Majorie Woollacott Transcript

Marjorie Woollacott Interview

Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done hundreds of them now and if you’d like to check out previous ones go to and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it in any amount there’s a donate button on every page of the site. My guest today is Marjorie Hines Woollacott, PhD. She has been a neuroscience professor at the University of Oregon for more than three decades and a meditator for almost four. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation for 35 years. She’s co-authored a popular textbook for health professionals that is in its fifth edition and has written more than 180 peer-reviewed research articles, several on meditation, the topic that motivated her to write the book “Infinite Awareness”, which I have the audiobook of right here. As a neuroscientist, Marjorie had no doubts that the brain was a purely physical entity controlled by chemicals and electrical pulses. When she experimented with meditation for the first time, however, her entire world changed. Marjorie’s journey through years of meditation has made her question the reality she built her career upon and has forced her to ask what human consciousness really is. Her book “Infinite Awareness”, which won several awards, pairs Marjorie’s research as a neuroscientist with her self-revelations about the mind’s spiritual power. Between the scientific and spiritual world, she breaks open the definition of human consciousness to investigate the existence of a non-physical and infinitely powerful mind. So that’s some of the stuff we’re going to be talking about today. Welcome Marjorie and thank you for your patience. We just went through about a half an hour of technical difficulties before starting.

Marjorie: Thank you Rick.

Rick: Yeah. So I already sketched out a little bit of how you got your start there in terms of being a materialist neuroscientist. So what tempted you to go and try out meditation if you’re such a hardcore materialist?

Marjorie: Well first of all I should say that I had truly been a materialist all the way through like college and my PhD and became more and more embedded in that reality because that’s what university graduate programs do in neuroscience. They really strongly motivate you in that direction. And then what happened is that at one particular point my sister and I were at my parents for in fact a Christmas holiday in Sedona, Arizona. And at that time there had been a terrible collision of two aircraft in the air and everyone had died. And I was frightened to death already of flying in airplanes and I found out that of course I was believing home to go back to Eugene on an airplane in a few days. And as I was going to the airport with my sister – and at that time it was before all of the TSA regulations etc, she could walk all the way down toward the ramp to the airplane with me – and she said “I know Marjorie that you are really anxious but I have something that can help you”, and she said “here is a mantra”, and she gave me this mantra which was Soham and she said “it works for me. I’ve meditated with it and I think it could work for you”. So at that point because of my nervousness about the flight I said “okay, I’ll try it, I’ll try anything”. And I started repeating it as I got on the airplane and what was amazing to me is that I found that I suddenly calmed down and my normal like white knuckle takeoff and landing was gone, and when I was in the air I felt it was so beautiful to watch these clouds floating by down below me, and I’d never experienced anything so beautiful in my life. So that was my first little opening to “wow! You know, maybe there is something to meditation”. And then what happened of course is that the next year I had taken a university position in Virginia. And she said “look, I’m up in the Catskill Mountains of New York with this meditation master. Would you like to take an intensive meditation workshop for your birthday – it’s your birthday coming up”. And I said yes. She reminds me that I turned her down though a little bit later, and finally at the last minute said yes again because my boyfriend thought that my sister was what he called a bubblehead – someone who was a meditator and didn’t really understand real science. But I went, and in that retreat, I had an experience that totally changed my whole worldview and I’ll share it with you just briefly. What happened is that in that first morning of the workshop we were told that the Swami would be coming around and initiating every individual there. And we were told that this initiation would be a spiritual awakening and it was going to be happening through the Swami’s touch. So when I was then sitting on the floor of this meditation hall I could hear the Swami coming and when he came to me, my eyes were closed but my senses were otherwise fully engaged so that when I felt his fingers between my eyes and on the bridge of my nose, I had a sense of utter certainty about the event and what it felt like happened is like a current of electricity went from his fingers down into my body. And though my eyes were closed I really had the sense that it felt like a current, of like electricity, like a lightning bolt had literally come down and had stopped in my heart and began radiating out from my heart this incredible sense of love and joy and a feeling almost like nectar flowing through me. And I think what was interesting for me is that my mind in that moment did not say anything scientific at all, it said “I’m home, I’m home, my heart is my home”. So it was almost like I had found this whole new part of myself that I never knew before existed. And what then happened is that this actually changed my entire life as I went back home to my university position in Virginia. The very next morning without any effort or willing it I woke up at 5 a.m. and I got up to meditate and I’ve been meditating day after day after day, in fact it’s never ceased. So it’s like all of a sudden in that one moment of this initiation I turned like 180 degrees to a whole different view of the world.

Rick: So you had that experience but how long did it take you to get around to thinking that perhaps consciousness is more fundamental than the brain, in other words that consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of brain functioning but is somehow independent of it the way radio waves are independent of a radio.

Marjorie: Yeah, it took me many many years. I should say that from that point on, I began of course watching my own mind, and meditation, and really like trying to make my own inner laboratory as a scientist might do – my way of discovering what really my own consciousness was about. But still because I was doing my neuroscience every day in my laboratory I literally led a schizophrenic life, two different parts of my life together. So I’d go into the laboratory in the morning and talk to my colleagues and my graduate students from a totally materialistic perspective about the brain and neurophysiology and then I would go to my meditation courses where I might teach meditation or yoga, talk to my friends in meditation and there I’d be talking about energy centers in the body and my own experiences. And I couldn’t figure out how on earth to put these two things together. And I recall one event that really drove my husband crazy is, we went to a dinner with my neuroscience colleagues. And my husband happens to love things like energy medicine and acupuncture and other things of that sort and he began to talk about his favorite topic. And he got a kick under the table from me as I politely helped him change the subject because I was so worried about losing my credibility with my colleagues that were scientists. And I think that’s what kept me for a long time actually exploring meditation further because you sense in science that if you bring up this sort of work or if you do research in this area, you will be considered a weak neuroscientist. And that is something that keeps you from really exploring this in more depths at least in a public way.

Rick: Yeah, there might be something to that, I mean if you’re branded as a kook then you might have a harder time getting support or getting things published or anything else, right?

Marjorie: Exactly, and so I waited until I was a full professor and I was probably within like about eight or nine years of retirement to say “okay, now I’m going to start doing research on meditation in my laboratory, I have my credibility established, I have my grants, etc”, and then I began to do very interesting research for me on really trying to understand how meditation changes our brain. And so that was my first foray into trying to put the two worlds together.

Rick: Yeah, I interviewed Swami Sarvapriyananda of the Vedanta Society a month or two ago, and one point that I brought up the point that perhaps in 300 years it will seem sort of antiquated that science and spirituality were ever considered separate from one another, that they would have evolved into a sort of a unified pursuit of knowledge, some of which uses objective methodologies and others subjective methodologies. And he said, oh I think it’s going to take much less than 300 years, I think it’s fast approaching. What do you think about that?

Marjorie: I think it may be, I think what’s been fascinating for me is that I felt first of all as a neuroscientist this incredible inner need to actually write that book, because it was partly for me putting my two worlds together and saying, okay what is the research out there that might say that consciousness is more than just the product of the neurons in our brain? And as I did that I was first amazed at how much research is out there on, for example PubMed is the research site that the government has that shows all research in the area of neuroscience and medical work. And there were many many articles showing that consciousness appears to be primary right there for all scientists to read, but we scientists don’t believe those could be true, so we don’t even look on PubMed to see what research is out there in relationship to near-death experiences or other things like that.

Rick: Yeah, now you’ve started this organization with several people and with some rather renowned people on your board of advisors, which I believe is – what is it called – the Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences. And I think its aim, you can elaborate, but I think its aim is to help to facilitate the paradigm shift from a materialistic worldview to a more consciousness being fundamental worldview, whatever.

Marjorie: Exactly.

Rick: And so elaborate on that a little bit because that’s what we’re talking about here, but you’ve actually gone and helped to found an organization to do that.

Marjorie: Right. So Gary Schwartz who’s a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona and I were the founding members of this organization and then invited for our board people who have been doing studies on consciousness for the last, often, 40 years. I mean Larry Dossey is one of them, Dean Radin, Menas Kafatos, etc. And the idea was that we were wanting to make an organization that really could help push this paradigm forward partly by helping young scientists who wanted to go in this research area and giving them a little bit more credibility by supporting them through the tenure process or supporting them in grant applications and things like that. Because we think right now we need to have senior scientists who have that credibility actually support young scientists who want to get into this particular field. So we’re really excited. We just in fact have published our first volume talking about our own experiences that got us into the area of consciousness studies, believing that consciousness is primary and then the research that we have done to actually begin to show that that appears to be the case.

