What Is Higher Consciousness?: How We Can Transcend Our Petty, Day-to-Day Desires and Gain a Deeper Wisdom

Each of us has a normal state of mind, as well as our own way of reaching a different state of mind. As the School of Life video above reminds us, such habits go back quite deep into recorded history, to the eras when, then as now, “Hindu sages, Christian monks and Buddhist ascetics” spoke of “reaching moments of ‘higher consciousness’ – through meditation or chanting, fasting or pilgrimages.” In recent years, the practice of meditation has spread even, and perhaps especially, among those of us who don’t subscribe to Buddhism, or indeed to any religion at all. Periodic fasting has come to be seen as a necessity in certain circles of wealthy first-worlders, as has “dopamine fasting” among those who feel their minds compromised by the distractions of high technology and social media. (And one needs only glance at that social media to see how seriously some of us are taking our pilgrimages.)

Still, on top of our mountain, deep into our sitting-and-breathing sessions, or even after having consumed our mind-altering substance of choice, we do feel, if only for a moment, that something has changed within us. We understand things we don’t even consider understanding in our normal state of mind, “where what we are principally concerned with is ourselves, our survival and our own success, narrowly defined.”


When we occupy this “lower consciousness,” we “strike back when we’re hit, blame others, quell any stray questions that lack immediate relevance, fail to free-associate and stick closely to a flattering image of who we are and where we are heading.” But when we enter a state of “higher consciousness,” however we define it, “the mind moves beyond its particular self-interests and cravings. We start to think of other people in a more imaginative way.”

When we rise from lower to higher consciousness, we find it much harder to think of our fellow human beings as enemies. “Rather than criticize and attack, we are free to imagine that their behavior is driven by pressures derived from their own more primitive minds, which they are generally in no position to tell us about.” The more time we spend in our higher consciousness, the more we “develop the ability to explain others’ actions by their distress, rather than simply in terms of how it affects us. We perceive that the appropriate response to humanity is not fear, cynicism or aggression, but always — when we can manage it — love.” When our consciousness reaches the proper altitude, “the world reveals itself as quite different: a place of suffering and misguided effort, full of people striving to be heard and lashing out against others, but also a place of tenderness and longing, beauty and touching vulnerability. The fitting response is universal sympathy and kindness.”

This may all come across as a bit new-age, sounding “maddeningly vague, wishy washy, touchy-feely – and, for want of a better word, annoying.” But the concept of higher consciousness is variously interpreted not just across cultural and religious traditions but in scientific research as well, where we find a sharp distinction drawn between the neocortex, “the seat of imagination, empathy and impartial judgement,” and the “reptilian mind” below. This suggests that we’d benefit from understanding states of higher consciousness as fully as we can, as well as trying to “make the most of them when they arise, and harvest their insights for the time when we require them most” — that is to say, the rest of our ordinary lives, especially their most stressful, trying moments. The instinctive, unimaginative defensiveness of the lower consciousness does have strengths of its own, but we can’t take advantage of them unless we learn to put it in its place.

Related Content:

Meditation for Beginners: Buddhist Monks & Teachers Explain the Basics

How Meditation Can Change Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Buddhist Practice

David Lynch Explains How Meditation Boosts Our Creativity (Plus Free Resources to Help You Start Meditating)

The Neuronal Basis of Consciousness Course: A Free Online Course from Caltech

The Unexpected Ways Eastern Philosophy Can Make Us Wiser, More Compassionate & Better Able to Appreciate Our Lives

Medieval Monks Complained About Constant Distractions: Learn How They Worked to Overcome Them

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Neuroscience & Jazz Improvisation: How Improvisation Shapes Creativity and What Happens Inside Our Brain

Jazz improvisation has become a hot topic in neuroscience lately, and little wonder. “Musical improvisation is one of the most complex forms of creative behavior,” write the authors of a study published in April in Brain Connectivity. Research on the brains of improvisers offers “a realistic task paradigm for the investigation of real-time creativity”—an even hotter topic in neuroscience.

Researchers study jazz players for the same reason they take MRI scans of the brains of freestyle rappers—both involve creating spontaneous works “where revision is not possible,” and where only a few formal rules govern the activity, whether rhyme and meter or chord structure and harmony. Those who master the basics can leap into endlessly complex feats of improvisatory bravado at any moment.


