What Happened at the 2017 IONS Conference |361|


Johnny Verive reports on the 2017 IONS conference. 

photo by: Skeptiko

…And that is why the Institute of Noetic Sciences is so focused on bringing together science, observations, hypothesis, measurements…

I have a lot of respect for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. That’s Cassandra Vieten, the current president of IONS, talking at their annual conference. You’ll hear a lot more about the conference coming up on Skeptiko.

…All of them have something to do with consciousness…

That’s Dr. Dean Radin, chief scientist at IONS. I’ve run across his work many times over the years, it’s always been rock solid. He’s someone who’s kept the consciousness research lamp lit for a long time. I trust Radin, therefore I trust IONS.

…And we were orientated such that we were rotating to keep thermal balance on the spacecraft…

That’s Apollo 14 astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell, talking about his full on spiritually transformative experience in space that led him to found IONS.

…It was of this real knowing, accompanied by an ecstasy…

…If you’re going to press me on this, I’m not going to talk to you anymore because I won’t pursue this…

Here’s Dr. Edgar Mitchell again. This time he’s in the process of literally kicking the ass of a skeptic who happens to be this Christian guy who’s gone around and asked all these astronauts to swear on the Bible that they really walked on the moon.

So, if you watch the video, and I’ll link it up…

…Put your left hand on the Bible, raise your right hand and say, “I, Edgar Mitchell…”

He literally, at some point, kicks this guy in the ass and puts him out of his house and the guy is clearly a wingnut. But at the same time…

…and eternal damnation…

That I walked  on the moon on Apollo 14.

That I walked on the moon on Apollo 14.

Well you know, you’re the first astronaut to do that.

We did kind of want to know if he would swear on that Bible and we sure as heck know that there’s a lot more to Apollo than anyone tells us.

You’ve been so vocal about UFOs in…

Anyone, that is, except Dr. Edgar Mitchell.

Why is it so important to you?

Well, it’s important because it’s real and since I happen to be one of the earliest of our particular civilization to go to another planet, I naturally have interest in space travel.

So anything you haven’t told people about your inner-beliefs about UFOs?

My deeper belief is starting to emerge, the evidence that they’ve been coming here for a long, long time and have been influential in the evolution of our civilization.

But you know what, that’s not really relevant to this show, unless it is, but you’re going to have to help me figure that out after the show is over. For now, let’s just hear about what went on at the 2017 IONS conference in Oakland.

(continued below)


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skeptiko-Join-the-Discussion-3Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Johnny Verive to Skeptiko. Johnny is a Skeptiko listener and IONS member who recently attended the 2017 IONS conference in Oakland, and we had a little email exchange about it and I asked him if he’d come on Skeptiko and give listeners a little sense of what that conference was all about, maybe play some clips from some of the presentations and chat a little bit about the conference. So, he agreed to do it. Johnny you’re here.

Johnny Verive: Yes, I am Alex, so glad to be here, it’s a real pleasure and I don’t know as far as beg goes. Definitely, I’ve listened to Skeptiko for such a long time, I am a recent IONS member, so it just makes sense. I think I told you in the exchange that I felt like going to the conference was pretty much listening to a Skeptiko podcast. So it just was a natural, I guess, marriage in that sense.

Alex Tsakiris: Great, great. So for those who aren’t aware, IONS is this organization that was originally founded by the astronaut, who recently passed away by the way, Edgar Mitchell and it had this mission of exploring consciousness and doing so from a scientific angle primarily, but trying to look at,  more broadly, how we could integrate an extended idea – an extended understanding of consciousness – into our world and in particular into our science world.

So, they’ve done some fabulous stuff over the years. I think the guy who, for me, really represents what IONS is so much all about, is Dr. Dean Radin, who I have the utmost respect for and has been on the show a couple of times and just produces some really, really great stuff.

So, with that, tell us a little bit about this conference that you went to in Oakland in July and what were your general impressions, what was the setting, what was the vibe like?

Johnny Verive: Yeah, so it was the 17th IONS International Conference. The vibe was great. You kind of eluded to Edgar Mitchell; he was the founder of IONS and the backstory of that was, his return flight, whether you believe in moon landings or not, that’s a whole different podcast, I guess, or show, but on his return flight back, he’s an Apollo 14 astronaut, and he got a glimpse of the earth on the return back and that kind of changed his whole worldview on just the interconnectedness of the human race and species and just, you know, kind of put things in perspective for him and that was kind of the catalyst of starting IONS.

