Spiritual Leaders meet with Leaders in Science and Technology
March 27 & 28, 2015
Since 2008 the Contemplative Alliance has convened contemplative practitioners and concerned citizens in conversation around the pressing social, ecological and economic issues of our times. We have traveled to ten cities across the nation joining groups across faith and wisdom traditions, as well as other sectors of civil society, to advance the notion that contemplative practices and/or deep self-inquiry can deepen our understanding of interdependence as a global community. A common thread has emerged from these conversations the past seven years. It is the unified belief that some of the best outer solutions to societal challenges arise from consistent inner reflection on one’s individual purpose/being, and the potential to altruistically impact the whole is boundless when informed by this inner knowledge.
From March 27 to 28, 2015 we continued this journey with sixty leaders from the technology, science and spiritual communities in Half Moon Bay, California for a free-form think tank called TECHNOLOGY, CONSCIOUSNESS and the FUTURE near Silicon Valley. Our dialogue addressed the following sub-themes:
Prominent spiritual teacher, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Founder of The Golden Sufi Center, opened the dialogue with a talk titled ‘Mystics and Scientists – The Convergence of Science and Spirituality’ (click for audio of talk), which stressed the importance of global human interconnection made possible by technologies like the Internet. He shared a little of his background that has included nearly forty years of dedicated meditation practice with deep mystical experiences, including being awoken on a plane of consciousness where all is light, sometimes referred to as the ‘plane of the Self.’ He then shared with the contemplative and technology leaders in the room, a vision in which he saw the internet as a gift given to humanity, that would one day awaken to its full potential to give humanity access to an inner level of reality, an interconnected web of light that would bring about the coming together of human consciousness. A state where human consciousness can come alive to function as a living organic whole. “The internet is not designed as ‘information technology’; it is designed as ‘relationship technology’. It is about people coming together.” And we have yet to understand fully the significance and potential of the internet in terms of a global awakening and the concept of Oneness.
There were other technologies of the future that he has been shown; the energy of the future would use light, similar to the process of photosynthesis, non-polluting and be almost free. He stated the technologies are already present and waiting to be given, but can only be given to those of the right attitude. The knowledge cannot be accessed through greed, but will be given to those who hold deeper core values of inclusivity and service. He offered the example of Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web. He did not do it to make money and took no royalties.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee said, “The real innovations that belong to the future should be in service to life and in service to humanity. Then they will be given. If you have that attitude, your consciousness can be aligned to where the information is, to where the technology is waiting. You don’t have to work for it. It’s effortless.”
These opening remarks were followed by comments for discussion by three young people who are working on interconnectivity in their fields: Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, who is sharing the diversity of the human community by the telling of stories through his films at the Global Oneness Project, Dharmista Rood at Code for America who is making government services more universal through open source technology, and Vincent Horn, who is bringing together the Buddhist and technology communities through his annual conference Buddhist Geeks.
Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Host of the First Voices Indigenous Radio in NYC and a Sundancer spoke to the importance of remembering Mother Earth and the ways in which her resources are used. He explained that the Earth is the foundation around which all of creation is birthed on the physical plane, and it is therefore our sacred duty and responsibility as humans, who are an interconnected part of the Earth, to respect this symbiotic relationship by not misusing its generosity, gifts, and perhaps most importantly, not ignoring the intricacy and intimacy of this balance.
Tiokasin’s message opened space for the group to address the inner conflict that arises when considering the benefits of technology, yet knowing the dangers resulting from the manufacturing process, for example. Some participants specifically inquired about the Resource Usage Cycle, as well as raised the issue of mining, often in places of conflict, where minerals are sourced to power smart phones and basic appliances. Another very present challenge is the Digital Divide, those who have access to technology and its benefits versus those who remain at distance because of social, racial, age or economic disparities. It is clear the many problems that exist, but perhaps it is with turning inward, looking to our higher selves and Mother Earth – the living being that is holding the shifting energy of civilization – that we can find true answers.