It’s a power most of us only dream of possessing—though it’s also the case that many a researcher of jazz improvisations also happens to be a musician, including study author Martin Norgaard, a trained jazz violinist who “began studying the effects of musical improvisation… while earning his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin,” notes Jennifer Rainey Marquez at Georgia State University Research Magazine.

Norgaard interviewed both students and professional musicians, and he analyzed the solos of Charlie Parker to find patterns related to specific kinds of brain activity. In this recent study, Norgaard, now at Georgia State University, worked with Mukesh Dhamala, associate professor of physics and astronomy, using an fMRI to measure the brain activity of “advanced jazz musicians” who sang both standards and improvisations while being scanned.

The researchers’ findings are consistent with similar studies, like those of John Hopkins surgeon Charles Limb, who also considers jazz a key to understanding creativity. While improvising, musicians show decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that generates planning and overthinking, and gets in the way of what psychologists call a state of “flow.” Improvising might engage “a smaller, more focused brain network,” says Norgaard, “while other parts of the brain go quiet.”

Training and practice in improvisation may also have longer-term results as well. A study contrasting the brain activity of jazz and classical players found that the former were much quicker and more adaptable in their thinking. The researchers attributed these qualities to changes in the brain wrought by years of improvising. Norgaard and his team are much more circumspect in their conclusions, but they do suggest a causal link.

In a study of 155 8th graders enrolled in a jazz for kids program, Norgaard found that the half who were given training in improvisation showed “significant improvement in cognitive flexibility.” Research like this not only validates the intuitions of jazz musicians themselves; it also helps define specific questions about the cognitive benefits of playing music, which are generally evident in study after study.

“For nearly three decades,” Norgaard says, “scientists have explored the idea that learning to play an instrument is linked to academic achievement.” But there are “many types of music learning.” It’s certainly not as simple as studying Bach to work on accuracy or Coltrane for flexibility, but different kinds of music creates different structures in the brain. We might next wonder about the mathematical properties of these structures, or how they interact with modern theories of physics. Rest assured, there are jazz-playing scientists out there working on the question.

via Futurity

Related Content:

This is Your Brain on Jazz Improvisation: The Neuroscience of Creativity

The Secret Link Between Jazz and Physics: How Einstein & Coltrane Shared Improvisation and Intuition in Common

Philosopher Jacques Derrida Interviews Jazz Legend Ornette Coleman: Talk Improvisation, Language & Racism (1997)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

How to Behave in a British Pub: A World War II Training Film from 1943, Featuring Burgess Meredith

Forewarned is forearmed, so in 1943, the United States Office of War Information created a training film to prevent soldiers bound for Great Britain from earning their Ugly American stripes.

The excerpt above concentrates on pub etiquette, casting actor and Army Air Corps captain Burgess Meredith in the role of a discreet military Virgil, explaining in hushed tones the British penchant for non-chilled beer and smoking or reading the paper unmolested.

He also cautions incoming GIs against throwing their money around or making fun of kilt-wearing Scotsmen—commonsense advice that still applies.


To ensure the message sticks, he conjures a cringeworthy, semi-sloshed bad apple, who struts around in uniform, braying insults at the locals, until he disappears in a puff of smoke.

No wonder the reception’s a bit frosty, when Meredith, ventures forth, also in uniform. But unlike the brash baddie who went before, Meredith has vetted his hosts, approaching as one might a skittish animal. He offers cigarettes, enjoys a game of darts as a spectator, and buys his new friends drinks, being careful to choose something in their price range, knowing that they will insist on reciprocating in kind.

The film is primarily concerned with teaching restraint.

In another section of the not-quite-38-minute film officially called A Welcome to Britain (see below), Meredith cautions young recruits to take small portions of food, knowing how restricted their hosts’ rations are.

The most uncomfortable teachable moment comes when an elderly Englishwoman spontaneously invites a black GI to tea, after thanking him for his service:

Now look men, you heard that conversation, that’s not unusual here. It’s the sort of thing that happens quite a lot. Now let’s be frank about it, there are colored soldiers as well as white here, and there are less social restrictions in this country. An English woman asking a colored boy to tea, he was polite about it, and she was polite about it. Now, that might not happen at home, but the point is, we’re not at home, and the point is too, if we bring a lot of prejudices here, what are we going to do about them?

(No advice to young black soldiers on whether they’re honor bound to accept, should an elderly Englishwoman invite them to tea, when they were perhaps en route to the pub.)

Watch the entirety of A Welcome to Britain, including a cameo by Bob Hope at the 30 minute mark, here.

For an updated guide to British pub etiquette, check out the American expats of Postmodern Family reaction video here.

via Daniel Holland

Related Content:

Free: British Pathé Puts Over 85,000 Historical Films on YouTube

1,000,000 Minutes of Newsreel Footage by AP & British Movietone Released on YouTube

How the Fences & Railings Adorning London’s Buildings Doubled (by Design) as Civilian Stretchers in World War II

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sacha Baron Cohen Links the Decline of Democracy to the Rise of Social Media, “the Greatest Propaganda Machine in History”

Presenting a keynote address at an ADL conference, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen wasn’t kidding around when he painted a bleak picture of our emerging world: “Today … demagogues appeal to our worst instincts. Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream. It’s as if the Age of Reason—the era of evidential argument—is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.”

What’s leading to these destabilizing changes? Baron Cohen could cite many reasons. But if pushed, he’ll emphasize one:

But one thing is pretty clear to me. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.

The greatest propaganda machine in history.

Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others—they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged—stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history—the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”

On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel Prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.

You can watch his sobering talk above, or read the transcript here.

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Neurosymphony: A High-Resolution Look into the Brain, Set to the Music of Brain Waves

We can’t talk about how music moves us without talking about what, exactly, music does to our brains. The musicophile neurologist Oliver Sacks made the relationship between music and the brain one of the themes of his career, and were he alive today, he would surely enjoy Neurosymphony, a new audiovisual experience of the brain now up at Aeon. It takes the highest-resolution MRI scan of the human brain in existence, featured earlier this year here at Open Culture, and mashes it up with music suitable for a journey through the cross-sections of our most impressive organ — suitable not just aesthetically, but also in the sense that it, too, was made from the stuff of the brain.

Originally scanned by the Laboratory for NeuroImaging of Coma and Consciousness (NICC) at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, this brain imagery is soundtracked in Neurosymphony by “an excerpt from the album Chapel by the US electronic musician and music-cognition researcher Grace Leslie, in which she converts her brainwaves into music.” On her web site, Leslie describes herself as “committed to harnessing the expression granted by new music interfaces to better understand the link between music and emotion, with an ultimate goal of employing musical brain-computer interfaces to promote wellness.”


A few years ago, Leslie revealed her process of converting brain waves to musical sounds to BBC Future. “Using equipment that monitors the electrical activity of her brain, changes in her heart rate and subtle shifts in the conductance of her skin, she is creating music from the signals produced by her own body while on stage,” writes Richard Gray. “Leslie plays these signals through an electronic synthesizer to produce ambient sounds that reflect what is going on in her body. She can also filter the sounds from musical instruments, like a flute, with the signals from her body to mix them together in a computer.” You can watch Leslie’s 2017 performance of another such piece, Audible, in the video below.

While Leslie’s methods produce music quite unlike what most of us are used to, her goals go beyond the performative. “Ultimately, Leslie believes this innovative form of musical expression could be used to help those who have difficulty interacting with the world, such as those with autism,” writes Gray. In this way she has something in common, beyond pure interest in the brain, with the team at the NICC, who produced their groundbreaking scans as a part of their mission to further the understanding of recovery from traumatic brain injury. All worthy pursuits, of course, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that their by-products include works like Neurosymphony that motivate us all to learn a bit more about the nature of our own brains.

Related Content:

View/Download the Highest Resolution MRI Scan of a Human Brain, Revealing It as We’ve Never Seen It Before

Music in the Brain: Scientists Finally Reveal the Parts of Our Brain That Are Dedicated to Music

The Neuroscience of Bass: New Study Explains Why Bass Instruments Are Fundamental to Music

The Neuroscience of Drumming: Researchers Discover the Secrets of Drumming & The Human Brain

The Science of Singing: New, High-Speed MRI Machine Images Man Singing ‘If I Only Had a Brain’

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Lynda Barry’s New Book Offers a Master Class in Making Comics

In the same way you don’t have to like the way your liver looks for it to be able to function, you don’t have to like the way your drawings look for them to start to work.  —Lynda Barry

Want to feel more alive in the world?

Get back in touch with your inner four-year-old artist, using methods put forward by artist, educator, and g*ddamn national treasure Lynda Barry.

