A new paper proposes resonance may contribute to human consciousness.
These questions are all aspects of the ancient “mind-body problem,” which asks, essentially: What is the relationship between mind and matter? It’s resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years.
The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades. Now it’s generally known as the “hard problem” of consciousness, after philosopher David Chalmers coined this term in a now classic paper and further explored it in his 1996 book, “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.”
Chalmers thought the mind-body problem should be called “hard” in comparison to what, with tongue in cheek, he called the “easy” problems of neuroscience: How do neurons and the brain work at the physical level? Of course they’re not actually easy at all. But his point was that they’re relatively easy compared to the truly difficult problem of explaining how consciousness relates to matter.
Over the last decade, my colleague, University of California, Santa Barbara psychology professor Jonathan Schooler and I have developed what we call a “resonance theory of consciousness.” We suggest that resonance – another word for synchronized vibrations – is at the heart of not only human consciousness but also animal consciousness and of physical reality more generally. It sounds like something the hippies might have dreamed up – it’s all vibrations, man! – but stick with me.
All about the vibrations
All things in our universe are constantly in motion, vibrating. Even objects that appear to be stationary are in fact vibrating, oscillating, resonating, at various frequencies. Resonance is a type of motion, characterized by oscillation between two states. And ultimately all matter is just vibrations of various underlying fields. As such, at every scale, all of nature vibrates.
Something interesting happens when different vibrating things come together: They will often start, after a little while, to vibrate together at the same frequency. They “sync up,” sometimes in ways that can seem mysterious. This is described as the phenomenon of spontaneous self-organization.
Mathematician Steven Strogatz provides various examples from physics, biology, chemistry and neuroscience to illustrate “sync” – his term for resonance – in his 2003 book “Sync: How Order Emerges from Chaos in the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life,” including:
- When fireflies of certain species come together in large gatherings, they start flashing in sync, in ways that can still seem a little mystifying.
- Lasers are produced when photons of the same power and frequency sync up.
- The moon’s rotation is exactly synced with its orbit around the Earth such that we always see the same face.
Examining resonance leads to potentially deep insights about the nature of consciousness and about the universe more generally.
Sync inside your skull
Neuroscientists have identified sync in their research, too. Large-scale neuron firing occurs in human brains at measurable frequencies, with mammalian consciousness thought to be commonly associated with various kinds of neuronal sync.
For example, German neurophysiologist Pascal Fries has explored the ways in which various electrical patterns sync in the brain to produce different types of human consciousness.
Fries focuses on gamma, beta and theta waves. These labels refer to the speed of electrical oscillations in the brain, measured by electrodes placed on the outside of the skull. Groups of neurons produce these oscillations as they use electrochemical impulses to communicate with each other. It’s the speed and voltage of these signals that, when averaged, produce EEG waves that can be measured at signature cycles per second.
Gamma waves are associated with large-scale coordinated activities like perception, meditation or focused consciousness; beta with maximum brain activity or arousal; and theta with relaxation or daydreaming. These three wave types work together to produce, or at least facilitate, various types of human consciousness, according to Fries. But the exact relationship between electrical brain waves and consciousness is still very much up for debate.
Fries calls his concept “communication through coherence.” For him, it’s all about neuronal synchronization. Synchronization, in terms of shared electrical oscillation rates, allows for smooth communication between neurons and groups of neurons. Without this kind of synchronized coherence, inputs arrive at random phases of the neuron excitability cycle and are ineffective, or at least much less effective, in communication.
A resonance theory of consciousness
Our resonance theory builds upon the work of Fries and many others, with a broader approach that can help to explain not only human and mammalian consciousness, but also consciousness more broadly.
Based on the observed behavior of the entities that surround us, from electrons to atoms to molecules, to bacteria to mice, bats, rats, and on, we suggest that all things may be viewed as at least a little conscious. This sounds strange at first blush, but “panpsychism” – the view that all matter has some associated consciousness – is an increasingly accepted position with respect to the nature of consciousness.