Rick: I forget who it was that said this, you may know. Someone said science progresses by a series of funerals because people are so entrenched in their viewpoint, in their chosen paradigm. It’s very hard for them to shift and you mentioned Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in your book, which I studied when I was in college. He talks about how people do become entrenched in their paradigms, paradigm meaning world view, way of thinking about things, and that it takes a lot of anomalies, a lot of violations of that paradigm to finally nudge them out of it or to nudge their community of colleagues out of it. One good example being quantum mechanics, bringing up more and more evidence that conflicted with Newtonian physics, but that finally had to give way to a paradigm shift. So please elaborate on that a little bit.

Marjorie: Yes, I think that that’s really the case, that I even see it myself. When I was a young neuroscientist, a lot of this research had already been done, but because we are so embedded in the materialist worldview, the materialist theory about life, we neuroscientists don’t believe there’s any possibility that another theory could actually explain our data, so we don’t even look there. And I think that’s what Thomas Kuhn was really talking about. And so what happens is when you do see an anomaly, like the anomalies, I’ll just give an example, I mean in near-death experiences, when somebody is in a hospital and an MD who is a materialist is trying to get their heart to start again after they’ve had cardiac arrest, and they come back and say, “Hey, I was actually observing everything that happened, and I was right above my body and you, and I can tell you everything that went on while my heart had stopped”, the person simply passed them on the back and says, “You know, that was just an illusion because your brain was actually beginning to shut down, your neurons were firing too much in odd ways, and that’s just a hallucination and it’s not really real”. And so the doctor won’t even entertain this possibility when the person is telling him exactly what happened in the operating room, when he had no conscious awareness, he was in a coma, his heart had stopped.

Rick: Yeah, don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve made up my mind. And then the person might say, “Well, yeah, but there’s a red sneaker on the balcony and it has one lace untied” or something like that, and there’s no way they could have seen that even by looking out the window, and then somebody goes and checks and sure enough there’s a red sneaker on the balcony of the hospital, that kind of thing, and there are hundreds of these things.

Marjorie: Hundreds of them, and I think what’s frustrating is that sometimes you’ll get a person on the news who has actually had a near- death experience and perhaps their doctor, and what the news media always does, perhaps fair enough, is they try to find a scientist to explain perhaps the opposite point of view. The scientist, I would say, almost never looks at the real data from that particular experience and what actually happened in the hospital because they know it couldn’t be true. And I think that’s the lack of curiosity in our current worldview. And this, what Thomas Kuhn is really saying is that we don’t have curiosity about possible alternative worldviews. And as you say, all we try to do is like hide the anomalies or say they can’t be real, they have to be artifacts.

Rick: Do you think there’s something about modern education that cultures this kind of narrow-mindedness that you’re forced to kind of specialize in narrower and narrower detail in order to become an expert in anything and it kind of conditions you not to look outside the box that you’re building for yourself?

Marjorie: It’s an interesting question I think that on the one hand you would think that because we have a liberal arts undergraduate program that we would be actually studying a broad range of topics, but even in our liberal arts programs I think materialism is dominant. And I’ll just give you one example of that. When I actually presented at the American Academy of Religions at one particular point on these sorts of things, I realized that a lot of the groups in the American Academy of Religion are at major universities and major universities are materialist in viewpoint even amongst people in religious studies programs. They’re supposed to study religion from the outside by critiquing it from the outside and you don’t want somebody as a professor who actually has had spiritual experiences because they might be biased. And so we have an odd thing with an academia where we are culturally materialist in almost every single area including religious studies.

Rick: Yeah, I wonder if this is a remnant of the sort of scientific revolution and the sort of divorce from the dominance of religion back around the time of the Enlightenment and it’s a sort of an overcorrection to more of an extreme materialism and that we may now be swinging back to a balance point which could appreciate both the sort of the material and the non-material.

Marjorie: Yes, I’m hoping that really will be the case. As you say, I think we are getting more and more people now that are in the area of science and have had their own spiritual experiences and have begun to do research who are saying, “Wait a minute, we really need to look at what other people might call artifacts and anomalies and say these are real and we need to expand that worldview to include them within it”.

Rick: Yeah, and you know, this is not just an academic discussion or an interesting philosophy of science issue or something. I mean it has dramatic implications for the condition of our world because if we regard the world as mere dumb stuff, you know, mere matter, we can do whatever the heck we want with it and what does it matter. But if we regard the world as imbued with divine intelligence then we would no sooner pollute or rape the planet in various ways than we would do something really invasive to our own arm.

Marjorie: Yeah, and you really make a good point and in fact what I noticed when I was talking to all of the people on the board of the Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences, they all had exactly that view. Part of the reason they are becoming so vocal about this is they are really concerned about our planet and the fact that when you have this separatist point of view where we are the only beings on this planet that are conscious and nothing else is conscious and maybe even we’re just machines, then you have a different view than if you think that we are all connected, that everyone is connected to each other and we are connected to the animals and the land and as you say, then you suddenly realize if everything is conscious, everything is sacred, well then you may want to treat things differently. And if perhaps people cycle back again and again as often Native Americans and others think, then maybe you want to be treating the world really kindly for the generations that are coming in the future and you who are coming back in the future, etc.

Rick: Yeah, I saw a cartoon once, some guy was standing outside of a bank looking at a sign that said “First Reincarnation Bank, you can’t take it with you so leave it with us until you return”. Yeah, well there’s several themes here, I mean there’s reincarnation, there’s out-of-body experiences, out-of-body experiences which people have, there’s near-death experiences, well there’s two, out-of-body and near-death they’re actually slightly different.

Marjorie: Yeah.

Rick: And in your book you cite examples of people who were completely checked out – flatline, no brainwaves, no heart rate, body temperature brought down to 60 degrees or something for some dramatic surgical procedure – and yet they were fully conscious of what was going on in the operating room, so there’s that. And then there’s with reincarnation, there are all these stories of little kids who recall past lives and can confirm all kinds of very specific details about what kind of plane they were flying when they crashed in the Pacific and in World War II and things like that. And well those are just two good examples, but those are the kinds of anomalies we’re talking about here, which those who really want to keep the blinders on can dismiss as woo-woo, but they keep getting more. And Gallup and people like that have done surveys that a lot of people have had these kind of experiences, so I don’t know how long they can keep the lid on that box.

Marjorie: I think what’s funny is that it partly is as we were talking about before, it’s like the Academy or the scientists versus people in our ordinary culture. Because as you say, when Gallup does the polls they find that many, many people believe in spirituality and perhaps a life beyond just this material world, but if you look at the National Academy of Sciences, it’s something like maybe 7% of the scientists have that view. And they’re the people that are in control of our grants and publications and things of that sort, and that’s why I think right now we are having trouble moving this forward because of the difference between our general populace and then the elite group of scientists that are really governing where money goes and what publications are actually being published.

Rick: Yeah, kind of reminds me of certain things that happen in the political realm with certain lobbyists having an inordinate amount of control over politicians in violation of the public sentiment.

Marjorie: Yeah.

Rick: What was I gonna say? Oh yeah, one thought that occurred to me as I was reading your book, I don’t know if I ever thought of it this way, is that you can’t really be an atheist and a scientist. You know, you could be an agnostic and a scientist, but if you really insist that you’re an atheist, you’re saying, “I’ve achieved certainty about a particular thing”, whether or not there’s divine intelligence or God, and yet I call myself a scientist. And scientists just don’t – well they shouldn’t anyway – have such certainty about things which are always open to refutation, and in the case of the spiritual realm, there has been thousands of years of cultures offering refutation.

Marjorie: You’re right, and I think one thing you’re reminding about is, I think Richard Feynman, again one of the most amazing scientists and physicists that we know about in this country, and a Nobel Prize winner said something like that. He said, “My philosophy is the philosophy of doubt. I want to doubt everything so I can be curious about what other possibilities might actually be out there to explain a phenomenon”, and I think that that’s what we’ve lost right now in our scientific milieu. So many of us – and I was that way again before my experiences with spirituality – were absolutely certain that the materialist paradigm was the only paradigm and we had no doubt and we had no curiosity about looking further.

