Friday, April 29, 2016

Via Sri Prem Baba: Flor do dia / Flor del dia / Flower of the Day – 29/04/2016

“Amar requer uma grande coragem, a coragem de ser humilde. Somente com muita coragem você pode ser humilde. Todo orgulhoso é um grande covarde, pois o orgulho é uma armadura que serve para impedir a revelação. Para amar, você terá que se tornar extremamente suscetível. Terá que lidar com uma profunda fragilidade, terá que expor seus pontos mais vulneráveis.”
Sri Prem Baba
Do livro “Amar e Ser Livre”

“Amar requiere de un gran coraje, el coraje de ser humilde. Solamente con mucho coraje puedes ser humilde. Todo orgulloso es un gran cobarde, pues el orgullo es una armadura que sirve para impedir la revelación. Para amar, tendrás que volverte extremadamente susceptible. Tendrás que lidiar con una profunda fragilidad, tendrás que exponer tus puntos más vulnerables.”
Del libro “Amar y Ser Libre”

“Being able to love requires great courage – the courage to be humble. Only with a lot ofcourage can we be truly humble. Pride is nothing but cowardice, because pride is merely an armor that serves to prevent us from revealing ourselves. In order to love, we must become extremely vulnerable. We need to deal with a profoundsense of fragility, and expose our most vulnerable points.”
From Love and Be Free

Via Daily Dharma / April 29, 2016: Where Do Thoughts Come From?

On the deepest level, even the thoughts that arise in our head during meditation are cocreated with the society in which we live. When we think any thought, it is a reflection of our cultural heritage, our education, and our socialization.

—Ethan Nichtern, "Awake with Others"

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Via Sri Prem Baba: Flor do dia / Flor del dia / Flower of the Day – 28/04/2016

“Para um explorador da consciência realmente disposto a se conhecer, o medo é uma ferramenta de autoconhecimento. O medo tem sempre algo a ensinar. Por isso, quando ele bater na sua porta, procure colocar-se presente, mesmo se estiver tremendo da cabeça aos pés. A partir daí, observe: Quem em você está se sentindo ameaçado? Quem em você vê a vida como um perigo? Você verá que existe um eu encantado com uma história de terror que você acredita ser a sua vida. Você acredita ser esse eu amedrontado, mas ele é apenas um personagem que você criou para se defender; ele é um produto das crenças instaladas no seu sistema a partir de eventos traumáticos do passado. E devido à identificação com o passado você fantasia o futuro – um futuro que não existe.”

“Para un explorador de la consciencia realmente dispuesto a conocerse, el miedo es una herramienta de autoconocimiento. El miedo tiene siempre algo que enseñarte. Por eso, cuando golpee tu puerta, busca colocarte presente, incluso si estuvieras temblando de la cabeza a los pies. A partir de ahí, observa: ¿Quién en ti está sintiéndose amenazado? ¿Quién en ti ve la vida como un peligro? Verás que existe un yo encantado con una historia de terror que crees que es tu vida. Crees ser ese yo amedrentado, pero es apenas un personaje que creaste para defenderte, es un producto de las creencias instaladas en tu sistema a partir de eventos traumáticos del pasado. Y debido a la identificación con el pasado, fantasías con el futuro, un futuro que no existe.”

“For an explorer of consciousness who istrulycommitted to knowing oneself, fear is just a tool forself-awareness. Fear always has something to teach us. For this reason, when fear knocks on our door, we should aim to return to the present moment, even if we have been completely shaken from head to toe. From this place of presence, we can observe and ask ourselves, ‘Who in me feels threatened? Who in me views life as dangerous?’Then, we can begin to see that there is a particular psychological self that is mesmerized by this horror story that we believe our lives to be. We believe that we are this terrified self, but it is merely a character we have created as a self-defense. It is a product of the beliefs that were programmed into our systems due to traumatic events from thepast. This identification with the past is what causes us to fantasize about the future; a future that doesn’t even exist.”

