Infinite Awareness

What If All Things Are Conscious?


Loriliai Biernacki (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research interests include Hinduism, the interface between religion and science, and gender. Her first book, Renowned Goddess of Desire: Women, Sex and Speech in Tantra (Oxford, 2007) won the Kayden Award in 2008. She is currently working on the interstices between religion, science and panentheism.


Adam Jacobs: Well, I would like to welcome you officially to Beyond Belief, and thank you so much for being here today. I've been really enjoying your book, which is very new for me. Although I have an interest in Vedic Matters, I don't have a lot of experience with it, and it was fascinating to see some of the convergences and divergences from some of the things that I'm more familiar with. But I wanted to open up and just ask you entitled the book The Matter of Wonder, what does that mean to you? Why did you call it that? And what's the primary thing that you are trying to communicate to the audience with it?

Loriliai Biernacki: Okay, so Abhinavagupta uses this word chamatkar, and literally it means making the sound of “ch”, which is this expression of the mind stops. Okay? And so that word has been translated as wonder. Frequently the word is understood, as wonder. And so what I want to convey with this is what he does with this notion of wonder is that he talks about it in terms of it's a transcendence that's not an up and out, it's a transcendence that actually brings us back inward into the materiality of the body.

So that's one of the things that wonder for him does. And what he does with this as well is that there is an inherent subjectivity within matter and material form. And I think that is key, not just for how we can sort of address our world today, but I think his idea, his philosophy around this idea of wonder as a sort of inward sort of evocation, a transcendence is I think something that allows us to also do things like get beyond the dilemma of mind and matter. So he does that, and he does that through his concept of wonder basically.

Adam Jacobs: And I don't even know if I can pronounce his name, Butta Gupta?

Loriliai Biernacki: So I'll tell you a little bit about him just because such an interesting character. Abhinava is the first part of his name. Gupta is the last part of his name. It's kind of like the Gupta part is his father was named Gupta and so on. But Abhinava also means the ever-new. And so he's sort of lauded in Indian philosophy. He's basically, he's a 10th, 11th-century philosopher who is coming up with these wonderful novel ideas.

Now, part of the novelty that he brings us is also related to his forebearers, his guru and his guru's guru, and his guru’s, guru's, guru’s. These are sort of other Indian thinkers all based in the ninth, and eleventh centuries in Kashmir. And so Abhinavagupta is basically laying out in magisterial form some of these new ideas of tantra and that the main thing that they offer is they offer a way to, I like to think of it sometimes as I tell this to my students in some of my classes at the university, is that there's that Justin Timberlake song, I'm Bringing Sexy Back. Well, one of the things Abhinavagupta does is in his thinking, he brings back the body, brings back materiality, and brings back matter in our thinking of what transcendence means.

Adam Jacobs: Right. Because you focus a lot on the body and the material aspect of life in the book. And I want to ask you a few questions about that in a minute. But let me ask you this, why is that important? Certainly mysticism in general, it seems to be looking to transcend the body, and there are all kinds of methodologies to accomplish that, whether it's fasting or chanting or meditating, it's like how to reduce the influence of the body, which seems to be ruining your sense of spirituality.

Apparently, this is different in that it's more of a celebration of the materiality of a human being. But why is that good for us to do it that way? And just a second part of the question is this concept of wonder is something that to me, it seems like it unites the materialists and people who are more oriented towards transcendence. Everybody seems to believe in wonder. Everyone seems to love wonder. And I find that when I speak to the most hardcore materialist scientists, they also have wonder and they also appreciate it. So I'm just wondering if there's some kind of synthesis available here where he's pulling together these two threads in a way that's effective humanity.

Loriliai Biernacki: Yeah, no, that's great. These are really questions that get right to the heart of the matter. Well, in regard to your first question, this idea, why isn't transcendent supposed to be about getting out of the body? The body is what actually holds us down and prevents us from getting enlightened. What Abhinavagupta does, I think, is I think he's got an incredibly keen eye towards phenomenology. And what he recognizes with this is that you don't really leave the body. We never really leave the body. And so it's bodies all the way down. That's one of the things I argue in the book as well, that, I mean, Gupta talks about this in terms of even the whole cosmos is the bodies. And he quotes Vedic scriptures to sort of back up his point. So there's this, a very famous hymn from the Vedas, it's still recited today.

