I was recently asked to talk about the science of consciousness at Chinmaya Mission in Princeton, New Jersey. While I have been greatly interested in consciousness studies for many decades, this was my first official IONS talk on the topic. I caught myself up on the current evidence for the science of consciousness, and developed a presentation titled “The Science of Consciousness: Personal, Relational, Global and Beyond”. My 20-minute PowerPoint had beautiful pictures, graphs and figures to engage the audience.
On the day, the gracious hosts picked me up from the hotel and took me to the conference site. What I didn’t know was that it was being held at their Ashram Temple, and I had to take off the shoes I had matched perfectly to my professional suit. It also meant that the purple wool socks below my knee high skirt were visible to everyone. Ahhhhh. Breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out. It was a beautiful test for me in letting go of the outcome.
As I walked into the conference space, the organizer approached me and said that the main speaker, world-renowned quantum physicist Amit Goswami, who was scheduled to go first, was delayed and would I mind speaking first? “Sure, no problem” I said. Breathing in, breathing out.
The conference began, introductions were made, and I went up to the podium and launched my Powerpoint presentation. In Powerpoint, there is a function called Presenter View where the audience sees a projection of your slides, and the speaking notes appear on the speaker’s computer. When I clicked the Presenter View button, however, nothing happened. Uh, oh…no notes. The technology team tried to fix it while I told a story about Edgar Mitchell’s transcendent experience on the moon. One of the tech team came up to me and whispered in my ear, “I am very sorry Dr. Wahbeh, but the presenter view will not work. You’ll have to do your talk without it.” My stomach dropped and my anxiety level shot up as my heart started racing. “What am I going to do?! I don’t know what I’m going to say without my notes!” my mind screamed.
I looked out at the audience of 200 people and took a deep breath. I remembered that everything on my notes was already known to me, and I actually didn’t need my notes to access this information. If I was about to give a talk about quantum consciousness, then shouldn’t I be able to walk my own talk and access the knowledge available to me in my non-local world? Who needs notes?! So I began and just took it one slide at a time…
I shared that while our materialistic paradigm would have us believe that our consciousness is housed in our physical brain, and does not extend beyond it, there is growing evidence that suggests otherwise. From the personal perspective, our cross-sectional survey of 1,120 meditators report experiences of expanded consciousness such as “Freedom from the limitations of your personal self, and feeling a unity or bond with what was felt to be greater than your personal self.” I talked about our systematic review of transcendent states during meditation, where we found numerous studies suggesting transcendent states are physiologically distinct to control states with EEG, ECG, skin conductance and neuroimaging. Extending to the relational, I discussed compelling evidence that one participant can change the physiology of a another instantaneously and across long distances. On global scales, our collective consciousness can influence quantum machines — random number generators — during emotional events that capture the attention of the entire populations. I spoke about how the materialistic paradigm is also challenged by exploration of the nature of matter itself, such as in Dr. Radin’s studies exploring the double-slit experiment, which indicate that our minds can influence matter. Beyond, I discussed triple-blind studies with mediums, which found that we may be able to connect with consciousness beyond death.
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Amazingly I did it, with my purple knee high wool socks and no notes. The talk was very well-received and the audience was full of engaging questions about the implications of IONS consciousness research. I was very grateful to meet such an inquisitive and open community, and to continue expanding people’s awareness about the science of consciousness.
Helané Wahbeh, ND, MCR is a Scientist at IONS and an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University. View a video of Dr. Wahbeh’s Chinmaya presentation: The Science of Consciousness: Personal, Relational, Global and Beyond