Infinite Zero, Little "I"

Turn off all that is not true to your nature,Feel your purification fires raging within.And after the fire which consumed part of you,You will see your everything.You will see the real essence of Self.Your soul essence can never be consumed.
-- Alan Seale

I wasn't brave enough to just walk away.  I didn't have the guts to pull the trigger.   And so, it's a slow death -- a deconstruction, piece-by-piece.  Thankfully, I haven't suffered much.  Now, finally ...

... it's a good time to die!

It was a good life: a healthy body, a strong mind, a balanced upbringing, and an amazing education in and out of the classroom.  It needed purpose and to make a contribution -- countless experiments through the many nights.  I had lots of fun -- that was the best part:  hiking, skiing the Cascades, Sierras, and Rockies; flying small airplanes up and down the western US and Canada; thrashing about the country as an entitled entrepreneur, racing around in finely engineered sports cars.  I met a lot of good women and a few great men.  I raised a lot of hell!  I offended more than my share -- and endeared myself to many others.  I loved and was loved.  All-in-all, there's not much to complain about.  It could now be a time to think about getting comfortable -- and,  growing old.

Instead, it burns! We should reach zero soon, but I can't be sure.  I've forgotten what it looks like.  Will I recognize it?  This is pretty scary stuff - but, with it, intense anticipation!  What was left beneath all these worn layers?  What will survive the fire?

The things which are seen are temporal; 
but the things which are not seen are eternal.
-- Saint Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:18

Subtle Energies: Big Island

Although we are old ones, our voice is very important for the world at this moment. The misunderstanding in this world is that some men think they are very big. We are small ones with this love, which is the only big thing we have. We can give good words for the world. I have a very big faith that we are able to change something that we are going to be able to give hope for our next generation.   
                                                        -- Maria Alice Campos Freire

We arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii to participate in a series of works with Maria Alice, a madrinha of the Santo Daime church (see Daime Ten) in Mapia, Brazil -- a remote region along the Amazon.  She's also often described as a member of the "Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers".  Off to my right was the "barn" where the Hawaiian version of the sacrament is made.  It wasn't what I had imagined it to look like -- it all seemed very ordinary.  The following days would, for me, be an exploration into subtle energies.

What are the subtle energies? It seems to depend upon the semantics and the belief system employed. They could be described as entities, spirits, or subtle life forms. Others might consider them subtle nuances of perception. Many might consider them mental or egoic manifestations, illusions or hallucinations.  It might be that all of the above can be true.

Amazon Flower Essences

A slight insecurity struck as I walked up to the small temple.  I had come all this way and was about to attend a flower essence workshop.  "Will I be the only man here?" It wasn't an important question, but my masculine conditioning surfaced to ask it.

I soon found that 2 other men were attending -- along with twenty-some women, exposing an interesting blend of gender biases.  Maria Alice was there with an assortment of essences extracted from flowers in the Amazon region said to have healing energies.  She uses the flower essences in the healing center she runs in Mapia.  She had selected flowers from new growth regions of the Amazon -- because, she explained, they possess the essence of rebirth of what was once virgin jungles. 

The essences were contained in vials at the center of the circle in which we sat.  First we stated our intentions.  Mine was to cleanse  -- enough to feel the subtle energies.  Interestingly, another woman in the group wanted the opposite -- to close down some of her open channels to energies that she couldn't control.  We then, each in turn, selected one essence.  I felt my mediumship rise to the occasion.  I could "see" the one for me before I approached.  I placed a few drops into my cup and filled the cup with water.  As I drank it, I sensed a creamy white light enter with the liquid that then rose up from my gut along the spine and out the top of my head.  It felt very cleansing.  The taste was subtle and clean.  This is what I asked for -- more cleansing to bring the subtle senses to life.

It turned out to be Jurubeba.  Maria Alice explained:  Jurubeba has a flower like a violet star with violet rays that connect to a higher vibration.  Its dominant element is air, along with fire and earth - it is associated with the 6th chakra.  It supports transformation of the aural field into the subtle higher frequencies -- making the aura softer.  As she described it, I knew that she referred to the essence I had taken prior to her revealing it.   The fruit of the plant can be cooked to produce a medicine that will heal the liver.

Pau d'Arco Roxo
After lunch, we gathered outside around an alter beneath a large tree.  We would be sampling essences from the big trees of the Amazon.  Again, I "saw" my choice from a distance - it was Pau d'Arco Roxo.  Another violet flower.  This yielded a pleasant experience, too, when a few drops were added to water and sipped.  It's all so subtle.

She didn't discuss how the essences are extracted.  The medicines are described in "energetic" rather than biochemical terms.  It lacks scientific merit or reason but, in the moment, the effects seemed noticeable.

Subtle Bodies

A Santo Daime Messa Branca work was celebrated the following night. Most significantly, I encountered a subtle life form.  It was feminine in nature and ressembled a candle flame in shape and texture - like a nada.  She was light and whispy.  She entered my body and then left it -- again and again.  She was teaching me to feel her presence.   She wanted to experience a man's body.  Lili sensed that she was named Lutcia.  She hung around for a few days, but I don't know that she made it back on the plane with me.


We held an "Umbandaime" (Umbanda and Daime combined) gira Sunday, beneath the same tree, to the rhythm of drums and the lovely voice of Maria Alice's daughter, Julia. A gira is a traditional Brazilian celebration of spiritual charity, healing and mediumship between the earth and the astral.  To this end, many lines of spirits are said to participate - Caboclos, Boiadeiros, Prento Velhos, Criancas.  Beings in the line of the Orixas, Ogum, Oxossi Xango, Oxum, Jemanja, Lansa, and Oxala are also said to show up to receive the healings and light of the divine beings that are called.

It was a beautiful day and the spirits came out to play.  I stood and watched as others seemigly became possessed by spirit.  It was an interesting and sometimes awesome experience.  Maria Alice and several other participants pranced around the circle, embodied by the spirits and souls they invited to bring or receive healings and light.

However, my left brain would not disengage.  Despite heroic doses of Daime, I  was unable to feel the spirits in me - this is still a stretch for me.  I asked one of the guardians who I'd watched twirl to the beat of the drums in the center of the circle, what he felt.  He responded that he simply gets out there and begins to twirl and allows the spirits to take it from there.  "Fake it 'til you make it?" I inquired.  "Pretty much," he replied.  However, if I am to believe that I played with Lutcia in the Messa Branca work, I must leave some space for those who embodied other energy forms.


During the Messa Branca work, I felt an inspiration to go to the volcano to begin a 41-day fire mantra. This deviated from my exploration of subtle energies -- there's nothing subtle about a volcano!  We hiked through 2 craters of Kilauea's volcano and followed an old lava tube several hundred feet into the mountain.  The following night, we hiked out onto the razor-sharp lava beds south of Hilo to where the lava is actively flowing into the sea. Steam still rose beneath our feet as much of where we walked was over lava less than a week old.  It was a long hike at night in order to circumvent the security patrols that guard the area. The power was intense.  We got to within 100 yards of the flow, but Lili would not allow me to go closer nor would she wait for me to begin a fire mantra.  Oh well, I guess we were mere trespassers from the mainland that night.

The exploration of subtle energies continues ...

Illusions: Outside Inner Space

As a man thinketh, so is he.
-- Proverbs 23:7

I listened to a Tibetan Lama speak in Berkeley several years ago. Something he said stuck with me:

"Life is a dream.  If you're not enjoying your life, dream a new dream."

