Cosmos Café - Bioelectric Fields and Cognition [2022-05-05]


Colored stains show different layers of a tadpole eye during an experiment in Michael Levin’s lab. | VAIBHAV P. PAI/TUFTS UNIVERSITY

Bodies within Nature or Cosmos (bodies within reality) can be explained through various levels of understanding: mathematics, genetics, biophysics, biochemistry, bioelectricity, biomechanics, anatomy, psychology, spirituality, and all in between. Bioelectricity (sometimes equated with bioelectromagnetism) refers to the electrical, magnetic or electromagnetic fields produced by living cells, tissues or organisms. Bioelectricity often resides on the edge of cutting philosophical and medical implications or cutting remarks from scientists with an alternate view of the natural world and evolution. Michael Levin doesn’t claim to understand all the various levels of describing nature, nor does he maintain that developmental bioelectricity (his particular field within the wider field) is the only important level. Yet his research has received interest from all sides of the cut.

Michael Levin directs the Allen Discovery Center and the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. His experiments with planeria, xenobots and internal signaling networks has profound implications for medicine, evolution, agency, consciousness and creativity. And, as we explored in Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop, this research raises questions: what is a self? What is it like to be a self?

Levin: “I look everywhere, and I ask the question What’s the cognitive nature of this system? What’s it like to be a—what’s your sensory world like, what decisions are you making, what memories do you have, if any? What predictions do you make? Do you anticipate future events? Slime molds can anticipate regular stimuli. I look for cognition everywhere. In some places you don’t find it, and that’s fine, but I think I see it broader than many people.”

In a recent tweet, Levin quotes William James from Principles of Psychology, suggesting a panpsychist leaning (he even goes so far to state that consciousness is present in the particles of rocks:

“So strong a postulate is continuity! . . . We ought therefore ourselves sincerely to try every possible mode of conceiving the dawn of consciousness so that it may not appear equivalent to the irruption into the universe of a new nature, non-existent until then. . . . Consciousness, however small, is an illegitimate birth in any philosophy that starts without it, and yet professes to explain all facts by continuous evolution. If evolution is to work smoothly, consciousness in some shape must have been present at the very origin of things.” ~ William James, 1890

Is it okay for a panpsychist to be a developmental biologist? What possibilities arise from having an alternate framework, one that is not the primarily accepted view on how the natural world works?

Reading / Watching / Listening

Michael Levin’s The Computational Boundary of a “Self”: Developmental Bioelectricity Drives Multicellularity and Scale-Free Cognition

Developmental Bioelectricity

Seed Questions

  • How do coherent biological Individuals result from the activity of smaller sub-agents?
  • What are the implications of having an expanded memory? And if you or anyone you know is stressed out by anticipating future large scale events, where could that anticipation come from?
  • Is there a relationship between Bioelectric Fields and the Subtle Bodies?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

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Levin’s essay celebrates a flexible capacity for creating a boundary between Self and World as the shifting scale of a cognitive agent. And when you go to sleep at night and have a dream what happens to the shifting scale of your cognitive agent?

A Dream from the Etheric 4/24/22

I have a conversation with my mother. I say," You had to deal with the atomic bomb. I have had to deal with that and also with the problem of the sun turning into a supernova that will burn up the planet." She gives me a stern expression, such as I remember her giving me in my childhood, when she was mad at me. " And the scorn I see on your face, Mama, I will return to you."

Receiving my feedback, the pixels that make up her face alter. Her face appears to relax . Then, I relax. My voice floats, her face floats, in an infinite space resting upon a swarm of pixels…then other dreams assembled themselves around another kind of agent transmitting from another subtle field but I cannot find them, now…

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Subtle Body as revealed through pop culture comes out of esoteric traditions. Kripal calls this the Secret Body. What happens if this secret becomes more public? Phillip Moffitt’s work offers a primer for developing this kind of embodiment from a Buddhist orientation. There is also a vast Neo-Platonist tradition to contrast with the East. Can Bioelectric Fields be a reframing of these Subtle Realms? Levin claims his fields are physical but where exactly does he draw the line?

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I have added flesh to the introduction (possibly aided by xenobots) and welcome others to continue adding in thoughts and questions. I also want to note to others the change in usual Café time (from noon Mountain to 11am Mountain) which has not been discussed by all attendees. If we need to, we can set aside space here or during the call to determine future Café times.


Michael Levin is an important figure for bringing forth real science that cannot be denied or brushed aside like the speculations of Rupert Sheldrake or William Tiller. His lab is creating a solid foundation for exploring this unseen and mostly unknown nature. One can be well versed in the nine bodies or a pro at prodding xenobodies; are we exploring the same spaces? The same “materials”? Can the subjective experience of consciousness be measured? How would we know if the biofields are the same as the subtle realms?

I believe this connection is occurring in the works of authors and practitioners. Eileen McKusick, noted for her mapping of certain human biofields while using a tuning fork, claims to have located memories. McKusick describes that memories are found at a certain distance from the physical body. The more recent memories are closer to the body; the older the memory, the further away from the body. She even describes finding that some of her clients have past lives ‘stored’ in their biofield, at about 20 feet from the physical body. She discovered this on her own and had it reaffirmed when researching others such as Sheldrake.

(This impresses me when examined in light of Bergson’s model. It may be something that either extends Bergson’s explorations or contradict/negate his non-spatial aspect of time and memory (duree). I understand there are a variety of memory designations when we speak about memory (habit, etc.), so perhaps there is a spatial dimension to some memory forms and more temporal dimensions to others. )

If Levin is claiming his fields are physical, I would imagine we need to start expanding our definition of physical. Plasma, the fourth state of matter, is under the spell of electric and magnetic fields. I do not remember being taught about plasma when learning about liquids, solids and gases. Things become a bit more cosmic when we introduce unseen forces and states into our vocabulary and the minds of our kin.

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That’s a fantastic write-up, Doug, with some provocative “seed questions.” Where exactly our memories are stored, and how, is a portal of a question to ponder—and I have to wonder thus how biofields interact with time, how we can “remember the future” or remember other lives. Imagination is involved but also access. It is more and more obvious to me that consciousness goes all the way down (not to mention all the way up). Do you remember what it’s like to be a mouse? Or a protozoa? Or a quantum field? Sometimes I think I might…

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You may remember, Doug, when you and your family visited New York, while we sat upstairs, you mentiond Levin. I hadn’t given him much attention at that time. Later, as we walked towards Grand Central,( I called this famous bit of architecture a Cathedral of Capitalism). As we crossed the threshold from the noisy street, walking through the first level of the building, little Vincent wiggling in your arms, there was a change in the quality of sound. The sound echoed in the building. Then crossing the second threshold, the space changed dramatically. The dome appeared way above our heads, illustrated by the zodiac. We all stood silent for a moment. I said, as you looked up, into your right ear," It’s about the difference in scale."

Of course, scale is produced by the felt sense of the body as visual, acoustic, and kinesthetic aspect of the sensorium are re-arranged by the space. We looked up, and contrast our hurried pace, from outside, with the starry, starry night of the ancient astrologers, ancient symbols of the zodiac, sparkling across a blue background, high above our heads, in an echo space, on the inside of the building . Spaces, internal and external, interior and exterior co-refer

Micheal Levin is a biologist working with differences in scale, the very tiny, as seen through lenses and colored by pigments and dye. Some of those differences can be measured or timed, some can’t, for the phenomena he observes does not sit still, nor is it actually visible. It is transitional, it has not been contained, yet. Levin is observing and participating by cutting off heads and tails, and making guesses, from different kinds of mental and physical and social space, of what might happen next. He values control and prediction.

He debunks that the structure of the organism is determined by the genes. Nothing is determined by the genes. The information that structures the organism is not in the genome but in the bioelectric layer which Levin claims can re-write the instructions of the genome. Notice the metaphor of reading and writing, code-switiching, telling a cell what to do, receiving the message, etc. Notice how these metaphorical constructs are drawn from literary theory, the nature of symbol, sign, signal, implied firsts, seconds, and thirds of a triadic nature, as described by Peirce in great detail. The phenomena Levin studies with intuition as well as logic and as he uses abductive logic to figure out how uncontained finds a containment and until it is said, written down, coded by someone or something that Levin can’t exactly specify, it would drift away, fall apart, make no sense. An agent is required to hold the ensemble together. Relational circuits. These are the laws of form, or perhaps the habits of form.

