Vienna in the land of pure silicon, part 2: navigating the Wild West

- through Francois Leclercq

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Last month, we left Vienna Rae at the forefront of an emerging movement toward a regenerative economy and culture grounded in the principles of reciprocity and contemplative, earth-bound consciousness. Having simply skimmed over the meaningful connections and enlightening side quests that have conditioned his current attention, a closer look at these encounters is in order.

After Vienna's experience in electoral reform activism and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2013, his understanding of structural violence and his awareness of the need for systemic change became more and more closely linked. Recognizing the benefits of technology for effective resource management (big data), large-scale group coordination (decentralized governance), and personal development (biofeedback), she became curious as to why more Buddhist teachers in the East did not directly view these tools as viable means of addressing personal and structural suffering.

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Enter the Wild and Trendy West

In pursuing these questions, Vienna discovered Buddha Geeks, a U.S.-based podcast and online community that explores the intersection of technology and contemporary Buddhism through a practical, non-dogmatic lens. Inspired by topics related to the “network age” that co-founder Vince Fakhoury Horn continued to discuss on the show, Vienna arrived at the 2014 Buddha Geeks conference in Boulder, Colorado, eager to connect. Among the conference attendees she met was an energy engineer named Mikey Siegel, who himself was returning from a similar search for clarity and perspective, but in the opposite direction: India.

Previously, Seigel worked in robotics at NASA in California, before receiving a master's degree from the MIT Media Lab. Moving to San Francisco to a successful startup seemed like the icing on the cake, but something was still missing. Ultimately, the “disease of unhappiness” – what Shakyamuni Buddha called the First Noble Truth of duhkha—prevailed and set Mikey on the right path to the exotic subcontinent in search of deeper meaning. A multitude of encounters and ideas in India and later Hong Kong inspired Siegel to find a way to blend technology and spirituality to make transcendent experiences more universally accessible.


Enlightenment Engineering

Happy to hear the story of a fellow traveler determined to build new bridges between head, heart and technology, Vienna moved to the Bay Area and began helping Siegel organize meetings around what he called Consciousness Hacking. By combining science, technology and spirituality, Consciousness Hacking has given rise to a DIY community of “Enlightenment engineers” – a term referring to the movement in the book. Steal the fire (Kotler 2018) – focused on creating new tools to facilitate in-depth explorations of the human experience.

Siegel's approach was inspired by the Quantified Self movement, which had already established a rich community of numerophiles deploying technologies to track, measure and analyze data from various aspects of their daily lives, such as health, fitness and productivity. Using wearable devices, smartphone apps, and all manner of ornate graphics, these individuals aimed to achieve a degree of reflective awareness from which their behavioral patterns could be interpreted and optimized. Although effective, Siegel knew that such intellectual, data-driven insight lacked the qualitative texture of transformation that spiritual traditions had refined over millennia. Mindful of local California traditions surrounding consciousness transformation, Siegel offered a concise distinction in 2014:

If Quantified Self is like listening to a Timothy Leary lecture, Consciousness Hacking is like taking LSD.

This taste for DIY and experiential approach proved very appealing, as Vienna discovered when she attended her first conference on science and nonduality in Silicon Valley. There, Siegel was outlining a project he had developed called Heart Sync, a technology-facilitated meditative experience that visualizes heart rate variability data from multiple participants in the form of a pulsing mandala-like graph. The program guides participants into synchronized heart rhythms via simple breathing techniques and ambient sound, resulting in an experience of intimacy, relaxation and group flow. Seeing people engage with this “technology for awakening” for the first time was a meaningful experience for Vienna, who left the conference feeling optimistic about the future of contemplative practice in Silicon. Valley.

Mikey Siegel with participants connected to the Heart Sync device. From

Me or us?

After enthusiastically organizing hackathon events for the Transformative Technology Lab at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now Sofia University), the momentum behind the movement quickly accelerated, both in the United States than on an international scale. at Sofia University, Vienna, worked with Dr. Jeffery Martin to help design the Finder's Course, a three-month intensive meditation protocol designed to help spiritual seekers discover what practices have worked for them through analysis based on data and evidence. Siegel had met Dr. Martin in Hong Kong and, in turn, presented in Vienna his work combining science and awakening, or what he calls "persistent non-dual consciousness." However, despite a growing interest in the area of ​​technology-mediated inner work, Vienna began to perceive a troubling bifurcation in the fundamental motivations that fueled her involvement in the movement.

His experiences in the East had linked Vienna to an engaged spirituality characterized by “on the ground” activists working together at the local level for systemic change. In the West, she felt that although members of the community she had joined were on the same page, their practices were almost entirely focused on personal development, without paying much attention to issues. structural.

