12-15th October 2007

Synergia Ranch, Santa Fe, New Mexico


Friday, October 12

18:00 Welcome and Cocktails
19:00 Dinner
20:00 Opening remarks by Institute of Ecotechnics Chairman, Mark Nelson
Jeffrey Schwartz, Anthropologist. Univ. of Pittsburgh and Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, New York. President, World Academy of Art and Science. Human Origins; What the Bones Tell Us; Skeleton Keys: An Introduction to Human Skeletal Morphology, Development, and Analysis; Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species; co-author, Extinct Humans and The Human Fossil Record.

Saturday, October 13

08:30 Breakfast

Terrence Deacon, Anthropologist. Professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics, Department of Anthropology and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley. Recipient, J.I. Staley Prize from the School of American Research. The Symbolic Species: The Coevolution of Language and the Brain. Upcoming: Homunculus: Evolving Consciousness; and Golem: Making Things Think.
10:15 Coffee/Tea Break
Bob Turner, Imaging Neuroscientist. Director, Department of Neurophysics, Max-Planck-Institute, Leipzig, Germany. Developer of MRI techniques for brain function and connectivity, pioneered studies of functional brain changes with practice, including music. Associate Editor, Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.
12:30 Lunch
Helen Fisher, Anthropologist. Research Professor and member, Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University. Chief Scientific Advisor, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love; The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How they are Changing the World; Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery and Divorce; The Sex Contract: The Evolution of Human Behavior.
14:45 Break
Sandra Blakeslee, Science Writer. Regular contributor to The New York Times. The Body has a Mind of Its Own (2007, with Matthew Blakeslee); On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines (with Jeff Hawkins); Phantoms in the Brain (with V.S. Ramachandran); What About the Kids? (with Wallerstein); The Good Marriage (with Wallerstein).
16:15 Break
Tom Joyce, Blacksmith, Santa Fe, New Mexico. His work is in over 30 public collections and has been exhibited in museums such as Museum of Art and Design, the Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Applied Arts, Moscow, and Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris. Awards include Artists Blacksmiths’ Association of North America’s Honorary Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Art and Science of Blacksmithing. Recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. Member of the American Craft Council College of Fellows.
18:00 Break
19:00 Dinner
Judy Norsigian, Activist. Co-founder and Executive Director, Our Bodies Ourselves, a non-profit public interest women’s health education, advocacy, and consulting organization. Board member, Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research; served for 14 years on the board of the National Women’s Health Network. Co-author, Our Bodies, Ourselves, in its eighth edition, which has sold more than four million copies worldwide and has been culturally adapted and translated into twenty-four languages.

Sunday, October 14

08:30 Breakfast
Paul Ekman, Psychologist. Faculty Research Lecturer, University of San Francisco, California; Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, American Psychological Association; William James Award and named one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century by the American Psychological Society. Emotion in the Human Face; What the Face Reveals; Telling Lies: Clues To Deceit In The Marketplace, Marriage and Politics; editor of Darwin and Facial Expression.
10:30 Coffee/Tea Break
John Rockwell, Cultural Historian. 30 years at New York Times, as Arts and Leisure editor, classical music critic, chief pop music critic, chief dance critic and European cultural correspondent. Founder, Lincoln Center Festival. Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; served on the Board of Overseers of Harvard University. All American Music; Outsider: John Rockwell on the Arts; The Idiots, on Lars von Trier’s film; Sinatra: an American Classic.
12:30 Lunch
Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D and Clinical Psychologist. Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry, University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine, Saskatoon, Canada. Certified in family medicine, geriatrics and pyschiatry. Published extensively on obstetric practices and perinatal psychology. Twenty-seven years in emergency medicine in rural and urban settings. Coyote Medicine; Coyote Healing: Miracles in Native Medicine; Coyote Wisdom; Narrative Medicine. A storied approach to Health and Healing.
14:45 Break
Joseph Houseal, Dance Historian. Executive Director, Core of Culture Dance Preservation, dedicated to safeguarding ancient dance and movement traditions. Current concentration on documentation and preservation of Bhutanese-Tibetan sacred dance. Former director, Parnassus Dance Theatre, Kyoto, Japan. Contributor, Ballet Review; director of PBS segments on Kabuki (Emmy-nominated) and on “Le Sacre du Printemps”. Banff Mountain Culture Award.
16:15 Group photo of all conference participants
Antonino Saggio, Architect. Professor of Architecture and Information Technology, Faculty of Architecture, University of Rome, La Sapienza. Editor, The IT Revolution in Architecture. This 25-title book series is dedicated to the foundation of a new digital culture in architecture. Author, Giuseppe Terragni: Life & Works; Peter Eisenma; Frank O. Gehry; and Using Goals in Design.
18:00 Break
19:00 Dinner
Irven DeVore, Anthropologist, Director (Emeritus) of Primatology, Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology; Professor and Chair (retired), Department of Anthropology, Harvard University. Editorial Board, Ethology and Sociobiology. Trustee, The Leakey Foundation. The Primates; Man the Hunter; Primate Behavior: Field Studies of Monkeys and Apes; Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers (ed. with Lee).