The panpsychist argues that consciousness did not emerge at some point during evolution. Rather, it’s always associated with matter and vice versa – they’re two sides of the same coin. But the large majority of the mind associated with the various types of matter in our universe is extremely rudimentary. An electron or an atom, for example, enjoys just a tiny amount of consciousness. But as matter becomes more interconnected and rich, so does the mind, and vice versa, according to this way of thinking.
Biological organisms can quickly exchange information through various biophysical pathways, both electrical and electrochemical. Non-biological structures can only exchange information internally using heat/thermal pathways – much slower and far less rich in information in comparison. Living things leverage their speedier information flows into larger-scale consciousness than what would occur in similar-size things like boulders or piles of sand, for example. There’s much greater internal connection and thus far more “going on” in biological structures than in a boulder or a pile of sand.
Under our approach, boulders and piles of sand are “mere aggregates,” just collections of highly rudimentary conscious entities at the atomic or molecular level only. That’s in contrast to what happens in biological life forms where the combinations of these micro-conscious entities together create a higher level macro-conscious entity. For us, this combination process is the hallmark of biological life.
The central thesis of our approach is this: the particular linkages that allow for large-scale consciousness – like those humans and other mammals enjoy – result from a shared resonance among many smaller constituents. The speed of the resonant waves that are present is the limiting factor that determines the size of each conscious entity in each moment.
As a particular shared resonance expands to more and more constituents, the new conscious entity that results from this resonance and combination grows larger and more complex. So the shared resonance in a human brain that achieves gamma synchrony, for example, includes a far larger number of neurons and neuronal connections than is the case for beta or theta rhythms alone.
What about larger inter-organism resonance like the cloud of fireflies with their little lights flashing in sync? Researchers think their bioluminescent resonance arises due to internal biological oscillators that automatically result in each firefly syncing up with its neighbors.
Is this group of fireflies enjoying a higher level of group consciousness? Probably not, since we can explain the phenomenon without recourse to any intelligence or consciousness. But in biological structures with the right kind of information pathways and processing power, these tendencies toward self-organization can and often do produce larger-scale conscious entities.
Our resonance theory of consciousness attempts to provide a unified framework that includes neuroscience, as well as more fundamental questions of neurobiology and biophysics, and also the philosophy of mind. It gets to the heart of the differences that matter when it comes to consciousness and the evolution of physical systems.
It is all about vibrations, but it’s also about the type of vibrations and, most importantly, about shared vibrations.
Funding: The Conversation funded this study.
While the Tao Te Ching is not one of the world’s most discussed religious texts, at least relative to the amount of attention the Bible, Quran, and Buddhist and Hindu doctrines receive, Laozi’s slim volume of instructions has massively influenced how we think about Eastern philosophy. The basis of Taoism is embedded in his series of short and punchy ideas that are rooted in, at times, paradoxical thinking.
Consider one of his most famous aphorisms: “The Tao does nothing, and yet nothing is left undone.” The ‘nothing’ is wu-wei, often translated as ‘non-action.’ One translation of Taoist ideas, Tao: The Watercourse Way, written by British philosopher Alan Watts and Chinese philosopher Chungliang Al Huang in 1975, state that the concept should not “be considered inertia, laziness, laissez-faire, or mere passivity.”
The Fine Art of Non-Doing
As with those who believe meditation is ‘doing nothing,’ wu-wei is not an easily graspable concept when approached from a mindset of constant action, i.e. the perpetual distraction our brains (and by extension, technology) afford us. Rather, the idea is to not battle yourself to, at times, let the course of life have its way with us. As the authors put it:
Wu-wei as ‘not forcing’ is what we mean by going with the grain, rolling with the punch, swimming with the current, trimming sails to the wind, taking the tide at its flood, and stooping to conquer.
