At the 57th Annual Conference on World Affairs
I was invited to speak at the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado, which Jo and I attended. April 2-11, 2005. It was a leap of faith into the unknown – why did they invite me, with my unique interests in Integral Conscious Creation, and the channeling phenomenon? The surprising answers became clear as the week unfolded.
We flew into Denver on Saturday April 2nd and were greeted by Tracy Stientjes, one of many student drivers who shuttled us around and treated us like royalty all week. Leaving the airport with great views of the snow-capped Rockies, Tracy drove us to Boulder to our “housers” – the local folks who volunteer their homes to put up most of the conference speakers. We were greeted by George Oetzel and his wife, Marti, who showed us to our room…. the entire second floor of their home! They would turn out to be amazing hosts who made us feel at home.
That evening, we took the Oetzel’s out for dinner at the 14th Street Grill and talked about the conference. We didn’t realize it was such a big deal. The entire community works year-round in preparation for this springtime event, and it’s a carnival atmosphere. Sunday was a sight-seeing day, as Marti and George took us to see the Chitauqua House, Celestial Seasonings plant, a Tea House for lunch, and NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research).
Sunday evening was an opening reception at President Elizabeth Hoffman’s mansion. We were greeted by University Regent Peter Steinhauer holding a half-filled bottle of beer and sporting a Cheshire cat grin. His wonderful wife, Julianne, a jazz singer, greeted us inside. She welcomed me by name and pointed out to the man behind me that I had a Ph.D. in music. That “man” turned out to be Dave Grusin, an accomplished jazz musician with eleven Oscar nominations for film scoring (over 40 films) and seven Grammy awards, not to mention a local music building named after him. These were the kind of folks we would be rubbing elbows with, and occasionally crossing swords with, all week.
I will never forget how welcomed Jo and I were made to feel in such a short time. Jo and I met four or five panelists and chatted about their backgrounds, if they were new or old-timers, and what attracted them to participate. We got lots of advice by old-timers about the format of the panels. Since it was our first time, we really didn’t know what to expect, though we anticipated the potential debates that lie ahead.
The way the Conference works is interesting. It turns out that if you live in Colorado, you can’t be invited to be a panelist. The idea was to get new ideas and people into Boulder each year to discuss God, life, the universe, and everything. Also, the community is very involved, and even though UC hosted and used its venues for panels, the community had gradually begun to take a larger role in supporting and raising money for the event.
The students are also very involved in the selection process and panel themes. There are nine subcommittees that select panelists, for example, Arts, Boulder High, Gen Y, Global Commerce, International Affairs, Literature/Storytelling & Film, Politics & Media, Qualities of Life, Science and Technology. I was brought in through the Science & Technology group, so I was put onto six sci-tech panels based upon my science museum background in informal science education.
The basic idea is that each panelist gets about ten minutes to introduce their worldview on the subject. The approaches would vary tremendously, according to background and experience. The panelists then ask each other questions or the moderator just opens it up to the audience. So the eighty-minute panels become a blend of panelist and audience alchemy. As you might guess, it can cover a wide range of ideas. But that’s the whole point.
We left the Sunday dinner early to get a good night’s sleep and finish up my thoughts on how to approach my first panel called Creationism vs. Evolution. It was slated for the largest venue of the conference, Mackey Auditorium that held up to 1,000 people. Also, Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer prize-winning film critic was slated for that panel, so I was anxious to say the least!
On Monday morning, we joined a brunch hosted by the student volunteers. That’s me sitting down holding a cup of water and a vegetarian breakfast burrito, the best in Boulder! Soon, we were herded to a sidewalk that led to Macky Auditorium and the plenary speech to be given by Charles Krauthammer, a well-known beltway pundit who writes for the Washington Post and appears regularly on news shows.
Surrounded by flags from the world over, we took our official walk to Macky accompanied by a throng of news cameras. Once inside, Charles gave a plenary outlining the neoconservative agenda. He received a standing ovation, though upon opening the floor to questions, folks like Harvey Wasserman offered stern critiques of the failures of the neocon and “Bush doctrine” agenda.