It's really popular all over India. And he says, one of the lines he says, the “Purusha,” the primordial person is all this, everything that became this world, and three-quarters of the person is above in the heavens in one quarter remains here. And so what Abhinavagupta says about this is that Purusha makes up the reality that exists here. Now it is the case that we use the subtle body as a way to sort of move between these realities, but ultimately you don't leave the body even if you think that you've sort of moved out in a transcendent state, there's still a body there. Now, how does that work? The way that works is that you're always here now, and that's a sort of fundamental, we have a fundamental kind of subjectivity. There is no awareness (that is a genuine awareness) that's actually not attached to a sense of, and I mean he talks about this as “ahanta” the state of i-ness.

And what happens with this is that whenever you have something like i-ness, the sense of sense I, you've got a body, I have another article that I think might've only just come out recently and you might like this one because it's kind of fun. Because what I do in this article is I look at a contemporary physicist named Nicholas Gisin who goes back to LEJ Brower's mathematical formulations. These are all from when Einstein was debating Bergson over ideas of time and relativity.

And so Brower also sort of uses some of what Bergson is talking about in terms of setting up a mathematics. And he calls this branch of mathematics, Intuitionist mathematics. And a couple of the things that he argues for this mathematics is that contrary to what we think of in mathematics as sort of a transcendent kind of science of mathematics, is a way where you can completely be objective and transcendent.

What Brower argues is that ultimately, even in mathematics, you're not going to the sense of subjectivity. And he brings back in the idea of a subject as well, and that you're going to get different sorts of mathematical outcomes based on the subjectivity of the mathematician. So now you can see that as a kind of quantum physics interjection, but these are really much deeper forays into philosophy because they're really upsetting our whole sort of notion of what science is. And that has to do with this idea that is there an objective reality. What I like about Abhinavagupta to bring it back to him, what I like about Abhinavagupta so much is that he understands that the primary reality of all of this is a subjective perspective. And so that has to do with mystical experience, but it also has to do with how we map the world as well.

I have one other article that also hasn't come out yet, but it'll come out soon. It goes off of an earlier article that I wrote about a contemporary neuroscientist named Giulio Tononi, and it's this integrated information theory 3.0. There's soon going to be a 4.0 version. So this is neuroscience. And what Tononi does is (I don't think he recognizes early on, but more recently I think he's actually recognized the move that he made and what it entails), which is to basically, he starts with subjectivity and it goes back to the same idea that we have with Abhinavagupta.

So I think what we're seeing here is a kind of shift in the landscape. It's pretty nascent at this point. Not many people are sort of aware of this yet, but I think we are at the vanguard of a shift in trying a shift that's beginning to understand that what's primary is consciousness. It's not materiality, but that materiality that makes it the world is itself a kind of consciousness as well. Its consciousness sort of unfolded into a kind of materiality.

Adam Jacobs: And that is an exciting, for me, that's an exciting development to be watching. And you can certainly see it playing out in the scientific world, the debates and discomfort and some people being enticed, but people are dealing with it, I think, in a way that they haven't in recent decades. And so to me, that's very encouraging. But so your book deals with the concept of a kind of panentheism from the Middle Ages in India, right? Can you explain just for the benefit of the audience what panentheism is and why this version of it is significant?

Loriliai Biernacki: Yes. Okay. So pantheism, the word’s coined I think in the early 20th century. Pantheism literally means “pan” the totality and within theism, okay, so we've got things like pantheism, which is a popular philosophy today, which says that everything that you see around you is conscious, matter’s conscious, the table is conscious, and whatever you see, it's conscious. What panentheism says is that all of reality and matter is yes, conscious, but there's also a quality of a capacity for transcendence to occur as well. So there's basically this idea of divinity, which is in the world, but also can transcend the world as well.

Okay. Now, Abhinavagupta. What’s important about his version of Panentheism is that he makes a really good case for explaining how it is that if everything in the world is conscious, why is it that we see a difference between say, the cup that you just picked up and say your dog, your dog, you say we think, I mean, maybe people earlier, Descartes I think at one point said something to the effect that dogs aren't conscious,

But in any case, for most of us today, a dog is conscious, but your cup is not conscious. So how do you sort of understand that distinction which we see, which we encounter throughout our lives? And this is his way of pointing out how you can have consciousness everywhere and yet still have some things like you or me, maybe our dogs as conscious and other things as not conscious. So it's kind of a continuum, a spectrum of consciousness.

