Why Nothing Really Matters (My Trip Inside An Isolation Tank)

Have you ever done absolutely nothing for an entire hour?

I mean nothing.

On March 25th, 2012, I did nothing for the first time in my life.

States Were Altered.

I was invited to the private residence of Edward Arroyo in the hills near Pasadena to experience something called an Isolation Tank.  I had known  Edward since the Transcendent Man screening party, but I never had a chance to check it out until now.  I recently saw him at an Ancient Lasers show, and I realized that, Holy Shit, I still need to do this.

It was a cold, rainy Los Angeles day – which set the perfect mood for introspection.  Four of us arrived at his residence, where we were greeted by sandwiches and refreshments.  He showed us many artifacts he has collected from around the world, most notably, something called Noah’s Ark – a black, obsidian, boat shaped rock.  It only spins clockwise – that is, if you try to spin it the other direction, it vibrates, stops, and corrects itself.

The final stop on the tour was in the back building, where the isolation tank resides.  It is basically a large metal chamber, with the interior completely blacked out.  There is about ten inches of extremely salty water, which is warmed to the exact same temperature as the human body.  The air is also warm, giving the illusion that you are completely submerged in something.

Edward led us back inside the house, where we made final preparations.  I was first, so I took a shower, dawned a bathrobe and slippers, and took out my contact lenses (an act that in itself would be enough to render me deprived of all vision).  Edward was to play sounds of the ocean and some kind of shamanic-sounding hum in the beginning and at the end, to let me know that one hour had elapsed.  One hour is a good initial baseline for time, apparently.  I followed Edward out through the rain to the Isolation Tank, and he handed me earplugs, and a couple towels.  I think Drew, my drummer, was filming up to this point, but as I was about to get completely naked, they left me alone to take the plunge.  I put in my earplugs, threw my robe on a chair, and climbed into the black abyss, closing the door behind me…

The Simpsons Make Room For Lisa
At first I was like this

At first, it felt like you would expect – floating in the dark.  But then I realized how buoyant the water was – it was like what I imagine zero gravity would feel like.  If I didn’t know I was in a controlled, completely safe environment, that sensation would have been utterly terrifying.  I mean, it was utterly terrifying for a few moments, but I knew what I was getting myself into.  I am a sound guy, so I started to focus on the waves/hum noise, and realized how loud my breathing was as it started to fade away.  Once it was completely silent, I kind of had a “now what?” feeling, but tried to focus on my breathing.  At this point, my body had adjusted to the sensation, but I still felt tense in my neck and in my legs.  That’s when I realized I was still actually holding myself up – to some capacity.  I released every muscle in my body in one of the single-most refreshing instances I’ve ever had, and just really let go.  Bingo. Now it’s time to fuckin’ FLOAT.

Monolith
Then I was like this

(From here on, it’s really hard to describe, but I will try.)

I first started thinking about all of human activities – like bills, my job, my band’s next direction, and things like that.  This was probably about ten minutes in, from my estimate.  When your brain doesn’t have anything else to do, you do a really good job thinking about things.  Really fast, and with laser-sharp focus.  It felt that in about five minutes, I had worked-through and addressed my now seemingly-mundane human ‘problems’ in my life.  Well, now what do I think about, I thought to myself.  I don’t know, why don’t you think about what you’re doing here? What do you want to do? What is all that stuff outside? Who are all those people? Do they matter? It feels like it. What are they? And what are you?

It felt like my eyes were moving deep into my body, like my vision was starting to come from my chest instead of my eyes.  And right when I noticed myself slipping into that, I would jolt back awake.  It was kind of like being on sleep deprivation at this point, but still remaining incredibly energetic.  I started to hear foreign music and loud, thundering sounds – big bass notes and something like a trumpet in the distance.  I decided to think about memories and friends from my past, and it was like walking through a party where I knew everyone.  Every room was a different memory, and I could walk in and interact with it – bring it back to life.  Then I really lost control.

