In this edition, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Marjorie Woollacott, author of the book, Infinite Awareness: The Awakening of a Scientific Mind, which she describes as both a scientist’s memoir and a research survey on human consciousness. Dr. Woollacott was a neuroscience professor at the University of Oregon for more than three decades and a meditator for almost four. She also has a master’s degree in Asian studies.  Her master’s thesis was the foundation for her book. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, and includes both research in neuroscience and testing the efficacy of alternative forms of therapy such as tai chi and meditation for improving both attention and balance in adults.

Infinite Awareness The Awakening of a Scientific Mind Marjorie Hines Woollacott Pim van Lommel 9781538110195 Amazon com Books

Get the book at Amazon.

We had a great conversation about her studies and experiences around consciousness, meditation, and event psi phenomena. Please enjoy this conversation with Dr. Marjorie Woollacott.

Questions we discussed:

  1. Let’s start off with your story: your meditation workshop, the Swami, and how it all played with your being a Neuroscientist.
  2. After that experience, you spent time observing your own mind during meditation. What were you able to observe? What did you learn from that?
  3. You mention that mantras help to quiet the mind, letting thoughts go, even opens the filters to the non-local consciousness.
    1. First, What is non-local awareness or consciousness?
    2. How does this relate to paranormal experiences like NDEs?
      1. I’m guessing your top-down view of consciousness would mean that consciousness is already out-of-body and these observations are merely new perspectives, filtered down into the mind?
      2. Is there a link between paranormal experience and meditation? I’m curious about meditation being a window into consciousness, into my own consciousness, into the non-local consciousness. Is it? Can we exercise, modify, improve our mind/consciousness through meditation?
      3. Is there a connection to Robin Cahart-Harris’ (et al) study of psychedelics using fMRI imaging that showed these hallucinogens actually slow down parts of the brain, actually freeing consciousness from the brain’s own filters? If so, how does that play into the top-down architecture of consciousness?
  4. So, what is your notion of consciousness, how do you define or describe it? [the melding together of ‘Western science’ and ‘Hindu teachings’ on consciousness — how did you reconcile those two?]
    1. You mention that, ‘All this is consciousness’ — can you expand on that?
    2. How does it emerge in an individual, conscious being?
    3. What about the ‘ego’? Thoughts on that? ‘Self’ is an illusion?
  5. You’re a panpsychist? What does panpsychism mean to you — I hear a few different definitions.
    1. You’re also an idealist, believing that the mind creates reality? 
  6. You describe how our nervous system filters all the input it receives, that it must do this. The brain also filters a greater consciousness, non-local awareness (infinite awareness)? Can you expand on that?
    1. Can we access this non-local awareness?
      1. How does the brain filter this?
      2. What’s available to us if we don’t filter it? Can we turn the filter off?
      3. Aldous Huxley’s, “Doors of Perception” — the mind filters the greater consciousness and is opened by psychedelics/mescaline. Any thoughts on that? [turns out he might’ve been wrong, according to Carhart-Harris’ findings.]
  7. [given top-down design model] Does consciousness survive death? Does it change form, or does it persist?
  8. What do you think about how neuroscience is taught in our universities? Have you seen an evolution of these studies and teaching in the universities as a result of your experiences and those of others? (DOPS)
  9. In your own studies and in the study of consciousness/awareness/meditation, what about future discoveries or advances excites you?
  10. What else will you be working on?
  11. Anything else you’d like to share? Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences: https://www.aapsglobal.com/

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Bernard Kobes from my Alma Mater, Arizona State University. Dr. Kobes has been an Associate Professor of Philosophy at ASU since 1986, where he has been recognized with numerous awards. We covered everything from what-it-is-like consciousness to the emergence of consciousness in both individuals and in species to the morality and ethics of uploading one’s consciousness into a computer.

