#567: Navigating Paradox, Reality Bubbles, & Multiple Worldviews with VR

Marilyn-SchlitzDr. Marilyn Schlitz is a social anthropologist, consciousness researcher, and co-author of the books Consciousness & Healing and Living Deeply. Her anthropological work has been at the frontier of researching how different cultures use various indigenous practices to invoke mind-body interactions for the sake of healing, and she’s come up with higher order frameworks to describe consciousness transformations from spiritual practices. She’s starting to look at how to invoke states of awe & wonder within VR, and whether this will be able to catalyze collective shifts in consciousness.

She says that we’re each living within our own reality bubbles, and that some of the most important skills in the 21st Century will be able to come to an awareness of our filters and to cultivate the capacity to understand, empathize, and interact with people who are living in completely different models of reality. We talk about some of the game design work that she’s doing in order to achieve this, as well as how virtual reality might provide a window into our multidimensional nature and help us become more aware of our own aspects of inattentional blindness.


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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. I had recently attended this Institute of Noetic Sciences conference, and at that conference, I had a chance to talk to one of my own personal heroes, Marilyn Schlitz. Now, Dr. Marilyn Schlitz is a social anthropologist and consciousness researcher, and she's written a number of books. One of the books had a really profound impact on me. She was a co-author of it back in 2005. It's called Consciousness and Healing. And consciousness is a huge open question as to what it is and how it fits into our mainstream scientific paradigm. At this point, our existing paradigms don't really describe what it is very well. And so Marilyn has been leading all of this frontier science into looking into the nature of consciousness. It turns out that the one area where consciousness is probably the most well studied is in the realm of healing. Because they have the placebo effect, you have this downward causation of the mind being able to impact the body, your thoughts, your beliefs, meditation used to be something that was this more esoteric thing, but now there's been so much research proving out that there is some sort of mind-body interaction that's going on, and there's a utility for looking at ourselves as these whole systems rather than these mechanical reductionistic machines. And I've been talking to a lot of people about these deeper philosophies about free will. Are we these just deterministic robots that have this illusion of free will? Someone like Sam Harris or Daniel Dennett will talk about that all of our consciousness is just an illusion that is emergent from our neuroscience. Some people argue that it's not emergent, that it's actually either a fundamental part of our universe below physics, or it's something that's universal, that it's embedded into every photon and electron that's out there, has some degree of consciousness. These were some of the more radical ideas that were being discussed at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and I think whenever you're on the fringes of science, you start to pay attention to the philosophy of science, and the history of science, and to how science evolves through anomalies. And through that same process of paradigm evolution, you can look at consciousness evolution. What does it take for someone to change their mind? So, Dr. Mary Lynch Litz has been studying all of these different worldviews and their approach to healing, and she co-authored a book called Living Deeply, where she broke down the different fundamental components of spiritual transformation, which I covered in my previous interview with the other co-author, Cassandra Vieten. And so in this interview, we talk about consciousness and its potential to be able to invoke these different worldview shifts and transformation. How can you use awe and wonder to invoke this sense of vastness? But also, what are the deeper skill sets that we need in order to navigate this world that is just ripe with so much polarization? So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Marilyn happened on Sunday, July 23rd at the Institute of Noetic Sciences Conference in Oakland, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:03:18.230] Marilyn Schlitz: Dr. Meryl Enschlitz, and I am a social anthropologist, psychologist, and consciousness researcher, and I work at Sophia University, which is in the hub of Silicon Valley, and there's tremendous amounts of interaction and entrepreneurship and really cutting-edge technology, as we know. And so as a person who's been studying consciousness and transpersonal experiences and these kinds of awe-inspiring, life-changing, worldview-shifting experiences that people report, I'm interested in studying that more deeply. I've been tracking what are the catalysts of transformation, what are the practices, what are the kind of skill sets we need in order to sustain these life-affirming shifts. And so virtual reality offers kind of a next step in terms of how we can give people these immersive experiences that can ultimately shift their perspective, their understanding of who they are, their relationship to the world, their embeddedness in this large cosmos. And I think to be able to really begin fully to think beyond the five senses so that they can perhaps make some leaps in terms of their own experiences.

