#773: Psychedelics + Technology + Meditation: Consciousness Hacking’s Awakened Futures Summit

Consciousness Hacking produced the The Awakened Futures Summit in San Francisco on May 18th & 19th, looking at the intersection between psychedelics, technology, and meditation. Consciousness Hacking previously hosted a sold-out event on October 24th, 2018 that was titled “Psychedelics, Technology and the Future of Meditation,” and that gave them an indication that there was a lot of interest in the fusion of these topics.

So Consciousness Hacking created the Awakened Futures Summit in order to bring together the psychedelic underground with the latest biofeedback and immersive technologies, as well as with the latest neuroscience research into meditation, contemplative practices, and transformational technologies that are focused on helping people reach a variety of different states of consciousness. I spoke with the executive director of Consciousness Hacking, Joshua Fields, about how the Awakened Futures Summit came about, his own personal journey into consciousness hacking, what each of these variety of different intersections have in common, some of the deep open questions around the narrative structures to contain these practices, and where he sees this current experiential renaissance heading in the future.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So one of the deepest trends of virtual reality is that it's this interdisciplinary melting pot that is bringing together all these various different disciplines. And so I recently went to this Awaken Futures Summit put on by Consciousness Hacking. They were looking at the intersections between psychedelics, immersive technologies, and meditation. So the thing that all of these things have in common is this expansion of consciousness and transformative potential. And consciousness hacking as an entity started off with meditation and just technology, but yet what happened was that consciousness hacking did this talk where they were looking at psychedelics, immersive technologies, as well as the future of meditation, and it essentially sold out within a week. And they looked at that as a larger signal that there's something that's happening here with this psychedelic underground that is all of a sudden going from the underground and moving into the mainstream with things like Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind. And they had this whole Awaken Futures Summit, which was a two-day summit bringing together all these various different people from these different backgrounds of psychedelics, technology, as well as neuroscience and meditation and these contemplative practices. So I had a chance to talk to the executive director of Consciousness Hacking, which is a nonprofit, Joshua Fields, and just get a little bit more context of how this event came about and some of his own personal journey of how he got into this whole realm of Consciousness Hacking coming from being an investment banker. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Wastes of VR podcast. So this interview with Joshua happened on Saturday, May 18th, 2019 at the Awaken Future Summit in San Francisco, California. With that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:57.754] Joshua Fields: So my name is Joshua Fields. I'm the executive director of a company called Consciousness Hacking. We're a nonprofit organization in almost 50 cities globally. And really what we're trying to do is build the community and the ecosystem around this intersection of technology and human consciousness. So we don't actually build any immersive experiences, but we rather build the experiences like events that give spaces and platforms for the people who are really doing cool things like that in the world.

[00:02:24.138] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give me a bit more context as to your background and your journey into consciousness hacking.

[00:02:30.043] Joshua Fields: So my background is I studied economics at university and I went straight into the world of investment banking. I was at Morgan Stanley and always had a sense that there was something more than just this rampant desire for success and money. And when banking didn't quite fulfill me, I said, OK, I'm going to explore this deeper contemplative path. And it took me to many places, including India for about four and a half months, Peru, lots of other vortices of higher consciousness. And I then transitioned into doing a master's. I did a master's degree in philosophy and consciousness. And really my big desire is to bring these two worlds together. My background in economics and finance, and this deep soul, heart calling of consciousness. And Consciousness Hacking really allows for that, because we're really trying to not just talk the talk, but actually really walk the walk of bridging the worlds of the head and the heart, of the rational and the intuitive.

[00:03:27.163] Kent Bye: So how did you come across Consciousness Hacking as either an organization or to be more directly involved with that?

[00:03:33.023] Joshua Fields: I think, I'm not sure how initially I found them. I went to a meetup group in London, then I moved to San Francisco. Anyone who's listening probably can tell that I have a Scottish accent. And when I came first out into the Bay Area two years ago, I was really looking for a community that wasn't so into consciousness that it was ungrounded, but also wasn't so rational that it was closed off to the potentialities of existence. And so Kohak really, really bridges those two worlds well. Yeah.

