Monday, November 30, 2015

Update on H2S threat of human extinction: news keeps getting worse

Bottom line: as the oxygen gets depleted in the deep waters on the Pacific side of the Antarctic, it
seems ever more likely that a major new extinction event -- to include all humans on earth -- will begin in about 40 years. I STRONGLY recommend major new research efforts to better understand where oxygen levels may go all across the Pacific on that time scale, accounting for the exhaustion of those deep waters, linked to studies of what drives the proliferation of H2S-producing microbes and some ability to predict H2S prediction in regions like the offshore waters of California, China and Japan.

Here is some recent correspondence on that issue (to Lifeboat Foundation and Energy Consensus):

Just to easy my conscience, I report just a few more thoughts on the H2S issue.

One of you referred to "your theory" about the risk from H2S emissions from the ocean. For the record, it is not a theory, but an empirical fact that H2S levels in the atmosphere and radiation levels (expected from stratospheric ozone levels implied by H2S emission levels) have 5-10 times in the past reached levels high enough to kill every human on earth, if humans had been there at the time. We may disagree with various THEORIES in the book Under a Green Sky by Peter Ward, but his reports of what was measured and how are about as authoritative as it gets. 

Kump of PSU (cited by Ward) explained that we KNOW what causes proliferation of the archaea which produce H2S in the ocean. (Right now, most of the Black Sea is a reservoir of that kind of poison... though fortunately the waves in the Black Sea are not as vast as those in the Pacific.) It is low oxygen, plus nutrition.

About two years ago, I discussed this with a leader in physical oceanography at Columbia. He was already well aware that the "main lungs of the planet" (the thermohaline currents which bring oxygen 
from the surface waters near Antarctica to all of the Pacific) have ALREADY been cut off. I previously sent you the link to the main data available from NOAA:

The main pathway for oxygen is from deep Antarctic to the rest of the oceans. It looks fine on the Atlantic side, but on the Pacific side it looks like 40 years.

What I did not really pay attention to before is that nutrition ANYWHERE in the Pacific (especially deep waters) is enough for a proliferation of H2S-producing archaea, when low oxygen gets that far.
A friend (formerly part of the NOAA oceans group) tells me that the nutrients washing off China, California and Japan in huge quantities,
unprecedented in earth history, are exactly what those archaea need. 
Thus if we study what is going on here... what we would need to study is the future of oxygen levels in the Pacific.. and if they get low... I see much less hope/uncertainty now than I did when last I wrote.

Just this week, there was an interesting story suggesting that mainstream, narrow climate science has ALREADY been blindsided
by changes in the microbiome of the ocean:

But that is as nothing compared to what happens when the deep waters run out and oxygen drops much lower....

My friend the physical oceanographer said I was UNDERESTIMATING
the threat to the human species, and that he and a group of folks who understand this stuff tried to get together to push geoengineering as a last ditch effort to save our species. But when our thick skulled politics got in the way, even in the face of a strong push by folks with lots of ocean credentials... He just retired, not like me to the DC area, but to a beach far away. 

It is a good sign that the Chinese for Paris have asked for a new international effort to really understand what is happening with oxygen and future microbial ecology in the Pacific... short of that, it would be typical for human leaders to just wait until we have little if any hope left. 

And again... I would ask for RESEARCH, not for BELIEF. 

There are thousands of people who OUGHT to be following up... and I can only contact a few myself, given that I have more unique knowledge (and hence responsibility) in areas related to geoengineering technology. 

Best of luck. We really do need it.


More details: 


Fascinating stuff!


Can you comment on relationships between ocean water pH, T, and source and on atmospheric CO2 and T?


Hi, Hal!

Thanks for providing an entertaining exercise here.

People have written books to give a more complete picture of all these relations... so I must simplify and choose which aspects to stress.

You start with pH. PH ****************************************** 

In the mainstream climate change research, there has been a kind of progressive minority saying that we should also worry about "ocean acidification -- ph." Early on, in my year (2009) handling climate for Senator Specter, I checked a lot of the claims from the climate mainstream and its critics, including the ocean acidification literature. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) had a great review, which translated the issue into numbers.   Summery: "The great fear is the risk that ocean pH might decline from 8.0 as it is now to 7.9 or even 7.7 in a hundred years." Those numbers drive me to an about-face on that issue! Fresh water normally has pH of 7.0, so it is incredibly implausible to worry that our form of life would have troubles adapting to pH even as low as 7.0! By the way, that fear was based on the well-known chemistry of CO2 dissolving in water, one of the major mechanisms in nature for removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

I mentioned before that the historical measurements of H2S and radiation reported by Ward in Under a Green Sky are solid data -- but that I don't believe all of Ward's theories. (I am very grateful to Ward for providing a useful annotated bibliography in his book; for a condensed summary of the book, see Ward says very clearly that he is NOT an expert on ocean currents... he proposes that low oxygen ("stratified ocean") and ACIDITY in the ocean may be the two drivers of past mass extinctions. And so, he warns us that higher CO2 could cause BOTH low oxygen AND acid ocean, and get us to a new mass extinction, starting perhaps when CO2 reaches about 1000 ppm. He admits that this is just a seat-of-the-pants guesstimate, and calls for new crossdisciplinary research, to bring in people who know more than he does about the physics of ocean currents -- especially "thermohaline currents (THC)," the currents caused by variations in water density caused by variations in temperature T and salinity.

But we do not need to speculate like that, in order to understand what conditions cause the (very rapid) proliferation of the microbes which produce H2S! Ward cites an important classic journal article by Kump which cites what we KNOW about those organisms -- that oxygen level and nutrient level are the two main drivers. (Kump's paper, like Ward's book, also includes thoughts about other larger issues, which people debate, but the conditions for growth of these microbes is reasonably clear.) Low oxygen in water and high nutrients -- these are not esoteric conditions found only on Mars! I actually did a google search on "stinky aquarium" to verify how easy it is to create this problem. (Too bad the parents of those kids interpreted the outcome as a mess, not as an important scientific result!) Still, IF THE WORLD HAS THE SENSE TO INSTITUTE A NEW RESEARCH PROGRAM AIMED AT REALLY UNDERSTANDING AND CALIBRATING THE H2S RISK TO HUMANITY, it should include a small component of competitive university-based research (with high school outreach?!) to nail down more precisely the mathematical conditions for proliferation of the H2S-producing microbes, to support mathematical models to predict H2S output as a function of oxygen levels and other variables. Seeing when or whether pH is an important variable should be part of this. After reading Ward's book, I was hoping that "good" H2S-eating bacteria might save us, and that pH might be important in killing them in earlier history, but papers on ocean chemistry suggest to me that the stoichiometry is not right for them making much of a difference in this situation; again, however, a proper research effort should include some effort to check and calibrate this, to consider not only the H2S-producing bacteria but  the role of the main bacteria which can eat some of the H2S sometimes. 

Final observation on PH -- the Smithsonian had some really great exhibits about ten years ago, showing just how much lower the ocean bottom pH once was (4 or 5?) in parts of earth history, and how all this interacted with evolution, from archaea to eukaryotes.. Now that evolution is considered less acceptable to many in power than the public exhibition of sex, and funds have been withdrawn for such things, it is harder for people to engage with reality. 

******************  T
As I mentioned above, "T" is important to the H2S risk because T and salinity are the two major factors determining the density of ocean water, which in turn drives the powerful THC currents which have brought oxygen to all the world's oceans for many thousands of years.

The mechanism behind these currents is insanely simple and straightforward,
and I am embarrassed that I did not have a really clear picture of how T and salinity interact here until just a few years ago. Ward said "We need to being in folks who understand this kind of physics,"  and I instantly felt a duty to try some of this analysis on my own time, since I really do know about PDE and about computer models. (Back in the 80's I built a few big computer models for DOE, used in their Annual Energy Outlook, and I have a recent paper in Quantum Information Processing which trees back to harder PDE than any the climate folks work with.) But it doesn't require such hairy stuff!

The primary currents here, "the lungs of the planet," are simple convection currents, like what we should all understand from seventh grade. We all know how the sun often heats up the air next to the ground, so that it has lower density and rises up to higher altitude, creating a motion which drives the weather of the earth (and wind energy and so on). But normally, when the sun heats water at the surface of the ocean, the water just gets lower density and does NOT float up into the air! No currents produced. The "lungs of the planet" are driven by the fact that fresh water in the temperature range from 0 degrees C and 4 degrees C is a rather special material, for which higher temperature RAISES density, causing a current which plunges DOWN in the ocean. When water is salty, the range from 0 to 4 degrees changes to something like -4 degrees to 0 degrees. (In other words, salty water won't freeze unless it gets significantly colder than 0 degrees; that's why people put salt on driveways in winter.) These curves are VERY well known!!!

