How I became part of an invisible hacking revolution.
By Eh’den Biber
Remark – In contrary to my other writings (e.g. “making privacy great again”), this is going to be an evolving story. It means that I will be continuously updating it. Also, I plan to record it as a podcast so you could listen to it rather than read it.
2017-05-14 – V01 – Long Drive + The Revolution
2017-05-15 – V02 – Stealing Fire + The Guinee Pig
2017-05-15 – V03 – Ecstasis + Lost in the Rain + The Sacred Four
2017-05-21 – V04 – Frederick + Mad Intelligence
Prologue – Long drive
13 years ago, when my youngest son Rephael was three and half years old, my ex-wife and I arrived to a Belgian hospital to hear the diagnostic of his condition. After months of observations and tests the result came in, and even though I remember everything that was said, looking back I realise that at that time I had no ability to grasp their meaning: “Your son has severe autism. It will never go away, it will not improve. You will never be able to communicate with him, you will never be able to send him to a normal school. Your son will never be able to be independent, your son will need to be in a mental institute when he will grow up.”
We had three beautiful kids, two of them, his older brother and sister were “normal”. How can you, as a parent, even imagine what it would be like to have a “non-normal” child?
Driving back home that day was the hardest drive home I ever had. My ex-wife was crying, shouting in pain, as the news were opening the scares of losing our second son, and the death of our third child, our daughter. While she was collapsing, something strange happened within me. I felt a strange state of calmness, and I heard myself saying “We will be OK; I will find a way to heal Rephael”. I didn’t say it out loud, but in my heart I made the oath that I will never stop, will never rest, and will never accept Rephael condition, that I will do everything I can to find a cure to it.
The same way I didn’t know what it means to raise a child with severe disabilities, I had no idea that my promise to our son will lead me to be part of a revolution.
Welcome to the revolution.
There is a hacking revolution that is taking place right now, and most people have no idea about it. The economy that fuel this revolution is bigger than the GDP of India or Russia, and involves wall street traders, Silicon Valley executives, special ops, scientists, hippies, and seemingly innocent individuals across the world. It is driven by the vast array of technologies, some of them are illegal, few of which are extremely dangerous. Governments are aware of these technologies, some have experimented with them. Cultures around the world are afraid of them, and tried their best to condition us from using them, yet the internet made these technologies and the revolution they fuel to be almost unstoppable.
What you are about to read is highly important for you whether you’re a CEO or a normal employee, living alone or a parent of kids, religious or atheist. At this moment of time, when computing power and artificial intelligence is taking over many of what we humans used to do, the decision you will make whether or not to join the revolution will determine if you will evolve or dissolve.
This is the story of the biggest hacking community that exists on this planet, a community of people who invest huge amount of resources to try and reach beyond their own imagination. This is my story, and the story of the communities I met along the way. This is your story, whether you like it or not, because a failure of this revolution will most likely mean the end of our specie.
The revolution I was talking about is centred around what science calls non-ordinary states of consciousness. Comment – scientists should really use a PR agency if they want their work subject to become a meme.
In February this year a new book came out to describe the revolution. “Stealing fire”, written by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, is the first book that tries to cover the revolution from a macro view, rather than focusing on different elements of it. The full name of the book is “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work”, and here is the description of the book in Amazon:
It’s the biggest revolution you’ve never heard of, and it’s hiding in plain sight. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everything we thought we knew about high performance upside down. Instead of grit, better habits, or 10,000 hours, these trailblazers have found a surprising short cut. They’re harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition.
New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler and high performance expert Jamie Wheal spent four years investigating the leading edges of this revolution—from the home of SEAL Team Six to the Googleplex, the Burning Man festival, Richard Branson’s Necker Island, Red Bull’s training center, Nike’s innovation team, and the United Nations’ Headquarters. And what they learned was stunning: In their own ways, with differing languages, techniques, and applications, every one of these groups has been quietly seeking the same thing: the boost in information and inspiration that altered states provide.
