Dr. Cassandra Vieten is the president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, who’s current tagline is “Informed by Science. Transformed by Experience.” Dr. Vieten gave an opening keynote at the Consciousness Hacking’s Awakened Futures Summit where she talked about psychedelics, immersive technologies, and meditation techniques as “scaffolding” into this altered states of consciousness. The more that we get access to these altered states through these variety of different technologies, then the more that we build our innate capacities to achieve these states of being without the assistance of these tools. She also talks about the frontiers of research around gene expression, and how our environments and experiential context is actually a key epigenetic input to how our genes express themselves. So what does it mean to use technologies to shift and alter our environment and context? What type of latent human potentials might we discover once we’re able to more tightly control our environments that are mediated through digital technologies?
I talk with Dr. Veiten about the frontier science nature of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and where they started in 1973 and how much has shifted around the conversations around meditation, yoga, forgiveness, love, and other complementary and alternative medicines since then. UCSF’s Adam Gazzaley also presented at the Awakened Futures Summit about how he’s getting a video game approved by the FDA as a form of medicine, and so we’re in a phase where “experiential medicine” is starting to be officially recognized a scientifically-validated form of therapy. IONS is at the forefront at investigating the next way of experiential medicines that are based upon the modulation of consciousness, and they’re on the bleeding edge of pushing forward alternative paradigms for making sense of the nature of consciousness. The 18th IONS conference is taking place on July 18-21 in Santa Clara, CA, and I hope to attend again and cover it as I did two years ago.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So, continuing on with my series of interviews that I did at the Awaken Future Summit, and today's interview is with the president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, that's Dr. Cassandra Vieten. She's been there at Ions for about 18 years, and Ions itself was founded in 1973, so it's been around for 47 years. It's founded by Dr. Edgar Mitchell, who is the sixth man to walk on the moon, and so the story goes is that Dr. Edgar Mitchell goes to the moon, and then on his way back, he had finished up all of his different tasks, and so he's just looking outside the window, and he's turning around, and he's seeing the sun, he's seeing the earth, he's seeing the moon, he's seeing all the stars, And he has this direct embodied experience that we're all made of stardust. And he describes it as this transformative Samadhi experience of this oneness of complete unity experience. And so Dr. Edgar Mitchell, being the scientist and engineer that he is, he comes back and then he tries to find some paradigm or framework to try to help understand what he experienced. And he looked through all the scientific literature, through all the religious literature, and couldn't find anything that was really describing the essence of what his experience was. Until he found in the mystical literature, talking about these Samadhi experiences, which are these enlightened experiences. And he thought that if you can describe it within these mystical texts, and he had his own direct embodied experience of being up in space and having this overview effect and this consciousness transformation moment, he thought that we should be able to use the tools of science to be able to study consciousness. And so the Institute of Novotic Sciences has always been on the frontier. They're frontier science, which means that they're researching things that hasn't been necessarily accepted by the mainstream paradigm, but yet they're on the forefront of investigating things like yoga and meditation, acupuncture, and these alternative and complementary medicines, as well as generally the mind-body connection. So back when ions first started, this was all very controversial and taboo topics that people wouldn't necessarily be able to study, but now it's all but become a part of the mainstream culture. But it doesn't just make this leap in from the mainstream out of nowhere. It is because in part by the different types of frontier research that happened from the Institute of Noetic Sciences. So Dr. Cassandra Vieten had an opportunity to give a keynote at the Awakened Futures Summit, giving what she thought was a little bit of the frontier of what is possible looking at these potentially latent human potentials that could be unlocked by the combination of psychedelics, immersive technologies, or meditation. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Cassandra happened on Saturday, May 18th, 2019 at the Awaken Future Summit in San Francisco, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:00.114] Cassandra Vieten: I'm Cassandra Vieten, I'm president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and our organization has been around for about 47 years now, and we now have what I think is the largest, most multidisciplinary, high-expertise team of scientists in the world that are studying frontier topics in consciousness, and when I say that I mean studies of consciousness that look at the possibility that we may have capacities that go beyond what we conventionally understand that we might be able to do with our awareness or beliefs or intentions.
[00:03:38.798] Kent Bye: I'm curious to hear a little bit about the evolution of Frontier, because it sounds like that maybe when ION started, something like meditation was a frontier science, but now it's completely mainstream. Where did IONS begin in terms of some of the research and the research topics, and how the conversation may have evolved and changed since ION started?
[00:03:58.940] Cassandra Vieten: Well yeah, IANTS was founded in 1973, so at the time there were very few studies of meditation or yoga or acupuncture, alternative and complementary medicine. There was some research on meditation that had been being done by Transcendental Meditation or TM. But other than that, very, very slim. And so IONS was one of the first organizations to really see the potential for medicine and healthcare to expand its scope and be able to include some more traditional, when I say traditional, I mean culturally traditional healing modalities, energy medicine, things that people were always using but really didn't have any evidence around them. So IONS funded the first studies on meditation, on love, on forgiveness. These were small grants, you know, that were going to researchers who had whole other mainstream teaching jobs or research jobs, but they had this interest that a lot of their advisors had told them, you know, you're never going to be able to study that, that's not palatable for a scientist. I remember, I think it was Fred Leskin, who we gave a grant to to study forgiveness, said it's the ATF or the anti-tenure factor, meaning if you study those things, you're gonna kill your career. And now, of course, those things are, you know, there's a mind-body-medicine center at almost every major medical center in the developed world, and people are routinely being offered mindfulness meditation and acupuncture and all kinds of alternative and complementary approaches to taking care of their health and well-being. Another frontier that IONS was on the forefront of was the field of psychoneuroimmunology, which means how your thoughts and emotions interact with your brain functioning, also interacting with your immunity. And so we had some early evidence that these things worked together, but the fields were really in their own silos. Psychiatry in its own silo, neuroscience in its own silo, or neurology. and immunology, and so IONS was instrumental in hosting some of the first meetings that brought together psychiatry, neurology, and immunology to form the field of psychoneuroimmunology, all with the sort of idea that our consciousness, or what we think, what we believe, what we intend, what we pay attention to, how we view the world has an effect on our bodies and it has an effect on how we behave and there's even some evidence that it has an effect on the physical world around us.
[00:06:37.627] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I'm curious to hear a bit of your thoughts of being here at this Awakened Futures Summit, where it's, to me, one of the first openly advertised conferences that are combining psychedelics, technology, and meditation. It's sort of like all these intersections that are coming together, but this movement of people that are involved with all these either underground movements, you know, folk use of some of these medicines, plant-based medicines, but also like these virtual and augmented reality technologies, all these ways of modulating our consciousness. And I'm just curious to hear your perspective on this because I know you've been at the Institute of Noetic Sciences for about 18 years now, so you've seen quite a lot of cultural shifts that are happening, but just curious to hear your reflections on all these intersections that are here at the Awaken Future Summit with psychedelics, consciousness, and technology.
[00:07:28.440] Cassandra Vieten: Yeah, well I think the vision for this conference has been really amazing and it's super fun that it's right in the middle of the University of California San Francisco, which I guess San Francisco has always been on the leading edge of things like this, but just being at a mainstream institution where we're talking about psychedelics, technology and meditation as a serious topic is kind of amazing. I was about four years old when the Institute of Noetic Sciences was founded, and I think some of the people here were about four years old when I started at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, so I definitely am starting to feel like I've seen some movements in fields, and I think early on one of the things that ION supported was something called the Psychedelic Elders Conference, and this was still during the time when people were not allowed to do research on psychedelics yet, but the people who had done research on psychedelics were aging and even dying, and so we wanted to get the people who had done it while it was legal to transfer their information or what they learned to the people who were just starting to be interested in doing it. Now since that time, it's become possible to study psychedelics and it's been happening at Johns Hopkins and NYU and UCLA and USC and now UCSF and UCSD. So all these different places are starting to look at the therapeutic potential of using psychedelics under controlled conditions or using serious safety protocols and finding some really wonderful evidence of their effectiveness. So that's one thread, and then it might kind of seem like, well, what does that have to do with technology and meditation? But as you said, these are three major ways that in the modern world, especially young people, are altering their state of consciousness. Number one, modulating their state of consciousness using technology. Number two, modulating it using psychedelics and other kinds of agents, and number three, using meditation. And you find a lot of overlap in those domains. So people who are really strong in the tech world are starting to use a lot of psychedelics, and people who are really big into psychedelics are starting to meditate a lot more. So I think it makes a lot of sense for the three groups to come together and say what are we each learning about human potential and the nature of reality and the potential for health and healing along with transformation, innovation, creativity and is there a way that we should all kind of work together. There's an image that comes to mind which is neighbors talking over the back fence. So it's kind of like you've got this back fence and now you've got three neighbors who are all talking over the back fence saying, what are you seeing when people shift their mindset through technology? And what are you seeing when they do it through psychedelics? And what are you seeing when they do it through meditation? Is there some way that we should be working together both to stimulate transformation but also to mitigate some of the possible side effects of some of these modulations of consciousness?
