What do synchronized vibrations add to the mind/body question?

Why is my awareness here, while yours is over there? Why is the universe split in two for each of us, into a subject and an infinity of objects? How is each of us our own center of experience, receiving information about the rest of the world out there? Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A gnat? A bacterium?

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.

By Tam Hunt / Creative Commons / The Conversation

When Zeno from Cyprus was shipwrecked and stranded in Athens, he wasn’t expecting anything good to happen. Having lost almost everything and having nothing to do, Zeno wandered into a library where he was soon absorbed in Socrates’ teachings. Having studied all the great philosophers of his time, he decided to impart his knowledge to anyone who was willing to listen.

And so, the philosophy of Stoicism was born. Zeno’s teaching quickly spread to everyone, and as he later used to joke himself, “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck.”

But Stoicism doesn’t stop there. Centuries later, the philosophy remains as relevant and timely in modern society. The following stoic practices will help you find peace within the chaos we all face today.

Develop an internal point of control

Much of what’s happening in our lives is not in our control. The Stoics recognize this undeniable truth and focus on what they can do. It’s very easy to resent today. We’ re so used to comfort, so even the slightest difficulty causes our anger.

If the Internet delays, if we are stuck in traffic, our first reaction is to be annoyed if not angry. None of these “crises” are responsible for our misery. It stems from the emotional response that we have chosen.

The burden falls on us to make sure that we don’t let external events disturb the inner state of our minds. As soon as we realize this, it will be fully understood that we have the strength to be happy regardless of the circumstances.

Guard your time

The Stoics understand that our time is our greatest fortune. Unlike anything we have in our possession, once the time is gone we can’t retrieve it again. So we have to do what we can to not waste our precious time.

Most of us allow people and various obligations to take over our time. We undertake commitments without thinking about what they really include. Calendars and programs were made to help us. That is why we shouldn’t become their slaves.

Don’t outsource your happiness on others

Much of what we do comes from our need to enjoy and be accepted by others. We waste money we don’t have, just to buy impressive things that we don’t really need, to impress people that we aren’t really interested in.

The choices about our career or the way we live turn around the perception that others have about us and not about what is best for our own development. A life where one doesn’t care about the opinion of others equals freedom.

Stay focused when confronted with distractions

The capitalism of the days has given us a plethora of choices. Whether it’s food, travel, or fun, we have a lot more than our predecessors. And yet that hasn’t benefited us. With so many choices in front of our feet, we usually paralyze from indecision.

This is the paradox of choice. Our brains can’t follow the speed of developments in our everyday life and block with all this information. Just because it’s so difficult to make a choice, its default is to keep the status quo.

Stoics gave emphasis to action with intent. In simple terms, we must not only react to situations but live with intent.

Eliminate Ego and Vanity

We all know people who become students while they actually believe they know everything. At the heart of this problem are selfishness and arrogance. This rationale is now more dangerous than ever. Not only because it doesn’t solve problems but also because it prevents thoughtful thinking.

It’s no coincidence that the brightest minds of our days spend much of their time reading. They understand that there is always knowledge to absorb, whether from the past, from the present, or from the future.

Put your thoughts on the paper

Of the many things we do in our everyday life, there is nothing more important than introspection. When we look within, we have to ask ourselves about our actions, but also about everything we believe about the world around us.

Keeping a calendar is one of the most effective ways of caring for our intelligence. It enhances creativity, increases gratitude, and serves as a therapy all at once. The benefits of such a practice are immeasurable.

That’s because our thoughts and feelings become clearer writing than in our mind.

Stand your ground

Today, most of us diverge from our views and beliefs in order to be accepted by others or for profit. But gray has no shades. Not compromising, not being flexible against what poses us as a lure in front of us, is the unprecedented high standard.

But when it is accomplished for the right reasons, it not only gives us power but makes us real ambassadors of the fair and the unfair. Because very simply, if you don’t defend what you believe, you will be a victim of everything.

Imagine the worst that could happen

Much has been said about the power of positive thinking in our lives. We are taught that optimism and affirmation is the key to a happy life. The Stoics, however, believed that instead of concealing the difficult truths of life behind the door, we must recognize them so that we can deal with them.

An exercise they did was to think the worst that could happen to them. While others were thinking of losing their glory or were struggling to preserve their property, they all agreed that the worst is the impossibility of death. As a result of this exercise, they did what they could to avoid what they didn’t want. Even if they didn’t, they managed to live a better life.

We must be completely honest with ourselves and not be afraid to face reality. It is the best way to be prepared for success and ready for failure.

Remember that nothing lasts forever

In the grand scheme of things, none of what we have achieved is of any importance. We can live as if we are the center of the world, consider us to be very important to be the protagonists of our history, but all of this is only in our minds. Even the brightest minds, like Edison or Newton, would eventually be relegated to a footnote.

We, therefore, have no reason to push ourselves with unreasonable expectations and external pressures. All that is worth is to live on our own terms. Only then we can really say we have lived a good life.

H/T: constantrenewal.com

The ability to tolerate adversities with balance and calmness is a skill that is generally attributed to the philosopher. In this letter to Lucilius, Seneca reminds his friend that in nature everything is happening in relation to the fate that man must know to accept. The difficulties encountered in life are like the dust and rain that undoubtedly accompany this great journey.

“You are angry and complaining about any difficulty – and you do not realize that evil is not in these difficulties but in the fact that you are angry and complain, do you want me to tell you?

I think the only misfortune for a man is to believe that there is misery in nature. I could not tolerate myself the day when something would make me unbearable.

Am I sick? That’s part of my fate. Are the slaves sick? Am I full of debt? Are misfortunes, sorrows, fears chasing me?  These things are happening. To explain it better: they have to happen. They do not happen by accident, but by divine will.

Believe me, what I’m telling you now are my most personal feelings. For all the events that seem to be impatient and painful, set the rule that I did: I do not obey, but I consent to divine will – I follow it spontaneously, not by necessity. Nothing will ever happen to me that I will deal with it with a sad soul and an angry face – I will always pay my tax with pleasure. Everything that causes our groans and fears are contributions to life.

And you, dear Lucilius, should not hope or ask to get rid of them. Did the pains in your bladder deprive your peace? Did you get letters that were not pleasant? Have you ever had problems, or even worse, be afraid of your life? And did you not know that, when you wished to reach old age, you wanted these sufferings? These are encountered in a long life, just as one meets the dust, the mud, the rain on a long journey.

“But I wanted to live by avoiding these discomforts.”

This is a flabby language that is not worthy of a man. Take as you want this wish I give you with love but manly: gods and goddesses do not allow you to become the favored person of fortune. If a god allowed you to choose, ask yourself if you would like to live in a market or a camp. And yet, Lucilius, life is a military service.

So the people who are beaten by fate and sometimes they are high, sometimes low, through stubborn and tedious roads and face extremely dangerous missions, are the courageous people who keep ahead in the military life. On the contrary, those who live in a rotten idle and pleasure while others get tired, are sure like dipsticks, but at the expense of disgrace. Goodbye.”

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What is the secret of good life?

What is the most important thing in life, the one thing that deserves to be pursued at all costs? Could it be just cheerfulness?

Is it maybe love, success, wealth, family, fame? Everyone might answer this question differently as of course, the most important thing can mean something else for all of us individually. But could there be one thing that suits anyone?

That’s what the philosopher and scientist Democritus claimed, who lived c.460-370 BCE. You might have heard of him for his atomic theory which was a very innovative theory for his time. However, Democritus was not solely interested in the particles of matter. Democritus’ reply to our initial question is “cheerfulness” (euthymia); he names cheerfulness to be the highest good of all.

First of all, as we all know, you can’t do work, get entertained, or achieve anything in your life, if you have been overrun by stress. It is also known that stress is the result of worry. If you’re too poor, you worry and get stressed trying to make ends meet. But even if you have all the goods of the world, you might fall into the trap of greediness and again, you’ll be worried you might lose your possessions. People who are very famous, worry every day they might lose their status of fame and get stressed whenever someone more talented or capable appears, fearing he might “dethrone” them. In both cases, cheerfulness is nowhere to be found in the human soul. Therefore it is to wonder, how can this peaceful state of inner balance be reached?

Whatever you do, do it in moderation!

Enjoy food, love, wealth and anything you can acquire, but never forget that exaggeration in anything will agitate your inner balance. This view was also supported by Plato and Aristotle, in opposite to some other philosophers who proposed the extremes of unrestrained hedonism or the ascetic life without pleasures. Democritus says it’s only the cheerful, and thereby happy soul which can preserve moderation. But how can you know you’ve gone too far past moderation? “When someone feels extreme tension or worry, it means he has lost moderation and reached exaggeration,” Democritus says. So, if you have so many unfulfilled desires that you lose your sleep over them, or if you find yourself to be in constant frustration and anxiety, try to limit your wishes and start enjoying more the things you already have.

If you manage to reduce unnecessary excitements and if you control yourself in situations of excessive joy or pain, you train yourself to adapt to real circumstances. Pain and sorrow will come for all at some point in our lives; instead of wondering “why did this have to happen to me?”, it’s best to use all the help we can get to deal with it. And at times when great joy comes, let’s not exaggerate as if this would last forever. Because when conditions change again, it will be very difficult to cope with this change. It is not possible to adjust reality to our expectations, but we can take chance into our own hands, Democritus says:

“Men have made an idol of Chance as an excuse for their own incompetence; for chance disrupts planning a little, but intelligent foresight straightens out most problems in life”.