[00:04:35.621] Kent Bye: Maybe you could go into a little bit more of how you see awe being connected to like an expansion of worldview when you look at like Thomas Kuhn and the structure of scientific revolutions and new paradigms, but also just like consciousness transformation. Maybe you could connect the dots a little bit more explicitly there between how you see awe and how you see that as a catalyst for transformation.

[00:04:56.258] Marilyn Schlitz: Yeah, I don't remember Thomas Kuhn talking about awe specifically, but he was very interested in how it is that our worldviews can shift in very fundamental ways that, you know, he uses in his book the idea that, you know, the Earth was seen as the center of the universe and it was all about us. And, you know, eventually through discovery they found that it was a sun-centered universe rather than an Earth-centered universe. And suddenly we were shifted out of that dominant position. And I think one of the things that happened as a result of the NASA program, the space exploration program, is people got an awesome experience. It was an awe-filled experience of seeing planet Earth from a different vantage point. recognizing the whole systems approach. I think it was during the Apollo program that we suddenly started getting these changing images of what is planet Earth and who are we in the larger cosmos. In that process, there is a capacity for wonder, for a suspension of disbelief, because something is so mysterious and we don't understand it, but it's there and it's struck us in psychological, emotional, spiritual, physical ways. So that seems like a very important gateway for helping people to appreciate who we are and to have that sense that these worldviews are important. They drive our experience. We all see the world through our own filters. And then by having those kind of awesome shifts, we can begin to see that our worldview isn't fixed or absolute. That's where it connects to Thomas Kuhn, I think, is, you know, there was a freedom in his writing about we're not stuck in a particular paradigm, that paradigms change and they have changed over history and even in the science of our society over 400 years. So, awe is an avenue. I think one of the big questions that we need to raise is in all the positive psychology work and all the virtual reality immersion work that's coming out now, you know, very recently, that you've been tracking, I think it's important that we move beyond the narcissism of these experiences, you know, how I'm transformed. does our personal work in that pro-social kind of conditioning have a ripple effect? Are we actually able to create a kind of consciousness wave that when we've experienced awe or wonder or beauty or mystery, does that not only shift our worldview, but become kind of an epidemic of possibility? And so I think that these tools, the virtual reality, that full immersion-based experience, some kind of gaming that would help us to assess what's really happening in the minds and the bodies and the spirits of these people when they go under that technology is an opening and an opportunity for all of us to begin to sort of shift our perspective.

[00:07:57.774] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the things that I'm also noticing from the VR community is that a lot of people are going into virtual reality and having this experience of having all their senses hacked and they have this direct experience, this lived experience of being transported into another world, but yet intellectually they know it's all synthetic and so then they come out and then they're like, Well, if my brain was able to be convinced to that extent that that was real, are we living in a simulated universe and what is reality? And so I see this sort of openness to the changing of a new fundamental philosophical worldviews within the existing dualistic model that could be compatible, that there's an internal and external world and they're just separate. Materialism, I guess, is still there's like hope that eventually they're going to go from neuroscience to be able to track the traces of consciousness. And so there's a lot of people that still have a lot of hope there. And there's other people who are making a leap into other worldviews, whether it's panpsychism or idealism, which is either that there's consciousness that's more fundamental and universal. And so from you, I know that you've you talked today about moving into a post-materialist world. And so what are some of the things that you see are driving the need to go beyond the materialistic paradigm into a completely different philosophical framework that can be more accommodating to some of the evidence that you've seen over the years?