[00:10:37.055] Kent Bye: Yeah, well I first heard about the Institute of Neurotic Sciences back in 2004 when I was watching a documentary about Marshall McLuhan. And then in that documentary there was mention of Teilhard de Chandon's concept of the noosphere. I was like, the snowosphere? What is a snowosphere? And I looked up the noosphere and came up with the Global Consciousness Project and some of the research that Dean Radin had been involved with with that, but also the Institute of Noetic Sciences had come up with the connection between noetic and the noosphere. And I was living at Maine in the time, and it just so happened that on September 11, 2004, which was about a week or so out from when I was discovering it, James O'Dea, the president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, just so happened to be coming to about 45 minutes to where I was living. near Bangor, Maine. And so I went to go to this conference and my mind was just completely blown open in terms of like this whole frontier science of at that point was still on the bleeding edge and what the bleep had come out at some point around that time there was this shift of awareness in terms of like what is consciousness and this the science around being on the frontier and And today, during the talk, I appreciated that you were really bringing in what's on the frontier of this domain, which I agree is this whole possibility of this latent human potentials and this gene expression that when we start to modulate our experiences and create completely new contexts that are completely digitally mediated, but you're giving all these new experiences that have never been a feedback mechanism to those gene expressions, and we don't know how we're going to adapt or grow or evolve. And so maybe you could give a little bit of a context of epigenetics and gene expression and what it means to be able to create these very specific experiences and contexts and what that means for unlocking latent human potential.
[00:12:32.288] Cassandra Vieten: Yeah, well, you know, we were taught as kids, at least when I was a kid, that your genes or your DNA is a blueprint for how you will develop. And there was the idea of nature versus nurture or nature and nurture both having an influence. And we knew that about 50% of most complex behaviors were about 50% nature and 50% nurture. So that was there, but I don't think we knew how plastic gene expression was at the time. And so the Human Genome Project was underway, and when it got completed, we realized there were many fewer genes than we thought there would be, many fewer alleles. In fact, we don't have that much more genetic complexity than a grain of rice or a mouse. And so that speaks to the idea that there's other mechanisms that are modulating our behaviors and our thinking patterns and our emotions and even a lot of our health conditions. And so genes actually express themselves in an experience-dependent fashion, meaning that they adapt to the environment they're in. So when you're in a situation of extremely high stress, your genes are expressed in a different way than if you're in a situation of safety. And that can be chronic over the lifetime. So your genes start to express at a default level as you are exposed to chronic stress over a lifetime or chronic happiness and contentment, right? And so that means that we can start to modulate the environments we're in to help encourage our own bodies to function in the way that we would like them to function. Not only our external environments, which have to do with where we are, what kinds of toxins that we come into contact with, what we eat. who we hang out with and what kinds of temperatures and environments we're in, but also our inner environment. And it's that inner environment that has received less attention in the field. We've done a lot of research on fear and gene expression, or stress and gene expression, but very little on positive states. And so, on a very basic level, that needs to be done where we look at meditative states, we look at compassionate states, empathic states, states of oneness or self-transcendence, mystical states, all of these things that we can create now fairly reliably in our inner environment through things like meditation or technology, modulation or psychedelics. And it may be that we can shift our gene expression to be less depressed, less anxious, less stressed by cultivating those states. Now that's the baseline. The next layer is one of the things we can do in virtual reality, and to an extent in augmented reality, and certainly happens in psychedelics, is that we temporarily are freed from the limits of Newtonian physics. So in virtual reality you can walk through walls, you can fly, you can do all kinds of things. You can even shift the environment to be all one color or to be moving. There's limitless things that you can do to that illusory environment. think that there's the possibility that when we are exposed to those environments, it won't just change how we think about things, but it'll change us at a molecular level. And that possibly we have capacities that we don't even know exist because we've never been exposed to those conditions before.
[00:16:10.617] Kent Bye: What do you think is going to be possible?
