Mind Matters VI: Altered States is being held on Saturday, Feb 27th, 2016. We sold out a 500-seat venue in a record-breaking 6 hours, half the time of last year. Thank you for your enthusiasm! You can fill out this form to get on the ticket waitlist. If you have problems with your tickets, please contact us.
TTC/driving instructions and maps to the fully-accessible Isabel Bader Theatre are available on the venue page.
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09:00 AM – Registration Opens
10:00 AM – Opening Remarks
10:20 AM – John Vervaeke
11:10 AM – Lee Maracle
11:50 AM – Lunch
01:00 PM – Dan Dolderman
01:50 PM – Jordan Peterson
02:30 PM – Coffee & Conversation Break
03:00 PM – Dennis McKenna (Keynote)
04:05 PM – Panel Discussion
05:00 PM – Conference Closes
We’re also proud to announce that Toronto-based artist Mani Mazinani has created “Sounds Grounds”, a site specific sound installation specially formulated for Mind Matters VI: Altered States. This piece manipulates the playback speed of recorded audio and projects sound through the architecture of the Isabel Bader Theatre’s open lobby space. The intersection of sound and space is where the action of Sounds Grounds occurs. By constructing sonic-spatial connections, the piece is experienced as sensual and perceptual forms.
One important feature of altered states of consciousness is that many individuals are highly motivated to seek them out. Many traditional explanations of this motivational drive have focused on pathological reasons for such motivation, such as the escape from suffering or the distraction from unwanted information, etc. However, these accounts are dependent on the altered state being first phenomenologically marked as good in some manner. A process can only be hijacked by pathology if that process has an original adaptive value. Without that adaptive value, the deep motivation driving the pathology cannot be fully explained. Several prominent theories of consciousness are converging on the claim that one of the central roles of consciousness is relevance realization, i.e., how a computationally limited cognitive agent determines the information relevant to solving its problems within a complex and changing environment. This implies that the alteration of consciousness may serve the adaptive function of improving the ability to realize relevance. Vervaeke and Ferraro (2012) argued that such recursive enhancement of relevance realization was the central feature in the cultivation of wisdom. So the very recursive nature of consciousness makes it very conducive to the cultivation of wisdom. Flow (Vervaeke and Ferraro, 2016) is a clear case of such a sapiental, altered state, as is mindfulness (Vervaeke and Ferraro, 2016). Winkelman (2012?) has also argued that shamanic trance is a wisdom-inducing altered state of consciousness. Recently mystical experience has been shown to have a lasting increase on openness (Griffiths, 2012) which affords more insight, which is, in turn, a central feature of wisdom. An over-emphasis on the strange phenomenology and its attendant abnormal descriptions of reality generated in altered states of consciousness has tended to occlude the sapiential function of such states. Salience has overshadowed sapience.
Dr. John Vervaeke is an Assistant Professor, teaching stream in both the Psychology Department and the Cognitive Science Program. He has been teaching at the University of Toronto since 1994. He currently teaches courses in the Cognitive Science program including Introduction to Cognitive Science, and the Cognitive Science of Consciousness; courses in the Psychology department on thinking and reasoning with an emphasis on insight problem solving, cognitive development with an emphasis on the dynamical nature of development, and higher cognitive processes with an emphasis on intelligence, rationality, and the psychology of wisdom. He also teaches a course in the Buddhism, psychology and mental health program on Buddhism and Cognitive Science. He has won and been nominated for several teaching awards including the 2001 Students’ Administrative Council and Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students Teaching Award for the Humanities, and the 2012 Ranjini Ghosh Excellence in Teaching Award. His most recent publications include Relevance Realization the Emerging Framework in Cognitive Science (2012) with Tim Lillicrap and Blake Richards, a chapter in The Scientific Study of Personal Wisdom entitled Relevance, Meaning, and the Cognitive Science of Wisdom (2012) with Leo Ferraro, a chapter in SmartData: Privacy meet evolutionary robotics, with Leo Ferraro entitled Relevance Realization and the Neurodynamics and Neuroconnectivity of General Intelligence (2013), and a forthcoming chapter in Hypnosis and meditation: Towards an integrative science of conscious planes entitled Reformulating the Mindfulness Construct: the Cognitive Processes at work in Mindfulness, Hypnosis, and Mystical States. His research interests are relevance realization, insight problem solving, general intelligence, consciousness, mindfulness, rationality, and wisdom. His abiding passion is to address the meaning crisis that besets western culture.