Rick: Yeah, I think there’s something here which might pertain both to religious fundamentalists and to scientific fundamentalists, which is that doubt is scary because it threatens the foundation upon which you think you rest, and it begins to shake that foundation, and you want certainty, you want security, everybody does. And so in the case of religious people they might say, “Well, that’s the devil, you know, I don’t want to hear that, I’m a fool for Jesus”, and in the case of scientific people, by the same token, they don’t want to hear or are not willing to take seriously anything which is outside what they consider to be their foundation because it’s threatening.

Marjorie: And the humor about that is that many Nobel Laureate scientists, as they reached their 70s, more toward the end of their career, began to shift towards saying, “Ah, consciousness is fundamental and I was wrong”. Sir John Eccles is one example where he said, “Wait a minute, I have studied the brain and synaptic transmission all of my life”, he was receiving a Nobel Prize for that, and now he’s saying, “I really believe that in fact the mind and the brain interact with the mind actually being primary and the mind being able to affect the brain and vice versa”. Immediately his colleagues said, “He’s getting older, he’s getting senile now, and that’s why he’s doing these sorts of things”. And I think if you look at a number of Nobel Prize laureates, they have, as they’ve hit their their philosophy and begin to say things about consciousness being primary. And I wonder why it is that we younger scientists would then say, “Oh no, no, you know, this person is just getting senile, they’re weak-minded”. I think that’s very sad.

Rick: Maybe they’re becoming wiser as they get older or the veil is thinning a little bit.

Marjorie: Yes, exactly, or maybe they’ve had a real experience of consciousness in that way and they’re trying to now incorporate it into their own worldview.

Rick: Yeah, and of course a lot of the founders of quantum mechanics talked that way of considering consciousness very significant and important, and of course the Heisenberg uncertainty principle seems to indicate that consciousness can influence material reality. But certain sciences seem to be farther ahead than others. I mean, I don’t think that the popular mentality has caught up with quantum mechanics.

Marjorie: No, I think we still live in a Newtonian worldview in terms of our experience, because I think as you have even talked about with me a little bit on email, it’s like we see the solid chair, we see the solid table, and that seems to be a real experience. And we don’t understand what the quantum physicists are really saying, is that basically they have the idea that everything exists in this probability field, you might say, in this sort of smeared out potentiality that only when we observe it does it come down to a particular point in space that actually exists, and that’s hard for our minds to wrap themselves around.

Rick: Yeah, I was interviewing somebody a few weeks ago and she was referring to a physicist who got so kind of immersed in the understanding of the non-physicality of the apparent physical that he was afraid to walk across the floor, he wore these great big boots to give himself sort of more surface area, so he wouldn’t fall right through. I think he was getting a little nutty, but if you really understand what matter is, you realize that it isn’t.

Marjorie: Yes, yes.

Rick: It just appears to be. That’s true. Yeah. All right, so let’s talk a little bit more about the whole notion of consciousness being primary. We’ve alluded to it and we’ve brought up NDEs – we’ve got a little something going on here with the dog – we brought up NDEs and out-of-body and all that stuff, but that is more of a thing where the individual perspective or the individual perceiver somehow gets separate from the body. But it doesn’t say anything about consciousness as a field, as you know, sort of a universal substratum or foundation of the universe. So let’s talk about that a little bit.

Marjorie: Well, I think that many scientists have been alluding to that and I want to maybe even start with Eccles because he again was working with Beck, a quantum physicist, and they were really talking about the fact that non-local consciousness can interact with the mind and the brain, but I think that Henry Stapp has done a lot with that and also David Bohm, who was a student of Einstein, and those two physicists have really been looking at things and especially David Bohm. I love the way he talked about this idea that we literally live in a universe of interconnected consciousness and that everything is enfolded within each other. He talks about the implicate order, which simply means this enfolded nature of the universe, so that what I’m experiencing right now in some way is probably connected to something else that somebody else is experiencing miles or hundreds or thousands of miles away, and also in time as well, so space and time are totally interconnected. And therefore we can’t really talk about individual entities that exist separately from each other. So everything I do affects you, affects other people, and when you have that notion, as David Bohm did, once again it really changes the way you look at your interactions with other people and with the world. Again, you feel with that interconnection a sense of compassion toward everything around you because it really is connected to you as well.

Rick: Yeah, do you talk about Indra’s net in your book?

Marjorie: I don’t talk about Indra’s net in my book, but I did write an article about Indra’s net and that idea that everything is connected to each other, and I think that it’s so amazing that that is part of the ancient Indian philosophy and yet it’s exactly what quantum physicists like David Bohm and Henry Stapp are saying today.

Rick: Yeah, and so this interconnectedness that Marjorie is referring to has to do with the notion that everything is infinitely correlated. In other words, every single point in creation is in some way directly connected with every other point in creation. Like a net, there’s just sort of this complete intimate inter- correlation between everything, just one contiguous wholeness that is functioning or interacting with itself within itself, and that there is really nothing other than that, and that that self-interaction gives rise to the appearance for people like us of there being something other than that, but in fact there isn’t.

Marjorie: And he gives, you know, David Bohm gives a beautiful example that I’ve been really contemplating as I was actually preparing for talking with you, and that is the example of a particular device which has two glass jars in it and a turning device and some glycerin. They put simply a drop of glycerin between the two and then they turn it, and what you find is that drop of glycerin then begins to spread out with continuous turning until suddenly you can’t see the drop at all and you just see a mass of whatever the dye color of that glycerin is, but then when you turn it in the opposite direction, slowly but surely it turns right back into that glycerin drop, and he said that this is his example of what he would call the Implicate Order. And when I was thinking about that I thought about karma, again a term that we use from Eastern philosophies meaning that everything has a cause and effect, but we often can’t see the cause of a particular effect happening in our lives, And what I was thinking about there is that if that image that he’s giving within the idea of the Implicate Order is true, if we could unwind our glycerin jar we would be able to see perhaps the particular moment that caused the effect that we’re seeing right now in our lives, whether it’s a particular person now very angry at us about something and we wonder why on earth is this person angry, or a particular political situation that is happening right now, why is it happening? It sort of helps me explain what really might be going on, that somewhere many many years ago something happened that was the seed of the events that are actually occurring.

Rick: Yeah, we can see, we can guess or we perhaps even get some hints that seem feasible, but as it says in the Gita, karma is unfathomable to human intellect, the complexities of it are just beyond human intellect. And that raises an interesting question, is if it’s unfathomable to human intellect, who or what keeps track of it, if it’s a real thing? And in the same breath I could ask, who and what keeps track of everything? I mean, why is it that in my body there are massively complex and boiling it down to the molecular or atomic level, there’s all this amazing stuff going on that according to laws of nature that seem to be infallible and unalterable, and why should it be that way? If the universe is random or accidental, that doesn’t seem like an accident to me.

Marjorie: Exactly, and I think that that’s why materialism doesn’t really seem logical to many of us that are really looking at this, and I think more and more scientists are actually talking about this understanding that consciousness exists in every single particle of the universe. And I think that it was sort of interesting to watch science move forward, where at first we were all including myself, these people that were neuroscientists, saying we called it sort of the promissory materialism in a certain sense that eventually we would find the neurons in the brain that were giving rise to our conscious experience. And finally more scientists, in fact I think I mentioned in my book Christof Koch is one of them, saying wait a minute, maybe I was wrong, and maybe in fact every single particle of this universe has a certain amount of consciousness. Now an electron has perhaps a crude amount of consciousness or a grain of sand, but they still have conscious awareness at some like low, low level, and as you get more complex organisms you have more consciousness, more ability to actually perceive and interact with the universe. Then you could imagine that if every single cell of our body has an element of consciousness, then yes, they would be interacting with each other at this beautiful level of consciousness interacting with consciousness as part of this world that David Bohm was talking about, this implacate order.

Rick: Yeah, and if we say okay every atom, every molecule, every particle, every cell, every everything has some degree of consciousness, then let’s also ask, okay well what is that particle actually, what is that cell, is there any materiality there, or if we look deeply enough, do we discover that actually there is nothing but consciousness there, which interacting with itself gives rise to the appearance of particles and cells and galaxies and everything else.