[00:16:12.868] Cassandra Vieten: Well, I mean, I don't know. I can't predict exactly, but I have this feeling that let's say you have an out-of-body experience. And so a lot of people have talked about having an out-of-body experience and that somehow having that experience changed the way they thought about themselves and consciousness and life after death. So one thing we could do in VR, for example, is bring someone into a room, lay them on a massage table, take a picture of their body, input it into the machine, maybe while they're relaxing, and then start a session where they lift up out of their body, turn over to see that they're lifting up out of their own body, and then even lift through the roof, and who knows? I mean, if they are able to travel there may be subjective experiences that change their lives but there also may be objective experiences where they can actually see what's happening in a different room or there were some interesting studies on near-death experiences in a cardiac unit where they put these symbols like up on top of a shelf where nobody could see them and they thought well if people really have near-death experience during cardiac surgery and they say they're leaving their body then they should be able to see this symbol on the top of the thing and tell us what it was later. And I don't think that they have had positive results, but that's a pretty wild and wooly environment to actually be in the process of actually potentially dying. So if we can simulate it in VR, maybe people will be able to have perceptions that go beyond what we have now.
[00:17:44.505] Kent Bye: Well I know that IONS is always on the frontier of looking at what's possible and so you tend to investigate things that are considered to be taboo or things that people are super interested in talking about privately but they're not willing to put their career on the line because they're worried that they're not going to get tenure or they may not get funding for whatever they want to do. So there's a bit of a sociological and cultural taboo. It feels like just being here at this conference right now, there's a bit of a shift of some of those taboos that may have been long-standing, especially around psychedelics, but there's still a lot of philosophic hesitations, and especially from a reductive materialist perspective, of looking at something like the research that Dean Radin has looked at, or some of this more extrasensory perception, or maybe you could talk a bit about both of what IONS is looking at in terms of some of those frontier possibilities of things that you may already be studying, researching, and finding some evidence for, but also the deeper cultural taboos that are around that.
[00:18:39.524] Cassandra Vieten: Yeah, well, this conference in particular has a lot of young people. And so I find in general that younger people have a more open mind to the possibility that we don't know yet everything there is to know about the nature of reality, or we don't know yet everything there is to know about what we're capable of. So I imagine that people here are more open-minded. There is also, and I'm not sure the extent to which it exists here, there's sort of like a proud skepticism that's sort of of the Bill Maher variety among Silicon Valley executives and, you know, sort of bro culture, I guess I would call it, where part of being logical and tough is that you don't believe in any of that BS. And it's a little different than it was in the past where, you know, people were on a ontological high horse, like, you know, anything like that is going to contaminate the endeavor of science. This is a little bit more like, I'm willing to consider psychedelics, I'm willing to consider meditation, but, you know, let's not get all airy fairy and new age about this. So we still have a little bit of a barrier there, but our approach has always been to, number one, have people check into their personal experiences. What kinds of things have they personally experienced that they couldn't explain? Number two, give them that logic argument that's basically like, do you actually think we literally know everything about what we're capable of right now? And number three, do experiments that stand on their own merits and that provide actual evidence that some of the things that we think are impossible now, there are some clues that lead us to the conclusion that it might be that we're, at least our current point of view, is limited and not complete, if not completely wrong.
[00:20:32.612] Kent Bye: And what are some of the things that you've found at least some encouraging positive evidence for?
[00:20:38.238] Cassandra Vieten: Well, we have several studies ongoing right now. One is on energy healing, where we have somebody who purports to be able to use energy to heal carpal tunnel syndrome, both the pain of it and the actual cause of the pain, which is the blocked nerve conduction. So we're doing studies where we're looking at whether people who undergo a healing session Do they report less pain and do they have improved nerve conduction? We're also doing gene expression in that study to see if there's any changes in gene expression and some before and after measures of sleep and pain and well-being and things like that. So we don't have the results from that yet. But we do have previous results that show, for example, when people are separated into two distant rooms and one person is asked to direct their attention toward the receiving person at random times, or when the light goes on, send as much attention as you can to the person, and when the light goes off, withdraw your attention. Then the receiving person is hooked up to physiological monitoring and they're just basically resting in a room. What we find is that there are changes in physiology when the person is having the attention paid to them versus when they're not, even though they have no way of knowing when that's happening. There's also some studies on mind-matter interactions where we show some changes in the behavior of photons in a quantum optical system when attention is being paid to the system versus not. And there's also some interesting studies of channeling, where people feel like they're receiving information from somewhere else, whether it's a deceased person or some kind of a guide or just something that they don't know where it's coming from. And we're just starting with that. There's hardly any research at all on channeling, so we're just starting to characterize what those experiences are like and what's happening in the brain and body when they're happening. And we do have a little bit of enticing evidence showing that there are brain changes when someone who's channeling information is subjected to a test of accuracy of the information or not. When they're accurate, there's different parts of the brain that are activated. There's just some really cool research going on in some of the deepest mysteries of human existence. You know, is there survival of consciousness after bodily death? Is there any connection between people at a distance or is that totally imaginary? And it all kind of points to the overarching hypothesis which is that there may be an interconnected aspect of reality in general that each of us has access to but we don't typically perceive. But when we are able to get in touch with that domain of reality, the interconnected domain that is kind of outside of space and time through practices or through experiences like psychedelics or maybe through VR experiences, then we gain access to information and energy that weren't previously available to us that can aid in healing and innovation and transformation.