It now felt like a DJ had showed up to the party and started remixing my brain.  Memories, ideas, people, music, visual images…all started to get the mashup treatment, and I actually felt my brain using itself as its own sensory input. Like someone plugged a power strip into itself.  I heard a voice say “He hasn’t started using his lungs yet”, which was pretty creepy (perhaps some kind of connection to being in the womb?).  It felt like a bunch of people were above me, looking down, but there was no down, just out.  I started to feel really guilty about things, but kind of ‘as everyone’.  That as humans, we aren’t using all the tools we’ve been given properly, and that we are letting someone down.  That there is some big thing we are supposed to do.

Then I was like this

The ocean sound started to creep up and I started to sink back into myself.  I was expecting to get that horrible sleep-paralysis feeling when I came back, but I had never actually gone to sleep…so I tried moving a finger.  Moving one single finger a quarter of an inch after not having a body feels indescribable.  I clenched my fist, one at first, then the other, and wiggled my toes.  Yep, I’m in this body again.  I slowly sat up in the tank,  both exhausted and completely rejuvenated at the same time.  I pushed open the door, and as my pupils shrank back into tiny black dots, I looked around for someone.  Still alone.  I blindly reached for a towel, and stumbled out into the real world again.  Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror on the way out had a certain completing-the-journey quality to it.  After taking a shower to get the salt off, I sat around the outdoor firepit where everyone was.  I tried my best not to talk about the experience as not to influence theirs, but I think that lasted about ten seconds.

After all four of us had gone in the isolation tank for one hour each, we all had completely different experiences and explanations – but we all agreed it was one of-if-not-the-single-most life-changing feelings we’d ever felt.  And seriously, the way you physically feel afterwards is like getting a massage, doing a full workout, and getting 8 hours of sleep all at once.

Edward showed us the concept video for Floatspace, his next endeavor.  He wants to set up isolation tanks for public and commercial use, and we talked about all the new possibilities that would arise.  What if you could skype with other people while inside the chamber? What about virtual or augmented reality systems? If I could have, I would have invested a cool million right then and there.

With our journey complete, we thanked Edward I think about a hundred times before we climbed back into the car.  The quality of sleep I had that night was unrivaled, and I was able to partially slip back into that floating feeling.  This morning I woke up an hour before my alarm clock.

To sum it all up, go do this.  I feel embarrassed that I haven’t done this before.  Until you try it, you won’t understand what I’m talking about.

 

Why nothing really matters.

Written by Daniel Finfer of Ancient Lasers

Thalience – The Mind-Blowing Theory You’ve Never Heard Of

Karl Schroeder wrote a little book in 2001 called Ventus – a hard-sci-fi story that will undoubtedly be most remembered for its radical new theory about life on Earth…that gives us an insight into what life might be like after science.

Those of you who’ve read my novel Ventus may recognize “The Successor to Science” as the title of a fictional paper referred to in that book. The paper introduces the reader to the concept of thalience.  As originally intended, thalience was an attempt to look past science to see what discipline would come after it–hence the title “A Successor to Science.”

You’re forgiven if you’re bewildered–after science? How does that make sense? Am I saying that science is just a cultural phenomenon, a fashion? No. But it is something that exists in a particular historical context, and the question I was asking with thalience was whether science might produce some new kind of activity that, while not replacing it, could be viewed as an offspring of equal value to us.

Let’s back up a bit. In Ventus I invented a new word, and gave several definitions for it–quite deliberately, because I believe that ambiguity is the life-force of words. The word is acutally defined now on Wikipedia, but the two definitions given there are only half-right. Vinge asked me whether the word has to do with distributed sensor nets–because the Winds of Ventus are a system of massively parallel nanotech AIs–and I said yes at the time, but didn’t expand on what that implied. If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, bear with me; you may find what follows interesting.

What if you could separate the activity of science from the human researchers who conduct it?Automate it, in fact? Imagine creating a bot that does physics experiments and builds an internal model of the world based on those experiments. It could start out as something simple that stacked blocks and knocked them over again. Later models could get quite sophisticated; and let’s say we combine this ability with the technology of self-reproducing machines (von Neumann machines). Seed the moon with our pocket-protector-brandishing AIs and let them go nuts. Let them share their findings and refine their models.