They compare the practice to judo and aikido, two martial arts that teach seasoned practitioners to use their opponent’s force against themselves. By waiting for the challenger to overextend himself, you exploit their exertion and use his body weight to overthrow him. To accomplish this, you need to maintain calm and composure in the midst of potential violence and chaos.
Obsession with Overthinking
Which is why Nick Hobson, a research psychologist and lecturer at the University of Toronto, recently suggested implementing wu-wei as an antidote to our rising rates of anxiety and depression. Instead of pinpointing a singular cause for our growing dissatisfaction with our lives, he points out the reasons are myriad: smartphones, sleep deprivation, a lack of meaningful social connection, and not enough movement. He doesn’t mention diet, though plenty of research implicates bad eating habits as well.
While the causes are many, Hobson points to our penchant for overanalyzing every situation as the elephant in the mind. Instead of holism, a cognitive trait he associates with Eastern psychology, we choose the trees over the forest, leading to an obsession with overthinking.
This stark cultural difference has been confirmed by thinkers like social psychologist Richard Nisbett, who devoted an entire book to the topic. One of the most revealing instances involves the ways in which Easterners and Westerners—these terms are generic and broad, but serve to supply a bit of yin to our yang, at least as a metaphor–view art. Americans seek out a subject, an overarching detail that exemplifies the ‘purpose’ of the painting. Asians, by contrast, seek to understand the relationship between everything in the scene. Their focus is more on interdependence than independence.
Hobson uses the ‘triad test’ to make this point:
Suppose you’re presented with a dog, a rabbit, and a carrot, and then asked which two belong together. The analytic thinker chooses the dog and rabbit because both satisfy the internally held rule of ‘animal category.’ The holistic thinker, on the other hand, chooses the rabbit and carrot because of the interconnected and functional relationship between the two: A rabbit eats carrots.
Western ‘rule-based reasoning’ leads us to believe every problem has a solution. Research in cognition and narrative has shown that when we aren’t offered a resolution to a story, we’ll invent one, often to our detriment—your partner is cheating on you if they haven’t texted, while the reality is anything but. When we’re not provided an answer, we tend to overanalyze the situation, heaping anxiety upon anxiety.
Two Ways to Find Calm in the Chaos
Which is why Hobson suggests two Laozi-era practices to calm our overactive imaginations. Wu-wei is the first, which he says means “we shouldn’t hurry to action.” While he prescribes “to not do anything at all,” which is slightly different from Watts’s and Al Huang’s translation, Hobson recommends an “intuitive style of thinking” to chill our over-analyzing minds. Meditation and visualization exercises are two ways of rerouting our mental habits.
The second involves dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), an evidence-based therapy created by Dr. Marsha Linehan. Among its many applications, it is designed to promote skills for cultivating “mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.”
To make this connection, Hobson points to Taoism’s great export, the yin-yang symbol, which denotes mutual dependence exists in everything. Hobson continues:
Two things can be mutually opposed, and at the same time, mutually connected. You can be, for example, in an anxious state and still have perfect control of your situation and your life. Thinking in this way allows a person to tolerate contradictions and to accept the uncertainties that inevitably present themselves.
Hobson writes that DBT has proven more effective than cognitive behavioral therapy (Linehan considers DBT a form of CBT) and pharmacological interventions. The goal is to make incremental changes by admitting that:
a) not everything is going to be exactly how you want it, and that’s okay, b) certain changes will have to be implemented, so practice those changes, and c) recognize that life is worth living. In the balance between states that afflict those suffering from psychological disorders—complete control and lack of control—an emotionally salient mindset can be achieved.
Not that any of this is easy, but as Hobson mentions, neuroplasticity is a real phenomenon. Seeing the landscape instead of the singular figure walking through it is essential for breaking free of isolationism and the overwhelming burden of anxiety. As Watts and Al Huang phrased it:
Is a long life such a good thing if it is lived in daily dread or in constant search for satisfaction in a tomorrow which never comes?