[00:04:01.668] Kent Bye: Well, I was talking to another experiential journalist and asking about the definition of technologies, consciousness hacking technologies, and how there's a broad range of different approaches and tools, whether it's actual virtual and augmented reality or plant-based medicines, ayahuasca, psychedelics. And so maybe you could talk a bit about the combination of what this community is bringing together in terms of psychedelics, technology, and meditation.

[00:04:27.731] Joshua Fields: So consciousness hacking originally came forth as purely looking at modern technology and consciousness. As you can tell, you're at the Awakened Future Summit right now, which is this conference on psychedelics, technology and meditation. We are being slightly more porous with our boundaries. And really, I see these things all as transformative tools and A lot of people in the meditation world have problems with people using plant medicines. They're like, it's not real. They're like, you have to take something in order to induce. They're like meditation purists. And then similarly, a lot of people in the psychedelic worlds are like condemning of technology to induce these states. And so there seems to be like a spectrum of authenticity, a continuum of like what is real, what is like a proper spiritual practice. What we're trying to do with this conference is we're bringing all these worlds together and say, hey, like we actually share more in common than we could ever believe. And so our idea is what would happen if three of the most powerful domains of human transformation started to synergize? What type of emergence might come forth if and when a transcendental experience like psychedelics is merged with our latest understanding of brain science and technology to create quite literally experiences and outcomes that we cannot even discern from our current state of consciousness. So this is about a gathering of saying, hey, what are the potentials here?

[00:05:49.499] Kent Bye: Well, the interesting thing about psychedelics as a topic in the culture today is that on the one hand, you have all this amazing research that's coming from MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research, which is here as a sponsor, and they've been really pushing forth the therapeutic use cases for these psychedelic medicines. But at the same time, they're not a legal substance to be able to be using, and yet, We're kind of gathering people who are having access to them and using them despite what the laws are. So there's a little bit of kind of having one foot above board and another foot kind of in this underground subculture that's coming together. And I'm just curious if you could elaborate on how you kind of reckon this limbo, bardo state of the status of psychedelics right now in our culture.

[00:06:35.082] Joshua Fields: Yeah, that's an amazing question. So obviously the fact that psychedelic science is mainstreaming gives us slightly more gravitas and credibility than this space and movement has had in the last 20, 30 years. Science is catching up. And so I think that takes somewhat away from the potential awkward situations we could find ourselves in. But it's a really good point. I mean, when we're looking for sponsorship, for example, and we say, hey, and we've also got psychedelics being featured, that actually rules us out of a hell of a lot of corporations. They don't want to be seen to be associated. If you're like a relatively like up and coming VC who invests in cannabis, fair enough. But if you're, you know, Google, Facebook and you're sponsoring a psychedelic event, not so easy. So there are actually some difficult practical difficulties. But my sense is it's also shifting.

[00:07:21.383] Kent Bye: Well, you sold out this conference here. And I think somebody was on stage and said if it was just meditation and technology, they weren't so sure if it would have been such a enthusiastic crowd of people that were here. But because it is opening up this door towards psychedelics and this psychedelic subculture all coming together and just legitimately just having conversations about what's possible. And I'm just curious to hear a bit more about the backstory of you know, kind of bringing all these things together.

[00:07:46.669] Joshua Fields: So we actually had a talk. Conscious Dispatching does two events every month and we had a 600 person talk on psychedelic technology and the future of meditation. 600 people sold out within like a week. So we already tested the demand and hell, like there was a lot of demand. really our interest in this is we want to take people from say the psychedelic world who are saying no like psychedelics have to be the way and us to say hey like people in the technology world say hey we're trying to achieve the same goals here which is essentially altering biochemistry is one piece of it to induce altered states and deeper perception. So a big part of the backstory is actually to show these domains how much in common they have with each other. Whereas I think in the culture right now, if you're a psychedelic proponent, you condemn technology as a great evil. And if you're a super high-flying technologist, oftentimes you can't be bothered with meditation. And really, that's a mistake.

