[ freespace ]: My Antidepressant

•June 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

[ freespace ]

I have a mild form of depression. It’s not medication-worthy, but it’s there. A few times a month I get sidetracked in a cycle of self-doubt and apathy. It’s frustrating—like delays on the road of destiny—but I deal with it. Despite success in my career, community, art, etc., I sometimes can’t find that spark of inspiration to move me through a day. This month it didn’t happen. Why? I engaged in a series of creative projects that took up most of my free time, but this is nothing new: I’ve always pursued creative projects that interest me. The difference in June was that I had a space to showcase these works-in-progress and collaborate with like-minded people. Instead of soldering electronics alone in my workshop, I was in a room with a steady flow of people. While testing my BigPOV project, I was approached with “What’s that?”s and “Whoa cool!”s. I spoke about my plans for digital civic art to a room of 50 people. I helped install a slide. I collaborated on an open-source project. The difference was [ freespace ]: an experiment in “civic hacking” held in a 14000-square-foot warehouse. Since it started on June 1st, [ freespace ] hosted just about every event you can think of: dance classes, salons, yoga, paella cooks, gardening parties, classical music concerts, clothing “swap-n-sews”…the list goes on. It houses art projects of every conceivable flavor, from spray-painted murals to kinetic sculptures. But really, it’s just a space: a space for people to come together, to be creative, to do something that interests them. Apparently, a space like this is what I need to feel constantly engaged and invigorated with artistic expression. The crazy part is, [ freespace ] is just getting started. I’m writing this on the 24th day of its existence. There’s so much more in store for this space—so many more lives it can touch. But here’s the rub: the $1 lease that enabled this crazy experiment ends in less than a week. The building then returns to the market with a $25000-a-month price tag, and it will probably fall back into disrepair until something big changes in the neighborhood. But [ freespace ] can continue. An Indiegogo campaign, ending this Friday, seeks to raise the funds to pay for a second month and see what’s possible. I urge you to consider supporting this priceless space for civic engagement and creativity.

Oh, and while you’re at it, you should come to my LASER BOOGIE party at the space tonight!

When Skepticism Goes Too Far

•March 30, 2013 • 3 Comments

We can all agree that Scientology is the root of all bullshit.

Crispian Jago is out to rid the world of “unevidenced beliefs.” He displays these in a Venn diagram, which was picked up by Boing Boing. In Jago’s view, concepts as diverse as angels, reiki, and ouija boards are all shams perpetrated on a gullible public, “completely bereft of any form of scientific credibility.”

Well, hold that thought. The New York Times reports that “a new study of acupuncture — the most rigorous and detailed analysis of the treatment to date — found that it can ease migraines and arthritis and other forms of chronic pain.” It used data from 18,000 patients. I would call that scientific credibility for a practice classified under “quackery bollocks” in Jago’s diagram.

To be sure, many of the “bollocks” Jago references are concepts rooted in belief, not proof. Does that mean they are useless, or worse, harmful to society? There are indeed many snake-oil salespeople out there, getting rich off suckers who believe what they hear. It is a tragedy that schools in our society would even consider teaching “intelligent design” alongside evolution. While they might otherwise be harmless, ayurvedic medicines often contain dangerous amounts of heavy metals.

But even if a treatment doesn’t have a medically-proven benefit, is it worthless? If you haven’t yet, you should watch this 3-minute video on placebos right now:

If a placebo can be as effective as real medicine—if “our minds create the medicine”—who are we to say that an elaborately-packaged placebo isn’t a valuable treatment? And if certain placebos work for certain cultures—qi in China, shiatsu in Japan—must we defile these cherished institutions, irrespective of their cultural value?

And it isn’t just slander of sugar pills that should concern us. In the case of acupuncture, Jago called it nonsense when the science hadn’t really been done. What other treatments is he deriding without adequate proof? I suspect that yoga and meditation might have made his diagram just a few years ago, before rigorous studies indicated their benefit.

At the very least, responsible thinkers should tolerate practices that help society, regardless of their proven effectiveness. Beyond that, an openness to things science doesn’t yet understand will hasten that understanding instead of hindering it. Closed-mindedness is the real “bollocks.”

A Note About Skepticism

•August 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Balloons fall up?! Mind: blown.

As I was writing my last post, I realized that it sounded like I was treating the quote from Seth Speaks as truth. This quote is from a book, which was transcribed from shorthand, which was written by the husband of the woman who claimed to channel a disembodied consciousness. (Whew!)

