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Transformational Technology Conference and the Future of Human Well Being

I may live in an off the grid cabin the the wilderness of Oregon but once in a while I venture out for a little dose of technology, new ideas and social interaction. This weekend I’m in the Bay Area for a conference called TransTech which is “wiring humanity for future” by highlighting technologies and companies that are helping us increase our mental and physical health, improve our overall well-being and connect us more deeply with ourselves, others and the planet. Besides two days of inspiring programming, there’s an expo room that has booth after booth of products that seem like they hopped right out of a utopic sci-fi movie. Products that remind you to breathe more deeply, light therapy visors, heart rate variability monitors that help you get into a flow state, lucid dream activators and other sleep aids, and more than a few VR mediation experiences that promise deeper relaxation and improved focus, these are just a few of the real life products on display.
This morning’s opening talk, presented by Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen, was about creating a wearable, low cost way of seeing into our bodies that is a billion times higher resolution than MRI and has the potential to be cheap enough to be packaged into a consumer level device. The resolution is so high in fact that it can monitor chemical processes within our brains, including the levels of dopamine, epinephrine, serotonin and others that underly our emotions. OpnWatr.io is the company that is producing the technology and is led by Dr. Jepsen, former head of Facebook’s VR devision. OpnWtr employs near infrared light and LCDs worn near the skin to emit, receive and reconstruct scattered light with the use of well established holographic technology. Besides diagnosis and monitoring of all sorts of diseases and chronic conditions, such as clinical depression and Alzheimer’s, the technology could eventually even be used in non medical applications such as producing words and imagery directly from our thoughts. While OpnWatr’s technology is still some years away, it’s coming. In fact there’s already a developer’s kit in the works.
Every year we carry more sensors, more powerful computers and are producing an increasing deluge of personal data. While our digitally connected world has evolved at a rapid rate, our primate brains just simply haven’t been able to keep up. And it’s stressing us out, big time. Anxiety and depression rates are on the rise across the planet. The paradox is that with each app upgrade that promises to make us more connected, we are feeling more *disconnected*, even if we can’t quite figure out why or from what. Most people, besides those few who are are fully aware either through a gift of nature or practice of discipline, are still limited in our ability to deal with the growing onslaught of stimulation and distraction. While the term ‘mindfulness’ is beginning to appear with more societal prevalence, most humans are still primarily led by reactive impulse, survival mechanisms that are a relic of an old world. If humanity is to move beyond a culture rooted in fear and scarcity, and into a world that fosters self-actualization on a grand scale then technology will continue to play an important role in augmenting our existing senses. While the tools are constantly changing, this is nothing new. The most intuitive among us have always felt called to develop and deploy technologies that help us expand our consciousness. In Buddha’s time, his mediation teachings were the cutting edge, and continue to play an important role in our conscious advancement. It’s the experience age, and the ability to have your mind blown wide open has never been more accessible. But integrating these enlightening experiences into our daily lives is where our personal and collective work really lies. Well designed technological systems, systems that combine the best of the old with the best of the new, have the potential to upgrade our humanity in a huge way.
There are already products and services that are beginning to help us maintain and improve our health and well-being, as well as more effectively deal with the stresses and complexity of our modern world. But beyond mere survival and fulfillment of our basic human needs, beyond even the lofty be state of self-actualization, lies a future in which we may experience the oft omitted summit of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-transcendence. Some privileged individuals might have felt brief glimpses of this state through a variety of profound experiences, but what does the world look, and more importantly what does it *feel* like when these experiences and technologies are available to all? We can only begin to imagine.

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Goodbye Master Cleanse! Hello Probiotic Course and Intense Green Juice!



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Day 10 came and went of a perfectly executed master cleanse (OK, maybe I missed a couple of the salt water flushes – gaack!) – and so it’s time to break the fast. (And that sausage, egg and cheese omlette that you’ve been craving is not the best idea!)

After 10 days of nothing but water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper your body needs to ease back into solid foods. In the past, I’ve found the best method is to start with a course of probiotics that will repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria – setting you on a good digestive course. Juices, light soups can accompany this and help you ease back into solid, complex foods.

I decided to begin with a High C + wheat grass mega juice and accompanying probiotic (each of these little shots contains 50bn bacteria and I’ll take one a day for 6 days..)

After such a period of caloric restriction it doesn’t take much and after half hour later the juice is making me feel energized and amped… I survived the Master Cleanse! Time to blast into the day, and then to Mindshare LA tonight 😉

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Master Cleanse Day 7 vs. The Great Chili Cook Off

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The Master Cleanse. Trusted and endorsed by Beyonce, so it’s gotta be good.

Most of us in the west are privileged to live in a time in which we don’t experience anything near true hunger. In fact, our next meal is so assured that we can be ultimately choosy with what sensation we want to chase. Much of what we ingest is well beyond what we actually need to sustain ourselves – and the rush of sweetness, comfort of fullness and jolliness of inebriation can become slippery slopes of addiction. Paul Graham, has written extensively on the ‘acceleration of addiction‘ in the modern world, and concluded that ‘we’ll increasingly be defined by what we say no to.’ This is very inline with the teachings from the Vipassana meditation courses that I’ve attended, which teach you how to become a master of your mind, and more aware of your blind reactions. Meditators have found that the ability to control your reactions to cravings and aversions has great effect on their level of happiness and fulfillment.