He spoke through an interpreter, so I wasn't sure if I should take the translation literally.  He seemed to suggest that we were not only living a dream, but that we could control it.

This man desired to live in pure consciousness without the confines of the physical universe.  He referred to the physical world as a "stain" on his dream.  Such a concept intrigued me.  I could imagine how he might be able to freely change his dream, but the physical world would be less malleable - a stain that persisted throughout his changing dreams.  He taught that the physical world is impure -- as is anything that has a beginning and an end.  Consciousness is pure, in contrast, because it has always existed and always will. There is a general sense in Buddhist philosophy that God is universal consciousness that we are all part of and that the physical world is far less interesting as it is impermanent.

The spheres are the same size
The dream, our plane of illusion, is described within various traditions.  The Sanskrit word is Maya -- translated generally as "not that."  As we examine the illusion, it's easy to see that it is self-generated.  It's  largely an output of ego, perspective, perception and time.  Since it's self-generated, we are able to control it, for example, by simply changing our perspective or our attitude.  We can get very good at controlling the illusion if we simply maintain awareness of what our minds tell us and learn to shift it.  

However, that damned stain -- the physical world -- must be accounted for, as well, and it is often more difficult to manage.  We've changed the channel on our illusion, but the physical world hasn't budged and our embodied consciousness keeps bumping into it.   The rational mind sees the hard facts of the physical universe and spends much of its time trying to shape it. 

The illusion is structured such that it might even be defined in mathematical terms as something that might look like:

                                  Integral I  dt
 Sentient Illusion  =   -------------------
                                Slow Constant


Sentient Illusion = illusion within the sentient context - the modeling of our environment from sensory input
I = the "I" experiences (ego, perspective, perception, expectations, etc.),
t = absolute value of present time - time where our thoughts are at the moment of illusion,
and the Slow Constant = the realized density of physical world

The Sentient Illusion is the component of the illusion we experience through sentient awareness.  There are others. There are the remarkable subtle illusions that hide in the subconscious and the collective unconscious.  There's also the Grand Illusion that is probably more accurately described as a veil.  Some say that everything we experience is an illusion, to such an extent that we are living within a holographic matrix that has no true form.  While outside the scope of this examination, I hope to address these ideas soon.

Taking any of the component functions to zero reduces the Sentient Illusion -- taking them all to zero, eliminates the Sentient Illusion and brings us to an enlightened state.  Enlightened awareness transcends ego, perspective, perception, or time beyond the present.

The primary point is that most of us experience the physical realm as a multifaceted illusion of ego, perspective, perception, time and probably other dimensions.  It can become very complex because things like ego, perspective, and perception are inter-dependant.  It becomes even more complex when we take ourselves out of isolation and account for the fact that we are dealing not only with our own illusions, but the illusions of everyone with whom we interact.

The Slow Constant is not a true constant.  The physical world is changing, but at a rate so much slower than consciousness that it appears somewhat constant to our perception.  It's that damned stain, again!  Fortunately, for those who desire pure consciousness, it's less permanent.

We can see beyond illusions, dissolve them, manifest them.  We can manage them to make ourselves happier, for example, as the lama suggested.  As such, "pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional" depending upon our perspectives, perceptions, etc.  Otherwise, the illusions confuse us and create misunderstandings and disharmony.  Without a view of true nature, nearly everything we encounter is altered by illusion.  What we experience reflects our internal frame of reference.

Consider communications, for example.  How much difference exists between what is said by one and what is heard by another?  This is a big one!  Our state of mind relies on resonance with another's state in order for any coherence of thought transfer to exist.

We are what we think.  
All that we are arises with our thoughts. 
With our thoughts we make the world.
                                     -- The Dhammapada (Buddha)

Illusions: Kill the Buddha

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.
Zen kōan attributed to Lin Chi, circa 9th century

I walked into the lab one day and recognized a visitor sitting at a table talking to a small group of students and postdocs.  He wore a tattered sweater and and a dark felt cap.  As he noticed me, he stood up to introduce himself.  "I'm Linus Pauling,"  he said softly as he extended his hand to shake mine.  I was struck both by the awareness that I was unexpectedly shaking hands with a two-time Nobel laureate and the kind, modest manner this icon of the science world was presenting himself to a lowly graduate student.  "I know," I replied before introducing myself.  He smiled.  We chatted for a while and later that day, Dr. Pauling gave a lecture to a packed Wheeler Auditorium at UC Berkeley.

The conversation wasn't remarkable in any way - we didn't resolve any of the big molecular biology issues of the day.  In fact, I can't remember anything about what was discussed -- only that we discussed whatever it was with Linus Pauling.

If I hadn't recognized him, I may have not stopped to greet him.  I wonder how many extraordinary people I've passed by - those with Nobel Prizes and those without any accolades at all.  I wonder about the basis of an extraordinary person and I wonder where such judgments originate.

The kōan that instructs the Zen student to kill the Buddha is interpreted generally to suggest that we kill our illusion  -- of the Buddha or anyone else we meet along our road, our path to enlightenment.  We can not know anything when what we see is only a projection of our perceptions, perspectives and expectations - our illusion.  That's all Linus Pauling was to the Berkeley grad student from Snohomish, WA.

To be fair, that's probably all he expected to be to many people who recognized him.  He was playing his role in the illusion of others.  He may have even crafted parts of his public image at some points in his life and he probably used the image to his advantage at times.  Yet, had I seen past all that, I might have not missed an opportunity to learn something -- I might not have settled for a story.  At that moment, he was my Buddha in illusion.

Illusions are responsible for the dualistic nature of our existence.  They are the domain of the small self -- the ego.  They separate us from Truth, from our True Nature, and from the God within us.  They also leave us vulnerable to the manipulation of the Magicians.

Live your own reality -- don't allow another's reality to become yours by proxy.  Look beyond the values of others and don't overlook the values among the least valued.    Don't be trapped by dogma -- living by other peoples' illusions.  Don't let opinions of others drown out your inner voice.  Pierce the veils of illusion to know yourself.  Free yourself to be yourself.  Be yourself to be free.


There's lots of patronage within spiritual circles given to the "Oneness". Last night I saw the "Two-ness". I saw a vision of a membrane that seems to hold the feminine energy. Within it were countless female personalities existing as differentiated protrusions extending along the surface of the membrane. The personalities were both known and unknown to me and I realized that all women exist as part of the same feminine fabric.

The feminine membrane co-exists with a similarly-structured masculine membrane.  I assume that my viewpoint was from within the masculine membrane.  The two membranes glide along the surface of the other allowing the points of masculine and feminine differentiation to interact.  The masculine and feminine exist independently and interact with each other dynamically.  In places, the two membranes come into close contact at points of interaction between male and female points of differentiation.  In places, the two membranes are attached or entangled.

There were notable large regions where the two membranes appeared to separate from the other -- perhaps, repelling each other.  In those regions, some of the differentiated personalities on either membrane appeared contracted and others appeared scorched or damaged.

What unfolded seemed to be a vision of the balance and creative forces between two universal energies.  I focused on the unity structure of the masculine and feminine realms and the qualitative distinction between them.  I felt that the force of interaction is love manifested at the counterpoints of differentiation.  I sensed that the masculine membrane was firmer and more uniform than the feminine membrane.  The feminine membrane seemed more elastic and fragile -- more damage was noticed there though that perception may have been due to the view from my perspective.