[00:08:41.684] Kent Bye: So I've been covering the virtual and augmented reality industry for the last five years. And so I'm wondering to hear from your perspective, what do you see as some of the connective points between virtual and augmented reality experiences and psychedelic experiences?

[00:08:56.315] Joshua Fields: So was it Terence McKenna who said that once we perfect VR we won't need psychedelics anymore? Yeah. So I think it speaks to the fact, my sense is that we may soon see, when I say soon, 50, 100 years, if we're still around and haven't gone extinct. Serious comment. that psychedelics and meditation are blunt tools compared to what we're gonna be able to do with modern technology as it relates to personalizing actual interventions. So obviously in the psychedelic VR world right now, you're actually reproducing, companies like Trip and SoundSelf, they're actually reproducing psychedelic experiences. For me, what's actually even more potent than that is for people to move into a virtual reality space, and there's this word awe. What is the reverse of PTSD? What is post experience growth order, whatever you want to call it, that actually you have a single dose of something that is absolutely awesome, and I mean that in the awesome way, and that actually leads to changes in behavior, personality and many things down the line. So I think both psychedelics and tech have that capacity. Yeah.

[00:10:06.725] Kent Bye: And I think that from the meditation side, there's a lot about ego disillusionment, or at least trying to focus on your embodiment and your breath to the point where you can start to tap into these deeper levels of awareness. And when you were on stage this morning, you were talking about how if there's anything that psychedelics has taught you, it's to tell you that you're not in control. It's about showing up in a really deep, authentic way. Just wondering if you could expand on that a little bit of the lessons that you've had from psychedelics to have this shift towards authenticity. the humility of not being in control.

[00:10:38.266] Joshua Fields: Oh wow. So I'm not going to speak to psychedelics particularly but I say the realm of consciousness expansion have basically taught me that reality is infinitely more complex than we can understand and that some of these practices put you in touch and give you a glimpse into the immensity of what is. I think we can get caught up in this day-to-day consumerist lifestyle of like we're asleep when really we're living in an infinite cosmos. We're floating on a big rock in the middle of space in this thing called time. And I think what these practices do is they give you a glimpse into the truth of that. And then you come back into your own experience and you're like, well, how dare I try to think that I'm special or above? It's a very humbling experience to know that we're part of infinity and these tools allow us access to that infinity. And some of them also show you your deepest, darkest parts, your shadow side. And so I think a lot of authenticity comes from realising that we all have shadows and things that we don't want to see and we don't want other people to see. And strength and healing actually comes from owning them. And owning them comes with authenticity.

[00:11:53.728] Kent Bye: And for me it's a bit surreal to be back here at the Mission Bay Center because this is a location in the Bay Area where there's often like kind of emerging conferences. So the last time I was here was in November of 2016 at the Virtual Reality Strategy Conference. And so you've really transformed this space into a little bit more of what I may see in like these more consciousness or spiritual retreat. But you've also tried to go away from just the normal one to many broadcast model of people lecturing at you for the, it was called the sage on a stage, but moving more towards these group discussions, a little bit of the unconference and trying to, in some ways, decentralize the authority of having just one person speaking, but really trying to tap into the collective intelligence of a group. And I feel like that's a theme that I see at the consciousness hacking communities is to find ways to do this group synchrony or tap into the collective intelligence of a community.

[00:12:46.014] Joshua Fields: Yeah, so I am not a fan of the post-modern deconstructionist worldview that we just need to tear down all hierarchies. It's a stage that has to be transcended and included. Yet at the same time, the limitations of somebody standing on stage and you just listening are vast. We project authority onto this person. We often renege on our own responsibilities because we think someone else is going to fix it. And what it also does is it means that we are not tapping into this very deep animal somatic group potential intelligence that often gives rise to better decisions. So I don't know if you've ever been in a situation where the group just knows what to do, there's like a dynamic subordination process. And often that comes from when people start to get real with each other, or when people start to connect, their nervous systems start to sync, they start to get more relaxed. what we're trying to do with this conference is to say hey like let's create a highly decentralized participation experience so that people drop in meaningfully deeply more authentically and then what type of outcomes can emerge from that level of group coherence because this is what we need right now like we have complex international transnational problems that clearly top down structures are not working to fix. This has to be a different modality of change. And so we're trying to replicate that.

