Looking At Utopia With Stars In Our Eyes

If you’ve wondered why this blog appears to have gone quiet in the last week, it’s because I’m travelling on a trip that has taken me from the White House to Miami’s Winter Electronic Music Conference to West Point. Meanwhile, nothing much seems to have happened in the Burning Man world during this time. That may be about to change, with a rival civilization springing up to challenge Burning Man’s supremacy as a temporary city.

utopiaFox TV has begun casting for a new reality show, called Utopia. The show is being produced by Dutch TV maestro John de Mol, who has won 25 Emmy awards for his contribution to the medium. He created the Big Brother show where people live together in a house with cameras on them 24/7. There they perform all manner of bizarre antics and entertainment for the home viewers, trying to avoid being voted out. What kind of antics? Well, the show’s most famous and controversial moment in Australia was a “teabagging incident”.

If you think you have what it takes for reality TV, then you might enjoy dedicating a year of your life to this new show, Utopia. It has debuted on Dutch TV already – so strongly that it triggered a bidding war amongst American networks looking for “the next big thing”.

The debut exceeded expectations, ranking as SBS 6′s highest-rated nonscripted premiere in six years. It won its time slot and pulled a 25.2% share in adults 18-49, improving the network’s market share in the time period by 500%, and drew almost 1.6 million overall viewers compared to SBS’ average viewership in the slot of 300,000…and nearly 100,000 people downloaded the app after the first episode

John de Mol also created Deal Or No Deal, Fear Factor, and The Voice – but he says “this is the purest form of reality that I have ever produced in my career”. The Hollywood Reporter called it “the most ambitious social experiment on television”

The premise of the show is “start your own civilization”, and see what you can achieve in a year. The location of where in the United States this will be remains a secret; it is unlikely to be the Black Rock Desert. Still, radical Burner skills of self-expression, self-reliance, participation, communal effort, civic responsibility, and immediacy could all be useful in this new civilization. Some creativity would be required to demonstrate how a society could be built entirely from Gifting: surely someone would have to have access to more resources than others, in order to have more gifts to distribute over the course of an entire year. Decommodification also seems like a challenge, when you are a wannabe star in a mainstream reality TV show broadcast around the world. Something tells me Fox will find some sponsors for this. I find it hard to believe how a TV production crew on  a set they construct from nothing over a year is going to “Leave No Trace”. Still, Burners are nothing if not ingenious, so this could be a fantastic opportunity for The Burning Man Project to test how their principles work away from a rocket testing site in the Wild West – perhaps a useful exercise before they start their own brand-licensed colonies.

Gretchen Miller is doing the casting, and she says they have already received applications from some Burners. You can contact her here.

UTOPIA is a bold new unscripted series that moves 15 everyday Americans to an isolated, undeveloped location – for an entire year – and challenges them to create their own civilization.

With cameras following the pioneers 24/7, viewers can watch their society unfold, both weekly on FOX and also online. As they observe the inhabitants living together, and building their new existence, viewers themselves will have the chance to become a valuable and powerful asset to the community, and ultimately to question whether Utopia remains an elusive but alluring fantasy, or whether the pioneers have truly realized their dream

We are looking for those strong individuals who will create this new world on live television to see if they have what it takes to work together and create a new society from scratch.

We need people from all walks of life and skill sets to contribute to this new community being founded.  I am familiar with Burning Man and have attended in the past. Attendees have such a great sense of community and ideals which I think will be a great asset on the show. We are looking for artists, tradespeople, activists, contractors, doctors. lawyers,inventors, chefs, firefighters etc.

Please check out the show’s website at http://www.fox.com/utopia/.  For anyone interested in applying they can go to http://www.utopiatv.com  and fill out the questionnaire or contact me directly.  The show’s trailer can be found here: http://youtu.be/xfnaDbmFpP4.

John de Mol says:

“Utopia is a positive and constructive program that gives people the opportunity, if you can start all over again, start from scratch and create laws and make decisions, will you be able to build a society that is better than the one we have; will it be chaos or happiness…Big Brotheris a competition among 12 people who don’t have the worry about money, their fridge is always full, it’s a totally different setup.” He also noted that the cast members on Utopia, which requires a lot of skills, tend to be more upscale

Pro tip for budding social engineers: wear a Stetson.