Afterward, Jo and I ran over to the UMC (University Media Center) to catch Bill Arntz, one of the directors and producers of the New Age hit movie What the Bleep? He held court to a pro-Bleep audience that didn’t ask any hard questions, and it was clear that Bill likes to keep it light and fun.
We left early to get ready for my first panel, and what an experience that turned out to be! We’re supposed to meet in a central location with all the panelists, the moderator, and producer, whose job it was to simply get the right name tags, and people to their venue in time. The moderator finds out who wants to go first or last, and also outline generally what people are going to speak about so as to give panelists a chance to feel each other out. Roger Ebert, and Dan Odescalshi, as with many veteran panelists, didn’t show up, which I should have taken as an early warning sign.
At the panel, Roger went first and outlined a very general, tenth grade overview of basic Darwinism – the universe was created by chance, and began a largely meaningless unfolding that eventually resulted in homo sapiens. Next, Dan spoke. He’s a “Wall Street Republican,” which means he is evolved enough to not take scripture literally as Absolute Universal Truth. And to be fair, he attempted to give some of the Intelligent Design arguments since the panel had no one representing that position. Dan got mostly into the political angles of attempting to get creationism into the public schools, and said that he was actually embarrassed at this part of the Republican Party.
My turn came, and I took an historical overview to help situate my comments from an integral conscious creation perspective. I mentioned that the “integral” part comes from Ken Wilber’s work, and canvassed the audience to see how many were familiar. About one quarter raised their hands. I mentioned that the conscious creation part comes from the work of Jane Roberts who coined the phrase “you create your own reality” in 1974 with The Nature of Personal Reality. I also canvassed the audience about how many were familiar with the Seth material and about a quarter raised their hands, and then another few dozen sheepishly came out of the closet and raised their hands, much to my amusement. So there WERE a significant amount of Seth readers present!
Next, I outlined Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern periods of history as worldviews, noting that elements of all three exist in this Now so it’s not a strictly linear progression, but a cumulative and emergent one. The Premodern period is characterized by the dominance of the Church and a literal interpretation scripture as Absolute Universal Truth. For example, the universe is only six thousand years old. Creationism is thus premodern and still with us in some form and trying to get back into our public schools in the USA.
The Modern period is characterized by German Sociologist Max Weber’s separation of three key value spheres: science, art, and morals. Morals is where the Church still resides in terms of Modernity, and empirical science, on the other hand, claims to have no moral or ethical values, simply hard cold facts. The theory of Evolution is the “creation myth” of this worldview. I further pointed out that when it’s taken a Absolute Universal Truth, the result is scientism and evolutionism. That is, science and its five senses and reason being the sole arbiters of what is Real and True.
At this point, Ebert broke protocol, to everyone’s surprise, and grilled me on what I meant by “evolutionism.” Our moderator did nothing, so I responded directly saying, “it’s the blind faith that this creation story explains 100% of how creation occurs.” At that point, Ebert lumped me into the Creationist/enemy camp.
But I continued unfazed, and curious, as this was my first panel and I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was. I continued by pointing out that even though the Postmodern period is still emergent, it can be characterized as an attempt to heal the split of the three value spheres, and integrate them into a viable theory of consciousness (with a little “c”).
Furthermore, I pointed out that there is a gem of truth in the Creationism myth, at least it explains that Consciousness with a capital “C” existed before the so-called Big Bang. Physics and chemistry began nanoseconds after the Big Bang, and biology billions of years later, and psychology, philosophy, and art even billions of years after that. So I really agreed with the basic order of play of current evolutionary theory, but took the position that until we get a viable theory of consciousness back into evolution theory, and Consciousness with a capital “C” we’d have incomplete and inadequate models.
At this point, Chris Mercogliano took his turn. He runs a successful alternative school in Albany, NY, and simply said that if he wanted to teach creationism he would, and if he wanted to teach evolution he would, and didn’t see any problem. He also mentioned that the very title of the panel was polarizing and artificial. Chris is also a Presbyterian minister but not a creationist.