Monday, October 15

08:30 Breakfast
Joel Garreau, author. Reporter and editor The Washington Post. Has served as a senior fellow at University of California, Berkeley, and George Mason University. Member of Global Business Network. Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing our Minds, Our Bodies- and What it Means to be Human; The Nine Nations of North America; Edge City: Life on the New Frontier.
10:30 Closing Remarks by Mark Nelson
11:30 Buffet & Conference Wrap-ups


Photos from the conference

Photos from the conference

Views of Synergia Ranch, venue of the 2007 Conference
Views of Synergia Ranch, venue of the 2007 Conference

Opening and Closing Remarks

Opening and Closing Remarks by Mark Nelson, Chairman


Back L-R: Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Helen Fisher, John Rockwell, Tom Joyce, Robert Turner, Antonino Saggio, Joel Garreau, Front L-R: Judy Norsigian, Joseph Houseal, Mark Nelson, Jeffrey Schwartz, Irven DeVore, Terrence Deacon, Paul Ekman, Sandra Blakeslee.

It’s my great pleasure to welcome you to Synergia Ranch and to open the Institute of Ecotechnics’ 2007 Conference on The Microcosmos, The Synergy of the Human Body, Brain, and Behavior. The Institute held its first conference here 33 years ago, in l974, just five years after founding Synergia Ranch and one year after founding the Institute of Ecotechnics, now registered in the United Kingdom as well as the United States.

We looked at the basics of language, communication, and number. Our speakers included William Burroughs describing his efforts in decoding language and its associated control structures pernicious to human freedom and evolution; Hank Truby who worked with John Lilly on inter-species communication between Dolphins and Humans, and William van de Meter who demonstrated the wonders of the abacus, the manual computer of antiquity and still used in some Asian markets today. In 1975 the Institute built and launched the Research Vessel Heraclitus and consulted to startups of our ecological frontier field projects, long-term biomic demonstration projects.

Beginning that same year, we organized a series of annual conferences, one held in Malaysia, Nepal and Australia, one in New Mexico and the rest at the ecotechnic project facility in the south of France, with the aim of increasing our understanding of Earth’s biosphere. Examining the Earth’s biomes, we started with the Ocean conference, then Desert, Mountain, Tropical Rainforest, Savannah and eco-transition zones, then Planet Earth In 1980 followed by Solar System, Galaxy, and Cosmos. In order to advance and concentrate that knowledge of closed ecological systems, starting in 1985 I.E. organized international project design conferences that assisted with the scientific strategy and implementation of the complex life system experiment in Arizona, Biosphere 2, the first laboratory for the study of global ecology.

The Biosphere 2 conference series included International workshops on closed ecological systems and biospheric science. The first of these was held at the Royal Society In London In 1987, then Krasnoyarsk, Siberia In 1989 at the site of the most advanced Russian work In the field, at the Biosphere 2 facility In 1992 during the first 2 year human closure experiment, and a 4th one at the Linnean Society, London In 1997. Building on understanding gleaned our work on biospherics, annual IE conferences then examined evolving complex spheres of the human reality: the Technosphere, Cybersphere, Ethnosphere, and Noosphere.