So, Levin wisely stays within the realm of agent, cognition, and the common tropes of cognitive science and computational theory. He is not a vulgar materialist nor does he set out to create another TOE. But is that all there is? He stops there and goes no further. He clarifies the nature of consciousness as first person. Everything else is a correlate of consciousness. He claims we haven’t an adequate vocabulary. And where would such a vocabulary come from? And if he does re-activate a new limb, or cure cancer, what happens next? Can we continue to guzzle gas, pollute the atmosphere, and burn down the rain forest? If we can cure cancer then we can bypass those ethical questions and keep on partying.

And when we went to Time Square, a concrete jungle, with large canyons, after the Space of Grand Central, we were outdoors again, in the midst of a garish, consumerism, all lit up, people high on caffein and sugar, gazing into smart phones. Sirens blaring. You called it surreal. I said farewell to the Duff family. And you took the Path Train back to Jersey.

And a few weeks later we are co-sponsoring Levin’s work from our online network. And the ball got rolling by a casual remark you made about Levin, and an eqully casual remark I made about scale. Could we have intuited a sense of the invisible whole even in these off the cuff remarks that I may have pulled up from the akasha records of my memory, a memory that no one seems to know the location of? We give, each of us, to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.

A third eye? A third ear?

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Some Feeling,Seeing & Listening Image Responses …

higher-consciousness-grids-1

energytouch

outstrectched+FINAL+FINAL

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No. But I do remember becoming a dog, having paws . I have been a human who was torn apart by dogs. I felt them chew on my bones from within a thick blackness. I remember being burned at the stake for heresy, killed in battle. I recall being other races and genders, of visiting extraterrestrials, of being victim and also of having abused power and wealth. I’ve lived from both sides of the split. Last night I worked with a celestial, white bird.

Yes. Definiitely. I try to take notes. Of course the imagery changes a lot and is not obvious what it means or what level it comes from. There is a great affective burden that is pre-categorical." Words", my Daddy used to say “are cheap”.

As I practice the Nine Bodies these capacities to remember are starting to stabilize. Moffitt’s map and practice is great for the physical and subtle but the causal is very subtle. Ice, water, steam. I have to turn to Neo-Platonism for a framework for these Causal bodies. I am a Double, the Twin ,which holds very strong contact with a Divine Being of light, very electric, and I know this area of the psyche well. This is why I don’t fear death, for I am already dead. Dead and alive at the same time, like Shrodinger’s cat. And this is where I tend to write from when I am at my best. Of course, I am rarely, when I write, at my best. I muddle on through with the dualistic language games that I am given.

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Neuroscience keeps telling that it has been amply proven that memories are stored in the brain by so-called “engram cells”. But when one looks at the evidence, one doesn’t find much other than speculations after speculation. Nevertheless, they keep talking about it as if it has been finally proven. This is going on for a century now. The works of Levin on the sea slug, ‘aplysia (already stuff discovered by James McConnell in 1959) is fascinating in this regard. It does for sure not store its memory in the brain. Of course, the physicalists will tell you that then it must be somewhere else in the body and the whole research may go on for another century in this way.

In Levin it is all about EM fields and chemical pathways. This protects him from the accusation of standing beyond naturalism. But the fact is that the material causes are becoming less and less material. The very notion of “physical” changes. What was once supernatural has become physical nowadays. But plasma is not un-physical, it is just a different state of aggregation or of matter. I guess we will sooner or later discover other more “subtle” forces beyond the gravitational, electromagnetic and nuclear. I feel that the real question is not so much what is physical, rather what will show up with elements of cognition, consciousness beyond a mechanistic and deterministic behavior. That would change everything.

The fact that we are not determined entirely by our genes is something known since the results of the Human Genome Project. But this narrative survives. As British psychologist Ken Richardson summarizes: “So the hype now pouring out of the mass media is popularizing what has been lurking in the science all along: a gene-god as an entity with almost supernatural powers. Today it’s the gene that, in the words of the Anglican hymn, ‘makes us high and lowly and orders our estate.”

