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Monday, February 28, 2011

A Remembered Genius Whom We Forgot was Once Forgotten

No, that's not sloppy editing in the title. There have been some very smart people whom history forgot. Others have been forgotten... and then remembered. What does all this forgetting and remembering mean? If you are smart, you are smart, right? Not if nobody understands what on Earth you are talking about... or doing...

Over five centuries ago there lived a middle-aged man of somewhat ambiguous sexual inclinations, the illegitimate son of a public notary. He kept a teenage boyfriend camped up (pardon the pun) in his attic. The man was known as a gifted artist, and was adored by many, but he was also considered an eccentric and a crank amongst many of his peers and contemporaries, something of flake who never seemed to get his crazy projects finished. He tinkered around in his workshop with paintings, designs of weaponry, and amused himself by dissecting dead people and drawing pictures of their innards. There was no question that he had great talent, but many observers could not decide whether what this strange individual was doing was anything terribly relevant or useful.

All this created the odd scandal in the conservative towns where he lived (he moved around from time to time), and some locals thought he was up to doing the devil’s work, most likely because of his requests for a steady supply of dead people to cut up. Eventually, in late middle age, the man passed away. Although he continued to be considered with some awe amongst certain intellectuals, his name eventually faded from popular discussions. His crazy sketches, designs and work tools gathered dust in the home a friend, and were passed down from generation to generation, remaining forgotten for the best part of two centuries. That was, until somebody stumbled upon them one day, and came to the conclusion that they were not the works of a crazed madman at all, but the product of a brilliant and under-unappreciated mind. The discovery of these artifacts resurrected the man’s name, and his fame grew to such proportions that he became one of the best known men who ever lived.

Have you worked out who the eccentric was by now? I am referring, of course, to none other than Leonardo da Vinci, now widely acknowledged as one of the greatest geniuses of all time, and quite possibly the most broadly talented individual to ever walk the earth. Most of us have heard of him, and are aware of his timeless paintings such as the Mona Lisa , and have seen his sketchings of early helicopters, submarines and tanks. Yet not so many people know that Leonardo is something of a Lazarus. He was almost forgotten for an awfully long time (the best part of two centuries), and it was not until his works were dusted off and brought down from the family attic that the general public began to fully appreciate what an incredible mind Leonardo had.

Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius ahead of his time, quite literally. The problem was that many of his ideas simply made little sense to his contemporaries, because there was a lack of social, cultural and institutional frameworks and concepts whereby they could be comprehended. Secondly, societal norms of his day made some of his behavior scandalous and unacceptable.

Leonardo’s story reminds us that human beings are capable of being smart in ways that may not be recognised in the times and cultures in which they live. To put it another way, there are cognitive artifacts that are left off the map because people don’t even recognise them, let alone appreciate them. If you had lived in Leonardo’s time, and had walked past him on the street, would you have been able to tell him apart from anyone else? Almost certainly not. In order for talent, and indeed intelligence to be acknowledged, it must be permitted expression and acknowledgement within an institution, society, culture and knowledge structure that nourishes and supports it. Otherwise that intelligence is likely to remain a mere potential, and never actualised. Even if that intelligence is expressed and utlised personally, it will probably play no part as an observable behaviour in that person’s life. If Einstein had been born before the age of modern physics - say in an indigenous society - he could never have developed his theory of relativity, although he may well have expressed his considerable creative and imaginative capacities in other ways. It was Leonardo’s art that was most appreciated in his day, as it was obvious to most that he was an artistic genius. Simply seeing The Last Supper would have been enough to convince people of that. His other talents had to wait a while to be recognised fully.

The expression of intelligence is also dependent upon the past, as the prior knowledge that is developed enhances collective human intelligence. Intelligence is not merely a property of the individual. It rests upon broad shoulders. Isaac Newton’s oft-quoted remark was that he saw farther than others only because he stood on the shoulders of giants. Take Newton off those broad shoulders, and you have a man tinkering around with marbles on the bathroom floor.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Are the Spirits of the Ancestors Still with Us?