At this point, Ebert interrupted Chris and continued pontificating about his own worldview as Absolute Universal Truth. He cited Richard Dawkins’ new book as evidence of his position. Dawkins is a hard-core materialist and Darwinist who doesn’t allow Consciousness into his ideas, and further has no place for consciousness with a little “c”, since it’s just an aftereffect of brain soup. Chris pointed out that he wasn’t finished, and Roger did apologize and let him finish.
The audience was also getting pretty riled up at this point, as you might imagine. What a great topic for the first day! The first questioner proceeded to attack Ebert saying he was not a scientist and didn’t know squat about the science of evolution. Ebert roared back, challenging this fellow to show what he said was inaccurate. But the fellow, having made his point, left.
During further posturing and pontificating, I sat back and watched the dynamic of the audience and panelists, well Roger and Dan ganging up on Paul and Chris. Hell hath no fury like a worldview scorned! I felt successful in that I had managed to offer a wider worldview that actually included what I considered to be the best parts of the previous two. So I wasn’t trying to eliminate them, just widen them. Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated, LOL!
Finally, after an hour of this, I managed to get a word in edgewise that no one had thus far managed to refute my position, much to the nodding of dozens of like-minded heads. I also mentioned that the panel was unfair because no one was there to argue the Intelligent Design position with any depth. So it was a big foodfight, and it seemed whoever talked the loudest or cited “incontrovertible facts” felt like they won the day. In the end, it simply showed me that the majority of these CWA audiences were just not familiar with integral, much less conscious creation ideas. It seemed that the liberal, scientific/rational worldview was the dominant one there, so I did my best to tailor my message in that language and terms and left it at that.
I went up to Ebert after the panel, and said that I hadn’t really disagreed with anything he’d said, and asked if he could point out where we disagreed. He said that perhaps my ideas were a bit ahead of their time! Of course, he’d never admit that publicly, but I took some solace from that.
Listen to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
We would later talk to Chris about this first panel. It turns out he had been much more upset at the opening spectacle than I, and he simply summarized his experience in the panel as, “the fuckers hazed us.” Jo and I roared with laughter in hindsight.
Afterward, we watched La Dolce Vita, a three-hour Fellini movie that was the main theme of this year’s conference. On subsequent days, Ebert then deconstructs the film shot by shot along with heavy audience participation. Roger really shines in this endeavor, as it plays to his expertise, and there are even audience groupies who’ve been attending his Movie Interruptus, as it’s called, for decades.
By the time we found our way to the alumni dinner reception Monday evening, the food was gone, which ended up being a magical thing because in came Juli Steinhauer to the rescue. She had spent the day with a group of jazz musicians rehearsing for tomorrow evening’s big concert. Juli marshaled a dozen of us to Dolan’s, a restaurant-bar owned by her cousin. We got to watch the second half of National Collegiate Basketball Championship, eat great food, and hang out with the jazz musicians and talk music and integral conscious creation. It was a blast, especially because we got to know Bijoux Barbosa (bass), Chuck Loeb (guitar), and Bruce Flowers (keyboards).
The next morning, I was so blitzed from the past three days I couldn’t remember the title of my first panel. Besides, it didn’t make much sense: Relinquishing Excellence: Closing the Door to Scientific Exchange. The panel was early, and those, it turns out are typically poorly attended, but a bunch of Elias friends came by, including Julie Robillard, Anet Paulina and partner John, and James Feeney. I riffed on some conscious creation ideas, as the spirit moved me, tied it in loosely to the theme, and glided the rest of the way, as there were two gentlemen with a lot to say about the subject, fortunately!
The next panel turned out to be one of my favorites because for the first time I was able to use my right brain and just jam creatively. There were two lovely woman authors and a woman moderator who set the feminine, intuitive, creative energy into play. I talked about my music and how the creative process worked in my collaborative science museum exhibits versus solo creativity. And I was also able to talk a lot about Jane Roberts and channeling as a creative process and learning to “listen” to our inner muses. The audience ate it up.