The damaged areas appeared to be due to prior interaction with the forces of the other membrane.   The regions of separation between the membranes seemed to be manifestations of what we might term gender issues in the physical realm.  The personalities damaged by such interactions lacked the love energy to attract the other membrane.  Like all things in the astral, there doesn't seem to be a right or wrong about it -- that's just the way it is.

Intellect began to analyze the vision before I could see further into it and effectively brought it to a close.  My eyes opened and I looked at Lili.  In her, I saw the other women I have known.  They were one -- extensions from the same force.

Dry Dock

One of the most personally influential visions encountered in my meditations drew attention to the junk that humans accumulate in this realm (see Revealed). I was shown that this junk piles up and interferes with the ability to see, think and respond clearly.  The image was of something like large "dust bunnies" moving about the surface of the planet, hiding the souls within from view.

I saw the others, but didn't see my Self in the vision. It's probably a good thing.  I could observe the condition compassionately where ego may have blocked the information had it passed by its filter.  Yet, ultimately, intellect reasoned that Self must be affected, too -- and ego has learned to trust intellect. Ego and intellect agreed on the importance of a healthy vessel in the material realm.

Further investigation revealed that junk from the depths below was clinging to my vessel no matter how I tried to blow by it.  Since repair attempts made underway over the past few years were unable to clear the problem, it was decided to bite the bullet and put the vessel in dry dock for an overhaul.

The most observable repairs have been to the physical structure.  Forty six pounds were shed within the first five months.  Displacement of the vessel is holding steady at about 164 pounds -- it had peaked nine months ago at 208.  I didn't think I was particularly over-weight, but there was an awareness that the girth of my 6 foot frame had grown.  It was a sign of structural deterioration caused by unhealthy foods, toxic beverages, and the havoc of life's stresses and frustrations.

The hull reconstruction project was managed by the diminutive, though irascible, Ship's Chief Steward  Lili.  The vessel's structure was re-aligned with Iyengar yoga.  Processed foods, alcohol and other toxic wastes were cleared from the galley and given the heave-ho.  The plumbing was flushed repeatedly with magnesium and organic apple cider vinegar.  Premium fuels were requisitioned -- vegetables, fruits, meats and dairy products from local farmers' markets and legitimate organic food stores.  As the pounds began to fall away, new foods and supplements were added:  fresh wheat grass juice every morning, vitamins and amino acid supplements and, recently, blue-green algae.  The conversion from steaks, burgers and pizzas to clean bio-fuels is complete though the mixture is still running rich due to a weakness in the fuel regulator for Jelly Bellies and occasional chocolate.

The physical cleansing and healing was relatively uneventful though some pain bodies screamed as they were released to divinity.  The vessel can now fit into suits that were bought when I was a postdoc.  My belts are cinched up to the last notch and it's not quite enough.  It's time for a new wardrobe -- perhaps a monk's robe, but the ego is still a little too vain.

The vision also revealed the psychic junk that accumulates about the spiritual soul in a manner much like the physical junk that accumulates about the material vessel, cf. A. H. Almaas, Diamond Heart series.  It's difficult to navigate with the windows and instruments caked with crud.  The Captain himself had become a little crusty

So, the Captain was furloughed for training, program updates, and R & R.  Vipassana meditation (see Scientists' Retreat) was found to be a good place to start.  It isn't as easy as it looks -- there are few things that are more difficult than sitting on a cushion without grasping thoughts for an hour.  I highly recommend participating in a silent meditation retreat for 7 to 10 days early in one's practice -- it took 4 days for me to settle the mind/body and the remaining time is needed to be there.  Other meditation styles were practiced, too -- guided, chanting, mantra, yantra -- contemplation and jhāna.  It distills down to personal choice.  Simple was found cleanest for me.

The crystal was polished further with breathing exercises - tantric and kundalini yoga.  Like everything else in this arena, there are lots of flavors.  Again, keeping it simple was best for me -- allowing the breath to do its work.

Shamanic medicines helped to cut through some of the heavier crud and bridge the chasms.  They must be used with care.  If you go for a drug trip, that's what you'll get.  Use them wisely and set your intentions clearly.  They are gifts from a higher realm.  Be patient with those who are unrealized and protective around those unable to recognize Truth.

Attention was focused on the present and emptiness was contemplated.   I looked into the void and saw the unmanifested.  I listened to silence and heard heaven's song.  The heart was opened and the vessel was refueled with love.

With the barnacles removed, rotted timbers replaced, and engine flushed, the vessel is now engaged in practice maneuvers about the home port.  The purged hulls are filled with fresh air and one can once again see lights shining through the freshly polished port holes.  His Majesty's Ship is again strong and seaworthy, nearing ready to make way for ports unknown.

Journey Home

You can behold the One Mind,
you can touch the One Thing.
-- Hermes

With a deep breath, I leaned backwards into an abyss. The body screamed, but couldn't hear. Beyond the senses, beyond intellect, beyond language and confusion, beyond time and dimension, Self was adrift in the emptiness of the void.

The ego had shattered. Self drifted, aligned in a softly radiant white light within the void. It was Source and we were One. Power, love primordial -- the tranquility was familiar.

Self drifted back out of One, returning to the void.   The ego began to reassemble.  The shattered pieces snapped together quickly, completely enveloping Self - reconstructing the membrane.  Rebirth into the body was experienced and I took my first breath.  I felt the boundaries of the physical form.

The I was recognized, refueled by Source.  My friends were in light and I held them.  It was only a short journey home.

Now, more than a week later, I watch myself continue the journey back to Self -- more layers distance me from Source.  The membrane strengthens as it reassembles.  There's an opportunity to examine many of the pieces as they fall back into place and, with some effort, I'm able to dissolve some of them.  Freedom, enlightenment, appears to be the ability to let go of the pieces -- there's a lot of confusion when they are in control.

Integrity: Casting Stones into Muddy Waters

The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.
-- Plato

It's been suggested that if all animal species were allowed to vote as to whether humans will be allowed to continue on Earth, we would be voted to extermination.  The other sentient beings we share the planet with may not be supportive of our ways.

There are the bankers who rob the public trust and the industries that are killing our planet for profits.   There are the lawyers and the HMOs that corrupt our justice and health systems.  Then, of course, there is the political scene.  Can an honest person get elected?  It's a rhetorical question - better to go to the source and ask the lobbyists for industry, PACs and other special interest groups.

There are the marketing messages that flood our lives daily to slick up the truth about products or services.  It was reported recently in the Huffington Post that a man actually sued Anheuser-Busch because the poor guy found that he was still not surrounded by beautiful women in a tropical setting despite having consumed copious quantities of Bud Light.  The very fact that we think it is ridiculous to take such marketing seriously demonstrates the mental filters we've developed to cope with the situation. Yes, we are certainly bombarded with less than full integrity by marketing campaigns to the point that we've become so numb that it only reaches us through the subconscious.  And so, the messages are carefully engineered to reach us in that way.

It's time to clean up our act.

 I wrote about some of my personal stories around integrity and their personal impact last month - see "Stories: Good (and Not-So-Good) Vibrations".  I'm interested now in examining the role of integrity in our lives without demonizing or blaming anyone.  Simply, is it possible for a large, diverse society to live in full integrity?  How might such a society be constructed?  Despite the bleak message from the examples chosen above, there is a renewed interest in integrity by individuals and within businesses and other organizations.

