Audio Week

With all the excitement over the Martinville phonautograph discovery (which predates Edison’s first tin foil recording by 17 years), I was asked by the Long Now Foundation to write a little bit about the future of our audio heritage. The Millennia Foundation supports the Long Now Foundation’s institutional guidelines:

  • Serve the long view (and the long viewer)
  • Foster responsibility
  • Reward patience
  • Mind mythic depth
  • Ally with competition
  • Take no sides
  • Leverage longevity

If you’re interested in the future of media, take a few minutes to read this article.

Viral Epiphany

The Jill Taylor TED Talk I posted the other day has generated over 150 comments. And the number of daily comments seem to be increasing. Not bad for a personal journal that averages less than 2 comments per post 🙂

When Jill gave this talk at TED, I was floored. I knew we had all just experienced something profound and incredibly powerful. The conference vibe palpably changed after Jill’s talk. TED became more open, perhaps “safer.” People were touched at a deep place they clearly weren’t expecting to be touched.

I cannot recall anything ever posted on the Internet that has drawn such a unanimous outpouring of emotion, joy, and spiritual release. We need more of these kinds of cathartic, epiphanal experiences in our lives – to remind us of our deep commonality.

I want to blog more on epiphany and paradigm shifting change. For now, enjoy some of the reactions I’ve copied here from Jill’s talk.

tears are running down my cheeks when I imagine the beautiful world your are describing.

truly this information is a gift from God.

i was so freaking impressed with you doctor.
i was crying so good at the end.
a wonderful proud feeling to be human.
it was truly a blessing for us all (your stroke)

Choking on tears. Thank you.

beautiful, passionate and powerful sharing.

What a powerful, dynamic presentation.. you made my heart skip a beat!

Thank you so very much. I am deeply moved, and quite frankly in tears. U have a remarkable message.

forever will I be grateful for this video of your experience…I laughed, cried, and felt so knowing and unknowing all at the same time.

I am incredibly moved to be a part of this experience with Jill

What a gift! You touched my soul.

I have never heard anyone describe the “eternal self” and “collective conscious” with such humility, reverance and beauty.

Amazing amazing amazing exactly what we humaoids need on planet earth right now.

What a passionate presentation of an extraordinary experience.

One word – beautiful.

How rare is it that a presenter truly puts themself out there – bare and open for the whole world to see – this is what really moved me – you touched me deep.

Wow, wow and WOW! What a blessing for consciousness!!! I could experience her nourishing and rich vastness and was just left in tears… Hmmmm! – Haleluiah!

Magnificent, moving, inspiring… totally put me in touch with my spirit and soul. As a meditation teacher and hospice volunteer this has deepened my life. Thank you dear Jill.

Absolutely inspiring speech! It touched me and has opened my eyes to the possibilities.

This a remarkable, exciting account! Thank You for this incredible information.

What a moving and telling story that reveals a truth so profound.

This presentation was truly inspiring! I do believe we are one and we are one of all. This is an amazing experience that proves it. Thank you Thank you Thank you!

Awesome, awesome, awesome!


This is absolutely phenomenal, brilliant, brilliant presentation.

You deeply touched my heart and soul and explained for me a series of events that I have experienced over a 10 year period. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having the courage to share your experience and helping me to understand my own “two worlds” experience.

Fantastic, everyone should see this and be inspired to be a human BE-ing.

brillant speach. thankyou. i hope to work with you one day. all love and congratulations –

The light and love, Energy and vibration of this remarkable lady will shine for eternity.

As a woman, mother, and teacher, Jill’s ephiphany makes me realize more than ever how far-reaching our actions are – there is NO LIMIT.


Your complex and invisible incidence was delivered with rare and exquisite language and emotion. Thank you from my heart of hearts for an awakening happening within my own consciousness. Thank you for giving me the words to understand my own being and responsibility better. You are a great teacher!

This was an inspiring, brave, emotional, educational recount that I feel privileged to have watched.

I can’t thank you enough for sharing this! It is brilliant, amazing, deeply moving! I wept with tears of joy. I must share with my loved ones!

Marvelous, well presented. A touch of humor with an exsquisite story. I offer my deep respect for such an outstanding presentation.

This is the most eloquent, heart-felt expose I have ever witnessed from a scientist.

Inspiring! Truly brilliant!! Thank you!

Jill, thank you so much – you have completely inspired me! Love to you and everyone else!

