Party Like It’s Star Wars [Updates]

Image: Sharara, via Facebook

Image: Sharara, via Facebook

Star Wars. Desert camping. Talks on topics aligned with Leave No Trace and Self Reliance. A nod to the Davos World Economic Forum. Sharara, Arabic for “spark”, has it all…

Sharara desert camp-out festival @ the Star Wars site in the Tunisian Sahara (inaugural edition 1-3 April 2017) has a ShararaTech call for submissions that is open till 31 March 2016 on Water, Energy and Self-Reliance around the Mediterranean. Burners are welcome to participate.

This solution-based festival and geography anchored event (Sharara which stands for “Spark” in Arabic) was conceived by a lady entrepreneur who was selected by Davos WEF in 2002 as a Young Arab Leader for her role in creating the first venture capital fund in the Arab part of the Middle East. As a burner she, Amal Alayan could see long back, Sharara as an answer to a question raised by the Guardian recently with the title “What would it look like if Davos and Burning Man would have a baby?”. For a snap shot of Tatooine where Sharara will take place, check out this link. Leonardo Journal of MIT Press, Sharara publishing partner, plans to publish a special section on artworks participating in this event.

It’s an Art and Science festival. No word on if there will be DJs, or drinking, or any other kind of partying. They’re looking for art and tech talks.

Their publishing partner is the Leonardo International Society of the Arts, Sciences and Technology. Your art might get featured in MIT Press’s Leonardo Journal, which would be a nice gift to give your friends patrons at Da Vinci’s Workshop. Well, it would be except that this event won’t actually happen until 2017.

Tune in to Tunis.

First, they get a Google guy going over there to launch a social media-fuelled series of revolutions, using technology developed at Burning Man. It all literally began with a spark and a burning man, when a Tunisian man set himself on fire to kick off the protests – which at their peak in Tunisia were generating 2200 tweets per day.

Next step? Time for an Arab “spark: a Burning Man-like story”. Something futuristic, the best of the West, at Star Wars no less. Followed up with a bunch of venture capital flowing into the startup sector.

They have some heavyweight counter-culture tech credit behind them, with promotion from the Buckminster Fuller Institute.

What would it look like if Burning Man and Davos had a baby? Maybe it’s Sha-ra-ra

Participate here.

Check  out their inspiration.

From sharara.tech

ShararaTech Art & Science Mediterranean Festival (also known as Sharara Art, Science and Technology Mediterranean Festival) is an emergent desert camp-out festival that aims to travel on paths around the Mediterranean to celebrate creativity-for-change at the intersection of art, humanities, science and technology.
 
For the inaugural edition of ShararaTech, ShararaTech Challenge on Water, Energy and Self-Reliance is launched with a focus on decentralized water and energy solutions.
 
The festival aims to host desert installations of artistic intrigue and scientific novelty that can evoke holistic insights into new solutions and practices for mitigating difficulties of living around the Mediterranean. ShararaTech sees change rooted in reconnecting with nature, in communal self-reliance, in fostering socially and ecologically responsible entrepreneurship, and in the circularity of gifting and financial support for the creative process. 
 
Whenever possible, ShararaTech aims to include installations that fuse art and technology with self-referential poetics, myths, symbols and universal ethos that defined the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean and its surroundings.
 
From the Sahara where Transmedia and Communications Technology arguably provided non-violent Arab Spring with the tools necessary to bring down hierarchical and centralized ways of organizing that did not work, ShararaTech will be launched. The aesthetics of these decentralizing tools remain essential to celebrate within such a creativity-for-change festival in order to maximize the potential of access to information, learning, corrective feedback loops, creative circularity and alternative modes of self-organizing. 
 
While remaining open for the participation of many forms of creative expressions at the convergence of art, science and nature, ShararaTech will organize thematically on annual basis in liaison with its affiliates.
 
In  “springing” out of the Tunisian Sahara in 2016 with artistic manifestations of water and energy decentralized generation, distribution and storage solutions, ShararaTech hopes to be part of triggering a constructive 3.0 Revolution with futuristic visionary ways of living and creating on and around the Mediterranean.
 
ShararaTech Challenge on Water, Energy and Self-Reliance is intended as a catalytic process for crowdsourcing content for the inaugural edition of ShararaTech Art & Science Mediterranean Festival. A Call for Submissions for this challenge includes incentives in the way of potential noteworthy publishing in Leonardo Journal of MIT Press. Furthermore, a first award of up to $50k will be split between two selected water and/or energy novel submissions: one with the best fit for the Tunisian Sahara and one for Gaza. 
 