So far so good. Here’s the question that leads to the notion of thalience: if they were allowed to freely invent their own semantics, would their physical model of the universe end up resembling ours? –I don’t mean would it produce the same results given the same inputs, because it would. But would it be a humanly-accessible theory?

This is a better question than it might at first appear, because even we can produce mutually irreconcilable theories that successfully describe the same things: quantum mechanics and relativity, for instance. Their worldviews are incompatible, despite the fact that together they appear to accurately describe the real world. So it’s at least possible that non-human intelligences would come to different conclusions about what the universe was like, even if their theory produced results compatible with our models.

This little thought-experiment asks whether we can turn metaphysics into a hard science; and this becomes the first interesting meaning of the world thalience: it is an attempt to give the physical world itself a voice so that rather than us asking what reality is, reality itself can tell us. It is possible that thalient systems will always converge on a model of the universe that is comprehensible to humans; if so, then we will actually have a means of solving what were once considered philosophically imponderable questions–such as, what is the world really made of? How much of our understanding of the universe is subjective, and is truely objective knowledge even possible? A thalient system could tell us.

When Biology And Technology Merge

In Ventus, of course, the thalient system has lost the ability to communicate with humans; but the end of the novel holds out the hope that some sort of bridge can be constructed. Strangely, this bridge appears in the form of politics, rather than as a meeting of minds through Reason or Mathematics.

But there’s a further meaning to the term. If you were to automate science, and reap the rewards, what would you be left doing? Twiddling your thumbs while the AIs solve all the big problems? Well, not necessarily. The last definition of thalience involves the exciting possibility that, yes, multiple equally valid physical models of the universe are possible. Not one true “theory of everything” but many, perhaps an endless number of them. In this case, the conclusions we reach about our place in the universe when we understand quantum mechanics and relativity–or, for that matter, Newtonian physics–are accidental, by-products of the subjective side of objective research. So here is the grandest definition of thalience: it is the discipline that chooses among multiple successful scientific models based on which ones best satisfy our human, aesthetic/moral/personal needs. In other words, given two or more equally valid models of the universe, thalience is the art of choosing the one with the most human face. It is the recovery of the natural in our understanding of the Natural.

The ability to create non-human intelligences that can ask the same questions we ask leads to the possibility not just of answering ancient questions, but of turning science into the precursor of a new human activity. If thalient entities can create accurate models of the world that are different from our own, you may no longer be faced with the dilemma of taking either a religious, comforting view of the universe, or an objective and scientific–but not humanly satisfying–view. Thalience would consist in taking science’s results as raw material for building new mythologies–and possibly religions–which would differ from all previous ones in that they would all be scientifically, objectively true.

Now maybe you can see how science could have a successor: thalience would use objective truth as an artistic medium and merge subjectivity and objectivity in a creative activity whose purpose is the re-sanctification of the natural world. To believe in an uplifting and satisfying vision of your place in the universe, and to know that this vision is true (or as true as anything can be) would be sublime. Thalience would be an activity worthy of post-scientific humanity, or our own biological or post-biological successors.

Whoa.

The Invention Of God – An Interview With Bill Lauritzen

The Invention Of God, by Bill Lauritzen

Arthur C Clarke called him “some kind of genius.” I recently got the chance to interview Bill Lauritzen, the author of The Invention Of God – which is a fascinating book that looks at how religion began – and how our ancestors interpreted the natural world as something supernatural.

 

What was the origin of your beliefs and how were you raised as a child? Did that affect how you feel about religion and science?

I was lucky because I never went to church as a child and my parents were agnostic, so that helped me to have an open-minded belief system.  It made me very curious about religion – because I wasnt exposed to it.  My father was a business man and my mother was a journalist, both fairly well educated.  Niether one went to college however, my mother was self – educated, and that had a big influence on me.  She was a very curious person.

What led you down this path as your got more curious? Any singular event?

One important event of great significance was in 1992. I went to a total eclipse in Hawaii, and I was more impressed by the volcanic structure of the island and seeing the lava turn into solid ground before my eyes – that had a big influence on me.  It eventually led me to explore other volcanoes around the world and I realized how important they are in religion and mythology.   In Hawaii, you can walk right up to the lava flow – there were no park rangers holding you back.  Hawaiian volcanoes are called shield volcanoes, and later on I visited cone volcanoes – which are more explosive – in Southeast asia and Indonesia.  One volcano in particular was Krakatoa, which exploded violently in 1883.  The Child of Krakatao is now growing and will eventually explode.  These are things the ancient people saw, and this affected their mythology and their worldview.

So your line of thinking is that we didn’t have the tools to explain natural phenomena?

We didnt have the elaborate, sophisticated science. Ancient people were proto-scientists.  They didnt even have a word for religion.  Their proto-science…It was a model of the world around them, and that developed later into alchemy…And finally into chemistry and physics.

Before electricity, volcanoes were one of the few sources of light in the world.  You had lightning, the sun and moon, fire, and volcanoes.  Primitive man tried to fit all this together into some whole cohesive theory, and basically came up with fire, air, earth, and water as a primitive science – which then led to the periodic table that we have today.

What are your theories about prophets – the people that claimed they spoke to God?

Well, it’s possible they thought the volcano was a God of the underworld, because they saw lava turning into land, and the land becoming fertile and growing things – they saw this happen, so they might have assumed it was a creator.

Have you thought that were might be an impending war between science and religion?

Nobody knows the future, but certainly there is conflict going on between the religious right and the rest of us, and I dont know that it will result in violence, but I do see social upheaval – primarily due to the great wealth inequalities, and as a result of the policies of the previous administrations.  Again, nobody can predict it, but it will be interesting.  People need to demistify these myths and defeat the fundamentalists.

Whats the best way to educate people in a way that doesn’t offend them, and still allows them to be spiritual, but to not be ostracized by their families and community?

My original intent with the book was not to offend people, but I don’t know how well it does that because I’m not reading it from a religious viewpoint.   I don’t know that religion will ever be replaced with something else – I’m beginning to think that some form of religion is inevitable, and it is possible we could replace it with something more rational. That’s something im exploring right now.  There are a lot of serious scientists trying to figure out why religion exists in the first place and why it evolved.

Do you see artificial intelligence becoming something like a God?

That is possible, of course people who know what AI is, I don’t think they are going to worship them.  Perhaps common people would, and it is possible AI could declare itself a form of religious leader.  Our concept of God keeps evolving, and you can always trump somebody elses concept of God by creating a bigger concept of God.  Someone says Big Bang, then someone says “Well who created that?”  We are here to do the best we can and develop models for the world around us…and to predict the best we can what will happen.

Have you done any research about ancient contact with extraterrestrials?

Of course, I’ve done research in that area, and the people who propose those ideas usually get all the publicity, but the books debunking their claims, they don’t get any publicity at all.  People are always looking for an easy way out – that some mothership will come down and take us away.  Its easier to believe in something like that than to study science and physics and make a breakthrough yourself.  And then, who knows, actually build a starship.  That would be the way to go – instead of waiting for somebody to rescue you from your situation.

Why is religion more popular than science?

Think about how many Christian bands and Christian radio stations there are.  How come there are no atheist or science radio stations?  Religion pays no taxes, which is ridiculous.  It is also a lot easier to understand – its pretty simple. There’s one book to read instead of a thousand.  It takes hard work to learn science.  Church, you know,  you just show up every Sunday, sing some songs, and go out to lunch afterwards

Do you think that scientists are too busy actually working on science to care about marketing? Or are there too many disparate branches of science to create a centralized message?

Science is more complex to understand, so I dont know that science will ever have that level of popularity.  Every once in a while, they make a breakthrough and simplify things like Newton did, but it still takes a lot of work to understand it.

When you think about religion, it’s actually a very intelligent idea as a concept in history – have you ever thought that religious leaders are actually very intelligent and are good at the science of making people believe things?  