What Jill is doing is phenomenal and inspiring. Thank you Ted Talks for bringing the world this extraordinary woman. And thank you Jill for your bravery… You’re words will stay with me forever…

Discovered: World’s Oldest Audio Recording

I’m attending an audio conference at Stanford this week. Some of you may have seen the front page of yesterday’s New York Times. A significant bit of audio history has just been rewritten.

Until this week’s announcement, the earliest known sound recording was Edison’s 1877 “mary had a little lamb” experiment. Today, we heard a woman’s voice recorded in 1860. We now know that a Parisian named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville made an audio recording 17 years before Edison (actually, Martinville attempted audio recordings as early as 1853, but they are unintelligible).

This discovery does not diminish Edison – Martinville had no idea how to play back his phonautographs.

The 1860 recording was discovered in an obscure French archive earlier this month by a team of American researchers. It’s quite the detective story. The French phonautograph was extracted via optical techniques developed by Lawrence Berkeley Labs. Raw, semi-processed, and fully-processed results were played publicly today for the first time. A semi-processed MP3 version is on-line here.

What’s really fascinating is that Martinville’s method recorded TWO adjacent tracks. One track was the female voice program while the other track was a tuning fork specified by Martinville as 435 Hz. This of course allowed Berkeley researchers to lock absolute pitch. Brilliant!

This afternoon, I spoke at length with the project’s lead researcher (David Giovannoni) who shared, “we’ve found evidence of even earlier Martinville recordings of similar caliber.” This remarkable story is likely not finished.

Hyper-Text Epistemology (not)

Just back from a few days in Orange County CA. Cynthia is developing a brilliant new social venture and I’m helping. Part of the new venture will embrace fair-trade and organic markets, so I spent two days talking with tons of people at the big organic trade show in Anaheim – a show that was started in 1975 by my friend and fellow TED’ster Doug Greene. It was so cool meeting all the people whose food we’ve been eating for years: Nancy the lady who makes our yogurt / Bob the guy who grinds our grains / the guy who runs the soap company that his Essene grandpa started (all one god faith man….. spirit in god one man in all faith…… no half truth hate all one man god spirit…..) / the wonderful couple who formulate our favorite “green drink.” and dozens more. I’d post photos, but my WordPress install has gone buggy (photos don’t install, “About” page disappeared, Akismet missing tons of spam..). In fact, I just finished a longish post called Hyper-Text Epistemology that now appears LOST in cyberland somewhere. I hate losing work like that.. which teaches me yet again to write posts in Word, then transfer to WordPress when finished 🙁

Playing on the Seashore

A few days ago, I blogged a demographic survey of TED Conference attendees. There’s a buffet of 65 categories — you’re given a choice of 10. Very few selected any kind of religious affiliation (e.g., Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.9%, Buddhist 1.6%, etc.). You’ll need to create a TED account to access profiles. You can create your own TED profile here.

While few conclusions can be drawn from this, it brings up some interesting questions. We know that over 80% of the world’s adult population considers themselves religious or spiritual in some manner. This percentage holds true for the U.S.A., as well, with roughly 76% calling themselves Christian and another 10 million or so divided between Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, spiritual-but-not-religious, etc..

TED’s presenters tend to exhibit a high concentration of academic rigor. Bill Gates once commented, “I wasn’t prepared for this conference to be so profound. The combined IQ of the attendees is incredible”. Based on the TED demographic data, one might be tempted to conclude that increasing academic focus correlates with decreasing interest in religion or spirituality.

A while back, I looked into the correlation of academics on spiritual orientation. I was surprised to find a number of studies available, the most rigorous of which is UCLA’s Spirituality and the Professorate: A National Study of Faculty Beliefs, Attitudes, and Behaviors.

The UCLA study surveyed over 40,000 faculty members at 421 colleges and universities, seeking to characterize the role of religion and spirituality in their personal lives. The results? Commensurate with world and national averages, 81% of professors considered themselves a “spiritual person” and 70% describe themselves as “religious.”

The 40,000+ academics were then asked if their spiritual life has a place in the academy. A significant percentage said yes, though weighting varied by discipline with roughly 50% of hard scientists and 60% in humanities answering in the affirmative.

In another study, 2,000 medical doctors were surveyed about their spiritual life. Nearly 80% of MD’s were found to maintain an active spirituality and 90% said they attend religious services at least occasionally.

In yet another recent study, professors at elite doctoral-granting schools were seen to be more skeptical of spirituality than professors at other schools. But even among the most elite academies, over 60% affirmed a personal faith or active spirituality (belief in God, a higher power, etc..).

