While the mechanics of evolution – both the cultural and biological variety – are, in the final analyses, fuzzy, Stephan Jay Gould, America’s last public intellectual and blazing lighthouse of enlightenment and erudition, has described the process like this:
“Life is a copiously branching bush, continually pruned by the grim reaper of extinction, not a ladder of predictable progress.”
I’d say this is a pretty accurate description – especially for that intersection of longitude and latitude known for the second most-abundant chemical element (after oxygen) on Earth, as Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley is no stranger to the bush, or to the reaper; indeed it is a bush that those who live here are intimately familiar with, having witnessed, firsthand, its emergence from the very same neighborhoods within which they live and work. After all, it would be nearly impossible not to notice the kind of Cambrian explosivity that has been going on in that neck of the orchard for the past half a century.
Gould’s metaphor makes sense. It also makes sense to see Sofia’s own evolutionary path as copiously branching – what was once a graduate school devoted solely to the field of transpersonal psychology, is now a full-fledged university with ever-branching departmental variations that span such diverse fields as computer science and drone operation. No surprise, then, that the rich transpersonal legacy of Sofia University has found a new expression in the fields of the applied sciences, domains of influence beyond the merely academic, and into real-life, real-world, relevance.
It is because of this new-found interdisciplinarity and commitment to engaged, compassionate, scholarship, that I was able to draw on the available resources at Sofia and draft a grant proposal for the Mind and Life/1440 Foundation Awards.
This grant, if funded, will be a collaborative endeavor between the NeuroPhenomenology Lab and the TransTech Lab, both operated under the aegis of Sofia University.
Working closely with the board of directors at the Youth United for Community Action in East Palo Alto, California, participants will be selected based upon their age (12-17) and other selected socioeconomic criteria, to intervene in the lives of at-risk youths, those whom sociologists describe as, “less likely to transition successfully into adulthood and achieve economic self-sufficiency.” This new approach will allow educators to inject mindfulness into the at-risk youth population and use today’s technology as a skillful means to build authentic relationships with themselves and with each other.
The bald truth is, safety and security aren’t just abstract constructs in a theory of human motivation; they are fundamental necessities of the human experience that many people, born into social ecologies of addiction, poverty, and crime, have never known. For the developing brain, however, the attendant neural ecologies are frequently beset by neuroarchitectural abnormalities in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) which are often correlated with high levels of anxiety and a concomitant lack of empathy.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Recent developments in the area of neuroplasticity have demonstrated that, if treated, these deficits can heal. Yet the problem remains: How can we teach empathy in urban war zones?
We can’t. What we can do is take the experience out of the classroom and into their lives and begin using a technology that 70% of all teenagers currently have access to – a smartphone – to introduce mindfulness and empathy into one of the populations that could benefit from them the most. We will then map, using the Geodesic 64 channel Sensor Net, short and long-term neurobiological changes resulting from empathy training and group mindfulness, as well as monitor behavioral and physiological changes, as well.
Within the wider Western ethos of compassion, equality, purpose and hope, the multiplicative effects of hunger, illness, racism, and violence have created a culture in which security isn’t just elusive, it’s impossible. These are the children and at-risk adolescents that this project is designed to help with a novel approach that actually can.
How incredibly exciting to be a student at Sofia and to have available to me all of the world-class resources to help actualize this vision! I wouldn’t trade living in this moment for any other, regardless of the age.
Welcome to the Cambrian Explosion Reboot.
Blog by Nicholas Boeving, GPhD. student