Via FB:

A man and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead.

He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years. He wondered where the road was leading them.

After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like fine marble... At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight.

When he was standing before it he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold. He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side.
When he was close enough, he called out, 'Excuse me, where are we?'

'This is Heaven, sir,' the man answered.. 'Wow! Would you happen to have some water?' the man asked.

Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up. 'The man gestured, and the gate began to open.

'Can my friend,' gesturing toward his dog, 'come in, too?' the traveler asked.

'I'm sorry, sir, but we don't accept pets.'

The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog.

After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence.

As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.

'Excuse me!' he called to the man. 'Do you have any water?'

'Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there, come on in.'

'How about my friend here?' the traveler gestured to the dog.

'There should be a bowl by the pump.'

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it.

The traveler filled the water bowl and took a long drink himself, then he gave some to the dog.

When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree..

'What do you call this place?' the traveler asked.

'This is Heaven,' he answered.

'Well, that's confusing,' the traveler said. 'The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.'

'Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That's hell.'

'Doesn't it make you mad for them to use your name like that?'

'No, we're just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind.

Via Daily Dharma / April 28, 2016: Learn Your Thought Patterns

As we become more familiar with our thoughts in meditation, we will see how repetitive our thoughts are. We often think very similar things over and over again and it is actually rare to have what I would call a creative, original thought.

—Martine Batchelor, "Meditation, Mental Habits, and Creative Imagination"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Liberal Redneck - American Family Association Boycotts Target

Via Sri Prem Baba - Flor do dia / Flor del dia / Flower of the Day – 27/04/2016

“Apesar de ser bastante influenciado pelo hinduísmo, o caminho que eu proponho é o da síntese. Comumente faço uso da cosmovisão das escrituras védicas para explicar determinados fenômenos e celebro as datas do calendário hindu, mas também celebro datas de outras tradições, como a cristã, judaica, budista, entre outras datas que, de alguma maneira, nos auxiliam a lembrar do propósito de estarmos encarnados aqui na Terra. Além disso, não deixo de agradecer e reverenciar os canais que deram passagem para o conhecimento científico, especialmente aqueles que se dedicaram a entender a psique humana como Freud, Jung, William James entre outros.”

“A pesar de ser bastante influenciado por el hinduismo, el camino que propongo es el de la síntesis. Comúnmente hago uso de la cosmovisión de las escrituras védicas para explicar determinados fenómenos y celebro las fechas del calendario hindú, pero también celebro fechas de otras tradiciones, como la cristiana, judía, budista entre otras fechas que, de alguna manera, nos ayudan a recordar el propósito de estar encarnados aquí en la Tierra. Más allá de eso, no dejo de agradecer y reverenciar los canales que dieron pasaje para el conocimiento científico, especialmente aquellos que se dedicaron a entender la psique humana como Freud, Jung, William James entre otros.”

“Despite being strongly influenced by Hinduism, the path that I propose is a synthesis of all paths. I often make use of the worldview of Vedic scriptures to explain certain phenomena. I celebrate Hindu holidays as well, but I also celebrate the holidays of other traditions such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and other auspicious dates.In one way or another, all of these holidays serve as a reminder of the purpose behind our incarnation here on Earth. Additionally, I give thanks and reverence to the channels that opened up the pathways for scientific knowledge, especially those dedicated to understanding the human psyche, such as Freud, Jung, and William James, amongst others.”

Via Ram Dass:

April 27, 2016

Total truth is necessary. You must live by what you say.

- Neem Karoli Baba

Via Daily Dharma / April 27, 2016: Cultivating Sangha

As Buddhist practitioners, we take refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Sometimes, in our enthusiasm for meditating, bowing, chanting, and lighting sticks of incense, we emphasize the first two jewels and neglect sangha, or community. Working for social justice provides ample opportunity for the cultivation of sangha.