Listen to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Afterward, we posed for a group shot and then went our merry ways. From left to right are: Jim Gilbert (of the Colorado Seth Conference), Mary Sue Anderson, James Feeney, Anet Paulina, Paul, and Jo.
On Tuesday evening Jo and I partook in more schmoozing and eating at a reception at the Folsom football stadium in a huge room with a view of the field. Then the jazz concert began at 8 PM and went on without an intermission until 10:35 PM! We were spellbound by the musicianship and virtuosity of a group assembled only the day before for the gig, and with whom we’ve shared beers.
I had only one panel on Wednesday and Thursday, so I was able to recover a bit, even though the evening socializing continued – it was mandatory! Once Jo and I got our stamina, name-tags, and schmoozing smiles firmly fixed, we were “good to go!” I was so glad she was along, and we couldn’t imagine how a new person could fly solo through all the panels and parties. (The quilt behind us was made by Marti Oetzel, and the house was full of these mini-masterpieces.)
Before Wednesday’s panel began, a young man walked up to me and said, “Did you used to drive a powder-blue 1973 Dodge Dart?” Well that got my attention, because, I had! I couldn’t place the face, realizing that it had been something like 18 years since I last saw this guy. It turned out he was Brian Schwartz, was a member of the carpool that I drove to Camp Bluebell, an all-boys day camp, between 1980-1987. Brian and I caught up the next day. It turns out that he’s been at UC for six years and is working on his Ph.D. in photo-sensitive crystals. We had shared something fun in days long gone by, so it was a really amazing coincidence to run into him at the conference!
Wednesday’s panel was called Left Brain/Right Brain: Creativity, Art and Science and included Leonard Shlain, a neurosurgeon and best-selling author. He had a very Darwinian view of things, and the room was packed. As the saying goes, “sometimes you hold ‘em and sometimes you fold ‘em.” So I riffed off Leonard and the other panelist, a philosopher who spoke a mile a minute, Achim Kodderman. Both spoke very eloquently, and the audience asked lots of interesting questions. At one point, I did an audience participation activity that shows how our brains are wired to connect our right arm and leg and left arm and leg together. The idea is to move your right foot in a clockwise circle. Once that’s going, then try to draw the number six in the air with your right hand. Most can’t do it, and the room broke into gaggles of laughter and frustration.
Listen to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
After this Wednesday panel, Jo and I were “kidnapped” by a lovely woman on the science committee, Paula Sharick. She took us to Jean Houston’s plenary called Codes: The Key to Purpose and Destiny. We’d heard of Jean, but never heard her speak. (When we mentioned this to Ken Wilber, who we visited the following Saturday, he replied that Jean “wasn’t a woman, but a force of Nature!” This was much to our amusement, since Jean is also an actress and comedienne who enjoys entertaining an audience as much as enlightening them.) She waxed eloquent on the basic codes in her life, which she called a fractal – a self-repeating pattern that forms micro to macro events in our lives. So these fractal codes are “core beliefs” that help us realize our purpose and destiny. Both Jo and I reflected on what our own fractals were. I’ve since identified mine: journey into the unknown, if I don’t find an accurate map I make my own. Paula took us to the Walnut Street Brewery where we met Paul Sperry, CWA science committee lead, and about fifteen other science panelists and committee members, including a rocket scientist and Craig Miller, founder of craigslist.com.
During Thursday’s panel, Braindrain: Outsourcing Science and Technology, I was able to address things from a Spiral Dynamics perspective, pointing out how worldviews emerge in order of complexity and core belief systems, and how the premodern worldview is still held by our current president, who I called, at one point, a prerational, preconventional, mythic-religious fellow in terms of his religious beliefs, and one who controls nuclear weapons to boot! That got a great response from the audience.
