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Telepathy and synchronicity: do they exist? Joscha Bach and Bernardo Kastrup (and me)

An abstract representation of telepathy
Note that this is NOT a fancy AI picture!

Warning: This is a weird post about my telepathy or synchronicity (were they telepathic?) experiences. And if they were, what are possible explanations? The experiences definitely unsettled me and they still do: I have no conclusion!

"Telepathy" sounds very New Age, or like the movie "The Men Who Stare at Goats" , if not downright embarrassing.

So, I was glad to hear Lex "Love is all you need" Fridman, and the well-known AI researcher and cognitive scientist Joscha Bach talking seriously about it. Both are serious intellectual luminaries. And, most importantly, Joscha Bach does not dismiss the possibility of telepathy out of hand.

My telepathy / synchronicity experiences with/through Ayahuasca

My experience began with my participation in an ayahuasca ceremony.

Ayahuasca is a South American psychoactive brew that has wide-ranging effects on the functioning of the brain, including therapeutic effects. In its original Amazonian tribal context, has always been known to support a kind of "remote viewing" ability, for example to help hunters locate prey or find lost tribal members.

Since my "telepathic" experiences between 2016 and 2019, they have occurred several times in different forms, and outside the context of Ayahuasca. Here I only focus on one particular type of experience: thought transmission.

These instances of telepathy appeared as instantaneous thought and emotional connections with my partner at a distance of 400 km. Neither of us could believe it at first. The connections were extremely specific and embodied, and we verified the time at which they occurred. Clearly there was 'synchronicity'.

If you are sceptical: so am I! But what can I do against apparently convincing "first-person evidence".

Two types of explanations for telepathy: scientific theories and consciousness theories

So far I have found that the explanation of telepathy follows either the science-based or the consciousness-based pattern:

Science-based: explanations based on the brain. These are represented in this post by Joscha Bach (philosophy/science) and Raja Selvam (psychology) .

Consciousness-based: explanations based on consciousness/awareness. They are represented here by Bernardo Kastrup (metaphysical idealism) and Tibetan Dzogchen.

1. Scientific explanations of telepathy

Here I call "scientific" those explanations that are based on physical/biological foundations, such as neural activity. Note that such explanations do not necessarily assume that telepathy actually exists. Joscha Bach tries to explain it "just in case" that it exists.

Joscha Bach: Telepathy as coupled complex resonator paradigm

Joscha Bach is a well-known German AI researcher and developer, philosopher and meditator, and despite all that, he is really entertaining.

This is Joscha´s Twitter post sparking the Lex Fridman discussion:

The implication of Turing's (1950) question regarding telepathy is that human minds might share state not only through sensory interfaces but via direct interaction of their substrates, breaking the causal insulation between individuals.

Joscha Bach is keen on keeping the explanatory space within the boundaries of classical physics. This is opposed to some kind of consciousness theory such as Bernardo Kastrup´s Analytical Idealism.

A problem with idealist theories of consciousness is that they usually either cannot be formalized, or their formalizations turn out to be equivalent to non-idealist theories of consciousness. Pointing at intuitions does not work, because intuitions are unexamined ideas.

Therefore, he bases his thoughts on the AI concept of the "adaptive resonance theory" (ART) of Grossberg.

Joscha Bach discusses the possible telepathy as a resonance phenomenon, explainable by some kind of large-scale resonance network of which neurons may be a part. He calls this approach a "coupled complex resonator paradigm". This resonance is based on a "shared representation of a common universe" with each observer. We pick up patterns to which we are coupled, neurons pass on signals.

The key point is that the explanation is based on physics and biology, such as neural activity.

Raja Selvam: Telepathy is resonance over longer distances

Raja Selvam, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and the developer of Integral Somatic Psychology. He is an author and senior trainer with Peter Levine, who is one of the world's foremost experts on trauma.

Like Joscha Bach, Raja Selvam uses a kind of biological 'resonance' phenomenon as the core of his explanation of synchronicity/telepathy.

However, Raja Selvam also refers to "quantum phenomena". While this sounds scientific, the widespread use of the concept of quantum entanglement ("spooky action at a distance"), while sounding plausible, leaves the concrete explanation somewhat in the dark. The detailed mechanisms are not explained.

2. Consciousness-based explanations of telepathy

I call "consciousness-based" those theories that assume some kind of shared space of consciousness. These may be called "idealistic" or "panpsychic". They may include philosophies such as the Indian Sankhya.

These theories may include the idea of resonance. However, they are not based on the resonance of neurons. The theories postulate a brain-independent consciousness that precedes matter.

Bernardo Castrup and Analytical Idealism: Telepathy is based on shared consciousness

Bernado Castrup is a Dutch philosopher and computer scientist. He has developed a theory that explains mind and matter as deriving from consciousness (=consciousness is primary).

Kastrup cites telepathy, especially between twins, as an empirical fact in need of explanation.

According to him, our minds are connected at a deeper level. Telepathy implies that some information can pass between individual minds without physical means of transmission. The reason for this, in his theory, is that our minds are merely "dissociated alters" (or split-off parts) of a universal consciousness. The filters of space and time imposed by our brain's localisation of consciousness normally block such transmission. But telepathy shows that these filters can be bypassed.