—Susan Moon, "Ten Practices to Change the World"

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Via Sri Prem Baba: Flor do dia / Flor del dia / Flower of the Day – 26/04/2016

“Quando você carrega o sentimento de incompletude, de não pertencimento ou de não estar no lugar certo, isso quer dizer que existe algo a ser integrado dentro de você. E você identifica isso que precisa ser integrado observando as situações negativas que se repetem na sua vida, especialmente nos seus relacionamentos. Enquanto existirem partes da sua personalidade a serem integradas, não importa onde você esteja, a situação irá se repetir. Você pode até se esconder dentro de uma caverna, mas se algo em você precisa ser integrado, você arranja briga com a pedra.”
“Cuando cargas el sentimiento de no estar completo, de no pertenecer o de no estar en el lugar correcto, esto quiere decir que existe algo a ser integrado dentro tuyo. E identificas eso que necesita ser integrado, observando las situaciones negativas que se repiten en tu vida, especialmente en tus relaciones. Mientras existan partes de tu personalidad a ser integradas, no importa dónde estés, la situación se va a repetir. Puedes hasta esconderte dentro de una caverna, pero si algo en ti necesita ser integrado, te arreglas para pelearte con la piedra.”

“When we carry around the feeling of incompletion, of not belonging, or of not being in the right place, it means that there is something which still needs to be integrated within ourselves. By observing the negative situations that repeat in our lives, especially in our relationships, we gain more clarity as to what needs to be integrated. As long as there are parts of our personalities that still need to be integrated, regardless of where we are, these situations will repeat themselves. Onecan even try to hide away in a cave, b

Via Daily Dharma / April 26, 2016: Open to the Unfamiliar

A sense of defamiliarization is a recurring feature of spiritual life, and it can come to us in many ways—in art, in travel, in practice. However it comes, it offers an opportunity for openness and intimacy, both, if one can allow oneself to fall into them.

—Henry Shukman, "Far from Home"

Monday, April 25, 2016

Via JustaBahai: A Baha’i’s letter of resignation Letter to the UHJ and NSA of the USA

To the Universal House of Justice and the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States of America,

Last time I wrote you I was writing to ask permission to travel to Iran in order to pursue my study of Persian and Baha’i history. It was my hope to become a scholar of the Faith. That letter marked, in many ways, the pinnacle of my immersion in the Baha’i community. Growing up, Baha’i children’s classes were held at my house every weekend, and feasts, holy days, firesides, and potlucks joyfully paraded through my home with comforting regularity. I remember crawling out of bed and dangling my legs over the second floor banister to listen surreptitiously to the late night consultations and deliberations of the Local Spiritual Assembly, which included both of my parents. One day I hoped to join their ranks.

My father founded one of the first theater companies in the world to dedicate itself to themes and stories from Baha’i history, and when I was fifteen I began touring with him across the USA, UK, and Canada – enacting plays about the beloved heroes and heroines of the Faith. When I was eighteen I served at the Lotus Temple in New Delhi and later at my university plunged headlong into what could have been subtitled a degree in Baha’i Culture (Persian, Arabic, and Middle Eastern Studies). My marriage vows were Baha’i vows, my daily prayers Baha’i prayers, and my hopes for humanity and myself — those hopes outlined in the sacred writings of the Faith. I write all this, not to brag about my Baha’i pedigree, or to prove a legitimate degree of devotion, but to illustrate how fundamentally rooted I have been in the Faith and to contextualize my profound grief that this is a letter of resignation.

There was a time when the Faith was everything to me and the Baha’i community a family like no other, but for the last ten years I have had difficulty feeling that I belong to it or want to belong to it. There are perhaps several issues at play, but the most fundamental of them has been the official position espoused by the Universal House of Justice on homosexuality. I am a heterosexual woman and I am married to a man, but many of my dearest friends and colleagues belong to the LGBTQ community. You advise that I should consider their sexual orientation to be a kind of “handicap” which they should “pray to overcome”, but I find this position impossible to maintain.