Today's post is an extract from my unpublished book Light and Shadow at the Edge of Mind. I wrote this autobiography about four years ago, but when I tried to find a publisher I came to realise that autobiographies were really only marketable if you are famous, or having an intimate relationship with someone famous. Scarlett Johansson, if you are reading this I am willing to negotiate...

I believe that many indigenous peoples are correct in stating that the psyches of ancestors continue to influence the minds of people in the present. This occurs when an individual ancestor’s spirit continues to deliberately or unconsciously manipulate the psyche of individuals alive now. This may be malevolent in nature, but may also come in the form of guidance – which is essentially helpful. I have had powerful dreams where what I believe to be my on ancestors visited me.

About three years ago I found myself speaking to a woman in a dream-state interaction. The woman looked a little like my maternal grandmother,(deceased) ,but her ‘energy’ was much different – so I suspect it was not the actual spirit of my grandmother. We came together for a few moments. I asked her why I had such a natural inquisitive intelligence when nobody else in my family appeared to have this trait. She told me that she had been a linguist, and had written a book. There was the sense that there were writers and thinkers from her side of the family, going back a few generations. The most unusual thing about this dream was that the woman was not speaking English. I knew that she was not speaking English, but I could understand her nonetheless. She told me that she was speaking a Russian dialect. As I have mentioned, human beings are quite capable of telepathic communication in non-ordinary states of consciousness. This may transcend the need for a common language.

After this dream I became quite interested in my family’s past. That woman seemed to me to be Jewish. She did not say that she was Jewish. It was just a very strong sense. But my own family was not Jewish, as far as I knew, and nobody had ever mentioned Jews in my family. So the next time I met my mother ( a few months later) I asked her if we had any Russian ancestors. She did not know of any Russians, but she told me that on her mother’s side there were Polish people who were Jews. Poland borders directly with Russia – indeed their history is interwoven along with their borders. Polish and Belarusan are spoken in both countries. I have to say that I was not in the least bit surprised. I have come to trust certain ‘knowing’ that exists at a non-intellectual level. This kind of knowing is strongly associated with affectivity – feelings. Our education systems have effectively deleted these ways of knowing from existence. This is one of the great tragedies of the modern era.

However my mother knew nothing of any linguists. To this day I have no idea who that woman was, if indeed she was an ancestor.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Shifting Minds

Recently I wrote a post where I referred to some striking examples of the psi taboo. I specifically wrote about how certain futurists writing in John Brockman's volume This Will Change Everything, had failed to adequately account for the possibility that Integrated Intelligence, the extended mind and entanglement might change human futures.

Today, let's be a little more positive, and acknowledge some thinking that is taking us forward! As with that prior post, the following is taken from a recent paper I wrote for Foresight journal. 

The references are included at the end of the original paper.

The possible connection between entanglement and mind has not been lost on everyone. There are now numerous theorists positing a connection between quantum physics and consciousness. Khrennikov (2010) outlines several recent quantum-like models in a wide range of fields including cognitive science, psychology, genetics, and biology. Conte (2010) posits a mathematical model, arguing that quantum physics mediates all of consciousness, matter, and energy; and suggesting that conceptions of human cognition need to be expanded to incorporate qualities which mirror the postulates of quantum physics.

Perhaps the most accessible summation of recent thinking of proponents in this domain can be found in a paper by Tressoldi, Storm, and Radin (2010), entitled “Extrasensory Perception and Quantum Models of Cognition.” (the entire paper can be found here). These theorists argue that six independent meta-analyses of experimental findings taken from ganzfeld telepathy experiments provide undeniable evidence for the existence of extrasensory human perception. The writers state that the existence of such data is shifting the nature of the debate from arguments about whether ESP is possible (because it violates the postulates of conventional physics), to arguments involving “increasingly minor technical details” (Tressoldi, et al, 2010, p. 585).

One of the theorists involved in the writing of that paper, parapsychologist Dean Radin, has recently boldly claimed that the idea of entanglement will soon become taken for granted in biology, perhaps the most mechanistic of all the sciences. In one of his blog posts entitled “Quantum Biology Now. Quantum Psychology Next?”, Radin (2010) suggests that accumulating evidence for quantum physical processes at a cellular level will leave biologists no choice but to discard their mechanistic predicates. He further argues that psychology will quickly follow suit, taking on entanglement as a founding principle of mind.

Radin (2006) has long held the belief that entanglement will eventually be embraced in science, but his confidence received a boost at the beginning of 2010 because of a paper published in the prestigious Science journal, Nature, by Elisabetta Collini and colleagues (Collini, Wong, Wilk, Curmi, Brumer, and Scholes, 2010). That paper provides evidence which contradicts the view that long-range quantum coherence between molecules cannot occur in living systems, even at low temperatures.

Radin writes:

… the evidence for quantum coherence in living systems continues to mount. This latest advancement… demonstrates that coherence not only exists in living systems, but it persists at room temperature. This contradicts long-held dogma that it is not possible to have quantum effects in living bodies. That dogma was based on assumptions about entanglement as observed in simple physics experiments, ignoring what happens when elementary things combine into new emergent properties (Radin, 2010, accessed 20.10.10).

Radin believes that if quantum entanglement is extant in living systems, then “the subjective experience of that entanglement may well be what we call psi, mystical experience, or noetic experience in general” (Radin, 2010, accessed 20.10.10). Clearly Radin believes that quantum entanglement provides a mechanism for the extended mind to operate.

Perhaps Radin is a little overly optimistic, but it is likely true that if entanglement is taken as a given in biology, psychology will jump onboard. As Sigmund Freud lamented well over half a century ago, psychology has become a handmaiden to neuroscience (Bettelheim, 2001). And neuroscience in turn has become a handmaiden to molecular and mechanistic biology (Anthony, 2008). This is indicated in Figure 1 above. Thus, once biology is stripped of its mechanistic givens, neuroscience and psychology must inevitably follow, as their foundations will have morphed into something entirely new. The ricochet effect will be inevitable. The precise timing is what remains uncertain.

In something of an irony, Freud himself strongly believed in the existence of patient therapist telepathy, challenging the common misconception that Freud was a critic of all mystical experience. Freud wrote at least six papers which commented either in detail or in passing reference to his belief in the reality of telepathy (Lloyd Mayer, 2008). In fact, letters written in 1909 by Freud to his colleague Ferenczi showed that he requested that the idea of telepathy be kept quiet within psychoanalytical discourse, as the concept of the unconscious was already challenging enough to mainstream science and academia. He feared that such a concept would result in the discrediting of the entire field and his many years of hard work (Lloyd Mayer, 2008). The psi taboo wielded great power even in Freud’s day.

In the past decade perhaps the most obvious case in which a scientist has attracted the scorn of peers by mixing the ideas of entanglement and telepathy occurred in 2001 when Nobel Prize winning physicist Brian Josephson penned a short piece as part of the UK Royal Mail’s launching of a set of stamps to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Nobel Prize. Josephson’s contribution was made in reference to physics (Clegg, 2006). He decided to write about entanglement, and the following sentences represent his conclusion.

Quantum theory is now being fruitfully combined with theories of information and computation. These developments may lead to an explanation of processes still not understood within conventional science such as telepathy, an area where Britain is at the forefront of research (quoted in Clegg, 2006, p. 226).

The backlash to Josephson’s piece was immediate, including highly critical responses written in Nature; and Oxford University’s David Deutsch was quoted in The Observer as saying Josephson’s piece was “utter rubbish” and “complete nonsense…” (Clegg, 2006, p. 227). Notably, the debates which ensued got bogged down not in querying whether quantum theory might provide a mechanism for telepathy, but in arguments about whether it actually exists. Clegg describes the position taken by Josephson’s foes as being, “Telepathy doesn’t exist, so there is no need to explain it” (Clegg, 2006 p. 227).

To quote Brian Clegg, the result of his seeming heresy is that Josephson “has become a pariah in the world of science” (Clegg, 2006, p. 254). His openness to new and volatile concepts “has led to an unfortunate tendency for the scientific community to dismiss anything he says” (Clegg, 2006, p. 255). Clegg describes this attitude towards Josephson as “appalling.”

