In this episode, I have the honor of speaking with Dr. Susan Blackmore, who is a psychologist, lecturer and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences. She is a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth, as well as a TED Talk lecturer, blogger for the Guardian, and often appears on radio and television. Her book, The Meme Machine  (1999) has been translated into 16 other languages; more recent books include Conversations on Consciousness (2005), Zen and the Art of Consciousness (2011), Seeing Myself: The new science of out-of-body experiences (2017) and a textbook Consciousness: An Introduction (3rd Ed 2018).

Susan Blackmore Seeing Myself

We had a great conversation and covered out of body experiences, mind-body duality — or more accurately, monism, and more. Please enjoy this episode with Dr. Susan Blackmore.

Questions we discussed:

  1. So, where do you stand on consciousness? What is it?
  2. What are your thoughts on near death experiences and out of body experiences?
    1. You believe in life after death? Dualism?
    2. More like an NDE: how are they different?
    3. Astral projection
    4. What is happening in the brain? How do you explain these experiences?
    5. What implications do these have on our understanding of consciousness?
    6. Her advice: Enjoy the experience!
  3. In an article in Psychology Today, you discuss the notion of being conscious only when you’re aware of your consciousness, like the light in the fridge. Are we only conscious when we’re aware of our consciousness? [sleep]
    1. If not, what are we in those moments?
    2. Does brain activity change? Any other insights into this idea?
    3. Any relation to ‘altered states of consciousness’, i.e. is it a spectrum or some other direct relation?
  4. What else, what haven’t I asked you?
  5. What’s in your future, what else will you be studying or publishing?
  6. New book on Memes to follow the 1999 publication, “The Meme Machine”.

In this episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Elizabeth Schechter, who is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology in the Department of Philosophy and in the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program at the Washington University in St. Louis. Her work centers on questions of psychological unity, with a focus on split-brain, which you can find in her book, Self-Consciousness and “Split” Brains: The Minds’ I.

We had a great conversation and covered consciousness, split-brains and the mind-body problem, and more. Please enjoy this episode with Dr. Elizabeth Schechter.

Questions:

  1. What is Psychological unity? Unity of Consciousness?
  2. Let’s get a baseline to work from here. How do you define consciousness? What IS consciousness? Mind v. Person.
    1. Duality? Physicalism? Etc.
    2. What is the relationship of a person to their mind/brain?
  3. Split Brains:
    1. Please give us a little background on what ‘split brain’ is.
    2. How does this play into your views on ‘unity’ of consciousness and psychology?
    3. Does this result in two, independent consciousnesses? (2-person claim)
    4. Perspectives versus Agents versus Thinkers? What are the differences there, and how do those differences play into understanding consciousness?
    5. In a split brain, parts of the brain are still integrated, or synchronized, right? Like vision? What else? [two separate human beings sitting next to each other would also be getting the same inputs, right?]
      1. How does that play into all of this?
    6. I’m curious about the implications of split brain and mind-brain duality. What, if any, observations have been made with split-brain patients that might shed light on that and the binding problem?
      1. Is the single ‘mind’ still bound to both sides of a split brain?
      2. Ego?
    7. Can (does) one side of the brain ask, “Something it is like to be the other side of my brain?”
      1. “I think, therefore I am” and other tests of individuality and consciousness? Have those been done, experimentally?
      2. The mirror test (animals) on a split brain subject?
    8. We can cut the connection (corpus callosum) between the two hemispheres. Can we introduce a third (artificial) ‘hemisphere’?
  4. What is a consciousness versus a person: conjoined twins, DID, split brain?
  5. What are you currently working on? What can we expect from you in the near future?
  6. In the field of consciousness (or other areas), what studies or potential breakthroughs excite you?
  7. Anything else you’d like to share?

Dr. Cassandra Vieten - The Consciousness Podcast

In this episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Cassandra Vieten, who is the President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and a scientist at the Mind-Body Medicine Research Group at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute. Dr. Vieten is a licensed clinical psychologist and has been with IONS since 2001, previously serving as its Executive Director of Research.

We had a great conversation and covered consciousness, interconnectedness, spirituality and much more.  Please enjoy this episode with Dr. Cassandra Vieten.