For several years, I was worried more about the Arctic than the Antarctic, because of EU empirical work suggesting we might be only a decade or two away from 0 degrees C in the Arctic Ocean and far north Atlantic, which could shut down the northern (small) lung of the planet. Even just the Arctic and North Atlantic could produce enough H2S for a major extinction event. 
(In fact, the most recent mass extinction, the eocene-paleocene event described by Ward was based mainly on North Atlantic production.) But at the time I had not fully understood how salinity plays into this, and how the situation in the Antarctic is more serious than I knew.

Of course, salty water is denser than fresh water at the same temperature! 
We all have heard about how easy it is to float on the Great Salt Lake in Utah! And the basic chemistry is pretty obvious to those who study such things. In the short term, as ice still covers Greenland, melting ice creates fresh water which floats to the top, and sometimes blocks the northern Gulf Stream, which keeps the UK and France from being as cold as Labrador! The University of Southampton in the UK has done a stellar job of tracking these near-term variations in the Gulf Stream. (It is curious how their lead researcher -- Broyden? -- was denounced as a "crackpot" and "alarmist" by the PR mavens of political correctness some years ago, when the Economist ran an article "Will England freeze over?"... but then won some great prize as the number one contributor to ocean inputs to climate models a few years later!)  Because the RATE of melting of Greenland has fluctuated, the impact on the Gulf Stream has waxed and waned, but once T crosses a critical level, the whole game changes, and it is no longer a matter of fluctuation.  That is quite serious, but only for the EU, really, and maybe Boston. 

For the earth -- the crucial problem right now is the outflow of fresh water (often freezing into sea ice) into the waters around the Antarctic, which
has already floated to the top and blocked the MAIN THC, including the THC which brings oxygen to the Pacific. Anoxic Pacific could produce enough H2S to give us a rerun of the biggest mass extinction, the PT event which Ward talks about.

The key point is NOT that warming COULD SOMEDAY lead to enough melting to block the southern THC. The point is that it already HAS, and that the oxygenated bottom waters on the Pacific side of the Antarctic appear to be just 40 years away from disappearing. It is as if we were already under water, with 40 years worth of oxygen left in our lungs. Again, I am merely describing the numbers in the NOAA map whose URL I sent out last time.
This is data, not speculation. 

Professional political tranquilizers have stressed the possibility that the total thickness of ice over the total Antarctic may have even increased lately. But that is not the variable which drives the H2S risk here. Total thickness is like precipitation minus melting -- but melting ITSELF, especially on the Pacific side, is what has ALREADY shut down the THC.    

If, after more research, we get a better handle on the risk, and find that we are indeed on a pathway to extinction of humans and almost all other mammals, what can we do about it? For now, I am just arguing that we need to FIND OUT, and that BETTER UNDERSTANDING of the risk will be important to figuring out what we can do. But... it is possible to guess a little, tentatively, in advance. Since the two key drivers are oxygen in the ocean and nutrient levels... the possibilities which seem most promising to me would be: (1) to arrest the fresh water runoff around the Antarctic; and (2) to drastically reduce the nutrient runoff from places like China, California and Japan. Both would be quite heroic -- and if we don't recognize the problem soon enough, we may not have enough time to do either.

Is it possible to REDUCE CO2 in the atmosphere enough to help much with (1)? Breakthroughs seem possible, but present politics seem to make it impossible. There are also possibilities for geoengineering -- such as Abdul Kalam's favorite idea of using lightweight mirrors in space to reduce warming of specific areas like the Antarctic, feasible if we reduce the cost of getting to space. The technology is now there to make that possible, but corruption and ideological insanity in Washington  currently makes it very heroic to try to deploy it. (They give us a choice between "blue pixie dust" -- just giving more money to jobs programs in Alabama and Georgia to build expendable rockets with no hope of cutting costs anywhere near enough -- and "pink pixie dust", counting on the sheer charisma and ideological correctness of guys like Musk  to overcome physical barriers they have no real understanding of.) Maybe the sight of the gallows might help wake people up before it is too late? It is a thin reed to depend on, but we don't have much else. Of course, keeping humans alive beyond the earth, as in the movie "Wall-E," would also require low cost RLV lifting lots and lots of new stuff.

The nutrient side probably can't be improved all that much, but the 15 Sept 2015 issue on Earth and Space News (EOS) has an interesting related story on page 3. Already, there are three really big "dead zones" on earth -- the Black Sea (full of H2S but relatively tranquil water), the seasonal dead zone off of Louisiana and a bigger zone in the Baltic (mentioned briefly in the article).  Those ocean dead zones are ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE smaller than what we could expect with a low oxygen Pacific; the nutrients flowing in from the Mississippi mainly cause growth of algae, which THEN cause a local area of low oxygen, as the bodies of the dead algae then float deeper into the ocean. But they give a useful foretaste. Since NOAA already has models to predict this dead zone, maybe it would not be SO hard to extend the models to consider what happens if one would START with low oxygen where the 
nutrients flow in, such that archaea, not algae, proliferate from the beginning. The article also discusses what kinds of changes in agricultural practices might reduce the nutrient inflow.  I would guess that such changes would only be good, at best, for one order of magnitude reduction, and that we would need much more than that to reduce the coming problems in the Pacific to a manageable scale.

If we reduce the problem to a manageable scale, such that H2S production off each of the three key regions of nutrient source (China, California, Japan)
is comparable only to the Black Sea, that might possible save us. Or not. Even if that works, the waves there are a lot bigger than those of the Black Sea.  There might still be some occasional breakouts,  like mass death in the night in those three areas... but it would not threaten extinction of the entire species. Poor Japan... Fukushima II?

**************** Your other questions

I am not sure whether I have addressed your final questions. 

Re sources -- it is important here how oxygen gets FROM the deep waters off the Antarctic to the Pacific as a whole. My physical oceanographer friend was very emphatic that this is where the oxygen mainly comes from for the Pacific... but actual mathematical models of the flow of oxygen, which account for the reduction as the deep water source gets exhausted,are really essential here. In fact, that is the biggest part of the new research we need. to nail down better the numbers of when and where we can expect oxygen levels to fall in the Pacific, especially about 40 years from now.

For now, the onset of large scale H2S production is enough of a research challenge. But I have done a few quick calculations on what happens next.
The outgassing and accumulation of H2S in the atmosphere would have a kind of 2,000-year trajectory, which sounds reassuring at first... except that 
very awful things happen well before the H2S concentration is enough to be directly fatal. Acidity ON THE LAND AND IN THE ATMOSPHERE resulting from H2S emissions reaching the atmosphere are one concern. Another concern is that the initial chemical descendants of the H2S (like sulfuric acid and whatnot) can break down the stratospheric ozone layer. My guess is that the radiation which that produces is what would really kill us first. Prior to the fatal level of radiation... well, let me not chronicle the various dire wrinkles here and now. 

Thank you for your interest, and I apologize if this is too long for others.

Wouldn't it be nice to know more exact numbers and to 
understand what possible escapes or loopholes might exist in reality, and not just in the imaginary worlds of left and right ideologies, or in the limited stuff we know today? That's my real point. We need to find out.

But in allocating my own limited capabilities... I am more on the geoengineering and CO2-reduction technology side, one important part of what needs to be done. Other groups are needed to do the new research to really calibrate this threat.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Purpose of Life In a High Buddhist Viewpoint

Purpose of Life In a High Buddhist Viewpoint

More and more, as it seems less and less likely to me that the human species will avoid extinction by any path I can think of, I find myself asking: what now? What is a rational way forward for me (and others) as a person? That drives me back to re-examining basic principles.

Background ===================

In a way, I hate having to include background so much, but realistically, without some background,  I might as well be speaking a foreign language to most people.

Long ago, from middle school to the start of undergraduate days, I was deeply interested in philosophy, but understood that getting a degree in philosophy would not be a good way to pursue that interest in the twentieth century. Yet I did at least take the basic survey course in philosophy at Harvard, from Albritton and Cavell (sp?), and understood the basics of the “four main elements of philosophy – ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, and ...”. It was amusing for me, a few weeks ago, to get into some email debates with Accredited Philosophers who were deep into metaphysics... and, in my view, totally out of touch with reality.  Ethics and epistemology are the real foundation of what we know, and in a sense metaphysics is just a kind of application domain.  