This was the first conference that Dr. Mitchell was not, obviously, able to attend, so there was a lot of sentimental thoughts and memories of him coming into this conference. So special in many regards for that reason alone, but it was like your typical conference. This was my first major conference outside of the  the hard sciences or kind of conscious conference. So I think it was… they gave out the demographics, it was close to 1000 people. I think  it was between 800 to 1000 people. Obviously you’ve interviewed a lot of these folks from Dean Radin to – obviously – Dr. Sheldrake, so it was the ‘who’s who’ in consciousness research and outside of what they would deem themselves to be conscious researchers.

Alex Tsakiris:  But you know, I wanted to start with – since I mainly wanted to focus this around some clips – the first clip that you sent me is from Cassandra Vieton.

Johnny Verive: Yeah, she’s the, I believe the president of IONS currently and she’s obviously a great researcher, a very, very sharp academic woman in charge. I had the pleasure of meeting her as well and she was really, really sharp.

Alex Tsakiris:  Great, glad to hear that. She sounds really sharp, she sounds like she’s a great presenter, a licensed clinical psychologist there in the Bay Area, published a lot of books, very, very well-credentialed. Here is a little clip for folks, from her opening remarks:

And that is why the Institute of Noetic Sciences is so focused on bringing together science, observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, application in the real world, with then that inner form of knowing that is more imaginable, that’s pictorial, that holds wisdom that sometimes can’t even be put into words. In fact, when it’s put into words sometimes it nails it down so much, like a butterfly to a card, that it kills it.

So, what we’re asking you to do this weekend is really to embrace both your intellectual and scientific self and also that deep feeling symbolic self and we’ve crafted this conference so that almost every session pairs a scientist, who is actively at work investigating these topics, with a practitioner who is working with these concepts in the real world and the symbolic realm.

Alex Tsakiris:  Okay, that actually kind of touches on what we were just talking about. What did you take away from her remarks in general, and/or that particular clip?

Johnny Verive: Yeah, so I think, for this conference I thought they did a really great job. It was kind of what we discussed earlier, it’s kind of that balancing act of, kind of like hardcore science, what we would call hardcore like methodology – scientific method in all of this – but also kind of what… I wouldn’t call it new-age but kind of what practitioners, healers, whether you believe in that or not, kind of pairing the two and where the science and findings meet the ‘real world.’ I thought it kind of set the stage for the entire conference. I thought they did an outstanding job.

Alex Tsakiris:  Yeah, and let’s pull that apart a little bit, because I think I was being a little bit too negative or critical there because if you look at her background and, like some of the books that she’s written and her focus on Eastern philosophy and spirituality and psychotherapy, I mean, hey that’s real right?

Johnny Verive: Yeah.

Alex Tsakiris:  I mean, people come on and they have spiritualty transformative experiences that are immediately impacting their lives and as a psychotherapist you’re going, “Hey, this is powerful stuff. Do I really need to wait until it’s ordained by science in order to say, ‘This seems to be working for the population that I’m working with?’”

I’ve got to respect that too, it’s just a little bit scary when you say we should have a practitioner on every session.

I’m reminded of the old skeptic James Randi who, you know, 10 years ago or whatever was saying, “Hey, anyone who’s doing parapsychology research, they should have a magician there and they should be overseeing what they’re doing so that they can make sure that there isn’t some slight of hand,” it’s like, “No, it’s science,” you know? But there is this element of something going on that maybe science hasn’t quite caught up with, so do you have any thoughts for how they’re pulling that apart?

Johnny Verive: Yeah, and I would rewind back as well and I think your statement right there was spot on, but I don’t think it was necessarily [skeptical]. I think, I mean, this is IONS conference. So I would say these practitioners, these researchers do – I wouldn’t say believe, that’s maybe not the term I’m trying to say – but they know that there’s something going on, to your point. They may not know exactly what and they’re using the scientific method to, kind of figure out the what, right?

I think, a clip I sent about Dean Radin talked about a triangle and find X, right? They point to X as opposed to finding exactly what X is. So, I think, at this conference, most of the folks that attend an IONS conference or any kind of conference on consciousness will probably have some sort of belief or kind of leaning towards that type versus a skeptic. I think you have to be skeptical to a degree before going all in, you know? But I thought they did a good job in that regard.

Alex Tsakiris:  Well, that might be a good segway into another clip that you sent me from Dr. Dawson Church, who, you know, I’m listening to this guy and I’m kind of going down this other path. I’m like, “Oh man, this is so new-agey, light and love and all this stuff,” and then he delivers the goods, in terms of his research and you’re just blown away because some of the stats that he has, some of the statistical significance and the meta-analysis of this work that he’s done with post-traumatic stress victims is off the fricking charts.

Let me play this clip for folks and then we can talk about it a little bit.

EFT combines elements of exposure therapy, exposure, as in remembering the bad stuff that happened, not associating but remembering it, with cognitive framing, along with acupressure, that’s pressure on acupuncture points, these energy flows in the body, needles correct those energy flows, pressure on those points or tapping on those points can correct them too. EFT is often called ‘tapping’ because you tap on your acupressure points like this.

So, we’ve done this now with over 18,000 veterans, we’ve done several studies of this and we’ve shown that the correction of these energy flows in the body, with acupressure, is incredibly, incredibly effective.

9 out of 10 veterans, in our randomized controlled trials, recovered from PTSD, those symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares, intrusive thoughts, those symptoms…

Alex Tsakiris:  Okay, now again, I might not have set that up quite enough for people. The name of the technique that he uses is Emotional Freedom Technique. I mean, does that sound new-agey or what? It sounds totally new-agey and then if you really break it down what they’re doing and he just described it very quickly there, taking people who have experienced severe trauma or stress, PTSD is kind of classic, but they work with other victims of different kinds of stress.

My wife’s a clinical psychologist and she actually has a good friend who uses this technique on patients, a lot of PTSD patients, and she’s been telling her for years, she goes, “I can’t explain this but it works unbelievably well.”

But what they do is they’re having people, kind of go back and re-experience these traumatic things and then they’re tapping on them, they’re tapping on them, on these acupuncture points, but it works. It’s just incredibly… but by the means that we have of measuring whether something like that works and we have pretty good means because we have a lot of stuff that we say doesn’t work, this seems to work.

So, to me this is classic IONS, I mean it’s just, where else is someone going to step forward and say, “Yeah, I know this sounds really bizarre but in every way we’ve looked at it, this seems to work.”

Johnny Verive: Yeah, I totally agree. Like you, I thought this was going to be pretty new-agey, but after listening to Dr. Church speak and kind of the research behind it… I mean, this is a gentleman who’s testified in front of congress about EFT and its effectiveness and he’s also working with the VA. This is where the rubber hits the road; they’re working with a lot of veterans who really do need help and this seems to be able to help with their PTSD. So yeah, for IONS to bring that to the forefront, I had no idea about this type of research.

Alex Tsakiris:  Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Then, maybe we’re kind of mining the same theme but it’s probably a pretty good one to explore in terms of this conference, and consciousness in general, because I think these are some of the same issues that keep coming up on Skeptiko and keep coming up again and again, when we look at consciousness research, in terms of how it fits in the larger picture, in terms of the larger picture of science and the larger picture of just social change and the understanding of our culture.

So, I next point to another clip that you sent me. You selected some really good ones, the next is from Dr. Dacher Keltner, who is definitely well-credentialed, a professor of psychology at Berkley, there in Berkley California, right outside of Oakland, and he directs the Berkley Social Interaction Lab and here’s the research he’s currently working on. From his website:

“We’re currently looking at how individual differences in positive motion such as awe, compassion, desire and pride, shape the individual’s relationship, physical environment and sources of pleasure.”

Let me play the clip from his presentation and then we can talk about it a little bit.

Awe, and our think out other speakers will push us even further, that it’s a basic vibratory pattern in patterns of energy in the universe, but for somebody who’s interested in the evolution of mammals, as I am, we’re starting to learn, very counterintuitively, that awe has deep mammalian roots. Many mammalian species, many primate species, rats, vibrate and have piloerection responses or goosebumps when they face threat in the environment and bond together to face communal threat, which is sort of a sense of where awe comes from; we bond together to understand the world. Even zebrafish will vibrate collectively when they encounter novelty in the environment.

