Resonance Theory of Consciousness

In this episode...

“Everything is magic until we understand it.”

-Arthur C. Clark

How do you know that you’re conscious? I mean, don’t you just kind of know?

“The single thing that we know best from our own first person perspective and understand least from the perspective of objective science.”

But are we seeing signs of a dawning enlightenment in this field—signs of progress in how we understand and study consciousness? I think this is important for everyone—but especially professionals like me who teach people how to have healthy minds—we kind of need to know what a mind is in the first place.

I talk to Dr. Jonathan Schooler, a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at U.C. Santa Barbra, someone who’s Resonance Theory of Consciousness is kind of become like a Grand Central Station—a hub that 32,000 academics cite in their research. (Note: The introduction to this episode misstates this as 19,000 citations).

"One genuine possibility—that consciousness represents some fundamental aspect of physical reality. It is substantiated and potentiated through some tiny unit, and that through some process—and we speculate its resonance—smaller bits organize together into increasingly larger, hierarchal, organized, conscious states."

-Dr. Jonathan Schooler, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at U.C. Santa Barbra


We talk about the implications of his theory in which in which biological systems within our own body and between all matter itself can develop a rhythmic sync with each other—a kind of harmony that allows them to enhance and modify each other in certain circumstances. Schooler calls these phenomena Nested Observer Windows—a sort of channel that opens up between objects and systems.

“Not only do we have a shared resonance between different portions within our bodies but also between people.”

The implications of these Nested Observer Windows—or NOWs for short—lead us to discuss Steven Strogatz’s monumental research in the mathematics of Sync.

We also discuss how this relates to mind wandering. Schooler’s lab has expanded on the conventional and two-dimensional thinking about mind wandering always being associated as problematic usually liked to anxiety and depression. He calls this “mind wondering.”

We’ll talk about how to create observer windows—more mindfulness—in your mind that can lead to more productive and successful habits.

Jonathan Schooler Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California Santa Barbara. His research on human cognition explores topics that intersect philosophy and psychology, such as how fluctuations in people’s awareness of their experience mediate mind-wandering and how exposing individuals to philosophical positions alters their behavior.  

He is also interested in the science of science (meta-science) including understanding why effects sizes often decline over time, and how greater transparency in scientific reporting might address this issue. A former holder of a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair, he is a fellow of a variety of scientific organizations, on the editorial board of a number of psychology journals and the recipient of major grants from both the United States and Canadian governments as well as several private foundations. His research and comments are frequently featured in major media outlets such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Nature Magazine.

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Episode 17