The Founding Partner of ShararaTech is Ibtikar Venture Partners LLC. The Publishing Partner of ShararaTech Art Festical is Leonardo International Society of the Arts, Sciences and Technology.
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Who’s behind this? An MIT-backed startup fund with ties to big pharma, that front-runs deals for blue chip financial syndicates. At least, that’s what they say:
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Ibtikar Venture Partners, LLC (“Ibtikar”) was co-founded in May 1999 by Amal Alayan and Omar Khudari as a Delaware limited liability company with a main base in Lexington, MA. Ibtikar leveraged its founding members’ links to MIT and Route 128 and their operating experience in the Middle East in pioneering venture capital investing in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) and to syndicate its investments with blue chip businesses . Ibtikar made a number of early investments in Arab Internet start-ups when there were no more than 2M Internet users in MENA. In 2013 Ibtikar went through restructuring and a new member joined Ibtikar, Mohmmad Saffouri, a major shareholder of Al-Hikma, a leading MENA Pharmaceuticals company based out of Jordan. In 2013 Ibtikar sought, and on 25 September 2013 obtained, an approval from the Tunisian government on the organizing and the production of an international art, science and technology event in the Neck-of-the-Camel desert and in its adjacent George Lucas Star Wars Décor of Tatooine near Tozeur airport in the Tunisian Sahara. On 20 July 2015 the Tunisian newly elected government renewed this approval and confirmed its support.
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Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST) is a nonprofit organization that serves the global network of distinguished scholars, artists, scientists, researchers and thinkers through programs focused on interdisciplinary work, creative output and innovation. From its beginnings, Leonardo/ISAST has served as the virtual community for purposes of networking, resource-sharing, best practices, research and events in Art/Science/Technology.

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Leonardo serves as critical content provider through their Publications Program — scholarly journals published by MIT Press (Leonardo and LMJ), the Leonardo Book Series (MIT Press), as well as the Leonardo family of websites and experimental projects on evolving digital platforms.http://www.leonardo.info
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Just like Stanford has its non-profit Defense contractor SRI International, MIT has its non-profit Defense contractor the MITRE corp. Wonder if they are involved in any of these projects? Maybe some of Reagan’s Star Wars will be out there mixing it up with George Lucas’ Star Wars – if they weren’t from the very beginning, anyway…

 

Screenshot 2016-03-06 11.53.03

Ronald Reagan writing about Star Wars and Bohemian Grove.       From Reagan: A Life in Letters by Kiron K Skinner

 


[Update 3/8/16 7:51am]

A Balanced Perspective has pointed us to the Dunes Electroniques festival, a rave that was recently held at the Star Wars site in Tunisia. More than 1000 security personnel were employed. Here is a great write-up of the event.

Yesterday, the President of Tunisia declared the country a war zone, after skirmishes with ISIS on the Libyan border:

“The majority of Tunisians are now in a state of war against barbarism,” he said from the capital, Tunis.

 

[Update 3/9/16 9:24am]

Amal Alayan, event organizer, says the President was incorrect in his statement that the majority of Tunisians are now in a state of war, and in fact the clashes are only in one town at the border area.

the closing line about the president of Tunisia making an announce that the whole country is declared “war zone ” is not true and hurt the people of Tunisia who r the only people in the region who made Arab Spring succeed. I am in Tunisia now and know for a fact that the war zone is in one town on the east south borders with Libya . I am going Friday as a woman on my own to the west south were out Star Wars site is and will be sending u a photo .. I ran ur article by the ministry of tourism earlier today and on your quote if their president , they said “he was not referring to the whole country”

I’m not sure who to believe: the President of Tunisia, the Minister of Tourism, or the event promoter. YMMV.

Although Ben Gardene, where 48 people were killed in an ISIS attack on Monday, is next to Tatouine, the festival site is on the other side of the country at Mos Espa

Although Ben Guerdane, where 53 people were killed in an ISIS attack on Monday, is next to Tataouine, the festival site is on the other side of the country at Mos Espa

 

Here is the current UK foreign travel advice for Tunisia. The PDF map is more detailed.

FCO 303 - Bangladesh Travel Advice [WEB]

The US State Department issued an updated Travel Advisory on Feb 29 2016.

The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the risks of travel to Tunisia and recommends that U.S. citizens in Tunisia maintain a high level of vigilance following the February 19 U.S. airstrike targeting a Tunisian terrorist facilitator at a terrorist training camp in Libya near the Tunisian border. The Tunisian government has visibly augmented its security presence in recent months, but challenges persist.  This travel alert expires on March 31, 2016.