From the outset, the Institute organized conferences designed to not only transcend the boundaries of what James Lovelock called “scientific apartheid” but also to bring together scientists and artists, explorers, managers from a variety of disciplines and cultural backgrounds. Our conference this year, the Microcosmos, holds a mirror of our own nature up to Nature. Many ancient traditions believed that as below, so above; that the laws of the microcosmos, of the human realm, would give insight into the working of the greater cosmos. The term cosmos, or Harmonious Order, was originally conceived by the Greeks as the opposite to Chaos, but in the last twenty years, science has discerned Order in Chaotic, non-linear, systems. That should give new hope to us hard-beset humans; because all living systems are incredibly complex, self-organizing, and very non-linear. No realistic observer can deny the danger and uncertainty as to whether our or any other species will continue to evolve, or whether we will become ill-adapted, less able to survive. Think human history disappearing into what has been called the “necrosphere”, thence recycling all its component parts back into the biosphere, joining the billions of other species that have been either superceded or which gave rise to successors.

The breadth of this year’s speakers underlines the fantastic scope of recent unprecedented advances in neuroscience, linguistics, cultural studies from hunter-gatherers to ipod-users, coyote, personal, and complementary medical practices, primate and early human lineages, archaeology , music, dance and dance history, in new types of communities; in iron the material that, for good or ill, set in motion our planetary scale technosphere, in the transformation of cities and wilderness; and with genetic, nano and digital technologies that may perhaps lead, for better or worse, to future evolution of enhanced humans or even “transhumans.”

Embedded in the human Microcosmos is what Joseph Conrad called The Heart of Darkness. Humans – the unknown and perhaps unknowable. Humans are carving a trajectory unlike any other species. It is almost impossible to overestimate the heights that human nature can reach, nor the depths of which we are individually and collectively capable, Humans are not only quite an extraordinary species; but in many ways, we have become self-realizing. We are not born complete: brains continue to grow long after birth, and we learn language and culture, interactive expertise. Some ancient spiritual and psychological traditions emphasized that being human is an aim, not a starting point. It takes work to become a complete human. Perhaps they intuited what neuroscience is now discovering about the processes by which we create and change a variety of crucial mental body maps without which we are not fully functional humans.

These discoveries have underscored the extreme plasticity possessed by humans. In Chinese and Asian philosophy, the central question is not defining what something is (the “Is A, A, or is A, not-A” of western philosophy and culture). The really important question is what is it in the process of becoming. This may be also true of “human nature” – human nature may not be static, but is potentially ever- evolving, as much by mimetic, cultural evolution as by genetic change and morphological adaptation. We are undoubtedly still in the early phase of the scientific discoveries concerning body, brain and behavior. But our human future must be uncertain and unknowable since it is subject to rapid changes, both individual and cultural.

This weekend’s reports and interactions may serve to delineate the mental image, mandala, map (choose the metaphor you prefer!) of the human microcosmos. So, we now launch this fantastic voyage led by intrepid explorers who are bringing back wealth greater than that of the Americas and the Indies: real knowledge about ourselves.

Closing Remarks

We’ve now completed our weekend’s voyage to the human microcosmos. I’d like to thank everyone who helped make our weekend so enjoyable and our conference so memorable. This extends from our thought-provoking speakers to the fantastic cuisine crew headed by Margret Augustine, Judy Hawes, Molly Rimondi and all our friends who worked with them. Robert Hahn and his team who kept the A/V and documentation digitizing. Marie Harding and the hospitality team of Synergia Ranch for making us all feel so welcome, Deborah Snyder as conference manager and her team, and the Brainstorm Bar crew headed by Gregg Dugan.

And to our friends, new and old, who have added their energy and insight to our stimulating weekend. I made the following notes from stops along the voyage; they may serve to remind you of the mandala you were creating as the weekend went on of the world of the human microcosmos: Jeff Schwartz opened our conference by examining what the bones tell us – what makes us human and how we differ from animals and other hominids. He reviewed which traits have been proposed in the past and examined some of our most distinctive anatomy – for example, our surprisingly tell-tale chin, divided brow, the incisive foramen of our palate, our prolonged neoteny – and compared them with extant and fossil primate and hominid species. His talk showed that we are early in our deciphering of our family tree – and it will require critical examination of much that has been too readily claimed to be in our line of descent to begin evaluation of just how unique humans are and to whom exactly we are related.

Terry Deacon put human evolution in a dramatically new light using biological logic, by making the case that emergent, synergetic properties emerge from a relaxation of Darwinian selection. Advancing the “lazy gene hypothesis” which uses the mechanism of homeotic (regulatory) gene and modular body part duplication to allow “random walk” and “play” to develop new connections and capabilities. He illustrated this is the profusion of song in a domesticated bird species. He suggested humans are in a sense self-domesticated “degraded apes” That coupled with our rapid worldwide expansion may have triggered reduced Darwinian selection and the creation of our language adaptations and symbolic culture.