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Hi, My Fellow Cosmos Cafe’ Circle


I will be unable to make this Thursday,I am tasked to take my Daughter to
LAX for a flight and it is at the time the Cafe’ starts & with LA traffic,I am
not sure I can catch a good “Traffic” wave to make it back in time.
If the Gods favor me,maybe I’ll be 30mins late? Will Be Checking Out the Recording “For Sure”…Play Beautiful Music!!!

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So we get to the scale of bioelectric fields, ion channels, gap junctions. That is where the information (or sense of formal structure) is that “knows how” to grow a tadpole or a nematode, given the right cellular sub-structures to work with. If we perturb these mechanisms, we can learn how to hack the morphogenetic process. We can possibly cure cancer. We can even create spin-off life forms such as Levin’s “Xenobots.”

How exactly does a bioelectric field hold or intend a body plan? If the form of a frog face is somehow stored in an electric field, that still doesn’t tell us about why any sense of a body would be there in the first place. And then does consciousness only arise at the level of the cell? What about entities more fundamental than the cell—molecules, atoms, quarks? These are embodiments of forces, with powerful identities that can withstand countless transformations. They have will and strong field components of their own.

I am skeptical of the claim that the material substrate does not matter—that a thermostat is on the same continuum as a bacterium or a plant. I do not believe that cybernetics can explain consciousness. A photon embodies the will to be itself. We can alter its trajectory using gravity (mass) and other field effects. But it’s hard to keep a good photon down. At some point mustn’t we look to the source of the photon? Who seems to be signaling us? And maybe all the light in the world is trying to tell us something?

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Still not there yet, but they are slowly discovering it in smaller structures in the cell:

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Nor do I. Pure consciousness without any objects has no goals. Cybernetics deals directly with goal directed behaviors and an organism’s steering capacity. How do you figure out how to fill up a glass of water unless you can direct your attention to the water rising in the glass as the water flows from the faucet and you can organize when to turn off the flow by using the hand and eyes in a coordinated movement? This is bio-feedback in action. The glass is half empty or half full depending upon how thirsty the person performing the action is. Filling up a glass with water is a complicated, goal directed, behavior. Most of us can do this without thinking too much about it. Thinking about the action might mess it up. It is more or less a computation happening outside of the awareness of the person. But when you were a child you may have had to practice this movement until it became automatic and unconscious.

How do we create a robot ( who never gets thirsty) to perform this simple action? There is first order, second order and third order cybernetics arising out these simple and increasingly more complex performances using Bio-tech, AI, Robotics, which compete with and perhaps cooperate with their human sponsors. We are at a dangerous impasse. Especially if we are still stuck in a Warrior archetype which we are. We can create robots and drones that can kill efficiently on a scale unimaginable.

And as Levin acknowledges his project is not about an explanation of consciousness but is rather about agency from a third person, objective orientation that only works with correlates of consciousness. Consciousness is first person phenomena, located and non-located, depending upon how far up the scale a person can resonate. Some persons only resonate with the manifest, others can explore subtle ranges and some can explore non-manifested capacities ( pure consciousness events). These potentials are dormant in most persons unless they are trained or have a trauma that wakes them up. There is a difference between possibilties that the culture encourages and potentials that the culture denies are possible. This can create cognitive dissonance in sensitive persons. We are a profoundly mono-phasic culture but this is not inevitable. Levin gives us signs of hope that we can mature into a more polyphasic culture.

The third person, objectivist stance Levin admits can’t say anything about consciousness. But Levin, as he wrestles with agency, self, and systems is not stuck in a gross body only as he makes clear in this curious question which seems to open up beyond the boundaries he has set up for his project.

" What would a being with much larger cognitive boundary than a typical Homo Sapiens be like? It is interesting to consider whether this is the outcome envisioned in classical traditions that posited evolution of human consciousness to a state of Buddha-hood -a cognitve boundary so large that such an individual would be capable of being directly concerned aobut the individual welfare of myriad of beings. It is likely that efforts in artificial life, bio-medical enhancement, or engineered AI will give rise to much larger Selves, since it is unlikely that today’s human cognitve sphere is the maximum possible one."