Topics we covered include:

  1. How do you define consciousness?
  2. Tell us about your seminar, Philosophy of Mind: Consciousness, and its topic: Metaphysical aspects of an apparent tension between dependence of consciousness on the physical brain and body, and the novelty of consciousness relative to the physical.
    1. What is that dependence of consciousness on the physical brain and body? How does this relate to your idea of dualism/physicalism?
    2. Does this explore the binding of the mind to the body?
    3. Does consciousness emerge from the physical layers of the brain/body? What is ‘emergentism’?
    4. What about weak and strong emergence? What is that, and what is your view on this?
    5. You describe consciousness (what-it-is-like consciousness) as one of the layers. What are the layers? At what point do the layers move from physical to metaphysical/phenomenal?
      1. How do the Mary and archangel arguments help explain this?
      2. How is emergentism a form a dualism, or is it?
    6. The physical closure principle (every physical event that has a cause has a sufficient physical cause): how does this play into dualism? Do you accept this?
    7. Panpsychism: you argue that panpsychism is not plausible, because of the ‘combination problem’. Can you explain/expand on that?
    8. You reject substance-dualism. What about property dualism? Maybe provide an explanation of each if pertinent.
    9. Regarding your “thoughts and conjectures about distinctively human forms of consciousness, based partly on a lecture given at ASU on February 1, 2018, by the paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall,” can you give us a quick synopsis on your ideas regarding the evolution of consciousness in humans, including any key points you find particularly interesting?
      1. What about Block’s notion of ‘access to consciousness’. What do you mean by that?
        You’ve discussed emergence of consciousness as related to an individual mind/brain. What are you thoughts here on the emergence of ‘consciousness’ in a species, in humans?
    10. What is “constitution of consciousness”?
    11. Do you see any breakthroughs coming in the study/understanding of consciousness?
    12. Is one’s consciousness something, like knowledge and wisdom or muscle development, something that one can exercise/improve/expand upon?
    13. In addition to what we’ve discussed, is there anything else you’d like to bring up and/or discuss?

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Christof Koch, and the topic, I would say, was panpsychism, but we covered so much of his work in human consciousness, including the Integrated Information Theory and a breaking new way to measure consciousness. It was a great conversation, one which has me thinking of some great new Science Fiction ideas based in some amazing reality.

Christof is the Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington. From 1986 until 2013, he was a Professor of Biology and Engineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. While born in Kansas City, he grew up in Amsterdam/Holland, Bonn/Germany, Ottawa/Canada, and Rabat/Morocco. His education includes the Lycée Descartes with a French Baccalaurèat, studies in Physics and Philosophy in Tübingen, Germany, where he earned his PhD from the Max-Planck-Institut. He spent four years as a post-doctoral fellow at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and at the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department at MIT.

He thinks a lot about the universe and how it came to be, about the brain, how it produces consciousness and how the sentient mind emerges from the physical brain. We covered that and much more, so please enjoy my conversation with Christof Koch.

Get his book on Amazon:

We discussed:

  1. ‘What is consciousness?’
    1. The more a system can affect itself, the more it is conscious. Is this measurable, quantitatively? Is that what Phi is?
  2. You don’t agree with the concept of human exceptionalism (a la religion). I wonder though, if studying consciousness has given you any insight into afterlife and the survival of consciousness? 
  3. With the idea of panpsychism, do you think the individual consciousnesses are connected to each other? Do you think, with consciousness being common to ‘all God’s creatures’ that they could be tapping into a larger, cosmic consciousness?
    1. How does this influence your idea of dualism and physicalism?
  4. What about rocks and trees? Do they have consciousness? Using the Integrated Information Theory, would that extend to any form of matter? 
  5. Integrated information theory of a system: Significant that a computer’s stored information is disconnected bits, not interconnected like our conscious minds. However, lately, these bits have been intelligently connected by computers (machine learning). Do you think this might give computers consciousness, somehow? How close is the internet to waking up? Do you think you’ll be able to measure the Internet’s Phi?
    1. Unity of consciousness, different parts of the brain. Consciousness goes away in deep sleep. Curious, but not sure what to ask here. Is it both the complexity and integratedness of the brain that render consciousness?
  6. In 2013, you spent time with Buddhist monks in India. You debated the Dalai Llama for a full day on ‘consciousness’? What did you learn from him? What do you think he learned from you?
  7. Using what we’ve discussed today, is there a way for an individual to exercise/improve/develop his/her consciousness? Is there a way to access deeper levels of our consciousness?