Consciousness Hacking is a practical approach to creating new tools that directly modify our conscious experience. It's a reverse perspective: technology can serve us by changing our relationship to the world, rather than to the world itself..

In this first definition of Consciousness Hacking from one of Siegel's presentations, we can see the individualistic values ​​that have begun to hit Vienna as both isolating and slightly beside the point. She believed that technology, combined with expanded awareness, could needs transform the world if we hope to adequately address the growing list of crises facing life on Earth.

This recognition helped Vienna reorient its work toward economic innovations, which it hoped would be a more community-based effort toward systemic transformation. After joining the Economic Space Agency, a collective formed to innovate post-capitalist systems using blockchain and distributed ledger technology, Vienna experienced more camaraderie, but quickly became aware of the reality of life in the valley. Surrounded by the world's brightest engineers all struggling to make their mark, it didn't matter whether you were building a less violent financial system or the next unicorn: Alpha was king.

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Monastic Academy

In the midst of this disillusioned period, Vienna returned to her Buddhist practice and met Soryu Forall, an American trained in many Buddhist traditions, including Rinzai Zen. Forall is the founding professor of Monastic Academy, a modern contemplative training center, an intentional, nonprofit community based in Vermont. Vienna was curious to see if this center, often called MAPLE – the Monastic Academy for the Preservation of Life on Earth, would provide the blend of community and common purpose that it had lacked on the West Coast.

With highly regimented weekly routines, the fusion of personalities, interests, and quirks within the Monastic Academy created a kaleidoscopic atmosphere that suited Vienna well for a time. Many longtime residents considered themselves “post-rationalists,” having turned to the center seeking a grounded integration of enlightenment with social and environmental responsibility. Discussions in the multidisciplinary fields of existential risk, effective altruism, and systems theory brought Vienna to a wide range of salient ideas and concerns within the rigorous framework of community living.

A strong sense of purpose and unity permeated his time at the Monastic Academy, particularly regarding how residents approached and interacted with technology. “Buddhism in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” the subject of a free online course produced by MAPLE, is an example of how the community has sought a synthesis of Dharma with modernity in response to the confusion of our era.


Weaving it all together

Determined to find a practical integration of her experiences on both coasts of the United States, Vienna created an experimental NFT project while living at the Monastic Academy, designed to convey the quantitative and qualitative beauty of the contemplative life. Working with Honshin, a graphic designer and MAPLE resident at the time, Vienna used two types of biofeedback devices to record data during a creative drawing session with an iPad.

Wearing a Muse headband that tracks brainwave frequency changes, Honshin illustrated a solitary monk begging for alms in a dark, cyber-punk vision of Tokyo. Data from the headband was processed by software to create a live ambient soundtrack that responded to changes in the artist's neurological state by introducing birdsong and running water. A heart rate variability device was also attached to Honshin's ear, measuring the degree of synchronization or coherence between their heart and brain. As the artist's concentration deepened, the system generated slight "pings" like taps on a tuning fork indicating that coherence was increasing.

Always Beg for life. Honshin wears a brainwave detection headband (Muse) and a heart rate variability device (EmWave) attached to his ear.

The result was a multimodal attempt to expose the inner experience of a creative-contemplative act. By recording live biofeedback data and presenting it alongside the art itself, audiences gain the ability to observe the active physiology of creation. By transmitting real-time data to the artist, Vienna hoped to model a “regenerative loop” in which synchronized physiology could directly support the creative process and, in turn, lead to a new appreciation of the art produced.

The title of the book, Beg for life, is an allusion to the monastic practice of begging for alms, a daily activity that not only connects monks to society at large (especially in Theravada societies) but also illustrates the interdependent nature of life. Vienna believed that raising awareness of this fundamental reciprocal relationship between “self” and “other” was fundamental to cultivating a more holistic view of economic and environmental activity. In the next part of this series, we'll explore how she continued to research these ideas at Stanford University from the perspective of Buddhist economics.

From the mountainous West to sunny California and verdant Vermont, Vienna Rae's spiraling adventures across the United States on the techno-Buddhist path continue to evolve. While self-centered and dubious applications of mindfulness to business strategy abound, pockets of people see a connection between technology and social transformation that could help calm our collective unrest, one idea at a time.

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Vienna in the land of pure silicon, part 1: feeling in the dharma of emerging technologies (BDG)

28:48, SF Meet Up, August 2, 2014

20:06, SF Meet Up, August 2, 2014

*Non-fungible token: an item that is entirely unique (i.e. handmade or 1/1) and cannot be exchanged for another on an individual basis (as can be done with a ticket). 'one dollar). In the context of digital art, NFTs carry a unique hash number that identifies the ownership and authenticity of a specific item using encryption via blockchain technology.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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