Making Comics, the latest book from the University of Wisconsin associate professor, MacArthur Genius, and Omega Institute faculty member, bypasses standardized professional skills such as inking, storyboarding, and lettering, in order to foment a deeper emotional connection between cartoonist and comic.


First things first, you can draw. Stop saying you can’t. You can.

Stop saying your drawings look like they were made by a four-year-old.

In Barry’s experience, the unfettered drawings of four-year-old artists are something to aim for.

As author and comics historian Chris Gavaler notes in his Pop Matters review:

Making Comics is a love letter to every child who ever picked up a crayon and started making marks with unselfconscious intensity. Those children include her college students. Like her readers, some arrive at class with artistic training and some arrive with none at all. The latter arrive having long forgotten the uninhibited style of image-making they understood instinctively as children. Finding each of those children is Barry’s mission, and she is very very good at it.

Barry, who is childless, is keenly attuned to the sort of playful assignments that hold immediate appeal for children of all ages.

And she doles out instructions on a need to know basis, disarming the self-doubt and excuse-making that plague adult students who are presented with the big picture too early in the process.

In Making Comics, exercises include drawing with eyes closed, drawing with the non-dominant hand, two-handed drawing, simultaneous partner drawing, Exquisite Corpse, and transforming scribbles and coffee stains by teasing out whatever image they may suggest.

Barry also conveys precise instructions with regard to speed and materials, knowing that those can close as many windows as they open.

She’s battling the stifling impulse toward perfection, the impossible standards that cause so many to turn away from making pictures and stories as they mature.

Don’t sweat it! More rock, less talk! Unleash the monsters of your id! Invite unforeseen ghosts into the frame!

As Barry says:

….there are two working languages in human life. One is sort of top of the mind, what we’re conscious of. The other is this unconscious stuff that we might not know about or have access to. The way we access it is usually through this thing we call ‘the arts.’ Unfortunately, that has gotten removed from the regular daily experience of human life. What I’m trying to do is to show that there is a way that they can come together, and that you can make things in a way that makes you actually feel alive and present.

Read an excerpt of Lynda Barry’s Making Comics. Or purchase your own copy of Making Comics here.

Video at the top of the page courtesy of Art Book Walk-throughs & Reviews.

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Follow Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s 2017 “Making Comics” Class Online, Presented at UW-Wisconsin

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Blade Runner Captured the Imagination of a Generation of Electronic Musicians

“I feel that there is ‘Before Blade Runner’ and ‘After Blade Runner,’” says director Denis Villeneuve. “The movie was like a landmark in film history aesthetic.” The quote comes from this FACTmagazine promo released ahead of Villeneuve’s 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049, which examines the impact the soundtrack had on science fiction films and electronic music, as well how its entire aesthetic echoed into the ‘90s and beyond.

Composer Vangelis and director Ridley Scott had worked together previously on a Chanel commercial, and the composer had thought the choice to use his music was “brave,” according to Villeneuve. A few years later Vangelis would be asked to compose the score, which he did, improvising over footage.

The gearheads in the doc point out the Lexicon 224 reverb, a great analog effects unit, as well as the “beast,” the Yahama CS80, which would often go out of tune. (Check out YouTube user Perfect Circuit trying out some of its features).


“The best time (the synth) found its voice was on that album,” says musician Kuedo.
The doc also interviews Tricky, Gary Numan, Ikonika, Abayomi, Clare Wieck, Kuedo, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, and music producer Hans Berg, all of whom have found Blade Runner creeping into their work intentionally or subliminally. Ikonika even calls her music alter-ego a “replicant,” after the film’s androids. But the film for her was a warning: “You could see the future taking over and it would be the good times,” she says about the early ‘80s. And “then Blade Runner was like, after that, this is going to happen.” The soundtrack has gone on to have its own series of re-releases, just like Scott has released a Director’s Cut of the film.

First, it was never properly released as an album until 1994. Immediately bootlegs appeared collecting much more of the score from the film. In 2002, the best of them, the “Esper Edition,” delivered 33 tracks from the score. (And there’s a further “Retirement Edition” of the “Esper” kicking around out there.) Then in 2007, Universal Music released a 25th anniversary edition, with an extra disc of music composed for the film and *another* disc of *new* music Vangelis composed for the release. All of which shows a work that is beloved and held dear by fans.