Title: Altared States
Interestingly, people attempt to alter their states much of the time, striving for some experience other than what they are currently aware of experiencing. However, people rarely, if ever, consider how these attempts are paradoxical and self-defeating. To explore this, we contrast the experiential reality of “altered states” with the “altared state” of trying to understand what is the right thing to do. This is not something we will be able to fully understand or discuss, because experience subsumes understanding and discussion changes experience. Thus, within the context of a “talk,” we will have to try something different, like having some fun, and opening our hearts a little.
I will ask a few questions: Is it wise to try to achieve an altered state, if the trying itself alters us? What if the sheer act of aiming makes us miss the mark? What “higher value” should we attach ourselves to, if this question presupposes value? Upon what altar should we sacrifice ourselves in order to merge with the Divine, if the very construction of this altar sacrifices the Divine, leaving us bereft, with only the disappointing illusion of a limited and inadequate self?
Offering ourselves on the altar of “value” creates immense suffering, because the “altared” selves that result are experientially disconnected from wisdom. Unfortunately, in our present era, this suffering surpasses the traditional levels of individual existential anxiety and despair, and collective violence and oppression, to reach such profound levels of devastation in the ecosphere and ethnosphere that the self-organizing capacity of human consciousness itself is becoming threatened. In order to prevent the rather undesirable (from our perspective) forms of altered consciousness that will ensue, we need to alter our altars. However, this leads us back to the original problem. To escape this trap of seeking the right “altared” state, we must realize that the question of “value” actually presupposes wisdom, and instead of seeking value, we must walk the path of wisdom.
How do you walk this path? The sages, shamans and mystics offer this hint: you don’t.
Dan Dolderman is an Environmental Psychologist who has taught at the University of Toronto since 2002. Deeply concerned about the suicidal trajectory of global civilization, but having faith in the humanistic vision of human beings as fundamentally caring and growth-oriented, Dan is trying to take an integral approach to the problems of well-being and ecological integrity, which he sees as two sides of the same coin. Dan’s current work involves co-founding an activism movement called The Unstoppable Snowball, which is attempting to bring climate change activism into mainstream society.
Title: Altered States and Apocalyptic Vision: Travels Along the World Tree
It is not uncommon for information generated during altered states of consciousness to burst forth in the form of revelatory experience. Music, art, dance, and poetry are manifestations of such bursting forth, as well as being the precursors to the full articulation of meaning. I have attempted to capture the essence of such experiences in the form of poetic vision, echoing the structure of the Biblical Book of Revelations.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, with two main areas of study: the psychology of religious and ideological belief, and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance. After completing his undergraduate degree at Grande Prairie College and the University of Alberta, Dr. Peterson earned a Ph.D. in Psychology at McGill in 1991, and was a post-doctoral fellow at McGill’s Douglas Hospital until 1993. From 1993 through 1997, he served as a professor in the Psychology department at Harvard University. He moved to the University of Toronto in 1997, where he currently holds a position as full professor. His work has been supported by all three of the main Canadian granting agencies, and by the Rotman Business School Center for Integrative Thinking. He was nominated for the Levenson Teaching Prize at Harvard in 1998, and as one of Ontario’s Best University Lectures by TVO each year from 2005-2008. He also serves as a frequent guest panelist on TVO’s The Agenda, a well-known Canadian current affairs program, and is a popular source of information for other TV and radio shows and print media articles, including TVO’s Big Ideas, which has featured six of his lectures.
Dr. Peterson also serves as a business consultant, working as an executive coach for senior partners of large law firms in Toronto, in addition to his clinical practice, and is the vice-president of a personality assessment and remediation company,examcorp.com. The author or co-author of more than ninety scientific articles, he published Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief in 1999 with Routledge, which was subsequently made into a televised lecture series on TVO (http://bit.ly/W6Myvi). Dr. Peterson is currently under contract with Random House, preparing a book of rules for living, which is scheduled for publication in January of 2017. Finally, he continues to develop an online system designed to aid people in understanding and improving their characters (www.selfauthoring.com), which has now been used by thousands of people.
Abstract: Coming Soon!
