbit and show it to you without all the drama and theatrics. We currently label the study of consciousness Ontology. It’s a field of study one can major in and become an “expert” in if they want to, though at present it’s as mysterious and theoretical as philosophy or psychology, filled with “maybes” and “what ifs” and “potential to”…. It’s fuzzy math at best. Without the reliability or predictability of math. It’s almost as damn near theoretical as the field we loosely label “Metaphysics”, which at best could be described as “the study of ideas and theories with no scientific foundation”. Harsh, but at present a realistic summation.
In a very short period of time though, in our lifetime, the study of consciousness will be moved to the field of particle physics. Because that’s where it actually belongs. Once we begin to see and study and explore consciousness through the lens of particle physics, we will break open the mysteries of it and the theoretical nature of it will start to fall away and lead us into more predictable and reliable outcomes that can be tested and proved.
When combined with various tests and studies in other areas of particle physics and in genetics…. Well, that’s going to be the golden ticket. That new field that gets created will be as powerful and profound as the discovery of genetics itself has been
Dearest Avatar friends, This morning, while participating in this “morning prayer group” thing on Zoom that started about 2 years ago with the onset of Covid and just kept growing and growing, I kept having this recurring thought: “what if we as Avatars approached our day to day lives with the same amount of commitment to participating as this morning prayer group does…? Imagine the possibilities…!”
I started to feel excitement inside.
Let me say for the record, since we all know each other from various Avatar Courses and that’s our particular connection point, that I’m not what one would call religious in any way, which admittedly does create a rather peculiar and surreal, if not downright controversial experience for everyone in this prayer group at times whenever we end up in more social conversations.
Everyone else who participates IS religious, grew up religious, believes or at least “has faith” in all the various tenets of some “religion”, and they take it very seriously. It’s serious reality to them. Whereas with me, I sincerely don’t get how anyone could say they think any of the ideas propagated by the thousands of manmade religions throughout human history hold any truth at all with a straight face. It all seems downright farcical to me, as I’m sure it does to anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of history and how these different religions originated.
But that comes with two caveats: one, I do and frankly always have had an intuitive feel and sense of something larger than us that seems to exist in our universe… a larger more all encompassing presence or consciousness that everyone can tap into, feel and connect with. The Tao if you will. A divine presence. Source. The Force. The Divine. Some kind of permanent pervasive energy that exists both outside of us and yet within us all at the same time. So I’m always interested in exploring that. Going deeper into it. To see what transpires….
Two, prayer in and of itself most likely didn’t start off as a religious practice in our slow and steady evolution as a species… even though it’s been co-opted by the major religions now, and commingled with ideologies like “worship” etc., In reality prayer is just another word for and form of focused attention on one particular thing, idea, thought or no-thought, with a variety of different goals… freeing or clearing the mind in order to transcend consciousness and experience pure awareness for a moment or two; or to connect with some kind of higher power within consciousness or pure awareness; or to seek comfort and serenity in times of trauma worry or stress; or to harness enough free attention particles in order to deliberately create something preferred for ourselves or someone else or the world or the environment around us….
As Avatars we understand perhaps better than anyone else the power of deliberately focused attention to create shift and transform reality. So the idea of prayer as a practice fascinates me. Regardless of religion, I dont see or feel any harm in prayer. Opposite. I see it as a noble goal, an intriguing ontological experiment from a scientific perspective… rather than a religious practice. The idea of committing to this experiment on a daily basis, again similar to meditation or even using the Avatar tools, is intriguing. A fascinating way to explore its possibilities and see what might transpire.
So…. This morning prayer group I speak of literally started out as a kind of survival or connection practice due to those sudden Covid lockdowns and the fear and unknowns associated with all of us suddenly faced with a mysterious global pandemic we knew nothing about. The future became very realistically uncertain for all of us in every corner of the world. A 5-10 minute gathering to “pray” with others, whether we even knew them or not, seemed an appropriate and beneficial idea.
The entire experience, done online over some kind of multi-person video service like Zoom or Skype etc. only lasts about ten minutes. That’s it. But every day Monday to Friday like clockwork. And not only has it not stopped after almost two years now, the attendance keeps growing. People from all over the US, many in different time zones. Everyone finds a way to show up for it. No matter where they are in the world or what “time” it is.