[00:23:42.364] Kent Bye: Yeah, the thing that's interesting to me about consciousness is that it's still one of the biggest open problems of all of science in terms of there's no clear answers on it. And if it is fundamental and has some sort of transcendent non-local quality to it, then there's a certain amount of like, well, it may be non-falsifiable to actually ever really know for sure. you're trying to reduce things down to a closed system, but yet if things are quantumly entangled at some sort of level that is beyond space and time, then it kind of goes beyond what science as it exists now could even say anything about. At that point it becomes more of a philosophical issue. So I feel like there's little things like the quantum measurement problem or, you know, just the whole mystery of trying to wrap our minds around what consciousness is, but some of these things you're talking about would lead us towards thinking about other models of consciousness that may have a more transcendent quality. So do you have any sense from your own either intuition or looking at the evidence or even looking at it through the philosophical lens, which is whether it's idealism or Platonism or panpsychism, some of these more out-of-favor approaches of describing the nature of consciousness, if you have any sort of intuition around what is consciousness.
[00:24:58.015] Cassandra Vieten: Yeah, I mean that would be coming from a more of a philosophical perspective. Although I do think, before I answer, that we can apply the tools of science to these domains just like we can apply them to any other kind of domain. Because a lot of science is not actually proving something to be true or being able to measure it directly. But if the following experiment or protocol is put into place and we have this finding, then that provides evidence to support the hypothesis or to reject the null hypothesis that nothing's going on. So it is possible to do derivative measurements to build a model without being able to penetrate the actual nature of consciousness. Do you know what I mean? And really science is all about building as much evidence as you can for your hypothesis or if you start to reject your hypothesis to modify the hypothesis and build as much evidence as you can for the next one. But in terms of what I just think as an educated guess or intuitively after investigating it for a long time, I do favor a sort of panpsychist view in the sense that I think there is some element of what we call consciousness that is permeating everything that I don't tend to subscribe to the notion that everything is consciousness and all of the material world is completely illusory. nor that all of the material world is what actually exists and all of consciousness is illusory or imaginary, that they're sort of inextricably intertwined in this existence anyway, and that it's a two-way street, you know. Consciousness affects material reality, material reality affects consciousness, and I tend to think it's kind of like electricity, like before we knew that electricity was a thing. People noticed that people's hair stood on end when lightning was around or that all these different, you know, static electricity or sparks would fly sometimes. And it just took a really long time before humanity was like, wait a minute. What is that? Why does that happen? And when they were able to harness you know, uncover and harness electricity, it still took another 400 years before we invented a light bulb. So we're talking about a long period of time from the question to being able to begin to understand how it works. And it may be that what we're starting to notice in these different anomalies when people have experiences that they think are the synchronicity that you talked about with James O'Dea and all these things, maybe there is some intersectional space in reality that when we get ourselves on a certain track these things happen more and we start to notice interconnections that we didn't notice before. Maybe there's some physical reason for that and it may even be as paradigm-changing or life-changing as electricity was.
