Maf Lewis & Rome Viharo on Google Consciousness at TEDxCARDIFF (Transcript)

Social Media strategists and developers Maf Lewis and Rome Viharo discuss Google Consciousness at TEDxCARDIFF conference. Below is the full transcript. This event happened on June 9, 2011.


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Maf Lewis: Greetings, TedxCardiff. I’m Maf Lewis. This is Rome Viharo. Rome and I are often requested to create memes and viral campaigns in social media. This talk is — thank you, Rome –this talk is a viral. This is a great story, the story of the meme Google Consciousness and where it might lead us in the near future, potentially, starting today, with this very talk.

Rome Viharo: Our meme, our story, begins where many great stories have begun, deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle. According to Harvard professor, Richard Schultes, the father of ethnobotany, 25% of all western pharmacological knowledge comes from healing plants cultivated by indigenous peoples.

This man’s name is Guillermo Arévalo, or as he is known in his native language, Kestenbetsa, ‘the echo of the universe’. He is the chief of his community amongst the Shipibo-Conibo people, and a master ayahuascero curandero, or medicine man. Guillermo spent years in isolation in the jungle, learning how to obtain knowledge from plants, and says that to obtain knowledge from plants you have to be able to speak to them correctly, and I did say, “Speak to the plants.” Yes.

The Shipibo people believe that some, but not all, plants in the Amazon are actually conscious and intelligent, and if you speak to them the right way, you can gain access to their consciousness and their knowledge. The Shipibo use a psychoactive medicinal tea called ayahuasca to journey into this world of master plants and claim to be able to understand this plant language.

Now, I know Guillermo through a friend, anthropologist Francois Demange. He is one of Guillermo’s main apprentices, now an ayahuascero in his own right. He sort of acts like a bridge between this indigenous knowledge and the West. And I was intrigued by Francois’ descriptions and presentations of all this, and I was just really curious.

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OK, how do you obtain knowledge from plants? So, just like we type a search phrase into Google and Google returns the results from various websites, it is the same with ayahuasca, you could say. The curandero, the doctor, simply drinks Ayahuasca, asks a question or makes a request in the form of a song called an icaro. An icaro is like a keyword that is used to obtain knowledge, not from websites, but from various plants found in the Amazon jungle.

Like typing a search term onto a keyboard on a computer, the icaro is sung to the intelligence and consciousness of the plant. Ayahuasca then delivers the knowledge from the plant teachers to the world of the curandero shaman. Now as a social media person, I was just amused by the fact that Ayahuasca could be called ‘the Google of the Amazon jungle’.

The very idea, though, that plants have intelligence, or mind, is a very challenging thing to relate to or accept, of course, here in the West, especially by philosophers, biologists, and neural scientists. The theory that there is the world of the brain and matter and then this other world of spirit or soul is often called dualism, and this view was, of course, was held by one of the founders of modern rational thought, René Descartes. And dualism has, of course, been discredited in the 20th century. Western philosophy, of course, now favors a purely materialistic model of consciousness. Spirits are not accepted, of course, in Western science, and the mind simply is what the brain is doing and nothing more.

So I became a little more curious then. So, if this is true, how can the brain produce an experience of talking to intelligent plants that provide knowledge about specific medicinal herbs? Are spirits just metaphors for memes? One such person, who would completely block any notion whatsoever of plant spirits communicating knowledge would certainly be Daniel C. Dennett, co-director for Center of Cognitive Studies and Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Daniel Dennett, of course, claims to be able to completely explain consciousness, as you see in the title of his book, Consciousness Explained.

So, I was exploring Dan’s model, and it’s curious to see how he looked at the brain and consciousness, how that would be able to account for someone like Guillermo Arévalo. And I don’t want to butcher Dan’s model by explaining how he explains consciousness. So I want us to take a moment and just listen to how Daniel Dennett explains consciousness being a function of the brain.

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[Daniel Dennett: My favorite metaphor these days is the fame in the brain, or cerebral celebrity theory. It’s, that is, that what consciousness is is the relative political influence, or fame, of structures in the brain that win out in competition against rival structures for domination of the brain’s activities in various ways. That’s putting it very programmatically, but basically it’s saying that in your head there’s a sort of turmoil going on, the pandemonium. And there’s many different contentful events vying for King of the Mountain, vying for control. And the ones that win, by default something always wins when you’re awake, and that’s what your conscious of. And it’s not that when it wins then the consciousness happens where it kindles some further thing that’s conscious, that’s just what consciousness is. It’s not as if an extra process has to happen. Winning, that’s it. And then the next one that wins, then it’s conscious. So, for instance, a robot that instantiated this sort of competition in its brain would be conscious.]