In this “diary note” – I address my recent thoughts on the subject of “ethics,” which should not be confused at all with the definition of  “ethics” which you hear more often in today’s world. Many people just assume that “ethics” means a lot of self-righteous posturing about which hand to use when holding a fork and such, or that it refers to a branch of law which sets up rules to minimize the damage due to conflicts of interest. Here, I will be talking about a different, older definition of “ethics” – the ethics which tries to help us define meaning and purpose in life, and also addresses the age old question of whether there IS any meaning or purpose in life. In modern language, it includes the question of what our utility function U should be when we try to engage in rational decision-making, and the question of whether we really want to be rational, in what way and to what degree.

Well before 1967, as an undergraduate, I believe I worked out a proper answer to the general question here.  I knew enough about neural networks and emergent phenomena that I saw no plausible basis for believing the weird, extraneous systems of metaphysics and the conflicting religions  which people in power had used to control others. In a realistic, Einsteinian universe, the logic was simple: (1) there is NO logical way to answer a question like “what should I do,” using just logic, unless one cheats by including an axiom which already assumes what one should do; (2) but there IS a scientific way to answer the sharper questions, “What WOULD I do if I were wise ... if I found an ‘answer’ fully satisfying to ME”; (3) the third translates directly into “be true to yourself” and “know yourself,” the core principle of ethics in high Confucianism, where it is called “zheng qi” (translated in Qufu to “integrity”). This is explained in more complete depth in my paper posted at, published in a Russian journal last year (cited at “Zheng qi” might just as well be translated as “sanity” or “sapience,” as my paper explains.

Achieving “integrity” even at that first, mundane level requires more than just logic. It requires making connections in the mind between direct feelings of “light” versus “dark” or “good” versus “bad” into words... and ultimately to a concept of a utility function. Why should true sanity require a fundamental acceptance of mathematics? Well, sanity or “zhengqi” is basically about how we use symbols like words and mathematics in reasoning. People sometimes call English a “natural language,” but it is just as artificial as mathematics; getting our axioms straight is the essence of sanity. It is a matter of building a solid foundation for the many things we need to learn, integrating the faculties of our mind.

But in 1967 to 1972 (also discussed in the paper), I had to do a major revision of my view of ethics, due to experience which convinced me that life and the mind are not as simple as I thought. As a byproduct of becoming more “whole,” as a result of pursuing mundane sanity and trying to understand the brain better... I ended up having to make sense of experience which required a different worldview, also described in that paper. Thus I now believe that we humans are actually a kind of symbiotic organism, a symbiosis of what we call the body and of something I call the “noosphere”. My concept of the noosphere is not exactly the same as that of Teilhard de Chardin, but there are many similarities. Teilhard imagines that the noosphere is arising as a result of normal emergent phenomena on earth, which may sound more like science and more politically correct to some – but is not convincing to those who know more about how evolution and entropy actually work. In my view, the noosphere is essentially another organism, made up of something like dark matter, which can exist and persist only as a result of a larger system of evolution in the larger venue of dark matter. That is quite a stretch, but I can think of nothing any simpler than that which is really logically consistent and fits the range of experience.

Again, that also required a lot of adaptation for me. It requires integrating a larger volume of experience, to raise zheng qi to a higher level. From 1967 to 1972 (and maybe a year or two beyond that), I raised my level of zheng qi from the first, mundane level to a full acceptance of the “Alchemical marriage.”  The alchemical marriage is an old concept, which became very visible in Europe with the publication of ... the Rosicrucian open manifesto in the 1600’s. In that concept, we accept the reality that we are each a symbiosis of “body” and “soul,” and that the rational course is to seek a “good marriage” of those two aspects – a “Pareto optimum” of close cooperation and integration of both aspects of the self. One corollary is that ordinary death REALLY IS death of a major part of the self, and not such a small thing as religious people hope.  Another corollary: it makes sense to put critical information “on the hard disk,” on the storage which is more likely to survive (as in the core of the Gurdjieff system).  It takes some time and experience to fully assimilate the reality that are that kind of hybrid, that this is what “I” is... and to better understand the basics of the “spiritual” half of the self.

===========  But what happens when death approaches, not just personal?

When death approaches, suddenly the strategic calculations change!

For myopic people, who lack zhengqi and feel as if reality ends at the skin of their body, this is an old problem. When personal death approaches, they lose purpose in their life. But even mundane zhengqi overcomes that problem. With mundane zhengqi, one truly feels ones concern for other people, for the continuation of one’s family and others one cares about.  In the US, whenever I hear people call for “more family values,” I think of conservative, mundane Confucians in China and laugh – because family values themselves can be excessive! I remember how Mao pleaded: “We need to learn to think of all of China as our family.” And I remember how Hu Jin-Tao clearly wanted to extend that to all of humanity. In full, mundane zhengqi, one is not afraid to read books like E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology, which actually describes a biological basis for feelings which go beyond just the family – feelings which have been fundamental to the possibility of human civilization! (But: just as Teilhard missed key concepts of evolution, Wilson did not really understand key concepts of intelligence and utility function. In later life he realized that his followers had become too narrow, but he did not know how his work fit into a larger framework, as in my papers in Neural Networks in 2009 and 2012.)

 Since I was never so myopic, ever, I never had that problem. But now: what if the whole of humanity seems ever more likely to die?

I have certainly resisted that conclusion as hard as I could, for several years. I have very specifically studied the primary sources of likely extinction for humanity, and discussed them with others (like the Lifeboat Foundation, Millennium Project and former colleagues at NSF), looking hard for solutions to the possible problems. The problems probably are solvable in a technical way, using economically sustainable technologies I have worked hard to understand as well as anyone else on earth, but the politics and mass hysteria blocking any real hope are pretty overwhelming. I suppose I will never entirely give up hope, since there does exist intelligence beyond that of any individual human (including me), but  more and more I also need to face the question: what do I do if my old “alchemical marriage” game of minimizing the probability of human survival is not really enough?

I would not CHOOSE a future where the soul half lives on and the bodily human species does not, but how does one rationally cope with THAT possibility, especially when it looms as much more likely than the other? In fact, “what is the utility function of the soul”?

Actually, I considered that question  long ago. It is an important question for HALF of the Alchemical Marriage solution.


Yes, I have gotten primary source information (first person information) about all of these and more. Maybe I will go back and expand this later, because there is so much to say – especially now, as I have had a chance to visit centers all over the earth (and even got into trouble once in China as I wandered into a forbidden zone in Nanjing which had very interesting vibes).

One idea these all share is the idea that “life is just a school.” For the soul half of us, our life on earth is like a Montessori school, in a way. The utility function is... a measure of how much we learn and grow. Human potential is THE utility function of the soul, and all human movements which defy its needs will experience surprising difficulties.

But.. must run.

In some sense, earth tangible outcomes are not so real or so important for the soul. Yes, it is bad to destroy your toys and your books, but they do not really hurt you directly. And if humans as a whole destroy the earth... as seems likely... it is very unfortunate, to be avoided... but it is like death and reincarnation of the individual as Hindus imagine it. (We do even exist as individual cells within the noosphere... too subtle for me to clarify this morning.) But – the network of relations BETWEEN humans, and other souls, are real in a permanent way which the local things are not. Except for those souls which just get burned away by the garbage collectors, like those souls who do not do justice to human potential.

Back in the 70’s I asked: “If life here is just a school, what is the curriculum? How do we do well?”

Joel Whitten recently wrote a book on that, deep in my files... he was a high-ranking Roscrucian as well as professor of neuroscience and psychiatry in Toronto... 

In any event, there was a great debate in 670 Samye between Tibetan and Zen streams of Buddhism, neither of which originated in China (though the boss of the Zen center in Shaolin has made lots of money selling his version of wu shu, really marketing hard for money, and selling the idea that his is “more Chinese” – the famous Shaolin monastery.... been there... seen all that...).  This was echoed more recently in a debate in the US, concluidng on the words “no mind” and “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is human potential and real. The simplicity of Zen can be attractive and useful, very similar to simplicity of Quakers, but the goal of nothingness is a perverted foundation, based on narcissism not reality.  

Tibetan Buddhism is ever so complex... as is life itself... and it turns out to be a popularized and systematized version of something older which we also met in Tibet. As did a few other Western thought leaders in the past.

But this is enough for now.

The “third level of zhengqi” may involve more complete attention to the issue of how we live life if we remain highly motivated and rational, but focused more on how we all do in “school” and less hysterical or complacent about the other half of life, which we may not be able to count on...  


Later, a practitioner of Chinese traditional medicine asked:

I am very curious on what your goal is and how you will be trying to achieve it.   What is your background and where were you in china…..? 
Take care,
Jonathan Snowiss

For me the question of what my goal is... is itself a lifelong quest. A simple summary of my latest views is (above). 

Earlier posts give some related details -- but only on the surface.