Today, this revolution is spreading to the mainstream, fuelling a trillion-dollar underground economy and forcing us to rethink how we can all lead richer, more productive, more satisfying lives. Driven by four accelerating forces—psychology, neurobiology, technology and pharmacology—we are gaining access to and insights about some of the most contested and misunderstood terrain in history. Stealing Fire is a provocative examination of what’s actually possible; a guidebook for anyone who wants to radically upgrade their life.
Here is a five minutes summary by one of the authors, Steven Kotler:
Which bring me back to my story…
The Guinee Pig
At that day in the hospital when my ex-wife and I were given Rephael’s diagnostic I’ve already been reading everything I could about autism. What I saw stressed and scared me, because science didn’t know what causes it, or how to treat it. The doctors at the hospital suggested that we will put our son in specialised schools, and we did. However, the school approach was focused on behaviour change, and frankly I didn’t like the results. To me it felt that they are putting their emphasis on programming my son to respond correctly to a stimulus, but not develop him beyond that. It was clear to me that in order to help Rephael I must find another way. But what?
I decided to be a Guinee pig.
You see, I had a great hypothesis: If I will find a way to be free from my mind, from my “normal state of consciousness”, and if I can repeat the experiment on myself multiple times, then perhaps I could work with Rephael so he will have that experience, and help him to be free from his autistic state of consciousness. Rephael frustration from his condition was not foreign to me – like him, I had a complex relationship with the thing I called “my mind”. It always felt to me that it runs faster than my conscious state can handle, it made living with it an exhausting task to me and to the people around me. I remember one time that a project manager told me “Please realise, I know that you see things we don’t, but you must help us understand what you see so we can also see it”. My problem was that many times I was unable to see the solutions as well – I felt there is something there, and it took a lot of effort and frustration to be able to form it in a way I can explain to myself and others. All my life I hoped I could have a different state of consciousness, a state of clarity. If I can find that, and if I can help Rephael have that experience, then we can both meet in that place of clarity. I promised myself that I will try anything to reach that state, regardless whether if these experiences will be considered as OK by my ex-wife, my friends, or whether or not these experiments will fall within the given constraints of society, country, or culture.
I stated saying yes to everything and I mean everything: neuro-feedback, brainwave entrainment, diverse array of sexual practices, pharmacological intervention, medicinal plants, ritual dancing, ritual breathing, electromagnetic pulses, meditation, severe physical pain workshop, and poisonous substances – the list goes on and on. As you’re about to discover, like all revolutions this has a list of casualties. I was extremely lucky that I was not part of that list, that I reached a safe haven – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s light the fire…
And we’re back to “stealing fire”. The first part of the book talks about ecstasis, which is the Greek term of “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere”. Here is Jason Silva describing the notion of having what was called in the past a mystical experience, description of the deepest state of estatsis one can have:
Lost in the Rain
I was alone, in a moonless winter night, and to make it worse it just started to rain. The bus I took dropped me in the middle of nowhere, and I wasn’t sure at all that I got down at the right station because the bus driver didn’t speak English, and my darn phone battery died half way through the journey. I was carrying a huge backpack, I was sad, tired, and more lost inside than I was outside. The last few years of trying to break the silence of Rephael’s autism were unsuccessful. The more I tried, the more I realised that before I can think of healing my son I must face my own demons, but I had no clue how to do it. At some point during a cold winter I broke down and gave up. I’ve contacted a South American friend, who introduced me to a shaman she knew, and I decided to leave everything and move to the Amazon jungle. I was ready to join the shaman – and then it was cancelled, which left me really angry, with nowhere to go, and no hope. At that point, I discovered that a sacred ceremony was taking place near where I was. I packed myself up and travelled for hours until I discovered I’m lost again. Suddenly, out of nowhere I saw a flashlight. Another person with a backpack bigger than mine and a guitar approached me. “you’re going to the ceremony?” he asked me. “Yes”, I said, “but I have no idea where I am”. “It’s OK, follow me” he said, and I did. What I was about to experience was something that will forever remember – I was about to have a profound non-ordinary state of consciousness, my first mystical experience.