We all intuitively know the answer. Putting that intuition into action, ironically through a bit of non-action, might just be an important key to healing our anxious minds.
With permission from
April 17, 2018
“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”
— Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Manipulating Our Core Concerns
While millions of Americans grasp for lifelines amid the unforgiving currents of extreme inequality, multi-millionaires and billionaires comfortably ride the waves and add to their enormous wealth and power. The contrast is jarring to be sure, but it persists nonetheless because self-interested representatives of the 1% have become masters at using manipulative psychological appeals — I call them “mind games” — to defuse and misdirect our outrage. And when they succeed, we regrettably lose our bearings about what’s happening, what’s right, what’s possible, and what we must do.
Exploring this phenomenon as a psychologist, my research has led me to a focus on five concerns that are particularly influential in our daily lives: namely, issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority and helplessness. Each is associated with a basic question we routinely ask ourselves: Are we safe? Are we treated fairly? Who should we trust? Are we good enough? Can we control what happens to us?
For multiple reasons, these concerns are especially important in this context. First, singly and in combination, they’re essential lenses through which we personally interpret events, evaluate our circumstances, and decide what actions, if any, to take. Second, these five concerns extend from individuals to groups; as a result, they’re relevant in a very wide range of settings: our interpersonal relationships, family relationships, work relationships, community relationships, and political relationships in local, national, and international spheres. Third, these same concerns have the potential to undermine our capacity for careful and critical thinking because they’re frequently linked to hard-to-control emotions, including fear, anger, suspicion, contempt, and despair.
Given their power and pervasiveness, then, it’s really not surprising that our concerns about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority and helplessness are prized targets for manipulation. That’s why they figure so prominently in the propaganda campaigns of one-percenters who aim to discourage resistance to their narrow, self-aggrandizing agenda. Consider several examples. The 1% feed our vulnerability fears by pushing alarmist accounts of perils in our midst (the “It’s a Dangerous World” mind game). They twist our sense of injustice by insisting that they’re the ones who are actually being mistreated (“We’re the Victims”). They promote distrust and disorganization within the ranks of their opponents by pitting potential allies against each other (“They’re Different from Us”). They exploit notions of superiority by portraying the United States as a land of limitless opportunity where the cream always rises to the top (“They’re Losers”). And they encourage feelings of helplessness by arguing that today’s stark inequalities are the result of powerful forces beyond anyone’s control (“Change Is Impossible”).
The rich and powerful sometimes use these and related mind games to perpetuate an illegitimate status quo — for example, opposing universal healthcare (“Change Is Dangerous”), denying climate change (“It’s a False Alarm”), blocking sensible gun reform (“We’ll All Be Helpless”), and cracking down on dissent (“They’re Un-American”). At other times, they use similar appeals to expand their empire — for instance, by privatizing public education (“We’re Fighting Injustice”), by weakening labor unions (“They’re Devious and Dishonest”), by slashing corporate taxes (“We’ve Earned It”), and by pursuing deadly wars of aggression (“Pursuing a Higher Purpose”). Either way, when the 1% succeed in these efforts, few among us are spared the adverse consequences — especially those Americans already struggling to make ends meet or have their voices heard.
The Psychology of Persuasion
To better understand why the 1%’s mind games work so often, it helps to consider the science of persuasion. Whenever we try to influence someone’s attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors, we’re engaging in persuasion. A parent may cajole a young child into eating vegetables. A teacher may exhort a student to buckle down. A friend may push for seeing one movie over another. A co-worker may encourage a colleague to try a different approach to complete a difficult assignment. Years of research — by psychologists such as Elliot Aronson, Robert Cialdini, and Anthony Pratkanis, among others — have gone a long way toward illuminating key elements of effective persuasion.