As a child and young adult, I prided myself in belonging to a religion that was not weighed down by outdated social laws, not caught up in untangling and interpreting archaic customs to fit the modern age. In comparison to other religions, the principles of gender and racial equality which the Baha’i Faith upheld often felt revolutionary and refreshingly modern. Even in 1914, Abdu’l- Bahá encouraged the marriage of people of different races in America! It felt good to be ahead of the curve and on the right side of history. But when it comes to the civil rights issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community, Baha’is are so woefully behind the curve, that I have for many years been embarrassed to be associated with the community. Current attempts to legitimize the LGBTQ community, such as legalizing gay marriage, do not only represent “changing trends in popular thought” (which to my ear sounds like characterizing significant changes as a superficial fad) but the emancipation of a community that has existed in human society as long as men and women have existed.

Some years ago, when people asked me about my religious affiliation, I started answering that “I was raised as a Baha’i” instead of saying “I am a Baha’i.” After the birth of my first child a few months ago, I fell into a deep depression in regards to my ambiguous relationship to my own faith community. It grieves me deeply that I will not raise my daughter within the embrace of the Baha’i Faith, which has meant so much to me. But it disturbs me further that she would be raised to believe that to be loyal to Bahá’u’lláh means to categorize a substantial and precious portion of the human race as “self-indulgent”, “shameful”, “aberrant”, “abhorrent”, “immoral”, “disgraceful”, “handicapped”, or “afflicted”. When my daughter was born I plunged into a studious and thorough interrogation of the writings on the subject of homosexuality, hoping I would be able to justify a way to return. When I found your letter – dated 9 May 2014 – I realized instead that I would prefer to officially resign.

My father has pleaded with me in the past to stay — to remain in a state of questioning while maintaining my role in the community. He tells me that the Baha’i community needs ardent seekers to ask difficult questions, or it has no chance of evolving and meeting the needs and ailments of the current age. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he has said – a metaphor that rings more profoundly in my ears now that I have a baby of my own! But when I read this sentence from your May 9th letter — “It would be a profound contradiction for someone to profess to be a Bahá’í, yet reject, disregard, or contend with aspects of belief or practice He ordained” — it feels as if the Universal House of Justice is calling me a hypocrite rather than encouraging those believers who struggle with aspects of the Faith to persevere. Regardless, I no longer want to live in a constant state of schizophrenia and contradiction. For a long time I maintained that the writings of Bahá’u’lláh are in fact not clear on the issue of homosexuality, and therefore the retrograde attitudes towards homosexuality in the Baha’i community might shift. In regards to the passage often quoted from the Kitab-i-Aqdas …

We shrink for very shame, from treating the subject of boys.
I was under the impression that “the subject of boys” implied the practice of pederasty, and did not extend to homosexuality in general. Why should it, when sex between an adult and a child (boy or girl) is so very different than sex between two consenting adults? The other passage which is often quoted…

Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.
might seem more explicit, but in fact sodomy (if defined as “anal sex”) is anatomically impossible between two women and not strictly a necessity between two men who wish to bring each other to a sexual climax. It feels foolish to delve into the nitty-gritty particulars of the sex act, when it is our immaterial souls that religion should occupy itself with. As you write in your letter dated the 9th of May 2014, it is the role of religion “to cultivate spiritual qualities and virtues – the attributes of the soul which constitute one’s true and abiding identity.” And yet you have involved yourself in tracing clear prohibitions against the sexual acts of people of the same gender in the Baha’i community. So I feel it is important to be equally explicit that sodomy and pederasty are NOT synonymous with homosexuality. Even if this was not your opinion, you would be amiss to say that two women or two men cannot be part of the “the bedrock of the whole structure of human society” which supports and nurtures the next generation because they cannot issue forth children. I’ve witnessed many healthy households headed by same-sex parents. Surrogate motherhood, sperm and egg donation, not to mention adoption, has redefined the family structure in the contemporary world.
You write “if such statements are considered by some to be unclear, the unambiguous interpretations provided by Shoghi Effendi constitute a binding exposition of His intent.” I agree that the writings of Shoghi Effendi are less ambiguous than those enshrined within the Kitab-i- Aqdas, but are you not an infallible institution, capable of redefining his interpretations in a more enlightened manner without negating the divine covenant that has linked the series of institutions and individuals shepherding the Baha’i community towards its true potential? Do you not exist, not only to interpret and uphold what has already been written, but so that the Faith does not become calcified and intransigent — so that the Faith continues to be a living, thinking entity, able to adapt and respond to the needs and challenges of the age? As I write this letter, I realize I am writing it more for myself and my own sense of clarity than to enact any kind of response or change. I know a single letter cannot change the culture of a worldwide religion, and yet I would feel cowardly to leave the community without some clear act of protest or an attempt to communicate my grief. I wonder if you realize the emotional pain that you are inflicting upon the ardent believers of your community; radiant souls who want more than anything to be able to call themselves Baha’is.