Dzogchen Buddhism: Telepathy is communication from the awakened state

I was surprised when a Dzogchen teacher mentioned telepathy.

I have only been on one meditation retreat. It was given by the deceased Daniel P Brown, who was both a Western trained psychologist, author of several books, and a student of Buddhism for over 47 years. He worked at times with the Dalai Lama and has co-translated 8 books of the Bon Dzogchen tradition.

Dzogchen is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition that emphasises resting in and recognising the 'natural state of mind'. It is regarded as the pinnacle of Buddhist practice. In practice, and extremely simplified, it consists mainly of the refined art of doing exactly nothing other than 'being the field of awareness in which all apparent mental events occur'. (Honestly there is more to it!!).

To my surprise, Daniel P Brown reported instances of telepathy. He referred to the time when he received Dzogchen training from Menri Trtzin III, the Dalai Lama's senior teacher in the Bon tradition. Dan Brown had observed that his teacher, without speaking, always seemed to know exactly where Dan Brown was in his mind when he entered the door, and would give instructions based on this knowledge.

There is a long tradition in Dzogchen of describing psychic and 'supernatural' phenomena such as telepathy, walking through walls, or the rainbow body, where the body of a meditation master disappears or shrinks after death. They are called siddhis.

One of the siddhis is telepathy. In the context of the teaching of Dzogchen, telepathy is called 'mind-to-mind transmission' or 'direct transmission'. Mind-to-mind transmission means the transfer of wisdom and realisation from an enlightened teacher directly to the mind of a student. Dan Brown said that he had not learned it yet from his teacher, so he claimed no skills.

Direct transmission in Dzogchen refers to the process by which a master passes spiritual knowledge, experience and understanding directly to a student without using words. It's a kind of intuition or direct perception of enlightenment that bypasses intellectual understanding. It is akin to having a direct experience or insight through a master rather than learning through explicit instruction or study.

Here's a quote I wrote down and lost the source:

Who is receiving this teaching? It is the perfect retinue or the perfect assembly. When the dharmakaya buddha continually explains the Dzogchen in the pure land of Ogmin dharmadhatu, the recipients are enlightened beings. They are no longer in a mundane state of mind, deluded by dualistic conceptions. They remain in primordial, original wisdom-awareness, receiving these teachings without concepts of subject and object, giver and receiver. The teaching is passed by the telepathic or mind-to-mind transmission method, with the essence of the teaching passing from the realization state of the teacher to the realization state of the student. Without effort, the teaching is absorbed and received. There is neither losing nor gaining; it is like lighting a second butter lamp from the flame of the first. While Buddha Kuntuzangpo is giving this teaching to his perfect retinue, using Mind to Mind transmission, not verbal means.

Summary: I believe I experienced telepathy, but I am not sure I did, and if it was telepathy, I still don´t know how it worked! But, I am open.


Adaptive Resonance Theory ( references

Bach, J. & Models of Consciousness Conferences. (2023, October 5). Joscha Bach - Consciousness as a coherence-inducing operator [Video]. YouTube.

Lex Fridman, & Bach, J. (2023, August 1). Joscha Bach: Life, Intelligence, Consciousness, AI & The Future of Humans | Lex Fridman Podcast #392 [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved August 3, 2023, from #telepathy #esp #resonance

Peterson, J. (2010). The Natural Bliss of Being: Peterson, Jackson, Mannox, Tashi, Fitzgerald, Connor: 9781482020175: Books.

Selvam, R., PhD. (2022). The Practice of Embodying Emotions: A Guide for Improving Cognitive, Emotional, and Behavioral Outcomes. North Atlantic Books.

AI input on the Adaptive Resonance Theory

Here's a simplified explanation by of how adaptive resonance theory (ART) proposed by Stephen Grossberg could potentially explain telepathy:

  • ART suggests that the brain processes information by comparing incoming patterns to expectations or memories. When there is a match, it causes a resonance or activation of those memory patterns.

  • This resonance allows learning by adapting those memory patterns to new variations of the input patterns.

  • In ART, memories are stored in layers, with higher layers representing more abstract concepts and categories. Lower layers store more detailed sensory input patterns.

  • For telepathy, the theory is that one person's thoughts/memories generate patterns of activation that could spread through resonance to another person's brain.

  • Their similar memories resonate with the patterns from the first person, causing activation of the same thoughts or knowledge in the second person's mind.

  • It's hypothesizing a resonance of neural activation patterns across two brains, allowing a kind of non-verbal transfer of information. The degree of similarity in memories and concepts would facilitate the resonance.

  • However, there is no scientific evidence that such resonance can actually occur between two brains. ART provides a theoretical framework but the specifics of how telepathy could work through resonance are still speculative. More research is needed.

In summary, ART shows how resonance of neural patterns allows learning and concept formation. By extending this resonance across two brains, ART provides a hypothetical mechanism for telepathic transfer of thoughts and memories. But significant further evidence is needed to support this theoretical possibility.

A thought on...

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