U.S. citizens should exercise extreme caution in Tunisia when frequenting public venues visited by large numbers of foreigners, such as: hotels, shopping centers, tourist sites, and restaurants.  Two attacks in 2015 targeted tourists: the Bardo Museum in Tunis on March 18 and two beach hotels near Sousse on June 26.  ISIL claimed responsibility for both attacks.  U.S. citizens should also be alert in general to the possibility of kidnapping.

The general security advice for Tunisia and Algeria contains more details. Some highlights:
The Tunisian government officially designated the group Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T), a group with known anti-U.S. and anti-Western sentiments, as a terrorist organization on August 27, 2013.  The Tunisian government continues security force operations against AAS-T, ISIL, and al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). While security forces have successfully foiled a number of attack plots, the potential threat posed by violent extremists in the country remains real…

Certain cities and governorates in Tunisia have a fluid and unpredictable security environment and travel to these areas require additional scrutiny before U.S. Government personnel may travel to them.  These include but are not limited to the geographical areas adjacent to the border with Algeria (Jendouba, Kef, Kasserine); the Libyan border (Ben Gardane and Medenine) and central Tunisia (Gafsa and Sidi Bou Zid). 

Travel to the Algerian border region (Jendouba, Kef, Kasserine) is only allowed for U.S. Government personnel if deemed mission essential, and should be avoided by U.S. citizens given the periodic security incidents along the border regions, including the Mount Chaambi area where security operations continue against armed extremists. 

Criminal Penalties:  You are subject to local laws.  If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.  Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Tunisia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.  You may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you or if you take pictures of certain buildings.  Driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail.  If you break local laws in Tunisia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution.

Furthermore, some laws are also prosecutable in the U.S., regardless of local law.  For examples, see our website on crimes against minors abroad and the Department of Justice website.

LGBTI Travelers:  Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized in Tunisia.  Penalties include sentences of up to three years in prison.  In February 2015, a Swedish man was sentenced to two years in prison, and in September 2015 a Tunisian man was sentenced to one year in prison for violating Tunisia’s law against consensual same-sex sexual relations.  See our LGBTI Travel Information page and section 6 of our  Human Rights report for further details.

Tunisia’s President extended the country’s State of Emergency until Feb 21, 2016.  It is not clear what the current state is.

It’s still a year until the event. Hopefully world peace will be achieved by then.

Deep History of Drugs

Benjamin Breen at The Appendix has written this fascinating overview of the scientific discovery of illicit drugs. It’s concise, rather than comprehensive, but it makes for a good Sunday read.

It skips Ecstasy, which was invented by pharmaceutical giant Merck just before World War I. MDMA was later synthesized and popularized by Burner (and Bohemian Grover) Sasha Shulgin, who passed away in Berkeley this year at the age of 88.

It also misses the “discovery” of Magic Mushrooms by JP Morgan’s PR guy Gordon Wasson; their psycho-active ingredient psilocybin was synthesized by Albert Hoffman, the same chemist who “accidentally discovered” LSD. Both of these substances had actually been around for thousands of years, used in ritual hallucinogenic ceremonies like the Ancient Mystery Rites of Eleusis which Burning Man was based on.


Re-blogged from The Appendix:

Season_2_promo_pic_4

Meiji Meth: the Deep History of Illicit Drugs

“We’re not going to need pseudoephedrine,” Walter White mutters through clenched teeth. “We’re going to make phenylacetone in a tube furnace, then we’re going to use reductive amination to yield methamphetamine.” Chemicals go in, and out come 99.1% pure crystals glittering with the brilliant azure of a New Mexico swimming pool.

The invention of Breaking Bad’s blue meth has become the stuff of television legend, and has even inspired a spate of real world knock-offs. But few know the true origin stories of illicit drugs—for instance, the strange fact that methamphetamine was actually invented in 1890s Japan.