[00:09:18.947] Marilyn Schlitz: One of the most fundamental skill sets we're going to need for the 21st century is our ability to manage paradox and to be able to live in a situation that isn't this or that. It's both and possibly a lot of other things, things beyond our normal sensory range. We know more and more that we have all these inattentional blindnesses. There are vast realms of possibility that we never track because we don't expect to see them. We're not cognitively wired for that. So that's where you start to see something like virtual reality offering a window into this multi-dimensional nature. Maybe it's parallel universes and string theory uniting and folding and maybe that gives us precognition. Who knows? I think it would be a lot easier to study those things if people anticipated that it could work. And that's where I think some of these immersion experiences can give people a little opening to that. So, the difference between, I mean, we live in a material world, I believe that's true. I think if you hit your head with a sledgehammer, you're going to notice some very physical things happening to your consciousness. And at the same time, we know from, you know, mystical reports through the eons that people have these out-of-body experiences, these mystical experiences that suggest something greater. And then when you bring that together with these ideas that are coming out of quantum mechanics and the notion that we have these superpositions and entanglements and that there are ways at the macro level that we're behaving like quantum processors, that begins to shift our views. And it also may be providing some theoretical frameworks for understanding things like precognition, say. You know, again, these are experiences people have reported throughout history, and yet science and the material model doesn't accept that. There's no explanation for it. But what's happening is the math is changing, the worldview is changing, and, you know, we just heard a speech by a woman who's an astronaut on her way to the Mars mission. And her imagination is well beyond the average person in terms of what's possible from all of this. You know, she wants to colonize. She's going out there. She's going to have a real immersion experience. I just think it's this moment, it's a propitious moment where there's all this possibility and if we can move beyond overwhelm and fear and anxiety about change, and really be able to make peace with paradox, I think we'll have a very important set of tools for ourselves.

[00:11:56.891] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the things that gets me the most excited is just the unknown latent human potentials that could be unlocked given the ability to completely control our perceptual input and all the different senses to be able to hack into our minds to the point where we're able to be able to have experiences that have real neuroplasticity impacts. And we've already seen some evidence of that, whether it's from David Eagleman turning the torso into an ear with sensory replacement or sensory addition or James Blaha, Vivid Vision, being able to rewire his brain to be able to see in stereoscopic 3D for the first time. And so, from your perspective of studying the human potential for many, many years now, I'm just curious to hear your perspective as to how you see virtual reality as a technology or other technologies that could help start to unlock these unknown latent human potentials.

[00:12:46.183] Marilyn Schlitz: Well, I think there's different answers to that. There's the practical aspects of helping people to move when they are disabled, helping them to use their brainwave activity to manipulate machines. I think those are real practical things that ultimately are going to serve a lot of people who may not have, you know, the muscle coordination. There is also that sense of, you know, these mystical or spiritual experiences and, you know, there are a lot of overlaps. And then there's just the ability to capture amazing environments like the Grand Canyon or, you know, up in the Himalayas having this feeling of just exultation. And if you can then have that in a manageable way, I think that that could help people to feel into it. And then you start thinking about these, like, potentials, telepathy, clairvoyance, healing at a distance, you know, building a resilient immune system and getting feedback on how to do that and actually being in the body. If people are having chemotherapy or they're having dialysis, they could be really watching and integrating what's happening in their biochemistry, in their neurophysiology, in order to help enhance the healing response. Those are some really practical kind of perspectives that I think could help people. And I think it could help the researchers because we're simulating experiences that give people, at least for some moments, a sense of possibility. And I also know that it is, you know, what you said earlier, a problem in the research, for example, if you try to get people who walk by someone who's being harmed, the bystander effect. And we know that people typically will walk by somebody who's being harmed, especially if there's a large group, because they assume somebody else is going to take care of it. And so they've done these simulations with people where they are watching and they get involved, they become a hero. This is Phil Zimbardo's work. But the problem is that it's not real. And they know at some level that it's not real, even though they're in this immersion-based experience. My guess is that's going to start shifting very quickly and that we're going to be more and more convinced that we're in an alternate reality. And then the question is going to be, how do we navigate the real world? I guess cars will drive us around and we'll be fine.

[00:15:11.167] Kent Bye: Well, I think back in the Consciousness and Healing book from a number of years from these two of noetic sciences, there's an article in there that I think you authored about being able to carry multiple ontologies at the same time. So being able to hold different worldviews and different lenses to be able to interpret reality. I feel like as we're going into these different virtual worlds, there's almost like different assumptions that happen in each of these worlds, and so we're almost like training ourselves to have a direct experience of having multiple ontologies about what the rules of the game are in each of these different worlds. You mentioned this ability to be able to hold paradox within our minds and so I'm just curious if you could kind of expand on that, like what that means practically and the implications of being able to hold these different worldviews at the same time and why that's important.