[00:14:13.508] Kent Bye: And so for consciousness hacking as an organization, what are some of the either biggest open questions that you're trying to answer or open problems that you're trying to solve?

[00:14:23.433] Joshua Fields: In terms of the modern technology and consciousness intersection, there is a lack of excellent entrepreneurs. If you're an excellent entrepreneur and Google or Facebook are going to pay you 300k and a consciousness attacking startup can only pay you whatever in the immediate term, you know, it's very hard to compete. And so I think what we do have is we have a lot of kind of hippie engineers who are great, But do we have the top, top caliber of people coming out of Silicon Valley, coming into this space? Yet? No. Will we? Yes. Because people are realizing that if we don't start to integrate wisdom into our technology, we're fucked. It's not even an option to create exponentially more powerful tools if we're not exponentially increasing our capacity to use them from a place of heart, soul, wisdom. So yeah, entrepreneurs is a big one, and also dissemination and distribution. How do we create these things in a way that is super accessible for people? That isn't hippie, but is actually, hey, let's translate this. So those are some of the problems we're trying to solve for. And I think in terms of the question that I'm personally holding is, is actually one of what is the narrative context that surrounds these tools. So when we're building transcendental experiences or like mystical experiences into psychedelics or meditation or technologies, before now, all of these tools were contextualized within narratives, rituals, structures. And I think if we really want to see these things used in a way that is safe, integrated, and actually as potent as it can be, we've got to actually start creating something like the modern temple. the modern place of worship where we can actually come together and use these and a new narrative like what is the new myth that we're stepping into that is able to hold that is beyond like reductive materialism that can hold these experiences. My big question is what is the myth that comes next?

[00:16:12.035] Kent Bye: Well just a question to follow up on that because I can see your economic background coming in and I guess a hesitation or fear I have is the commodification of these transcendent spiritual experiences and the either loss of authenticity or commodification or cultural appropriation. I mean there's a long list of things of how this could go wrong but in terms of access if you look at something like Buddhism and how Buddhism takes money and is funded it's done by Dana where you get the teachings for free but then you can donate and be able to support it based on more of a patronage model. And I feel like, you know, there's a sort of a commodification of the ayahuasca ceremonies within themselves. But, you know, as you talk about having more really good economic entrepreneurs coming into the space, then I feel like there's a lot of like sensitive cultural issues that have to be navigated here. I'm just wondering how you navigate that.

[00:17:03.802] Joshua Fields: Well, first of all, not all conscious attacking tools lead to transcendent or mystical experiences. A conscious attacking tool could be headspace. It's just helping you get into meditation. A conscious attacking tool could be a meditation teacher doing a channel on YouTube. Where this could go, these tools are going to be much more potent. This is a really tough question. Like how do we, and I actually haven't answered this question, how do we spread, how do we elevate consciousness globally? Technology could be one way of doing so. How do we do this in a way that is also grounded? And also there's this sense that we're living in a capitalist system, right? And so if we want to get tools to people, we've got to use the markets. But if we're going to use the markets, we've kind of got to play the game of capitalism, which is win-lose. And at the moment, technology is addicting. Can we create tools that are desirable in a capitalist economy if they're not addictive? I don't know. Do we need actual, the juxtaposition of systems change and these tools come together? That's my sense. But I agree, the commodification of things is, it's a real shame. I mean, you go into like yoga studios and it's just become like this Lycra Instagram party. And it's like, no, like no. But as those problems arise, wisdom will find a way to not get, wisdom is wisdom. It won't always be compromised by the systems that be.

[00:18:25.732] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of consciousness hacking is and what it might be able to enable?