Chemists have been fascinated by recreational drugs for a very long time. Robert Hooke, the short-tempered genius who discovered cells, was also the author of the first academic paper on cannabis. In the fall of 1689, Hooke ducked into a London coffee shop to purchase the drug from an East Indies merchant, and proceeded to test it on an unnamed “Patient.” It was evidently a large dose. “The Patient understands not, nor remembereth any Thing that he seeth, heareth, or doth,” Hooke reported. “Yet he is very merry, and laughs, and sings… and sheweth many odd Tricks.” Hooke observed that the drug eased stomach pains, provoked hunger, and could potentially “prove useful in the Treatment of Lunaticks.”

cannabis

An early depiction of cannabis from Jean Vigier’s Historia das Plantas (1718), originally published in French in 1670.The John Carter Brown Library at Brown University

Hooke also strongly hinted that he’d personally sampled his coffee shop score: the drug “is so well known and experimented by Thousands,” he wrote, that “there is no Cause of Fear, tho’ possibly there may be of Laughter.” (There were good reasons that Hooke’s readers might be afraid of a new drug—this was, after all, a world where pharmacies sold ground up skulls and Egyptian mummies as medicine).

Historians have largely ignored Hooke’s adventures with cannabis, entertaining as they may be. Albert Hoffmann’s accidental discovery of acid, however, is well known. In fact it’s arguably the most famous tale of drug discovery, challenged only by August Kekulé’s famous dream-vision of the benzene molecule as an ouroboros, which preoccupied Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow.

Even LSD, however, has a more obscure prehistory. Roman physicians described a painful disease called the sacred fire (sacer ignis) which by the Middle Ages came to be known as St. Anthony’s Fire—“an ulcerous Eruption, reddish, or mix’d of pale and red,” as one 1714 text put it. Sufferers of this gruesome illness, which could also cause hallucinations, were actually being poisoned by ergot, a fungus that grows on wheat. Several authors, most recently Oliver Sacks in his excellent book Hallucinations, have noted a potential link between ergot poisoning and cases of dancing mania and other forms of mass hysteria in premodern Europe.

ergotism

“The Beggars” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a painting believed to show victims of ergotism.Wikimedia Commons

By the 1920s, pharmaceutical firms began investigating the compounds in ergot, which showed potential as migraine treatments. A Swiss chemist at the Sandoz Corporation named Albert Hoffman grew especially intrigued, and in November 1938 (the week after Kristallnacht) he synthesized an ergot derivative that would later be dubbed lysergic acid diethalyamide: LSD for short.

It was not until five years later, however, that Hoffman experienced the drug. Immersed in his work, Hoffman accidentally allowed a tiny droplet of LSD to dissolve onto his skin. He thought nothing of it: hardly any drugs are psychoactive in such minute doses. Later that day, however, Hoffmann went home sick, lay on his couch, and

sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.

Three days later, the chemist decided to self-administer what he assumed was a tiny dose to further test the drug’s effects. He took 250 micrograms, which was actually roughly ten times higher than the threshold dose. Within an hour, Hoffman asked his lab assistant to escort him home by bicycle. Cycling through the Swiss countryside, Hoffman was shocked to observe that “everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror.”

By the time he arrived home, Hoffman decided to call a doctor. However, the physician reported no abnormal physical symptoms besides dilated pupils, and Hoffmann began to enjoy himself:

Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.

Hoffman awoke the next morning “refreshed, with a clear head,” and with “a sensation of well-being and renewed life.” In an echo of Hooke’s report about his friend’s cannabis experience, which left him “Refreshed…and exceeding hungry,” Hoffman recalled that “Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure.”

One of the interesting aspects of Hoffman’s story is how detached it was, both temporally and culturally, from the 1960s context with which LSD is often associated today. This delay between the scientific identification and the popular adoption of a drug is a common story—and in no case is it more stark than in the gap between the discovery of meth and its widespread adoption as an illicit street drug. Methamphetamine was synthesized by a middle-aged, respectable Japanese chemist named Nagai Nagayoshi in 1893.

ergotism

An elder statesman of Japanese science and medicine, Nagayoshi Nagai and his wife hosted Albert Einstein in 1923.Wikimedia Commons

A member of the Meiji Japanese elite, Nagayoshi devoted much of his energy to the chemical analysis of traditional Japanese and Chinese medicines using the tools of Western science. In 1885, Nagai isolated the stimulant ephedrine fromEphedra sinica, a plant long used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

The year before, in July 1884, Sigmund Freud had published his widely-read encomium to the wonders of cocaine, Über Coca. Cocaine was radically more potent than coca leaves, and chemists the world over were on the lookout for other potential wonder drugs. It’s likely that Nagai hoped to work the same magic with ephedra—and in many ways he did. Ephedrine is a mild stimulant, notable nowadays as an ingredient in shady weight-loss supplements and as one of the few drugs historically permitted to Mormons, (although see thisresponse post for an interesting breakdown of the debate over “Mormon tea”). Currently, on T.V there are so many drugs for sale, yet we are in a “war on drugs” you can even find a “ dr oz guide on how to buy garcinia cambogia” if this were a real war, how could such things be allowed?