[00:15:59.587] Marilyn Schlitz: I've had this privilege in my career to meet with and interview masters from different world traditions, you know, from very different cultures and worldviews, perspectives, beliefs, and, you know, have found a lot of commonalities across them, but there are also fundamental differences. And it's like you think about going to the grocery store or to the hospital, and there are a multiplicity of worldviews that are coexisting together. You've got Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and Christians and atheists and Wiccans, you know, the pagans. All of them using the same resources and yet carrying within them these different maps of possibility. So their whole understanding of what causes illness, what are the best treatment modalities to cure or treat an illness. these are very different. And if somebody doesn't want medical intervention because they're a Christian scientist, and the team are all very Western medically based, you have these conflicts between worldviews. And I guess in the course of what I've been studying, I have come to have a little comfort in the idea that it's almost as though we're all walking around in our own little ontological bubbles. And we occupy a whole set of, you know, assumptions and worldviews within this bubble. And there's certain aspects of our embodiedness, I guess, that will allow us to walk through the hospital together or to be in the grocery store together. And yet, what's going on inside us is fundamentally different. So another skill set for the 21st century, I would say, in addition to paradox, is this ability to hold the multiplicity of ontologies and recognize that there are these kind of meta-ontologies, which are, we're all different. We all see the world through a different frame and that we need to recognize that because that controls us. And for the most part, these worldviews are invisible to us. We don't know that we have this navigation system that's been conditioned into us throughout our whole life. And so, first of all, becoming aware. And I think virtual reality and some of these tools could help us to become more aware of where we're tripping ourselves up. And then to know that other people have alternative worldviews and that we may conflict with those perspectives, which we see in the world today. There's also co-option. One truth system tries to dominate another one, which is problematic. And then there's this kind of creative convergence where we recognize that we are living in different little reality places and that maybe we need to learn the skills of interaction, of empathy, of compassion, whatever the tool set is in order to really be able to effectively understand and learn from people representing these different true systems. So, and then, you know, maybe there are these non-dual aspects that ultimately all the different truth systems meet someplace, and it is that great singularity. These are just possibilities, but we're here at this Institute of Neuretic Sciences conference, and it's all about possibilities, so why not?

[00:19:09.377] Kent Bye: Well, I think the other thing about virtual reality is that people are focusing on presence and direct experience, and it's entering the body into media in a new way. Whereas film, it may be engaging the emotions in a way, and gaming is all about making choices and expressing your agency, but being able to be fully immersed and having all of your sensory perceptions within media I think is new, and so it's able to capture human experience in a new way. Because you've been studying direct experience and embodiment through the lens of different spiritual practices, I'm just curious to hear some of your perspectives of what can some of these wisdom traditions have to teach virtual reality in terms of either embodiment or presence?

[00:19:51.078] Marilyn Schlitz: Well, there are a lot of interesting experiences like out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences that are truly profound and life-changing. And if you can simulate those things without somebody actually having to die in the process, that could be good. It could be a little portal into another way of understanding the range of conscious experiences. Yeah, I think because you've got all the senses engaged in the virtual reality piece, it allows for, I suppose it's similar to a psychedelic experience, where you can really switch gears and see things from a very different point of view. Maybe a little more manageable, because you can always turn it off. I just think possibilities, one of the things I have been talking to a colleague in China about, or Hong Kong actually, Jinou Yu, is creating these games that are immersion-based games that are multiplayer, and you take them through different worldviews. And if you want to go talk to Thach Nhat Hanh, or you want to go talk to Gandhi, or you want to hear some insights from Aldous Huxley, whoever it is. And there would be ways in which, first of all, you have to develop your competency to be a worldview navigator. And then once you're out there together, you'd be solving collective crises or whatever, because games like that stuff. And you would really be teaching people about worldview, inviting them to come into collectives so they are problem solving together. and problem solving from all different perspectives, you know, because we could be virtual in that way. So those kind of things I think could be very useful for kids learning about worldview, for helping us to address it at the next level of generation. Yeah, it's all very exciting.

[00:21:37.449] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:21:44.425] Marilyn Schlitz: I have no idea what the ultimate is because it's all changing so fast every day. And we're all becoming bionic. I mean, that's true. You know, people have hip transplants or, you know, whatever those technologies are that are being put into our bodies. And then the whole cloning thing, we have capacities to create new life forms in the course of an afternoon that once took millions of years. So that's mind-boggling and fascinating. I think the integration of biology and computers is something that has yet to be really formulated and what are the implications of that as we, you know, become robotic in our own existence and robots become more human and I think the world in the next 20 years is going to be profoundly different and technology is playing a huge role. The challenge is to take the wisdom from these different traditions and help guide that technology so that it serves the betterment of humanity rather than seeing it as another tool of destruction or manipulation or money, you know. I don't think you can't make money by developing these things. I think that's good. Livelihood is good. But we need to just be very careful, very mindful, and take some of these principles of transformative practice to heart so that we are making good decisions for the future.