I have been in many parts of China, from Manchuria and the Confucius Institute in Qufu as guest of Confucius family (and LinYi and MengTzu teaching place and place of eight immortals and Duke Liu island, as guest of Liu family) to the usual (Beijing, Shanghai, Changsha, Wuhan, Shenzhen, Zhengzhou, Hangzhou, yellow mountains, Xian) to special places
(Wudangshan wu-shu school, Shaolin, Nanjing purple mountain place, "Vatican of Buddhism" near Xian, Temple and Cave of the Yellow Immortal in Sichuan, Qingqhengshan and TIbetan places in Sichuan up in Pamir mountains). And Xinjiang, Urumuchi and many silk road places. I have seen MOST of the places described in Journey to the West! 

Re real Daoism, I remember the White Cloud Temple in Beijing, the White and Green Cloud caves up Mount Tai, and people I met on top of Wudangshan. And especially a very beautiful woman I met only in a dining room of the Jade Palace Hotel in Beijing, whose spirit followed me and my wife when we returned to the US -- who was very deep into Chinese alchemy medicine, but had great local difficulties. Also, in Xian, I am very grateful to a woman of the Qin family who showed us the old Taoist Temple which was frequented by their illustrious ancestor, including pylons with old characters even they had troubles reading; an English version of the Yellows Emperor's guide was easy to find, but without a proper explanation of how chemical terms acted as metaphors for spiritual events and properties of qi, both in China and in Europe at that time.    

Only in the wu shu school on Wudangshang did anyone get really specific about the types of qi, and I was very grateful that the master of that school gave us a copy of the readings they use; however, those readings did not go as far as he did in discussion and on the blackboard.

I retired from NSF in February, in part because I want to devote more time to helping people and learning more myself in these areas, somehow. 
I am NOT planning to seek any income from such activities, because I am blessed with an adequate retirement pension -- but I am looking for any opportunity to be of greater help to the needs of humanity.

I am very glad that you and your friends are working to keep traditional understanding of qi alive. That is one of the important threads. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Another Republican debate, Buddhism, UN deep learning, just daily stuff

Another Republican debate, Buddhism, UN deep learning, just daily stuff

My post yesterday on dreams was an organized presentation of basic material, linking science and experience and larger issues. Today is basically just a personal diary kind of thing, on events of the day. (In parallel with this, I have a scientific journal which I do not post, for multiple reasons).

Themes of the past day or two – another Republican debate, a discussion of deep learning and political prediction on the listserv of the Millennium Project, some notes about Buddhism and the watch, a couple of mundane dreams, a doctor’s visit later today.

Republican debate ---------------------

Maybe the new Republican debate was a notable step up from the previous ones – even though we almost couldn’t get to see it! We do not subscribe to Fox business channel, and have no intention of doing so – and Verizon FiOS welched on its promise to make it available on a one-time basis for seeing the debates. So we saw it on streaming – learning how to really use internet to see a TV program, which I haven’t done so much before.

I now think: “only 5 to 3 against sanity, not so bad.” But the 5 were still deeply disturbing. Some sounded god in a way, and you could feel the sincerity and resonance, just as one can feel great sincerity in some asylum inmates. So far out of touch with reality that it is deeply scary. For example – I did notice some interesting stuff in the earlier TV interview of “W” about the new book based on his father’s diaries, but Jeb sounded as if HE didn’t learn any of the lessons the others did. The book mentioned Cheney building his own “empire” (not something to underestimate even now!), but Jeb and his sycophants all stressed the importance of “making it clear that we are the leader” and “pleasing those wonderful imams who just want to be our friends.” Jeb did so in argument against Trump, who was one of the three who showed glimmers of sanity. In effect, those three gave a feeling they had actually set foot on planet earth, and MIGHT not just blow up the world as soon as their hand would be in the right place. (Aren’t Jeb and Marco at least stable and reliable?) Not when they are ready to accommodate folks who want to create a war between US and Israel versus Russia and Iran.

Side note: I am hoping Obama and Netanyahu had some interesting side conversations about the Grand Mufti and the realities of the Third Caliphate movement. Who knows?

The three.

After the debate, I still feel that I would not be able to be truly open-minded, even if I tried, if the Republicans nominate anyone but Kasich or Trump. Both had moments of really being in touch. That doesn’t mean all moments, but enough to engage as Quakers normally try to. In retrospect, Rand Paul also had a good night. In fact... Rand Paul gave a great example of how people can learn at times to rise to a higher plane, and that is what we need most in the world. I still wouldn’t consider voting for him as President, since I know from previous discussions of other subjects that he too could blow it all, but if all I knew of was last night I might have real hope for him (as I did when he stood up for personal freedom that day on the floor of the Senate).

A grim smile came to my face when they debated who should get credit for stopping Hilary Clinton’s earlier health care bill. I know the answer to that more than they did! I know because I worked for a year in the office of Senator Specter, the guy who did that. His main conference room displayed the gigantic flow chart which turned him against Hilary’s proposal, and which he used to get the rest of the Senate against it as well, and many of the folks there told me about those days. In the end, it was the Club for Growth (which Huckabee calls “The Club for Greed”) which purged him, using hardball questionable tactics (like sending violent provocateurs to his town meetings) to do so. Some folks accused him of being a “rhino,” which means he thought for himself, and was not a mindless puppet for psychotic outside forces. He was not the only one purged, nor was I. The empire marches on. I remember what Icahn said about Trump as his best hope for a “new Teddy Roosevelt” to get the special interests and evil empires under control. Kasich was the only one who sounded as if he might have ever paid attention to things that Yeshua ben Josef (aka Jesus Christ) actually said about some important things we all should pay attention to. (I don’t go so far as all of the things... but there are some really important basics.)


Millennium project and deep learning:

For everyday life, maybe that would be the subject next most interesting to some of you. : The Millennium project, formerly part of the United Nations University but now a more truly international NGO kind of organization, is best known for putting out an integrated report every year, which consistently tops the lists of futurist publications, on what we know now about the future of humanity – drawing on analysis from “nodes” all over the earth. They recently posted to the planning committee:
During the last meeting of The Millennium Project in San Francisco this past July, there was some discussion about integrating AI into MP’s work. I will go to a session on using IBM’s Watson tomorrow. Today Google announce it is giving access to its deep learning engine for free... This AI software is called TensorFlow...Google believes it can accelerate the evolution of AI this way

“What we’re hoping is that the community adopts this as a good way of expressing machine learning algorithms of lots of different types, and also contributes to building and improving [TensorFlow] in lots of different and interesting ways,” says Jeff Dean, one of Google’s most important engineers and a key player in the rise of its deep learning tech.

Google built the underlying TensorFlow with C++ , but coders can also Python. You can get started using it at:

I replied:

This is too close to home to ignore. Just FYI --

-- My younger daughter is part of that group at google

-- Watson is more like old AI (expert systems) than neural nets or even 
    the usual machine learning. When so many futurists lauded Watson, IBM   restructured around Watson, and, ironically, reassigned its more modern and also its more neural people to that project, losing much of its advantage. The new IBM game plan included a couple of physically hard special servers supposed to run the US government, and some special contacts with NSA,  but as issues emerged... the stock dropped.

-- The "new deep learning" can certainly be traced back to papers I wrote in 1988 and earlier. "Deep learning" is often defined "more than one or two layers in the neural network"; my 1988 paper was the first to show the general N-layered structure, discussed its advantages  and exactly how to adapt it. ("Generalized MLP.") It also gave the main additional features needed to get the first wave of new capabilities. 

-- Deep learning basically languished until 2007 -- well documented but used only in specialized projects -- because of deeply rooted ideologies and vested interests opposed to neural networks, vested interests still powerful in important places in DC. But in 2007 I sold NSF on a new one-year funding initiative, which I led:

As part of that I funded LeCun and Ng to do the larger-scale demonstration which LeCun and I certainly already knew would work, which broke world records in image recognition, speech recognition in natural language -- which led directly to the new tide of interests. The NSF abstract is at:

However, it is a lot of unformed hype or used car selling when people talk about building systems as intelligent, say, as a mouse brain within the next 20 years. For the latest ground-floor reality, see: It is an old story that a lot of people oversell in hopes of getting maximum money for minimum real adaptation. (The current White House Brain Initiative, and the EU big brain project, contain lots of examples.)

Perhaps it is just as well that people are far from building true AI, or systems more intelligent and conscious than human brains, even though we now know the pathway to do so. Well-crafted lookup systems like google search, Watson, with pieces upgraded by a proper use of simple neural networks, can still be very useful, so long as we do not give them too much power or believe them too much.  A nice slide show on the actual history of new products and the huge risks of real AI and neurotechnology  is posted near the top at

-- I am very sorry I have yet to update to link to three new papers this year which take some aspects of this to new levels, one in the book by Freeman and Kozma on the brain, one in Automatica, and one in press in Quantum Information Processing.