Of particular note, persuasion typically follows either of two different paths. One route engages us in a careful, rational evaluation of the arguments presented. As listeners or readers, we review the evidence, assess which claims seem to make sense and which do not, and then draw our conclusions accordingly. With this route, we try to distinguish between strong arguments and weak arguments. It’s an approach that has a lot to offer in getting it right. But it requires time, effort, and discernment — three elements that can be in short supply, especially when we’re in a hurry, or we’re not very interested in the topic, or we lack important background knowledge and skills.
That’s where the second persuasion route comes into play. With this path, our judgments are instead based on considerations quite different from the merits of the arguments themselves. The critical factor here becomes the extent to which the message we hear or read elicits strong emotions, perhaps making us fearful, or angry, or optimistic. This emotional arousal can lead us to ignore the actual quality of the evidence that’s being presented to us. For instance, if we’re scared enough we may lose the capacity to think and see clearly — which is just what those offering weak arguments are hoping for.
In much the same way, certain characteristics of a speaker or writer can heighten their credibility regardless of the claims being made. For example, we’re more likely to believe someone who’s presented as an expert — even if, unknown to us, this person has been paid to espouse a particular point of view. We’re also more readily persuaded by an authority figure — a parent, teacher, boss, or leader of some sort — even if they have no expertise about the issue at hand. And we’re inclined to accept the arguments offered by those we deem trustworthy and likeable because we tend to see such people as offering honest, objective appraisals unbiased by hidden motives — even when they’re not.
In sum, there are a variety of reasons — both good and bad, both conscious and unconscious — why we might be persuaded by an appeal. In some situations, we’re given the opportunity to consider carefully formulated arguments that are logical and based on solid evidence. At least as often, however, we find ourselves presented with arguments that have little to do with establishing the truth, despite any appearance to the contrary. The latter is the predatory realm of the 1%’s mind games: they’re designed to take full advantage of our fallibility when it comes to figuring out who and what to believe.
Resistance through Attitude Inoculation
How can we thwart the 1%’s agenda? It begins by personally resisting the sway of their mind games. As Noam Chomsky wrote almost four decades ago, “Citizens of the democratic societies should undertake a course of intellectual self-defense to protect themselves from manipulation and control, and to lay the basis for more meaningful democracy.” Such preventative strategies have never been more crucial than they are today. Of course, implementing them isn’t easy because tapping into our core concerns can give the 1%’s appeals the solid ring of truth — even though they’re as flimsy as a con artist’s promises.
The good news is that research on the psychology of persuasion shows how we can hold firm against the propaganda of the self-interested rich and powerful. Of particular relevance is what’s called “attitude inoculation.” The basic idea comes from the familiar public health approach used to prevent contracting and spreading a dangerous virus. Consider the flu vaccine. When you get a flu shot, you’re receiving a modest dose of the actual influenza virus. Your body responds by building up antibodies, which will prove essential in fighting off the full-blown virus if it later attacks as you go about your daily life. A flu shot doesn’t always work, but it improves your odds. That’s why we’re encouraged to get one each year before the flu season begins.
The 1%’s mind games are like a virus that can “infect” us with false and destructive beliefs. Here too, it turns out that inoculation is the best defense. Having been warned that this “virus” is prevalent and heading our way, in the form of deceptive appeals targeting our core concerns, we can become more vigilant and prepare in advance for the onslaught. The recommended preparation involves learning to recognize the mind games and practicing the counterarguments — the “antibodies” — that we’ll need when we’re later faced with an all-out assault. As psychologists Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson have explained, “We cannot resist propaganda by burying our heads in the sand. The person who is easiest to persuade is the person whose beliefs are based on slogans that have never been seriously challenged and examined.”
The Progressive Alternative
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with appeals that focus on issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, or helplessness. Indeed, since these are our core concerns, they should be front and center when it comes to matters of public policy and the general welfare. But if we adopt a progressive perspective, political persuasion efforts that engage these issues should, with integrity, counter extreme inequality rather than preserve or extend it. These appeals should spur us to improve people’s lives, not turn our backs on those who are struggling. And they should help us understand how, together, we can make things better — for everyone.