[00:23:09.038] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[00:23:11.719] Marilyn Schlitz: Thank you. You ask such great questions.

[00:23:14.715] Kent Bye: So that was Dr. Marilyn Schlitz. She's a social anthropologist, a psychologist, and a consciousness researcher, and the co-author of the books Consciousness and Healing, as well as Living Deeply. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, this is one of the interviews that has really, really stuck with me. Marilyn's advice for the skill sets that we need in the 21st century, I think, are dead on. The first one is being able to deal with paradox. I think that there's a certain amount of hubris that we can have in terms of thinking that we've got everything figured out. And I think that part of what science can show us is that there is just always something that we don't know. There's always anomalies, there's always the frontiers and the evolution of paradigms that Even though they're static now, they don't describe everything, and consciousness is one of those things that is in that limbo state of not being fully described. Because of that, there's just this vast amount of mystery and wonder and humility that we have to approach when we talk about these things. So being able to sit with paradox, I think, is really important because just by looking at how we take in information, if there's something that is contradicting our worldview, then we're often very quick to dismiss it or to ignore it or to not really find a way to accommodate it within our worldview. And if we're able to sit with that paradox for a little bit, we may be able to take pieces of information that may be able to open our minds to be able to see the world in a different way. And in combination with that paradox, I think, has to be some dimension of empathy. And if there's not a mutual respect of empathy, then it starts to become very difficult to do that. The other thing is just this ability to sit with many different worldviews. Now, from the perspective of Marilyn Schlitz, she's talking about the metaphysical assumptions of the Western science, which, because she's been doing consciousness research in combination with healing, she's got all this direct experience of all these other ways of knowing and other ways of being when it comes to doing either mindfulness-based stress reduction or beliefs or thoughts that are somehow having this mind-body interaction, downward causation of our consciousness into our body, which for the longest time was seen from Western science as being impossible. And for the last 44 years, the Institute of Noetic Sciences has been pushing this type of research. And it's just now that meditation and these types of contemplative wisdom traditions and practices are seen that they actually do have these different impacts onto our bodies. So Marilyn has to navigate between all these different mainstream science or whether it's a shamanic tradition or Chinese medicine or Ayurveda or Tibetan healing or indigenous practices. She's a social anthropologist so she's talking to all these different healers and trying to get at the essence of what they're doing and that's what she's written about in both Consciousness and Healing as well as the Living Deeply books. So being able to jump between these different worldviews, whether it's religious worldviews or scientific worldviews or political worldviews, being able to see the world through those different lenses I think is so difficult and it's something that I don't see often enough. It's actually so difficult to be able to have such a clear awareness of your own lens that you're looking through. As Marilyn said, we can't see it. We don't know that we have this navigation system that's been conditioned into us for our entire lives. And so Marilyn is saying that we're living in these different reality bubbles and that it's going to take a lot of skills of how to navigate interacting with each other with this sense of empathy and compassion. And so because Marilyn has been on this frontier science of doing research into these controversial topics of the extents of our human potential, some of the things that she mentions are that we could further cultivate the abilities to have telepathy or clairvoyance, healing at a distance, being able to build up a resilient immune system, really deepening our sense of embodiment, as well as using biofeedback of your neurophysiology to be able to enhance your healing response. As well as if it's possible to create these experiences within virtual reality that give us this sense of wonder and awe, and to kind of have this chain reaction of consciousness transformation. I think that's a vast potential of virtual reality. It may take a number of years for us to get to this scale as well as the evolution of content to be able to do this type of navigation. But the types of experiences and games that Dr. Marilyn Schultz is working on is on this path of being sensitive to different people's worldviews and being able to give them an experience of being able to navigate between many different ways of knowing. So that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends. And you know, the Voices of VR podcast is listener supported. So I rely upon your gracious donations in order to continue this type of coverage. Just a few dollars a month makes a huge difference, especially if everybody contributes. So you can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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