Consistency is the key to it I’ve noticed. No matter what happens to be “happening” in everybody’s day to day lives, or in the world at that particular moment, everyone finds a way to log into this thing. They might be out jogging, or at a parent’s house who just passed away, or in the car or on the subway, or just getting out of the shower (seriously), or still locked down in their home, by themselves or with a few family members….
But there they are, logged into Zoom, prepared to pray or meditate or at least listen for ten minutes; and then on with their day.
It’s been very educational for me, from a consciousness and cultural exploration perspective. It’s a fascinating little societal anomaly, this odd comittment people have to attend. But why?
As a longtime Avatar, we’ve tried a variety of different things through the years to try to encourage or grow “community” among all the Avatars all over the world, to increase connection, add consistency and (most excitingly perhaps) explore the possibilities of gathering the consciousness of many Avatars together at the exact same time to focus their attention on any one thing in order to create something(s).
Though at the same time, the tools themselves encourage a life deliberately lived, dependent on no one but one’s self. And that’s one of the most important and powerful aspects of awakening to the knowledge in the Avatar materials — suddenly not needing something or someone outside of one’s self in order to feel better or self improve or become more successful or happier or become enlightened or transcend….
For me there was enormous power in discovering this inherent ability we all possessed as a species but just never knew about because at some point we stopped passing it on to ourselves and generations that came afterwards. It was very freeing, liberating, empowering. Awakening to the reality that it was we who possessed all the answers and power to change shift transform create and discreate our individual and shared realities. Mind blowing really. As each of you already know.
But what about the power of community, connection with others, the potential for bigger reality shifts through working together, through harnessing the power of many working together toward one reality…?
In NYC we had a long-running Avatar Wizards group that met once a month. Going back about 15 years now. It went on for years. Because of its consistency and reliability, it really did foster a sense of community and for a few years got 25-40 people together from a rather large geographical area every month without fail. I can now say, looking back having had the experience, that it was an empowering experience, as well as a heart warming and comforting human connection and community experience as well.
My interest in sharing this with you all is in what could be achieved, in consciousness, and in each person’s day to day lives, and in the broader world that we live in and share with billions of others, if we as Avatars made that same kind of commitment to “regular practice”, just as this strange little morning prayer group i referenced earlier does..? Not a daily thing. But perhaps weekly, or monthly…
Consistency and reliability seem to be key. Those factors, consistency and reliability, come from commitment and dedication. Commitment and dedication come from a shared belief in the overarching mission or goal or perceived value or benefit, by at least one or two or more people.
I definitely feel a deep sense of perceived value and benefit from the regular practice of using the avatar tools; even just from regular reminders of the knowledge base that comes from re-reading and studying the materials.
So next up would be some kind of commitment to do or practice “something”. The kind of commitment that leads to the creation of something consistent and reliable for self and others. For whatever reason, it almost doesn’t seem to matter WHAT “it” is, if it is reliably consistent, people will tune in or participate in it. THAT is a mind blowing realization.
If a small group started that practice, freely permitted other like-minded folks to participate whenever they wanted to and invited others to do the same, the materials being studied more, the knowledge and insights being explored and digested more, the practice and using of the tools happening more, and more consistently…. imagine the possibilities.
Now that’s a noble goal. A potentiality that absolutely intrigues and fascinates me. Just we in this tiny little group live in 6 different countries. That is so random and yet cool. Based on the time zones, we as a group basically encircle the entire globe.
I propose that when each of us get a chance to contemplate it, let’s share what day(s) and time(s) we think might work best for us to do something…. Weekends keep popping up for me, that might “work best”…. But then I keep remembering that those morning prayer group Zooms take place at 8am on weekdays, which seems crazy considering most people have 9-5 jobs on weekdays. It goes to show that when the perceived benefit is strong enough, no normally idealized limitation of the “real world” will hold people back from committing to and doing something.
We already know that attention out, on making the world a better place, is a little known secret path to self improvement and making our own lives a better place. We also know the opposite is true: attention on self, a deliberate unselfish commitment to being the best we can be as individuals is a little known secret path to making the outside world a better place.
What if we did both? Simultaneously. Not limited to one in any moment in the typical binary fashion of going from one extreme to the other the way we as people tend to usually do — in one period working wholeheartedly on self and our own personal lives, then in a sudden “revelation” of guilt over how selfish we’ve been we jump to the other side and sacrifice everything in our personal lives for some bigger world transforming volunteer activity or cause… we all know the drill and how it plays out….
What if instead we do it more elegantly..? Every moment of every day is dedicated to taking care of self, as good stewards taking full responsibility for self and family and friends and community, knowing this is how healthy societies and civilizations thrive, but at the same time we commit to regular shared group gatherings and activities toward bigger goals with the intention to focus our collective attention on making the outside world we live in a better place? And we do it with dedication and commitment, creating a reliable stable reference point that in time is so dependable that it’s downright predictable.
From here the real question, the exciting next question , is what do we want to create? What changes and improvements do we want to see in the world? To start lead captain or lend ourselves to? I can think of many. And I dare say that inherent in the question is an understanding that the answer is not limited to just one.
Listening to the sermon yesterday, even in the half awake state I was In for most of it, I could not help be reminded (remembering that you had indeed shared this with me 18 years ago when I first stumbled in) that we both not only “heard a voice” but heard the same words. “This is your home. You are home.” I also Remember quite clearly you telling me that plenty of others before and after you over the years had similar experiences….
The implications, if we expand beyond the confines of the everyday and view it from a more empirical study perspective, seem to me to be enormous, deep, profound. I.E. what in the heck is going on there? If one leaves “religion” outside the door a few minutes to explore these supernatural events, looking for a solution, are we talking angels? Spirits? A Divine Force? The building is haunted? Something in the air that alters and confounds the participants’ mind? Some sort of psychoactive chemical…?
I probably lost you there. But listening to you so passionately relaying that story yesterday and hearing you speak of the exact same experience I had With the exact same words…. Boy has it had me contemplating…. From a more objective and scientific viewpoint.
Of course I’m also fine just chalking it up to “there’s a divine force dwelling inside that space and if you listen carefully and your heart is open, you can hear it.”
Precisely Because it wasn’t just “the voice” that so captivated me that first day. It actually had more to do with the giant all encompassing feeling of love that swept over my physical body — I now describe it as similar to if i had taken 4-5 hits of Ecstasy (but I had Not) — accompanied by a flurry of voices whispering in both of my ears “this is God’s love. God loves you so much…” for a good 5 minutes. THAT was actually the first experience that i describe as “supernatural”. On a weekday no less. Alone in this giant though eerily quiet building.
It would be hard to not return to the place for a service after experiencing something like that. Even if just out of scientific curiosity.
I am Working on an idea. I find it hard now, after hearing you share yesterday, to keep this private and just between us. We’re not just talking about “good vibes”. Nor are we speaking of any kind of standard religious dogma or indoctrination. It’s something altogether different.
And I’ll tell you this: if that can happen to someone like me, so thoroughly committed to intellectual purity, logic and reason and entirely not-religious, then there are many others who deserve the same experience and benefits.
For the last 18 years I have Kept all of this very private due to how strongly people in arts letters academia and entertainment judge such things. But I’m done doing that. Hearing you relay yesterday the exact same experience that I had changed something in me. At once I suddenly Felt selfish for not speaking about it more often.
Me doing that, withholding like that… often talking about Enlightenment and Consciousness Expansion in the public but never discussing “religious experiences”…. well it’s pretense. Out of resistance. It’s not AS genuine as one could be. I see that now.
It’s out of integrity in a way…. Being gifted with the knowledge of a specific power and withholding it from others out of resistance to being judged. It’s self concern with no concern for the health and well-being of others.
That’s all I wanted to initially get across to you.
So how would i attempt to describe it? That’s the question…. If I were to attempt to communicate it to more logical rational people who normally don’t pay attention to such things….