[00:18:34.295] Joshua Fields: Do you mean as an organization or as a concept? Yeah, as a concept. I like to tell this story. When hydrogen and oxygen were chilling in the universe, or H2 and O were chilling in the universe as separate atoms, they weren't sitting there thinking, ha-ha, cannot wait to make some water. there is a cosmological process of emergence. There's a complex adaptive systems process of emergence, which by definition is impossible to really discern what is going to be because it hasn't arisen yet. And so I actually, my sense is we're actually on the precipice of some sort of human technological integration. And I'm not a fan of the singularity stuff, but something that, or I am, but not the Kurzweilian, like let's just live forever. Cause I think a lot of it's fear-based. But I think we cannot discern what might come next because it is such a leap of being. Not in terms of like agriculture to industry or industry to information, like literally atom to molecule. With this exponential curve of tech and the human consciousness being what it is. So this is a really long-winded way of saying like, we don't know. what could happen as we make technology that's 10,000 times more potent than a psychedelic. And we give that to a large number of people through technology. We don't know. But what I do know is that we're going this way. And we can either condemn the train and say, fuck that train. Or we can say, OK, how do we jump on this and steer it in the direction that is most harmonious with the rhythms of life?

[00:20:06.769] Kent Bye: Great. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[00:20:12.851] Joshua Fields: If you would like to start a consciousness hacking chapter in your hometown, please go to our website, cohack.life. We are a decentralized, grassroots, voluntary-based organization on the grassroots level. So if you do want to start a meetup, please do. We're really wanting to expand beyond the number of cities we have now. And thank you very much for this opportunity to speak, Kent.