A further reply:

Hi, ... !

I am always happy to hear from you...

I know of two complementary technologies which could revolutionize predetection, but lately I feel almost paralyzed by the issue of trust.
In a way, that is a kind of extension of the time when I saw Terminator II back in 1991, and realized just how close I personally was to causing that kind of outcome. (Shadows of that possible future still show up in our area, much weaker but quite real, from time to time.) But more and more possibilities for adverse effects and misuse present themselves to me, quite graphically.

What would it be like to work for NSA, for example, and one day discover that the guy who was supposed to be your channel to the President was actually a channel to the guys behind ISIL? What would you want to send on that channel?

The safer technology is the less powerful, and probably too futuristic and limited  to be of anything but amusement value to you. Still, since you have enjoyed a bit of time stuff in the past, I attach the proofs of a paper in press, which cites the work on "ghost imaging." I would really enjoy it if people go ahead and try out triphoton ghost imaging on a telescope looking at the sun... and discover after the fact that they are seeing an image of the sun eight minutes AFTER the time when the image is recorded.  (Flares and sunspots move fast enough that this might well be possible.) In principle, with slow light and curved paths, it could be used to image places on earth in the future..
like maybe NORAD's early warning board.  

For nuclear terrorism... I led the joint NSF-DHS joint initiative on research to better cope with that threat. It was quite an eye-opener. I knew things were bad, but actually they were worse. Still, the availability of nuclear material and technology is a powerful limiter, the most important limiter. Thus improvement of the nonnuclear, non-CO2 base for generating electricity
ALL OVER THE WORLD really should get a higher priority than it does now. There is a whole lot more that we could be doing, that we aren't doing, anywhere on earth. In some ways, China has actually been the most responsible nation on earth in that area... but the world needs more than that, and their capabilities are not what ours could be if only we could rise to the challenge.

Deep cultural issues are also a crucial driver... but this email is probably too long already.

*************** Buddhism, Dreams and the Watch

The term “the watch” moved quickly to prominence in my thinking a week or two ago, when a deeply intuitive person in the local Meeting and Yeshua both drew my attention to it, and what it means. Can I live up that mandate? Who knows. It’s pretty scary and overwhelming, as I may have mentioned above. I don’t have quite the level of strength to just naturally glide into such a role, and I have a whole lot of skepticism about absolutely everything – even about my own new thinking about “the law of everything,” which only sounds conservative if you don’t understand about emergent phenomena.

And so... Buddhism is BOTH a subject of the watch, AND a natural reaction to feeling overwhelmed and beset by “damned if you do, damned if you don’t, how real is ANYTHING?” A few years ago, I started to notice how respect BOTH for Jesus AND for Buddha had grown naturally in my mind... not for crazy formal organizations, which sometimes see as bad as the temple of the green goat in Chengdu which claims to represent Taoism... but the real people and the real thoughts.

Just a few weeks ago, I was musing... for almost any subject I think serious about, it’s strange how human representatives of the subject pop up in my life... not avatars exactly, but a little like that... Yeshua being an obvious and fascinating example, but there was a kid who did pretty good Einstein imitation (not so easy to fake higher dimensional geometry, folks!), and many others... so why no one even remotely like a real Buddha? (Yes, lots of Zen enthusiasts, and a House reception for the Dalai Lama, but...).  But then I remember an “assumption” not-dream I had years ago, when a misguided guy was trying to reach me on the astral plane with bad intent, and was ever so frustrated he could not find me anywhere... when I was laughing to myself since I was in fact right inside him at the time, looking through his eyes and seeing his mind. (Yes, I remember names and the tactics of the conflict and so on.) So: did I look in the wrong place? Maybe. But I firmly commit myself to caring about “light, life and love”, and the deeper utility signal which that characterizes, and Not to any philosophy which gives up. But sometimes it is really hard to resist thinking and even behaving like a true, core Buddhist. (No, not unto vegetarianism... but I have resolved that on any day where my weight exceeds 170 pounds, even fully clothed, I will behave like a Jain, more or less. No fatty meat, but if Luda offers me salmon roe, green cheese and porto... I won’t turn her down.)

One day... somewhat overwhelmed by the watch and by the scary trends of our world... we walked a couple of miles to the Arlington central library, and I followed my usual routine for that... first check new books, then up to the magazine section, where first priority is to Scientific American, Science News (despite my caveats about what to believe there), and Tricycle, the magazine of the American Buddhist community.

More later. Off to doctor.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dreams, revelations and how they work in the brain

I will get to interesting, concrete and lurid cases, yea unto brimstone and such, but it is very important to have a proper background to make real sense of such things. What I say about dreams here will reflect  the best understanding we have from real systems neuroscience – which goes ‘way beyond what policy makers in Washington THINK we know about the brain. And yes, I’ll also get around to the Book of Revelations and the great dream of Mohammed, which were not really written for unprepared babies. And a few of my own. And mysteries of time.

Context: brain science and one of the great risks in our future

This week, I heard the director of the Presidential Commission on Bioethics give an update on the Great Brain Initiative, and what they are doing to keep it from becoming another great disaster like the discovery of cocaine and the discovery of frontal lobotomies, which were also touted as great wonders in their time. It looks like a real global disaster in the making. What I heard this week confirmed the worst fears I felt when I listened to the whole day of their hearings in 2013:

The Director today strongly echoed what one of the smiling nonscientist PR people said in 2013, roughly:
“Don’t worry about deep stimulation of the brain leading to mind control. It will be decades before anyone has or even develops THAT kind of technology, and it is totally speculative. We really have no idea what these things do to the brain, so we need to experiment and find out. The real priority is to be sure that ethicists have jobs in every  project, and that they do not stand in the way of actually doing that science.”

Stand in the way of science? Does it have to be so complicated?  In actuality, when I was at NSF, I led a group activity which was FAR more focused than the present stakeholders’ pork barrel nonsense in trying to give us a better real understanding of how brains actually work in a functional way (how real intelligence emerges from brain activity):

There was no “extra cut” for the modern bureaucratic version of ethicist... but there was a simple rule: no funding for developing technologies for direct stimulation of whole brains. Not needed. It generated ever so much bitching and moaning, but it didn’t really cost anything – and it ENHANCED productivity to keep out that kind of waste. When it comes time for major health plans to pay for “treatments and enhancements” (a possible market which has people salivating, maybe as big as the market for cocaine) – we don’t need a complex process. Just don’t fund it. That’s not the whole answer, since there are very serious threats of certain employers developing that technology and making it part of a job description –
which I believe should be outlawed as it violates INALIENABLE rights, like the right to think for oneself and not turn into
a puppet.

Is this all wild speculation? Laughing ignorant PR people, who think their job is to reassure the public (so that the stakeholders can get on with extracting more money from the rest of us, just as drug dealers do), would say that of course it is wild speculation.

But in fact, anyone who has any right to claim to be a systems neuroscientist should be deeply familiar with the work of James Olds senior, many decades ago. Probably on U-tube you can see one of those videos of mice who had wires inserted unto the primary reinforcement centers of their brains.  You can see them pumping away at the lever which generates that stimulation all day, furiously, obsessively and unrelentingly, to the point where they neglect everything else and simply die. That is exactly what cocaine does to the brain, except that it’s stronger and worse. And it is far from speculative and unknown how to do it – how to turn any mammal into a machine whose whole personality is focused on how to get more of that stimulation. No one should claim to be an authority on bioethics of the brain without knowing the full history of Delgado and his followers.

In truth, neuroscience has spawned a lot of specialities who often seek to advance their speciality, even at the cost of the larger enterprise of understanding how the brain works. I am very grateful that I have had a chance to collaborate in the past with great systems neuroscientists like Karl Pribram and Walter Freeman... who often complained about the way in which narrow subspecialities (from ion gate genetics to forms of neural modeling as divorced from systems neuroscience as superstring theory is from experiment) sometimes lobby themselves in ways which get in the way of understanding how things really work. We actually know a lot about how brains really work, by now, if you read the right stuff and get past the vested interests, and we know a lot more about how to stimulate the brain than we did at the time of Delgado. But today, I do not intend to do an expose of the scariest technologies people are developing and planning to get through the FDA (God help us!), and will not get into a general overview of what we really know. Freeman and Kozma have a new book out this year from Springer, and my chapter there would be a good starting point for those who want to go deeper.

I was very upset in some ways when the FBI recently indicted Chakka Fattah, ranking member of the House Science Committee, a key champion of the present version of the Great Brain Initiative. But if that, plus the turnover in the White House, save us from just this one massive threat, perhaps it may be for the best. But there are other even more massive threats out there, and it would be very sad to lose the other more positive things Fattah was trying to protect.

More Context: Systems Neuroscience of Dreams (Mundane Prerequisite)

For today, I will start by reviewing what we know about dreams from systems neuroscience and functional modeling. In general, “”functional modeling” means the kind of thing discussed at that NSF URL above; today, I will resist saying more.

Is it really interesting to real humans and even mystics what neuroscience can tell us about dreams – which logically includes the dream which is presented in the Book of Revelations and Mohammed’s famous journey on a white horse?

Yes, but let me give you a quick example.

There are many important books and articles which a systems neuroscientist should know about... but if you want to understand about dreams from a functional viewpoint OR A MYSTICAL of viewpoint, there is just one truly must-read book: Lucid Dreaming by LaBerge. That book is a unique and beautiful work of art, connecting real experience and credible science in a seamless way, and also beautifully written. 

When he wrote that book, LaBerge was both a professor at Stanford and President of the international society for sleep research. So now, this is not some offbeat viewpoint.  It’s as credible as it gets. The book is full of real experiments, told as menaingful stories, with a lot of depth in the explanation.

LaBerge’s “main theory” (validated by experiment) is that dreams are SIMULATIONS... efficient efforts by the brain to analyze scenarios which it has not encountered yet in actual experience, used to help it learn how to cope with important possible scenarios, both good and bad. In fact, I published a paper of my own back in 1987 (IEEE SMC, “... brain research) which discussed how important that kind of simulation capability is in any real intelligent system, and gave lots of equations for how to build such a system. Since then, that kind of mathematics has advanced a huge amount; see my chapter in Freeman’s book for citations. It is amusing that two leaders of reinforcement learning, Sutton and Barto, saw that paper, which led to the book Neural Networks for Control, where Sutton gave an example (“sarsa”)  of how this kind of simulation leads to better capabilities in machine systems that perform reinforcement learning. He cited the 1987 paper , but not the details of how we discussed “dreaming” while walking in grass next to GTE (where he worked at the time) or how that is where the idea for “sarsa” came from.

Of course, these words don’t tell you how the brain actually does the simulation. There is a special kind of stochastic system involved  in creating scenarios to think about, and in filling in the details. Crudely, the system involves two key steps – deciding on key assumptions, and filling in other details based on  how other aspects of life correlate with the key assumptions. Some people do not even bother to fill in color, because color is such a small part of how they live, but many of us do dream and live in color.

Dreaming and Scientific Mysticism I: Basics of the Soul

Please forgive me for inventing a new term here. For me, “scientific mysticism” is a short hand for the “first person scientific method” explained in some detail in my paper published in Russia, posted at  One key idea is that we each are a kind of union of “body” and “soul,” where I see “soul” as basically  just another body, most likely made up of what we now call “dark matter.” It took me a long time to get used to that concept, but I have really exhaustively looked into lots of other possible explanations of the full range of experience available to us. I still try to do justice to alternative possibilities (see below), but more and more that model seems to work, in all the areas I have considered. I was very happy this year to see how the famous psychiatrist, Eric Ericcson, adopted and explained the first person approach in his classic book Ghandi’s Truth.

In some ways, the soul really has the upper hand in these interactions. I have seen parapsychologists try to imagine how someone’s pineal gland might reach out and extract the thoughts of someone else by some kind of electromagnetic force. (A lot of the early Russian work on parapsychology had such a flavor.) But for folks who really understand how electromagnetic systems work in practice, and how hard engineers have worked to get the most that can be gotten... it doesn’t work. It’s true that quantum mechanics now lets us do things with electromagnetism which seemed impossible before; I have a paper in press at Quantum Information Processing which discusses how to push that frontier well beyond what has seemed possible in the past even to the most advanced people with real knowledge of this technology. But even so, it would not be enough to let brains do what parapsychologists say they can do. To reach out and learn things about desired places or people far away, in space or in time, it is necessary to have a kind of network and signal processing which brains alone simply could not do. And so, I would claim that the key work of interface between body and soul is done by the soul part itself – a kind of “psychokinesis” as it perturbs the brain, and probes the brain, and learns what it can from it. I have never concluded that I should just give up what my mundane brain wants from life, but I have worked for an “Alchemical marriage”, a partnership and integration of the two sides of myself aimed at a “win win” outcome for both sets of values. The survival of the human species on earth is a goal both sides can agree on, and work together for.

How does this affect dreams?

Formally... the soul can perturb the stochastic mechanism  which sets up scenarios for the brain to look at. And then the brain can fill in what the core assumptions  mean for aspects of life (like color, sometimes) which are not part of the core of those scenarios. The distinction between the “core” of the dream and the “fill in” is crude... but immensely important when we try to understand practical experience, either mundane body-only dreams or dreams perturbed by the soul. Because dark matter is not so strictly localized as ordinary matter, the “soul” has had more time to evolve across the galaxy than the body has, and has developed a higher level of many capabilities, such as an ability to “see the future” as now seems more definitely possible in advanced quantum information processing.  (I am thinking right now of “ghost imaging” implemented via three photons entangled in momentum, a simple extension of the triphoton experiment discussed in my new paper.)

Revelations and Kundalini: What Opened My Mind in 1972

So now it goes to first person. Before 1972, I did have some experiences which convinced me that “paranormal” experience is real and cannot be ignored. (See the detailed story given in my paper “Why space?” in the book Beyond Earth, cited at ). But 1972 is when new experience pushed me to take dreams of the future very seriously and personally.

The first big event for me in 1972 was the Republican convention in August 1972. No, I didn’t make it there, but a very good friend at Harvard, Geoffrey Keppel, offered to drive me with him to the convention. (Such a long story in itself!). On the way from Harvard to Florida, he decided to stop at the apartment of his girl friend in Dupont Circle, to have a heart to heart talk with her. And so, I was locked up in her apartment while they went out, for longer and longer time. Of course, I could have just walked out of the apartment if I chose, but I had no key to get back in and nowhere else to go short of a real crisis. So I suddenly needed to find SOME way to spend the hours. There were only about twelve books there, on one part of a narrow bookcase in  the living room, and I looked very closely. I liked to read science fiction and many types of nonfiction, but I couldn’t see any of THAT in her few books. The closest I could find was the Bible. I remembered how a classmate at Harvard, a mathematician named Kubert in Perkins Hall, had talked a lot about then book of Revelations, so I decided I could spend the time looking at that one.

By the way, just a few weeks BEFORE that, I had written a long letter to George Mueller of NASA, in my capacity as President of the Harvard Committee for a Space Economy. George was a really great guy.  I covered a lot of topics in that letter, such as a review of the latest technologies being developed by GE Aerospace in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, which I had had a chance to tour in detail.

So as I read the Book of Revelations... it really made me sit up and take notice. Yes, I read it a bit as science fiction, and a bit as an inspired dream... the kind of dream you get when real things come into the brain, even if some details are filled in by mundane brain associations.  But it was “more than six sigmas away from mundane.” It begins with a city floating in the heavens... just like the large space habitats we were talking about the previous week! (In ancient days, “the heavens” did most commonly refer to stuff up there in the sky.) It discussed a vitally important “ark in the heavens” – hey guys, we really do need to build that kind of RLV! No joke! (I even know a pious world class Mormon aerospace engineer who could build it... IF ONLY we were not falling into a bad path... but that was later.)

And then it talked about twelve types of precious crystal... Fortunately, there was also a dictionary among the twelve books, so I looked up the crystals. Eleven of the twelve were all on the list of things that GE wanted to manufacture in space, a great way for the space habitat to earn money, but what of the twelfth? I later asked my GE contact whether they could see any use for that one, and he instantly look shocked. “How did you find out about that? That really should not be discussed out there in the open?” Me: “Well, I just read it as part of a book in someone’s apartment.” Him: “Please let us know the name of the book, so we can get it pulled from circulation.” Me: “No, sorry, I don’t think that would work...”

By the way, McMoneagle had a picture of a future aero vehicle remarkably like Chase's unique and surprising design, mentioned above, in his book on remote viewing the future. That book also says some of the important things about the COGNITIVE aspect of the mental discipline needed here, but the EMOTIONAL half is just as important.

There were at least three other unique veridical things in there that amazed me, one which played out just this past month... but that’s enough for now.

The other key event for me in 1972 was from my own experience, when I lived in a slummy apartment on Hillside Street in Boston late that year.  It had veridical detail, but that detail is very personal, and I won’t get deep into it now. In general – after some preparation, I tried an exercise to “raise the kundalini,” which worked the first time, much better than I had expected. It was the one experience in my life which best fit the specifications given by Greeley and McReady in their important paper “Are We a Nation of Mystics,” reprinted in Goleman’s book (another important resource!). It would qualify as some kind of “out of body experience,” where, among other things, I observed Harvard faculty.... but not “on my own steam.” 

Out of Body Experience

At the start of 1973, I returned to Harvard graduate dorms – more precisely to a wonderful coed dorm near Brattle Street, where I lived on the first floor but higher floors were occupied by women.  I had a relatively easy job at first as a lab instructor for electronics, but migrated soon to a very strenuous full-time job at MIT through the summer of 1975, building new capabilities into a big user-oriented application aimed to provide data mining tools for large scale databases in the social sciences. Endless learning of new methods, and endless debugging, on an unbreakable operating system also used in the Pentagon. As I also worked at breakneck pace to finish my PhD thesis, I had less free time than ever before or since; if I did not have the option to walk down to the cafeteria for most meals, maybe I could not have handled that! But even so, I was still obsessively curious about how the brain and the soul actually work, and I made time to try to expand my base of experience. I would read and then listen to music as winding down to sleep, for example, and had some discussions with friends who had similar interests. How could I expand my base of personal experience enough to get a better fix on how such a thing as the soul could exist, and how it works? And on what we should be doing about it?

Among the books which stimulated my curiosity and my imagination (and also skepticism of course) were a then-famous book by Robert Monroe on out of body experiences (OOBE), and follow-up books by Steiger (“In My Soul I am Free”) and Fox. It seemed clear that performing OOBE would open up lots more evidence and information, which sounded a whole lot clearer and more definite than the usual limited and fuzzy stuff from parapsychology. (As I think back,, during those few months on Hillside Street, I had frequent visits to the library of the Harvard Medical School, only about a mile walk away. I spent most of the time there reading books in neuroscience, but I also ploughed through all the issues they had of the main journal on parapsychology, doing my best to extract whatever might help me really understand. There was stuff there.. and more stuff since then.. but “limited” is fair, no, for such a big subject?) So how could I do that?

I made up a few exercises on my own, groping and seeing what works, based in part on knowledge of functional neural networks as in my 2012 paper in Neural Networks. It became a nightly ritual to turn on an excellent new age radio station we had then (after turning lights out and getting to bed). And then I would try to raise and focus tangible energy, and observe and move it in the dark. I recall an image of seeing a glowing image of my arm moving... different from the mundane arm, only loosely synchronized... and then, one day, the classic experience of feeling and seeing myself standing in a glowing from, looking down at my body. Several times, that. The first instant issue: do I rise or do I fall?
No longer anchored to the floor...

I learned I could inject a kind of heavy energy into my hand, which would interact enough with the side of the bed (as I stood next to it but tried to hold on) that I would stay there... that was fascinating for a few minutes, as I looked down at myself and the pattern of glow from me and other sources... but then it became boring. (Boredom is ever so important in moving the soul!) So... I lightened up a little... which resulted in my rising up through the floor. Both times that happened, I met friends who lived one floor up... and that ended up being about as veridical as it comes! Yes, I spoke later to both of them, and one of them was more than slightly shocked. (No, I did not misbehave. I don’t think I COULD have misbehaved... short of... well, stuff I didn’t know how to do then which I would not do now.) The details were quite interesting, but perhaps I shouldn’t go too far.  Neither of those women were just casual, indifferent acquaintances, but... again,  let me not elaborate. Many neoplatonists talk a whole lot about “laws of attraction,” and that certainly is also part of what moves the soul. One detail, though: in one case, it was crystal clear that my friend met me in that state a week AFTER the time I did the experiment; time slippage was a standard aspect of every experiment I ever did in that realm.

And then: I have always been interested in The Future, in part because the value of what we do in the present depends a whole lot on the outcome in the future.  So I decided: floating around on dark streets gets old very quickly; why not try to wander much further in time, to take a peek ahead, and maybe even learn what future science might learn as well?

I did lots and lots of experiments in that spirit, while I was at Harvard and later, until Christmas 1978 when I stopped abruptly. But now, it’s time for me to get back to a bit of analysis and explanation.

Analysis: Dreams Versus OOBE I: Basics

In that period from 1973 to 1978, I also spoke to others who had experimented with OOBE in many serious traditions, and read lots and lots of stuff. For example, I spoke to one old Roscicrucian guy who talked about how his father had OOBE all the time. “He would just sit down in that chair, close his eyes, and away he went.”

I then realized: How do you know when you are having an OOBE versus when you are just dreaming? Operationally, you “feel” conscious and full of free will (lucid) and you see images of something far away, but where is the sharp dividing line?

I read some fascinating books by Annie Besant and others (see my previous post on shamanism) theorizing that we humans have multiple “sheaths” of bodies, an etheric body inside or over the mundane body, an astral body, a mental body, and so on.  I learned to “feel” and respect the experience which lies behind those theories, without agreeing with the theories. In the end, our “soul” is not really another physical body (I apologize for oversimplifying a bit above); rather it is a kind of cluster of thought, similar in a way to a virtual machine, within the “noosphere,” the true physical other body here, embodying most of the biosphere of the earth, including humans, and active throughout the entire earth to some degree. And so, during OOBE, there is no second physical body wandering around. Rather, the focus of attention of our personal soul (an information entity) moves around to some degree. It is NOT such a simple yes/no “turning of a switch,” as the frothy advertisements seem to suggest; rather, it is a matter of degree (“a fuzzy variable” in the sense of fuzzy logic), just as mundane attention is. As the Roscicrucians say “As above so below” (or vice-versa). We can split our attention to the inputs from our body and to selected inputs from the soul, and our degree of wakefulness in both is also variable.

In Fox’s classic account of HIS OOBE, it is really fascinating to see the mix between inputs from a far place as it exists now, and as it existed at earlier times. And also to see how his mind “fills in” details like the great more or less imaginary “silver cord,” helping him remember  the cognitive path from one focus of attention to another. I am tempted to say more about the ways that Rosicrucians train people to do OOBE, but even though I let that connection lapse around 1980, I feel a duty to respect confidentiality. Let me just say that is 100% consistent with this analysis, and that it worked well enough for me (in part because I had trained myself to control my focus of attention in relevant ways and not get hung up as many do on irrelevant theories and distraction and expectations). I remember my first strict implementation of the Roscicrucian OOBE exercise circa 1977.. which led to another very intense unmistakable veridical shock (a third party witness, witnessing one day before the exercise)...

And so, it does not surprise me at all that the Book of Revelations and Mohammed’s great dream were a mixture of core content and fill-in. There are many other inspired pieces of literature which we should respect more which do the same, even though the fill-ins can be very dangerous if taken as complete literal truth. This week, I think of some novels by Orson Scott Card, and “Stochastic Man,” by Silverberg, which have unmistakable real inspiration in my view... even though some of what Card writes is the very worst sort of fill-in!!

One extremely important book for folks who want to know how  OOBEs really work is the “Oversoul Seven” trilogy by Joan Roberts, who writes like someone who has really been there. I remember images of a hallway where dozens of people are floating by, having OOBE “in the astral plane,” who might wake up later and only wish they could have such an experience as an OOBE.  The problem is NOT that their soul lacks the ability to wander! It is that they have not developed the ability to REMEMBER and PROCESS and ENGRAVE ON THE BRAIN. And so, to have memorable OOBE experiences, development of the consciousness and the memory (eg as in some of the Gurdjieff exercises) may be more useful than futile attempts to do it by brute force. The SPECTRUM between dreams and true OOBE is just a spectrum, a matter of degree. Those  who look very carefully will see how their LEVEL of consciousness varies a lot, and escape the illusion that “I’m always just me, and always just as aware.” (Even at a mundane level, try doing hard puzzles at different times of day!)

Oops... maybe I owe a couple of examples,  just to make the theory more vivid.

Once, while at Harvard, I met a woman who seemed attractive enough, and very interesting to me as a possible future wife, who also experimented a bit with OOBE stuff, who was a bit more conservative than I was by then. I met her one day “on the astral plane” and it was very friendly at first, and calm. But then... certain thoughts began to surface pretty energetically in her mind.. her full mind..and she started to feel very, very bad and very embarrassed. I was startled to see her appearance change very dramatically from her normal form.. to vivid ebony black... clearly a total “fill in” projection based on HER association with the state of more basic variables coursing through her mind (where mind covers both body and soul, presumably working together at that point).  Let me emphasize that this fill-in (her skin appearing to turn black) was based on HER mental associations, not mine; mine are quite different. 