I don’t consider them true scientists – because they dont have high ethical standards in reporting facts and results.  They are more like really good businessmen.  It’s never the uneducated people at the top.

What is your opinion on the future of education?

Good question. I see our country’s true salvation is education, not religion.  We need to start using the internet more, and make it avaible to everyone in the inner cities.  That may be my next book. It is a key thing that will keep our country strong and I dont think we are doing nearly enough in that realm.

Bill Lauritzen

William Lauritzen is a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  He received a B.S. in psychology and graduated near the top 1% of his class.  He was named “The Outstanding Graduate” in both psychology and philosophy. The Air Force sent him to an accelerated program to get a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology at Purdue. At the age of 22, he received a master’s degree in Industrial Psychology from Purdue, specializing in Human Engineering Design. He was assigned to design and evaluate cockpits for jet aircraft, which he did for two years.

He wrote a paper on the Buckminsterfullerence molecule in 1994, and has created several innovative designs and insightful articles which combine cognitive science, mathematics, geometry, geodesic domes, archeology, anthropology, geology, oceanography,education, ancient Egypt, economics, and other subjects.

His designs include a new way of presenting and teaching the English alphabet (still under development), a new number system (a base-12 color-coded number system with new symbols), an educational word game (still under development), and Spacehenge.

Lauritzen teaches summers for the Center for Talented Youth of Johns Hopkins University. He lives in Los Angeles and New Mexico.

 

We Will Either Live Forever or Be Killed By Robots In…”The Singularity”

We are living during a very important time. It is a time in which time itself seems to be speeding up. It is also a time in which the prospect of being able to prevent our own death is becoming feasible. Intrigued? You should be – something called The Singularity may render you immortal.

The Map Of The Internet


Early Multi-Cellular Life

At the dawn of life on this planet, evolutionary changes happened slow. Billions of years slow. One microbe took billions of years to evolve the DNA necessary to replicate itself from simple amino acids. But that first copying mechanism, DNA, allowed information to be transmitted that much faster. Then, evolution only took millions of years to create multi-cellular creatures. Good information was kept, and bad information was discarded. The wheel of time continued until evolution presented the planet Earth with a new species – human beings. Except this species was different – this was the first intelligence on the planet.

This is where the evolutionary process of life really began to accelerate. Instead of millions of years to the next paradigm shift, it was only 50,000 years until Man began to talk. And then, only 10,000 to develop agriculture, written language, society, and government. Another 5,000 elapsed, and we had constructed Pyramids, developed theological and monetary systems, and had begun colonizing the planet. This led to the development of Science a few thousand years later. Science, after a few mere centuries, gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, which after only 50 years gave us the Computer Revolution. Notice the trend? Evolution is a feedback loop.

“Moore’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware, in which the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.”

When Moore made this prediction at CalTech in the 1970’s, computers were the size of buildings. Now one fits in your pocket, and a particle accelerator in CERN is capable of achieving the coldest temperature in the universe and a magnetic field thousands of times more powerful than the Earth’s- all to find the God Particle that allowed the universe to be created. Forty years ago a machine that sized could barely run Pong.

This is only the beginning, however – imagine the things we will achieve with computers the size of red-blood cells floating inside the body. Nanobots will soon be integrating themselves into our biological structure, repairing broken synapses in the brain, cleaning out arteries and creating a virtual-reality interface within your visual cortex. Don’t believe me? Ask Ray Kurzweil, who this year co-founded the Singularity University in Palo Alto with Google and NASA. Their sole mission is to create a human-computer hybrid that will allow us to live forever.

Why a hybrid? Why not simply create a smarter-than-human computer and have it solve all our problems? Because that computer might decide that keeping us humans on Planet Earth would hinder its own progress in evolution – that we pose a threat to its survival. Or, the computer might even convert the entire solar system into a bigger version of itself to solve the problem. In Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”, scientists keep building bigger and bigger computers; while constantly asking the meaning of life. It is not until the very end, when, after the entire universe has been converted into a computer that the final answer is given.