My lab is working on goosebumps and piloerection. There’s a very interesting genetic polymorphism related to dopamine levels that predict exploration and actually you find high concentrations of it. For example, as people migrated down to South America, we find that it uniquely predicts experiences of awe. So it is rooted in our genes and there’s a lot of interesting neuroscience in the deep mammalian roots.

Alex Tsakiris:  I’ve got to say, I didn’t know quite how to take this guy. A lot of genes and neuroscience, a lot of, you know, we’ve awe out of the religious, into the secular and I felt like I wanted to ask this guy, “Mind equals brain, true or false?” You know, that somehow he was trying to backdoor me into saying, “Hey, it really does come down to your brain, even though I’m saying all this nice stuff about awe.”

Johnny Verive: Yeah.

Alex Tsakiris:  But what were your impressions?

Johnny Verive: Once again, he’s at an IONS conference. I would say that the research that he’s doing, yeah, it seems to be mind equals brain, but after listening to the guy and then conversing, I would say that it’s either “don’t know” or once again, this leaning towards consciousness, outside of “mind equals brain.” But, you know, that’s kind of my take on him, but it was a really interesting presentation he gave.

Also he’s working with Dawson Church, there’s the practical aspects of it with inner-city kids and also soldiers with PTSD. So, I don’t know, he’s a very smart guy, interesting research, but yeah, it would be interesting to ask him, “Does mind equal brain?”

Alex Tsakiris:  Yeah and even in… like see, that was the difference that I saw. I was like, “Okay, I’m open, but deliver the goods.” That’s what Dawson I felt like did, when he goes, “Hey man, here’s how we measured it, here are the results. Criticize it if you will but it comes out in the wash.” I didn’t get quite the sense with Dr. Keltner, that he had the goods, in terms of really delivering on what had happened in a meaningfully scientific way, in terms of where the numbers really added up. It sounded anecdotal when he went into the real results, “Hey we worked with these inner-city kids and they seem to be doing better.”

I could be totally wrong there, but I didn’t get an overwhelming sense that the numbers really were going to blow me over, in terms of the results. I got the sense that, in his lab he was able to measure rats that had goosebumps and that he’d done a pretty good job of that, but in terms of inner-city kids having a sense of awe and that changing their outlook over time, show me, glad to know it, just prove it.

Johnny Verive: Yeah and maybe that’s something for an individual Skeptiko podcast.

Alex Tsakiris:  Oh no.

Johnny Verive: But I think with these conferences, I would say that you get a snapshot of the researchers’ research, right? I mean, you have a limited amount of time to present your findings or what have and you have breakout sessions.

So, I would say that he was one member of three panelists, so I would have to dig a little deeper into his research. He presented what he presented, but you know, to your point, Dr. Church had the reward at the end of it. I would have to dig a little further with that research on awe a little more before I can come to any type of conclusion on my own.

Alex Tsakiris:  Fair enough, Johnny, and that’s a good point too. I’m being kind of nit-picky there because big picture, what he’s saying is really very interesting and it’s certainly an area that we need to pursue and who the heck else is doing it?

Johnny Verive: Exactly.

Alex Tsakiris:  You know, hats off. I’m just always a little leery, because when you go down that path, the kind of slippery slope of saying, “Let’s all fall at their feet because at least they’re doing the research and no one else is.” Hey, it only matters if you’re doing good research.

Johnny Verive: There you go.

Alex Tsakiris:  Otherwise it doesn’t matter. Which is a nice lead into the last clip that I had. Dr. Arnaud Delorme, a French guy who’s a scientist at IONS. I’ll read a little bit of a clip from the bio from his website:

“My primary research interest is in the analysis and modelling of human consciousness as captured by high dimensional EEG, MEG and other imaging modalities.”

Very cool stuff, this is Skeptiko stuff and he’s kind of inventing this interesting cap that goes on your head and captures this data in a new interesting way and I think we were both chatting a little bit, before we got on this call, about his presentation because it was really kind of cool. He’s such a scientist that comes through in this clip, where he starts out talking about his history and why he got interested in parapsychology because he just naturally thought that, “Hey, we should understand what the meaning of this consciousness thing is, right?”

To demonstrate this hypothesis, parapsychology is an ideal topic, because if you can show that consciousness can connect to another consciousness at a distance, obviously it’s a step forward showing that consciousness is primary. So, that’s why I became interested in parapsychology.