Well, now it was five panels down and two to go, and we had yet another party to go to! It was in the beautiful home of Jane Butcher, one of the CWA’s sponsors. The food, drink, and conversations were all top-shelf. We met several folks, and there were at least 5-6 people who came up to us during the week and were sympathetic about what had transpired on that first panel…. including one of the panelists’ wives! Some of the musicians began to play. The photo shows the Barek brothers – world-class Lebanese musicians. Elie, on the left, had recently finished a world tour, and Ronnie, was an incredible percussionist and pianist. The living room was packed with people dancing to the exotic strains of their improvisations.
I was looking forward to my first Friday panel called Downloading Consciousness since I wanted to go through Wilber’s theory of consciousness. The idea was to imagine what would be required to create sentient robots that human beings might some day be able to download their consciousness into. But since current paradigms don’t have a complete theory of consciousness, besides the accident of frisky dirt becoming sentient through natural selection, they won’t come close until the more deeply understand their own awareness from a first-hand exploration.
On Friday, our Seth and Elias friends showed up again! It was great to see their smiling faces in the front row. I began with my broad overview, a bit on integral conscious creation, and how it attempted to outline a more complete theory of consciousness. I told the integral conscious creation myth of how a Big Bang produced the physiosphere (all matter), from which gradually emerged a biosphere (cellular life), and eventually a noosphere (or sentient life, focus of essence). Each of these three main phases transcended and included its predecessors in linear terms. This is pure Wilber from Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality (1995). I pointed out that this basic “order of emergence” didn’t preclude robots joining the noosphere, but just what would be necessary for that to happen?
I then went through Wilber’s five main areas as “capacities to experience” that worked together for any robotic lifeform to achieve sentience or self-awareness. First, I included interior (I), exterior (It), collective interiors (We), and collective exteriors (systems of Its). Second, I included multiple intelligences such as mathematical, musical, linguistic, cognitive, interpersonal, kinesthetic, intrapersonal, etc. I mentioned Deep Blue as an example of a computer program “intelligent” enough to beat world chess champ Gary Kasparov. Third, I included the perennial Great Chain of Being from matter, to body, to mind, to soul, to spirit and pointed out how the first three stages of emergence had already occurred (physiosphere, biosphere, noosphere). Fourth, I included waking, dreaming, and deep dreamless sleep states as prerequisites for the noosphere. Fifth, I included types, such as gender and Myers-Briggs (introverted-extroverted, sensing-feeling, etc.)
I later admitted that the basic idea was not so much that intelligent robots were going to be created any time soon, but a viable theory of consciousness must proceed any such occurrence and these were some capacities that needed to be considered based upon human consciousness.
The other panelists added their own angles. Overall, it was an engaging panel on what kinds of downloading and consciousness were even possible. Anet Paulina asked a great question to Seth Shostak, a SETI researcher and administrator seeking authentic alien contact. She asked about examples of organ transplants patients taking on the characteristics of the donors whom they never knew? While he was unfamiliar with the anecdotal evidence, he wondered if consciousness were also within the spinal cord and distributed throughout the body, not just limited to the brain. (As an aside, I found out the Seth has actually spoken at the Fels Planetarium in Philly where I use to work, and he had lived there for a year working for Penn Central and knew the Franklin Institute well.)
My final panel was on Technology Addiction and I was just happy to be finishing up my week! The audience was a lot of fun, and Jessica Seigel, New York-based columnist did a nice piece on cell phones. I riffed on my own technology addictions. After the last panel, we talked with our friends, who seemed as tired as we were, and there was still more to come.
Friday evening’s party finale was at a lovely mansion owned by Kathi and Rudy Harburg. The house was full of incredible woodwork, furniture, and art. The highlight, foodwise, was a chocolate fountain that we dipped fruit and mini-cream puffs into. I actually had those as appetizers. Jo passed along her dipping techniques to a former MTV Veejay.
We got to meet Cheri Morrow, the woman who first contacted me about submitting my name as a panelist, and other science committee folks. As the week had unfolded, and people got to know of our interest in New Age spirituality, they began to share personal paranormal stories. A glass or three of wine didn’t hurt either. I was delighted to find so many science types with closeted beliefs and experience with the paranormal. And by this point in the week, everyone was pretty relaxed and glad to have made it through! So I heard some additional interesting stories at the Harburg party, and was impressed by how many people, including scientists, are ready for integral conscious creation.