Something like “there appears to be another force in the universe in addition to gravity and electromagnetism and the nuclear forces. But this fifth force appears to have both consciousness and awareness, and an ability to communicate with other forms of consciousness, or at the very least with human consciousness. It can speak. And additionally it has the uncanny ability to alter consciousness through apparently subtle vibrational shifts….
“Though we cannot be sure if this force is limited to just the earthly plane or if it does in fact permeate the entire universe like the other forces.
“For the sake of simplicity one could label it “the divine force” or “a divine force” since its primary function seems to be spiritual enlightenment of consciousness. Is it capable of other things? We don’t yet know. Can it be harnessed or put to use? Still unknown.
“But it is becoming extremely difficult to deny the existence of this force in the face of such blatant real world experiences of it.
“We need to be objectively studying this force in more Socratic and scientific methods on a more consistent and constant basis. The same way we studied gravity and the other forces.
“There is absolutely no reason for us to remain in the dark about this fifth force, blindly dismiss it as “beyond our grasp of understanding” and thus relegate it to the murky world of the supernatural or religious. That is a mistake in reason we are making.
“The sooner we recognize that the divine force can be studied scientifically just as any other force, the sooner we will have a better understanding of it and it’s possible benefits to humankind.
“An analogous subject would be the way astrology with all its myths and legends, false assumptions and fairy tales, slowly evolved into the more rational scientific study of astronomy. We find ourselves in a similar situation with this divine force. It is time to set the myths legends and religious ideologies aside for a more nobler pursuit of a scientific understanding of the divine.
“Obviously the biggest obstacles to this goal have been created by how misused and abused the words “god” and “gods” have been over the last 7,000 years. So step one would be to just stop using those words in the scientific study of the divine force. All they do is confuse and muddy the subject being studied, bringing up peoples’ worst memories and fears about indoctrination and control.
“There is also a possibility that this fifth force may also be the grease that got the universe moving to begin with…. The awareness of awareness of all that is created matter and movement, just as awareness still does. Create both movement and matter that is.
“Now we’re in the domain of a priori…. But it is still a valid point all these centuries later. Awareness becomes aware of itself, becomes consciousness, and consciousness as it is always want to do begins to expand and create. First matter. Then movement. Shifting back and forth between consciousness and awareness…. It is not entirely out of realm of possibility. And in fact it’s easier to believe than the current scientific theory that “non-conscious matter just exploded out of nothing in a Big Bang and self created”. That seems a highly unlikely theory. We need both awareness and consciousness to create. We know this now.”
So last night just before bed, I sat down with the Guild D-15M just to mess around a little with the new open tuning. After a while, I had found something relatively engaging snd began fleshing it out. Knowing full well it’s still in its infancy stage, I thought “you know, people might enjoy seeing a more natural you in your element doing what you do. No lights or cameras or hair or makeup. Just you sitting here at the end of the day fleshing out a new tune….” So I just recorded it with the phone to say hello and good night to folks. The whole time I was playing/writing THIS song, I was thinking about my longtime friend more like a brother Craig Gordon, who’s just been over the top sick for years. These thoughts snd images of him, probably laying in bed, none too happy, were the thematic foundation of the song. Underneath it…. So I started leaning toward titling it “everybody needs a little healing”. Because let’s face it, it’s not just Craig. Somethings changed in our world. Each of us, all of us, have an exorbitant amount of people we know in our personal lives who are “sick” from something now. Friends snd family alike. In this moment. It’s become challenging now, a new challenge, our latest challenge, even if you’re physically challenged by something yourself, or healthy and well, to deal with how many “people who are sick” we know or hear about every day or few days. Hence the title of the song. Craig was the vision floating through my mind as I played and wrote the song. The impetus. He titled it. And yet it was bigger…. Posted the song to the usual places. Was exhausted. Just wanted that bed. And BAM I look at my phone snd there’s this new message. At midnight (which admittedly isn’t strange for ME…) but it’s from Craig, who’s an early bird. “In the ER again now”. I literally dropped the damn phone. Hold on…. I’m writing a song of healing about this poor guy who’s been sick for the last hour, and for the last hour he’s been in the ER?!?! What’s funny is that — and this is another thing that’s changed in our collective reality — this stuff happens to us all the time now. It’s not just daily. It’s several times a day. (I believe, at least in this moment) that as we’ve become more snd more connected socially through technology, it is causing us to become more connected in consciousness. What we used to perhaps call “psychically”. But we don’t need that term anymore. We’re just becoming a lot more connected in consciousness to everyone. Things like ESP or mind reading all seem so 20th century now, because we’ve gone beyond it now. Shooting for something much bigger snd grander. We’re experiencing it NOW. So there’s no need to say “can’t wait to see what it leads to…). It’s happening as we speak, as I type these words…. Craig ole boy, we need you back. NO, we can’t imagine what you’re going through or how tough or challenging it is emotionally or mentally, besides physically. But we can acknowledge it. And we can keep you on our minds 24/7 and send you strength snd support and positivity snd a whole lot of prayers. And we can write soothing songs of love and healing for you. Get well bro. Love you man, E
PLEASE SHARE. (Prelude: I literally just woke up. (Late night.) So pardon the potential rough grammatical edges of this post, but if I keep my eyes closed after awakening from dreams I can still see and recall them vividly. So I’m deliberately staying half asleep at the moment.) Let me give you slight context and then ask you all for your experiences.