The Sacred Four
There are many events around the world that are trying to bring you to this state. None of them are as known as Burning Man, a yearly gathering of people who celebrate ecstasis in extreme conditions. In stealing fire Steven and Jamie expand the importance of the event, and describe how the two founders of Google had an inner feeling that Eric Schmidt is the right person to lead google when they heard he already participated in Burning Man.
There are many events across the world which celebrate this spirit of merging into the group, but for many years they were considered by most people as “too crazy”. Take London for example, most corporations in the capital likes to involve their employees in mass sports events such as marathons, physical endurance, or events dedicated for big charities. Events which lead the participants to dissolve their ego and merge in an uncontrollable way are as popular to the corporate world as a visit from the regulator.
In their essence, the Non-ordinary states of consciousness which are at the heart of the ecstasis state are characterised by the following four pillars:
- Effortlessness; and
Why would navy SEAL warriors want to be in such state? Because it seems that this state is the most optimal state. It’s true not only for a team of man who are required to act as one while trying to capture a terrorist, it is true also for people who need to lead the most advanced technological organisations such as google. As Steven Kotler said in the interview I’ve mentioned before, “Most of the key skills, especially so-called 21st century skills, things range from creative problem solving, high-speed decision making, cooperation, collaboration – these are all the things we need to thrive in the 21st century – and we suck at. We really bad at them… we actually suck at training people at creative thinking. We have no idea how to do it, and the reason is, … we trying to upscale skills, while what we really need to be doing is training up states of minds”
Perhaps what’s so surprising to many is the fact that these special states are marked by quieting down of circuits that are extremely busy during our “normal” state of consciousness. In fact, Duke University psychologist Mark Leary wrote about our “normal” state and describe it as the one which “…is single-handedly responsible for many, if not most of the problems that human beings face as individuals and as a species … [and] conjures up a great deal of personal suffering in the form of depression, anxiety, anger, jealousy, and other negative emotions.” (the curse of the self)
All of the above raises the question – if that new state is so special and great to us, why don’t we all do it? The answer to that rely on our social contract, or as the authors calls it, our fear of being “beyond the pale”.
“Do you speak English?” the man who entered the computer store I was managing asked me. “Sure”, I said. “Can you please take a look at my laptop? I have a critical application I must use and it doesn’t seem to work”. I’ve said “Of course”, asked one of my employees to take over, and disappeared to our small lab. After 10 minutes I came back, handing him back his computer, telling him “It’s working now”. He smiled and said “Great! how much do I owe you?”, to which I replied “nothing”. The man looked at me surprised. “Really? Are you sure?”. I smiled back to his surprise and said “Yes. I didn’t have to replace anything, it was a configuration issue, so no charge”. “wow, that is great! My name is Frederick, I’m a diplomat how work here. Can you tell me what you did?”. Fredrick and I started talking, me in my not-so-great-English at that time, and he with perfect English and a beautiful south American accent. In a short while we both laughing and talking so loud other people in the store started to stare at us. I was in my early 20s, working like crazy to try and sustain my new family; he was a foreign diplomat, with a lovely wife and family and endless friends. Soon Frederick became one of the only two true friends I had in the world. He was a person I could share everything with, He was smart, wise, with a curiosity of a little boy and deep passion to life. Time passed, Frederick had to leave due to his role which took him across the globe, and in the last 10 years I lost track of him. Last week I felt an inner call to find him, to share with him this story. I felt that I really miss him. I tried on Facebook and couldn’t find anything. I tried to google and see where he is posted now as a diplomat, but couldn’t find anything. After few minutes of search I was shocked to find out that I will never be able to share with him my story, because he had passed away in 2014, at the age of 59.
Frederick – you were to me the older brother I never had. You inspired me, you supported me, you accepted me, you loved me. I feel you here right now, I hear your voice and your wonderful accent, I see you smiling, I feel your spirit. Bless you, my brother, and thank you. I was so blessed to be part of your life, part of your heart. I missed you, but now I found you, and we are here now once more, as you will forever be.