One problem that comes up quickly in a discussion is defining a subjective quality such as integrity.  Is my integrity your integrity?   Right is different things to different people.  Many progressive thinkers seem to agree that right and wrong are man-made concepts constructed from religious or tribal beliefs and therefore vary between and within cultures.  In a Taoist sense, right and wrong are dualistic manifestations of the mind.  Hmmmm,  integrity seems difficult to envision on a large scale if we have difficulty simply defining it universally.  But, integrity is like art -- one knows it when one sees it.

Regardless of our definition, integrity seems to get breached in favor of one of two things:

1)  Something we want
2)  Something we don't want

That simplifies it.  Perhaps we can build integrity by managing our desires and aversions.  That sounds rather "Buddhist" --  someone must have thought of this before.

We can take it further.  Desires and aversions are run by ego.  The ego has lots of desires around wanting to be distinctive and avoiding anything unpleasant.

Now it's beginning to make sense. Ego is at the root of desires and aversions, which in turn are at the root of breaches of integrity. Perhaps, we don't need to concern ourselves with defining integrity. We can look at the root of the tree to predict what fruit it might bear.

Enlightenment is sometimes described as an ego-less state. Our egos filter the information we receive and manipulates the data to serve its own existence before presenting it to our conscious mind.  Illusion is the product of ego and few people have been able to pierce its veil. Out of the illusion comes greed and excess, fears and insecurity -- desires that the mind can not distinguish from needs and fears that the mind equates with danger.  Integrity can easily be overshadowed by what the mind perceives to be something more important.

So, integrity will be present in the enlightened ego-less state and it will be breached more frequently and harshly within the domains of fear and greed. It seems, therefore, difficult to imagine a large society living in full integrity as long as fear and greed permeate the culture. Thus, to answer my own question, it doesn't seem likely that Earth's human race will be living in full integrity anytime soon.

The long-term strategy would then seem to be to work towards building an enlightened society. While we're in that process, simply notice, be aware, and try to protect oneself as best one can - paying heed to the warning indicators.   Don't expect integrity among those who strive for material wealth, those who embrace the ego or those who are fearful. Find it more abundantly in the stillness of the unmanifested.  Look beyond the illusions and integrity will be revealed.

Love Is

Your vision will become clear only
when you look into your heart.
Who looks outside, dreams.
Who looks inside, awakens.
-- Carl G. Jung

Love is the Manifester - the creator of all things lasting. Love is the Sustainer - nutrition for the soul. Love is the Transformer - the power of the healer. Love reveals - seek consciously and learn.

Sages and theologians have pointed to love as the ultimate power.  Some say, "God is love."   The songs we listen to and the poetry and novels we read exalt love.  It's easy to overlook because it is so common.  Permutations are everywhere - we seem to be bathing in a plastic vat of it.

I've learned to tune love out for many situations in my life.  Much of it seems adulterated, veiled or manipulative.    I'm careful about what I let in and what I let out. I have a mental image of a brilliantly glowing light-furnace in my chest that is encased in a volcanic rock-like crust.  I want some chosen few to see it and share its warmth in some carefully constrained way - it's been hidden from others.

I've wondered why.  Love can be misguided, abused and perceived as weakness.  And, of course, there is the heartache that might lead one to reject it.  Yet, I think my own turn from love started very early.  I remember walking with my mother to my first day of kindergarten.  As we approached the school, I turned and calmly informed her that she could go home.  "I don't need you anymore."  It was the early rejection of mother love - the separation, the strengthening of me as a discrete being.

The nice thing about mother love is that it continues to radiate in the face of adversity.  In fact, Mother Love is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.  It's a force we can all tap into whether or not you're a mother.  You don't have to get it from anyone else, though it's certainly nice to receive.

But, love dissolves ego and ego rebels.  The egoic rebellion -- the desire to separate and be special.  Love works to bring beings together -- that can feel challenging or threatening for the unrefined ego.  It makes one vulnerable.  So love gets compartmentalized - saved for a few who are trusted.  One can sort of fake it for the rest.

Boys, particularly, are often conditioned to be tough.  Love becomes a weakness.  It's hard to be competitive when you love your competitor.  It's hard to win when it means someone you love will lose.  It's hard to be better when others you love are then worse by comparison. It's hard to look cool when you love your mother.  It's hard to make soldiers out of young men who are filled with love.  So many of us were hardened.  Society showed us the way and we learned how to shelve love in order to compete, get things done, or fight for our country.

Our world is paying for this.

Realizations surface around love in my meditations.  There's a powerful magic here - the most profound that I have encountered.  It's something that has been right in front of me all my life though I failed to grasp its significance.  What I primarily wanted to do at this time is pass on the realization that there is a pure love (more than one, actually) and it empowers the manifester, the transformer, and the healer.  It's similar to an energy field and it's real rather than abstract.  You can tune your mind/body to it and direct it.  You can receive it and transmit it.

It's something you might want to contemplate for yourself.  Tune in to receive love and let it radiate from you to others.  Align consciousness with it, manifest with it, transform with it, heal with it and, importantly, don't abuse it.

The Skeptic

There's been a lot of talk about the world ending or shifting dramatically in 2012, coinciding with the end of the Mayan calendar. It's easier to believe when we consider the serious problems going on in the world. In my deep meditations, I see visions that seem to bring new information -- or at least a fresh perspective. Are they manifestations of spirit or of mind? Friends are telling me about their spirit guides and angels. Are they real or are they interpreting things the way they want them to be?

Here's an entertaining talk that I think is worth the time to watch. Regardless of what you believe, it describes some interesting mechanisms at play in our minds.

Here's the transcript:

So since I was here last, in '06, we discovered that global climate change is turning out to be a pretty serious issue. So we covered that fairly extensively in Skeptic magazine. We investigate all kinds of scientific and quasi-scientific controversies. But it turns out we don't have to worry about any of thisbecause the world's going to end in 2012.

Another update: You will recall I introduced you guys to the Quadro Tracker. It's like a water dowsing device. It's just a hollow piece of plastic with an antenna that swivels around. And you walk around, and it points to things. Like if you're looking for marijuana in students' lockers, it'll point right to somebody. Oh, sorry. (Laughter) This particular one that was given to me finds golf balls,especially if you're at a golf course and you check under enough bushes. Well, under the category of "What's the harm of silly stuff like this?" this device, the ADE 651, was sold to the Iraqi government for 40,000 dollars a piece. It's just like this one, completely worthless, in which it allegedly worked by "electrostatic magnetic ion attraction," which translates to "pseudoscientific baloney" -- would be the nice word -- in which you string together a bunch of words that sound good, but it does absolutely nothing. In this case, at trespass points,allowing people to go through because your little tracker device said they were okay, actually cost lives. So there is a danger to pseudoscience, in believing in this sort of thing.

So what I want to talk about today is belief. I want to believe, and you do too. And in fact, I think my thesis here is that belief is the natural state of things. It is the default option. We just believe. We believe all sorts of things. Belief is natural.Disbelief, skepticism, science, is not natural. It's more difficult. It's uncomfortable to not believe things. So like Fox Mulder on "X-Files," who wants to believe in UFOs? Well, we all do. And the reason for that is because we have a belief engine in our brains. Essentially, we are pattern-seeking primates. We connect the dots: A is connected to B; B is connected to C. And sometimes A really is connected to B. And that's called association learning.

