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Are Synchronicities Clues To The Bigger Picture?

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We’ve all had them – those moments when something happens that makes you ponder the role of design in the universe, and your own place within it. When falling in love, engaging in artistic endeavours, or struggling with tragedy, these moments can occur frequently. Are things indeed “mean to be” at some deeper level? Or is the universe just an unfolding series of random events, occurring one after another, while our limited human minds desperately try to find the thread that links them together?

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Synchronicity is the technical name given to the events I’m referring to. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, coined the term in his 1951 essay on this topic. A synchronicity is, essentially, a meaningful coincidence. Something happens in the world around us that seems to defy probability and “normal” explanations.

The classic example is Jung’s own vignette in treating a particularly stubborn patient. He describes his talking sessions with her that delved into themes of her excessive rationality and rejection of any deeper meanings in the universe. As his patient was describing her feelings and a recent dream in which she was given a golden scarab, Jung heard a light tapping on the window behind him. The tapping persisted and Jung opened the window to find a large scarab beetle flying against the window. He caught it and handed it to her, saying, “here is your scarab.”

The scarab beetle is, according to Jung, a classic symbol of rebirth. So the dream scarab and the real world scarab beetle coincided to create a moment of transformation for the patient, who was able to overcome her problems.

tambookI’ve been keeping a list of synchronicities from my own life for a few years now. Many are fairly trivial events that may best be explained as mere coincidence. One example: I bought a game on Amazon as a gift for my nephew. The game had 354 reviews. Right after this I bought Nelly’s song, “Just a Dream” (a great song), on iTunes. It also had 354 reviews. Is there any deeper meaning in these events? I doubt it! But one could stretch to find something if you wanted to.

A second example is a bit harder to dismiss as coincidence. I studied biology in college and have continued to read widely in evolutionary theory since finishing college in 1998. I’ve also published a few papers in this field since that time. I was reading a book on evolutionary theory and the strange but fascinating topic of bedbug sex came up. Female bedbugs don’t have vaginas — I know, it’s weird! Male bedbugs instead stab their penis into the female’s body, break through the carapace, and deposit sperm directly into the body cavity. I shook my head in wonder and went home shortly thereafter. When I got home from the coffee shop where I had been reading, I turned on a recording of “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart and, lo and behold, the topic of bedbug sex came up! He showed a very funny and exquisitely weird skit by Isabella Rosellini demonstrating bedbug sex. I had never before heard about bedbug sex and here it came up twice in one day, in entirely unrelated contexts.

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So what do these two episodes of bedbug sex offer in terms of deeper meaning? To be honest, I have no idea, but I can certainly speculate. I have been thinking and writing about sexual selection and other mechanisms of evolution for many years, and have developed a published theory that expands Darwin’s ideas on sexual selection. So perhaps I was somehow being encouraged to keep going on this path by my possibly synchronistic experience. It’s kind of a stretch, I know, but not entirely unreasonable.

Ok, one last example from my life, as an example of a strong synchronicity: I’ve been to Hawaii a number of times since late 2013, with my primary motivation to buy property there (I’m writing this essay in Hilo, Hawaii). I almost never talk to people next to me on the plane because I really enjoy the quiet time to read or work on writing projects, and because I’m afraid of being held captive in a boring conversation for many hours. The first trip to Hawaii, however, was with a woman I was dating at the time, so there was less risk of having to talk to the person next to us for the whole flight. I struck up conversation on a whim with a woman seated by herself beside us, and it turned out that she lived on the Big Island and we learned a lot about it in our conversation. We all became friends after she invited us to her birthday party that week, and to this day we’re still friends and see each other often.

The second trip to Hawaii was a month later and I was traveling by myself this time. Another woman traveling solo was in the seat next to me, I again chose to strike up a conversation, and she was also quite interesting and friendly. She was visiting a good friend of hers who lived in Hilo. The same day we arrived in Hilo I was having dinner with the woman I met on my first trip and we ran into the second woman, who I’d just met on the plane that day, at the same restaurant, which is one of many in Hilo! I ended up hanging out with the second woman a couple of days later and we’re also still friends.