But how do we achieve scale free cognition? I’m not convinced by Levin as sympathetic as I am to his desire to cure cancer and gobble up toxic molecules with frog-bots. I would argue that the human cognitive sphere is restricted without gestalt making, perceptual shifting, unpredictable, affective attunements, pre-linguistic and trans-linguistic , linked with body experience ( gross, subtle,causal). His project leaves out most of this as he claims he stays in the physical field. But I doubt this claim. The boundary between fields, cultural, social, mathematical, overlap in ways that his models do not. And there are centripetal and centrifugal forces that are unpredictable and uncontrollable in open systems outside of closed laboratory conditions Levin is dealing with ( let’s hope nothing escapes!) His is not a cross-over meta-model but stays in the upper right quadrant. Unless we can move back and forth between cognitive and affective centers with shifting peripheries we can’t predict much except disaster. We need to move across zones of interiors and exteriors in ever increasing relational complexity. We have enough engineers doing excellent work but not enough interior development in relational circuits to proceed wisely. Are human too big to fail? If we rely on exteriors and externals only we are doomed to fail. I am open to believe that this is not inevitable and so will show up tomorrow to rehearse alternatives.

image

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We’ll have to give it a try one of these days. I can appreciate the engineering approach, but it does not have a purpose without the aesthetic, which is a domain of value judgments. How will we know what kind of synthetic life-forms to create without becoming artists?

A code of ethics may limit what we create in lab or what could be commercialized for social uses, but where will the creative ideas come from that would make the work worthwhile? If we cure cancer, rather than, say, manufacture races of autonomous killer nano-swarms, with this technology, it will be because of a sense of care and concern for human life at the level of feeling, an experiential aim of creating “a more beautiful world.”

I am a little bit worried about the double-headed flatworms, or whatever they are…

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And yet Levin claims they are perfectly happy with two heads instead of one. Is he entering into a special telepathic state to register this? Now, that would be interesting.

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I dashed this off. Looking forward to “rehearsing” it during our session…

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The Power Of Trio at the Cosmos Cafe’
Enjoyed the Voices , Call-Response & the Silences-Pauses.

Here’s a Response to Doug’s Medieval Painting that Flirted into my
Sensorium yesterday:


Looking Beyond the Veil!

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And after the Cafe, what action can you take that will amplify your learnings? I share an action plan below. Please feel free to share different responses to our last Cafe experience and come up with your own action plan that could amplify your shared learnings, understandings, objections, and/or mutations.

This self-modeling process arose out of a previous question offered by Doug. He asked about the difference between integration and expansion. Thanks for the question, Doug!

THE COGNITIVE PHASE

I believe I summed up where I stand in relation to philosophy when I said: one
should really only do philosophy as poetry.—Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1933 or 1934

image

An example of homologous structures are the limbs of humans, cats, whales, and bats . Regardless of whether it is an arm, leg, flipper or wing, these structures are built upon the same bone structure. Homologies are the result of divergent evolution.

THE EXPANSION PHASE

And what determines homologous organ from analogy?

Investigate the llustration while holding that question in your mind. Other questions might arise. Then let that go…

On your back, eyes closed, with a soft focus, tune into the earth element.

Feel the bones, the hardness, the stability of the skeletal structure, as you also feel the soft curve of the earth beneath your relaxed human form…while you maintain the soft focus on the earth you can also become aware of the breath… earth and breath at the same time, and balance stillness with energetic flow. Bring in the emotional body, an ocean of emotion, then tune into the subtle ranges, the etheric, the astral, the intuitive…

Take all the time you need to become aware of the arm, the upper arm, the elbow, the lower arm, the wrist, the hand, the fingers…

While maintaining stillness, and a soft inner focus, explore both arms, right and left, one at a time, and then explore both right and left at the same time. Can you become aware of these bone structures with your expanded subtle senses?

THE INTEGRATION PHASE

An when you have returned to your physical human form make a poem, dance, song, sketch that makes sense to you. If you learned nothing or draw a blank that is okay, too. You might consider where the blank comes from?

Then you might want to consider Thomas Nagel’s What is Is It Like to Be a Bat? Nagel concludes that we can’t know that. But then he is a philosopher, not a poet.

nagel_bat.pdf (1.1 MB)

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Thanks for this question, John, and for the guided meditation. I will try it one of these days. I feel it would also be nice to have an audio recording of the instructions—even though they are relatively simple—since it can be nice for there to be a welcoming voice to attune to as one settles into a novel meditative state.