Given such a priori dismissals of all argument on the existence of telepathy, it is not surprising that contemporary scientists, including those in This Changes Everything, are unwilling to seriously discuss the possible connections between entanglement and mind.

There is, nonetheless, a context for the suspicion directed at those who attempt to explore such domains. There are numerous New Age and alternative philosophies and practices which attempt to connect quantum physics to their particular fields. These are often done on an ad hoc basis with little understanding of the actual science involved. Understandably, established and up and coming scientists do not want their reputations tarnished by association with “alternative” practices and philosophies.

Yet the prime consideration for many scientists is not whether such practices have any legitimacy or actually “work,” but the fact that they are considered “alternative” in the first place. The term “alternative” immediately relegates such practices to the status of “other,” thus establishing a self-regulating delimitation within modern science. Even if such practices work—possibly via some mechanism that is holistic or features non-local connections—they cannot be incorporated within the scientific discourse as they have been designated as “outside.”

Khrennikov AY (2010). Ubiquitous Quantum Structure from Psychology to Finance. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Egypt, the riots and the soul

A young man is "escorted" by police outside the Peace Cinema in downtown Shanghai during the "Jasmine Revolution" protest.

Large scale events with a strong emotional content inevitably affect the human collective mind. What effect are the curent riots in the Middle east having upon us, including our lives as individuals?

In recent weeks we have been seeing images of unrest in Middle Eastern countries. At first it was Egypt where the riots began to take hold, but now the unrest has spread - to Libya, Morocco, Iran and elsewhere.

As a person currently residing in Hong Kong, and with strong connections to China, I have been very interested to note crowds also gathering in Beijing and Shanghai yesterday. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post (you can see the headline here but you need a subscription to open the story) has reported that there was an online call for a "Jasmine Revolution" in 13 cities in response to the Middle East democracy protests. Predictably, the Chinese authorities have reacted immediately to disperse the crowds, with tens of thousands of police and state security agents mobilised. Universities in Shaanxi and Jiangsu provinces closed their gates to prevent students from leaving campus. Certain rights groups have stated that as many as 80 Chinese citizens, including human rights lawyers, have had their movements restricted, such as being detained at police stations, put under house arrest or forcibly removed from their homes by police.

Although the protests were dispelled relatively quickly, they appear to be a wake-up call to Chinese authorities. There have recently been rising tensions in Chinese society over a number of issues including high inflation, inequality (especially the rich vs poor gap) and injustice.

It is interesting that this has happened in China, because state media have been ordered to tone down reports of the Middle East protests, and knowledge of them is not widespread. Comments and postings on the internet have also been carefully monitored, with many references removed by moderators; with other pro-government posts posted by the so-called "50-cent army" - an estimated 30 000 internet "police" who are paid a small amount for every posting they make on the net. Nevertheless, it is impossible to block every story in every language, and any internet savvy youngster can circumvent the net censors relatively easily.

All this is relatively standard "analysis", and you can read as much elsewhere in the mainstream media. My focus here however is the effect of such mass emotional disturbances on the collective consciousness field of humanity.

If you have read any of my books or academic articles you will be aware that my perception is that consciousness contains non-local potentials. Your personal awareness is infused with a constant stream of "messages" or information from sources outside your conscious awareness (unless you are a “sensitive”). When there are large-scale emotional events they inevitably affect the subconscious of individuals right across the planet. The more closely connected you are to the region or group affected, the greater the effect tends to be. The earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 affected the collective "Chinese" mind more than, say, the French collective. Having said this, the deaths of 100 000 people in such circumstances will affect even the French (though some cynics might argue nothing would shift the French).

The night before news of the first Egyptian riots first made the media, I had strong images of rioting coming through my mind's eye just as I was drifting off to sleep. I didn't see the location, but I knew there were some disturbances coming up.

It did seem to me as if the people involved were Americans, but sometimes the mind relays information of such things in ways that are slightly inaccurate. In this case the idea of "American" pertains to the collective consciousness of the incident, which is related to rebellion against authority, and the USA was founded on just such a consciousness.