Adam Jacobs: Okay. And does panentheism in this regard imply an ultimate oneness or unity to reality, or can you have it with multiplicity?

Loriliai Biernacki: Yeah, that's great. I mean, what I love about panentheism is that you kind of get to have your cake and eat it too, you get both. On the one hand, you do get a sense of oneness and the underlying fabric that is that there is just all one reality. This one is, but you also get multiplicity. And one of the ways that this multiplicity comes through is through the sort of transformation of subjectivity into objectivity. So the self can, the sense of I actually becomes the sense of this. And Abhinavagupta uses this sort of Indian philosophical template of what there is which is like a cat, a list of all the different things that can possibly exist. And they're ordered, they're hierarchically ordered in terms of that which is the lowest, least capable of expressing consciousness up to that pure subjectivity. So it goes from earth as the lowest, the least, which is not, but earth is still conscious.

It's just what I've been analyzing about this is that when you take a clod of earth or your cup, which would be understood to be made of earth, that latent subjectivity is held within it in a latent form. But there's this one quote he has in a particular text and in this text he basically says that if you address this clod of earth, let's say your cup or maybe a statue in a church, if you say, oh, Jesus on the cross or Mary mother of God, and you start talking to that inanimate object made of earth, this cup or this sort of image within a church that you can actually wake up, it's latent consciousness and then it becomes alive as well because it's not as though it was ever ontologically separated from consciousness, it's just that it's latent in things that aren't expressing their sense of activity.

Adam Jacobs: So that seems to open up either a vistas or a can of worms. I'm not sure which way to describe it. So maybe you could, for my own edification, I think myself and many Westerners tend to look at the religious systems that came out of India as being polytheistic and hundreds of thousands of deities at the same time, I've come across sources that seem to say that no, those are all just manifestations of one ultimate, which is it. Can you help us to understand that? And that will lead I think into more of these, the cup that you deal with in the book a lot, the concept of a clay cup and whether it's conscious or not, I think it's a very important one. I'm going to get to that in a minute. But for right this second, polytheistic or monotheistic?

Loriliai Biernacki: That's a wonderful question. So of course it won't be monotheistic. It's polytheistic until it becomes panentheism, in which case it's both polytheism and a kind of, not panpsychism, but panentheism. So it's not like polytheism versus monotheism, because monotheism is for these thinkers, (and I think they're probably right about this), monotheism is ultimately inadequate to understand a whole lot of different things, not just things like how would God then be able to connect with humans if God is separate from us? But also panentheism actually is able to solve the problem of Theodicy, that is why would we have a God who's cruel to us if that God is omnipotent and omniscient?

So with panentheism, you don't run into that problem. So it's not polytheism versus versus monotheism. There's never really a monotheism. There's only really a sort of pantheism, which is not quite a panpsychism, because there is this sort of consciousness that comes from the subjectivity of the absolute, and that absolute becomes polytheism when it sort of allows itself to evolve into this multiplicity of the different, the 333,306 deities that you get in the early Rig Veda.

There's this idea that polytheism is the evolution of this one, but you wouldn't call it monotheism ever, I think, and that's because monotheism means there's one God, but that God is separate from reality.

Adam Jacobs: I don't understand it that way. Monotheism to me is, I've always thought of it as co-equal to panentheism meaning, and I'm coming to the realization that it seems like a lot of people equate monotheism with this separateness idea, but I'm coming from more of a Judaic, a kabbalistic perspective, and where a lot of the Vedic ideas seem to be present from chakras to panpsychism, what you were mentioning just before about the earth, having consciousness and then moving up sort of a progression of plant life and animal life and human life. And I know not everyone likes hierarchy in terms of giving higher consciousness to other various entities, but I think most of us intuitively feel that that's correct. So for whatever it's worth my understanding of monotheism, it sounds very similar to this kind of panentheism.