Now that we’ve hit the month depicted in the film, and Los Angeles doesn’t exactly look like the opening scene (smoke and fire, yes; rain, not so much), it’s time to take stock of its dystopian vision.

As musician Kuedo says, “Almost 40 years later we’re still chasing it, but it’s still there ahead of us.”

Note: Villeneuve chose Christopher Nolan favorite Hans Zimmer to compose the sequel’s score, working with Benjamin Wallfisch…both much safer choices than Vangelis.

Related Content:

Blade Runner Getting Adapted into a New Anime Series, Produced by Cowboy Bebop Animator Shinichiro Watanabe

Philip K. Dick Previews Blade Runner: “The Impact of the Film is Going to be Overwhelming” (1981)

Stream 72 Hours of Ambient Sounds from Blade Runner: Relax, Go to Sleep in a Dystopian Future

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Stephen Hawking’s Black Hole Paradox Explained in Animation

Many of us have heard of Stephen Hawking but know him only as a symbol of a powerful mind dedicated for a lifetime to the thorniest problems in astrophysics. Even more of us have heard of black holes but know of them only as those dangerous things in sci-fi movies that suck in spaceships. But if we gain an understanding of Hawking’s work on black holes, however basic, we gain a much clearer view of both entities and what they mean to the human endeavor of grasping the workings of reality. What it all has to do with “one of the biggest paradoxes in the universe,” and why that paradox “threatens to unravel modern science,” provide the subject matter for the animated TED-Ed lesson above.

In order to explain what’s called the “Black Hole Information Paradox,” astrophysicist Fabio Pacucci must first explain “information,” which in this usage constitutes every part of the reality in which we live. “Typically, the information we talk about is visible to the naked eye,” he says. “This kind of information tells us that an apple is red, round, and shiny.” But what physicists care about is “quantum information,” which “refers to the quantum properties of all the particles that make up that apple, such as their position, velocity and spin.” The particles that make up every object of the universe have “unique quantum properties,” and the laws of physics as currently understood hold that “the total amount of quantum information in the universe must be conserved.”


Smash the apple into sauce, in other words, and you don’t create or destroy any quantum information, you just move it around. But in the parts of spacetime with gravity so strong that nothing can escape them, better known as black holes, that particular law of physics may not apply. “When an apple enters a black hole, it seems as though it leaves the universe, and all its quantum information becomes irretrievably lost,” says Pacucci. “However, this doesn’t immediately break the laws of physics. The information is out of sight, but it might still exist within the black hole’s mysterious void.”

Then we have Hawking Radiation, the eponymous genius’ contribution to the study of black holes, which shows that “black holes are gradually evaporating,” losing mass over “incredibly long periods of time” in such a way that suggests that “a black hole and all the quantum information it contains could be completely erased” in the process. What might go into the black hole as an apple’s information doesn’t come out looking like an apple’s information. Quantum information seems to be destroyed by black holes, yet everything else about quantum information tells us it can’t be destroyed: like any paradox, or contradiction between two known or probable truths, “the destruction of information would force us to rewrite some of our most fundamental scientific paradigms.”

But for a scientist in the Hawking mold, this difficulty just makes the chase for knowledge more interesting. Pacucci cites a few hypotheses: that “information actually is encoded in the escaping radiation, in some way we can’t yet understand,” that “the paradox is just a misunderstanding of how general relativity and quantum field theory interact, that “a solution to this and many other paradoxes will come naturally with a ‘unified theory of everything,'” and most boldly that, because “the 2D surface of an event horizon” — the inescapable edge of a black hole — “can store quantum information,” the boundary of the observable universe “is also a 2D surface encoded with information about real, 3D objects,” implying that “reality as we know it is just a holographic projection of that information.” Big if true, as they say, but as Hawking seems to have known, the truth about our reality is surely bigger than any of us can yet imagine.

via Brain Pickings

Related Content:

Stephen Hawking’s Final Book and Scientific Paper Just Got Published: Brief Answers to the Big Questions and “Information Paradox”

Stephen Hawking’s Lectures on Black Holes Now Fully Animated with Chalkboard Illustrations

Watch A Brief History of Time, Errol Morris’ Film About the Life & Work of Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking’s Uplifting Message: You Can Get Yourself Out of Any Hole, No Matter What Their Size

The Largest Black Holes in the Universe: A Visual Introduction

Watch a Star Get Devoured by a Supermassive Black Hole

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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