Building Community Through Co-operative Living

drawing humans commune with nature w500

The Burning Man Project are throwing a free “donate what you want” event next month at their headquarters, to bring together Burners from a range of co-operative living situations to talk about their experiences.

Perhaps this gives us a hint of the direction the new “Burning Man 2.0” non-profit is going to take: permanent communities, where everyone is welcome and there is no commerce, everyone just gets gifted everything for free; there is no trash collection, you have to take it yourself to the next town; there are no other public utilities, you have to bring your own. Oh wait – there are port-a-potties. Just bring your own paper, soap, and water. In these BMOrg New-Topias, you live under the Ten Principles of Burning Man, but will get sued if you actually use the words “Burning Man” in any way to describe your community.

Is living on communes, the same as communism? Yes and no…perhaps if you attend, you might want to raise this Progressive issue with the “Mainstream Republican” Burning Man crowd.

Building Community through Cooperative Living

April 17 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

2cohousingCooperative living arrangements have been popular in the U.S. for decades. These arrangements take many forms, from low-income options, such as squatter warehouses and affordable housing co-ops, to those requiring more capital, such as resident-designed cohousing developments. Faced with increasing home prices, the rise of the ‘sharing economy’, and a renewed focus on the importance of human connection, individuals are turning to cooperative living environments across the Bay Area and beyond.

Please join us for an evening of lively discussion focused on building community through group living arrangements.  This panel will bring together Burners from a range of cooperative living situations to talk about their experiences—the benefits, the challenges, and the cultural consequences of creating and living in shared spaces.  Our panelists will explore what it is about cooperative living they find compelling, and what elements are important in building vibrant community.



Raines Cohen, East Bay Cohousing

Nicole Sawaya, Project Artaud

JT Yu, Cooperative Roots

Jessy Kate Schingler, Open Door Development Group



April 17, 2014
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Event Category:


Burning Man Headquarters
660 Alabama Street, 4th Floor (Note New Address), San Francisco, 94103United States

+ Google Map


Scientists Endorse Animal Consciousness

ions consciousnessLast week I wrote about Professor Dean Radin and the team at IONS (the Institute of Noetic Sciences), who are conducting experiments at Burning Man as part of their research into consciousness. Some scientists debate whether consciousness exists at all, since there is no mathematical formula, chemical compound, or law of physics to explain it. They don’t “think” it is there – the ultimate irony. The word “scientist” has only been with us since 1837, but the idea of magic has been with all cultures for all time.

It seems that these days, the world of science is taking a turn for the better. The sort of things that were formerly dismissed as impossible, or viewed by the more primitively inclined as magic, are being recognized as true phenomena. We should study the things we don’t understand, learn from them. Maybe one day we’ll figure them out and then they can become “science” too. Supposedly, we had no idea about gravity before an apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head. No matter that the Chinese and Greeks had already built flying machines, thousands of years earlier…but I digress.

There’s a lot of stuff that happens at Burning Man that science can’t completely explain. The wicker effigy we burn has no consciousness of its own, yet there is a measurable rift in the space-time continuum formed by it. There’s also a lot of expansion of consciousness going on – the transcendental theme of the hippie Sixties. Many Burners like to accessorize this process with some sort of psychotropic substance. In fact, the father of drugs, Dr Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, who synthesized 217 different psychoactive compounds, still lives today in the East Bay and is a repeat Burner.

animal control

Are there animals at Burning Man? I’ve seen ’em!

Would it surprise you to learn that animals seem to get off on that stuff too? It’s part of Nature, right. “All in the game!” Apparently hallucinogen-injecting scientists have been doing consciousness experiments on animals, just like government agencies here did to unsuspecting humans in the hijinks and capers of “Operation Midnight Climax – How the CIA Dosed S.F. Citizens with LSD”.

One scientist who loved him some acid was Dr Francis Crick. He discovered DNA while on an acid trip – not a bad contribution to humanity, right?

At Dr Crick’s Memorial Conference at his old college, Cambridge University in England, some of the world’s leading scientists gathered together to acknowledge that animals have consciousness, too.

From Scientific American:

Elephants cooperate to solve problems. Chimpanzees teach youngsters to make tools. Even octopusesseem to be able to plan. So should we humans really be surprised that “consciousness” probably does not only exist in us?

