“What if we aimed our scientific and technological efforts toward researching and catalyzing peace, compassion and unconditional love on a massive global scale?”
So, what is Consciousness Hacking? It’s hard to talk about the ultimate aims of Consciousness Hacking in the same way it’s hard to talk about the ultimate aims of spiritual traditions. What is the ultimate aim of meditation? What are we evolving towards as humans individually and collectively? What are the deepest, most profound, and transcendent human experiences? The pinnacle of human flourishing? Ultimately this is what Consciousness Hacking is striving to catalyze in the world. You could call it peace, happiness, unconditional love, compassion, awareness, awakening, god, enlightenment…
These are all pointers toward a human potential that is beyond any religion, or tradition, or technology. It is a fundamentally human experience that we have forgotten, and we must work together as a humanity to re-awaken by any, and as many means necessary. There is no single best way to do this, and ideally we need a unique path for every unique person. We have seen an age of one guru, or book, or religion to serve thousands or millions. But we are now facing a new space of possibility. What our modern technological landscape offers is the potential for totally unique, adaptive and personalized support, to serve the needs of each individual in the most skillful way possible. It’s like 3D printing, but for spirituality. And Consciousness Hacking is helping to create 1,000 new 3D printers. These will be the startups, open source projects, collaborations and research labs, that will be producing the Transformative Technologies of our future.
Wait, is Consciousness Hacking secretly a religion?
In a sense our goals are the same as many eastern spiritual traditions, but our methods are totally modern, secular, and scientifically grounded. But when we say our methods we really mean your methods. Consciousness Hacking is not representing any single perspective on what the goal is, which is another major difference between CH and a religious or spiritual tradition. We are sort of like a meta-spirituality, or a spirituality producing machine. Our goal is to help support hundreds or thousands of new paths, or tools, that can be used to increase human flourishing – in its countless forms – on a massive global scale.
The future of spirituality is an evolving spirituality.
A common thread among religious and spiritual traditions is that they’re pretty fond of their particular approach. It’s rare to see a spiritual teacher, or spiritual tradition, take a dramatic turn and start teaching in a totally new way. There is a general trend of finding something that works, and sticking with it. Many of the practices that we see today, such as Mindfulness, are a sort of ‘technology’ that in some cases are thousands of years old!
If we take a step back, it’s easy to see that those practices are themselves human inventions. They are a form of language-based technology carefully crafted and refined by ‘scientists’ exploring the nature of subjective experience. Scientists of the inner-world. So, if these are technologies, where are the updates?
We have no problem running out to get the new iPhone update, but we tend to be very resistant to changes to religious and spiritual structures. So, what would happen if we thought of spirituality as something that evolves and changes over time? What if we took an innovation approach to spirituality itself? What if we optimized less for tradition and history, and more for science based progress toward increased effectiveness and greater cultural adaptability? What if we took the same approach to modernizing, updating and improving spiritual tools that we take toward other consumer tech? Perhaps this is the future of spirituality? The shift from a static thing, to a dynamic process that meets us exactly where we’re at.
The reunion of science and spirit.
Because of the split between what we call spirit, and what we call science, these two domains have been largely insulated from each other. Thus, with all our incredible scientific and technological advancement, we’ve been almost entirely focused ‘out there’. In other words, everything we explore is pointing away from our subjective experience, towards objects and phenomena arising in the outside world (planets, atoms, viruses, etc). Science sort of takes for granted (or partly ignores) that there is an observer always, inescapably, right here. This has promoted a deep understanding of many things, but has kept consciousness itself out of the spotlight.
But this separation is more cultural, than representing some fundamental problem. And as academic domains, such as neuroscience, begin to boldly cross this chasm, new doors are opening up. We see neuroscientists begin to probe this intersection between subjective experience, technology, and quantification. A whole domain of meditation or contemplative science has exploded – seeking to understand the mechanisms underlying the profound states and traits reported by advanced meditators.
From contemplative science, to contemplative engineering.
Science and engineering are in a long standing dance. The better we can understand something through a scientific or quantified lens, the better we can invent new technology based on that understanding. Science is the process of building models of reality based on the observation of repeating patterns (just made that up!). Engineering is the application of that understanding to reliably modify those repeating patterns in some desirable way.
Understand optics >> build the telescope.
Understand radio frequencies >> build wireless radio transmitters.
100’s of years of cumulative scientific understanding >> build the Mars Rover.
And then the Mars Rover itself does science, which can in-turn become new technologies (that mine the martian soil for water, for example).
So, what do we get when we build a scientific understanding of the contemplative experience (known as Contemplative Science)? Well, the natural result would be Contemplative Engineering: the application of Contemplative Science toward building new technology to support contemplative experience. And that is exactly what we are beginning to see. Scientists who were studying meditators, now using that understanding to devise totally new methods of teaching meditation. For example, check out this talk by Dr. Judson Brewer, about how he used advanced neurofeedback to teach novice meditators to shift their brains (and experience!) toward that of experienced meditators.
We are also seeing a growing interest in consumer tech around our inner world. The whole wearables and Quantified Self movement for example, is a move toward technology assisted self-awareness. But this is like a fleck of snow on the tip of the iceberg. Really, as this bridge is built between science/tech and consciousness, an unfathomably vast space of possibility opens up.
This is the wild west.
There is no fundamental reason why we can’t design technology for deep human flourishing – for spiritual awakening. We just haven’t really considered it. It’s just not on the mind’s of most entrepreneurs, engineers, and venture capitalists. But this is changing. Conferences such as Wisdom 2.0 are reflections of how contemplative practices such as mindfulness, and deeper values, are seeping into industry. Along with this seep, we are seeing a growing focus on health and wellbeing in the tech industry. Actually, a pretty major growth. As much as 50% over the next five years.
In response to the Zika Virus, president Obama pushed to allocate $1.8 billion toward prevention and cure. Probably no one blinks an eye. We would do this for any disease or epidemic. Now just imagine, for a moment, if Obama allocated $1.8 billion toward researching, and making available new approaches to spiritual awakening at a low cost, on a global scale? Don’t feel so far off…
Silicon Valley is already beginning to switch its focus from performance enhancement to wellbeing. Consciousness Hacking recently supported the first Transformative Technology conference which completely sold out. And I believe this trend will continue. The reason why, is that this is perhaps the single most desirable technology imaginable. Technology that deeply, safely, and skillfully supports true freedom, peace and happiness.
Now just imagine, for a moment, what would happen if Obama allocated $1.8 billion toward making spiritual awakening available to every human being on earth? I can see it now: A task force of the best neuroscientists in the world. The Dalai Lama would pull his best meditators out of their caves. The best minds from silicon valley focusing on tech development, scalability and distribution. The only bottleneck is our sense of what’s possible.
Wait, this sounds familiar…
Didn’t people already do this biofeedback stuff in the 70’s & 80’s? And weren’t they already making incredible claims that never really panned out? Well, yeah, that’s true – check this out. And the same thing happened with psychedelics. Even though there was incredible promise and valuable research – for various political and cultural reasons, both domains were abandoned by academia, and were left to various sub and countercultures. But, we are now seeing a renaissance, and both neurofeedback and psychedelics research are entering back into mainstream academia.
What are you optimizing for?
When we develop new technologies for self-awareness, we also need to ask the question of “why?” In other words, these new tools are essentially helping us to direct our attention inward, toward our behavior and felt experience. Which is great! But what specifically are we being trained to pay attention to? If we are asked to pay attention to how many steps we take, or our weight, that might be useful for taking more steps or losing a few pounds, but is that really what we are seeking? Or is that just a roadside attraction, on a path to a much deeper experience? We’re all seeking something aren’t we? Sure, at the surface it looks like 7 billion different things. Losing weight, a glass of wine, robbing a bank, even blowing up a room of innocent people. But deep down, it seems like we are all doing our very very best to just finally be ok, to feel content, complete, connected, at peace. To name that ultimate direction is really impossible. It seems to be a broadly similar direction at the heart of every spiritual and religious tradition. Even if we have incredibly convoluted and unskillful ways of trying to achieving it.
Consciousness Hacking is trying to be explicit about this. We’re saying, “Hey, let’s aim for the most profound and important thing we can imagine.” Well, actually, we’re saying something even more specific, which is: