This book is the product of a fifty-year quest to understand the physics of consciousness, a project catalyzed by an intense experience I still vividly recall. It began on a California beach around midnight, just south of Big Sur, on a mild Pacific night in July 1967. Having completed my third year of electrical engineering, I had been offered a summer intern job to program in FORTRAN at a U.S. Navy base near Pt. Mugu, California, just north of Los Angeles.
Prior to that night, the word “consciousness” had never registered in my vocabulary as something worthy of much consideration. Certainly I have no recollection of any mention of consciousness in any engineering classes, and in fact the word was seldom found in academic circles at the time, it being a word bandied about by hippies, as a contemporary neurophysiologist mentions in her book on electromagnetic consciousness: “In 1972, use of the word ‘consciousness’ was regarded by neurophysiologists as unacceptably New-Age.”[i] The nearest I had come to considering consciousness as a concept in its own right was during an elective course on Romantic poetry (Wordsworth, Byron, Keats) where I mused over various poetic metaphors and similes, each trying to capture various states of consciousness. Yet even in an English class, I seldom encountered the use of the specific word “consciousness” in lectures and discussion.
Nevertheless, catalyzed by an epiphany that night on the beach, the word “consciousness” became a real “thing”; for me, an undeniable mystery calling out for further exploration. Henceforth, “consciousness” was no longer some vague abstract term.
Having recently married, neither of us yet 21, we had travelled from Texas to California for the summer to live three blocks from the pure white sand beach where Ventura Boulevard ends. We found ourselves among a local artist-hippie-beach crowd. Earlier that summer, the Beatles had come out with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and we soon found ourselves burning incense and listening to records of Ravi Shankar, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane. It wasan amazing time to be alive: a surging wave of peace and love was rising, a counterpoint to a country in the throes of assassinations, urban riots, and the Vietnam War. It felt as if we were in the throes of a major cultural shift where everything could be questioned, a transformation seemed to be occurring, and young people were rising up in demonstrations from coast to coast, working to stop the Vietnam war machine, drowning it with waves of peace, love, and music.
Early in July we took a three-day trip to San Francisco, driving up the Pacific Coast highway with a friend with the goal of finding “Owsley acid” (little yellow pills of LSD-25 often distributed at Grateful Dead “love ins” in Golden Gate Park). I had read articles in Time and Life magazines relating how people experimenting with the new drug LSD had “seen God.” Though I was an engineering student, I had been raised in a Catholic family, and even though I had drifted away from Sunday church services, I was really intrigued by the idea of being able to “see God” if that were at all possible, or at least find out firsthand what others thought they had seen to be God.
Arriving in San Francisco. we went directly to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood near Golden Gate Park, and found many of the streets blocked off by the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of wandering young hippies, many newly-arrived in San Francisco with beads, leather vests, and flowers behind their ears. The smell of incense and cannabis was everywhere, and the sounds of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit and sitar music could be heard issuing from innumerable apartment crash-pads. As we wandered in and out of Indian cotton-print tents set up in a warren that lined the streets, we heard rumors that George Harrison had been seen earlier that day. It felt good to be alive in this special place and time.
Later that Saturday, the three of us left San Francisco having acquired ten small yellow tabs of LSD-25, and with rising expectations we wound our way back south along the coastal highway, enjoying the spectacular views of the Pacific Coast and the blue waters breaking on the beaches below. Excited, but somewhat apprehensive, I could not stop thinking of the many published reports I had read of people “seeing God” on LSD, and could not imagine what I might experience that night.
Around twilight we found ourselves parked by the ocean side of a road high above the Pacific, with a view of the wide beach far below. We were soon scrambling down the rugged cliffs, carrying sleeping bags and backpacks down the coastal cliffs toward the wide beach formed by the mouth of Little Sur Creek, feeding an enormous shallow pool of fresh water, forming a mirror-like lake on the beach before flowing into the Pacific. Sheltered by the sand dunes and an enormous rocky cliff, which looked to me like a Buddha lying on his side, we built a small fire of driftwood and talked about what we might soon experience. At around 9 p.m., I swallowed three of our little yellow LSD pills with a sip of water. I remember becoming slightly apprehensive when our friend Roscoe mentioned that the Owsley acid would give us a spectacular trip, and I worried that perhaps I had taken too much. Yet I took the three doses to ensure that I would be able to experience the various things I had read about in Life and Time.
But I had no idea! Over the next thirty minutes or so, my teeth began to feel feel strange, as if they were bubbling or buzzing somehow. Next I noticed, or suspected, that time and space were beginning to lose their normal familiarity and wobble slightly. I could no longer focus my thoughts in the usual manner, and as each new thought arose, I realized that I had lost what I had previously been thinking. Soon I began to notice little sparks of light moving into and out of my awareness. The sparks began to form little geometric structures that moved and rotated like small glowing 3D wireframe objects. When I tried to look at them, they quickly changed and moved away, and I had to then shift my focus on other such structures moving in strange configurations, like rotating pinwheels and spinning polygons. I began to hear high-pitched whistling and buzzing sounds floating in and out of my awareness, and the small colored patterns began to look like some kinds of checkerboard, floating and weaving spatially in different locations in my visual field. I concluded that the LSD was starting to work after all!
I soon lost touch with my body. I sensed that I was a disembodied center of awareness floating in a multi-dimensional ocean of energy, surrounded by swirling currents full of an amazing array of strange and compellingly energetic entities. As my vision continually shifted, the cartwheeling electric wire-frame shapes, which became ever more frequent and vivid, seemed to emerge out of nowhere and then vanish. They began to remind me of the lights of a carnival at night. I was also surprised by unexpected sounds, deep bass sounds that seemed to come from the distance or far below my vision.
Things grew stranger and stranger until suddenly I was gone, as when one enters a dream, losing track of time and space. My normally centered consciousness went hurling into a vast ocean of roiling awareness, as if I were soaring through some torrential rapid, turbulent with energy. And this went on for what seemed like years, or an eternity. Occasionally I experienced fear verging upon panic, worrying that I might never return to my familiar regions and modes of consciousness, but the fear would vanish as ever more surprising phenomena emerged into my awareness, new feelings and sights and sounds. Perhaps the most amazing realization was that all of these energetic things I was seeing and sensing were alive and aware, beyond any doubt! This was not a dead universe that I was observing, but one filled everywhere with a living awareness presenting itself in innumerable emotional flavors and modes, as if I were cast into an ocean of sentient beings—angels everywhere. It was not unlike my recollection of dream-world experiences during sleep, but much more vivid, like my dream-worlds on steroids, yet a thousand times more intensely perceived, and I could not help but be convinced that somehow it was “real,” even more real than my normal waking state. At least that is my recollection of how it seemed to me at the time, and it is how I now recall that night of wandering through those many new domains of perception on the beach.
At some point I managed to re-connect with my physical body, and I stood up and began slowly walking on the flat sand beach. Suddenly I found myself standing in the middle of a mirror-like lake of shallow warm water, and immediately was transfixed by the crystalline image of an ocean of stars reflecting in the pool of water under the clear moonless night. It was like looking into a cosmic mirror; yet each point of light seemed to have a life of its own, as a unique being.
To say that this single night forever changed the direction of my life would be an understatement. The experience, far beyond the familiar everyday bounds of awareness, set my path firmly on a lifelong journey to explore these incredible regions and to try to interpret them in terms of what I had been studying: physics, electronics, mathematics, and cybernetics. Later I came to realize that to fully understand these experiences would require more than science, and I was eventually led to study the writings of saints, mystics, contemplatives, and philosophers. But that would be many years later.
Several months later, back in Austin, I found myself again in my familiar engineering department, enrolled in senior elective classes including laser communication theory, electromagnetic field properties, and so on. But most weekends I continued to explore first-hand these astonishing new regions of consciousness opened up to me after ingesting entheogens, and I continued to experiment not only with LSD, but with a wide range of consciousness amplifying substances, including mescaline, peyote, and psilocybin cubensis mushrooms. At dusk I would drive out into the Texas Hill Country to find isolated forested areas where I could spend the rest of the night exploring these vast new worlds revealed during expanded states of consciousness.
My early love of science fiction and radio had previously influenced my hopes of earning a PhD to qualify me to enter a career of research, hoping to discover new phenomena in the area of electronics and physics. Those initial sparks of interest for exploring the unknown through science, though slightly diverted, had fully ignited in a roaring flame of enthusiasm to explore firsthand this incredible new world of consciousness.
Naturally, the hundreds of hours I had spent studying electromagnetic theory in physics and engineering classes influenced my initial attempts to understand consciousness. For example, just “how” was I seeing these glowing, jeweled objects, which have been frequently referred to as “visuals” in the written accounts of other psychedelic voyagers? What part of my physical organism was involved in the display of these incredibly clear, colorful, and dynamic visual images emerging out of the darkness of “inner space” during the early parts of each psychedelic voyage? I did not think it was occurring within my eyes themselves, which were often closed, unless the rods and cones were processing things not normally sensed. An alternative would be that it was some interior activity that I was perceiving using an as-yet-unidentified organ or system of perception; could it be that my pineal gland (often referred to by anatomists as a vestigial eye) might be observing subtle low-level activity (what might be called machine language activity in a computer system) operating within the clear, ionized, cerebrospinal fluid of the brain’s cerebral cavity in the third ventricle, referred to in traditional yogic texts as Brahma’s cave?
It seemed obvious to me that these clearly observable, sharply focused, visual presentations of colorful neon three-dimensional objects rotating and floating within some dark inner space must involve some photonic energy processes. However it might be accomplished, some process could be seen as organizing these glowing phenomena into a distinct visual field clearly perceivable by my own “center of consciousness,” wherever that might be! In fact, I reasoned, it must be the same mechanism which filled my dreams with clear, colorful visual images. And what were these strange alien sounds I heard during psychedelic exploration? Where were the sounds generated, from where did they come, and how was I able to hear them only under the influence of the entheogenic substances in my bloodstream? The mysteries multiplied.
During weekdays, especially in class sessions and at the library, I found that I could not stop trying to relate what I was studying in electromagnetic physics to the phenomena of consciousness I was directly exploring on weekends. From an engineering standpoint, I wondered what might be the mysterious mechanisms of “internal perception,” both visual and audible, experienced during psychedelic trips and every night while dreaming. My senior engineering advisor had been urging me to choose an area of specialization to guide my future career choices, and now it quickly dawned upon me that here was a fascinating goal, here in this new and intense focus—one of trying to understand what consciousness might be, how it might “work” according to physics and engineering principles.
The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe that here lay an area rich with potential new discoveries, real mysteries that had not yet been uncovered by modern science. As an engineer, I realized that even a partial solution to the phenomenon might lead to the construction of previously unimaginable electronic devices for amplifying consciousness through technologies that might radically enhance communication; provide new modes of entertainment; perhaps even amplify and refine intelligence, perception, memory recall, and emotional sensation. Ultimately one might even be able to communicate with the strange and innumerable alien entities I had encountered during each of the many psychotropic explorations. Perhaps even more direct communication could be established with some of the conscious entities I had sensed during my psychonautic voyages of discovery.
Having established my goal to search for a link between electromagnetism and consciousness, I began to seek out graduate programs in the area of consciousness studies but, to my surprise, I could find no consciousness study programs of any sort. When I searched the technical literature I was even more surprised that I could find no such research efforts being supported by any of the sciences.
At the time, it seems that psychology departments almost universally regarded the behavioral approach as the primary way to study consciousness. I found numerous studies of human behavior that focused upon classical Pavlovian stimulus/response observations, analyzing the data using statistical methods. From conversations with my friends studying in psychology departments, I knew that they were never required to enroll in calculus, physics, or electronics courses. From this I reasoned that research psychologists were not sufficiently familiar with the calculus, physics, or electromagnetic theory to be able to approach research from the hard sciences point of view, which I felt was vital for any serious research into the phenomena of consciousness. Yet by contrast I could not find any interest in consciousness research (or psychedelic drugs) among physicists, electrical engineers, or biologists. A friend in a philosophy department program tried to convince me that philosophers were studying consciousness, and to some extent I had to agree, yet their methodologies depending primarily on verbal logic, and involved none of the hard science laboratory approaches that I felt would be so vital in any serious effort in trying to uncover, verify, and master the actual mechanisms of consciousness. Eventually I learned that a primary reason for the lack of interest in exploring any possible electromagnetic component of consciousness in the hard sciences stems from a misguided conclusion published in the 1950s.
In the early 20th century there was a concerted effort to explore consciousness through a method championed by the great American psychologist William James, who published numerous books and essays on the value of “introspection” as an appropriate methodology for studying human consciousness. James himself even experimented with the ingestion of consciousness-altering substances such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas). However with the advent of successful stimulus-response experiments of the Russian Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936), behavioral studies and observation overtook introspective methods as the favored mode of research.
In the 1930s, with the rapid development of electromagnetic modulation of radio waves for communication, new interest arose in approaching consciousness as an electromagnetic phenomenon. This interest peaked in 1940, when William Köhler (known as the father of Gestalt psychology), theorized that there must be an electromagnetic basis to consciousness. However due to changed priorities arising from World War II, relevant research was put on hold as government funding for such projects vanished.
Shortly after the war, Karl Lashley (1890–1958), a psychologist of the behaviorist school at Harvard, seemingly discredited Köhler’s idea through a series of experiments seeking to discover whether he could detect any evidence for Köhler’s theorized electromagnetic flow of information in the brain. Though Lashley’s experiments themselves have now been discredited for their exclusive focus on the detection of direct current flow, they were at the time widely accepted by the scientific community, and this acceptance effectively put an end to interest in research projects designed to explore the relationships between electromagnetism and consciousness.
Though somewhat surprised and slightly discouraged by the short history of consciousness research that I was able to uncover, my own fascination with what I believed to be a likely connection between electromagnetic fields and consciousness was not dimmed, and I continued with my own “experiments” using the technique of direct introspection, the approach pioneered by James in The Principles of Psychology, published in 1890.