Marjorie: Yeah, and you raise a really interesting point and I think that’s where I talk in my book about some of the Indian philosophies that have a way of trying to perceive that as well.

Rick: Like Kashmir Shaivism.

Marjorie: Like Kashmir Shaivism, this idea that this non-local consciousness, which one might call God if we want to use that term, but we can simply call it non-local consciousness, this infinite consciousness of the universe, can be at one point transcendent and then at another point say to itself in effect, if we use an anthropological term, “I want to experience myself, I want to become something”. And then how it can basically contract down through that intention to finite minds, for example, of the universe and then more and more into sense organs and into material parts of reality without ever losing what it truly is in its own essence. And so what you have in Kashmir Shaivism is called tatvas, these levels of contraction going all the way from infinite awareness that is totally non-local and non-material down through the individual minds, limited awareness, and then down into our own bodies, our own beings in the world around us.

Rick: Yeah, which brings up two points. One is something you alluded to a minute ago, which is the evolution of increasingly complex forms more and more capable of enabling consciousness to have or be a living reality, that’s one thing. And another is with the tatvas, it brings in the idea of filtering which we should talk about now. Go ahead and you define it.

Marjorie: Yes, I think first of all this filtered theory of consciousness is one that actually was proposed in the late 1800s by William James, who we consider the father of psychology. Now most psychologists ignore what he was talking about then related to consciousness because he was showing that he wasn’t just a materialist. But his point was that if we as human beings did not filter all the information that was coming into our awareness, first of all it would overwhelm us and we wouldn’t even be able to function in this world. So evolutionarily we would have to do this in order to actually be able to stay alive as a species, in fact all animals would have to do that. So the understanding is that this is a way in fact of efficiently living within this physical universe. But the point is that when you filter down all of this information you are also filtering out non-local awareness. And the idea is that perhaps, and this seems to be the case when you look at a number of experiments in this area, when a person actually quiets their mind down, whether it’s through meditation, whether it’s through a near-death experience when the heart stops and the mind then stops functioning, the brain stops functioning. Somehow you actually have some sort of a veil becoming more transparent between our limited filtered awareness and this much vaster awareness around us, and some people it appears seem to have this ability more than others. So we have people who appear to be psychics, who appear to be able to know what’s going on someplace else in the universe, someplace else in the world, or in someone else’s mind, who seem to have a more transparent veil we might say at one point or another than say someone like myself.

Rick: Yeah, I mean you’re probably too much of a purist to have done this, but if a person, if you take LSD for instance, you wouldn’t want to try to live that way all the time because so many filters are ripped away, you know that there’s just too much going on and if you do that and then go and try and drive a car or do some normal thing, it’s just overwhelming. And there’s another example… Oh yeah, like go on a six-month meditation course and then try to go into town to buy toothpaste or something, if you haven’t really grounded yourself and integrated what’s been going on on the course. And yet, as you were just indicating, there are people who not only have thinned the veil with regard to having psychic experiences, being able to talk to deceased relatives or whatever. But like the Swami who initiated, you have thinned the veil in terms of being able to sustain unbounded awareness in the midst of activity. I think that’s the most significant thing for our consideration.

Marjorie: It is, and I think that that’s one of the things that I have become more aware of as I’ve begun to do this research and also to continue to explore meditation. As I read about people, for example, like my own meditation teacher Swami Muktananda or Ramana Maharshi or I mean many other sages of the world, what seems to happen is that they have like a co- consciousness, they have this sense of being aware of things going around them in non-local consciousness, we might say miles away from them, that type of thing. And at the same time they can be right there with you on the material level and be talking to you just as they would ordinarily talk to anyone else. So there’s something about what we might call the enlightened master who seems to be able to hold both simultaneously in their awareness and move back and forth easily between these different levels of what we might call conscious reality.

Rick: Yeah, yeah, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi used to talk about this a lot, he had this whole theme about boundaries and boundless, where it’s necessary to have boundaries in order to be efficient, like if in a business for instance you have to do things according to certain routines, but how routine work and the sort of calcification of boundaries kind of confines you, kills your genius. And so what you want to be able to do is culture unboundedness and boundaries at the same time, the ability to maintain unboundedness in the midst of the most precise focus in details. And unboundedness would mean not only being able to know something that’s going on miles away, in fact it might not mean that at all, it would mean that consciousness which itself is without limitation, which is as much on the other side of the universe as it is right here, one comes to know one’s identity as that and that becomes the foundation or the predominant quality of one’s experience.

Marjorie: And I think that’s sometimes why you hear a person who’s really an enlightened Master say something, like when you ask them how often do you meditate or how many hours a day, they say really my meditation is 24×7, it’s like I’m always in that state, unlike myself who I go out and in my meditation experiences as I go to meditate each day.

Rick: Yeah, there was a saint in Rishikesh named Tatwale Baba and someone once asked him, “Do you sleep?” and he said, “What would happen to the universe if I slept?” And then they said, “Well, you should come to London”, you make such an impression, he said, “I am London”.

Marjorie: That’s right, a very different experience than my own somewhat more limited reality.

Rick: Yeah, so obviously statements like that are one is speaking from the perspective of the universal self, which we’ve all heard, probably everybody watching this has heard, that’s what we really are. And yet, we’re a person, I’m Rick, you’re Marjorie, everybody else is, they have their identity, they have their families and all that, and you can’t really sacrifice one for the other, although that’s generally what happens. And it’s usually the unboundedness that gets sacrificed for the boundaries, but you can culture the ability to have both simultaneously.

Marjorie: Right, and I think that as we were talking about that would create a very different world in which we live if we had more and more people having that sense of that non-bounded reality more of their time. Yes.

Rick: Yeah, I mean how could you possibly hate and kill people or animals or the rainforest or anything else if you saw it all as part of what you are, as part and parcel of your being, your nature.

Marjorie: Yeah.

Rick: Okay, so as we go along here, if there’s anything that comes to your mind that I’m not bringing up, you go ahead and bring it up and otherwise I’ll just keep kind of prompting you, now or at any time. I want to talk a little bit, you throw some terms in later in your book – panpsychism, panentheism – and there’s this fellow whom I don’t think I wrote down the notes who talks about great minds and little minds and so on.

Marjorie: Paul Marshall.

Rick: Paul Marshall, and I found that fascinating, I really like that portion of the book. So let’s talk about that a little bit, what is meant by those terms and why is that significant and so on.

Marjorie: Yeah, so when we talk about panpsychism, when I talk about it what I really mean is that consciousness exists in all aspects of the universe, that’s typically what philosophers and scientists mean. So this would mean for example that in fact in a grain of sand, in an electron, in the individual cells of your body, there is consciousness within them. So pan everything, psychism, consciousness or mind. Then the other word that we were talking about was panentheism and that is a word that I think a number of scientists and philosophers are now beginning to use instead of panpsychism, because what that implies is that everything is… First of all consciousness does pervade the entire universe as in panpsychism, but also consciousness transcends the universe. So the universe is in consciousness and consciousness is in the universe. So you have this understanding of transcendence, it’s always there in its non-local awareness and imminence, it’s in every single part of the universe and I think that’s the one that feels most real to me. And one of the things I loved about, this is Ed Kelly talking about panentheism and why he feels it’s important in his book Irreducible Mind. He said that in this case what you imagine is that consciousness is truly both eternal and temporal, it’s both being and it’s becoming, it’s both potential and it’s actual, it’s absolute and it’s relative. So you begin to see then this beautiful sense of the paradox of being both/and. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. The other thing that I think is also interesting is in talking about consciousness being primary, one of the philosophies that Paul Marshall that you just mentioned really adheres to is what he calls idealist monistic philosophies. And idealist philosophies are simply those philosophies that say mind is primary, consciousness is primary, that’s idealism. And then monistic simply means it’s all one, like in Kashmir Shaivism, where basically you have these tattvas that basically contract down into the material world but you don’t lose anything during the contraction, it’s all there and we can be aware at any level of those tattvas at any moment we want to.

Rick: Yeah, so in other words manifestation from unmanifest to fully manifest is simultaneous, all levels of the manifestation are there at all times, it’s not like they’re sequential and one is lost as the other is gained, right? Is that what you’re saying?