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Brain Scanning for Cash

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One good perk about having a job where you can set your own hours is that you can submit yourself for scientific experimentation without having to answer to anyone but the benefits don’t stop there! In most cases they’ll actually pay you, and in this study my hourly wage was even more than I make at Syyn Labs and Mindshare LA! And finally, the really big perk is that since this study, which centered around implicit decision making (which translated to following dots around a screen ad nauseum), had me answering questions from within a fMRI machine – I got a free brain scan out of it!

Besides a dramatically oversized ‘awesome lobe’, I’m in the clear and in the green!

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Murder Kittens and Tutu Crew Complete the NorCal ToughMudder

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I was leaving the North Fork farm, but not heading home to LA just yet; first, there was some serious business to attend to! Billed as “The Toughest One Day Endurance Race on the Planet!”, The NorCal ToughMudder was assembling teams from all over the world to participate in a 7-mile course at an elevation of 8000ft, with multiple fluctuations of 2000 feet. The 3000 participants, were a good mix of serious atheltes and groups of misshapen folk dressed in ridiculous costumes, but all determined to hop over, crawl under and trek through obstacles with names such as March of Death and Dragon Wheel!

Our posse was made up of 15 people, comprising of two teams, The Murder Kittens and The Tutu Crew (made of of members of The Phage). We’d decided to rent a cabin nearby and we were all gathering for dinner the night before the big race. The event was pricey at about $150 for the pleasure of being tortured, not to mention more than a little intimidating, so I had just registered as a spectator, which I had found surprisingly emasculating upon clicking the online ‘submit’ button.

The first challenge was unexpected. I had tried to take a short cut through Stanislaus National Forest and I was good and lost and had already missed dinner. My cell phone’s GPS was also completely useless in these mountains. Eventually I came upon a ranger station where I asked directions.

“Well, you’re going to have a tough time off roadin’ to Bear Valley!” The rather butch female ranger amused herself as a couple of very cute female trainees giggled behind her. “But you could either head back the way you came, or keep following this road – after a few turns, you’ll be back on track.”

I’m really not a fan of back tracking when it comes to life in general, and after I managed to get her to clarify “a few turns” I continued on, deeper into the pitch black forest with an impotent phone and some pumping, bass heavy music to add to the alien planet vibe. I finally made it to The Eldorado Ranch, where most of the team was already good and drunk, all too happy to celebrate their victory before the race even began.

Upon arrival, the weekend’s second unexpected challenge was exposed: our friend Enki, a member of the Tutu Crew, had come down with a cold and would not be able to join the team. In an effort to reclaim that ego-jabbing feeling of emasculation, I impetuously offered to take his place. Many of the team had been training for the last month whereas I had only done yoga a few times; I was more than a little apprehensive.

After winning the title of Game Room Champion by beating Tristan at foosball, pool and finally ping pong, I returned to the main house to set up my ‘bed’, which was really just a pile of blankets, in the living room under a large moose head. There was a sign next to the decapitated trophy, indicating that it was not OK to touch the moose head; obviously the landlords had had some troublesome tenants in the past, but they made their friendly intonation clear by appending each written rule (also found in the kitchen, bathroom and game room) with “Mahalo!”

The following morning we woke up early to get ready. I ate a muffin, granola and a big serving of pasta from the previous evening’s dinner and I also managed to squeeze into Enki’s camouflage Tutu, which looked sexy yet hardcore. We saddled up in a few cars and drove about 1 hour to the site of the course. Each 15 minutes, a couple of hundred people gathered at the start and after a dramatic, yet inspiring speech, a pistol was shot and we were off.

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The first obstacle was to crawl through mud under barbwire – but in fact, we had regular wire separating us from the barbs. After running a mile down some rocky terrain we assembled in a neat line as we waited for people to walk down a sharp precipice. Multiple signs warned us of the fact that we’d signed a death waiver, and to think about that before being stupid. We didn’t slip on the Ice Shelf, because it was rather warm and all the ice had melted. We found out the Dragon Wheel was really just an old cable bail. OK, I don’t want to completely belittle the effort, after all, running up and down hills at 8000ft is pretty exhausting and everyone’s lungs were burning – and of course, submerging yourself in the frigid waters of the Snow Making Pond is definitely a memorable brain shock. But if there’s no real timekeeping and pretty much 100% of those that partake pass, except the occasional clumsy or seriously unfit runner – how hardcore is it really?

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After the race, which ended by jumping through a rather low fire and drinking a watered down shot of Sriracha Hot Sauce, we had a couple of beers and headed home. The next 24 hours is a blur of endless BBQing, more than a little tequila punctuated with shifts in the LED lit hot tub, and numerous rematches in the game room that only enforced my reign (at least most of the time J To at least be a little healthy I brought out the veggies that I’d obtained from the farm cellar and did a little restorative yoga.

Before I left for Los Angeles I hunted for my lost sunglasses, which someone had put on the moose. I could imagine the scene with the landlord had I not found them:

“Those little bastards, I expressly put this sign in place to tell them not to touch my moose head… Mahalo!”


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