But there's a quote in the book, and again, I'm going to butcher the pronunciation, but Somananda. So he said, “All entities consist of everything. Since everything is of the nature of everything, everything exists here as everything. By having the nature and form of all the various entities, the pot has my nature, and I have that of the pot.” And then you go on to also quote Whitehead and you say “In a certain sense”, (or he says), “In a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times for every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. So this is this grand inclusion of time and things and objects and all wrapped up in one thing.”

So my question for you is, should we treat the pots with the same care and zeal, for instance, as a human being, who should we prioritize? If a car is speeding down with no breaks down a mountain and there's a clay pot and there's a human baby, God forbid, I would think that we'd all feel 99.999% of humanity wouldn't their compassion for the pot would vanish? I think. So what are the implications of thinking that everything is so inter-included? What does that do to morality? What does it do to our conception of the world?

Loriliai Biernacki: You're just coming with all these really wonderful honing in on really the things that matter in terms of what we think about with some of Abhinavagupta's thought. Okay. I mean, the way that I understand this is that if you bring it back to this idea of subjectivity, I think that is partly how you sort of come up with a practical morality so that if you're like, okay, I'm a human and as a human, I like humans, and so I'm going to prioritize a human always, that you could also argue that, well, the pot has a lower sense of consciousness than the human. I don't think that's a good path to take. However, I mean, you could argue that according to the hierarchy, pots are less important than humans. Even if a pot has a latent subjectivity, it's still less important than a baby or a human.

And so I'm going to prioritize the human. So you can take that route, but you can also take the route, which I think is not a greater route to go on, because then what it always involves is a kind of externalized judgment of someone has to be the one who decides that children are more important than pots. And we all agree on that, but there've become other cases if you're living in Nazi Germany and you, and it's like, well, is this person sort of an uber mench versus an unter mench, whatever? And so those kinds of hierarchies, which are always decided by somebody on the outside, I think are dangerous paths to take.

I think that Abhinavagupta’s philosophy actually means a better sort of route to take, and that has to do with this idea of subjectivity and that we as humans expand our awareness, and we tend to expand it first towards other humans in a sense. And so it's not a sort of absolute truth that we say that I'm going to save this human because it's absolutely better. It's more that we say, I'm going to save the human instead of the dog because of the fact that I am a subjective person living here at this moment with my reality, and I'm choosing this. I'm choosing other humans over say, a dog. Obviously, no one's going to choose the pot, but…

Adam Jacobs: I think some people would choose the dog, frankly. But I think that would be a huge debate in society, to say the least. And for me, certainly would raise big problems. And I have a dog, and I love my dog, but I think I would save probably a human stranger over my beloved dog any day of the week. And maybe that has to do with my subjectivity and the fact that he's furry and he's a mammal, and I, it's closer to me, but it raises interesting questions. That's all.

Loriliai Biernacki: I mean, I love the fact that you're bringing up exactly these sorts of things. And I mean, if you think also about one of our problems in our world today has to do with people who lack compassion for other people and for nature as well. And so I think that's one of our biggest problems that people just don't have a capacity to have compassion, even for the bees that are giving us food, whatever. And so as a result, they'll use certain pesticides and then bye-bye bees. And that's bad for us ultimately. And then the argument is that, well, it's going to destroy our civilization, but really the bees as well. What about this is that as you sort of evolve or grow on a virtual level, the sense of subjectivity actually expands, and when it expands, what happens is that you're able to incorporate more within yourself.

Now, last semester, I had this student in my class, she was an older woman in this big class, and she related this sort of story that she had, an experience that she had in a philosophy class where the professors did the trolley experiment with her and her child, and the other students got annoyed with her because she said, I won't, won't actually sacrifice my child, even if there's five people going to die in the trolley car experiment because I don't know them. And the professor, I guess, berated her, and it kind of left her a little traumatized.

But from this other philosophical perspective, Abhinavagupta’s perspective, it's not like we're saying something is better than another thing. What we're saying is that the minute you start to talk about it in terms of like, oh, you have to make this choice between five people and your child, then already you sort of abandoned this notion of this group, this idea of a subjectivity, which encompasses the whole, in other words, the trolley problem is basically a false dichotomy. It's not something that ever happens in reality because of the nature of subjectivity and the nature of our sort of how we exist in reality. So alright, so you might be running like, well wait, it could happen. It could happen.