The mind games of the 1% do exactly the opposite. They exploit our concerns for the specific purpose of advancing narrow interests while bringing harm to the vast majority of Americans. Rather than using their enormous resources to help create a more equal and decent society, the 1% instead devote themselves to protecting and expanding their wealth and power. Moreover, when arguing their case, they conceal their true intentions with carefully crafted appeals that manipulate our perceptions, promote falsehoods and distortions, and prey upon our emotions and prejudices.
That’s why meaningful progress depends upon debunking the seductive propaganda of today’s millionaire and billionaire snake-oil vendors. It’s a tall order. The 1% have created a daunting environment for collective action by those who oppose their aims. But we have key resources of our own, including a compelling vision for the country — one in which danger, mistreatment, and crushed aspirations will no longer be a routine part of so many lives.
The ideas presented here are explored in greater depth in Dr. Eidelson’s new book. POLITICAL MIND GAMES: How the 1% Manipulate Our Understanding of What’s Happening, What’s Right, and What’s Possible is available through IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, other online outlets, and neighborhood bookstores.
“It’s not just how much exercise you do but how you compare yourself with your friends that really determines your fitness: …the researchers discovered something extraordinary. People who thought they weren’t doing as much exercise as their peers died younger than those who thought they did more, even when the actual amount of exercise they did was the same.”
WARNING: If you have a sensitive mind that shatters at the thought of changes in your belief system, do not continue.
April 14, 2018
There is an incredible amount of information circulating right on the Net about UFOs. It’s quite a change from eight years ago when UFOs were still looked at with skepticism. Disclosure, as it’s called in ufology, is here. The US government is just doing it sideways by getting the CIA to enroll DeLonge to give us the information that aliens are here. They have been here for a long time. Many of us have witnessed them. Many others , millions, claim to have been abducted by them.
Personally, I have seen those strange orbs of light in the night sky on at least three occasions over many years.It kind of modifies your mind somehow. We know we are not alone. Duh! Does anyone really believe that we are the only intelligent sentient species in the whole universe?
Governments do not want populations to panic, but the time is here, the cat is out of the bag. Might as well use a rock star to start the spread of the news. Clever.
Top UFO Researcher talks Tom DeLonge, Steven Greer and evil aliens
While you may not remember life as a toddler, you most likely believe that your selfhood then—your essential being—was intrinsically the same as it is today.
Buddhists, though, suggest that this is just an illusion—a philosophy that’s increasingly supported by scientific research.
“Buddhists argue that nothing is constant, everything changes through time, you have a constantly changing stream of consciousness,” Evan Thompson, a philosophy of mind professor at the University of British Columbia, tells Quartz. “And from a neuroscience perspective, the brain and body is constantly in flux. There’s nothing that corresponds to the sense that there’s an unchanging self.”
Neuroscience and Buddhism came to these ideas independently, but some scientific researchers have recently started to reference and draw on the Eastern religion in their work—and have come to accept theories that were first posited by Buddhist monks thousands of years ago.
One neuroscience paper, published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences in July, links the Buddhist belief that our self is ever-changing to physical areas of the brain. There’s scientific evidence that “self-processing in the brain is not instantiated in a particular region or network, but rather extends to a broad range of fluctuating neural processes that do not appear to be self specific,” write the authors.
Thompson, whose work includes studies of cognitive science, phenomenology and Buddhist philosophy, says this is not the only area where neuroscience and Buddhism converge. For example, some neuroscientists now believe that cognitive faculties are not fixed but can be trained through meditation. And there may be scientific backing to the Buddhist belief that consciousness extends into deep sleep.
“The standard neuroscience view is that deep sleep is a blackout state where consciousness disappears,” Thompson says. “In Indian philosophy we see some theorists argue that there’s a subtle awareness that continues to be present in dreamless sleep, there’s just a lack of ability to consolidate that in a moment-to-moment way in memory.”