As for myself, I think I am going to re-visit our last talk, which I quite enjoyed, and intentionally listen for what it might add to a second iteration of the poem I shared above and at the beginning of our talk. There is some juice in there (moving from my personal “1st” to Levin’s “2nd” to the “3rd” of our dialogue), which I sense I have not yet squeezed.

I like the beginning and I like the end, but there are some dry parts in the middle that I would like to make sing.

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" Rather than speak of the period before language as pre-linquistic we should speak of the advent of language as post-kinetic." Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, Philosopher of Dance

I sense that you are making the effort to ground your experience of the Cafe with your work as poet/editor/community organizer. This is of great interest to me. My notes to myself about my own process I often share not to suggest a course of action for others but as a course of action for myself. This is to make more transparent where I come from. This has been a struggle as voice and movement are primary to me, subtle capacities which these online forums don’t support well. So please feel free to find your own way through the maze of your own process and share what you are comfortable with sharing. And I will muse upon your very suggestive suggestion.

I highlight what I am picking up upon in your message and bring attention to that. Please feel free to explore or to put aside. I am making a comment about my own communicative practice which may or may not be relevant to your own communique. As we are often trapped in anomolous zones of non-repricocity on line I feel it is important to try to respond properly to the ear/eye/kinetcs of the Other. Most recently I have included the movement of my thinking , as movement is primary for me to make sense of anything. And movement can work with high levels of abstract/concrete when words often get paradoxical and very dry . Movement and speech are in close proximity, sometimes they overlap, sometimes not but when I am at my best, writing becomes a form of breathwork. That is what I want to develop further in these fragile on line networks where the tech enables and disables,. I want to release the blocked flows of subtle energy locked up in our misuse of our devices. We should speak of origin of language as post-Kinetic. I am because I can move and in more than one body.

There is begining of an action plan emerging that can make concrete and that might compliment the Cafe ensemble. Here are the patterns in your communique that connect with the I that is me.

That’s a first step. Thank you.

And when I would like to make sing…can that happen?

And what needs to happen to make that happen?

I bring attention to my own process as I am working with a vast ensemble of mixed messages from different layers of the psyche and the culture. In the above questions I have offered I am drawn to the agent. Below I riff on my recent encounters with my own process of working with creative writing and developing a theme. I riff upon the Bioelecticity motif which we explored through Levin’s sociobiology experiments with two headed worms.

Last night I worked with the Intuitve Body as it ovelapped with the Spiritual Body.

After Nine Bodies meditation I slept for a few hours and felt a buzzing through my sensorium. I was in the Astral realm helping a man move a large black box into a room. In the box I felt the presence of a person curled up into a fetal position and having thoughts which I could telepathically connect to. We opened the black box and the person inside was Joni Mitchell. She said," I have been thinking about Gregory Bateson." She is weak and very wobbly and the man who is with her is a silent witness who is taking care of her. I know the work of Bateson well. He coined the phrase, the pattern that connects.

I respond to Joni with a question that Bateson would ask his students. I raise my hand and asked her," If you were a plant, how many fingers would I have?"

She said," Five."

I said, " Wrong. A plant doesn’t count. A plant percieves the space between the fingers and responds with feeling for those relational spaces between the fingers. Nature decorates the world we see with her feelings. She doesn’t say "The branch of this tree gets twenty three leaves. " Instead, she knows about qualia and responds with colorful feelings. " I was walking in a park with Joni and making gestures that created silver and gold leaves to appear upon the trees.

( I’m reminded that physcist Richard Fenyman said, " Trees do not come from the ground, they come from the air.")

We are stardust, we are golden…

When I returned to the gross body I recorded the subtle experience with Joni and mused upon that encounter. I started to write a big chunk of my narrative, The Enigma of an Evil Dream. The narrative ( fact/fiction) is taking on a life of it’s own that is weaved toghether with my own sense of agency. It is a tender feeling that leads me through the dark forest of memory and desire.I hope this makes sense to you and there is a lot that is coming through this morning as I have re-connected to the Astral/Earth which I somatized in our last couple of Cafes.

May the Force be with us!

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