Ronnie Barek played some tunes and improvised on the grand piano, and when we left, people were dancing and singing Those Were the Days My Friend. It was an incredible finale to an incredible week at the CWA!
The next afternoon, we drove to Denver to meet with Ken Wilber and also visited a wonderful bookstore calledThe Tattered Cover, a block away from Wilber’s loft. Jo and I were kind of tattered ourselves at this point, but still very high from the events.
When we arrived at Ken’s loft he greeted us with hugs and introduced us to Elliott Dacher, a doctor who teaches and practices integral medicine. After Elliott said good-bye, I told Ken about the CWA, and how it seemed like a secret society that you have to know someone to get invited to, and seemed like a hot ticket in the Boulder community. Ken was greatly amused and intrigued at the whole concept and also that I had been an integral shill, while not being officially connected to the Integral Institute in any way.
I told him about my first panel with Roger Ebert. He really liked my use of “evolutionism” and said he’d have to use that himself. He added some further critiques on basic modern, materialist evolutionary theory. For example, there is no strong fossil record from fish to birds, nor from primates to homo sapiens. There’s still a lot missing! He also enjoyed my downloading consciousness riffs and going through his theory of consciousness in five minutes.
Jo presented Ken with an “integral feminine” shak-tee, a play on the Shakti or feminine Hindu goddess. She had designed and produced a logo and applied to a t-shirt, and Ken loved it.
We finished by saying how interested we are in I-I and Ken’s work and that we’ll be moving along in parallel and looking for opportunities to synergize with him. He also offered us some great advice on getting published (get an agent and stick to it!) and how to tailor our integral conscious creation info to our audience. Forget about convincing the materialist, scientific types about anything. It just can’t be done, and besides, people who believe in channeling don’t need that kind of proof. In hindsight, it seems really simple.
We left Ken drove to the Pearl Street promenade for a great dinner. I had a couple of local micro-brewed beers that put things in perspective! Feeling greatly relaxed and happy with the week’s events, we walked shopped and smelled and gazed at the blossoming (but doomed!) tulips, daffodils, violets, and hyacinths. We had heard the night before that a big snow storm was coming our way, but hoped that it would wait until we got on our jet home on Sunday. So we gratefully watched the clouds part around 6 PM and the sunshine pour through. We figured it was a good omen. Boy, were we wrong!
The next morning we said goodbye to George and Marti and left Boulder with 2-3 inches of wet snow on the ground. That began to change as we got further along on the freeway. We began to notice cars and SUVs that had spun off into ditches and trucks that were stuck on on-ramps. But we kept chugging along in the hopes that our flight would get out OK at 10:30 AM.
Around an hour into our drive, the winds were picking up, signs were getting covered, and visibility was rapidly dropping. At one point I riffed that this was indeed my fractal, my code, driving off into the complete unknown anchored by a deep faith in my own ability to navigate and weather the storm. We got to our rental car shuttle in 6-7 inches of wet snow. The driver told us the airport had closed and would stay that way until 5 PM.
Since hotels were few and far away, we stayed at the airport to see how quickly we could reschedule our flight and get on stand-by for anything earlier. We napped and strolled about the airport, seeing strange and wondrous things like Kevin Dubrow of the Metal band Quiet Riot waiting in line at Burger King. It snowed all day and into the evening. We checked our luggage and got through security into the terminal, but didn’t make a stand-by and had to sleep on the floor that night. They gave us little airline blankets, and a toiletry kit with eyeshades and earplugs to block out the bright lights and constant announcements. It’s a surreal experience to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and walk across an airport terminal to get there.
|The next morning we caught a stand-by for the 9:10 AM flight to LA! We joked how the LA smog never looked so good! It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we joked about what a difference a day makes. We heard that Denver received 30 inches of snow! And here we were safely at home with our cats, who were happy to see us, looking back on one of the greatest adventures of our lives.|