The Ecklund Study released May 2010, claims that “the ‘insurmountable hostility’ between science and religion is a caricature, a thought-cliche, perhaps useful as a satire on group-think, but hardly representative of reality.”

While a person gifted with greater reasoning capacity may exhibit finer nuance in their understanding of spirituality, a growing body of recent studies show that elevated intellect and advanced academic training has little influence on a persons religious/spiritual inclinations. Spiritual belief and practice, as abstraction, remains generally constant throughout the intellectual spectrum.

(As an aside, the Harvard study also noted that an overwhelming majority [95%] of university faculty did not consider Intelligent Design a serious alternative to Darwinian evolution. Despite a small vocal group of ID proponents, most today acknowledge the profound evidence (genomics, etc.) to support some manner of evolution. I personally see great beauty, design, and a kind of “natural intelligence” in biological evolution. Our universe remains no less a mystery and miracle in its ability to evolve. A far more interesting conversation is focusing on the origin of life itself — the seemingly spontaneous appearance of RNA and proteins roughly three billion years ago. A significant community of evolutionary scientists remains unmoved by the hypothesis of spontaneous appearance [via lightning, etc] of RNA.)

One paper noted that in surveys of leading academies (such as the National Academy of Science) there is a significant decrease in public acknowledgment of spiritual or religious association. As the Harvard and UCLA studies infer, such data is likely biased by peer pressures of the academy and other elite in-groupings. I’ll call it the TED Effect. Clearly, many top academics are taking a “don’t ask, don’t tell” position for fear of career reprisal.

Recent books from authors such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have led many to conclude that virtually all scientists are anti-spiritual, yet major academic surveys show just the opposite to be true:  a prominent majority of academics embrace some manner of spirituality.

Physicist, astronomer, and atheist Marcelo Gleiser (Dartmouth) weighed in recently on the war between science and religion. He warns fellow scientists that they are becoming “as radical as the religious extremists, as inflexible and intolerant as the movements we seek to exterminate by our oh-so-crystal-clear-and-irresistibly-compelling rationalizations”.

Gleiser admits that science cannot offer humanly essential qualities such as hope, peace, charity, and compassion. He concludes, “It is futile and naive to simply dismiss the need people have for spirituality — either science will teach us humility and respect for life or we will exterminate this most precious cosmic jewel. I am optimistic that scientists will teach people these lessons, instead of simply trying to rob them of their faith and offering nothing in return.”

This blog exists, in part, because of my desire to see greater consilience between science/technology and spirituality. Numerous science / spirit resources can be found in the sidebar. I’ll conclude this long post with an excerpt from quantum physicist Freeman Dyson’s 2002 NYT book review. I share many of Dyson’s wonderful thoughts on the interplay of spirit and science and I encourage you to read the entire review.

I am myself a Christian, a member of a community that preserves an ancient heritage of great literature and great music, provides help and counsel to young and old when they are in trouble, educates children in moral responsibility, and worships God in its own fashion. But I find Polkinghorne’s theology altogether too narrow for my taste. I have no use for a theology that claims to know the answers to deep questions but bases its arguments on the beliefs of a single tribe. I am a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian. To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension.

When I listen to Polkinghorne describing the afterlife, I think of God answering Job out of the whirlwind, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?… Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding…. Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? Or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?” God’s answer to Job is all the theology I need. As a scientist, I live in a universe of overwhelming size and mystery. The mysteries of life and language, good and evil, chance and necessity, and of our own existence as conscious beings in an impersonal cosmos are even greater than the mysteries of physics and astronomy. Behind the mysteries that we can name, there are deeper mysteries that we have not even begun to explore.

Little has changed since Newton said this:

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

The potentialities of life and intelligence in the universe go far beyond anything that we have imagined. Religion and science should both begin by recognizing the vastness of the ocean of truth and the pettiness of our search for smoother pebbles. Or, as the Sufi poet Rumi would remind us, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”

Jill Taylor’s TED Talk

This is an absolute must-watch. Set aside 18 minutes and prepare to be floored. Consensus among TED’sters is that this may be the most memorable and important TED Talk ever. It was certainly the most talked-about presentation among those at TED2008. Enjoy and share with others. And let Jill’s experience inspire, motivate, and change the way you look at life.


 Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced  -Soren Kiekegaard

Music is a nocturnal art, a dreamlike art. It reigns in winter at the hour when the soul is confined  -anon

The trick is growing up without growing old -Casey Stengel

You can’t turn a thing upside down if there’s no theory about it being right way up -G.K. Chesterton

This is love:
to fly toward a secret sky,
to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
First to let go of life.
Finally, to take a step without feet



Songs of the Soul

On a dark night,
Inflamed by love-longing—
O exquisite risk!—
Undetected I slipped away.
My house, at last, grown still.

