LECTURE: "Looking for answers: along the spiritual path or the digital highway?"

Through innate curiosity and the desire to understand the world around us and especially ourselves, we walk the spiritual path in search of answers to life questions. An important source of wisdom during our search are our travel companions and the knowledge we gain through books.

In 1993 a technological tour de force provided an alternative route to self-development: the digital highway. Computers from all over the world were connected through the worldwide web in order to be able to share information and connect people with each other faster than ever before. The computer game industry took us one step further with Virtual & Augmented Reality where the reality is either simulated or partially enhanced in a game.

What opportunities do the internet, new media and modern communication technologies offer to make the often complex and inaccessible religious and spiritual texts accessible to a larger audience? And what role can theosophy play in this?

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Introduction on theosophy

Before I start, I want to explain what theosophy is. After all, we are in The Hague in one of the lodges of the Theosophical Society. Theosophy literally means "divine wisdom" and, contrary to what the name suggests, it is not a religion. Theosophy has no dogmas and no hierarchy like some religions have. Everyone is welcome regardless of religion, race or culture. It is a philosophy of life and the Society encourages its members to look for the common elements in religion, philosophy and science, by studying those fields. While we search for the common thread that runs through all those areas, we have the opportunity to unveil the ancient wisdom that lies hidden within.

1 Your destination

One path is no faster, shorter or better than the other. They both lead to your destination. The 777 in the number of kilometers is a reference to what I have heard somewhere, namely that we as human beings must incarnate 777 times in order to eventually be able to enter Nirvana. So we still have a good number of lives to go. Of course in both cases the 777 is a symbolic number.

2 The traditional way

3 Places of worship and temples

Here you can see a stupa, a mosque, a Hindu temple, a synagogue and a cathedral.

4 New ways

In 1991, with the arrival of the worldwide web (www), developed by Tim Berners-Lee, a true digital revolution started to allow people from all over the world to share information from their home or study. In 2004 and 2006 respectively, Facebook and Twitter were added, popular social media platforms with a large reach. The computer game industry made it possible to simulate a different reality or enhance it by adding a digital layer to it, by using VR and AR techniques. Both techniques are widely applicable.

The advance of the smartphone on which applications could be installed, ensured that we were always available no matter where we were, to request and share information. To keep the balance, meditation apps have been developed that remind you that it is really better to calm down and take a break or get some headspace. Examples are Calm and Headspace. Ironically, these apps have to be installed on the device that you actually want to escape from: your smartphone. As far as I'm concerned, nothing beats mindfulness meditation like the one in Ineke Vrolijk's course, which is offered in the Loge Den Haag. Still, a meditation app can be a good tool for some people.

5 The tip of the iceberg

A large part of the internet is not visible to us, normal users. About 4% is accessible to everyone. The vast majority, around 90%, is used by organizations who protect their sensitive information for privacy and security reasons. This includes legal, medical, financial or scientific reports and documents as well as government archives.

The internet also has a dark side: The Dark Web. This is where we find cyber criminals, drug dealers and other illegal content such as (child) porn. In this domain that covers approximately 6% of the internet, you can find people who explore the internet without leaving digital footprints by using TOR (The Onion Router).

This system was initially devised by the US Navy to allow anonymous communication over the internet. The TOR network hides your identity by diverting your internet traffic over different Tor servers (or "nodes"). Your internet traffic is always encrypted, so that it cannot be traced back to you.

In July 2017, Dutch Police, in collaboration with other countries, infiltrated and took over the dark webpage Hansa Market. This was a 'marketplace for criminals' were mainly hard drugs were traded. Read more about this specific operation on the website of de Politie.

6 What we can learn from the computer game industry

This is a statement by Jane McGonigal, computer games researcher and developer. She believes that reality is broken and that game developers can restore that. Games - in particular games that take place in an alternative reality - inspire large groups of people to bundle their knowledge and skills to overcome obstacles. And this is exactly what is needed to tackle global social issues such as poverty, hunger, disease and climate change, says McGonigal. (Her 2014 TedTalk on this subject is definitely worth watching, so I have listed it as a bonus video in the right sidebar of this page.)

The game Foldit, developed by Brian Koepnick, is proof that she is right. The Dutch gamer Harald Feldmann made an important contribution to HIV research with gamers from all over the world. Online gamers have solved a scientific puzzle that researchers have been trying to solve for 10 years. It took the gamers only 10 days.

7 Video: The game Foldit caused a breakthrough in HIV research - xs4all

8 Reality with a digital coating

Pokémon Go! is a game based on the Pokémon series of Nintendo about pocket monsters. In this game you have to catch the monsters by throwing a pokébal at them. Afterwards you can tame and train the pokémon and then have them fight against other pokémons in special tournaments. Game company Niantic Labs transferred the pokémon to the real world through augmented reality, meaning you could catch these monsters with an app on your smartphone at locations around the world. The game caused a real craze in which large groups of gamers left their computer screens behind and flocked to the streets to catch pokémons in surprising places. This game created an astonishing clone ...