How this would work in say this philosophy? Philosophy is that so long as your subjectivity is constrained to sort of a sense of this sense of business, you can create scenarios like the trolley problem. But if you sort of stay focused within the sense of this inner subjectivity, really understand this, then you won't. Now this is going to sound a little mystical, but I think this is where he would go with this. That's okay. But then such a situation won't arise. You won't be confronted with a trolley problem ever, your kid, or five other people if you rest within a state of “ahanta”. And if you think about it in real life, has anybody ever really been confronted with this sort of an actual trolley problem? It's only mad scientists who are trying to control or destroy this part of the world who then have to make these kinds of decisions. And they've already been separated from a sense of self and connectivity with the rest of the world, if that makes sense, already separated from those people that they would be killed by the runaway trolley. I know I'm going a little bit…

Adam Jacobs: No, that's okay. That's okay. Where you're touching on important things. But again, for my edification, let's drill down on that pot for one more second, which I think plays a central feature in his thinking. And in the book, when you boil the pot down to its component parts, when we start to talk in the level of atoms, the pot is not dissimilar to the air that surrounds it. When you go down deep enough, there is no pot. This is science, right? There's some kind of energy that's moving around at some high speed. Does that matter? I mean, when we start deconstructing objects and people, do we want to say already that we can see from science that everything is the same on some level and it's just a subjectivity that distinguishes one thing from the other?

Loriliai Biernacki: Yes. I think that's the crux of it. Again, if you think about this notion that consciousness is primary, okay, and what is consciousness? Consciousness is, consciousness is fundamentally this sense of ahanta, this i-ness, and that i-ness is what unfolds to become more and more materially oriented and circumscribed by the material sort of basis that makes up the I. So we are humans, we're sort of in the middle here because we have a sense of I, but the sense of I sort of extends mostly to the body. And then sometimes our eye will expand to include our child, our parents, our friends, and so we'll have a kind of deep sort of sense of, and sometimes it doesn't even include our sense of the body either.

And what Abhinavagupta says about this sense of i-ness is that this whole world, for the highest reality, Shiva, what this highest reality understands is the entire universe, this whole world to be its own body. This helps us to understand how to develop a kind of morality as well. Because when you actually get to a place where you understand your connectivity with all of the other things that exist now, it is true to your point that all of this is just energy, but what is that energy? Well, that energy ultimately sort of falls back onto this idea of being a pure subjectivity. It's consciousness and it’s intentionality that unfolds to become the materiality of what that makes up the world. And so we are here, I mean, this is also, I think for me, why I find this idea of a subtle body so fascinating because the subtle body allows us to, it's a sort of mediator between the physicality of the world and the pure subjectivity.

So it's a great way for us to expand the way we think about this so that we don't have this, just this rough dichotomy that we actually can sort of move between this reality of object and subject. And for Abhinavagupta, it's really more about this sort of a modal shift than anything else. Shifting from the mode of being object to the mode of being subject an I versus materiality, and how big is your I? How big is it right now? It's your body. You've expanded to greater and greater extents, and then that's how there's a certain kind of spiritual expansion. Have you ever read this book by Elaine Scarry called The Body In Pain?

Adam Jacobs: No. Interesting. I don't know.

Loriliai Biernacki: Yeah, she wrote this book some time ago, and it's in two parts. I mean, obviously, she doesn't talk about any of this kind of stuff and she doesn't talk about, and she's not really particularly spiritual, but what she talks about is the first part of the book is all about what happens when you torture prisoners, and then when you torture prisoners, one of the things that happens is that their own sense of self becomes narrower and narrower and narrower.

And then the second part of the book is all about how you sort of, so that's the world destroying through, destroying a person through pain and having them become smaller and smaller in their own selves to the body. And then the second part of the book is all about how you sort of make a world, and that's sort of where the world gets expanded first, yourself, then your family, then your community, then the nature around you. Obviously, she has nothing to do with this Abhinavagupta, this Indian philosophy, Indian religiosity, or spirituality, but I think that the same kind of modal shift is operative for her work as well. In this one book.

Adam Jacobs: It sounds interesting, and I'm going to check that out, which I haven't heard of it before. So thank you. I want to see if I can get in three more questions in eight minutes. So that gives about two minutes per, I know it's not fair. Each one of these things deserves a long treatment, but there's a quote I really like that you write about in the book about what being a human is about and you say, “Viral life is considered not alive because it relies on a host to reproduce. It needs another corpus to replicate its own life. Yet if we think about this, how much of our own body is really us, 90% of the DNA in the human body is foreign, not really human, but other bacterial life.”