But in 1893, Nagai blazed a chemical trail that would live in infamy: he used ephedrine to synthesize meth.

As with LSD, it took the world a couple decades to catch on. In 1919, a younger protégé of Nagai named Akira Ogata discovered a new method of synthesizing the crystalline form of the new stimulant, giving the world crystal meth.

It wasn’t until World War II, however, that meth became widespread as a handy tool for keeping tank and bomber crews awake. By 1942, Adolf Hitler was receiving regular IV injections of meth from his physician, Theodor Morell. Two years later the American pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories won FDA approval for meth as a prescription treatment for a host of ills ranging from alcoholism to weight gain.

ergotism

Ambar: a potent mixture of methamphetamine and phenorbarbital, shown here in a mean-spirited 1964 advertisement that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 1, No. 5385).

The rest is history—by the 1960s, “tweakers” had made meth a byword for deranged drug addicts, and it lost its standing in the scientific and medical communities. Much like heroin, which was originally marketed by Bayer as a companion to aspirin (the company still technically owns the copyright to the name), meth began life as a wonder drug only to segue into a depraved middle age.

It all points to an interesting and unexplored dichotomy in the history of drugs: there’s a huge gap between the inventors of illicit drugs—usually rather austere, cerebral and disciplined—and their consumers.

I’m guessing that Robert Hooke, Nagayoshi Nagai, Albert Hoffman, and Walter White would have a lot to talk about.

This post is part of a larger series. Read the next installment.

Burners.Me:
Burning Man seems tailor-made for the psychedelic movement. Founder and Director Michael Mikel, aka Danger Ranger, used to hang out in a house in the Berkeley hills in the early years, with a bunch of techies from the Mondo 2000/WIRED scene and acid straight from Stanford’s Chemistry Lab, which provided the gear for the original “acid tests”. In a panel discussion with This Is Burning Man author Brian Doherty in July 2013 , Danger Ranger said:
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“I have a connection to Silicon Valley that goes back to the beginning of the personal computer…We were all hanging out a lot, I was meeting people who were from Mondo 2000 which was the pre-cursor of Wired magazine. We were going to parties, I’d go over to their house in Berkeley, they had connections to the Stanford Chemistry Lab, they had drugs that had not been outlawed yet – it was out on the edge, it was really crazy. A lot of the connections came from out of that tech industry because we knew each other and we hung out” [YouTube, from 19:20]

Larry Harvey and Grateful Dead songwriter (and Electronic Frontier Foundation founder) John Perry Barlow gave an interview in London for Tech Crunch last year, where they described the long history of inter-relationships between psychedelic drugs, the counter-culture, and the tech industry, as outlined in John Markoff’s book What the Dormouse Said.

Burning Man takes place on Federal Land, where marijuana is illegal even if you have a medical prescription for it in your home state. Alcohol is illegal for anyone under the age of 21, and cigarettes are an illegal drug if you are younger than 18. Even Ambien, Viagra, and Xanax are illegal if you don’t have a current doctor’s prescription for them.
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Given all that, I’m wondering – have you ever done illegal drugs at Burning Man? This poll is totally anonymous and there is no way to track your vote back to you, you don’t need to provide a name or email address to answer.
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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.

XOR This: Burning Man Used to Scientifically Prove Magic

Yesterday I visited the Institute of Noetic Sciences at their splendid Earthrise campus in Petaluma, California. If you’ve ever read (or seen) The Da Vinci Code, you have heard of IONS. The Institute was started by Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who was inspired to found it after he had a religious experience in space.

On the trip home Dr. Mitchell sat in the window seat of the cramped cabin of the space capsule. As he saw Earth floating freely in the vastness of space, Dr. Mitchell was engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness—an epiphany. In Dr. Mitchell’s own words: “The presence of divinity became almost palpable, and I knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes . . . The knowledge came to me direAstronaut Edgar Mitchellctly.”

The experience that came to Dr. Mitchell in space led him to a startling hypothesis: Perhaps reality is more complex, subtle, and inexorably mysterious than conventional science had led him to believe. Perhaps a deeper understanding of consciousness (inner space) could lead to a new and expanded view of reality in which objective and subjective, outer and inner, are understood as coequal aspects of the miracle and mystery of being.

photo by Trey Ratcliff

photo by Trey Ratcliff

In 2008 Mitchell told the world that UFOs are real.

