A Conversation with Stuart Hameroff

For more than 30 years I have generally come to the Arizona desert once a year, where my parents escape the Minnesota winters.

It is in Arizona where I first learned to write from a subconscious space. Something about the starkness of the seemingly inhospitable whitewashed pebbly dirt… the ashen green scrub brushes and aggressive cacti reaching arms to gigantic blue sky… and, at certain vistas, the jagged jutting of rock formations out of the earth.

It all serves to remind that Nature came first.

Man might have erected the homes, laid out the railroad track, filled much of the oasis with shopping malls, and poured tar over the horse trails for highway traffic… but it was the universe in all its earthy and ethereal majesty that let us take root. And, as natural disasters serve to remind, the universe can easily take away what we have built.

It was with this awesome reminder of the ordering of life that I tiptoed out of my parents’ Arizona condo one morning at dawn — with my children still nestled in their beds — and I set out through the desert shadows, driving south toward Tucson. I rarely find myself in this morning twilight, outside of a city, watching the orange sky spread out before the full light of day sets in. It was a perfect way to start my Big Conversation of the day.

A few hours later, I pulled into a large hospital complex at the University of Arizona in Tucson and met for the first time Stuart Hameroff, who is an anesthesiologist and one of my consciousness rock stars.

StuartHameroffI was acquainted with Hameroff from his appearance in the movie What the Bleep Do We Know? I didn’t remember why he became one of my rock stars — I hadn’t seen the movie in years. But after we sat down in the hospital cafeteria — surrounded by surgeons in scrubs, and visitors to those whose bodies were struggling — I remembered. It wasn’t anything he said in particular… it was how he said it.

Sharing the Story of Thought

There is a solidity to the science of consciousness that I think sometimes gets lost in the messaging — and, of course, the conflicting theories, since no one really knows anything.

While faith in concepts such as near-death experience, past-life regression, precognition, intentional awareness, healing energies, and simply the power of conscious living is well and good [all topics to be explored here on Connected], some of us need a list of ingredients on the side of the box. What might this be made of, if anything? Why should we trust in something that is beyond our existing powers of sight and smell and taste and touch and hearing?

Stuart Hameroff has — sometimes begrudgingly, knowing that someone’s got to do it — been instrumental in bringing together neuroscientists, behavioral psychologists, philosophers, biologists, and quantum physicists in conversation for 10 years at the Science of Consciousness Conference led by his Center for Consciousness Studies.

He is a connecting point between the philosophies of David Chalmers (who directed the Center’s conferences for five years after helping to galvanize Hameroff’s first one in 1994) and Deepak Chopra (who has spoken at many of them)… and his own understanding of consciousness based on his daily work and collaborative work… and some of the world’s leading scientists engaged with the question of Why/How We Are Conscious? What do we know? What did we know but are now stymied in discovering we are wrong? Why are we — not just looking out from in, but… what might be out that we can’t see?

[The Consciousness Central website, created with Nick Day (who I met at SAND and who was instrumental in setting up my meet-and-greet with Hameroff) is a unique compilation of interviews from the 2014 conference.]

So why Hameroff?

I will write more in the future about Hameroff’s theory of consciousness, created with the eminent British physicist Roger Penrose… but suffice it to say that Hameroff is a no-nonsense, articulate, well-reasoned spokesperson and “regular guy” who understands, from an interdisciplinary view, the scientific Holy Grail quest for a Theory of Everything. And one that includes consciousness in the discussion. (How can a theory of Everything not include everything?… yet many on this quest don’t seem to be including consciousness in the discussion.)

He wants more deep-rooted reason in theories than even some quantum physicist’s offer. He does not try to get everyone to hold hands in harmony, but likes to encourage debate (even if it pisses people off in the process). He understands the academic value of having discussion from multiple points of view. He is proactively impatient with those who think science is generally right enough to decide who is wrong.

And… he is — albeit perhaps more enmeshed than most of us in this topic — a regular person. He enjoys watching sports with his son, rides a motorcycle to work, and has a sense of humor. He got into anesthesiology largely because he was intrigued with the Philosophy of the Mind — which led to an invitation, as he was floundering in pre-med options, to become a guy who knows how to safely and temporarily take consciousness away.

Currently he is researching whether adding vibrations to the brain — ultrasound-style — can impact depression, traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s loss.

Helping to further the discussion

In “What the Bleep,” Hameroff emerged as someone who made sense in the ways that many of us need.

For two hours, I got to cover a lot of terrain with him… understanding things better… recognizing simplicities in my own thinking… and testing a few concepts through his perspective. How does he wrap his own brain around things as odd as our brains?

My role at Connected in the Deep is to write what I am learning. My desire is to encourage more of us to feel stronger about what we think we know about what we think we know… and recognize what we thought we knew that no longer makes sense.

There are amazing minds chewing on this who see a paradigm shift in science coming. We don’t have to sit with Buddhist monks, or listen to science-of-consciousness panel debates, or become masters of transcendental meditation, or have a particularly attuned intuitive sense, in order to recognize that life is not all that it seems to be — it is… a lot more.

Thanks to people like Hameroff, and Tom Shadyac, and Edgar Mitchell… and people we can sit with in deep conversation, or connect with in online discussion, or read, or absorb in bite-sized chunks… we are, bit by bit, dawning.

IMG_3561We might be driving on man-made highways past man-made shopping malls and small towns into man-made cities and universities and hospital cafeterias… but the more we start to remember that Nature Came First, the more we might begin to live in honor of the universe from whence everything comes.

Happy Holidays All!

— Mikki Morrissette

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