There are three types of information available to us: personal experience, knowledge that can be scientifically verified, and knowledge that cannot be scientifically verified. I want my thinking to encompass all three.

I listen to my personal experiences because they feel intuitively true. They are rare. They do not feel like creations solely of my mind. They coincide with other knowledge.

Verifiable knowledge is essential, particularly for those logicians out there who refuse to believe anything else. This is fair. The other types could easily be lies, fabricated for a variety of reasons, even unconscious. Indeed, maybe someone really has seen the Flying Spaghetti Monster; maybe they just made it up, or their mind made it up to satisfy some need. No one can know for sure.

Scientifically unverifiable knowledge is usually the personal experience of someone else. What shall we do with it? I struggle with this question daily. One moment I’m in awe of a book’s teachings; the next it sounds like hogwash conceived to start a lucrative therapy business. What’s one to do? Surely something in the middle.

Despite what an academic might tell you, none of the knowledge gained by science is knowably true. Take for example the Newtonian notion that objects on Earth fall down. You repeat this experiment a thousand times with a thousand different objects and get the same result. By induction, you conclude that this is true. Then someone shows you a helium balloon and your worldview is shattered. You can expand this to just about anything we consider “true” by scientific standards: we could wake up tomorrow to find a green sky, clocks spinning backwards, dogs and cats living together. All science really says is, “Look, really smart, sober people have seen this happen a bunch of times all over the world. It will probably keep happening.”

The more I read about spiritual matters, the more consistent everything is. When you squint to remove cultural bias, the world’s religions all start to look about the same. New-age mysticism has a consistency of its own, and does a reasonable job aligning with older spiritual contexts. So really, maybe we can consider scientifically unverifiable knowledge as a slightly looser version of science’s: “Smart (not necessarily sober) people have seen this happen a bunch of times all over the world. See if it happens to you.”

To save space, I will not preface every post with this. The knowledge I share here is true to someone; maybe it will be for you too.

Seth Speaks . . . On Hacking Samsara

•August 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Seth, painted by Jane Roberts’s husband.

Seth, the disembodied consciousness who spoke through Jane Roberts, has something to say about my idea of reincarnation being a system of “hackable” lifetimes:

You may think of your soul or entity—though only briefly and for the sake of this analogy—as some conscious and living, divinely inspired computer who programs its own existences and lifetimes. But this computer is so highly endowed with creativity that each of the various personalities it programs spring into consciousness and song, and in turn create realities that may have been undreamed of by the computer itself.

Each such personality, however, comes with a built-in idea of the reality in which it will operate, and its mental equipment is highly tailored to meet very specialized environments. It has full freedom, but it must operate within the context of existence to which it has been programmed. Within the personality, however, in the most secret recesses, is the condensed knowledge that resides in the computer as a whole. I must emphasize that I am not saying that the soul or entity is a computer, but only asking you to look at the matter in this light in order to make several points clear.

from Seth Speaks, full text here

Seth stresses that this is an analogy, which should be obvious: the mechanism by which lifetimes are initiated is surely infinitely more complex than any computer we’ve created on Earth. (Note also that Seth Speaks was published in 1972, the same year Pong shipped.) Yet he says that personalities, or lifetimes, are indeed programmed in a similar fashion. Like computer programs, there are initial conditions and constraints (“context”). There are intended events and goals.

More interesting, however, is how Seth describes our lifetime “programs” transcending these conditions. Here one might think of software that becomes intelligent and exceeds the expectations of the programmer, like Photoshop starting to paint on its own. Furthermore, the reference to “the condensed knowledge that resides on the computer” suggests that we can access the memories and wisdom gleaned from numerous lifetimes, if we can find the “secret recesses.” Past-life hypnotic regression may be a method of accessing this information.

Star Trek and Reincarnation

•August 6, 2012 • 2 Comments

Riker and Worf experience déjà vu, or nIb’poH in Klingon.

I grew up watching Star Trek and still have a special fondness for it. The show has been known for its social commentary, from one of television’s first interracial kisses to an examination of LGBT rights back in 1992. With science fiction as its vehicle, the franchise was a venue for a variety of thought experiments. It may have also presented an allegory for samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth.

In Cause and Effect, the crew of the Enterprise are caught in a loop of time, repeating a day over and over that ends in the explosion of the starship. They experience déjà vu, hear the voices from past iterations, and can predict cards dealt in a hand of poker. Investigation (and several more iterations) reveals their predicament, as well as a way of relaying a short message to themselves in the next loop via the android Data. In another run, Data “subconsciously” manifests the number 3 in a variety of circumstances, including the poker game. He later interprets these “synchronous” events as the message that helps the Enterprise escape the loop.

The correspondence with reincarnation is clear: the crew increases their awareness over successive iterations, experiencing “past-life” memories, eventually gaining enough insight to escape the cycle. Upon reading the episode’s Wikipedia article, I learned that the script called for an even more overt reference, to be sung (but in the final cut was hummed) by Dr. Crusher:

Hello, mama, my name is Jack,
Hello to the world, I’m coming back,
I’ve been here before as an Egyptian cat,
So, hello, mama, welcome me back.

Though almost certainly unintentional, the episode also provides a handy metaphor for my theory about “hacking” the death-rebirth cycle. Using a piece of technology, Data is able to send a message to his future self. This message doesn’t manifest obviously; instead, it unfolds in a sequence of synchronous events that he eventually interprets as the key to the crew’s freedom. Similarly, my soul has designed messages for my current incarnation in the form of synchronous events, interpreted as signposts for the path I should travel.

Hacking Samsara

•August 2, 2012 • 3 Comments

In Life Between Life, Whitton and Fisher discuss a subject hypnotically regressed into the realm between lives. While planning an incarnation, the subject describes:

. . . a sort of clockwork instrument into which you could insert certain parts in order for specific consequences to follow. I deduced that I was working on something that I wanted to change. And I was setting up this change by working with this machinery, making the necessary alterations to the interlife plan in order that they might transpire in my forthcoming life on Earth.

I have intuited during entheogenic experiences that synchronicity is the successful blossoming of “code” written by my soul between lives. I set up the initial conditions of my incarnation in such a way that as my life unfolds—analogous to the compiling and running of computer code—events, people, and things align in beautiful, fortunate, noticeable ways.

I was agnostic and staunchly skeptical for my first quarter-century on Earth, but eventually visions and synchronicities became too convincing to ignore. Perhaps these are messages I’ve coded for myself, to hasten my awareness of the spiritual.

Full disclosure: I am a computer scientist, so this idea may have self-aggrandizing roots. On the other hand, maybe my propensity for “coding” in the realm between lives has simply bled over into this incarnation. The cycle of death and rebirth is indeed similar to the continued running of a piece of code: learning from mistakes (bugs, crashes); making tweaks; the excitement and anticipation of hitting the “compile/run/incarnate” button, waiting to see how things play out this time around. The code, like our souls, becomes increasingly complex and powerful.

The idea of technology intersecting with the spiritual realm may seem strange, but really, technology is just “the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal or perform a specific function” (Wikipedia). If enlightenment is viewed as a goal, learning of any sort can be seen as the “knowledge of . . . techniques” used in pursuit of this goal. Consider also the fact that some portion of our lives is determined by the code of our DNA. Maybe the rest is determined by the code of our souls.

The Diver

•August 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

. . . the heavy diving suit is the physical body and the sea the ocean of life. At birth man assumes the diving suit, but his spirit is always connected by a line to the light above. Man descends into the depths of the sea of sorrow and mortality that he may find there the hidden treasures of wisdom, for experience and understanding are pearls of great price and to gain them man must bear all things. When the treasure has been found, or his hours of labor are over, he is drawn back into the boat again, and taking off the heavy armor breathes the fresh air and feels free once more. Wise men realize that this incident we call life is only one trip to the bottom of the sea; that we have been down many times before and must go down many times again before we find the treasure.

Manly P. Hall in Death to Rebirth, via Life Between Life

Toward a Comprehensive View of the Afterlife

•July 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The blog has fallen silent as my research and contemplation deepen. On the heels of reading Many Lives, Many Masters, I was introduced to Journey of Souls, which details the realm between lives as described by hypnotized persons. I plan to review the book in detail in a future post, once I’ve finished it and had time to let it settle. For now I’ll say that it is audacious in its specificity: aura colors denote enlightenment “rank”; advanced souls practice manipulating matter on a “sandbox” planet; groups of souls study with special “living books” in classrooms.

What began as an awe-inspiring account of the afterlife began to look too consistent and specific—even bureaucratic—to be an accurate representation of what happens between lives. Since then I’ve struggled between openness and skepticism as I work my way through latter chapters.

What is evident, though, is the large volume of works on the subject of reincarnation. Even in negative Amazon reviews for Journey of Souls, reviewers suggest other books they claim represent the afterlife more accurately. I plan to dive deep into this realm in an attempt to collect an “average” model. I’d also like to undergo past-life hypnotherapy myself, hoping I haven’t tainted the experience with the expectations I already have!