This privileged state of subjective awareness in fact goes well beyondHomo sapiens, according to the new Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (pdf), which was signed last month by a group of cognitive neuroscientists, computational neuroscientists, neuroanatomists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists who attended the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals at Cambridge University in the U.K.

“The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness,” the scientists wrote. “Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

From higherperspective.com:

Scientists Sign Declaration That Animals Have Conscious Awareness; Just Like Humans

An international group of prominent scientists has signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in which they are proclaiming their support for the idea that animals are conscious and aware to the degree that humans are — a list of animals that includes all mammals, birds, and even the octopus. But will this make us stop treating these animals in totally inhumane ways?

While it might not sound like much for scientists to declare that many nonhuman animals possess conscious states, it’s the open acknowledgement that’s the big news here. The body of scientific evidence is increasingly showing that most animals are conscious in the same way that we are, and it’s no longer something we can ignore.

What’s also very interesting about the declaration is the group’s acknowledgement that consciousness can emerge in those animals that are very much unlike humans, including those that evolved along different evolutionary tracks, namely birds and some cephalopods.

“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states,” they write, “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.”

…The group consists of cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists — all of whom were attending the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals. The declaration was signed in the presence of Stephen Hawking, and included such signatories as Christof Koch, David Edelman, Edward Boyden, Philip Low, Irene Pepperberg, and many more.Prominent scientists sign declaration that animals have conscious awareness, just like us

The declaration made the following observations:

  1. The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily available to survey the correlates of consciousness.
  2. The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures
  3. Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. …Magpies in articular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.
  4. In humans, the effect of certain hallucinogens appears to be associated with a disruption in cortical feedforward and feedback processing. Pharmacological interventions in non-human animals with compounds known to affect conscious behavior in humans can lead to similar perturbations in behavior in non-human animals. In humans, there is evidence to suggest that awareness is correlated with cortical activity, which does not exclude possible contributions by subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness. Evidence that human and nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.

Wait a minute...”non-human animals”…that seems to imply that there must be such a thing as “human animals”. Are all these scientists really signing a statement that says “humans are animals”? What does that then make Transhumanists and cyborgs?

singularitycartoonGoogle is a hotbed of glasshole Burners, from the very top down to the bus stop brigade. It also has more than its fair share of transhumanists. Their Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil, who hopes to be immortal, thinks we should all merge with machines and extend our lifespans through a combination of genetic engineering, nanobots, and “reducing the biological component” that’s attached to our Android device. As they say in poker, “if you’ve been in the game 30 minutes and you don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy”.

singulairty nerdsAre corporations people? Are corporations animals? What about a massive Artificial Intelligences like Google’s that know everything we watch, read, speak, write, spend, do…is that an animal? Does it have a consciousness? What about Apple’s one, called SIRI? Hundreds of millions of people have interactive conversations with it every day. It is constantly answering questions from all over the world, and learning as it goes. Does that have consciousness? Does it have rights? The experiments going on around you at Burning Man, as we worship The Man and then immolate him on a pyre in an ancient Druidic tradition, are helping to answer these questions, some of the 21st Century’s most significant.

Simple Map for Burners

christopher playa map

cartoon by Christopher









bonus: a San Francisco blog called “Bernalwood” just created a guide along these lines to the micro-precincts of Bernal Heights. Burning Man old timer Chicken John got his own Principality:


From Bernalwood:

…the idea that Bernal Heights consists of several distinct microhoods actually makes a lot of sense. After all, Bernal is a neighborhood defined by its topography — Remember, our last name is “Heights!” — so there’s an intuitive logic to the notion that different parts of the hill have very different subcultures and identities. Yet we are far more than our cost per-square-foot; we are a federation of nooks and crannies shaped by timeless geological features, historical quirks, and neighborly idiosyncrasies.

So please allow us to propose this homegrown draft guide to the Subdistricts of Bernal Heights, produced in collaboration with Burrito Justice, chief spokesblogger for the La Lenguan separatists. To wit, and roughly clockwise from the map shown above:

Precitaville – With the Mission as a front yard, Precita Park as the living room, and Bernal Hill as a backyard playground, Precitaville is perhaps the most cosmopolitan part of Bernal Heights. Perhaps.