[00:28:02.270] Kent Bye: Yeah, in your talk this morning, in one of the opening keynotes here at the Awakened Futures Summit, you were starting off by talking about scaffolding and how you have the scaffolding of being able to kind of step on a platform and have another look at yourself through these experiences. And I've been thinking a lot about how in virtual reality or in immersive experiences, you have like these sets of rules where you get to play by those rules, but you're able to do things you wouldn't normally do, or experiencing things that you don't normally experience. And so, in some ways, you're able to discover aspects of the fundamental nature of your character that may be consistent, but also find things that are different. So you're able to kind of hone down to the essence of your being and your character, which I thought about when you were talking about scaffolding. But I'm wondering if you could elaborate a little bit about what you meant in terms of
[00:28:50.945] Cassandra Vieten: Scaffolding and what it means to have these different types of experiences and how we could see them as a scaffold Yeah, I mean I use the metaphor of scaffolding to Basically say when we're using technologies or when we're using agents that bring us altered states of consciousness It allows us to get a different perspective So you're able to reach places of your being that you weren't able to reach without the hours and hours and hours of meditation or without the psychedelic agent or without the very profound illusion that's tricking the mind in VR. So you get a new perspective on things by literally kind of taking a different stance. You're standing on a platform that allows you, kind of like when you're remodeling a cathedral and you put scaffolding all around it, it allows you to get to places and fix them that you wouldn't be able to get to or fix any other way. But I think the other metaphor about scaffolding is kind of like training wheels, that when we have something that's providing a structure temporarily for us to build something new, and then we remove the scaffolding and then something new can stand on its own, that's another way to use the metaphor. there may be a whole new way of looking at the world that you're just starting to kind of blow on the coals of, that's just starting to take shape in your life through meditation or through an insight you had with psychedelics and it gives you that opportunity to build with a little bit of support around it and then eventually you can remove the training wheels or remove the scaffolding and have the beauty of whatever's been created stand on its own.
[00:30:34.010] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you showed a bit of a trailer for an immersive virtual reality experience that you're creating, kind of telling the story of Edgar Mitchell and somebody who's trying to induce, through virtual reality, this overview effect, or trying to invoke these deep sense of awe and wonder. I'm wondering if you could describe a little bit about what you hope to see might be possible by using VR technologies to be able to induce this sort of overview effect.
[00:30:57.722] Cassandra Vieten: Yeah, the Edgar Mitchell VR project is the Institute of Noetic Sciences' first foray into creating an original VR experience that is intended to induce awe or induce the overview effect that many astronauts have described. Now, Edgar's overview effect had a little bit of overview effect plus. You know, a lot of astronauts have described seeing the Earth from space and feeling the sort of urgency of climate change or, you know, getting a new perspective. Edgar really had what, you know, he considered to be a full-on Samadhi experience, which was ecstatic union or, you know, bliss and oneness and the dissolution of the boundaries of the self and really feeling interconnected with everything and feeling a sense of divinity and intelligence and order shining through everything. And so he was really interested in the idea that that was almost a direct download from the universe to him about the nature of reality. And he came out of it going, oh my gosh, we are mistaken. Our paradigms are inadequate. And we've got to look further into the nature of consciousness, because that experience felt so undeniable. And that's really, the word noetic means subjective experience, but it also means the kind of very deeply authoritative subjective experience that is a sense of certainty. And so we're creating the VR experience to mimic that experience. So we'll have people go into the virtual reality experience, they'll put on the headset, they'll start on the moon, they'll be able to look around and get onto the lunar lander, go back to the spaceship, look out the window and have some of the original NASA footage in the background, NASA audio. and then have Edgar's voice telling the story of what happened to him as an induction and then ideally be having their own experience over time as he stops talking and they can be in that state of consciousness that's gaining some different kind of perspective and so what we hope is that that shift in perspective will have some beneficial effect on the way they view the world and maybe pro-social emotions like altruism and empathy maybe more willingness to endorse or take immediate actions toward helping with the thriving of all people. And I don't think we actually know what'll happen. You know, there may be other things that happen. It could be that there are distressing side effects of feeling, you know, depersonalized. I mean, Edgar, when he had that experience, a lot of people talk about the epiphany, but he also felt a lot of despair looking at the Earth from space and seeing from that perspective, he was like, I don't think we have a lot of time left. So we'll see what happens, but we're excited about it and that's just the beginning. I think we'll continue to hopefully create other VR experiences or work with other people to create VR experiences that assist in people. For example, let's take that energy healing that I talked about before. Let's say if you have back pain and someone says to you, I want you to imagine a cool waterfall going through your spine. and you in VR can actually look down and see the cool waterfall going through your spine, you can imagine that'll probably give a huge boost to what we already know about guided imagery, which is that it has a positive effect. So we're pretty excited about the possibilities.
[00:34:31.180] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of consciousness modulating technologies like psychedelics, meditation, and immersive technologies, what do you think the ultimate potential of that is and what they might be able to enable?