Right now you are being affected by the “energy” of these events.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Deckard Confusion. Let me know the ways.

Yadda, yadda, yadda. Invasion of the talking heads

The universe is not conscious – yet. But it will be. Strictly speaking, we should say that very little of it is conscious today. But that will change and soon. I expect that the universe will become sublimely intelligent and will wake up…
Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near (2005 p. 390).

I now believe that the universe was created and is permeated by cosmic consciousness and superior creative intelligence… on all its levels and in all its dimensions. The image of the cosmos as a giant supermachine with Newtonian characteristics, consisting of separate building blocks (elementary particles and objects), gave way to a vision of a unified field, an organic whole in which everything is meaningful interconnected. I now see each individual human psyche as an integral part of the overall field of cosmic consciousness and essentially commensurate with it.
Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, When the Impossible Happens, (2006 p. 349).

The Deckard Confusion is a term I use to describe the confusion of many Artificial Intelligence experts, who fail to distinguish the difference between the information processing of machines and human consciousness.  The term is based on the 1980s classic sci-fi movie Bladerunner, (I wrote about this some months back) . Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) falls in love with a ‘replicant’ (cyborg) named Rachael (Sean Young). In fact, Deckard is possibly a replicant himself, although it is unclear if he suspects this (the movie is ambiguous on this point, and it varies from one “cut” of the movie to another). It seems that Deckard cannot distinguish a machine from a flesh and blood person. Thus the term “the Deckard confusion”.

The fragmentation of mind in the modern era has created a similar problem. This includes a widespread confusion in modern cognitive science, where the computer metaphor currently dominates brain science and psychology. To put it simply, many experts believe the human organism and its consciousness to be merely a biological machine, when the reality is that consciousness contains essential, intrinsic qualities which are non-mechanistic. They seem unable to distinguish machine from organic life – or, dare I say, matter from “Spirit”.

In this post I am going to propose a provocation for you. I use the term provocation in the sense that Edward de Bono does. It is a deliberate attempt to throw a spanner in the works of the rational, linear mind. Once beliefs are established (via experience and conditioning) in the mind, that mind tends to regulate further experience in terms so the pre-existing thought structures, self-defined categories and so on. A provocation is meant to be something of a slap on the face, to snap you out of your slumber. In this case, the slap is more directed at mainstream thinking in cognitive science, and especially AI theory.

If you have seen the movie Bladerunner, you will recognise this eye. Is it human or robotic?

My provocation is...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Peasantly Surprised! (in China)

 Nice day for a walk... on the river (Chaoyang City, north-east China)

Well, I managed to make it back from northern China in one piece, and now I am safely at home in Hong Kong. I spent 12 days in the mainland, first flying into Beijing, then traveling onto Chaoyang city, about a six hour bus journey north-west of Beijing in Liaoning Province. This post doesn’t have too much to do with the future, but I thought readers might like to know a thing or two about my adventures. There are 3 short videos at the end.

After spending the first night in Beijing, I hopped on a bus for the 6 hour trip to Chaoyang City. Chaoyang is a small and nondescript city, and looks much like so many other cities in China. Of course “small is all relative in China – Chaoyang has 8 million people). If you have been to China you will know what I mean about the sameness. There is a kind of dull greyness about most cities. Still, I enjoy visiting Chaoyang. The lifestyle is relatively slow. The people you pass on the street are not friendly, but nor are they unfriendly either. They do tend to stare at me though, and mostly comment about my height. “Liang mi!” they often whisper (“two metres”). Actually, I about 5cm shorter than that, but who am I to deflate their sense of wonder?

I have never seen another foreigner in the city.

On the second night it was the first of many fireworks day/nights. The constant bang bang bang was enough to test the Buddha’s nerves. I actually wore ear plugs whenever I went out onto the street, as the explosions were often so loud as evoke a state of constant startling. In the second video, below, you can get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was spending an afternoon visiting my wife's ancestral village. This is where she was born some 35 years ago. I had never been there, so it was a fascinating experience. We drove out from the city for about two hours, and as we got closer to the village, we made our way along bumpy old dirt roads. As we approached the village there were huge piles of coal stocked up perhaps 50 metres into the sky.