This two-day dialogue between technologists, scientists, contemplative practitioners and spiritual teachers, yielded many moving and impressive moments, but one development stood out in particular: the degree to which the mindfulness movement is penetrating Silicon Valley. The initial purpose may be stress reduction in a highly competitive industry, but we heard from many that the end result is greater introspection and a reassessing of priorities.
It was clear among the young technologists present – heading startup companies or leading groundbreaking research – that many were motivated by the desire to make a meaningful impact in the world. They offered great emphasis on the current and future potential of technology to do good works, such as:
An example of altruism and social good that was motivated by a deep inner calling was shared by Jim Fructerman, Founder and CEO of Benetech, the largest maker of affordable reading systems for the blind.
Jim gave a moving account of how Benetech came into being – by enhancing technology created for an optical recognition missile launching into something that could serve humanity. An idea that was said not to be profitable is still around after 26 years, employs 80 people, and engages a community of volunteers in human rights, conservation and global literacy issues. Also with us was Zakiya Harris, a shapeshifting maven and Co-Founder of Hack the Hood, which provides technical training in high demand multimedia and tech skills to youth, enabling them to take on real-world consulting projects with locally-owned businesses in their communities. The story of World Pulse, founded by Jensine Larsen, mirrored the impact of network scalability; the organization is providing digital empowerment training programs to build online movements and promote female voices for change around the world. And finally, Adam Pumm, the Co-Founder of Hive in San Francisco talked about applying his expertise in computer engineering and design to help connect and educate extraordinary mission-driven leaders and entrepreneurs who are working to create a better world. These leaders showed us the possibilities of marrying heart centered wisdom with the gift of technology to serve with deep intention.
The conversation also tapped into the history of this rapidly evolving industry. Many tech affiliates in the room shared that the technology movement was started by innovators and creative idealists, but since the influx of venture capital, a different energy has influenced the sector. This background provided greater context for the motivations behind the race for the next $1 billion product often heard in media soundbites today. Within that reality, however, there are still those looking for deeper purpose, a return to the optimism of the earlier days but now with the awareness of technology’s far greater reach, demand and sophistication.
Through this gathering, the Alliance also saw great hope in a new generation of technologists, who are incorporating contemplative practice into their daily life so they can find a way to make a satisfying contribution to the future – to do good by being aware and engaged. Perhaps no other industry is imbibing into their corporate culture the principles of mindfulness practice as much as these technology companies. We left the conversation inspired by the idea that perhaps they can lead American business in a new direction.
Among our discussion of the social and ethical dimensions of technology, it became clear that there is much thinking in the Valley about the potential benefits as well as dangers of artificial intelligence (AI). This gave way to a deeper exploration of intelligence versus consciousness. Some technologists in the room acknowledged that consciousness based on data and information patterning is possible, but the ability to feel, experience, and self-reflect is an entirely a different matter. Expanding on this debate, a number of participating scientists talked about the need to shift the scientific paradigm from one that believes matter precedes consciousness to a paradigm that understands it is consciousness that precedes matter. These ideas opened a whole new avenue of exploration for the Contemplative Alliance, and deepens our understanding of the ongoing conversation between physicists and contemplative leaders.
We are grateful to everyone who shared space with us and helped to bring to light the intricate aspects of technology and science that directly impact the Earth community. This conversation will continue with another gathering planned for 2016.
Technology, science and thought leaders who also offered opening remarks:
Nichol Bradford, Co-Founder, Transformative Technology
John Briggs, PhD, Prof. Em., Author & Poet, Co-Author, Quantum Mechanics, Chaos Theory and Fractals
Federico Faggin, President, Federico & Elvia Faggin Foundation
Rich Fernandez, Co-Founder, Wisdom Labs
Ari Goldfield, Meditation teacher, Founder, Wisdom Sun
Anasuya Krishnaswamy, PhD , Scientist on experimental solid-state physics & Yoga Teacher
Birju Pandya, Managing Director, Armonia, Volunteer, ServiceSpace
Jim Phoenix, Poet, Vice President Metta Center for Nonviolence
Christine Peterson, Co-Founder, Foresight Institute
This program was made possible with the kind support of
Kalliopeia Foundation, Fenwick Foundation and The Fetzer Institute.