9 Video: Follow JC Go! Trailer

The Pope thought it was a good idea.

Text: Follow Jesus. Find the characters from the Bible. Play the quiz and form your evangelical team. Search for the characters from the Bible, the invocations of Mary, the saints, play the quiz, learn more about them. Find, make and speak with new friends. Meet friends. Discover them in the city where you are. Earn points and enter the competition. Personally, with your team, per country or globally. Geolocalization (GPS) makes your trip so much more enjoyable. Find the nearest churches. You can also discover other interesting places. Get directions to get to your destination. Follow JC, Go!

10 Illusion of reality?

The advantage of VR is that you can learn certain skills in a realistic, secluded, controllable and safe environment. For example, pilots practice flying, taking off and landing a plane in simulators and surgeons use VR practicing for complex operations. VR is a good way to remember information because it can be experienced by the user in the simulated environment. It is also suitable for medical applications such as PTSD therapies and overcoming anxiety.

11 Video: The Matrix construct scenes

In this scene from the first part of the trilogy The Matrix, Morpheus (named after the God of sleep and the dream state) tells Neo who he believes is the savior of mankind, that he has lived in a dream world uptil now. This world is a digital projection made by machines that have taken over the world. Previously Morpheus has offered Neo a choice between a red and a blue pill. The blue pill would keep him in the dream world, whereas the red pill would make him see the world as it really is.

An excerpt from the conversation between Morpheus and Neo:

Morpheus: Your appearance now is what we call a residual self-image. It is the mental projection of your digital self.
Neo : This is not real?
Morpheus : What is real ? How do you define real ? When you talk about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real means no more than electrical signals interpreted by your brain.
This is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end of the 20 th century. It now only exists as part of a neural interactive simulation that we call the Matrix. You have lived in a dream world, Neo.
This is the world as it exists today. Welcome to the desert of the real.

12 The prisoners in Plato's cave

The spectacular science fiction action film The Matrix was introduced and promoted in a special way: As a movie with a profound message, a philosophical work for which it wouldn't hurt to study the works of the philosophers Kant and Schopenhauer first. Keanu Reeves, who plays the leading part in this movie, even called the film more of a documentary than a feature film. The Matrix, a digital projection of the world, shows a striking resemblance to the allegory of Plato's cave.

Imagine a cave that is connected to the outside world through a narrow corridor. In this cave a group of people are chained so that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them and not look around at the cave, each other, or themselves. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway with a low wall, behind which people walk carrying objects or puppets. The objects they carry cast shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners cannot see any of what is happening behind them, they are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them. The shadows are reality for the prisoners because they have never seen anything else; they do not realize that what they see are shadows of objects in front of a fire, much less that these objects are inspired by real things outside the cave which they do not see. We are like those cave dwellers who have to free ourselves from the chains and our desires to be able to leave the cave and become acquainted with the real world outside the cave.

 13 Video: My stroke of insight: Everything is one

At the age of 37, brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor has a stroke. When she realizes what is going on, she initially finds it a "cool" experience because of the opportunity to study what exactly happens in the human brain in the event of a severe brain haemorrhage. The blood clot that is later removed from the left hemisphere of her brain, was the size of a golf ball. The left hemisphere is the methodical, analytical brain from which speech and language are controlled. Here ratio resides, which continuously involves the past and the future in all decisions. In the right hemisphere everything revolves around intuition, emotion and the here and now. Her thinking comes to a halt due to the loss of a large number of functions that are controlled by the left half of the brain. She experiences her body as molecules and energy that flow over into the environment, her body literally has no boundaries anymore. She lovingly calls this state of consciousness La La Land.

Fortunately she manages to get help and the recovery period after the operation lasts eight years. She writes a book about it entitled 'My Stroke of Insight' and gives a TedTalk that is still in the top ten most viewed TedTalks of all time. The video has been viewed no less than 30 million times since 2008.

14 The Amazing Ria Schopman Show

I have always been very much interested in the near-death experience phenomenon. Probably because, like so many people, I would like to have a conclusive answer to the question "is there life after death?"

Cardiologist Pim van Lommel had many patients in his doctor's office who reluctantly talked about the experiences they had during a cardiac arrest and the subsequent resuscitation. They often felt misunderstood and needed to talk to someone who would take them seriously. Van Lommel decided to interview these people and follow them over a period of years as part of a scientific study of near-death experiences. The conclusions of the completed study were published in the leading medical journal The Lancet. He wrote a book about it called Endless Consciousness , which was both maligned and hailed. In the book, Van Lommel concludes that consciousness can exist outside the body.

Brain researcher and neurobiologist Dick Swaab, author of the bestseller We are our Brain , strongly criticized Van Lommel's vision and called it pseudoscience. According to Swaab, our brain produces consciousness and everything that happens to a person in his life is the result of what is contained in our brain.