IONS is dedicated to examining consciousness scientifically. They believe that the soul exists, the heart exists, and so do things that humanity has documented across many cultures for thousands of years like intuition, pre-c0gnition, and telepathy. IONS was created to prove these things scientifically and reproduce them consistently in experiments.

Burner Dr Dean Radin from IONS (left)

Burner Dr Dean Radin from IONS (left)

One such experiment features Burning Man. In 2012, they came out to the Playa with a Random Number Generator. Their goal was to study the stream of randomness, using mathematical models to detect variations. They wanted to add to an earlier experiment, which had been measuring Burning Man’s randomness deviation with RNG’s all around the world since 1999. In short: did reality change?

And the answer was a clear: YES. When the Man burned, the Random Number Generator showed a demonstrable deviation from the norm. The event built up and peaked.

supernormalOur experiment tested the prediction that a random number generator (RNG) placed on the playa would demonstrate significant deviation from randomness during the period of highest collective intensity, i.e., during the burning of the man. In addition, the Global Consciousness Project (GCP) made a prediction that their global network of random number generators would also show a deviation from randomness. That prediction was based in part on a previously successful exploratory analysis that examined the average of eight years of global RNG data at the time of Burning Man (1999 – 2006).

They also brought out a laser that they hooked up to one of the RNGs. We promoted it and supported it, they raised their Indiegogo goal, but sadly, the Playa ate their laser. A common problem. The dusty conditions made this one a bit of a fizzer…maybe next time.

laser burst

To add an artistic element to the 2012 IONS Burning Man experiment, the same computer that was collecting the data from the playa RNG was also used to control a multicolor laser. The laser beam pattern was designed to become more stable and coherent when the RNG output departed from random and less coherent when the output was closer to random. Unfortunately, conditions on the playa made it difficult to protect the laser from the ever-present dust and wind, so the artistic aspect of the experiment was fully functional only for one night. During that night the laser functioned as planned, but it was not powerful enough to be seen by most attendees, nor was it widely known that the laser was being controlled by an RNG.

The next year, IONS went back with 6 Random Number Generators. Some of them used radioactive material. The event was measured again, and the result was statistically significant again.

figure 1

Figure 1. The Burning Man 2013 event began at 9 PM (21 hours) with the raising of the man’s arms; the man was ignited at 9:30 PM (21.5 hours). The peak deviation across all 6 RNGs occurred within minutes of the peak collective attention of the 65,000 minds at Burning Man.

This year, for Caravansary, Dr Dean Radin from IONS, who describes himself as a psycho-physicist, will be bringing 50 Random Number Generators, and distributing them around the Playa so they can measure not only the un-randomness occuring, but the actual chaos field.

ions paintingThese next-generation RNGs will be using different logic in their chips, too. The previous incarnation used XOR boolean logic filters, which combine random data into a single output that is very close to perfectly random. These could not be reverse-engineered (followed backwards). The new chip technology can be read backwards, so that what was going on in the microprocessor itself at the exact moment the deviation started can be replicated.

The maths and the logic is a little outside my field, but I get that: Burning Man moves the needle at the peak moment of the party. In a measurable and somewhat predictable way. There is magic at this party, and this magic is now scientifically proven to be real.

Here’s a TEDx talk that IONS researcher Dr Cassandra Vieten gave at Play)A(Skool , Black Rock City in 2012. TED distanced themselves from this science, refusing to believe what they weren’t taught in school, even in the face of years of evidence:

Note from TED: We’ve flagged this talk, which was filmed at an independent TEDx event, because it appears to fall outside TED’s curatorial guidelines. For example, its suggestion that random number generators can be affected by human thought would not be accepted by most scientists. The guidelines we give our TEDx organizers are described in more detail here:

http://www.ted.com/pages/tedx_curatin..

The Global Consciousness project is directed by Roger Nelson from his home office in Princeton. IONS provides a logistical home for the project as it is not an official project of Princeton University.

The Global Consciousness Project 
Meaningful Correlations in Random Data

Map of egg locations around the world
The behavior of our network of random sources is correlated with interconnected human consciousness on a global scale.

Coherent consciousness creates order in the world 
Subtle interactions link us with each other and the Earth

When human consciousness becomes coherent, the behavior of random systems may change. Random number generators (RNGs) based on quantum tunneling produce completely unpredictable sequences of zeroes and ones. But when a great event synchronizes the feelings of millions of people, our network of RNGs becomes subtly structured. We calculate one in a trillion odds that the effect is due to chance. The evidence suggests an emerging noosphere or the unifying field of consciousness described by sages in all cultures.

