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:

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jonathan Simon, who is a a postdoctoral associate in the NYU Department of Philosophy, and research fellow of the NYU Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness and the Global Institute for Advanced Study Project on Space, Time and Consciousness. His primary research is in the metaphysics of mind. He also has research interests in perception, the metaphysics of science, moral psychology, value theory, and legal and political philosophy. We had a great discussion on property dualism, the immortality of the soul, and more.

We covered these Questions:

  1. Let’s start with this: how do you define consciousness?
  2. You describe yourself as a ‘property’ dualist? What exactly is that?
  3. A discussion on the neural correlates, emergence of mind/consciousness, and your his views.
    1. Tell me about the topic of your dissertation, ‘borderline’ consciousness. What does that mean?
    2. What is your view on the matter?
    3. Are you familiar with research done by Dr. Tononi and Dr.Koch on their experiments in measuring consciousness? I would think that could have fascinating ramifications on testing borderline consciousness.
    4. So…your take on panpsychism, then?
  4. Can consciousness survive the death of the body/brain, is it immortal, in your view?
  5. In your paper on immortality, you describe a gap, a kind of quantum leap, between existence and non-existence that is the central issue of the survival of consciousness.
    1. Can you quickly give us a summary of that argument?
    2. Where do you land on that?
    3. The argument is about the immortality of the ‘soul’. Does ‘soul’ equate to consciousness?
    4. If the immortality arguments holds true (true? Valid? I’m starting to get philosophy 101 flashbacks), what actually survives?
    5. Any thought as to if/how quantum physics theory could play into this?
  6. Is there a practical application to all of this? Is there some way we can expand, exercise, observe our own consciousness?
  7. What are you going to be studying or working on in the future, when it comes to consciousness? Do you see any breakthroughs coming that really get you excited?

And…a short discussion on Artificial Intelligence and consciousness.

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Edward Kelly, and our topic was Survival of Consciousness after death. It was a great conversation, one which has stayed with me and has me contemplating everything from cosmic consciousness to quantum field theory to heaven and souls. Ed is currently a Professor in the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) at the University of Virginia. He received his Ph.D. in psycholinguistics and cognitive science from Harvard, and spent the next 15-plus years working mainly in parapsychology, initially at J. B. Rhine’s Institute for Parapsychology, then for ten
years through the Department of Electrical Engineering at Duke and finally through a private research institute in Chapel Hill. You may be familiar with his books, Irreducible Mind and Beyond Physicalism. He has now returned to his central long-term research interest – the application of modern functional neuroimaging methods to intensive psychophysiological studies of psi and altered states of consciousness.

We discussed:

  1. What exactly is psi, especially as it relates to your experiments and studies?
  2. What is materialism?
    1. Why is a discussion of materialism important regarding consciousness?
      You started off as a materialist. What was the central ‘discovery’ that moved you, or convinced you otherwise? Examples from Irreducible Mind (Amazon)
    2. Would you like to share some of the examples from Irreducible Mind that show that physicalism is false?
  3. Psi phenomena are real (“take it to the bank”). What are some examples of psi-phenomena?
  4. Does a crisis apparition have consciousness? Does the apparition’s original, material body’s consciousness survive in this apparition?
  5. A discussion of near-death experiences (NDE) and how they relate to consciousness. What are your thoughts as to what’s going on with a person’s consciousness during an NDE?
    1. You mention that there are physical requirements in the brain, according to neuroscientists, for consciousness to exist. But, with an NDE, those requirements are not there. Can you expand a little on consciousness and the NDE?
  6. How do you define ‘self’? Is there such a thing in your view?
  7. You mention Mrs. Piper and mediums and how they can connect with the deceased. How do you think that happens? There is so much there, in the context of consciousness. The deceased person’s consciousness persists, and is accessible somehow, somewhere. The medium is able to connect, even communicate with this consciousness. Can you share your thoughts on this process and how it happens?
  8. So, you mention that a picture is coming together of how the mind and brain work together. I guess, obviously, you believe in the duality of mind/brain. Would you mind giving us your description or definition of this duality? The mind is a ‘larger something.’ What is that something?
  9. The brain anchors this consciousness. Aldous Huxley says it also filters a common, universal knowledge and memory (my interpretation). Any thoughts on that, the brain as a filter or portal into a ‘cosmic consciousness’?
  10. Beyond Physicalism (Amazon): Toward Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality. To paraphrase: we are connected to something bigger that is expressing itself through our [consciousness] evolution. Can you speak to that a little bit?
  11. You mention that we’re approaching a major inflection point in our intellectual (growth) history. What kind of leap are you predicting/envisioning? How is this tied to our consciousness?
    How does DOPS play into that?