We find patterns, we make those connections,whether it's Pavlov's dog here associating the sound of the bell with the food, and then he salivates to the sound of the bell, or whether it's a Skinnerian rat, in which he's having an associationbetween his behavior and a reward for it, and therefore he repeats the behavior. In fact, what Skinner discovered is that, if you put a pigeon in a box like this, and he has to press one of these two keys, and he tries to figure out what the pattern is,and you give him a little reward in the hopper box there. If you just randomly assign rewards such that there is no pattern, they will figure out any kind of pattern. And whatever they were doing just before they got the reward, they repeat that particular pattern. Sometimes it was even spinning around twice counterclockwise, once clockwise and peck the key twice. And that's called superstition. And that, I'm afraid, we will always have with us.

I call this process "patternicity," that is, the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise. When we do this process, we make two types of errors. A Type I error, or false positive, is believing a pattern is realwhen it's not. Our second type of error is a false negative. A Type II error is not believing a pattern is real when it is. So let's do a thought experiment.You are a hominid three million years ago walking on the plains of Africa. Your name is Lucy, okay?And you hear a rustle in the grass. Is it a dangerous predator, or is it just the wind? Your next decision could be the most important one of your life. Well, if you think the rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator and it turns out it's just the wind, you've made an error in cognition, made a Type I error, false positive. But no harm. You just move away. You're more cautious. You're more vigilant. On the other hand, if you believe that the rustle in the grass is just the wind, and it turns out it's a dangerous predator, you're lunch. You've just won a Darwin award. You've been taken out of the gene pool.

Now the problem here is that patternicities will occur whenever the cost of making a Type I error is less than the cost of making a Type II error. This is the only equation in the talk by the way. We have a pattern detection problem that is assessing the difference between a type one and a type two erroris highly problematic, especially in split-second, life-and-death situations. So the default position is just "believe all patterns are real." "All rustles in the grass are dangerous predators and not just the wind." And so I think that we evolved ... there was a natural selection for the propensity for our belief engines, our pattern-seeking brain processes, to always find meaningful patterns and infuse them with these sort of predatory or intentional agencies that I'll come back to.

So for example, what do you see here? It's a horse head, that's right. It looks like a horse. It must be a horse. That's a pattern. And is it really a horse? Or is it more like a frog? See, our pattern detection device, which appears to be located in the anterior cingulate cortex -- it's our little detection device there -- can be easily fooled, and this is the problem. For example, what do you see here? Yes, of course. It's a cow. Once I prime the brain -- it's called cognitive priming -- once I prime the brain to see it, it pops back out again even without the pattern that I've imposed on it. And what do you see here? Some people see a dalmatian dog.Yes, there it is. And there's the prime. So when I go back without the prime, your brain already has the model so you can see it again. What do you see here? Planet Saturn. Yes, that's good. How about here? Just shout out anything you see. That's a good audience, Chris. Because there's nothing in this. Well, allegedly there's nothing.

This is an experiment done by Jennifer Whitson at U.T. Austin on corporate environments and whether feelings of uncertainty and out of controlmakes people see illusory patterns. That is, almost everybody sees the planet Saturn. People that are put in a condition of feeling out of controlare more likely to see something in this, which is allegedly patternless. In other words, the propensity to find these patterns goes up when there's a lack of control. For example, baseball players are notoriously superstitious when they're batting, but not so much when they're fielding.Because fielders are successful 90 to 95 percent of the time. The best batters fail seven out of 10 times. So their superstitions, their patternicities,are all associated with feelings of lack of controland so forth.

What do you see in this particular one here, in this field? Anybody see an object there? There actually is something here, but it's degraded. While you're thinking about that, this was an experiment done by Susan Blackmore, a psychologist in England,who showed subjects this degraded image and then ran a correlation between their scores on an ESP test, how much they believe in the paranormal, supernatural, angels and so forth.And those who scored high on the ESP scale,tended to, not only see more patterns in the degraded images, but incorrect patterns. Here is what you show subjects. The fish is degraded 20 percent, 50 percent and then the one I showed you, 70 percent.

A similar experiment was done by another British psychologist named Peter Brugger, who found significantly more meaningful patterns were perceived on the right hemisphere, via the left visual field, than the left hemisphere. So if you present subjects the images such that it's going to end up on the right hemisphere instead of the left,then they're more likely to see patterns than if you put it on the left hemisphere. Our right hemisphere appears to be where a lot of this patternicity occurs. So what we're trying to do is bore into the brain to see where all this happens.

Brugger and his colleague, Christine Mohr, gave subjects L-DOPA. L-DOPA's a drug, as you know, given for treating Parkinson's disease, which is related to a decrease in dopamine. L-DOPA increases dopamine. And increase of dopamine caused subjects to see more patterns than those that did not receive the dopamine. So dopamine appears to be the drug associated with patternicity.In fact, neuroleptic drugs that are used to eliminate psychotic behavior, things like paranoia, delusionsand hallucinations, these are patternicities. They're incorrect patterns. They're false positives. They're type one errors. And if you give them drugs that are dopamine antagonists, they go away. That is, you decrease the amount of dopamine, and their tendency to see patterns like that decreases. On the other hand, amphetamines like cocaine, are dopamine agonists. They increase the amount of dopamine. So you're more likely to feel in a euphoric state, creativity, find more patterns.

In fact, I saw Robin Williams recently talk about how he thought he was much funnier when he was doing cocaine, when he had that issue, than now. So perhaps more dopamine is related to more creativity. Dopamine, I think, changes our signal-to-noise ratio. That is, how accurate we arein finding patterns. If it's too low, you're more likely to make too many type two errors. You miss the real patterns. You don't want to be too skeptical. If you're too skeptical, you'll miss the really interesting good ideas. Just right, you're creative, and yet, you don't fall for too much baloney. Too high and maybe you see patterns everywhere.Every time somebody looks at you, you think people are staring at you. You think people are talking about you. And if you go too far on that, that's just simply labeled as madness. It's a distinction perhaps we might make between two Nobel laureates, Richard Feynman and John Nash. One sees maybe just the right number of patterns to win a Nobel Prize. The other one also, but maybe too many patterns. And we then call that schizophrenia.

So the signal-to-noise ratio then presents us with a pattern-detection problem. And of course you all know exactly what this is, right. And what pattern do you see here? Again, I'm putting your anterior cingulate cortex to the test here, causing you conflicting pattern detections. You know, of course, this is Via Uno shoes. These are sandals. Pretty sexy feet, I must say. Maybe a little Photoshopped.And of course, the ambiguous figures that seem to flip flop back and forth. It turns out what you're thinking about a lot influences what you tend to see. And you see the lamp here, I know. Because the lights on here. Of course, thanks to the environmentalist movement we're all sensitive to the plight of marine mammals. So what you see in this particular, ambiguous figure is, of course, the dolphins, right. You see a dolphin here. And there's a dolphin. And there's a dolphin. That's a dolphin tail there, guys.


If we can give you conflicting data, again, your ACC is going to be going into hyperdrive. If you look down here, it's fine. If you look up here, then you get conflicting data. And then we have to flip the image for you to see that it's a set up. The impossible crate illusion. It's easy to fool the brain in 2D. So you say, "Aw, come on Shermer, anybody can do that in a psych 101 text with an illusion like that." Well here's the late, great Jerry Andrus'"impossible crate" illusion in 3D, in which Jerry is standing inside the impossible crate. And he was kind enough to post this and give us the reveal. Of course, camera angle is everything. The photographer is over there. And this board appears to overlap with this one, and this one with that one, and so on. but even when I take it away,the illusion is so powerful be of how are brains are wired to find those certain kinds of patterns.

This is a fairly new one that throws us off because of the conflicting patterns of comparing this angle with that angle. In fact, it the exact same picture side by side. So what you're doing is comparing that angle instead of with this one, but that one.And so your brain is fooled. Yet again, your pattern detection devices are fooled.

Faces are easy to see because we have an additional evolved facial recognition software in our temporal lobes. Here's some faces on the side of a rock. I'm actually not even sure if this is -- this might be Photoshopped. But anyway, the point is still made. Now which one of these looks odd to you? In a quick reaction, which one looks odd?The one on the left. Okay. So I'll rotate it so it'll be the one on the right. And you are correct. A fairly famous illusion -- was first done with Margaret Thatcher. Now, they trade up the politicians every time. Well, why is this happening? Well, we know exactly where it happens, in the temporal lobe, right across, sort of above your ear there. In a little structure called the fusiform gyrus. And there's two types of cells that do this, that record facial features either globally, or specifically these large, rapid-firing cells, first look at the general face. So you recognize Obama immediately. And then you notice something quite a little bit odd about the eyes and the mouth. Especially when they're upside down, You're engaging that general facial recognition software there.

Now I said back in our little thought experiment,you're a hominid walking on the plains of Africa. Is it just the wind or a dangerous predator? What's the difference between those? Well, the wind is inanimate; the dangerous predator is an intentional agent. And I call this process agenticity.That is the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention and agency, often invisible beings from the top down. This is an idea that we got from a fellow TEDster here, Dan Dennett, who talked about taking the intentional stance.

So it's a type of that expanded to explain, I think, a lot of different things, souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers,government conspiracists and all manner of invisible agents with power and intention, are believed to haunt our world and control our lives. I think it's the basis of animism and polythiesm and monotheism. It's the belief that aliens are somehow more advanced than us, more moral than us, and the narrative's always are that they're coming here to save us and rescue us from on high. The intelligent designer's always portrayedas this super intelligent, moral being that comes down to design life. Even the idea that government can rescue us. That's no longer the wave of the future. But that is, I think, a type of agenticity, the projecting somebody up there, big and powerful will come rescue us.

And this is also, I think, the basis of conspiracy theories. There's somebody hiding behind there pulling the strings, whether it's the Illuminati or the Bilderbergers. But this is a pattern detection problem, isn't it. Some patterns are real and some are not. Was JFK assassinated by a conspiracy or by a lone assassin? Well, if you go there -- there's people there on any given day -- like when I went there, here -- showing me where the different shooters were. My favorite one was he was in the manhole. And he popped out at the last second, took that shot. But of course, Lincoln was assassinated by a conspiracy. So we can't just uniformly dismiss all patterns like that. Because, let's face it, some patterns are real. Some conspiracies really are true. Explains a lot, maybe.

And 9/11 has a conspiracy theory. It is a conspiracy. We did a whole issue on it. 19 members of Al Queda plotting to fly planes into buildings constitutes a conspiracy. But that's not what the "9/11 truthers" think. They think it was an inside job by the Bush administration. Well, that's a whole other lecture. But you know how we know that 9/11 was not orchestrated by the Bush administration? Because it worked.



So we are natural-born dualists. Our agenticity process comes from the fact that we can enjoy movies like these. Because we can imagine, in essence, continuing on. We know that if you stimulate the temporal lobe, you can produce a feeling of out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, which you can do by just touching an electrode to the temporal lobe there. Or you can do it by loss of consciousness, by accelerating in a centrifuge. You get a hypoxia, or a lower oxygen.And the brain then senses that there's an out-of-body experience. You can use -- which I did, went out and did -- Michael Persinger's God Helmet,that bombards your temporal lobes with electromagnetic waves. And you get a sense of out-of-body experience.

So I'm going to end here with a short video clip that sort of brings all this together. It's just a minute and a half. It ties together all this into the power of expectation and the power of belief. Go ahead and roll it.

Narrator: This is the venue they chose for their fake auditions for an advert for lip balm.

Woman: We're hoping we can use part of this on a national commercial, right. And this is test on some lip balms that we have over here. And these are our models who are going to help us, Roger and Matt. And we have our own lip balm, and we have a leading brand. Would you have any problem kissing our models to test it.

Girl: No.

Woman: You wouldn't? (Girl: No.) Woman: You'd think that was fine.

Girl: That would be fine. (Woman: Okay.)

So this is a blind test. I'm going to ask you to go ahead and put a blindfold on. Kay, now can you see anything? (Girl: No.) Pull it so you can't even see down. (Girl: Okay.)

Woman: It's completely blind now, right?

Girl: Yes. (Woman: Okay.)

Now, what I'm going to be looking for in this test is how it protects your lips, the texture, right, and maybe if you can discern any flavor or not.

Girl: Okay. (Woman: Have you ever done a kissing test before?)

Girl: No.

Woman: Take a step here. Okay, now I want you to pucker up. Pucker up big and lean in just a little bit, okay.




Okay. And, Jennifer, how did that feel?

Jennifer: Good.


Girl: Oh, my God.


Michael Shermer: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Hey. I am Michael Shermer, the director of the Skeptics Society, the publisher of Skeptic magazine. We investigate claims of the paranormal, pseudo-science, and fringe groups and cults and claims of all kinds between --science and pseudo-science and non-science and junk science, voodoo science, pathological science, bad science, non-science and plain old nonsense. And unless you've been on Mars recently, you know there's a lot of that out there.

Some people call us debunkers, which is kind of a negative term. But let's face it -- there's a lot of bunk, and we are like the bunko squads of the police departments out there, flushing out. Well, we're sort of like the Ralph
Naders of bad ideas --(Laughter) -- trying to replace bad ideas with good ideas.

I'll show you an example of a bad idea. I brought this with me. This was given to us by NBC Dateline to test. It's the -- it's produced by the Quadro Corporation of West Virginia. It's called the Quadro 2000 Dowser Rod. (Laughter) This was being sold to high school administrators for 900 dollars a piece. It's a piece of plastic with a Radio Shack antenna attached to it. You could dowse for all sorts of things, but this particular one was built to dowse for marijuana in students' lockers.(Laughter)

So the way it works is, you go down the hallway and you see if it tilts toward a particular locker, and then you open the locker. So it looks something like this. I'll show you. (Laughter) No, it -- well, it has kind of a right-leaning bias. So, I'll show -- well, this is science, so we'll do a controlled experiment. It'll go this way for sure. (Laughter)

Sir, you want to empty your pockets. Please, sir?(Laughter)

So the question was, can it actually find marijuana in students' lockers? And the answer is, If you open enough of them -- yes. (Laughter) (Applause)

But in science, we have to keep track of the misses, not just the hits. And that's probably the key lesson to my short talk here, is that this is how psychics work, astrologers, and tarot card readers and so on. People remember the hits; they forget the misses. In science we have to keep the whole database, and look to see if the number of hits is somehow stands out from the total number that you would expect by chance.

In this case, we tested it. We had two opaque boxes, one with government-approved THC marijuana, and one with nothing. And it got it 50 percent of the time -- -- which is exactly what you'd expect with a coin flip model. So that's just a fun little example here of the sorts of things we do.

Skeptic is the quarterly publication. Each one has a particular theme, like this one is on the future of intelligence. Are people getting smarter or dumber? I have an opinion of this myself because the business I'm in. But, in fact, people, it turns out, are getting smarter. Three IQ points per 10 years, going up. Sort of an interesting thing.

With science, don't think of skepticism as a thing or even science as a thing. Are science and religion compatible? It's like, are science and plumbing compatible? These -- they're just two different things. Science is not a thing. It's a verb.It's a way of thinking about things. It's a way of looking for natural explanations for all phenomena.

I mean, what's more likely -- that extraterrestrial intelligences or multi-dimensional beings travel across the vast distances of interstellar space to leave a crop circle in Farmer Bob's field in Puckerbrush, Kansas to promote, our webpage? Or is it more likely that a reader of Skeptic did this with Photoshop? And in all cases we have to ask -- (Laughter) -- what's the more likely explanation? And before we say something is out of this world, we should first make sure that it's not in this world. What's more likely -- that Arnold had a little extraterrestrial help in his run for the governorship? Or that the World Weekly News makes stuff up? (Laughter)

And part of that -- the same theme is expressed nicely here in this Sidney Harris cartoon. For those of you in the back, it says here "Then a miracle occurs. I think you need to be more explicit here in step two." This single slide completely dismantles the intelligent design arguments. There's nothing more to it than that. (Applause) You can say a miracle occurs. It's just that it doesn't explain anything. It doesn't offer anything. There's nothing to test. It's the end of the conversation for intelligent design creationists.

Whereas -- and it's true, scientists sometimes throw terms out as linguistic place fillers -- dark energy or dark matter or something like that. Until we figure out what it is, we'll just call it this. It's the beginning of the causal chain for science. For intelligent design creationists, it's the end of the chain. So again, we can ask this -- what's more likely -- are UFOs alien spaceships or perceptual cognitive mistakes, or even fakes?

This is a UFO shot from my house in Altadena, California, looking down over Pasadena. And if it looks a lot like a Buick hubcap, it's because it is.You don't even need Photoshop, you don't need high-tech equipment, you don't need computers.This was shot with a throw-away Kodak Instamatic camera. You just have somebody off on the side with a hubcap ready to go. Camera's ready -- that's it. (Laughter)

So, although it's possible that most of these things are fake or illusions or so on and that some of them are real, it's more likely that all of them are fake, like the crop circles.

On a more serious note, in all of science we're looking for a balance between data and theory. In the case of Galileo, he had two problems when he turned his telescope to Saturn. First of all, there was no theory of planetary rings. And second of all, his data was grainy and fuzzy, and he couldn't quite make out what it was he was looking at. So he wrote that he had seen -- "I have observed that the furthest planet has three bodies." And this is what he ended up concluding that he saw. So without a theory of planetary rings and with only grainy data,you can't have a good theory. And it wasn't solved until 1655.

This is Christiaan Huygens's book in which he cataloged all the mistakes that people made in trying to figure out what was going on with Saturn.It wasn't till -- Huygens had two things. He had a good theory of planetary rings and how the solar system operated. And then, he had better telescopic, more fine-grain data in which he could figure out that as the Earth is going around faster --according to Kepler's Laws -- than Saturn, then we catch up with it. And we see the angles of the rings at different angles, there. And that, in fact, turns out to be true.

The problems with having a theory is that your theory may be loaded with cognitive biases. So one of the problems of explaining why people believe weird things is that we have things on a simple level. And then I'll go to more serious ones.Like, we have a tendency to see faces.

This is the face on Mars which was -- in 1976, where there was a whole movement to get NASAto photograph that area because people thoughtthis was monumental architecture made by Martians. Well, it turns out -- here's the close-up of it from 2001. If you squint, you can still see the face. And when you're squinting, what you're doing is you're turning that from fine-grain to coarse-grain. And so, you're reducing the quality of your data. And if I didn't tell you what to look for, you'd still see the face, because we're programmed by evolution to see faces.

Faces are important for us socially. And, of course, happy faces. Faces of all kinds are easy to see.(Laughter) You can see the happy face on Mars, there. If astronomers were frogs perhaps they'd see Kermit the Frog. Do you see him there? Little froggy legs. Or if geologists were elephants?

Religious iconography. (Laughter) Discovered by a Tennessee baker in 1996. He charged five bucks a head to come see the nun bun till he got a cease-and-desist from Mother Teresa's lawyer.Here's Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Watsonville, just down the street. Or is it up the street from here? Tree bark is particularly good because it's nice and grainy, branchy, black-and-white splotchy and you can get the pattern-seeking -- humans are pattern-seeking animals.

Here's the Virgin Mary on the side of a glass window in Sao Paulo. Now, here's the Virgin Mary made her appearance on a cheese sandwich --which I got to actually hold in a Las Vegas casino,of course, this being America. (Laughter) This casino paid 28,500 dollars on eBay for the cheese sandwich. (Laughter) But who does it really look like, the Virgin Mary? (Laughter) It has that sort of puckered lips, 1940s-era look.

Virgin Mary in Clearwater, Florida. I actually went to see this one. There was a lot of people there -- the faithful come to be in their -- wheelchairs and crutches, and so on. And we went down, investigated. Just to give you a size -- that's Dawkins, me and The Amazing Randi, next to this two, two and a half story size image. All these candles, so many thousands of candles people had lit in tribute to this. So we walked around the backside, just to see what was going on here,where it turns out wherever there's a sprinkler head and a palm tree, you get the effect. Here's the Virgin Mary on the backside, which they started to wipe off. I guess you can only have one miracle per building. (Laughter) So is it really a miracle of Mary, or is it a miracle of Marge? (Laughter)

And then I'm going to finish up with another example of this with audio -- auditory illusions.There is this film, "White Noise," with Michael Keaton about the dead talking back to us. By the way, this whole business of talking to the dead, it's not that big a deal. Anybody can do it, turns out. It's getting the dead to talk back that's the really hard part. (Laughter)

In this case, supposedly, these messages are hidden in electronic phenomena. There's a web page on which I downloaded this stuff. Here is the forward -- this is the most famous one of all of these. Here's the forward version of the very famous song. Boy, coudln't you just listen to that all day? (Laughter)

All right, here it is backwards, and see if you can hear the hidden messages that are supposedly in there. What did you get?

(Audience: Satan.)

Michael Shermer: Satan? OK, well, at least we got Satan. Now, I'll prime your auditory part of your brain to tell you what you're supposed to hear, and then hear it again. (Laughter) (Applause)

You can't miss it when I tell you what's there.(Laughter)

All right, I'm going to just end with a positive, nice, little story about -- the Skeptics is a nonprofit educational organization. We're always looking for little, good things that people do.

And in England, there's a pop singer. Very -- one of the top popular singers in England today, Katie Melua. And she wrote a beautiful song. It was in the top five in 2005, called, "Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing." It's a love story -- she's sort of the Norah Jones of the U.K. -- about how she much loves her guy, and compared to nine million bicycles, and so forth. And she has this one passage here.

♫ We are 12 billion light-years from the edge ♫

♫ That's a guess ♫

♫ No one can ever say it's true ♫

♫ But I know that I will always be with you ♫

Well, that's nice. At least she got it close. In America it would be, "We're 6,000 light years from the edge."


But my friend, Simon Singh, the particle physicist, now turned science educator, and he wrote the book "The Big Bang," and so on. He uses every chance he gets to promote good science. And so, he wrote an op-ed piece in The Guardian about Katie's song, in which he said, well, we know exactly how old, how far from the edge. You know, it's 12 -- it's 13.7 billion light years, and it's not a guess. We know within precise error bars there how close it is. And so, we can say, although not absolutely true, that it's pretty close to being true.

And, to his credit, Katie called him up after this op-ed piece came out. And said, "I'm so embarrassed. I was a member of the astronomy club, and I should have known better." And she re-cut the song. So I'll end with the new version. ♫ We are 13.7 billion light years ♫ ♫ from the edge of the observable universe ♫ ♫ That's a good estimate with well-defined error bars ♫ ♫ And with the available information ♫ ♫ I predict that I will always be with you ♫ (Applause)

How cool is that? (Applause)

Stories: Good (and Not-So-Good) Vibrations

While raising investment capital for a business I started several years ago, I was pressured to step aside and allow the investors to bring in a professional CEO.  As founder, I resisted though I knew it was common at that stage of growth and had expected the issue to come up.  A couple investors took me aside. "You're a scientist and you're too honest," was one of the arguments.  "A good CEO lies so well that he believes himself.  He doesn't even know that he's lying."   "We want someone with a big ego," was another aurguement.  "Someone who will stop at nothing to make this work."  Huh!  And they call these guys "Angel" investors.   To be fair, in retrospect, I wasn't qualified to lead a larger company at that time.  Yet, I'm still surprised at the reasoning they offered me.   Nevertheless, I managed to hang onto the CEO role, close the angel round, and go on later to close a venture round of financing.  I found that these sorts of pressures were always present.  The investors were narrowly focused on ROI.  "They aren't in it to change the world," a friend who was a seasoned CEO explained to me.  "They would donate to a charity if there was a cause they wanted to support."

I attended a weekend seminar in San Francisco for men a few years ago.  It was given by a group of 10 women who promised to "give up their game" for the purpose of showing men how to better understand women and therefore find more mutual understanding across gender lines -- a worthy goal, it seemed at the time.  At one point, the leader asked each man present what was the most important quality to them in a relationship.  When the question was posed to me, my heart-felt reply was, "Integrity."   A knowing smile appeared on the woman's face as she informed us that this was a common contention between men and women.  "Men tend to have a rigid view of integrity - they view it as black or white," she explained.  "But, for women, it's more fluid.  Women are skilled at bending the truth to fit their needs and men find this very upsetting."   I was stunned to hear such a taboo statement from a woman.  This was shortly after my divorce and I still harbored feelings of betrayal by Karen's trade of honesty for dollars in the settlement process.  "It's one of the biggest issues that comes up between men and women," she continued.  "In a male-dominated society, women have had to learn to manipulate men to get what they need -- and," she smiled with a glint in her eye, "we've become very good at it.  Women have passed down their secrets of manipulation from generation to generation for thousands of years."  Wow!  The words resonated down my spine despite their obvious generality and lack of political correctness.  I ended up having a great time with these women and returned to hang out at their Urban Retreat Center off and on for several months.

Mark Israel, MD
When I worked as a researcher at the University of California San Francisco, I struggled to get a grant that would allow me to begin my own laboratory.  I worked day and night.  It was a project that I had designed and brought with me from Stanford -- and that project relied on a neuronal cell culture method that I developed at UC Berkeley.  Even though it is public work done in the public interest, scientists get very possessive about the projects on which they work so hard -- without legal protections, scientists rely heavily on ethical conduct because "Nowhere more than academics do so many fight so hard for so little."  I discovered one day that two more senior faculty members, Mark Israel and Bill Mobley, had submitted a grant application based on my work to the NIH -- without either bothering to tell me.  I went to Bill and suggested that we all work together on the project since we shared an interest in it.  "We can't do that," he replied as if he thought I might actually agree with his reasoning.  "If you work on the project, people will think it's your work.  I need this for my laboratory."  To make a long story short, they were funded and I wasn't. I left UCSF after much protest, but short of filing a formal complaint (or lawsuit).

I wrote these (true) accounts as an opening for an article about integrity -- examples to support a premise that there's a lack of it everywhere.  I have lots of others I could tell.  I don't remember what the inspiration was -- I was probably feeling disgusted by BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the Wall Street bankers' multi-million dollar bonuses following their bailout.  Yet, something didn't feel right about what I was saying and I thought about it more.

I realized that these are just stories -- the types of stories people tend to carry around with them as psychic junk.  From within a rich life, a person can find stories to support almost any point of view.  If one wants to make the point that life in the human realm lacks integrity, it's probably easy for any of us to come up with personal stories to support that view.  I could just as easily write about stories that would indicate there is an abundance of integrity in this world.  It's all there if one looks for it without cloaking it in personal drama.

It's easy to identify Self' with the stories -- holding a piece of the past as if it were a part of the present.  The stories can be about any topic or any memory - real or imagined.  What's important is that they begin to control us.  They shift our energies and become a part of our ego.  Stories like the ones above start to run when I'm feeling upset with an unjust world.   If you're not already there, telling yourself such stories will solidify your belief that the world lacks integrity.  It's much like tuning a vibrational instrument.   Your being aligns to the resonance of the story through entrainment.

I didn't intend to vilify the investors -- most could be your friend or family member.  It's simply capitalism at some refined, though unconscious, level.  It's part of our culture that is beginning to change -- perhaps in time to save ourselves, perhaps not.   I know that not all women have "fluid" integrity and some are not manipulative.   I don't think Mark or Bill are bad people -- just guys with too much ambition and too little talent who got in my way a long time ago.  Such negative energies are common in our culture and have brought us to the brink of ruin -- but, that's another story.

Prof. Cornelius Tobias
Dr. Elizabeth Kutter

There was a time when I hated Mark Israel.  Replaying my story of him brought me to a very angry and disconnected state.  But I found, too, that I could replay a story of one of many encounters with Cornelius Tobias - one of my favorite professors at Berkeley - and shift to very different pattern.  Just finding "Toby's" picture a few minutes ago brought a smile, ease and an inspired appreciation for brilliance in science as I write this article.   Then, of course, there is Betty Kutter, my first mentor who guided me on the path to scientific investigation, and there was teaching physics at Berkeley with Owen Chamberlain (Nobel Prize for the discovery of anti-matter), and even a wonderful moment with Linus Pauling.  If you walk into the room when I am thinking of times spent with either of these wonderful souls, I will be vibrating with an inner smile and an open heart.

The point I'm trying to make is that within us are numerous channels of vibrational energy that projects the personalities we identify with.  The good vibrations carry a healing energy -- not-so-good ones are toxic.  If you find yourself in a toxic situation, ask which vibrations you are tuned in to.  Shifting between stories causes a shift in my projected being.  "I" don't change, but the energies that drive me do.  Some spiritual teachers refer to these as entities or spirits that inhabit our bodies.  I don't know, but I can appreciate why they describe them in that way.  It's difficult for the mind to distinguish between story and present tense illusion ("reality").  The circuitry of the mind reacts to either.  Thus, as others have said, suffering is a choice.

This brings me to a vision I had in deep meditation a few weeks back.  I saw my vessel floating on a dynamic, flowing ocean of energy.  The ocean contained many currents -- each representing a vibrational energy.  We're rarely aware of the currents, but we learn to shift among some of them intuitively without knowing much about them.  Some currents felt familiar and personal while others seemed to embody other beings - living or dead.  They can be navigated and utilized purposefully.  A skilled navigator selects the currents that will take him in the direction he desires.