Santana Rancho – Carlos Santana used to live here; Janis Joplin used to party here. The steep slopes and meandering streets of Bernal’s northeast corner have made it a secret haven for generations of local artists, musicians, and eccentrics.

The Sutrito Canine Republic – Located atop Bernal Hill in a public park, The Sutrito Canine Republic is patrolled by packs of very happy dogs who frolic off-leash and worship the microwave antenna array mounted atop Sutrito Tower.

The Hill People of Powhattan – With their homes clustered around Powhattan Avenue in the high-altitude reaches of Bernal Hill’s southeastern quarter, the Hill People of Powhattan are easy to recognize: Just look for their massive, hill-toned calves and slightly elevated demeanor.

Alemanistan – Dry, rocky, and sun-baked, Alemanistan retains a wild, untamed feel. Perched in the shadow of the Spaghetti Bowl, at the crossroads of two major highways, this  is Bernal’s frontier borderland.

Cortlandia – The heart of Bernal’s historic commercial district has now become the ideal setting for a contemporary situation comedy about bourgoise-bohemian urban culture in the early years of the 21st century. Which is funny, except that it’s also rather lovely, and we are very lucky to have it. The residents of Cortlandia are justifiably quite proud of this.

Baja Bernal – Perhched just south and slightly below Cortland Avenue, Baja Bernal is scrappy place of haphazard hills, multigenerational residents, and intense, superhyperlocal pride.

Portola Norte – As if unfazed by the barrier created by an interstate freeway, this area of Bernal Heights  feels contiguous with the pre-gentrified ethos that prevails on the other side of I-280.

St. Mary’s Park – Developed during the 1920s on the site of the former St Mary’s College campus, this self-contained, bell-shaped enclave feels like a little slice of the Sunset District, right in our own corner of Bernal Heights.

Lost Tribe of College Hill – Separated from the Bernal heartland by Mission Street, yet isolated from Glen Park by freeways, College Hill’s de facto independence is symbolized by a recent redistricting that saw the area transferred to Supervisor Scott Wiener’s District 8.

Holly Park – This ancient district of Bernal Heights is home to one of San Francisco’s oldest parks and a covered reservoir that has long been the setting for much local scandal and drama.

Foggy Vista – Rising above Mission Street on Bernal’s west slope, the groovy people who live here enjoy a commanding view of Nature’s own lava lamp: the massive banks of fog that cascade over Twin Peaks. Residents eagerly await construction of the Esmeralda Funicular to facilitate transit to and from the bustling Mission Street corridor.

La Lengua Autonomous Zone – This territory has been an integral part of the Dominion of Bernalwood since the 19th century, but today the uppity people of La Lengua enjoy limited autonomy under the terms of the 2010 Proclamation to the Vassals of La Lengua.

The Principality of Chicken John – Though located within the territorial boundaries of Bernal Heights, Chicken John’s warehouse residential complex and bus depot on Cesar Chavez functions as a world unto itself. Operating under its own sovereign codes, aesthetics, and social norms, and with it’s own 4.5 star rating on Yelp, The Principality of Chicken John is, in effect, Bernal’s version of the Vatican.

Serpentinia – Named after a long-gone street that used to mirror Precita on the northern side of Army/Cesar Chavez,  Serpentinia is today defined by the major thoroughfare that now slices through its center. After decades of indifference and neglect, recent  infrastructure upgrades on Chavez may bring new cultural vitality to this region.

REVISION NOTE: March 19: Based on comments provided by Bernal neighbors, the former “Outer Cortlandia” has been renamed “Baja Bernal,” to reflect existing microhood parlance. The map has also been updated to include this change.

New at Burners.Me: Cartoons!


Just like Burning Man, we’re taking it to another level on the Web this year. We’re pleased to welcome Christopher as our resident cartoonist, helping spread joy to the world of Burners We asked him some quick questions:

B.M: How many burns have you been to?

10 burns.

B.M What are your 3 favorite Principles?

Gifting, Self Reliance and Communal Effort.

B.M What are the best and worst parts of Burning Man?

The best part of Burning Man is living in a world dedicated to art and self expression. The worst part is the dust. Fuck dat.

We look forward to many chuckles in the future, thanks for sharing Christopher!