I have read both books and although I found Swaab's book very interesting and I respect his academic skills, I am more of a fan of Pim van Lommel's vision.

To map out the two different views for myself, I conducted a thought experiment in which the brain is compared to a TV set. According to Dick Swaab, we can watch the program of our lives perfectly as long as the TV is plugged in and the device functions properly. However, if you pull the plug or if the device breaks, the program will end and you will not see anything. Pim van Lommel says that if the TV is broken or you pull the plug, you can not watch the programme anymore, but it does not mean that the broadcast has stopped. If you plug it in again or if you buy a new device, you can simply receive The Amazing Ria Schopman Show once again. You didn't think that the show was canceled, did you? The Amazing Ria Schopman Show has sky high ratings!

15 What about the placebo effect?

If we are our brain, it would mean the cards we hold, were dealt at birth and that we simply have to deal with that genetic disposition. Don't humans have any influence on their own well-being? Yes, more than we think, says epigenetics, a new branch of science which is rapidly gaining ground.

Dr. Dawson Church wrote the book The Genie in your Genes :
Epigenetics, influencing genes from outside, is a new branch in science and promises to bring about a change in health and happiness. It used to be thought that our DNA determined our behavior and our physical characteristics. Not anymore. New scientific research shows that many genes are switched on and off every day by your thoughts, feelings and attitude to life. Every thought you have is absorbed by your body and influences your immune system, brain and hormonal system. Dawson Church shows how you can regain control of your own health through thoughts and feelings, making you more vital and happier. Your genius genes contain more than 300 scientific studies and build a bridge between genetics and health.

Bruce H. Lipton wrote The Biology of Belief :
In 'The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton shares with us his crushing discovery that we are not a victim of our genes, but that we can influence our well-being through our thoughts, emotions and beliefs. Dr. Bruce Lipton comes to this conclusion after extensive research into the molecular processes with which cells process information. It turned out that it is not the genes that determine our behavior, but that the genes are switched on and off by external factors.

16 Video: The Wood Wide Web; How trees secretly talk to each other

Trees may look like solitary individuals, but the ground beneath our feet tells a different story. Trees are secretely talking, trading and waging war on one another They do this using a network of fungi that grow around and inside their roots.

The fungi provide the tree with nutrients and in return they receive sugars. But scientist have found this connection runs far deeper than first thought. By plugging into the fugal network, trees can share resources with each other. The system has been nicknamed the Wood Wide Web.

It’s thought that older trees, fondly known as mother trees, use this fungal network to supply shaded seedlings with sugars giving them a better chance of survival. Those trees that are sick or dying may dump their resources into the network which might then be used by healthier neighbours.

Plants also use fungi to send messages to one another. If they are attacked, they can release chemical signals through their roots which can warn their neighbours to raise their defences. But like our internet, the Wood Wide Web has its dark side too. Some orchids hack the system to steal resources from the nearby trees and other species like the black walnut, spread toxic chemicals through the network to sabotage their rivals.

Arboreal cybercrime aside, scientists are still debating why plants seem to behave in such an altruistic way. The hidden network creates a thriving community between individuals. When you are next in woodland, you might want to think of trees as part of a big superorganism chatting and swapping information and food under your feet.

There is a place in the Netherlands where you can feel this connectedness and energy of nature: the estate of the International Theosophical Center (ITC) in Naarden . Here, spiritual work has been done for decades and various seminars and other meetings are organized with national and international speakers every year.

17 Video: Go with the flow

Prince Ea, (Richard Williams) is a filmmaker, motivational speaker and an activist. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Missouri St. Louis in anthropology. He started his career in music and had great ambitions to become a respected and successful rapper. Soon he became increasingly frustrated and unhappy with the pursuit of his own selfish goals.

He started reading ancient and modern spiritual texts from the Baghavad Gita to the Tao te Ching . Through literature and introspection, he realized that '' doing '' would never make him happy, simply '' being '' would bring him the happiness and peace he was looking for.

Millions of people have subscribed to his YouTube channel and his social media pages have been viewed more than a billion times. In this video he explains the "shocking" meaning of the children's song " Row row row your boat" . In just 3 minutes he manages to bring a large number of interesting themes and ideas to the attention of his viewers in a playful way.

18 Colour your life

We have reached our destination. Of course everyone's destination is different. Some people are satisfied with a little bit of personal growth, others strive for nothing less than enlightment.

Once again, it was a TedTalk that inspired me. Tom Chi's story is called: Everything is Connected. Here's How. The video itself was not shown as part of my lecture, but I did include it in the list of bonus videos in the right sidebar of this page.

He speaks about the palette of being , the palette of existence to which we as humans can add new colors through inventions, to color in the painting of our lives. Everything we do also has an effect on others. There is a ripple effect. If we add a new color to the palette, others can create an even more intense and colorful painting. As humans, we all too often think that all good things come from outside ourselves. That is not true. We have all the qualities within us to create new things and make the world a better place to live in. If we could only see that we are all connected.


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