My third trip was a month later. I was again traveling alone and was going for three months this time. I was hoping to finally buy some property after scouting a lot on the first two trips, and also to research a novel I’m working on that is set on the Big Island. This time I was seated next to a guy traveling by himself who seemed to be in his late twenties or early thirties. Again, I struck up conversation; again, this was strange because I almost never speak to people on the plane. Again, we had great conversation and it turned out that he was a traveling nurse going to Hawaii for a three-month contract. We became great friends and had many adventures during my stay.

Anyway, to wrap up: three of three trips to Hawaii yielded good new friends and opportunities to learn a ton about the Big Island. Coincidence may still be a good explanation, but despite my hard-nosed scientific outlook on most things, I can’t help but wonder if mere coincidence may not be the best explanation here.

If we’re looking, instead, at these events from the point of view of synchronicity, the deeper meaning is fairly obvious to me: in some manner the universe seemed to be helping me to make a home in Hawaii. This was the correlation between external events and my mental states that is the hallmark of synchronicity.

We could also look at these events as simply resulting from my excitement about going to Hawaii and a place that I was thinking about making a serious part of my life (I still live in Santa Barbara, but I split my time between Santa Barbara and my place near Hilo; paradise to paradise…). My excitement made me more talkative and more interested in people around me. Possibly. But it’s also quite unusual that people traveling solo, youngish, and interesting, would be seated next to me three times in a row.

I took a fourth trip to Hawaii in mid-2014 and I did not meet anyone interesting on the plane and didn’t even talk to the person next to me. But three out of four instances is still enough to make me scratch my head.

Explaining Synchronicity

So what’s going on with synchronistic experiences? First, let’s define our term carefully. Jung defined a synchronicity as meaningful and causally related correlations between outer (physical) and inner (mental) events. A good shorthand is meaningful coincidence. The coincidence is between external events and inner meaning that matches those events in some way or was inspired by them.

Jung attempted to explain synchronicity through an appeal to the “collective unconscious.” This collective unconscious is described by Jung as either the sum of our unconscious minds held in common by all people or, more intriguingly, as a deeper level of reality that undergirds our physical world. Synchronicities bubble up from the collective unconscious, and are a goad to “individuation,” a key part of Jung’s teachings.

Jung suggested that the correlations between external and internal events had a similar root cause. So while the correlations were not causal— they are “acausal”—there is a deeper causal explanation for each half of the synchronistic event. Jung seemed to believe that the universe itself was attempting to teach some lesson or insight by offering up these meaningful coincidences.

Another intriguing possibility is that synchronistic experiences are suggestive of the idea that we — you, I, and everything around us — are part of a much larger mind. Just as in our own dreams events can happen that skirt the laws of physics or logic, if we are indeed part of a much larger mind, a much larger dream, then synchronistic experiences are the clues. This idea was sketched by the German writer Wilhelm von Scholz and mentioned by Jung in Synchronicity.

So What Does It All Mean?

Looking at the bigger picture, and not only my own candidates for synchronistic experiences, synchronicity is perhaps the most compelling reason for me personally to remain agnostic about a higher-level intelligence in our universe. I’m not a religious person. I’m not a Christian and I was a militant atheist for many years. I’ve shifted, however, in the last ten years to a softer stance on the big questions about God, spirituality and meaning.

I’ve written previously on the “anatomy of God,” describing how I find the evidence and rationale for a “God as Source” quite convincing. God as Source is the ground of being, apeiron, Akasha, the One, etc., that is the soil from which all things grow. The Source is not conscious. It is beyond the dichotomy of conscious/unconscious. It is pure Spirit.

God as Summit, a conscious being that may or may not take an interest in our lives or even our planet, is a different matter. The metaphysical system that I find most reasonable — a system known as process philosophy, with Alfred North Whitehead as its primary modern expositor — certainly has room for God as Summit. Whether God as Summit really exists, however, is a separate debate. If I had to bet on it, I’d bet that there is no God as Summit at this point. But I remain agnostic.

The synchronicities that have happened in my life are numerous and strange. They don’t add up necessarily to any compelling evidence for God as Summit, but they certainly do make me wonder.

Turning back to Jung’s famous scarab beetle example of synchronicity we must, to be fair and scientific, acknowledge that the beetle he caught wasn’t technically a scarab beetle; it was, instead, a scarabaeid beetle (common rose-chafer) whose “gold-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab” beetle, in Jung’s own words. It seems, then, that Jung was exerting some poetic license at the moment he gave the beetle to his patient and in his later description of the episode.

Does it matter that it wasn’t technically a scarab beetle? Clearly it didn’t matter to the patient, of whom Jung claims “this experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism…” Would this have happened without Jung’s poetic license? We have no way of knowing. These details demonstrate that there is a large gray area with respect to synchronicities that each of us must navigate when assigning meaning to particular events.

This criticism aside, we all have surely had numerous synchronicities happen to us that demonstrate my broader points above: there are deep mysteries inherent in reality and we cannot, if we are to be scientific, ignore these mysteries and the dimly-perceived world of deeper meanings that synchronicities sometimes highlight in each of our lives.

——

Check out my book Eco. Ego. Eros.

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Consciousness

The Study of Fundamental Consciousness Entering the Mainstream

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Consciousness is appearing to be a fundamental property, just like liquids, solids and gas, consciousness and its connection to the physical material world is now gaining big time credibility.

  • Reflect On:

    How much do we have yet to discover? Are we ready to abandon what we thought we knew in light of new discoveries and evidence?

The world-renowned neuroscientist Christof Koch, spent nearly two decades working alongside the co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, Francis Crick. Their mission was to find the neurobiological basis of consciousness. They discovered many insights into cognition and the functioning of perception, yet the central enigma, the nature of consciousness itself, remained mysteriously elusive.

In 2009, Koch shocked the scientific community by publishing his conviction that consciousness probably isn’t just in brains, but is a fundamental feature of reality. This is a view known to philosophers as ‘panpsychism.’ The theory Koch is now dedicating his research to is called ‘Integrated Information Theory’ or ‘IIT.’ It is the brainchild of neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In explaining his theory, Tononi asks us to consider a simple light sensitive photo diode like those found in a digital camera. A simple diode might respond to just two states: light or dark. We could present our diode with any number of images, yet regardless of the picture, the diode conforms to one of only two possible states. Is it light, or is it dark?

Now consider yourself looking at the same picture, lets say, of the Eiffel Tower on a beautiful spring day in Paris. For us, looking at this image results in a reduction from a near infinity of possible states. Not an image of the Andromeda galaxy, not a childhood picture of your mother, not cells dividing in a Petri dish and so on.  Because of the vast number of images we are capable of recognizing, each one is highly informative. For Tononi, the vast amount of information capable of being integrated in the brain means that we have a comparatively huge capacity for consciousness.

Tononi’s theory, that consciousness is born out of networks with high integrated information, has novel ways of being tested in the laboratory.

In studies with sleeping participants, Tononi and his colleagues used transcranial magnetic stimulation to send a ripple of activity through the cortex of sleeping participants. The researchers found that when dreaming, this ripple reverberated through the cortex longer than when participants were in stages of dreamless sleep. This demonstrated that during dreaming, when the brain is conscious, the cortex has a higher degree of integration.

In another experiment, the researchers built tiny robots known as ‘animats’ that were placed into mazes. The animats used simple integrated networks capable of evolving over sequential generations. To their surprise, the greater the degree of integration that the animats evolved, the quicker they were able to escape the mazes. For Tononi this finding suggested that consciousness may play a more central role in evolution than had previously been thought.

The mathematical value of integrated information in a network is known as phi. But Tononi’s theory, now the topic of serious mainstream discussion, has an extraordinary implication. Phi didn’t just occur in brains, -it is a property of any network with a total informational content greater than its individual parts. Every living cell, every electronic circuit, even a proton consisting of just three elementary particles have a value of phi greater than zero. According to Integrated Information Theory, all of these things possess something, albeit but a glimmer of ‘what it is like’ to be them. Tononi states:

“Consciousness is a fundamental property, like mass or charge. Wherever there is an entity with multiple states, there is some consciousness. You need a special structure to get a lot of it but consciousness is everywhere, it is a fundamental property.”

Integrated information theory is in its infancy and there are still many questions it must face. Did the information of brains operate at the level of the neuron, or the protein, or something deeper still? The electromagnetic field of the brain, as observed by psi researcher Dean Radin, is always re-establishing its quantum connection to the entire universe. Could a much richer informational interaction exist than has yet been imagined?

Physicists such as John Wheeler have laid the groundwork for a radical new understanding of reality, in which matter, the laws and constants of nature, and indeed the entire universe is best described, not in terms of physical objects, but through the play and display of a fundamental dynamic information.

Quantum mechanics suggests that at the deepest level of nature, the entire physical universe is interconnected. Might the total information of the universe be integrated in some deep sense? Is it in a mysterious way conscious of itself?

As spiritual traditions throughout the ages have long asserted, instead of isolated and separate experiencing beings, we may experience on behalf of the greater evolving system in which we find ourselves.

In Koch’s highly anticipated 2012 book, ‘Consciousness – Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist’, he states:

“I do believe that the laws of physics overwhelmingly favored the emergence of consciousness. The universe is a work in progress. Such a belief evokes jeremiads from many biologists and philosophers but the evidence from cosmology, biology and history is compelling.”

Regardless of the validity of Tononi’s theory, today increasing numbers of scientists and academics are convinced that the existence of consciousness simply cannot be sensibly denied. The study of fundamental consciousness is now entering the mainstream. This movement consists of thinkers in and outside of the mind sciences. Yet despite their different academic backgrounds, they are united by two common convictions: that consciousness is an intrinsic rather than incidental emergence in the universe, and that any complete account of reality must include an explanation of it.

 Sources:

 Koch, C. (2009, August 18). A complex theory of consciousness: Is complexity the secret to sentience, to a panpsychic view of consciousness? Scientific American.

 Tononi, G. (2008). Consciousness as integrated information: A provisional manifesto. Biological Bulletin, 215(3), 216-242.

 Edlund, J. A., Chaumont, N., Hintze, A., Koch C., Tononi G., & Adami, C. (2011). Integrated information increases with fitness in the evolution of animats. PLoS Computational Biology, 7(10).

 Radin, D. I. (2006). Entangled Minds: Extrasensory experiences in quantum reality. New York: Simon & Schuster.

 Koch, C. (2012). Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist. MIT Press Books.

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Alternative News

If You Could Power Your Entire Home With 60 Minutes Of Cycling, Would You Do It?

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Mechanical energy, converted into kinetic energy can provide the energy that we use on a regular basis to power our homes and electronic devices.

  • Reflect On:

    Rather than focusing on the current problems in our world it is great to change gears and have a look at all of the solutions that are popping up all over the world.

Imagine if your morning workout could power your home for the entire day, all the way until your next morning workout. Well, you may not have to imagine, as this technology exists now. Manoj Bhargava has invented a new exercise bike that can power some homes for 24 hours after use for only sixty minutes per day.

This invention was a part of a new initiative to bring electricity to places that undergo frequent power outages or may only have access to power for a few hours during the day. In our modern age, going without electricity can really separate a person from the rest of the world. Bhargava’s mission is to bridge the gap for those who suffer from poverty and make it easier for them to access the same information as the rest of the world, potentially giving them more opportunities in life.

The Free Electric

The above heading is also the name of this awesome and innovative bike serving as a solution to a pretty significant issue in the underdeveloped nations of the world.

According to Bhargava, the Free Electric is meant to lead to “better health, more leisure time, better access to education and opportunities for entrepreneurship.” He also feels that it could, “literally change the world.”

Power to change the world? Bold statement, but if this is able to be implemented worldwide, I would absolutely have to agree with him. This technology not only has the capacity to assist those in poverty, but can also be used by the rest of the world as well as more and more people around the world who are aiming to reduce their usee of fossil fuels. I have a feeling that Millennials (such as myself) and younger generations would be all over this if its made available! Not only is it a great way to get your cardio in, but it provides FREE electricity that produces no other pollution.

As mentioned in the video, it is also a great solution in the face of natural, or even man made disasters because this type of electricity would not rely on that generated and sold by power companies. Perhaps even one day a way to stock up and store this energy will be possible — then, the opportunities here will be much more plentiful and could be a huge factor in reducing the amount of pollution our current methods of energy production are creating.

