Ariel Garten: Redefining Consciousness at TEDxToronto (Transcript)

Ariel Garten – CEO and Co-Founder of InteraXon

The maxim, “Know thyself” has been around since the ancient Greeks. Some attribute this golden world knowledge to Plato, others to Pythagoras.

But the truth is it doesn’t really matter which sage said it first, because it’s still sage advice, even today.

“Know thyself.” It’s pithy almost to the point of being meaningless, but it rings familiar and true, doesn’t it?

“Know thyself.” I understand this timeless dictum as a statement about the problems, or more exactly, the confusions, of consciousness.

I’ve always been fascinated with knowing the self. This fascination led me to submerge myself in art, study neuroscience, and later, to become a psychotherapist.

Today I combine all my passions as the CEO of InteraXon, a thought-controlled computing company. My goal, quite simply, is to help people become more in tune with themselves. I take it from this little dictum, “Know thyself.”

If you think about it, this imperative is kind of the defining characteristic of our species, isn’t it? I mean, it’s self-awareness that separates Homo sapiens from earlier instances of our mankind.

Today we’re often too busy tending to our iPhones and iPods to really stop and get to know ourselves. Under the deluge of minute-to-minute text conversations, e-mails, relentless exchange of media channels and passwords and apps and reminders and Tweets and tags, we lose sight of what all this fuss is supposed to be about in the first place: Ourselves.

Much of the time we’re transfixed by all of the ways we can reflect ourselves out into the world. And we can barely find the time to reflect deeply back in on our own selves. We’ve cluttered ourselves up with all this. And we feel like we have to get far, far away to a secluded retreat, leaving it all behind.

So we go far away to the top of a mountain, assuming that perching ourselves on a piece is bound to give us the respite we need to sort the clutter, the chaotic everyday, and find ourselves again.

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But on that mountain where we gain that beautiful peace of mind, what are we really achieving? It’s really only a successful escape.

Think of the term we use, “Retreat.” This is the term that armies use when they’ve lost a battle. It means we’ve got to get out of here. Is this how we feel about the pressures of our world, that in order to get inside ourselves, you have to run for the hills?

And the problem with escaping your day-to-day life is that you have to come home, eventually.

So when you think about it, we’re almost like a tourist visiting ourselves over there. And eventually, that vacation’s got to come to an end.

So my question to you is: can we find ways to know ourselves without the escape? Can we redefine our relationship with the technologized world in order to have the heightened sense of self-awareness that we seek? Can we live here and now in our wired web and still follow those ancient instructions, “Know thyself?”

I say the answer is yes. And I’m here today to share a new way that we’re working with technology to this end, to get familiar with our inner self like never before…Humanizing technology and furthering that age-old quest of ours to more fully know the self. It’s called thought-controlled computing.

You may or may not have noticed that I’m wearing a tiny electrode on my forehead. This is actually a brainwave sensor that’s reading the electrical activity of my brain as I give this talk. These brainwaves are being analyzed and we can see them as a graph.

That blue line there is my brainwave. It’s the direct signal being recorded from my head, rendered in real time. The green and red bars show that same signal displayed by frequency, with lower frequencies here and higher frequencies up here. You’re actually looking inside my head as I speak.

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These graphs are compelling, they’re undulating, but from a human’s perspective, they’re actually not very useful. That’s why we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to make this data meaningful to the people who use it.

For instance, what if I could use this data to find out how relaxed I am at any moment? Or what if I can take that information and put it into an organic shape up on the screen? The shape on the right over here has become an indicator of what’s going on in my head. The more relaxed I am, the more the energy’s going to fall through it.

I may also be interested in knowing how focused I am, so I can put my level of attention into the circuit board on the other side. And the more focused my brain is, the more the circuit board is going to surge with energy. Ordinarily, I would have no way of knowing how focused or relaxed I was in any tangible way.

As we know, our feelings about how we’re feeling are notoriously unreliable. We’ve all had stress creep up on us without even noticing it until we lost it on someone who didn’t deserve it, and then we realize that we probably should have checked in with ourselves a little earlier.

This new awareness opens up vast possibilities for applications that help improve our lives and ourselves. We’re trying to create technology that uses the insights to make our work more efficient, our breaks more relaxing and our connections deeper and more fulfilling than ever.

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