Marjorie: Exactly, exactly, and so I mean the beauty is that then when you think about meditation what you’re working on doing is moving your way back up the tattvas toward that pure awareness and it’s not that you lose your physical body in that moment, it’s still there, but you have now moved your awareness to also encompass this highest level of awareness.

Rick: Yeah, I suppose a good analogy might be an ocean where ordinarily you’re just swimming on the surface waves, and there’s all these layers of depth in the ocean which you’re not aware of. And you know your kind of capacity to appreciate more of the ocean, more of the full range of it grows until you can sort of see the whole thing from top to bottom, which is not the analogy, kind of breaks down.

Marjorie: Yeah, but you’re not the waves on the surface either, so all of those undulations of our mind that make us feel happy, sad, all of those sorts of things in pain or in joy are just the surface and when you can actually experience that you are truly the ocean and not just the surface waves it really gives you a different feeling too. Yeah.

Rick: Yeah, and even though this might sound like a bit of a heady conversation we’re having, everything we’re talking about here is not merely conceptual, it’s meant to be experienceable.

Marjorie: Teah.

Rick: And so no one should think that this is just philosophical entertainment or something.

Marjorie: Yeah, and you were talking a little bit about Paul Marshall again and his particular understanding that I again have as a figure in my book, which is about the fact that there is one great mind and again it’s not just Paul Marshall that thinks this, many people talk about the one mind that we’re all part of, but what he says is that within that one mind what we see is that there are all the different activities going on and in fact it contracts down into all the little points of awareness which are all our own little minds, but we have the same abilities that that large mind has and so everything is happening within that the contents of the large mind. So I’m perceiving a tree, you’re perceiving a tree, we may perceive it differently because our epicenter of our focused awareness is in a slightly different place, but still all of that is happening within this what he calls the numinal consciousness of the mind. Numinous meaning that sort of the suchness, the real consciousness that we are a part of.

Rick: Yeah, and this kind of helps to resolve that issue, that argument about does the universe come into manifestation only when it’s perceived or is it somehow there even if people aren’t perceiving it, because there seems to be a sort of an objectivity to the universe that’s not dependent upon individual perceivers. You know, the tree is there, I go away, somebody else sees it, it’s still there, same tree, not a different tree, not just a total fabrication of their imagination as dreams might be. The bird lands in it, the bird sees the tree in its own way, so there’s a certain kind of stability or structure or template it would seem to the universe that we all sort of perceive to different degrees in different ways according to our capacity to perceive.

Marjorie: And I think you’re right. And I think there’s an interesting paradox as we’re talking about that, because when I think about Kashmir Shaivism, it’s like Kashmir Shaivism is saying the same thing, it’s like this non-local consciousness contracts down and becomes material reality. Material reality is real in a certain sense, but it’s also part of this non-local awareness. And at the same time, once that material reality is like absorbed back into consciousness, it’s gone again. And so how do we deal with that fact that my mind creates something in its own reality, a thought that seems very very real in the moment, and then it’s absorbed back into consciousness and it’s gone again. So it’s real and it’s not real, I mean it’s somehow mind- boggling for me even to contemplate.

Rick: Yeah, but I think what’s cool about this kind of discussion is that sometimes consciousness might have a sort of a plain vanilla connotation where it just seems like this flat field of nothingness, in fact it’s sometimes referred to as nothingness, emptiness and all, but if everything is consciousness and if we look at the universe, then it would seem that, wow, consciousness has a lot of qualities to it, there’s all this incredible richness and variety and creativity and immense incredible detail and so on. And so it would seem that inherent within consciousness, like whatever is the DNA within a seed, is kind of an infinite, it’s a field of all possibilities, infinite potentiality for unimaginable creativity and diversity.

Marjorie: Yeah, and I think you’re reminding me too about a lot of people talking about Kashmir Shaivism and the whole understanding of this non-local consciousness which is called Shiva in Kashmir Shaivism, the idea that when you’re non-local consciousness and you’re totally transcendent, there’s nothing to experience. And so it’s imagined that consciousness says, let me become many so I can experience myself and enjoy myself, and then of course it can be absorbed back up, but it’s like the manifestation is required for the enjoyment, the experience.

Rick: They use the term Leela. You studied Sanskrit, you actually have some kind of degree in Sanskrit.

Marjorie: That’s right.

Rick: That’s pretty cool on top of everything else. Yeah, and Leela means play and so it’s like there’s no fun and loneliness, the Creator says, hey let’s stir things up a bit, I want to have some fun.

Marjorie: Exactly, and of course then as we are each part of that consciousness, we do exactly the same thing in our own world and create our own beautiful world around us in one way or another.

Rick: Yes, being created in the image of God as we are. Yeah, it’s like… Go ahead.

Marjorie: You mentioned too studying Sanskrit and I think one of the reasons I did that is because I was really trying to put my neuroscience understanding and my meditative understanding together and integrate them, and I think when I began to read these texts like the Pratyabhigya Hridayam, which is a Kashmir Shaivite text, about how consciousness actually creates the universe, it sounded so much like David Bohm and other quantum physicists talking about the universe, and I think one of the sutras was something like consciousness out of its own freedom is actually a source and the power of everything in the universe. And I love that idea that it’s our freedom as human beings or as this non-local consciousness that can create out of our own highest consciousness everything that exists around us, our whole play, our whole story of our lives.

Rick: I had a conversation recently with a friend who insisted that, or at least posited that meditation doesn’t really necessarily change your personality or your behavior, and a lot of the changes we see in long-term meditators are just normal maturation. She cited examples of some – must have been her son, or some of his friends or something – who were falling in with a bad crowd and doing wild and crazy things like teenagers will do, and now many of them are multi-millionaires and just doing really well and they didn’t meditate, they just grew up. And yet, let’s talk a little bit about how meditation actually changes the brain, and if it really significantly changes the brain it must be significantly changing the way we function in every way including behavior.

Marjorie: Yes, and I think that that’s a very good point and there have been a number of neuroscientists actually looking at this, and one of them that I’ll mention is Sara Lazar, who is actually at Harvard University’s Medical School, and one of the things that she did is a study where she actually brought ordinary people into her laboratory and looked at their brain in magnetic resonance imagery, MRI, before they were trained in meditation, and then she looked at the brain again after they were trained in meditation, and she found that there were actually significant changes in specific parts of the brain associated both with emotional regulation, memory, and attention. And she also did another study that was cross-sectional, looking at population of meditators versus non-meditators, and she looked at both young and older people up to about 50 years of age, and what she found is that the cortex thins in natural aging, but in meditators the cortex did not thin and the meditators cortex looked like that of younger people in the specific areas related to executive attention function concentration, which is what we’re really working on in meditation. So to me, I mean that says both in the short term and in the long term, meditation has a powerful effect that you don’t see in non- meditators.

Rick: Yeah, probably most people listening will have heard the term neuroplasticity, and I’ve interviewed Rick Hanson who talks a lot about that, if you want to look up that interview. But what do you see in people who have been meditating 30, 40, 50 years, I mean how much of their brains changed compared to the norm?

Marjorie: Well, I think when I think about what you’re talking about, I think about Richie Davidson’s research with the Dalai Lama’s monks, and I think he showed that they also have in fact different frequencies when they go into meditation called the gamma frequencies that appear to be associated with what he would call loving kindness meditation or compassionate meditation, and when they go into that type of meditation, it’s like their brain instantly moves into a whole different frequency of brainwaves, and you don’t tend to find that in people that are newer meditators, that it takes I think perhaps a while to change those frequencies. But I want to mention something else, there’s another person who did research in Germany about brainwaves and meditation, and he said he thinks it’s a little bit more complex than we often think. Very often as you may know, we say, “oh well when we start to meditate, we start having alpha rhythms compared to say beta rhythms, our normal waking consciousness, and then it might move to theta rhythms, etc”. He was saying actually when he asked meditators to meditate using different types of techniques, so for example one might be simply not even meditating, closing your eyes but letting your mind wander, versus closing your eyes and simply having what we might call open awareness, where you’re simply aware of everything in the room but you’re not trying to judge it or make comments. The next one was going into awareness where you’re into the equivalent of like a void, like you’re trying to go into a place of like non… what would we call it like non-spatial awareness, you’re literally trying to go into that place of pure stillness. He said it was in the meditative periods that were the pure stillness meditation where the brainwaves actually dropped down to a very low level, and I was thinking that reminds me of people in near-death experiences where the brainwaves drop down to a low level. So maybe there’s also something not just about the frequency of the waves but about the amplitude, and when we really quiet the brain down that’s when we have these experiences.