The Global Consciousness Project is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration of scientists and engineers. We collect data continuously from a global network of physical random number generators located in up to 70 host sites around the world at any given time. The data are transmitted to a central archive which now contains more than 15 years of random data in parallel sequences of synchronized 200-bit trials generated every second.

Our purpose is to examine subtle correlations that may reflect the presence and activity of consciousness in the world. We hypothesize that there will be structure in what should be random data, associated with major global events that engage our minds and hearts.

Subtle but real effects of consciousness are important scientifically, but their real power is more immediate. They encourage us to make essential, healthy changes in the great systems that dominate our world. Large scale group consciousness has effects in the physical world. Knowing this, we can intentionally work toward a brighter, more conscious future.

 

Burning Your Way to Happiness

Burning Man is the subject of all kinds of different academic studies. This latest one is quite staggering in its scope – they surveyed more than 16,000 Burners, a study that took over 4 years and involved 8 different colleges from around the world. Their conclusion? Well, it’s sort of confusing. But it seems like, people who go to Burning Man experience positive and negative emotions more intensely, and stay happier when they’re home.

Inquisition FinalResearch published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Emotion Science in July found that an individual’s social and cultural environment influenced how they controlled their emotional responses.

“I think the most striking thing that this study demonstrates is that emotion regulation can change due to sociocultural context far more quickly than previously reported,” Kateri McRae of the University of Denver, the lead author, told PsyPost. “Most previous research focuses on culture as defined by long-standing shared values and norms (and compare groups like those living on mainland China to those living in the U.S.), and the fact that we see similar changes when people attend an event for a week is very cool.”

“To me, that indicates that how we regulate our emotions in accordance with social norms is a very dynamic process. Another way to think about it is that ‘culture’ might be something that is much more local and changeable than we previously thought.”

The study was led by Dr Kateri McRae, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver, but it also involved Stanford, Columbia University of New York and UCLA’s Departments of Anthropology and Psychology. The paper was co-authored by Sara Snyder, Megan Heller, and Daniel Lumian.  It was edited by Vera Shuman from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and peer-reviewed by Katherine Chen at the University of New York, and Mary Burleson at Arizona State. So we have 8 different college departments, anthropologists as well as psychologists, studying Burning Man for 4 years. Is that 32 free trips to Burning Man, all in the name of (pseudo-)science?

The paper is available for free at the National Institutes for Health web site. Not sure if that means we the taxpayers funded it.

They claim to have found “the paradox of Burning Man”: that Burners are more open and less inhibited at Burning Man, while also being more self-conscious. “Am I having a good time?”, “am I not having a good time?”, are thought about more frequently and intensely at Burning Man than in the Default world. 

Woman-at-Burning-Man-by-Christopher-Michel“What first drew me to study emotion regulation at Burning Man is that Burning Man has very explicit values (the ten principles of Burning Man) and one of them is radical self-expression,” McRae explained. “I thought it would be really interesting to see how that explicit value impacted the types of emotion regulation that people use when they’re there. And indeed, we find that people inhibit their emotional expression less often when they’re at Burning Man than typically at home.”

For their study, the researchers surveyed 16,227 individuals at Burning Man over the course of four years to investigate two emotional regulation strategies, expressive suppression and cognitive reappraisal.

Going to Burning Man made individuals less likely to inhibit the expression of both positive and negative emotions. Those at Burning Man were more open about their emotions in general, but were more likely to feel uninhibited about expressing positive emotions rather than negative ones. McRae and her colleagues found decreases in the suppression of positive emotion were considerably stronger than the decreases in the suppression of negative emotion.

“What was most surprising to us was that this decreased inhibition was not global,” McRae told PsyPost. “In other words, people aren’t ‘letting loose’ in every sense when they are at Burning Man (which is one stereotype that some people hold about the event). In fact, people use an emotion regulation strategy called reappraisal MORE often when they’re there.”

“So the paradox of Burning Man is that people are more open, less inhibited when expressing their emotions, but also more thoughtful in terms of reframing, reconsidering or reevaluating their emotions (which is what reappraisal entails).”

The researchers found a general increase in cognitive reappraisal. But there was no difference between the reappraisal of positive and negative emotions.

So, at one of the world’s biggest parties, people seem to be having a better time than normal, and letting their hair down and expressing it. Woo-hoo! Burning Man has a magical formula that can make the world a better place!