[00:34:47.110] Cassandra Vieten: I think that psychedelics and, you know, immersive technologies and meditation, similar to a lot of other mind-altering kinds of practices, drumming and dream work and, you know, there are hundreds of different practices that have been developed and they're all meant to strip away what is not our highest and best selves and boost or grow what is our highest and best selves. And so if we can use it for that, I mean, obviously it could also be used for negative things. It could be used for brainwashing or, you know, all kinds of terrible things. So we need to keep that in mind too. But one of the ways I phrased it is that one incredibly powerful negative experience can cause PTSD for a lifetime. And you can see that in the brain and in the psychophysiology. So if that's true, then it's probably also true that one incredibly mind-blowingly positive experience can give someone PTSD in reverse and shift the course of their life for the positive.
[00:35:58.952] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:36:03.638] Cassandra Vieten: Well, I encourage you to check out the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Go to noetic.org to learn more about our work. We have science programs, experiential programs, both online and in person, and a nearly 200-acre retreat center an hour north of San Francisco that sees about 5,000 people a year who attend various transformative workshops and seminars. You can also bring groups there. And then I really invite you to come to our conference, which is July 18th through 21st, 2019, in Santa Clara, California. It's called The Possibility Accelerator, Creating Our Future Now. And I've been at IONS for 18 years. I think this is going to be one of the best conferences we've ever had. So definitely invite you to come join us for that to get a deep dive into all these kinds of things that we've been talking about during this interview.
[00:36:53.930] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much.
[00:36:55.490] Cassandra Vieten: Thank you.
[00:36:56.980] Kent Bye: So that was Cassandra Vieten. She's the president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, I really love this metaphor of scaffolding because I think it just makes a lot of sense because when you're trying to repair a building, you are trying to reach aspects of the building that you can't normally get access to. And using psychedelics or immersive technologies or any type of meditation technologies, you're able to start to reach different aspects of your consciousness that was previously out of your reach. And it's like you're able to stand on that scaffold and be able to access these and to eventually be able to stand on your own without having to use that as a form of training wheels. So I really like that as a metaphor because I really think it's apt and fitting towards where this is all going with these transformative technologies of psychedelics, immersive technologies, as well as meditation. I also really appreciate the frontier science nature of the Institute of Inuit Sciences, which, like Cassandra Vieten says at the very beginning when they started, they were looking at things like meditation, yoga, acupuncture, alternative and complementary medicine, looking at love and forgiveness, and all these topics that weren't necessarily palatable back in the 70s because there wasn't any sort of philosophical framework that would makes sense for why there'd be any sort of downward causation from the mind to the body. But now at this point, a lot of these meditation practices are pretty mainstream, but it's through a lot of the frontier science and eventually moving out into these more widely published publications and science where eventually this gets proved out that if there's something there to these theories, then you could use the tools of science to be able to prove it out and then expand your worldview if it need be. So it was appreciated the way that Ions is on the cutting edge of looking at things that maybe isn't being necessarily covered as much within the mainstream paradigm. So the current edge is a lot of this epigenetics and gene expression and looking at how this kind of balance between nature and nurture, but that we look a lot at the negative aspects of the environment, but what does it mean to be able to have like these pro-social meditative states and positive states through compassion and empathy and oneness, self-transcendence and these mystical states, how is that going to shift our gene expression? If there's a epigenetic component to our genes and then it's really context dependent and it's experience dependent. So if we start to modulate our experiences, then does that mean that we can start to modulate the ways that our genes express? So that's a big open question that the Institute of Neurotic Sciences is starting to really research right now. And I think that anybody that's looking at the question of consciousness, especially from a philosophical perspective, there's so many metaphysical questions in terms of it may never really ever be resolved in terms of the true nature of consciousness. Is it an epiphenomena of our material reality? Or is it have some sort of non local transcendent quality where you're able to transcend the limitations of space and time and have these non local quantum entangled connections? to people, whether that's through out-of-body experiences or near-death experiences, these taboo topics like extrasensory perception and psychic phenomena. So they're researching a lot of these different things and finding a variety of different evidence for that. And people within the psychedelic community, I think, have a lot of their own embodied experiences that I would classify as paranormal. And there was definitely a number of different discussions that were happening at the Awaken Future Summit that were in the realm of these paranormal type of experiences. Dr. Eric Davis was leading a number of those different discussions. So there's a number of different things that really challenge our reductive materialistic paradigm when you start to talk about the direct embodied experiences that people have had on the variety of different psychedelics. So Cassandra Beaton's asking us to check into one of three different ways these line of arguments is to first of all check in with their own direct embodied