So I think a lot of that's disturbing. It would be disturbing to a lot of people, I think, to consider that the most fundamental aspect, maybe not the most, I think their sense of self is the most fundamental, but the second most fundamental, their sense of having a body, the idea that it's not really mine, where it's comprised of all these foreign elements is it might be profoundly disturbing. So why do you bring that up? Why do you want people to be aware of that, and what does it mean to be human then in your way of thinking?

Loriliai Biernacki: Yeah, I don't think I talked about this as much in the book, but I have another article which I call the Yogurt Model of Self. And that is basically that we think of the body as just this thing that we have and there's an I or our sense of activity in this body. But what's nice about say, an Indian philosophical perspective and the idea of the subtle body is that it sort of recognizes that we're not really masters in our own house, to quote Freud. It's basically that we can't even control when we get ill.

So clearly we are not really masters, but the idea here is that the body is made up of a whole host of gods. Now, I like the idea of gods rather than sort of just bacteria. And that's because it allows us to sort of recognize a certain kind, sentient subjectivity for the different parts of ourselves, and that shows up in our own personalities. Sometimes you're angry, that's a certain kind of subjectivity, and sometimes you're sort of not angry. You're sort of really mellow. And so what this philosophy does is sort of understands these sort of different modalities of the mind and of the body as being a function of all of these things that we have sort of in a sense, fermented to make up who we are, our own selves. I dunno, that's sort of the two-minute answer.

Adam Jacobs: Great. Great. Thank you. I want to ask you also about teleology, and to quote you one more time, you say, “I suspect that what makes contemporary new materialism and new materialism is something that you talk about a lot in the book, a new way of looking at materialism. So what makes a contemporary new materialism? I panentheism suspiciously with a sidelong gaze is precisely its linkage with telos. The radical import of Darwin's discovery of evolution is just this freedom from a preordained telos given from on high.”

Okay, so that makes it sound like teleology is bad from my reading of it. And I wonder why, what's wrong with it? It's like when something is geared towards a goal, is that necessarily a bad thing? Does that imply hierarchy? If we're subject to the laws of nature, which we are, we're all subject to the force of gravity, for instance, and that it does come from high in a certain sense, what's wrong with that? Why should we resist that?

Loriliai Biernacki: Yeah, no, I mean, I agree with you on this. I'm sort of saying that in part because that's in the current zeitgeist of the academy, there is this idea that you want to teleology. I mean, teleology is a bad thing. And it starts even also not just in the humanities, but even in the sciences as well. And clearly, there's a sort of psychological driver for 20th-century science and humanities wanting to get rid of notions of teleology and what's that driver? It's like, well, 20th-century science and the humanities don't want to be controlled by a God.

I think that's, and even if you say, well, it's not a God in heaven, it's sort of like these rules of where we're going as a species, it really boils down to the same thing. And that's why I think it's the sort of boogeyman in the backroom that is trying to be excised by a sort of 20th-century atheistic science. I mean, I agree with you ultimately, really, I think that, well, let's maybe think about what teleology could mean and how it could mean I, I think I quote Nagel as well because he also sort of wants to bring teleology back in a sort of more open-ended way away from the notion of a God. Yeah. What's your take on that?

Adam Jacobs: Mine? I mean, I think that the world seems replete with teleology. It just seems like just as fundamental as anything. It's the material world or if you believe in consciousness is fundamental. I look at the world personally and I see goal-oriented activity all over the place. It seems very hard for me to dismiss that. However, I see all the time there are very grand attempts made and a lot of assumptions made that there is nothing to look at there. So I'm always surprised by it and just wondered what you thought, but it seems like we're on the same page.

Loriliai Biernacki: Yeah. Well, the other thing too about, I think the other point, the side of this whole notion of theology, the other reason why it's bad is not just because of the idea of God, but also because whenever you have teleology, you always have ultimately a subject, A subject who has a certain intention and intentionality towards a certain goal. And I think that the push in the 20th century, and 19th century as well is to come with a science, it's going to be objective. And if you want something objective, you can't have a teleology. That's one other aspect of it, but yeah.