Certainly, each person will have to deal with different problems and the path to adapt to reality will be much harder for some. The point of each person individually is to achieve the best possible balance given his own circumstances and this way to avoid allowing his happiness to become prey to external factors. Because if one does that, yet another problem will be added on top: he will lose his freedom.

Democritus reasoning is powerful and convincing. Mostly and first of all, one should be after this cheerfulness, this pleasant and stable state of the soul which helps to face circumstances with detailed caution, to control his reactions when situations change, to feel joy and sorrow in moderation, to be the master of himself, and therefore, to be a free man knowing at any given time how to act and why.

Democritus himself seems to have benefited by this method a lot. The “laughing philosopher,” as they called him, surprised the world with his knowledge of mathematics, geometry, astronomy, history and what else not, but still managed to keep his mind free of any religious or political entrapment. He traveled to all the great cities of Asia, he also traveled to Athens (of course), he founded a very important academy in his home city Abdera in Thrace, he wrote 70 works (unfortunately, only a few parts of those are extant) and he lived for a hundred years!

This article was originally created and published on grethexis.com and republished here by the site’s permission (copyright notice).

Pythagoras, a great philosopher, mathematician, religious and political master, bequeathed us words of gold.

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras

Pythagoras was born in Samos in 570 BC and from his childhood, he showed a particular love for learning. For his good (and our) luck, his father, Mnesarchus, was taking him with him on trips to East and West. As a result, the young Pythagoras soon developed an expanded perception of the world. His father still took care of his son’s best education near the initiates of the East and the famous philosopher from Syros, Pherecydes.

Even if you know nothing about Pythagoras, you will have heard something about the Pythagorean theorem. Pythagoras was a pioneer in mathematics and geometry, he was an excellent theorist of music, a philosopher with a very special religious worldview, and when he settled in Croton, Italy, he revealed his political talent as well.

Here we will deal with the philosopher Pythagoras and his teaching about the virtues that each person has to pursue so that he is pure, ready for a better incarnation. It is an excerpt from the “Golden Verses,” a text with the basic points of the Pythagoras teaching, written by Pythagoreans of the 5th century – several decades after the death of Pythagoras.

To facilitate reading, we are giving the excerpt with the form of a Decalogue.

1. Make mastering your sleep, stomach, lust, and anger, a habit.

2. Don’t do anything shameful, neither yourself nor with others and most of all yourself being ashamed.

3. Exercise righteousness with works and words.

4. Do not be addicted to anything mindlessly but know that death for all is inevitable and money, sometimes it is good to get it and sometimes to lose it.

5. Whatever is attributed to you from the misfortunes that happen accidentally to the mortals, suffer it without indignation. And whatever you can rehab, rehab it. Think that gods do not give a great deal of them to the virtuous people.

6. Do not let yourself be surprised and wonder about neither the seedy nor the good words of the people you hear abundantly. And if you hear a lie about something, be gentle. Mislead neither with words nor with works in order to do or say anything that is not right

7. Before you do anything, think carefully so you do not do anything foolish. The fool (the one who does not think) says and does foolish things.

8. Do those things that will not cause you sorrow later. Do not do those you do not know, but take care to learn about what you have ignorance and so your life will be pleasant.

9. You should not neglect the health of your body, but, drink, eat, and exercise with moderation, and moderation I mean that which will not discomfort you. Get used in a clean and modest diet and living like that, keep out of envy. Do not spend the good untimely like ignorant people do, and not deprive yourself to the point of not being free, because moderation is the best situation at everything.

10. Do not allow your eyes to sleep softly before examining three times the actions of the day: “What did I fail? What did I do? What did not I do from what I was supposed to do?” Starting from the first and expand to the next, for your misdeeds admonish yourself, for your good deeds be pleased.

For these things strive, study, and desire.

“He said it,” as his disciples used to say, by respect to their teacher and awe for the prestige of his authority. Of course, we do not know him as well as them to trust him with such ease. Let’s trust life itself by examining whether the problems we face every day are due to our failure to avoid something that “He” has identified as the source of our misery. If you have difficulty dealing with this examination, I suggest you start at number 10. This will make it easier for you to put your thoughts (and after, your actions) in order and will lead you more easily to all the other.

If Pythagoras was right, then this process will upgrade your soul and prepare it for a better reincarnation. In any case, however, it will help you get to know yourself better, gain self-confidence and endurance, and shape an admirable character!

Read all the golden verses of Pythagoras here.

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(Photo via Pixabay)