Perhaps I am too rigid when I insist that this is a letter of resignation. The fact that I have decided that I can not be a part of the Baha’i community without being entirely a part of it, and so I must take myself entirely out of it, might, in itself, express a divisive breed of orthodoxy. Still, after much deliberation, I have concluded that this is the route I want to take.

I hereby relinquish my voting rights, and I ask that you strike me from the rosters.

I have no doubt that I will continue to love and respect the founders of the Faith, and to turn to their writings for guidance. I desperately hope that the official position of the Baha’i community in regards to LGBTQ individuals will change one day. If that day should come in my lifetime, I will be your valiant ensign once more.

Sincerely, Anisa George Philadelphia, PA

Sonja's comments: 

This was posted on and there has been a lot of discussion by Bahais on facebook of the merits or not of this letter. The gay/lesbian Bahai story project is a resource for those interested in social history.

My only dispute with her beautifully expressed letter is that Shoghi Effendi never wrote a word on homosexuality, but many Bahais often mix up the status of these letters penned by secretaries with that of Shoghi Effendi own status as official interpreter of Baha’i Scripture. So her views on the status of these letters are similar to what many Bahais say. In the end it boils down to the Universal House of Justice to make a change in their policy, if there is to be any change in the way gay or lesbians are treated by the Bahai community in general. I say in general because there is nothing to stop Bahai communities making it clear in their practice or publicity that they do not discriminate against lesbians or gays. And as individual Baha’is we are free (and encouraged) to stand up for the rights of all, inside and outside of the Bahai community. And below a response to Anisa’s letter which shows the current status of the understandings of the Universal House of Justice on the topic of homosexuality. I say current because from my viewpoint, there is no Bahai scripture that states that marriage can only be between a man and woman. Perhaps one day the Universal House of Justice will show us how they come to their current understanding or perhaps they will come to another understanding of Bahai scripture.

and then the reply:


12 April 2016

Mrs. Anisa George U.S.A.

Dear Friend,
Your email letter dated 4 February 2016 has been received by the Universal House of Justice and your comments concerning the Bahá’í Teachings and homosexuality have been noted. Your desire to withdraw your membership in the Bahá’í community is, of course, respected, and it is understood that the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, to which your letter was also addressed, has removed your name from its membership roll. We have been asked to comment as follows.

The House of Justice cannot change the Bahá’í Teachings, which are set forth in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and the authorized interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi.
Nevertheless, it wishes to assure you that there is a vast difference between those who accept Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings as the remedy prescribed by the Divine Physician for this age yet acknowledge that they may not grasp the wisdom of certain teachings or struggle in applying them in their personal lives and those who reject, disregard, or contend with them. Indeed, even in cases where believers had a homosexual orientation, Shoghi Effendi encouraged them not to withdraw from the community and to continue to engage in active service, for in one way or another, he explained, we are all tested, and he added that they should receive the encouragement and support of the community. Further, it is entirely against the spirit of the Faith to regard homosexuals with prejudice or disdain.