Bob Turner took us into the new world of magnetic resonance imaging which makes our brains transparent for real-time detailed studies. He reviewed the importance of collective representations as a foundation of human culture and how these are instilled and organized in the human brain. Neurons that fire together, wire together. Culture provides repeated experiences, often through conscious training and initiation. Bob concluded that culture shapes how we perform perceptive and cognitive processes, that the organ of culture is the human brain. The human brain has great plasticity and a large portion of it can be called our cultural brain.

Helen Fisher took us on a fascinating voyage of self-discovery through the funnel of love into the heart of the human heart. She reviewed her work on sex drive, romantic love and attachment, showing their universality – reaching beyond gender, age and sexual preference. She shared her hypotheses about their biochemical basis – the molecules of love. Love is more than a cluster of emotions, but a primary human drive. Her most recent work is unraveling factors that affect mate selection including genetic complementarity and genetic similarity; and the mate-preferences of four basic human types: the explorer, builder, negotiator and director. Sandy Blakeslee took us to the homunculus in the brain – sharing with us cutting-edge discoveries in neuroscience. We humans are prodigious body map-makers.

These body maps include proprioceptor, social maps, body images, mirror neurons, interioceptor, and peripersonal space maps and are crucial to our achieving full functioning. She reviewed the evidence that the maps show great plasticity as we develop and change and showed why motor visualizations can be so effective in developing our capabilities. Many phenomena, such as out-of-body experiences, phantom limbs, auras can now be explained. She also showed the importance of culture in shaping body maps – our body-mind. Tom Joyce took us to the world of the elemental – the power and history of iron. He tracked its importance in the evolution of Earth – from the release of oxygen by the cyanobacteria, to our landscapes colored in earth-tones of iron, to the iron-based hemoglobin that enables our blood to carry life-giving oxygen.

We journeyed with him through African blacksmithing traditions where making iron is both revered and essential – making iron as a generative act, as an act love-making. Tom shared with us his own love affair with iron – his journey from a young El Rito blacksmithing apprentice to becoming a master artist in iron. He dazzled us with the images and stories behind some of his creations – iron sculptures which respect and transform the embodied life-force and history carried in iron.

Judy Norsigian shared with us her passionate involvement in the fight for women’s health – and how the group she helped found launched a revolution in women’s health in the U.S. and worldwide. They empowered women by valuing their experiences and giving them a voice in the health process and by making sensible medical advice readily accessible. She took us from the early days of the movement to the current issues: violence against women, stereotyping, misogynist imagery, the campaign of Big Pharma (the quick fix “a pill for every ill”), medicalization of childbirth, marginalization of midwives – and the medical misinformation affecting both women and men. Our Bodies, Ourselves is about to pass the torch to a new generation and Judy emphasized the importance of the precautionary principle of public health.

Paul Ekman took us into the world of human emotions – sharing with us his decoding of the human face and how he demonstrated the universality of human facial expressions. From the isolated peoples of the highlands of Papua New Guineau to the urbanized west, the facial expressions and emotions can be equally read: with similar triggers, function, posture, sensations and vocal signals. He shared his more recent work on the development of emotional skills: working on impulse awareness, behavior awareness, awareness of other’s emotions using information constructively and identifying your emotional profile.

John Rockwell transported us into the realm of music. He demonstrated how music has always been a key part of the human microcosmos: part of the community, providing social ritual and a pathway to inner realization. His examples ranged from Handel to Gregorian Chant to Indian raga to the rock n roll Louie, Louie and the Who, Linda Ronstadt singing classic Mexican songs to Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics. New musical idioms are arising through the creative meeting and fusion of musical traditions from around the world. John concluded that music has always created its own realities, reflecting the culture and time in which it appears – and its universality is a reflection of commonalities shared by human cultures despite differences in outer manifestation.

Lewis Mehl-Madrona shared with us the song and message the spirits wanted to impart to our gathering. In the indigenous traditions, story is everything: We are all the stories we tell about ourselves and that will ever be told about ourselves. He illustrated through several examples the power of changing one’s story, one’s history as a way of healing. The traditional healer, as opposed to the biochemical approach, must first learn the story of the person and the story of disease before understanding how the healing process can be effected. Since everybody is different, every story is different and every treatment/cure is different. There is no one prescription/remedy fitting all.