Secure in the darkness,
I climbed the secret ladder in disguise—
O exquisite risk!—
Concealed by the darkness.
My house, at last, grown still.


That sweet night: a secret.
Nobody saw me;
I did not see a thing.
No other light, no other guide
Than the one burning in my heart.


This light led the way
More clearly than the risen sun
To where he was waiting for me
—The one I knew so intimately—
In a place where no one could find us.


O night, that guided me!
O night, sweeter than sunrise!
O night, that joined lover with Beloved!
Lover transformed in Beloved!


Upon my blossoming breast,
Which I cultivated just for him,
He drifted into sleep,
And while I caressed him,
A cedar breeze touched the air.


Wind blew down from the tower,
Parting the locks of his hair.
With his gentle hand
He wounded my neck
And all my senses were suspended.


I lost myself. Forgot myself.
I lay my face against the Beloved’s face.
Everything fell away and I left myself behind,
Abandoning my cares
Among the lilies, forgotten.


From Dark Night of the Soul (16c)

– St. John of the Cross

Translation Mirabai Starr




Food for Thought

According to the UNFAO, thirty percent of the earth’s usable land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production. What’s more, it’s said that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases – more than all fossil-based transportation.

University of Chicago Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pam Martin calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would be equivalent to switching from driving a standard sedan (e.g., Camry) to a hybrid Prius.

The Japanese National Institute of Livestock Science estimates that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Energy consumption and food production are intimately related, with large animals being disproportionately more energy intensive than other food sources. As fuel costs skyrocket, so does everything else, especially food. Last year, the UNFAO’s worldwide Food Price Index shot up 40%. In one year.

The EPA estimates that U.S. agriculture – much of which now serves the demand for meat – contributes to “nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams.” The use of antibiotics in cattle is said to be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, along with increased incidence of diet-related disease.

It gets even more personal. Stanford professor Rose Naylor shows that roughly 800 million people suffer from malnutrition, while most of the world’s corn and soy is used to feed cattle and pigs. Depending on animal and process, up to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption. For U.S. grain-fed beef, this imbalance is up to ten times higher.

Diets heavily reliant on large animals are not only unhealthy and unnecessary, but one might say, unholy. By eating fewer large animals, we (1) use far less energy, (2) generate far less CO2, (3) potentially improve our health, and perhaps most importantly, (4) contribute to a more equitable and just distribution of calories into the world’s neediest communities. That, I believe, is Christ’s heart.

The proteins, aminos, vitamins, and other nutrients we need can be found, in abundance, in foods other than big meat. Caveat: I’m not a vegetarian, but our family’s diet is rarely based on big meat.

Blueprint or Scramble?

I’m convinced that energy is the #1 structural issue of our era. As a student of energy, I’ve tracked many recent public statements by Big Oil. One of the most revealing comes from a Davos talk this week by Shell Oil’s CEO. Shell is the world’s third largest corporation by revenue (Exxon being first. In fact, 9 of the 10 largest global corporations are either oil companies or automobile manufacturers.)

Following in Exxon’s recent admissions, Shell’s CEO Jeroen van der Veer is now admitting what many are calling “Peak Oil.” In his statement at Davos, van der Veer reveals that, very soon, “easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand.” He cites 2015 as our Peak date – some analysts believe we passed “Peak” in 2007.

Jeroen sees two strategies to keep the energy flowing:

1. Blueprint

… a cautious ride, with some false starts, on a road that is still under construction. Whether we arrive safely at our destination depends on the discipline of the drivers and the ingenuity of all those involved in the construction effort. Technological innovation provides the excitement.

2. Scramble

Like an off-road rally through a mountainous desert, it promises excitement and fierce competition. However, the unintended consequence of “more haste” will often be “less speed,” and many will crash along the way.

Shell’s CEO sees two possible energy futures: (1) an exciting ride on a road that is still under construction with only marginal assurance of safe passage, or (2) a fiercley competitive off-road rally on tretcherous roads where many will crash and burn.


The CEO provides further details into these global energy scenarios – I encourage anyone remotely interested in our collective future to read this paper. I believe energy scarcity will be (and perhaps already is) the primary influencing dynamic behind world economics and the political decisions which follow.

Added: Short introduction to the concept of Peak Oil