Rick: Quote the first two verses of the Yoga Sutras for us.

Marjorie: Well, Chaitanyam Atma is one of them, which means the self – my own inner self, my essence – is consciousness, and the other one is Jnanam Bandhaha, which I love, it means knowledge is bondage, but it really means limited knowledge, the knowledge that we have of our limited world around us is bondage that keeps us from understanding our true nature.

Rick: But I thought what you would quote was Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha.

Marjorie: Oh, I’m sorry. Okay.

Rick: And then the second verse, and then the seer is established in the self.

Marjorie: I was doing the Siva Sutras and you were doing the Yoga Sutras.

Rick: Oh, Shiva Sutras. Yeah. Yoga Sutras.

Marjorie: So I did the Siva Sutras, yes, so the Yoga Sutras, you’re right, yoga is the stilling of the thought waves of the mind and then the seer actually rests in his own nature, which is exactly what we were talking about with that meditation experiment.

Rick: Which is why I thought to ask you that.

Marjorie: You were perfect.

Rick: Yeah, so good point, that there’s something about meditation that stills the mind, or at least most types of meditation are designed to do that, and a still mind is better able to reflect pure consciousness just as a still pond is better able to reflect the sunlight.

Marjorie: Exactly right, and I think that’s when people talk like William James about that veil thinning and actually rupturing so that you can see consciousness like through it, non-local consciousness through it, that’s what’s happening when the mind becomes still.

Rick: Yeah, and then so that raises the question, well okay I really want that, I want that still mind so I can experience pure consciousness, so I better not go anywhere, I’m going to shut myself in my room and close the drapes. But that brings us back to what we were talking about a little while ago, which is that you need to culture the ability to have that silence rock solid in the midst of the most dynamic activity.

Marjorie: Exactly, and I think that’s what we all notice in meditation. I think I talk in my book about when I first began meditating and I was watching my mind and we were told, well you’re supposed to be looking for this place of a still mind and I couldn’t find any stillness in my mind, it was thought after thought after thought. And after many many months and years I began to notice a brief moment of stillness between thoughts and it’s like, oh that’s that place and then gradually year after year you expand that place so that you can have more and more stillness in your meditation.

Rick: Yeah, so we were talking earlier about science and spirituality as two separate tracks for gaining knowledge and I kind of like the theme of they’re actually having a symbiotic relationship with each other, at least ideally, where science can bring more rigor and empirical qualities to spirituality and spirituality can bring tools to our attempt to understand the universe that science lacks and won’t ever actually be able to create if it just thinks in terms of creating material, electronic or apparatus, apparati. And so that’s just a kind of a theme of mine that I like. I think it also again has relevance to our culture at large and the direction humanity may be going, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.

Marjorie: Well I think it’s absolutely true and I think that’s what we were trying to do with the AAPS, the Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences, is we’re saying spirituality doesn’t have to be separate. We don’t have to be living in two different worlds. All we’re saying is that consciousness which is something that scientists can actually begin to measure in different ways, its qualities, its properties, must be considered part of our material world. And we’re simply asking our fellow scientists to be a little bit more curious about how our individual mental activity, our mind, and perhaps non-local consciousness can actually affect our brain and how they can carefully begin to measure whether we can interact with other people in a non-local way. Experiments have been done already by many scientists like Dean Radin, as you were mentioning, and the issue is if we could get more scientists from, for example, the National Academy of Scientists or, for example, National Institutes of Health to fund research in this area out of their own curiosity, I think we could move forward so much more quickly in this area. And it just takes real curiosity rather than always adhering to our old paradigm of materialism with our blinders on.

Rick: Yeah, I sometimes like to think that spiritual practices such as meditation could be used as a scientific research tool for exploring subtler realities but the problem with that is that in regular research using ordinary tools, those tools are very clearly defined and carefully calibrated and when you publish a paper you tell them all the instruments that you used and everything so somebody can go and pick the same instruments and calibrate them the same way and do the same experiments. But with meditation and spiritual practices it seems like such a messy field. There’s so many different practices and traditions and every human nervous system is so different and has all kinds of different experiences, even practicing the same thing. So I mean do you sometimes lament of spirituality ever being able to achieve the kind of scientific rigor that the ordinary sciences have achieved?

Marjorie: I think we can, but I think part of the issue is it’s a little bit like, in fact I want to give the example in medical research. There’s something called the randomized controlled clinical trial which is supposed to be the gold standard of trials for, for example, determining if a pharmaceutical drug really works for cancer. But the issue with those trials is in fact they’re the worst type of trials to use because you’re taking people with all sorts of variations on this type of cancer, you’re giving them exactly the same amount of this pharmaceutical drug and you are then expecting to see a significant result across this giant population of people. If instead you were to pick only a certain number of people and you were to give them perhaps the amount of the drug that is necessary for them, which could be differing across the population, and perhaps different subtypes of drugs for their different types of cancers they have, you might find much stronger effects. So you’re mixing up big effects and tiny or non-existent effects depending on the person you’re with. That’s what happens a lot with meditation research. It’s like we are perhaps actually looking at people with very different proclivities and/or experience with meditation and we’re expecting to see the same sort of results. And I would say that if you actually picked – and this is what people are trying to do I think in a lot of this research on consciousness – pick those people that naturally have a proclivity, for example, toward being able to be aware of, I think of like remote viewing. Some researchers are doing that type of research and they pick people who are experts in it. And then they simply very carefully determine how accurate that person is in actually describing a site that’s many, many miles away that they’ve never seen before. I think when you do it in that careful way, then you begin to have much much stronger results. And I think that’s all we are asking for as scientists beginning to do research in this area, is really take the time to do that type of research in a very carefully controlled way. And I want to mention one other thing that we talk about is that is you design an experiment as somebody interested in non-local consciousness, say remote viewing or something of that sort, and then you give that experimental paradigm to a skeptic and you say, “Look at this experimental paradigm. What do you see missing in this paradigm that wouldn’t keep it from being the strongest paradigm possible to answer the question?” And then you have them give you that information and then you redesign it so that they are happy with the experimental paradigm and you are happy with it, and then you run the experiment. And I think then your skeptic will come on board and say, “Oh yes, now I can really trust your results”.

Rick: The tattvas have to do with gross and subtle, don’t they? Gross, subtle, or subtlest?

Marjorie: Yes, absolutely, right.

Rick: The reason I ask is that it seems like with modern science – Western science – there’s really no concept of gross and subtle. There’s a concept of big and small and you can use tools to look into the smaller, smaller, smaller, smaller and get down to up quarks and down quarks and all that stuff, but this whole idea of subtlety is lost on them, there’s no consideration of it. And yet in the Eastern traditions in particular, and even the Western, there’s an idea that there are these different lokas or realms and those realms are populated with all kinds of beings and that they might actually be amongst us but we can’t perceive them if we don’t have the subtlety of perception to do so, and so on. So that’s kind of fascinating, I mean if that’s really the way the universe works, then science is constraining itself to a very thin crust on the surface of reality. And even if they look at that thin layer of crust in minute detail and see its tiniest particles, there’s a whole realm of potentialities that they’re not going to find because they’re not using the right tools, and yet spirituality does provide such tools.

Marjorie: That’s right, and again I think that when we say spirituality what we’re really meaning is that there are either particular people that are better than others at, for example, going into that state of non-local awareness, and also with training. We know now because there’s been a lot of work on training and meditation that you do get better and better with training. And so I think once again it’s a matter of picking the people that have the natural proclivity and/or the training, and then I think we would begin to perhaps learn a little bit more about those subtle realms as we could objectively measure what they are perceiving, and then be able to say, “Ah, yes, is this real?” Because we can actually, if they have non-local awareness, be able to perceive exactly what they tell us they’re perceiving in an objective way. I mean I think you probably know, we’ve heard stories about Ramana Maharshi, I think Swami Nityananda, Bhagwan Nityananda from Ganeshpuri, India, who would tell the people around them, “Oh, I know about something happening somewhere else”, and they would just describe it in a nonchalant way. They were literally having remote viewing at that moment, and those are the things that you’d like to be able to actually quantify in a manner with people that do have those abilities. And then I don’t know how you could deny non-local consciousness, if you could give example after example of that type of thing.