The Future Is Friendly

As much as there is sometimes destruction all around us, there is also innovation and ingenuity. Human beings have tremendous potential. Even though there are many problems that we as a society are facing, solutions are popping up and fast, and in most cases they already exist. Finding solutions doesn’t seem to be the problem, so ask yourself, what is?  It’s so great to see ideas such as these being conceptualized and then created and put into use so efficiently, it shows how our species is capable of stopping and potentially reversing some of the destruction that we have caused over the years.

This is absolutely a double win! We are constantly bombarded with news stories and articles that are telling us to be more active, stop sitting so much, and now with the Free Electric, we will have to be active before we can relax and enjoy the use of our precious technology.

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Physicists ‘Grow’ A Man Made Diamond From Nuclear Waste That’s Able To Generate Electricity

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Scientists have developed a technology that can convert leftover radioactive materials into diamond batteries to power a wide range of electronics.

  • Reflect On:

    Could this be the solution to use op all the radioactive materials on the planet and shut down nuclear power plants worldwide?

Currently there is more than 2 billion tons of nuclear waste across the globe. This nuclear waste is a hazardous threat to the environment if not disposed of correctly. Scientists have recently begun attempting to transform nuclear waste into batteries that could last for thousands of years. If they are successful with this conversion project it would be a double win, less nuclear waste contaminating our environment, and a way to reuse energy that was generated to give power to whatever requires it.

Diamond batteries that use the energy from leftover radioactive materials have been developed and tested by researchers at the University of Bristol. They are now hoping to be able to recycle the waste leftover from decommissioned nuclear power plants in the UK. According to the University, “New technology has been developed that uses nuclear waste to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery….A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current.” (source)

How Does This Work?

According to The Independent,

Carbon-14 isotopes extracted from graphite blocks produced by the plant are infused with wafer-thin diamonds to create the batteries, which researchers say are capable of providing power on a “near-infinite basis”.

Potential applications range from powering hearing aids and pacemakers, to extending the range of spacecraft to distances much further than are currently possible.

“Eventually, a highly powerful version of a diamond battery could power a mobile phone,” James Barker, from the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering, told The Independent.

“Primarily though, they are best for devices requiring long lifetime, low power and where it is difficult to replace energy sources.”

In order to make these diamond batteries safe for medical and consumer use they are encased in a non-radioactive diamond layer, which will absorb any radiation given off by the C14 source.

According to the University,

Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source.

Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University’s Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, said: “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation.  By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.”

Could This Be The Solution We’ve Been Searching For?

“The ultimate aim is to have a factory based at one of the former power stations in the South West that takes Carbon-14 isotopes directly from the graphite blocks for use in diamond batteries. This would significantly reduce the radioactivity of the remaining material, making it easier and safer to manage,” said Professor Tom Scott, director of the South West Nuclear Hub.

“With the majority of the UK’s nuclear power plants set to go offline in the next 10-15 years this presents a huge opportunity to recycle a large amount of material to generate power for so many great uses.”

Time will tell how effective this method that scientists have come up with will be able to be implemented worldwide, but if it is, just imagine the implications of what this technology could represent.

Is It Time To Move Away From Nuclear Energy?

You’d think since the Fukushima disaster there would be a worldwide agreement for countries to stop generating power from nuclear reactors and to safely shut down these plants. Nuclear disasters have devastating effects on our planet and all of it’s inhabitants, recovery from such accidents can take tens of thousands of years to lose their hazardous radioactivity. Take the Chernobyl disaster that occurred in 1986 and is now contained under a metal shell, this site will likely remain radioactive for up to 20,000 years.

Instead of waiting for these disasters to occur, shouldn’t we be safely dismantling these sites before any more devastating disasters occur? Thankfully many countries are vowing to shut down their nuclear power plants and we can only hope that the rest of the world will follow suit.

The Future Is Here

There are so many amazing technologies that have the capacity to revolutionize the way we use energy on this planet. Of course many of those are hidden from us, especially if they cannot be in some way profited from, and unfortunately as it seems, if they don’t exploit the environment and our resources in some way.

As innovative ideas abound and technology continues to rapidly develop, we have to assume that safer and more innovative means of producing electricity will be uncovered. Hopefully these technologies will also have the capacity to undo some of the damage that we have done to our planet.

At the end of the day, using nuclear energy is not needed anymore, and in reality nuclear waste should not even exist at this point in our development as a collective.

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