One slight flaw I can see in this study: did they ask the participants if they took more or less drugs at Burning Man, than they normally would in the Default World. Either recreational, or pharmaceutical. Because, if thousands of people are getting high, and reporting that their mood is elevated, that just possibly might not be directly attributable to BMOrg, and possibly just might be attributable to whatever supply from which they’re getting high. Just sayin’.

In a previous paper on the same topic (!) in 2011, Dr Kateri acknowledged the magic chocolate-dipped elephant in the room:

need lsdIt is important to note that the unique environment at Burning Man may lead to participants being in an altered state of mind, due to sleep deprivation, the severity of the physical environment, the consumption of mind-altering substances, or the novelty of the event. We guarded against that concern by administering the survey in a centralized location that is calm, well trafficked, family friendly, and monitored frequently byresearch staff (and therefore not a likely destination forthose seeking an altered experience).

Errr, you mean Center Camp? No freaks there. No novelty there. Nobody tripping balls there.

For their next paper, the authors should get taxpayers or their college to fund them going to all the other major parties in the world, and seeing if people there seem to be getting high and having a good time. I suspect the results will be positive. Possibly, though, they might show that there is nothing particularly unique psychologically about Burning Man. Perhaps other than that the harsh desert conditions and darktards increase peoples’ unhappiness. So if they want to prove that Burning Man makes people unhappy, I guess the science could support it – but any fool can see people party because they like to have fun, and everyone at Burning Man is having fun. I’d prefer to be a fool having fun that a miserable scientist who’s paper asserts that they’re right.

They used a bit of a trick on Burners, to make sure they had sufficient literacy and sobriety, to participate in such a prestigious questionnaire:

participants were only included if they responded correctly to an item designed to ensure conscientious responding. This item read: “If you are reading this form carefully, please leave the response options below blank, but draw a circle around the first instance of the word “carefully” in this sentence.” Only participants who correctly omitted the response and circled the correct word were included.

If Burners can survive in the desert while high, they can probably fill out a form while high.

This is not, by any means, the first attempt to psycho-analyze Burning Man. In 2011, Dr Harvey Milkman investigated Burning Man, and saw dead people. The Doctor’s conclusion:

Burning Man is not just a wild party in the middle of the Black Rock Desert. There are deeper meanings. The Burning Manexperience is a pathway to self-discovery and change. For many it has become a way of life, an elixir from post-modern suffering – a reprieve from lonelinessconsumerism, alienation,fear, and meaningless gadgetry. Money is non-existent, as the transfer of goods and services is based on a gift economy. Mundane living is the default dimension. Burning Man is not a permanent place, nor is it intended to be. The notion of unending habitation has been the bane of most utopian groups – people simply do not stay. Burning Man is different; it is a state of mind. It is a rite of passage through the portals of creativity, self-reliance, kindness, and connection to community.

Dr Milkman noticed that the party made him happier:

When I asked to help with one of his every-night dinners: “Just clear out of my way,” said Tom, as he hastened to present my favorite beer.

I had never before been so graciously looked after by someone I did not yet know.

What was billed in my mind as “the best party I’d ever attend,” turned out to be so. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Germaine Greer, Ram Dass, Salvador Dali, Mama Cass, The Road Warriors, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Timothy Leary, Federico Fellini, Jim Morrison, and their avatars, were all there – to name just a few.

I felt the buzz of hominid openness and the joy of spontaneous conversation. Almost from the get-go, I was smiling… no, grinning… noticeably happier than usual. I was savoring a precious glimpse at the hidden worlds of fantasy and longing of the fascinating personas in my midst. 

Some parade as biblical figures

The desert was alive with mindful disinhibition. Some dressed as pirates, others ballerinas, there were men in skirts, and eloquently gowned women with parasols; others adorned themselves with animal ears whilst sporting matching tails. Some took on the accoutrements of biblical icons. A multitude paraded nearly naked in the noonday sun. There was also the Critical Tits Parade, aka Boobs on Bikes, featuring 1000 topless women gleefully cycling in unabashed solidarity.

The big grin is being around so many compatriots behaving a bit naughty, creative and nice – all at once!

So, let me get this straight…a few free beers, someone cooking dinner for you, and 1000 topless women – makes you happier? Wow. Psychology is some amazing stuff.

Let’s test this out:

golden boobiesblue boobiesthree boobiesboobs and bikesCritical_Tits_Bike_Ride_2008_by_NVMarkboobs and angel wingsheineken-tree