SAN FRANCISCO. Peter Baumann is one of the great adventurers of our time. Early in his career, he was an innovator in electronic music, associated first with Tangerine Dream with whom he toured the globe. Then, after another decade as CEO of a record company, he was drawn to a differnt adventure. Sometime during the dawn of this new millennium, it sems, he’d realized he’d had about 10,000 days left to live. At least, according to actuarial tables.
So he embarked on an adventure “not on any map,” as Herman Herman Melville once put it. Peter Baumann asked a simple question whose answer is not yet fully given (except in the inquiry) : what it is to be human?
Upon such a path, the best research can alter not only one’s given view of the world, but also alter one’s self, and how one experiences the world. (¿Why else engage in philosophy or science, if the researcher isn’t included, and transformed, in the process?)
At the time, he was witnessing a remarkable coming together — still underway — of Eastern and “New Age” spirituality, merging with new scientific breakthroughs across traditional disciplines. After several years, this intrepid adventurer vowed to share with his fellow human beings what he’d been considering, seeing, glimpsing, discovering, and realizing, at the frontiers beyond our established notions. This vow took on two manifestations
One, he authored a book EGO: The Fall of the Twin Towers and the Rise of an Enlightened Humanity, with his friend Michael Taft. In it, they wrote:
“ The evolution of our species has not come to an end. Human beings are not a finished product, but instead a perpetually unfinished process, a moving targe t, and our current state, the human condition, is not the final word on the subject. Humanity is in motion as the wave of evolution continues to push us forward. The expansion of awareness that originally allowed us to become conscious of our thoughts and feelings is still under way. The rise in brainpower has not only created an explosion of skills—inventing tools, language, medicine, technology, civilization—it has at many times during the last two thousand years allowed some random outliers to glimpse something shocking: that who we think we are—our mental self-concept, or ego—is not actually what we are. Our self-concept is a symbol, an idea like any other. As evolution stumbles forward in its blind march of accidental brilliance, this radical insight that was once the province of a special few will slowly become the normal viewpoint: nothing special. The unfolding of the physical universe, the laws of nature, and evolution of life are generating the expanded perspective that will allow humanity to make the biggest prison break of all time—escaping the prison of ourselves. ”
Yet even such a boulder of civilization as a book, in today’s climate, can have relatively limited influence. So, secondly, he decided two years ago to facilitate further research and public conversation on this evolving picture of what it is to be human. To this end, he established The Baumann Foundation.* Core activities include:
Facilitating dialogue and research among the scientific community, contemplatives, and the general public
Developing, publishing, and disseminating information related to the Foundation’s mission
Outreach and education, through media, conferences, workshops, and other events
The first public iteration of this mission will be presented Friday March 24, and is entitled Being Human 2012. The website already hosts over 200 blog posts. The sold-out, daylong conference will be streamed, then archived, thanks in part to the good folks at Fora.tv.
I can’t recall when such a yeasty pow-wow for this robust, needful topic was held last in San Francisco. Fortunately, this won’t be a one-off, with future conferences to be held, possibly here again, as well. And following Being Human 2012, there will be an online magazine, to foster content and community. (Stay tuned.)
As we sharpen our pencils, here are some further words from the Being Human’s creator, Peter Baumann. I can consider myself indeed fortunate to live in San Francisco and know I breathe the same light as he — and thousands more — together, along on this path.
“ … I believe that the mystery of existence is not diminished by scientific investigation. Quite to the contrary, the incomprehensible mystery of existence is further revealed. Understanding how the brain processes information perceived through our senses is fascinating on its own, but our intent at Being Human 2012 goes beyond mere analytical fascination and into the realm of our conscious experience. In particular, we want to explore how our perception, feelings and emotions, as well as our cognitive functions and social interactions, shape the experience of our daily lives. An evolutionary and scientific perspective may reveal why and how emotions inform our thinking and underlie our behavior. Equally interesting is the exploration of our felt sense of self, the feeling of being someone. For millennia contemplative traditions have brought forth the notion of no-self. Today, with the help of neurosciences and evolutionary theory, the understanding of the nature of self may add another, complementary perspective to the one gained from contemplative practice. Everyday, fresh insights from all fields of science shed new light on the processes of human experience—the how of feeling, thinking, and believing—and invite us to redefine who we are as human beings. If you’re interested in exploring new territories around human processes such as how we perceive and “make sense” of the world, and how we relate to others and ourselves, join us for this landmark gathering. ”
* He also serves on the Board of San Francisco’s California Institute of Integral Studies, venerable academy founded in 1950 by Prof Frederick Spiegelberg under the guidance of Dr Haridas Chauduri, and rooted in the teachings of the great Sri Aurobindo. And he’s a Fellow of the The Mind & Life Institute, seminal, leading center for dialogue between contemplative wisdom and scientific vision. To paraphrase JD Salinger, God throws many footballs; sometimes someone’s out there at the right time, at the right place, to catch one of them, and run with it.
Peter Bauman can also be found on Facebook, and his Twitter handle is @egothebook.
On Twitter, @beinghuman ; follow the hashtag #beinghuman2012. http://beinghuman2012.org
The conference has a Facebook page. On Twitter, @beinghuman ; follow the hashtag #beinghuman2012.
Gary Gach is author of The Complete Idiot’s to Buddhism, third edition (Nautilus Book Award), and editor of What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop (American Book Award). His work has also appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The Atlantic, BuddhaDharma, Harvard Divinity Review, Language for a New Century, The New Yorker, Technicians of the Sacred, Tricycle, and Yoga Journal. He teaches mindfulness and creativity in San Francisco (Aquatic Park Community Center, Buddhist Church of San Francisco, and Dragon’s Leap zendo). Visit http://word.to.
Copyright © 2012, Gary Gach. Reprinted from Bay Citizen, by permission of the author.