Many thanks: for reading so far; for Like-ing and tweeting and such; for comments, suggestions, encouragement, and love! Keep ’em coming!

Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife

•July 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment


The near-death experience (NDE) is a popular meme in our society, referenced with visions of white light at the end of a tunnel, faces of deceased loved ones, life flashing before one’s eyes. These stereotypes are surprisingly similar to the large body of reported NDE cases, which themselves are startlingly consistent.

Irreducible Mind (a scholarly work on the mind-body problem I mentioned previously) details the compelling NDE of a woman who underwent surgery to remove a life-threatening brain aneurysm. Her eyes were taped shut and her ears plugged with molded earphones emitting loud (95 dB, power lawnmower) clicking noises. She was placed under anesthesia and her heart and brain were stopped and drained of blood. Despite and during all this, she could accurately describe the unusual saw used to open her skull, a nurse’s comments on the smallness of her veins and arteries, and the ironic line from “Hotel California” playing in the background: You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

The patient also described the sensation of “being pulled along a ‘tunnel vortex’ toward a light.” She saw and heard dead relatives who told her she needed to go back to her body. She claimed she felt “the most aware that I think I have ever been in my life,” with vision “brighter and more focused and clearer than normal,” and “a clearer hearing than with my ears” (and she’s a musician!).

How can ears plugged with a lawnmower hear a person’s voice? Furthermore, how can a brain dead to the world hear anything at all? If the mind is merely a function of the physical brain, how can a dying brain support a mind experiencing unprecedented clarity?

Michael Newton’s Journey of Souls suggests that NDEs such as this are in fact the first steps of the afterlife experience. The tunnel is the portal to the realm Newton’s subjects describe in great detail. Familiar souls greet the deceased or near-dead, welcoming or turning them back, respectively. The review of a lifetime of memories is used to reflect on lessons learned as well as best practices for future lifetimes. In future posts I’ll examine this between-life realm as described in a variety of sources.

Many Lives, Many Masters

•July 18, 2012 • 3 Comments

Many Lives, Many Masters details the author’s past-life hypnotic regression therapy with a troubled patient Catherine. Beyond her past-life memories, which are vivid and compelling, Catherine shows an ability to communicate with “masters” of the realm between lives. She also details impossible-to-know facts about author Brian Weiss‘s life, and picks horserace winners with stunning accuracy. Weiss notes distinct voices coming from his otherwise-mild-mannered patient, differing in style, tone, syntax, etc. If one believes this account, and Catherine’s connection with the in-between, she’s basically laid out the meaning of life for all to read.

Our task is to learn. . . . By knowledge we approach God, and then we can rest. Then we come back to teach and help others. . . . The master spirits tell me. They tell me I have lived 86 times in physical state.

Reincarnation, many lives, “master spirits.” The act of enlightened beings returning to help others suggests bodhisattvas are legit.

There are many souls in this dimension. . . . There are many dimensions. I have been to different planes at different times. One one is a level of higher consciousness. . . . We all have abilities far beyond what we use. Some of us find this out sooner than others.

Planes of consciousness. Supernatural abilities: healing? What else?

We are given intuitive powers we should follow and not try to resist. Those who resist will meet with danger. We are not sent back from each plane with equal powers. Some of us possess powers greater than others, because they have been accrued from other times. Thus, people are not all created equal. But eventually we will reach a point where we will all be equal.

How does one sense these intuitive powers, or know if one is resisting? I think synchronicity helps us with that. Power accrued over lifetimes suggests notions of “old souls” are accurate, or at least souls that have somehow become more advanced. It might seem troublesome to say people are not created equal, but the stress is obviously on teaching:

We must also learn not to just go to those people whose vibrations are the same as ours. It is normal to feel drawn to somebody that is on the same level that you are. But this is wrong. You must also go to those people whose vibrations are wrong with yours. This is the importance in helping these people.

Direct reference to karma:

We have no right to halt people’s lives before they have lived out their karma. . . . they will suffer greater retribution if we let them live. When they die and go to the next dimension, they will suffer there. They will be left in a very restless state. They will have no peace. They will be sent back but their lives will be very hard, and they will have to make up to those people that they hurt . . .

Suggesting that even between lives, souls are punished for wrongdoing. Future lives will carry the “bad karma” that needs to be worked out.

Catherine’s specificity suggests that she isn’t just assembling forgotten lessons from a childhood world religions class. From Weiss’s descriptions, this talk is completely uncharacteristic of her. Is it legitimate?

More to come in another quote-happy post. Thanks to Bradley for the tip.