The village itself was a collection of a few dozen brick houses scattered about narrow dirt roads and paths. Eventually we made our way to my wife's uncle’s humble abode, which looked just like all the other nondescript little buildings in the village. There was a concrete wall surround the house and  small yard. Several species of domestic animals were tamely resting in pens or standing freely about - pigs, geese, sheep, chickens etc. It was freezing - quite literally (about minus 5 degrees Celsius at midday), so I felt a little sorry for the poor critters.

Not quite a sorry as I felt for the ones we ate for lunch, though. 

Inside the house it was as humble as you'd expect for the domain of self-described peasants; warmer than outside, but not by much. There were two basic squarish rooms with brick walls. The "bed" was actually in the large “central room”, which also served as a kitchen. Well, it was more like a raised wooden slab to one side of the room. This is where everyone slept, on blankets.

I was greeted by one of my wife's young cousins, a tall lass whom I knew from previous visits.

"You are so tall now!" I commented in Chinese (they spoke no English, of course). "How old are you now?"

"I'm eighteen!” she said, flashing a shy smile. "Piao liang ma?" she battered her eyelids ("Am I pretty?")

I said yes, and thankfully I didn't have to lie. One of the great things about Chinese girls of that age is that they are so innocent. In some ways it's as if you are talking to a child. If I said the same thing back in Australia to a teenage girl, I would probably be arrested for pedophilia.

The house was actually quite crowded, with about twenty people there that day, including many relatives. Everyone was happy and busy making food or just chatting. The kids (and some bigger kids) were letting fireworks off right outside the front door. And they were loud!

I was soon seated at a small table, conveniently located right beside several crates of Chinese beer. I asked how much a crate of beer cost, and was told it was 36 Yuan – about one Yuan per bottle! (that’s about 15 cents American). That beverage was soon poured into cups, and I managed to drink a glass or two myself (actually, I like Chinese beer - very light and low in alcohol, so you can never really get drunk). My male colleagues brought out a bottle of baijiu - Chinese rice wine. I can assure you that that stuff is not so gentle - like drinking the contests of a car battery, and just as potent. I declined.

Not long after the aforementioned animals were wheeled out. Sadly for them, they constituted the contents of the Chinese dishes placed before us. I'm mostly vegetarian, but eat a bit of meat on special occasions. This was one of those. 

We stayed for several hours and it was a very pleasant day indeed. My relatives certainly treated me with great hospitality, and I would love to return there one day.

But before I leave you, here a few very short videos I took on my journey. Sadly, I didn't take the camera to my wife's village, so I have no images of that.

This one is the river in Chaoyang City. You can see people "rowing" those little sleds around.

This video is taken from the window of my sister in law's apartment, 9 floors up. You can actually see her in the reflection at the end of the video. 

Finally, this is Beijing's new #3 airport, on the day of my departure. As you can see, I was lucky to make it out! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Will This Change Anything?

I have often written about the way that mainstream discourses tend to marginalise discussions about subjects related to intuitive perception and spiritual experience. Here's an extract about exactly this problem, from a journal paper entitled "Entanglement: The idea that changes everything?", which I recently wrote for Foresight. I know many journal articles are about as fascinating as observing rocks erode, but I do try to make my papers personal, interesting and readable. I hope I have succeeded with that goal here. If interested, you can find the rest of the paper here, including relevant citations. (BTW, Brockman's This Will Change Everything is actually a very readable volume, and chock full of fascinating ideas for anyone interested in science and the future).


I recently received my copy of John Brockman’s This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future. No self-titled futurist could not be excited by the prospect of reading such a volume, which contains a collection of short essays by more than one hundred of the self-described brightest and most influential scientific and philosophical minds on the planet, including Daniel Dennett, Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Freeman Dyson, and Rupert Sheldrake. Contributions are taken from the Edge website ( Edge was formed by Brockman in 1991, and each year a volume is produced outlining some of the most provocative and innovative ideas emergi