Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spirituality at the Speed of Light

So, a few months ago Allen Flagg, who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of General Semantics and the President of the New York Society for General Semantics, asked if I would be willing to come give a talk at the annual meeting of FIONS, the Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences--Allen is the Vice-President of FIONS, I should add. 

I agreed to do it, if we could agree on a date.  It had to be a Thursday evening in March, and as you may recall, I was in Italy for a McLuhan conference that month (see my previous post, The Fall of Nations).  But we were able to agree on March 31st, which was just a few days after I returned from Bologna.  It was quite the whirlwind, and I wrote most of the talk while I was in Italy.

Doing this lecture was a bit of departure from my usual academic activities.  FIONS is not an academic or scholarly group.  Here, take a look at their website if you want:  On their home page, they state the following:

Noetic is a great word, by the way, Walter Ong often used it in his discussions of the relationship between language, media, and consciousness.  Anyway, here is what they say on their About Us page:

Who We Are
Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, (FIONS), is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to exploring the meaning of consciousness in its many forms. Its founders were inspired by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), the organization founded in 1973 by Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, ScD, following his return to Earth from his historic 1971 walk on the moon. On the trip back Dr. Mitchell had an "epiphany", an experience of universal connectedness so profound that it altered his life from that point on. From the unique vantage point of the space capsule, the image of the earth floating gently in space radically altered his preconceived and pragmatic view of reality: What if reality was more complex than physical science had led us to believe? Might the study of "inner space" – mind, spirit, and consciousness yield a more thorough understanding of the human experience and might this study expand our concepts abut the possibility for humanity?

IONS was founded to explore and apply scientific rigor to the inner landscape of spirit and to help us broaden and deepen our understanding of the human condition and the world we live in.

In 1989, three New York-based IONS board members created Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences to provide a local forum for like-minded seekers to meet regularly to discuss the ideas being generated by IONS' research, and ponder its meaning in their everyday lives. From those humble beginnings, FIONS has grown to become a vibrant organization with hundreds of members from all walks of life and interests.

What We Do
We support the research of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and collaborate with other organizations engaged in similar transformative work. We serve those who are interested in studying and exploring consciousness, who fervently desire to bridge the gap between science and spirit, providing them with a forum for stimulating and open discussion. We honor and value open-minded approaches, rigorous inquiry, and diversity of perspectives.

How We Do It
FIONS is deeply committed to fostering community. We bring together groups of people, members and non-members alike, into community environments in a variety of ways: We offer lectures, workshops, courses, conferences, healing circles, focused discussion groups, film screenings, and book discussions.

 So, this is more of a New Age kind of group, interested in explorations and expansions of consciousness, and not surprisingly, it is a satellite organization of IONS, the Institute of Noetic Sciences--see, which was founded in California.  I say this as a New Yorker, of course.

 I see the New Age movement as a natural outgrowth of the electronic media environment and, how shall I put it, I am not unsympathetic, aspects of it are quite appealing, others aspects not so much, but then again, it is fundamentally eclectic in nature.  But of course, I am fundamentally a media ecologist.

  Allen Flagg asked me to talk about spirituality, and I was happy to do so.  I have written essays about religion, and of course also been involved in organized religion, Reform Judaism specifically, presently as Vice-President of Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia, New Jersey, where I've also taken a few turns as lay leader (and did you catch My Yom Kippur Sermon?).  There is a certain appeal for me in crossing over--no, not in the ghostly sense, in the sense of moving across different spheres of my life.  Admittedly, New Age spirituality tends to eschew organized religion, or at least those of the west, the Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic traditions, but interest in spirituality exists, and I believe is growing, in the old standbys as well as the eastern imports, pagan revivals, and new syntheses.  For me personally, this includes a certain grounding in the Kabbalah, which I first explored as a teenager, long before Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell made it trendy.

 I should add that media ecology is not at all disconnected from spirituality.  McLuhan especially had a strong sense of it, as did Ong, and Jacques Ellul.  So when Allen asked me to talk about how the electronic media have affected spiritual communication, I knew I'd have quite a bit to say on the subject, and in a broader sense that just looking at how we talk about sprituality.  And Alfred Korzybski and general semantics also come into play here, especially because of the fundamental concern with consciousness, but also because of the desire to create a way of thinking about the world that is consistent with the understanding of the world that is derived from science. 

 So, this talk goes over a great deal of familiar ground, but placed in a new context in considering spirituality in the age of electronic media, which of course means spirituality at the speed of light.

So, here it is:

And here's the write-up I included on the video's page over at YouTube:

An address given at the Annual Meeting of the Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences on March 31st, 2011, at St. Catherine of Siena Church, New York, New York. Allen Flagg gives the 5-minute introduction, and the talk is followed by a Q&A session. Videography by Mariusz Han, SJ. with just a few glitches.

In recent times, we have been experiencing a renaissance of spirituality that is closely associated with the electronic media environment that we occupy. Human consciousness and our understanding of the cosmos evolve, not only through the accumulation of knowledge, but through breakthroughs in our ways in our ways of knowing and relating to our world , to others, and to ourselves. We can experience the spiritual as part of a holistic, ecological view of the world, one that emphasizes the fluid over the solid, energy over matter, change over permanence, relativity over absolutism, patterns over things, verbs over nouns, sound over sight, and time over space.

That second paragraph was the blurb used to advertise the talk, and the lecture itself diverges from that a little bit, as I go over 7 key points about spirituality in our new age, but I'll leave that for you to see when you listen to it, or hear when you watch it, or whatever.  

The question and answer session at the end had some interesting moments as it got deeper into some of that New Age stuff, but I enjoyed it.  And after the talk, I did a book signing, which was great, and I thank Allen Flagg for setting that up, as well as including a nice plug for my new book at the end of his 5 minute introduction that opens this video, and since you were so kind as to bring it up, here we go once more:

And that's all for now from this ghostly realm of cyberspace, time for my digital double to return back to the ether from whence I came, until next time my friends, until next time...