Well.. maybe one example is enough for now ...

Analysis II: Travel Through Time

OK, enough for now on general OOBE. What about time?

When I tried to do OOBE or dreams through time, I found myself more and more confronted with a key question: “Is there only one future?” This is also an extremely important real question in real quantum physics. Unfortunately, it is also an attractive nuisance in the theological, hermeneutic and superstring worlds, where only a small fraction of the people seem to be in touch with real third-party scientific physics. I have worked hard to unify my understanding across the realm of real physics and personal experience... and maybe I have gone further than others on this little planet so far... but I too still have a lot to learn.

The first real, realistic theory of physics fitting the basic facts of quantum physics experiments was the great many worlds theory, developed by Everett and Wheeler, disseminated in a classic book edited by DeWitt. David Deutsch later wrote the Fabric of Reality, the other of the two great classics. Philosophers call this “MWI” – the many-World Interpretation, but it is NOT JUST an interpretation; it is a theory of how the cosmos actually works, and it leads to different predictions. I have seen some philosophers deeply lost in hermeneutics of interpretation – when what we need are well-defined theories and real experimental tests to find out which theory is true. (My 2008 or 2009 paper in IJTP explains some of that for the MWI theory.)

According to MWI, there is not just ONE future. There are MANY futures, all real! This fit well with my own personal experience, where I seemed to visit not just one future (when I pushed it) but a kind of structure or cluster of “time-tracks.” I especially remember a short hop (just a decade or so) into a future where I met a beautiful Chinese-American woman I was unhappily married to... and my shock later (still at Harvard) when I actually met her, in a situation where it seemed nearly impossible NOT to marry her! With effort, not just mundane effort, I was able to bend the course... and had a long talk later with Daoist master in the Cosmos Club in DC, where he talked about multiple futures in Daoism. Later I understood that I should not have taken that unhappiness in the future as seriously as I did (people often broadcast their most unhappy moments, which are often exaggerated)... but still, I also now see how unique my wife Ludmilla is and how it was still better not to be on that course. I think. One never knows how many tracks lead where...

But in fact: “oops, I don’t believe MWI.” Sure, it SEEMS a bit credible, but there are better models out there. Just for the experimental regime of  electricity, magnetism and charged particles... my paper in press (with Luda, who actually wrote the published version) suggests we should sooner believe a “scenario” based model, in just four dimensions, just one dimension of time.  And so, for years I have struggled with the question: how do I reconcile as time-track experience of the future versus a one-track best modelof physics? When can the two streams be reconciled, and how? For years, it was just too early for me, and the rational course was to hang loose, and do justice to the realms separately. As of now (see my two recent papers cited above), I understand that OUR consciousness, BOTH mundane and spiritual, is attached to SCENARIOS, not to “the true outcome;” that reconciles the two to some degree. It FEELS like many worlds, even if a model in three dimensions of space and one of time works much better than I ever imagined (before I worked out more of the math).

There is one other aspect here. When I thought of that woman... I thought that perhaps that realistic,veridical dream... was just an experience of the noosphere, which can predict and reconcile and create future possibilities more completely than we do as individuals.  That seemed a bit lame as an explanation... but objectively, experience of dreams of multiple futures are a COMBINATION of that noosphere effect AND of physics effects, even if my 3+1-D model is the true “law of everything.” It is not a case of either-or, any more than OOBE themselves are.

One corollary: the core of the future given in the Book of Revelations might happen (minus fill-ins), OR NOT. Based on what I see now, that Book is a much more optimistic scenario than many which lie on the path ahead of us.  (Hey guys, PLEASE build that Ark! Just as one example... And don’t try to fill in with moldy wood, cubits and other such fill-ins.) Death by fire and brimstone (H2S) is another quite possible scenario, equally real and equally inspired and equally Biblical.

Some Dreams of the Future

There are many to choose between, some happy and some not.

Let me mention just a couple from old Harvard days.

A relatively short time in the future (21st century), there was a nuclear war in Asia (maybe India-Pakistan or something that feels like that – one of my own fill-ins). The horror of that war was orders of magnitude greater than the horror after the Chernobyl incident we now remember, an incident which was already enough to massively change the deployment of nuclear power in places like Germany and Scandanavia.  This time, people were shocked into a sense of reality enough to see the imminent risk of “nuclear kembi,” a chain event where everyone could say “I had to, the other guy started it,” and people could rightly see that THEIR lives were at risk.

And so, in the dream, an international  group of people called “the ecologists” (a cross between the Greens and the Millennium Project group I am part of, and was in the dream, long before it existed)... set up a kind of new deal, as governments were overturned gently all over the world. Baseload energy came in part from space solar power and other space technology, rigidly limited to safe things, while technology R&D on earth (especially nuclear technology) was VERY rigidly limited on an international basis. (Remember “The Man From UNCLE”?)

But because of the sheer energy of folks limiting technology.. after a few thousand years... it settled into a kind of equilibrium, which was a bit feudalistic, but not SO bad...

And then, maybe 5000AD or so, in came a group not unlike Card’s formics or Cosmonaut keep (enough that I suspect a common source of the image, which Hawkings and Reagan also echoed)... and humanity was then so weak that that was the end of that.  A world full of billions of dumb-founded faces in rigor mortis... billions upon billions of faces I saw, with expressions easy to see... and image I will never forget since I believe by everything I know that it really is a possible future. After that first bad nuc goes off, BOTH paths – kembi and ultracontrol – may lead to extinction. IF WE GET TO THAT POINT... the tightrope exercise, the struggle to “weave a path between Scylla and Carybdis,” gives not so much hope of survival. In fact, we are ALREADY on a tightrope to try to avoid that very powerful attractor state, one of the two greatest threats of human extinction. Logic says that; it’s not just dreams. For several years, I was the lead cooridnator for the NSF-DHS research initiative on research to cope with nuclear terrorism.. and if anyone imagines we are secure, there is a very mjndane real world out there which is already enough to terrify. In some ways, that trap is like the legendary Chinese finger trap; many people who struggle he hardest to save us from nuclear terrorism, like Cheney and Hayden, are actually making the risk far worse through their approaches to the problem.

OK, that’s “one mother of a bad dream.”

But I had another dream in that same sequence, which seemed like what Rosicrucians might call “assumption.”

As I wandered into the web of time tracks... I was pulled into a future person, a man much older than what I was then, circa 10,000 AD, who really wanted me to come and see... in a world where humans did survive after all. He lived in a very nice house.. the kind Luda would really like, with a giant open main room downstairs containing a big marble (or other stone) rising up to a high second floor....

He was aware of my presence inside him, welcomed me, but stayed there, and could send a few thoughts gently to me. He suggested I might want to see The Book – which for him was a summary book of history, for me a book of the future. It was on a special podium in a side alcove near the base of the stairs.  The book basically had one page for each century, over at least 10,000 years – about four entries, for example for the twentieth century. World War II and Apollo made it. One entry I forget; probably physics. There was one entry for “rheostatics,” which he drew my attention to, as it involves several streams of my own work going back that far. But then I looked ahead.

Sure enough, a few thousand years from now, the same bad guys showed up as in the other dream, but this time we had the technology to muddle through, somewhat as in Card’s pictures. (Minor note: Card’s Ender series came out many, many years later.) Those key streams WERE developed further.

It was entertaining to continue... but not relevant to this too-long blog entry.

To this day, I feel deeply divided. As of this month, I have a much better sense of actual physics and technology which could be crucial to survival in some scenarios... but could really help us kill ourselves well before that! World politics today, including the power of entities like The Third Caliphate, Cheney, the John Birch society satellites, tribalism in intellectual groupings, and just plain corruption and mindless extremism... make the second consideration ever so compelling...  but doing without is also scary. I do not know, but I sure do wonder.

Many years later, I mentioned a few gross aspects of that dream to someone much more sensitive/receptive than me, who had been trained to take over a psychic practice but chose a PhD from a lead scientific university instead. As an experiment,
We sat and relaxed and meditated in his living room as he tried to reach out to that experience and I tried to connect him to it.  He said: “I don’t see one person there as you saw. I see it as an effort by more than one future mind to pull you in and show you that image. Why? Maybe certain computer minds are more the real threat to the human species, and maybe that image (of formics) is an illusion meant to distract.” That reminded me of Volume II of “The Forbin Project.”

Again, I do not claim to know. I sense that Terminator II and the Winter Soldier and the Hyperion series are also truly inspired, based on possible futures more verdically established than that old dream of mine. Given a choice, I’d go for Dan Simmons’ scenario.

And maybe we have a choice...


But this is so long, I will not go on to speculate about alternative models.