Rick: Yeah, and then there are other things that might be difficult to verify. Like I have friends who say that they routinely perceive subtle beings – like celestial beings – kind of in our environment, doing things, interacting with people unbeknownst to those people and so on. And that’s not something they could verify in any way, but I suppose, you know, I mean some scientific research projects can take decades to complete and you could take anybody and give them the right practices and maybe in 10, 20, 30 years they’ll actually perceive the same things.

Marjorie: Yeah, and perhaps too if there were a way of truly getting our minds to be as still as possible, literally watching what changes occur in our observational abilities as the mind becomes quieter and quieter. And I’m assuming whether they’re the Buddhist monks of the Dalai Lama or other people that have been meditating for long periods of time, one can begin to actually perhaps measure those changes in their level of subtlety of their own experiences. I think that would be fascinating to have like a long-term program with people over the years to see what differences there are in their ability to perceive these more subtle realms.

Rick: Yeah, another interesting idea is that the people who have these types of perceptions and the yogis and the meditators and everybody else are still kind of a tiny percentage of the total population. If you’re in that world it seems kind of common because all your friends are that way, but if you’re in the general world it’s like just not even on your radar, chances are. So it’d be interesting to consider what society might be like if such people having such experiences became the majority, and not only in terms of how the world might change because of the influence of the majority of its population changing, but also what kinds of experiences and knowledge were taken for granted. I mean you might go to your friend and say, “Hey, I saw an angel this morning”, so the friend says, “So what else is new? Let’s go for coffee”.

Marjorie: That’s very true. Yes, yes. Well, I’m thinking right now might be a good time to put on the screen that image I have of local versus non-local consciousness in the brain, because in some ways it may lend itself to what we’re talking about right now.

Rick: Okay, it’s on now, I actually have it displayed.

Marjorie: Okay, right, and in that model I’m trying to show first of all the materialist view of reality, the one that I had before I actually had any spiritual experiences, which is basically that the brain itself is the creator of every single amount of mental activity, and I have really talking about what I would call my local awareness of my mind, and what you see in that slide is what I would call basically one arrow going up from the brain to the mind, because most materialist neuroscientists say that the brain produces all mental activity, but there’s a big question mark next to it, and that is because we don’t know how the brain can actually create mental activity. Every single neuroscientist that has tried has not been able to find a true neural causal effect of consciousness itself. They find correlates, but never anything that’s causal. And then the other model that I have is what I would call the energy matter continuum model, where there is this non-local awareness that we’ve been talking about throughout our interview today that can contract down into the local awareness of the mind. And I show a little filter there as the example of William James’s idea that we’re filtering that awareness down into a local awareness. And that local mind can also affect our brain, and vice versa, so you have arrows going both ways. But I think there we talk about, as you were saying, the gross levels of, if we want material reality or consciousness in the activity of our brain and the activity of other material aspects of the universe, then we have the more subtle realms of our local awareness of our mind. And then as those barriers begin to break down, the more subtle levels of awareness of non-local consciousness. And maybe that includes these other things like remote viewing, etc.

Rick: And I don’t think this should be such a stretch for people. I mean we have such a perfect metaphor in television and radio where we have the electromagnetic field which is spread out, ubiquitous, and then we have these isolated receivers which detect fluctuations in the electromagnetic field and translate them as music or whatever, and there’s different frequencies that you can tune into, just as we’ve been talking about different levels of experience for a human being and so on. So it’s a perfect metaphor. You know, consciousness may be more fundamental than the electromagnetic field, I’m sure it is, but there’s a similar mechanics there in a way, and some radios are kind of old and rusty and they don’t get a very good signal, and other radios get a much clearer signal. I mean you can go on and on with this metaphor.

Marjorie: Yeah, it is a perfect metaphor for the materialists too who say, “Well, we know that in fact our brain creates all consciousness because if you have a stroke and you lose your activity of a particular part of the brain, that part of the brain dies, you lose your awareness in that part of your visual field, for example. But your point with the radio analogy is that it’s just like actually having a part of the radio go out and then you lose your transmission. It’s not saying that the radio was creating that transmission, it’s simply that it was allowing that to happen. It’s the same with our brain, it’s allowing the transmission of the local and non-local consciousness to come into our everyday existence.

Rick: Yeah, I mean you could take an AM/FM radio and you could perhaps remove some transistors or something that eliminated the AM capability, but it could still do FM, so that would be like a stroke that shuts down your left side of your face or whatever it does.

Marjorie: Yeah, so I don’t understand quite why that particular analogy is not embraced wholeheartedly by many of the neuroscientists that are more materialistic, because it seems very logical to me.

Rick: Well, it refutes their position if they want to be materialistic, so perhaps people like you are the ones who have to be embracing it.

Marjorie: That’s right, exactly.

Rick: A question came in from Mark Peters in Santa Clara, California. This will shift our topic a little bit, this will be fun to talk about. Do you have any sense of what it is that binds or localizes consciousness to a particular body? Also, in out-of-body experiences, do you have any idea about what it is that is seeing from a point of view far removed from the physical body’s eyes?

Marjorie: Yes, very interesting. So first of all, I want to say that in terms of binding, if I were speaking out of my neuroscientist hat right now, we say that there are particular neurons in the brain that appear to bind our entire awareness of a particular scene together so that it makes sense, and people have actually correlated the activity of neurons in the brain with that binding property, and that’s sort of, again, part of our filtering property of our local attention. But we’re really dealing with something much more than that, and that is how in fact is perhaps, I guess I’m trying to say, consciousness actually bound to this particular body. Maybe that’s really the question. It’s like, why is my awareness bound to this particular body? I don’t have an answer myself yet. I don’t know that there is a specific one per se. Then the next question was related to out-of-body experiences, and then what is really happening, is that right?

Rick: Yeah, like if you’re in a coma and yet you’re watching the surgeons and you can actually see things, but your physical eyes are taped shut and your brain is not functioning, what is it that actually provides the capability of vision?

Marjorie: Yes, and I think that’s why we really believe consciousness is primary. What I think scientists who have looked at those experiments for near-death experiences, were saying that in fact you don’t need the sensory organ of your eye or your ear or your taste buds, etc., to actually experience all of these things, that in fact when those sensory organs have actually shut down, are still available to you when you are watching from above, and again it’s true you are separated from the physical body, and yet some essential aspect of you, whether we want to call that again in Sanskrit the Atman or something else, basically is permanent even when the body is non-functioning. I want to give a little bit of an example for the person too, about what we call terminal lucidity, and that is when a person as they get older has Alzheimer’s disease, their brain is now diseased, and we can look in a magnetic resonance imaging at the brain and see that basically the brain looks really really terrible. I mean it’s shrunken, it’s no longer functioning, and yet in the last minutes to hours of life, that person with that non-functional brain comes back to awareness, is totally lucid, says goodbye to their entire family, recognizing everyone there, and then dies. And one of the ways people are looking at that is saying, well maybe what is happening is that the consciousness is peeling away from the body at that moment, and as it’s peeling away it doesn’t need the body now to actually use the perceptual abilities and the motor abilities the way it might have otherwise.

Rick: I think one thing that helps explain it is the concept of the subtle body. And the subtle body has faculties, just as the gross body does, corresponding to those gross faculties – so subtle eyes, subtle hearing, subtle smell, etc. I think they’re called the “indriyas” in Sanskrit, aren’t they?

Marjorie: Yes.

Rick: And so even without physical eyes, theoretically a blind man who had the subtle body properly developed or enlivened could see.

Marjorie: In fact, yeah.

Rick: Yeah, and probably many of us have had experiences of being in meditation with eyes shut and all of a sudden seeing the room, or then there’s the whole out-of-body or NDE experience, as you mentioned. So that’s the thing, I mean, obviously gross eyes are very useful for seeing a gross world, but there are subtle eyes, so to speak, corresponding to them, through which one sees the subtle world. When people see celestial beings, for instance, I don’t know if there’s so much seeing them with their gross eyes or with more of a subtle faculty that’s gotten enlivened, and perhaps that subtle faculty can function even without the gross faculty being available.