The House of Justice wishes you well in your efforts to be of service to humanity.

Yours sincerely,

Department of the Secretariat
cc: National Assembly of the United States

Orginal and more here:

Via BBC: Bangladesh LGBT editor hacked to death

Police in Bangladesh say two people including a leading gay rights activist and editor at Bangladesh's only LGBT magazine have been hacked to death.

The US ambassador to Bangladesh condemned the killing of Xulhaz Mannan, who also worked at the US embassy.

Another person was also injured when the attackers entered a Dhaka flat.

Since February last year suspected militants have killed several secular or atheist writers and members of religious minority groups.

The two men were murdered two days after a university teacher was hacked to death by suspected Islamist militants.

So-called Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility - but the Bangladeshi government insists there is no IS presence in the country.

Make the jump here t read the full article and more 

Via Daily Dharma / April 25, 2016: Mind and the Weather

Ordinarily, our minds are like flags in the wind, fluttering this way and that, depending on which way the wind blows. Even if we don’t want to feel angry, jealous, lonely, or depressed, we’re carried away by such feelings and by the thoughts and physical sensations that accompany them. We’re not free; we can’t see other options, other possibilities.

—Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, "The Aim of Attention"

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Via Sri Prem Baba: Flor do dia / Flor del dia / Flower of the Day – 24/04/2016

“A liberdade é possível somente através do desapego. Somente quando desapega do que é velho você se coloca disponível e aberto para receber o novo. O apego envelhece porque te mantém preso ao velho. Ele gera a ilusão de que a vida não tem graça porque você já conhece tudo. O apego gera a ilusão da certeza e o desapego permite a experiência da aventura da incerteza.”

“La libertad es posible solamente a través del desapego. Solamente cuando te desapegas de lo que es viejo te colocas disponible y abierto para recibir lo nuevo. El apego envejece porque te mantiene preso a lo viejo. Éste genera la ilusión de que la vida no tiene gracia porque ya conoces todo. El apego genera la ilusión de la certeza y el desapego permite la experiencia de la aventura de la incertidumbre.”

“Freedom is only possible through detachment. Only when we let go of the old can we make room for the new. Attachments cause us to age faster because they keep us imprisoned in the past. They create the illusion that life is no longer enjoyable because we already know what life holds. On the other hand, detachment allows us to experience the adventure of uncertainty.”

Via Ram Dass

April 24, 2016

As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.

Via Daily Dharma / April 24, 2016: Using Identity as a Vehicle

Awareness has no race or gender or IQ. It is only when we fall out of awareness that we grasp onto these characteristics. Still, these particularities are part of the vehicle through which we experience our lives, and we have to use the vehicle.

—Gina Sharpe, "Does Race Matter in the Meditation Hall?"

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Via FB:

Via The Physics arXiv Blog: Why Physicists Are Saying Consciousness Is A State Of Matter, Like a Solid, A Liquid Or A Gas

A new way of thinking about consciousness is sweeping through science like wildfire. Now physicists are using it to formulate the problem of consciousness in concrete mathematical terms for the first time

There’s a quiet revolution underway in theoretical physics. For as long as the discipline has existed, physicists have been reluctant to discuss consciousness, considering it a topic for quacks and charlatans. Indeed, the mere mention of the ‘c’ word could ruin careers.

That’s finally beginning to change thanks to a fundamentally new way of thinking about consciousness that is spreading like wildfire through the theoretical physics community. And while the problem of consciousness is far from being solved, it is finally being formulated mathematically as a set of problems that researchers can understand, explore and discuss.

Today, Max Tegmark, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, sets out the fundamental problems that this new way of thinking raises. He shows how these problems can be formulated in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory. And he explains how thinking about consciousness in this way leads to precise questions about the nature of reality that the scientific process of experiment might help to tease apart.