experiences to see how many of these different types of Sense of knowing experiences that we may have had like if you've had an experience where you knew someone was gonna call you before they called or If you feel like somebody's paying attention to you or staring at you That's been a lot of the research that they've been doing as well But also if you've got this sense that somebody who has passed and died that you get this precognitive information about that. So how many of those different types of experiences have people had? And then second is to go through the logical argument, which is do we actually think that we literally know everything about what we're capable of right now? There's so many different aspects of the latent human potentials that just by looking at the plasticity of the brain and the neuroplasticity of being able to train our body to be able to do new things, looking at things like vivid vision, which is able to allow you to retrain your muscles in a way that you'd be able to see in 3D for the first time if you have lazy eye. So what's it mean to be able to rewire your brain to be able to do all sorts of things that we don't even know that humans are capable of doing right now? These latent human potentials that we don't even know that exist yet. Do we think that we've reached the limits of what is possible with what it means to be human? And if you are skeptical of that, then just look at what the research in sensory addition and sensory substitution have been able to already find in terms of being able to just get the data into the brain and have the brain be able to find the different synchrony that is involved with that. And you can allow yourself to be able to either augment or expand your senses in all sorts of new and exciting different ways. And finally, the Institute of Noetic Science is very much focused on doing pragmatic research, and they're essentially just trying to do experiments that stand on their own merits to be able to provide some actual evidence of some of these things that we may think are impossible now, but they may be pointing us to that our current paradigm may not be complete, but also be limited and incomplete. So the ultimate nature of consciousness is one of the biggest open questions in science today, and I really appreciate the open-mindedness that the Institute of Mnemonic Sciences has taken, as well as taking this very pragmatic and empirically driven science-based research that is on the frontiers, and so it may be considered fringe or taboo at this point, but just by looking at the course of the Institute of Mnemonic Sciences, I mean, my first conference for ions was back in 2005, And so I've seen over the last 14 years just to see how the shifts and changes around meditation and these different contemplative practices have gone from being on this fringe of being completely denied of this mind-body interaction into something that is pretty much completely mainstream at this point. And I think looking in terms of the trajectory of psychedelics, it's on a similar kind of trajectory of going from the psychedelic underground into the mainstream. And, you know, the Institute of Neurotic Sciences was a big part of helping to ensure that these psychedelic practitioners and these elders who were doing research of psychedelics in a time when it was legal, were able to start to at least pass along some of their knowledge to the next generation of researchers And it has come to pass that a lot of those people have been able to start to then do the different types of psychedelic research and studies by all the stuff that has been a bit of shift in the culture that's been happening, thanks in part to the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies. So the final point that I just wanted to make was there was a neuroscientist that was at the Awaken Future Summit. His name was Adam Ghazali from UCSF. And he was talking about this concept of experiential medicine. So being able to give people a direct experience that have a therapeutic value. So they're getting a video game that's an immersive virtual reality game approved by the FDA to be able to be administered and be prescribed as a drug. And so in the future, we're going to be able to prescribe experiences as direct therapy. So this is opening up a new whole new realm of experiential medicine. And I feel like a lot of the work that the Institute of Mnemonic Sciences has been doing is to look at like, what are the underlying frameworks and paradigms that even make sense of what's it mean to modulate our consciousness in these different ways and to have these different types of experiential medicine. And I think a lot of the research that they've been. looking at is in that same vein of what's it mean to have these different alternative and complimentary therapies that are essentially giving people these different levels of experience, whether it's through guided meditation, or doing things that are on the edge of these variety of different, I guess, therapies that are unproven in terms of validating what the efficacy is, and there's still a big question of what the exact mechanism might be. But I think the mechanism of consciousness is a big open question, and that there's enough holes philosophically that could give a whole variety of different experiences, ranging from the totally mundane, that it's just an epiphenomenon of the brain, all the way to the more extreme and exotic into these panpsychic or idealist perspectives that are looking at like some sort of non-local transcendent quality to the nature of consciousness. So I just like that they're out there and asking the questions and doing the research. And I really enjoy going to their different conferences and hope to actually go again this year to their IONS conference in July, July 18th to 21st, that's happening in California. And they'll be gathering together all sorts of different researchers that are on the frontiers of looking at what's coming next in terms of the different types of possibilities of what the nature of human consciousness is, but also the limits and the bounds of the human potential. So that's all that I have for today. And 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 consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener supported podcast. And so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.