Ms. Maracle is the author of a number of critically acclaimed literary works including: Sojourner’s and Sundogs [collected work of novel and short stories], Polestar/Raincoast, Ravensong [novel], Bobbi Lee [autobiographical novel], Daughters Are Forever, [novel] Will’s Garden [young adult novel], Bent Box [poetry], I Am Woman [creative non-fiction], and is the co-editor of a number of anthologies including the award winning publication, My Home As I Remember [anthology] Natural Heritage books. She is also co-editor and contributor of Telling It: Women and Language across Culture [conference proceedings]. Ms. Maracle is published in anthologies and scholarly journals worldwide. Ms. Maracle was born in North Vancouver and is a member of the Sto: Loh nation. The mother of four and grandmother of seven Maracle is currently an instructor at the University of Toronto. She is also the Traditional Teacher for First Nation’s House and instructor with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and the S.A.G.E. [Support for Aboriginal Graduate Education] as well as the Banff Centre for the Arts writing instructor. In 2009, Maracle received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Thomas University. Maracle recently received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work promoting writing among Aboriginal Youth. Maracle has served as Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and the University of Western Washington. Celia’s song [novel]. Work in progress Memory Serves and other Words [creative non-fiction]. Just received the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Title: Waking up the Monkeys: Plant Teachers and the Rediscovery of Nature
The human species is an anomaly in nature. Our brains are among the most complex objects in the known universe, and this complexity is a reflection of an explosive increase in cranial capacity that occurred in the blink of an evolutionary eye, less than two million years ago. As a result, we are ‘problematic primates; our hypertrophied brains have made us highly linguistic, immensely creative, enormously clever; but not very wise. This disjunct has created problems, for us as a species and for the planet we share with the biospheric community. We have become alienated from Nature, and our Judeo-Christian value systems encourage us to devalue Nature and regard it as something that exists only for us to exploit, rather than to nurture. We are now witnessing the consequences of this as we systematically sabotage the very homeostatic feedback mechanisms that stabilize the biosphere and maintain conditions optimal for life.
Human evolution, particularly cognitive evolution, has been greatly influenced at critical historical and evolutionary junctures by the ‘plant teachers,’ psychedelic plants and fungi which are desperately trying to wake up the Problematic Primates. Nothing less than a planetary shift in human consciousness can save us now, and the plant teachers are the catalysts that can bring it about, provided that we wake up and heed their message. It is imperative that we overcome our alienation from Nature and rediscover our proper role as intelligent symbionts with all life on Earth, before it is too late.
Dennis McKenna has pursued interdisciplinary research in the study of Amazonian ethnopharmacology and plant hallucinogens for over 30 years. He has conducted extensive ethnobotanical fieldwork in the Peruvian, Colombian, and Brazilian Amazon. His doctoral research (University of British Columbia, 1984) focused on the ethnopharmacology of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he, two tryptamine-based hallucinogens used by indigenous peoples in the Northwest Amazon. Dr. McKenna completed post-doctoral research fellowships in neurosciences in the Laboratory of Clinical Pharmacology, National Institute of Mental Health (1986-88), and in the Department of Neurology, Stanford University School of Medicine (1988-90). He joined Shaman Pharmaceuticals as Director of Ethnopharmacology in 1990, and subsequently joined Aveda Corporation as Senior Reseach Pharmacognosist in 1993. He is currently Assistant Professor in the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches courses in Ethnopharmacology, Botanical Medicines, and Plants in Human Affairs. He is a founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute, a non-profit research organization focused on the development of therapeutic applications for psychedelic medicines. He was a key organizer and participant in the Hoasca Project, the first biomedical investigation of ayahuasca used sacramentally by the UDV, a Brazilian religious sect. Dr. McKenna is author or co-author of 3 books and over 50 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.
Books: Terence & Dennis McKenna. The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching (Seabury Press, 1975; Citadel Press, 1991; ISBN: 0062506358).
Dennis McKenna, Ken Jones, & Kerry Hughes. Botanical Medicines: The Desk Reference for Major Herbal Supplements (Routledge, 2002; ISBN: 0789012669).
Dennis McKenna. The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss: My Life with Terence McKenna (North Star Press, 2012; ISBN: 978-0-87839-637-5)
Special Thanks to:
- The Ross & Marion Woodman Endowment for Jungian Studies
- UofT’s Buddhism, Psychology & Mental Health (BPMH) Program
- New College
- Victoria College Student Projects Levy Fund
- Arts & Science Students Union (ASSU)
- Mani Mazinani, for his fascinating aural installation in the lobby
- Kaya Farkashidy and the hardworking organizers of our sibling event, Master Minds
- Our tireless Mind Matters volunteer crew
- Ammar Ijaz, and his Peerless PR Corps & Tech Team
- The Jungian Society and Buddhism & Psychology Student Union Execs
- And of course, all of you, the Attendees and Friends of Mind Matters, whose Early Supporter Tickets and donations are instrumental in keeping these conferences going.