Adam Jacobs: Okay. Fair enough.

Last question for now. I saw a lecture that you gave online, which I really enjoyed, and you talk about yogic powers and which means that there are wise people called yogis in the Hindu tradition, and they seem to be able to accomplish certain things that most people can't put it that way. You discuss some of them, and you suggest that they can be in two places at one time, cause objects to appear or disappear, tell the future, and bring dead things back to life. You note that these phenomena are “presented in the literature with no fanfare,” meaning it's not a big deal, they're just writing about it. And it's fascinating to me because a lot of these phenomena are written about with no fanfare in the Talmud, for instance, the sages do things and it's certainly considered important. It's indicative of their high level of spiritual status, but they don't excessively focus on it. It's just a thing. So I'm inclined to be willing to go there. My question for you is, I'm just curious, do you personally believe it? Why and why should a skeptical world take those notions seriously?

Loriliai Biernacki: Yeah. Okay. I had an experience in India once I was hanging out with this group, and she has these powers too, I remember sitting, it's a group of maybe 20 Indians, and she was doing this thing where this nectar was coming from her feet. A number of these Indian devotees were really going crazy. They were gathering around her and trying to collect this sort of sweet substance coming out of her feet in a bowl. And I was sitting in the back and I had my arms crossed and I was, in my mind, I was thinking, why are you doing this? This is good. No one's going to get enlightened from this. So I was sitting there thinking all of these things, and then she looked up at me with this look of what is your problem? And I was like, oh,

Adam Jacobs: Right. Come get nectar.

Loriliai Biernacki: I'm like, maybe she can read my mind. Yeah. So I mean, I've seen various different gurus in India do this sort of thing. There are numerous gurus, and I've seen some of them do this. So the question is then what do you make of it? And so I mean, you could do my somewhat skeptical perspective of why are you doing this? This is such a waste of time. Or you could sort of say, well, maybe it shows that we are sort of not limited by, we're not limited by what we think of as the laws of physics. If you're a great yogi, you can sort of accomplish all these other sorts of things. Yeah. So why is it relevant for us to study?

I think that on the one hand, I'm like, maybe it's not relevant on the other hand, and that was my response in the moment of that particular, on the other hand, there's a part of me that actually thinks like, well, it allows us to expand the notion of what it means to be human humans. If some humans can, it's sort of like the black swan. Or to go back to William James, one of the things he wanted to do was to sort of research the extreme types of events in religiosity so that we can actually really understand it on a deeper level. And I think that when we see things like this, it really does upset the basic paradigm that we have. I mean, at a certain point you can no longer say the world is told. That's what we were told. That's what it is, nothing more.

You have to, if you have an open mind, and if you're not coming from a place of fear and you have an open mind, then you actually have to think about and grapple with it. In some cases, you may say, oh no, it was like a hand legitimate. In other cases, you might actually sort of, but if you confront something and to the best of your ability, you sort of realize, okay, this is something that doesn't seem possible from my best perspective, then it really does force you to rethink what the nature of reality is. And that I think is its benefit. You can see that also as even thinking about sort of subjectivity is primary that makes that theory a better theory for understanding our world if you confront these sorts of crazy things that some yogis can do.

Adam Jacobs: Yeah. Everyone's discussing this UFO whistleblower story and I'd love to have a whistleblower on psychic phenomena. And we do have the people at DOPS in Virginia who are working on these kinds of things in a very disciplined scientific way. And I think that if these capacities were really revealed and people could train in them, and we could expand the entire notion of what it means like you said, what it means to be human in such a profound way, I think it would alter society in a very, very significant way. So let's hope that things continue evolving in that direction and that it proves to be viable and useful for everyone. But in the meantime, I wanted to thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I really enjoy your work and hope you continue to share it with the world at large, and hope a lot of people watch this and get a lot out of it.

Loriliai Biernacki: Thanks, Adam. It's really been a pleasure. It's fun talking to you, and thanks for sort of really honing in on this sort of most important things I think as well.

Adam Jacobs: My pleasure. My pleasure. Thank you everyone watching. And please take a moment to like and subscribe to our YouTube channel and please visit to stay abreast of all that we have going on. Thank you so much for being here. Have a great day.