Questions:

  1. What are your views/definition of consciousness? Universal consciousness? Mind-body, the binding problem. Survival. Etc.?
    1. Is Consciousness a primary component of the universe, along with matter and energy?
  2. I saw your video from your talk on the Science of Interconnectedness.
    1. Your team has conducted experiments on interconnectedness with some pretty incredible results? (Examples?)
      1. What criticism have you received about the experiments? Have they been independently repeated?
    2. Is ‘interconnectedness’ a shared consciousness? What are the hypotheses about how this works, physically, if that’s even a legitimate question.
    3. You mention that the body itself is interconnected (cells). How? Is that a level of consciousness? Is that an extension of that what connects us to each other?
  3. A focus of yours is spirituality in psychological treatment, correct? How, if at all, does that tie into consciousness? Is there an overlap or connection between consciousness and spirituality?
    1. In your research into spirituality, including meditation and other practices, what have you discovered about consciousness?
  4. What role does consciousness have in psychological healing, in the practice of a psychologist?
  5. I’ve spoken to a few people who study the effects of psychedelics on the brain. Often, those who experience psychedelics describe something like this interconnectedness. Have you looked into that at all? Any insight? Spirituality?
  6. What are the eventual, or hopeful, practical uses that might come from your studies, both in consciousness and psychology?
    1. Are we already experiencing those benefits, without knowing the reason? How are people using these abilities now, while not even realizing it?
  7. What are the hot studies going on at IONS, what else is coming? Pixar, VR
  8. What should we look for from your future work? Ions discovery lab; [link to it]; ions-x (moon shot); help ppl who are working toward positive change (climate, prison) and equip them with tools for transforming worldviews;
  9. What breakthroughs do you see coming, that really excite you?
  10. What else do you want to share? Get involved! https://noetic.org/community/overview


Dr. Selen Atasoy - The Consciousness PodcastIn this episode, I discussed Connectome Harmonics and neural correlates of consciousness, specifically under the influence of LSD, mindfulness meditation and dream sleep with Dr. Selen Atasoy. Dr. Atasoy’s research explores brain dynamics in different states consciousness, including sleep, meditation, and psychedelic states, as well as in psychiatric disorders, by analysing fMRI and MEG data within the mathematical framework of harmonic waves. She has extensive experience working in experimental and computational neuroscience exploring neural correlates of consciousness. Currently, she is working as a postdoctoral researcher at Hedonia Transnational Research Group, University of Oxford.

We had a great conversation.. Please enjoy this episode with Dr. Selen Atasoy.

Questions we discussed: 

  1. I often ask my guests to share their own ‘definition’ of consciousness. Given your studies, including those on LSD and the brain, what have you learned about consciousness and do you have a definition or description of what consciousness is?
  2. Let’s talk about your theory, “Connectome harmonics”
    1. First, can you give us a high level, layman’s overview of the theory and the studies behind it? 
      1. What’s vibrating in the brain, what are these waves and their substrate?
      2. You measured energy and power of the brain states using connectome harmonics, yes?
      3. You mentioned, ‘when you silence the mind, you increase the power and energy of brain activity.’ What’s going on in the brain when you ‘silence the mind’? Is that the ‘intrinsic energy’ of a brain state?
      4. You found that low frequencies decrease in energy with LSD, high frequencies increase in energy with LSD? Is that right?
        1. Low frequencies showed reduced energy > ego dissolution and emotional arousal? [default mode network — that gives more evidence to the idea that the DMN is the ‘ego’?]
        2. Higher frequencies showed increased energy > positive moods
        3. You mention that LSD appears to be activating more brain states simultaneously, that it’s a reorganization of brain states, as the brain enters ‘criticality’, that barrier between order and chaos. Example: marching soldiers > playing kids, group of people dancing individually but interacting, flexibility, organization
          1. Order and chaos of what? Harmonics? Energy?
        4. LSD shifts the brain towards criticality?
        5. What are the forces in the brain that keep it on the ‘order’ side of criticality? What happens if/when the brain passes over criticality into chaos? Is that where we see brain disorders or mental illness/disease?
    2. Using your ‘Connectome Harmonics’ model, what kind of predictions can you make? Or, how else can that modeling be applied to consciousness as you defined it earlier?
    3. You also observed the minds of meditators, right? What did you find there? Any similarities to psychedelics?
      1. What did you learn from these observations? Any surprises?
      2. Any significant differences between the two? Any significance in the differences?
  3. You mentioned in a video that you use Cahart-Harris’ fMRI data. I laughed at ‘tripping in a scanner’.  I don’t think when Timothy Leary coined ‘set and setting’ with LSD that he had going through a scanner in mind for the setting. Did anybody have a ‘bad trip’ during the experiments? If so, were any scans and observations made of these ‘bad trips’. I wonder if they crossed over criticality into chaos?
  4. What’s in your future, what else will you be studying? [psychiatry, patients] Any implications of your studies, models, and theories?
  5. Anything I haven’t asked you? Anything else you’d like to share or spread the word on?