“But we’re never gonna survive, unless… we get a little crazy”
“Man, you’re crazy. As your friend, PLEASE promise me not to tell anyone about this at work. You’re CRAZY!!!”.
We were sitting in a pub, and my work colleague was looking at me in a total disbelief. I just shared with one of my past experiences, and it was too much for him. He was in a good company – when my wife and I met for the first time, I told her about some of my journey and afterwards she told me “I remember sitting there, thinking to myself that I have hit rock bottom, that I’m now on a date with this crazy dude who is doing a lot of drugs and is a member of a cult and a sex maniac”. None of these were truth of course, but the cultural lens we all wear defines our reaction to other’s life experiences.
During my personal journey, I’ve met people who came to experience non-normal state of consciousness from all across the globe and societies. I’ve met Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists, Christians, and any time of faith or non-faith you can think about. I’ve met scientists who work in the academia and hippies who home-school their kids. I’ve met people with all sexual orientations, from people who practices celibacy via to people who practiced group sexual experiences. I’ve met people who had deep personal experience into mind altering chemicals and people who don’t even drink coffee. When I look back, perhaps the only common thread that united all these people is the fact that they did so either in hiding or did their best not to draw too much attention to their actions.
For a good reason.
Steven and Jamie introduced in the book a term rarely used these days, called “beyond the pale”. When England invaded Ireland in the 12th century they created a large barrier which they called “the English Pale”, which acted as a border. Anyone who either left the area or came back from it were to be question for their motives, and if you remember the way questioning was done in the middle ages I think you will agree with me it wasn’t a nice thing to experience.
In this chapter, the authors described the different society forces that treat people who go beyond what the group consider as “legit” with fear and suspicion. The mention our perception via the prism of religion and faith systems, via the prism of suspicious to technology, and the state. After all, history is filled with ecstatic explorations which ended up really bad. We will talk about this in great length at a later stage.
What we considered to be a “normative” experience and what is consider to be beyond that is a culture story. Here are few examples:
- Being gay in a religious society and you might be in real danger of losing your life depending on the environment.
- Bring up a theory that is beyond the set of theories scientists see as “correct” have a real chance of being labelled as a pseudo-scientist. Rupert Sheldrake had been suffering most of his career due to that, he even wrote a book about it called “The Science Delusion”.
- Act in a disrespectful way to religion (“Russian YouTuber convicted for playing Pokémon Go in church”), or dare to use humour to critic it and see how it goes (e.g. Muhammad cartoons).
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts” (Bertrand Russell)
As we move away from what we perceive as a normal state of consciousness, the journey sometimes leaves us grasping for cultural narrative that we can use to express what we felt. It’s a very strange thing to hack your consciousness because it expands you beyond anything you ever had experienced. Imagine you are colour blind, and that one day you experienced colour for the first time. If you grew in a society that everyone around you had never experienced colour, you will have no words to describe what you just had. Societies are optimised around certain set of ideas that define what is normal and what is not, and due to our human biases and our blindness to it one can be manipulated into thinking we can define what is sane and what is insane.
So first tip to anyone who want to join the revolution – embrace your madness, because where you’re about to go and what you are about to experience will look to your normal state of consciousness as some sort of either magic, divine, or madness.
“This is a time for awakening, …this is a time to wake up out of the madness, because the history of humanity is the history of insanity. But for the first time in the history of this insanity the insanity threating to destroy us. Mad intelligence, that’s what humans have developed. You can call it “cleverness”. We’re all clever, but mad, mad intelligence… We’re coming to the end of this one way or another. Either we destroy ourselves, or we wake up out of that dream, the nightmare… To see your own madness is the beginning healing insanity, because there is in every human being not only the madness but also sanity… It is liberating to say ‘we are mad!… mad… I am mad…but I realised that I’m mad!” (Eckhart Tolle, “1 Giant Leap”)
[TO BE CONTINUED… REALLY SOON]
(C) All rights reserved, 2017.