Tegmark’s approach is to think of consciousness as a state of matter, like a solid, a liquid or a gas. “I conjecture that consciousness can be understood as yet another state of matter. Just as there are many types of liquids, there are many types of consciousness,” he says.

He goes on to show how the particular properties of consciousness might arise from the physical laws that govern our universe. And he explains how these properties allow physicists to reason about the conditions under which consciousness arises and how we might exploit it to better understand why the world around us appears as it does.

Interestingly, the new approach to consciousness has come from outside the physics community, principally from neuroscientists such as Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

In 2008, Tononi proposed that a system demonstrating consciousness must have two specific traits. First, the system must be able to store and process large amounts of information. In other words consciousness is essentially a phenomenon of information.

And second, this information must be integrated in a unified whole so that it is impossible to divide into independent parts. That reflects the experience that each instance of consciousness is a unified whole that cannot be decomposed into separate components.

Both of these traits can be specified mathematically allowing physicists like Tegmark to reason about them for the first time. He begins by outlining the basic properties that a conscious system must have.
Given that it is a phenomenon of information, a conscious system must be able to store in a memory and retrieve it efficiently.

It must also be able to to process this data, like a computer but one that is much more flexible and powerful than the silicon-based devices we are familiar with.

Tegmark borrows the term computronium to describe matter that can do this and cites other work showing that today’s computers underperform the theoretical limits of computing by some 38 orders of magnitude.

Clearly, there is so much room for improvement that allows for the performance of conscious systems.

Next, Tegmark discusses perceptronium, defined as the most general substance that feels subjectively self-aware. This substance should not only be able to store and process information but in a way that forms a unified, indivisible whole. That also requires a certain amount of independence in which the information dynamics is determined from within rather than externally.

Finally, Tegmark uses this new way of thinking about consciousness as a lens through which to study one of the fundamental problems of quantum mechanics known as the quantum factorisation problem.

This arises because quantum mechanics describes the entire universe using three mathematical entities: an object known as a Hamiltonian that describes the total energy of the system; a density matrix that describes the relationship between all the quantum states in the system; and Schrodinger’s equation which describes how these things change with time.

The problem is that when the entire universe is described in these terms, there are an infinite number of mathematical solutions that include all possible quantum mechanical outcomes and many other even more exotic possibilities.

So the problem is why we perceive the universe as the semi-classical, three dimensional world that is so familiar. When we look at a glass of iced water, we perceive the liquid and the solid ice cubes as independent things even though they are intimately linked as part of the same system. How does this happen? Out of all possible outcomes, why do we perceive this solution?

Tegmark does not have an answer. But what’s fascinating about his approach is that it is formulated using the language of quantum mechanics in a way that allows detailed scientific reasoning. And as a result it throws up all kinds of new problems that physicists will want to dissect in more detail.

Take for example, the idea that the information in a conscious system must be unified. That means the system must contain error-correcting codes that allow any subset of up to half the information to be reconstructed from the rest.

Tegmark points out that any information stored in a special network known as a Hopfield neural net automatically has this error-correcting facility. However, he calculates that a Hopfield net about the size of the human brain with 10^11 neurons, can only store 37 bits of integrated information.

“This leaves us with an integration paradox: why does the information content of our conscious experience appear to be vastly larger than 37 bits?” asks Tegmark.

That’s a question that many scientists might end up pondering in detail. For Tegmark, this paradox suggests that his mathematical formulation of consciousness is missing a vital ingredient. “This strongly implies that the integration principle must be supplemented by at least one additional principle,” he says. Suggestions please in the comments section!

And yet the power of this approach is in the assumption that consciousness does not lie beyond our ken; that there is no “secret sauce” without which it cannot be tamed.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a group of young physicists embarked on a quest to explain a few strange but seemingly small anomalies in our understanding of the universe. In deriving the new theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, they ended up changing the way we comprehend the cosmos. These physcists, at least some of them, are now household names.

Could it be that a similar revolution is currently underway at the beginning of the 21st century? Consciousness as a State of Matter