The UN even recently passed a law banning “self-replicating nanobots” to prevent the planet from being covered in a “gray goo” of robotic microbes. This only supports how real this is all becoming. Six years ago, Facebook was being invented. Now, 500 million people have moved parts of their lives “online”, and could not imagine life without it. Ten years ago, cell phones and laptops were only just becoming commonplace within the societal lexicon. Now, having a desktop or even laptop computer is viewed as being a nuisance and hassle. In the next ten years, however, the change will be faster. We know this because it’s been speeding up this entire time.

Every day, more things happen than the day before- because today we have better tools for communicating, working, living, and replicating information than we did yesterday. The move from analog to digital will be almost too gradual to notice, but one thing is certain: Humanity is uploading itself onto the internet, which now appears to have turned Planet Earth into a collective brain; every human being a neuron in the system. This collective brain will soon abandon the mortal problems we face today, but it will face problems on a universal scale. Like how to prevent its collapsing, parent star from dying, how to exist in multiple dimensions, or even how to better allocate intelligence throughout the universe.

Maybe then it will even send out tiny seeds to land on distant planets…just like the amino acids that landed on Earth.

BIL Conference 2012 – In Retrospect

I recently wrote about my experience at BIL 2011 in this article, but I absolutely have to update and tell you about BIL Conference 2012 – mainly because of how much it exceeded my expectations.

Simone and Alexis Not Pictured!

First off, there were more people in attendance.  I believe we clocked in at over 800(!) people.  It seems our message is truly beginning to spread and pick up speed, which is no surprise – alot has happened since March of 2011.

We are finally seeing the rise of the “Internet voice”, as made evident by the huge amount of activism by Twitter, Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street, and many more connectivity-based movements.  People are starting to step away from the computer (with iPhone or Droid still firmly in hand) and take to the streets.  Information technologies are making people realize how much work there is to do to fix the problems our society still faces.  Yet, many people that want and can do something to help don’t know where to turn.  I didn’t.  Before connecting with the people at BIL, I had motivation and knew what I wanted to do, but didn’t know there were thousands of other people that had the same ideas.

BIL, by nature, is a very geeky event.  As a counter-culture shadow conference that not-so-coincidentally occurs right around TED, you would expect this.  And by nature, these people don’t have alot of free time for social interaction – and most find the usual “club and bar scene” to be trite and superficial (myself included).  The beauty in BIL is that it gives the nerdy, quirky, subversive, think-way-the-fuck-outside-the-box types a singular event to come and talk about all the insanely cool projects they’ve been working on in the past year.

New additions this year included:

  • Space Stage, where SpaceX and XCOR showed off some very cool, privately funded space vehicles. A
  • Burning-Man-esque….dodecahedron? (It’s a geometric shape I can’t describe in human language).  People were relaxing and singing karaoke when they needed a mind-rest from talks.
  • Massage/Cupping station.
  • Speed Dating and Relationship Discussions in the Red Room.
  • College Of Lockpicking
  • Crashspace 3D Printing Demonstration
  • Halcyon Molecular DNA microscope
  • BIL2012 Anthem!
  • Performances by Max Lugavere and Ancient Lasers

At the closing ceremony, Reichart auctioned off a chance to sit in on a live reading of Futurama, with the full cast (as well as himself and Simone for dates).  Their combined sexiness helped put a deposit for BIL2013! Maria Entraigues and myself also performed the first ever “BIL Anthem” – and we got Aubrey de Grey to jump on stage and bust out a smooth 16 bar rap verse about “biology, nanotechnology, quantum computing, more biology…”  That was definitely a fitting way to end the conference.  Special thanks to Reichart, Maria, Aubrey and Simone for making that happen with 4 days notice!

In conclusion, BIL expanded my mind and now I have a thirst for knowledge – and meeting the people who possess it. I know I’m leaving out tons of amazing people I met, and I apologize in advance.  More posts coming!  I have a big list of similar conferences, concerts, and events like BIL in my Google Docs, and I hope to check a few dozen off the list by the time 2012 is over.