[00:20:35.362] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much. Thanks, man. So that was Joshua Fields. He's the executive director of Consciousness Hacking, which is a nonprofit organization that put on the Awaken Future Summit, looking at the intersection between psychedelics, immersive technologies and meditation. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, It's fascinating to hear the evolution of consciousness hacking. I did an interview with the founder of consciousness hacking, Mikey Siegel, back in episode 585. That was at the Institute of Noetic Sciences conference a couple of years ago. But there was a talk that was looking at psychedelics and different immersive technologies in the future of meditation and it sold out and had like 600 people attend. And I think it's from that that they saw that there's something happening in the deeper culture right now that is having this larger awareness and interest in psychedelics. In some ways, if you look at what's happening in the world today, we're in a bit of this worldview and consciousness crisis, and that there's a lot of people that are looking at what are ways that you can transform and change culture and transform our consciousness. And I think the lesson of psychedelics is that it's not anything that you're trying to project onto other people, but you take a little bit more of like cleaning up your own room and looking at what you can do to be able to transform your own personal consciousness. there's a bit of this ego disillusionment that happens with taking these psychedelic drugs or having these transformative experiences, where is this ego disillusionment? It's this humility and the surrender and being able to get in touch to those aspects of yourself that have been ignored or not seen, your blind spots, your shadow, and it's all about having these symbolic and mythological experiences that then you start to understand what you need to do to be able to have your own healing. And I feel like that's like, at the core, what the consciousness hacking is all about, but that they're trying to, as a group, come together and look at all these other different perspectives on this. You know, one of the things that Joshua is saying is that we need a little bit of a new mythology to be able to integrate all these different things. And go beyond just what reductive materialism says in terms of like, this is the standardized metaphysics for us to be able to understand all of this, because there's so much of these different embodied experiences that go beyond what any sort of rational explanation can happen from a reductive materialist perspective. And so In some ways, it requires this ontological pluralism, which is able to take in these different indigenous perspectives. And a lot of people who have these ayahuasca experiences, it's done within the context of these indigenous practices. And they're opened up into this direct embodied experience of having these other ways of knowing and other ways of understanding and making sense of the world. And that, if anything, it's trying to not have one singular perspective to be able to describe everything, but to be able to do this channel switching of being able to go in between all these various different perspectives. And through the lens of your own embodied and direct human experience, you find a way to be able to integrate all those different things. And so, in some ways, these transcendent technologies are requiring us that we create these new mythologies and these new practices in order to create this larger container Because we need this narrative context and this narrative structure to be able to make sense of how to interact and engage with these different types of transformative technologies, whether it's psychedelics, meditation, or these immersive technologies. And what Joshua is saying is that in some ways, the technological roadmap here is that we have the potential to be creating some of these immersive experiences that are 10,000 times more potent than any of these other existing psychedelic drugs that are out there. Now, I don't know if that's actually going to be true. It may be possible that the psychedelics are always going to be way more powerful than what you can get from an immersive experience. But he's saying that at some point you're going to be able to personalize it to the point where you may be having AI or immersive technologies that are able to be tracking you over specific periods of time. And then what if that technology would be able to know where you're at to be able to model that and be able to give you some sort of transformative experience on demand? And I think that's the potential of where the long scale of where this is going. And I think a lot of the people that are gathering here at this Awaken Future Summit are thinking about how to not only create these technologies and the rituals and the practices in order to have these containers for the set and setting for these types of transformative experiences, But they're also trying to figure out, you know, this deeper aspects of the culture and their worldview and the mindset. And, you know, just the way that they had organized this conference, it was really interesting to see how it wasn't just like people up on stage doing this one to many broadcast model. And what Joshua was saying is that he's not someone who believes that you should just completely tear down that type of hierarchical structure because, you know, there's value of having people being able to give a really good lecture and to disseminate a lot of really useful information. but that a huge emphasis of this gathering was to break out in these breakout groups and have these different discussions with people in these circles and to be able to just brainstorm and talk about all these variety of different issues that come up within this psychedelic underground that was coming together, but also using technology and using other meditative and contemplative practices. So a theme I think that came up over and over again in talking to Joshua was just from his own journey of going from being an investment banker and then going into becoming the executive director of Consciousness Hacking is he's trying to find this way within himself to be able to balance those more rational parts of his brain but also the more intuitive and heart-centered aspects I think comes forth in a lot of this work within these various different psychedelic underground cultures. And so they're trying to really bridge the mind and the heart and the rational and intuitive and he sees that the consciousness hacking community is really trying to do that in different ways. And for me, just to be at the Cautious Attacking Awakened Futures Summit, there was all of these very interesting mashups between what I would typically see in the more new age or spiritual communities and psychedelic underground, but also in this meditative aspects and technology. It was kind of like this weird mashup infusion of all these different intersections and communities coming together and seeing what they really have in common. And so in some ways, I feel like that's a deeper metaphor of what these immersive technologies are doing, is that it's trying to break down these silos and barriers between all these various different intersections. And you start to have these interesting discussions between the psychedelic underground, the immersive technologies, and these Buddhist practices and meditative traditions, and all looking at, from the neuroscience perspective, each one of these different domains of psychedelics and meditation, as well as these immersive technologies are all at the forefront and the cutting edge of what type of neuroscience research is happening right now. So it's also interesting to hear a lot of the brain science that is underlying a lot of the talk that was happening at this Awaken Future Summit. But, you know, the thing that I am left with is with these different intersections and coming together and stuff that would normally be in the ritualistic context of some of these indigenous cultures, the more Silicon Valley mindset of a startup coming in and trying to disrupt various different things and trying to create a whole business around it and adding the whole layer of our economic system is that, you know, because we have a little bit of this economic monism where everything is run by the economy and money. that in order to really bring about change, you have to create a business and make it into a venture where you're trying to create technologies that are sold on the market. So it's this interesting approach to see how do you have that balance between maintaining the integrity of the practices, but yet at the same time, create something that is able to scale up these practices up to enough people and to be able to sustain it and to grow it and to support it in various ways that needs a whole teams of people that are getting paid and sustained in order to actually do all that work. So Joshua was saying is that they need a lot of really good entrepreneurs to be able to enter into the space and to be able to see the demands and the needs that are there and to be able to raise money and do different companies to be able to bring about different change within these different communities. 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 type of coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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