Marjorie: Yeah, you’re also reminding me that in the one story I tell about an NDE of Dr. Bettina Peyton when she was in the hospital and her heart stopped, she said at first her awareness was within the body, her eyes were taped shut, but she could see up into the room and she could see the IV poles above her and the blood being actually transfused into her, but she said then her awareness shifted to above her body and then it went even further away. And so you get the sense that, as you’re saying, there are really two faculties within our physical body, even when our awareness is tied inside of it and our eyes are taped shut, in certain cases like this one with the heart stop, she could still see into the room, but then her awareness literally moved beyond the physical body up into the top of the room and then moved even further away, so there’s some sense of different localities, different ways that that spirit that we might call our subtle body can move through space very quickly once it is separated from the physical body as well.

Rick: Yeah, and I’m sure there are sort of esoteric books that talk about what binds the subtle body to the gross body. I’m sure there’s things in Tibetan Buddhism and many other places and I think we should be grateful that in general it’s bound because it could be rather difficult to live life if it kept drifting off all the time. But obviously it does eventually drift off when the gross body dies, then it’s severed somehow, the connection, and off it goes if we buy into the whole reincarnation bit. And it’s funny that many spiritual people – even people I’ve interviewed – have a problem with a lot of the things we’ve been talking about. They don’t believe in reincarnation, they don’t believe in any sort of continuation of life after the death of the body. And some of these people – I always pick on Sam Harris in absentia because I haven’t been able to interview him yet – but that’s the kind of, he and his fellow atheists, and despite the fact that Sam is an ardent meditator, espouse those sorts of notions. And I guess it’s the old experience thing, if you haven’t experienced it yet then it’s easy to have a different concept of how things work.

Marjorie: And you’re reminding me too that in these cases of end-of-life experiences, when someone is with the dying person they often see light leaving the body from the top of the head, from between the eyes, sometimes it’s this like tiny blue light – often called in Indian traditions the blue pearl – like leaving from between the eyes and then going off somewhere, as if that subtle body is apparent to you as the observer and you see it leaving. You’re reminding me also that some people who have these near-death experiences or out-of-body experiences have a feeling like there’s an energetic cord connecting them in some way to their body and maybe that helps answer the person’s question as well, that perhaps some people do experience that and that somehow does keep the subtle body connected to the physical body when both need to be connected in physical reality.

Rick: Yeah, and I think judging from accounts that I’ve read that when enlightenment occurs your subtle body is still associated with your gross body but it has greater independence, like as you were saying earlier, that often faculties of clairaudience or clairsentience or clairvoyance and things like that develop, so the subtle body is able to extend its range of perception and influence while yet still being associated with the body in which you were born.

Marjorie: Yeah, I also would like to say to the skeptics, like the people who say they don’t believe in reincarnation, and of course I was one of them until I really began looking at the research, I say just be curious because if they go to Ian Stevenson’s website at the University of Virginia, the Division of Perceptual Studies, they can find PDFs of all of the articles he has written throughout – I think it was like from like the 1970s on until he died a number of years ago – of carefully designed studies where these children, again as you know, at two and a half, three years of age, are saying you’re not my parents, my parents are from another town nearby, and then they give all the information about their previous life, and Ian Stevenson carefully documented what they had to say and then would look for the family that the child said they were from, they would find the family, they would further document the evidence without the families even talking to each other. And when you see 2,500 or more cases like this, it’s like your curiosity has to be piqued about this possibility of reincarnation and you have to say, “Well, how might I really do more experiments to actually test whether this is real or not?” Just having that open mind.

Rick: Yeah, I saw a cartoon where a little boy is sitting on a couch next to an old man and the little boy is saying, “Don’t worry, I didn’t believe in reincarnation either when I was your age”.

Marjorie: Exactly.

Rick: Yeah, let’s see here, I thought I had another thought on what you were just saying, but yeah, maybe it’ll come back to me. So we have maybe five minutes left. Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you feel is important to you that we’d like to touch upon?

Marjorie: I think what I want to really let people know is that we’ve only talked really about near-death experiences and maybe reincarnation, that type of thing, but in fact when you look at all of the research done by people like Dean Radin on ability of the human mind to actually change the output of random number generators, it is phenomenal. It’s a small effect but it is absolutely repeatable again and again and again across laboratories all over the world. And when we see this and we know then that my intention can actually change the output of a random number generator or I can actually change physiology within another person, there have been other beautiful studies done, in this case with healers being able to change the output of the brain or the activity of the brain in somebody across a hospital setting that is in a totally shielded room, we have to say this actually gives us evidence for non- local consciousness. And I don’t know how we can deny that when we see the effect of one person on another person or on another physical part of reality. And of course then you think that isn’t that beautiful if we with our positive thoughts like healers can affect someone else in a positive way, couldn’t that be used in a wonderful way for the whole universe? If we could begin to realize our thoughts really do affect others and the more positive healing thoughts we send out to others in the universe, the better it will be for everyone around us.

Rick: Yeah, one impression I got as you were saying that just now is life is so much more interesting when you’re open to all possibilities when you just have kind of an open curious mind, you don’t sort of insist that things have to be any particular way, which is not to say you’re going to become gullible or open to every woo-woo idea that comes down the pike, but you can maintain a healthy scientific attitude and yet be willing to explore anything. I mean actually, the way I like to think of it is everything that any religion ever said or any mystic or anybody else can be taken as a hypothesis that might be interesting to explore. You don’t have to accept it, you don’t have to reject it, it’s just, “Well, what if that is true? Let’s see how we could explore that”.

Marjorie: And it’s a reminder that in our Western view of science, we talk about always having alternative hypotheses whenever you do an experiment, so whichever hypothesis turns out to be true, you’re happy, you aren’t wedded to one particular one or the other, and I think that that’s what I would hope my fellow scientists would do, is they would say, “Okay, we have two hypotheses. We have the hypothesis that consciousness is fundamental and the other one is it’s not, that material aspects of reality are fundamental, and let’s now just very carefully and meticulously explore these with the different experiments”.

Rick: Yeah, there’s a certain tendency, I think, for human beings to become a little arrogant or to indulge in hubris, where we feel like, “Oh, we’ve pretty much got it figured out. We’re such an advanced society, we really understand how the world works and all that”. But I mean, as all the good science fiction writers hopefully have shown us, we’re children in terms of what might be possible. There could be civilizations out there which have existed for millions and millions of years, and which have gone so far beyond ours that we can’t even conceive of what they’re like. So we’re never going to get there if we blow ourselves up by thinking that we’ve got it all figured out when we so obviously don’t.

Marjorie: Yeah, and I think I would also like to end with just encouraging young people who might be listening to really think about how they might contribute in this way, if they have an interest in non-local consciousness and consciousness being primary, what sort of experiments could they possibly do and how could they go into academia in a way that would allow these types of experiments to actually move forward.

Rick: Is there anything you’re doing that they can plug into or is there any way in which you can help them specifically if they have that kind of attitude that you just said?

Marjorie: Well, I would say that one thing they could do is to go to the website of the Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences and then also as we begin to move forward with this Academy, we’re going to try to find ways of supporting young people interested in this sort of a thing, but we’ll be having annual meetings. We have again a first volume that will be coming out shortly of the chapters from all of our board members who are scientists interested in consciousness being fundamental, so I think that’s a great way to start anyway.

Rick: Good, well I’ll link to that on your page on BatGap as well as to your own website and your book. So thanks Marjorie, I really have enjoyed this time with you.

Marjorie: Thank you very much Rick.

Rick: Yeah, let me make a couple of wrap-up points. So you’ve been listening to an interview with Marjorie Hines-Woollacott, PhD. This is one of an ongoing series of interviews. I’ve done over 450 of them at this point and hopefully we’ll do at least that many more. And if you would like to be notified when new ones are posted, just go to and sign up for the email newsletter and or subscribe to the YouTube channel. You’ll get notified both ways. This also exists as an audio podcast, so if you’d like to listen to things while you commute or work out or whatever, you can do that. And there’s some other interesting things on the website, just check out the menus and you’ll see what’s there. So next week is Ken Wilber. I’ve been wanting to interview him for a long time, that should be interesting. He’s a fascinating fellow and we hope to see you then. Thanks for listening and watching and thank you again Marjorie.

Marjorie: Thank you.