As loyal readers will know, I started dreaming of being able to fly in 2004. Though it started out as me taking running starts and then doing super long leaps thru the air, 200-500 yards at a time. It continued to evolve, in dreams, over the last 15 years. And now I easily float/fly around rooms, or through the air outside.
I just awoke from a dream where we are all at a big avatar course and I needed to get my books from the room so I just floated thru the room to go get them and not disturb anyone.
A FEW NOTES: yes it’s me, my physical body. I’m not ethereal or astral. I’m physically flying. People see me. I’m flat and parallel to the ground, about 5-10 feet in the air depending on what my goal is, with my arms outstretched. No it’s not “easy”, I still have to work at it in the dream, talk myself through it each time in terms of how to move and shift my weight to stay afloat and aim and get to where I want to go etc. It’s a method that I’ve evolved over the last 15 years. Maybe a few hundred dreams now. But only in dreams (I guess?). I can get afloat and parallel to the ground easily now. Ascend to whatever heights I want to. I usually get nervous or scared when I go too high in the air. So I tend to stay at about 5-15 feet. I can turn easily. I can descend and land easily.
When I began waking up this morning, it was the last thing I was doing in the dream, so it was still so fresh and real that I asked Princess Little Tree if I often flew in real life, or was it just in my dreams. She assured me I have not yet managed to do it in real life, but i dream and talk and write about it a lot. I tried anyway, not quite believing her, but alas i could not float up. F*^king gravity. Very frustrating.
Here’s where YOU come in: I am curious about others who frequently dream of being able to float through the air or fly or even leap long distances. Anything that defies gravity. I am more curious about you doing it physically i.e. with your body, not astrally (astrally we do it all the time in dreams. So it’s not… you know.) How do you do it? Are you parallel to the ground? How do you propel yourself? How do you ascend? How do you turn? How high can you go? Anything in this realm re flying or floating please feel free to share.
CONTEMPLATION: I’d like to first discuss the physical mechanics of the phenomenon, permitting I’m not crazy and the only one here, and then separately discuss the metaphorical ramifications. I’m more interested in the physical aspects of the paradigm, of your paradigm if you’ve experienced this… as i believe it is leading to our eventually being able to do this in real life. I’ve become quite convinced of it over the last 25 years. I’ve tinkered with designs for various body packs to machines that suck gravity out of large spaces, you name it. But to be honest i am now leaning toward thinking that we will do it using our minds. SO I’m curious what others have come up with.
Again, the metaphorical ramifications of these kind of dreams… we’ve covered that a lot… My wife, God bless her, has taken too many pages of notes on that subject thru the years while I lie there pondering it aloud while half-in-dream. My excitement is about YOUR physical mechanical experiences and what you’ve discovered. Feel free to share ANYthing you remember or that comes to mind.
The original title of this post was “Christianity Is Making Progress Towards Enlightenment… But Needs to Do it Faster”. But after the final read-thru edit, that didn’t quite seem to sumup its core message. It’s important to note however that the reason for the original title is because despite the ideas expressed below, especially regarding the apparent backwards direction many christian churches around the world are moving in, along with seemingly every other major world religion, there are plenty of others, just not in the majority, that are making great strides toward becoming more progressively minded institutions that embody the highest ideals of enlightenment, or what we might call an enlightened humanism for the modern world we live in.Refuges for both the spiritually hungry and compassionate AND the liberally minded intellectual. It’snot all bad news out there. There just happens to be a lot less of them than there are the more rigidly close minded so called fundamentalist types.
If one is not specifically a Christian, or better put, an actively participating Christian, then it would be easy to not notice what has been happening in the various denominations of the larger world of Christendom over the last few years. That’s a given. And one would have a valid excuse for not being up to date on the latest and greatest hits of the Christian world. After all, a healthy majority of people – especially in the united states and in The West in general have moved to a more non-religious secularism in the modern world we live in, due in part to the fact that for thousands of years we as humans have witnessed religion in all its various shapes and forms do almost nothing but cause great pain in the world. So this mass shift towards what is known as secular humanism or the now popular “spiritual but not religious” makes sense.
But there are massive shifts that are taking place in the Christian world (and in the Muslim and Buddhist communities) presently that are important to take note of due to the transcendent nature of the very real threat they pose of infringing on the basic rights and freedoms of our fellow man. Regardless of whether one is religious or not. Some of these radical movements further right unfortunately align with similar shifts within other world religions and the more fervent nationalist fervor that is taking place politically around the world. Various Christian protestant denominations are beginning to swing further toward what they consider a more “conservative” fundamentalist or evangelical agenda. And these moves have the potential to have larger reverberations socially that extend beyond the confines of their local church community.
It shouldn’t matter where a person is being hurt or neglected; only that when it becomes known, that there are those who are willing to reach out and come to their aid.
Three states in the US have already made moves this year that come very close to banning abortion, Georgia, Alabama and then Missouri. Which would be shocking to learn, except for the fact that we are now being bombarded by such an onslaught of so much shocking news on a daily and even hourly basis that much of it seems to go over our heads.
I’ve written of this experience before, the very first Avatar Course…. On occasions when I’m asked about it. Or when someone is generally at that point where they feel as though they’re at that breakthrough moment and just dying for that something that will give them the tools to really do it.
On New Years Eve of 1994 I started day one of the 9 day Avatar Course. It had been a long time coming. I had already spent years deep diving into everything else throughout human history that claimed to be truly effective at managing consciousness, i.e. to deliberately affect our feelings thoughts ideas beliefs and the events and experiences of our lives, and not found anything that truly delivered on the promise. If anyone in 10,000 years of human history had claimed to discover something that worked and wrote about it, I dove in, jumped in, joined up and explored and tested it to its absolute outermost limits; and looking back now, did so in a pretty logical, predictable order. Religions of all ilks, became born again, which inevitably lead to converting to Judaism (if you go deep enough), fell in love with Lord Krishna and became a devotee, studied and practiced Buddhism, A Course in Miracles, The Vedas, self help books and courses aplenty, Yogananda, Chopra, Ram Dass, Wayne Dyer all became favorites if not radically transformative, hallucinogens, Tony Robbins is still a mentor and favorite, NLP, the secret teachings of the Rosicrucians, the Knights Templar, EST and Landmark Forum, philosophy, Anthroposophy and Theosophy, went deeper still…. fasting, prayer, chanting, meditation, rebirthing, psychics, body scanners, reiki, past life regression, astrology and Akashic Records readings, discovered the beauty of the Goddess through practicing witchcraft Wicca and Magic, psychiatrists and meds, psychotropics, psychoanalysis and therapy…. the list is endless. As are the promises.
Eventually a series of what could only be called a series of serendipitous, near supernatural, events led me to the Avatar Course. It was expensive, IMO, because I was young and without wealth as of yet. But coming up with the money needed came miraculously out of nowhere. And it was then that I took the intuitive knowing that it was meant to be seriously. more “On Taking My First Avatar Course”