So why mediumship? Well mediumship is just a low-hanging fruit in parapsychology, so that’s why I picked it and…

Alex Tsakiris:  Now, I don’t know if everyone can pick that up, but you and I picked it up when talking about this, there’s like this laughter that goes through the crowd when he says, “Mediumship is the low-hanging fruit in parapsychology,” and I thought that was great on a couple of levels because, number one, there’s no low-hanging fruit in parapsychology, in that there’s no fruit that you’re going to pick off the tree and scientists are just going to go, “Oh yeah, well obviously. So that does it. Consciousness is not an illusion, it’s fundamental, therefore we have to change our whole paradigm.”

So, there’s none of that, but on the other hand, I think, as we’ve explored on Skeptiko, you know, mediumship is great, it’s a great bed for mining a lot of data. Do you want to talk a little bit about what you remember about Dr. Delorme’s presentation and what the whole thing was all about?

Johnny Verive: Yeah, absolutely. So to your point, Dr. Delorme’s a very hardcore scientist; he discusses methodology and it seemed very, very tight to his point and it was quite funny throughout the crowd [was] that mediumship, and to your point as well, it just seemed like he was able to control the controllable to sort of say.

Alex Tsakiris:  Let me tell folks what he did because it was really kind of interesting methodology. He said, “Okay, well what I’m going to do is, I’m going to take all of these pictures and some of these people will be dead and some of these people won’t and I’ll ask folks to go onto the website and just rank whether or not the think the person is dead or not,” on a most likely, probably, all the rest of this.

Then he has two groups, he has one which is his control group, which is, just kind of ordinary people, off the street and they score… actually they score a tiny bit above chance and they score more above chance that the robot that he has does it, which is, kind of below chance. But all that’s just kind of a precursor for what he really wants to do, is go out and get a group of people who are self-identified and accepted by other people as being mediums. So he says, “Here’s my group of 12 mediums, how do they do on this same test of looking at pictures and saying whether people are dead or not,” and he gets some pretty interesting results, right?

Johnny Verive: Absolutely, absolutely. In the bulk of the mediums, the majority of them, they did extremely well except for, in his data he showed like one to two that didn’t score well essentially. But yeah, it was quite compelling data.

Alex Tsakiris:  The odds of it being pure chance are 1 out of 200, and anyone who knows scientific standards, in terms of peer review and publishing significant results, I mean that’s way, way high. A lot of medical studies, being the minimum threshold is 1 out of 20, is the results. So that’s a pretty darn good result, especially the way that… I like the way you said it, the way he controlled for the controls seems pretty right, pretty right and pretty reasonable and tight.

Johnny Verive: Very interesting for a presenter like himself to have that hardcore science but also talk about mediumship. That kind of encompasses the IONS conference for me and obviously he’s working very closely with Dr. Radin and the rest of the scientific team at IONS. They’re doing the work, it’s hopeful, it’s interesting. I don’t know if it’s going to change the paradigm, as I think the hope is, but it’s compelling.

Alex Tsakiris:  Right. So Johnny, what other presentations did you see that you were particularly impressed with? You sent me the ones from Dean Radin, which are awesome and Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, great again. They’ve been on the show and I didn’t find a lot new in what they were saying. Dean Radin’s really into magic, I’m going to cover that in another show. Who else was there that you saw that had an impression on you?

Johnny Verive: I think you’ve also had Dr. Jim Tucker on the show as well, the University of Virginia, carrying on the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson’s, in the, kind of reincarnation realm. I think that’s another wealth of information and published data on reincarnation and he’s looking at US children who have these experiences. I thought that was quite compelling but very familiar with Skeptiko, I think most people who have listened to Skeptiko are very familiar with Dr. Tucker’s work. He’s the one that stood out.

There’s work… the gentleman’s name kind of eludes me right now, but there’s work being done, you know, I live in the Bay Area and there’s a lot of [obvious] tech going on. There’s a professor at Stanford, a young guy, a really young guy, doing work with consciousness and tech and in AI, that’s really compelling.

But I would encourage anybody that’s interested, go to the IONS website, pull up the speakers’ list and just kind of dig through that and that’s kind of what I initially did before going into the conference. There’s a lot of info on each of the presenters, whether they’ve been published, TEDx videos a lot of these guys have been on, or the girls have been on, the TEDx circuit. So there’s a lot of info out there.

I think overall, those are some of the speakers that stood out to me, but overall it was quite an experience, a good experience.

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