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, we pick up where we left off with my conversation with Raphaël Millière, and our topic was Psychedelics and Consciousness.

It was a great conversation. So, please enjoy the conclusion of my time with Raphaël Millière.

We begin with a discussion on the boundary between self and ‘the world’ once ego dissolution begins.

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Raphaël Millière, and our topic was Psychedelics and Consciousness. Raphaël Millière is a third-year PhD student in philosophy at the University of Oxford and an Ertegun  Scholar, working under the supervision of Martin Davies. He is also affiliated to the Center for Subjectivity Research of the University of Copenhagen, as part of an external co-supervision agreement with Dan Zahavi. Additionally, he is a research member and coordinator of ALIUS, an interdisciplinary research group on altered states of consciousness and organized an interdisciplinary conference in Oxford on The Sense of Self.

We discussed:

  1. As an introduction, tell us about ALIUS and it’s mission. 
    1. What are altered states of consciousness
      1. Any relation between dreaming and psychedelic-induced states of consciousness?
    2. Let’s narrow the focus to psychedelics and consciousness.
  2. First of all, Looking for the Self: Phenomenology, Neurophysiology and Philosophical Significance of Drug-induced Ego Dissolution, is amazing and way above my own cognitive abilities, but it presents quite a few questions.
  3. Drug Induced Ego Dissolution (DIED, coincidentally): Can you please describe for us what that is and how this relates to consciousness? RENAISSANCE OF DRUG RESEARCH
    1. SCIENTIFICALLY MEASURING THE DIED EXPERIENCE
    2. Is this what psychonauts, those who partake in psychedelic drugs, call ego death?
      1. You know, Timothy Leary did some real damage to the study of psychiatry and psychedelics. Do you and your peers make an effort to avoid mistakes he and his team made? TIMOTHY LEARY, EGO DEATH AND THE DISSOLUTION OF PSYCHEDELIC RESEARCH
    3. What could be some possible benefits from experiencing ego dissolution? What could one take away from that experience? A CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE LATER ON BECOMES PROFOUND, TRANSFORMATIVE
    4. THERAPEUTIC BENEFITS OF EGO DISSOLUTION
    5. Why are you studying this? Why is it important to you, to anyone?
  4. I’d like to know more about what you have discovered in the bridging of the phenomenology and neurophysiology behind a DIED experience.
    1. I’d also like learn more about meditation and psychedelics and why those two are mentioned together. SELF EXPERIENCE IS ALTERED; ALTERS DMN (Default Mode Network in the brain) SIMILARLY; ISOLATING NEUROCORRELATES OF THE SELF IS DIFFICULT
      1. IMPORTANT DISTINCTIONS; PSYCHS HIGHLY SENSORY AT BEGINNING; MEDITATION IS PURE AWARENESS, LESS DRAMATIC SENSORY INPUTS; MINIMAL AND NARRATIVE SELF
  5. The challenge to the notion that consciousness always involves self awareness is interesting. Where do you stand on that? (Is this a good time to ask how you define/describe consciousness?)
    1. Are you breaking away from the central self awareness test, “Something it is like to be…”? THERE IS NOTHING IT IS LIKE TO BE AN IPAD; BRAIN STATES THAT ARE NOT CONSCIOUS; SOMETHING IT IS LIKE ‘FOR ME’…; REDNESS, WRONGNESS. SELF AWARENESS = SELF CONSCIOUSNESS, OF ONESELF. SOMETHING IT IS LIKE TO BE ME. BACKGROUND SENSE OF SELF.
  6. Can I assume that you believe there is a ‘self’? [versus Hume’s ‘flow of experiential moments’] NO SELF, NO EGO, NOT INTERESTED SOUL – SELF IS ORGANISM, BODY, STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS; HALLUCINATIONS OF ANIMALS AND WHAT IT ‘FEELS’ LIKE – SELF IS SIMILAR – WE FEEL IT; SURPRISES ME WITH HIS VIEW ON ‘SELF’
    1. Is this tied to the default mode network? How does that relate to consciousness?
    2. Is it a ‘rough and ready’ model of predictive processing (mentioned later)?
    3. So, what IS that ‘boundary’ between self and world? Is it phenomenological, neurophysical? MIND ALWAYS TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OUT OF THE INPUTS; WHERE DO I FIT INTO THIS WORLD; SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE; CREATION OF MODELS (ALTERED MODELS); BINDING INFO INCORRECTLY, NOT TO SELF. PERIPERSONAL SPACE, AROUND ME; DO PSYCHEDELICS BREAK THIS DOWN, ALTER IT?
  7. You know, Timothy Leary did some real damage to the study of psychiatry and psychedelics. Do you and your peers make an effort to avoid mistakes he and his team made? [SEE ABOVE]
  8. You mentioned Micro-phenomenology. How does that concept fit into a discussion on consciousness, and your work on DMT? ELICITING DETAILED EXPERIENCES OF DMT, ACCURATE ACCOUNTS; 4 STAGES – ACCELERATION; VISUAL (HALLUCINATIONS); THE BREAKTHROUGH, CONTACT WITH ENTITIES, NO LONGER GEOMETRIC;BECOMING CLEOPATRA; CONSCIOUS TRIANGLE
  9. Your machine learning analysis of the Erowid trip reports is interesting. My son worked with machine learning as well. I know results are still to come, but any surprises or insights so far?
  10. The “predictive processing theory of cognition”, which “views the brain as a prediction machine that models the causal structure of the world to anticipate future inputs”…Do these predictions happen before we’re aware of them? How does that play into consciousness?
    1. How does the psychedelic experience play into that? Do these drugs alter that processing and modeling? (aid in depression and anxiety?)
    2. Can we predict the psychedelic altered state of consciousness and maybe even mold it to our needs?
    3. Perception is a ‘controlled hallucination’? Where is the line between reality and the models in our brains?
  11. Most of the discussion about psychedelics and consciousness so far has been around ego dissolution. Do you have other observations on how these drugs can or do affect consciousness?

It was a great conversation. So, please enjoy Part 1 of our time with Raphaël Millière.