For many people, the start is to abandon a victim story and find a new survivor story, a story you and those around you can believe. Indigenous medicine looks at what works rather than trying to understand how it works. It takes a community, you can’t do it by yourself: but the rewards can be regaining your sense of humor and a changed and deepened quality of life. Joseph Houseal took us on a very personal and emotional survey of the history and current state of the world of dance – from the origins of dance, closing the circle, creating the magic mandala recorded in ancient petroglyphs. In the West we have lost our connection to the roots of our dance traditions.

Suffering from the mind/body split, western dance has been secular, conceived from the out in; whereas Asian dance begins inside and radiates outwards. He shared with us rare footage of the ancient calisthenics used by Buddhist monks which give a taste of the possibilities of true embodied transformation. In the 20th century, by making contact with the still living dance traditions of Asia, Western dancers have paradoxically revivified and created new forms of vibrant modern dance. Many of the Asian dance traditions are now in crisis and the wheel has come full circle. It is now the dancers of the West who must help document and preserve these endangered dance traditions. For dance is the apotheosis of the human soul, the shared Intangible World Heritage of humanity. Antonino Saggio took us to the emerging world of architecture as it meets the digital/information age. He explored how architecture can meet its social responsibilities and regain its position as a healing art. He took us on an intellectual adventure through ten conceptual landscapes reflecting new possibilities that this digital culture/architecture can manifest in this new historical moment.

The new architecture can reincorporate nature into the city, and make architecture that matches and enhances its landscape. By using the protheses that extend human senses, the new architecture can manifest in more dimensions, reflecting our changed notions of time and space. As an illustration of what digital architecture can do, we were transported to the Technoprimitive installation where each human movement creates individual sound and space projections in the midst of a natural space. Irv Devore shared with us some nuggets from his treasure trove of insights into human nature gained through a lifetime studying primates, hunter-gatherer societies and from the resulting sociobiology perspectives. Cautioning us that correlation is not causation, we must be careful of extrapolation or facile conclusions. Contradictory natural selection pressures were caused by our large brains and bipedalism; which also made it necessary for mothers to have male help for the raising of children. He pointed out some perhaps painful realities – the constancy of warfare in human cultures throughout history – the male on male deliberate violence we share with chimpanzees and gorillas. The change within a very few thousand years from humanity being hunter-gathers to dealing with our vastly technologically-enhanced powers.

With examples from the paradoxes of male mate jealousy in animals and humans, modern society basing child-raising on the fragile sexual bonds of marriage rather than kinship, the lion/lioness dynamics on mating and hunting; Irv reminded us that we need to be cognizant of our underlying sociobiological realities as we come to terms with the challenges we face as modern humans. Joel Garreau took us to “the curve”, the dizzying rate of technological advance epitomized by Moore’s Law predicting doubling of information capabilities. He illustrated some of the amazing technologies already here – no longer science fiction – like telekinetic monkeys, sending email by thought, computer-enhanced sight and hearing. He examined the scenarios which may unfold as a result of unprecedented advance of genetic, robotic, information and nano-technologies. These offer us the prospect of creating “enhanced humans” or even transcending the human state (“transhumans”). The scenarios of the techno-determinists may result in heaven or hell, if all goes well or veers totally out of control.

The middle way is that humans continue to prevail, find a way of incorporating useful technologies and not losing our core humanity. Joel underscored the importance of the creation of new story-lines, narratives as vitally important if humanity is to keep perspective and direction (and not fail our evolutionary final exam!) amidst these stunning and unprecedented opportunities and risks. Our Institute of Ecotechnics conferences often have the feel of voyages of discovery – from the arrival of the participants through the worlds opened by each of our speakers, each day of the weekend has a breadth of experience that makes it seem like far more than a mere day’s journey of the Earth around the Sun.

This year, our journey and exploration has been focused on the realm of the human – the human microcosm whose body, brain and behavior reflect the macrocosmos. We have traveled inward, to the mysteries of how our bodies and brains operate, back through time to our origins, forward for glimpses of scenarios that may unfold in our future; to our behavior which connects us with the world. If it’s true as some of our speakers have suggested that we are not just players on life’s stage, but co-creators of our world: we have not only shared this weekend, but through our interactions have reshaped our human story, our shared and individual histories and herstories. Thank you for being a part of the wonderful process: the adventure, the art, the science of becoming human. Mark Nelson, Chairman, I.E.