Primarily through the ingestion of psychotropic substances alone at night in my dark study or in the dark Hill Country forests many miles from Austin, I continued to explore these incredible dimensions first-hand while doing my best to recall the esoteric experiences in my journals the next day. The new worlds that opened up under the influence of entheogens were powerful, direct, and rich in both visual and emotional content. This gave me the impression that here something vast and mysterious was trying to communicate with me, but I did not know the language or have the voice with which to reply.
Back at school I was certainly puzzled by friends who would take the substances in the daytime at home or even at weekend beer parties. I was certainly not interested in using these amazing tools for amusement, but instead felt that I was on the cutting edge of an exploration of previously unknown worlds that exist all around us, ones which we are unable to see without the aid of these various entheogenic drugs. This new interest of mine quickly grew ever more serious. More than ever, I was increasingly convinced that the various vividly glowing apparitions that moved in and out of my vision must be electromagnetic in nature, and that understanding their mechanism would be the key to understanding consciousness itself.
I began to read everything that I could find that might provide a key to relate electromagnetism with the phenomenon of consciousness, and spent hours in the engineering library searching through material in various journals of physics, biology, and electronics. I not only wanted to know how consciousness worked in the most general sense, but hoped to gather enough specific evidence to discern a model that might act as a guide for psychonautic exploration and might provide clues that could explain variations in the multiple flavors of consciousness: thinking, dreaming, aesthetic experience, contemplative practices, pleasure/pain, and psychotropic perceptions. It was now clear to me that at the very top of my own “professional hierarchy of needs” was that of acquiring sufficient information to develop a feasible model, a framework for an even more detailed architecture of “human consciousness”—one that could not only be reconciled with all that we know through science, but also compatible with the many accounts of consciousness described in the words of mystics, saints, artists, shamans, and psychonauts.
But it was my second encounter with John Lilly (1915–2001) that clarified the general technique I would follow in my search to understand the physics of consciousness. After graduation I had moved to New York City, where a wide range of resources dealing with consciousness, meditation, and entheogenic exploration seemed to have converged. One day I noticed a small announcement in The Village Voice regarding a lecture on “Consciousness and the Human Biocomputer” to be given by a Dr. John Lilly. Several days later, in a small hotel room on 53rd Street, I found myself listening to John Lilly’s presentation of ideas from his new book, Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments.[ii] After the lecture I introduced myself and mentioned that we had met a few years earlier in California, where I had worked as a summer engineering student for the Naval Pacific Missile Range. During lunch breaks I often went to the beach area of the base to watch porpoises being trained for the Navy, and I soon met the original custodian of the porpoises, Dr. Lilly. Somehow we discovered our mutual interest in electromagnetic communication theory and that we were both licensed amateur radio operators. Now in New York, his interests had evolved from studying interspecies communication (between human and porpoise) to introspectively exploring consciousness through the use of what he called isolation chambers, meditation techniques, and entheogenic drugs, primarily ketamine and LSD. Following his guidance, I constructed an isolation chamber in my loft on Greene Street, and began practicing various techniques for exploring consciousness, my goal being to supplement my speculations on the physics of consciousness with firsthand experience.
In my search over the last twenty years or so, to my delight, I have been able to find the published evidence and conclusions that directly support my early speculation that it might be the electromagnetic field that is the substrate and basis for human consciousness. The search has been difficult due to the tendency in the scientific community to dismiss ideas falling outside of currently accepted mainstream approaches; for instance, the global community of neurophysiologists consider looking for consciousness anywhere other than within the activity of neurons in the brain to be a waste of time. Thus, the ideas of those outside the mainstream have seldom found publishers willing to go against “conventional scientific wisdom.”
Nevertheless, this book offers a summary of ten supporting studies that are congruent with my early observation-based speculation that consciousness must be electromagnetic in nature. Though these studies often come from individuals with markedly different research interests, they are all (with the exception of Ervin László, a philosopher of science and systems theorist who has published 75 books) credentialed science professionals holding university degrees in one or more of the hard sciences (e.g., electronics, mathematics, engineering, biology, or physics).
Each of the ten theories offered in this book support my own conviction that consciousness has an electromagnetic basis or substrate, and that further research in this area will pave the way toward development of devices in the future that will interact with electrophysiological systems of the human to enhance, heal, project, expand, and empower human consciousness in ways currently unimaginable. The book also includes a chapter offering a glimpse into the range of hardware devices that have been developed in the effort to modify brain/mind activity through the application of electromagnetic fields.
The concluding chapter, “Mind of Light: Optical Networks in the
Brain,” is an effort to integrate and extend the material in earlier chapters,
and points the way to new directions in consciousness research.
[i] Pockett, “Consciousness is a Thing, Not a Process,” 12.
[ii] Lilly, Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer.