Totnes Consciousness Cafe has hosted events from January 2007 onwards focusing on ways of understanding and transforming human consciousness in ways that might help to address the many crises of our times. Approaches range from the scientific and philosophical to the spiritual and ecological. Some recent and past talks are listed below.

RECENT TALKS

24th March, 2023

Marina and Mark O’Connell on “Talkin’ about Regeneration”

In 2015, Marina and Mark founded the Apricot Centre Farm and Wellbeing Service at Huxhams Cross, Dartington, and now direct a motivated team of leaders and practitioners developing ways of working closely with the nature of the land, young people and families. In this talk they will focus upon how many levels of ‘reality’ and awareness come into their work around regeneration with land and young people devoted to ‘Cultivating sustainability in Lives, Livelihoods and the Land’. This small 13-hectare farm has been regenerated by weaving together biodynamic farming and agroforestry, and designed using permaculture techniques. The farm produces fruit, vegetables, eggs, and small-scale grain and provides training and home to a wellbeing service for children and families. The farm is in partnership with another farm and bakery and group grow, mill, and bake local grains in partnership with other farmers and bakers. The farm is home to the new School for level-three Regenerative, Land-based Systems starting in 2022. Marina studied Horticulture at Bath University and has a Masters in Environment and Society under Jules Pretty. Her new book Designing Regenerative Food Systems (2022) is published by Hawthorn press. Mark is Wellbeing Director and Registered (Ofsted) Manager of the wellbeing and adoption support service. A Process Oriented Psychologist (Dr Arnold Mindell) working with children, families, and communities, much of his career has been with looked after and adopted children and managing attachment/trauma informed NHS CAMH services.

4th November, 2022

George Monbiot on "How can we Feed the World without Destroying the Planet?"

We face a twin emergency: the environmental crisis caused in large part by the food system, and the possibility that the food system could itself collapse. Might there be some world-changing solutions to both predicaments? Drawing from his acclaimed, recently published book Regenesis, George Moonbiot reveals the extraordinary innovations of the food pioneers that demonstrate how we can freed the world in a way that restores nature. As Caroline Lucas writes, "A book offering evidence-based hope is a rare thing in these days of climate and nature emergency - yet that's exactly what George Monbiot has written. Inspiring and compelling, Regenesis sets out a transformative vision of a new food future with the potential to both restore nature and feed the world. Monbiot's blueprint is both wildly ambitious and deeply practical, and might well be our last best hope of stopping the sixth great extinction". George Monbiot is an author, Guardian columnist and environmental activist. His best-selling books include Feral: Rewilding the land, sea and human lifeHeat: how to stop the planet burning; and Out of the Wreckage: a new politics for an age of crisis. George co-wrote the concept album Breaking the Spell of Loneliness with musician Ewan McLennan, and has made a number of viral videos: How Wolves Change Rivers, adapted from his 2013 TED Talk, has been viewed on YouTube over 40m times. Nature Now, co-presented with Greta Thunberg, has been watched over 60m times. George’s latest book, Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet, was published in May 2022.

30th September, 2022

Dr Jude Currivan on The Story of Gaia: The Big Breath and The Evolutionary Journey of our Conscious Planet

Exploring our emergence as self-aware members of a Universe that is a unified and innately sentient entity, Jude shows that mind and consciousness are not what we possess but what we and the whole world fundamentally are. She reveals our Universe as “a great thought of cosmic mind,” manifesting as a cosmic hologram of meaningful in-formation that vitally, exists to evolve. Sharing leading-edge scientific breakthroughs, and showing how they support traditional visions of Earth as an essentially living being—Gaia, the author details the 13.8 billion-year story of our Universe and Gaia, where everything in existence has inherent meaning and evolutionary purpose. Showing how the Universe was born, not in an implicitly chaotic big bang, but as the first moment of a fine-tuned and ongoing “big breath,” she shares the latest evidence for the innate sentience that has guided our universal journey from simplicity to ever-greater complexity and diverse self-awareness. She explains how evolution is not driven by random occurrences and mutations but by resonant and harmonic interplays of forces and influences, each intelligently in-formed and guided. Jude Currivan is a cosmologist, futurist, planetary healer, Evolutionary Leaders circle member and previously one of the most senior business women in the UK. She has a master’s degree in physics from Oxford University specialising in cosmology and quantum physics and a doctorate in anthropological archaeology from the University of Reading researching ancient cosmologies. She has travelled extensively, worked with wisdom keepers from many traditions, and is a life-long researcher into the nature of reality. She is the international best-selling and award-winning author of 7 books, latterly The Cosmic Hologram and The Story of Gaia, and co-founder of WholeWorld-View.

1st July, 2022

Prof Max Velmans – “Only Connect!: A Personal Journey into Consciousness”

In celebration of his 80th birthday, this talk describes some of the major transitions in Max’s own journey from disconnection, and alienation – from feeling “a stranger in a strange land” – to greater connection, one-ness, and “feeling at home”. This journey included potent extraordinary experiences as well as ordinary experiences along with an in-depth scientific and philosophical study of consciousness for over 50 years. In this work he developed Reflexive Monism, an integrative Western understanding of human consciousness as one manifestation of a conscious, self-observing universe that converges closely with the non-dual Integral Vedanta of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and Aurobindo. In this talk he will describe one early formative mystical experience along with some of the major intellectual steps that guided his way.
Max is Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, and a fellow of the British Psychological Society and the Academy of the Social Sciences. He was a co-founder and 2004–06 chair of the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. His main research focus is on integrating work on the philosophy, cognitive psychology, and neuropsychology of consciousness, and, more recently, on East–West integrative approaches. He has over 130 publications on these topics, including his books Understanding Consciousness (2000, 2nd ed. 2009), Consciousness (2018) (a four-volume collection of major works), Towards a Deeper Understanding of Consciousness (2017), and the co-edited Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2007, 2nd ed. 2017). He has been a Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley (1984), a Visiting Professor at the Universities of Westminster and Plymouth, and National Visiting Professor for 2010-2011 of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, Government of India. This talk is now available at https://youtu.be/xX-2_VxcwPw.

19th May, 2022

Anne Baring on - "Birthing a New World?"

Anne writes, “This webinar will briefly explore the values and cosmologies of what I call the Lunar and Solar Eras in order to understand the present crisis we find ourselves in. We will look at the effect of the loss of the Feminine Archetype on western civilisation, separating nature from spirit, as well as the calamitous effect of both the Myth of the Fall and Scientific Materialism. This crucially important time we are living in gives us the opportunity to recover forgotten values which serve and protect life and the possibility of birthing a new world. We will see how the science of Unified Physics gives us a new image of reality and of our relationship with each other, the Earth and the Cosmos.” Anne Baring b. 1931, MA Oxon. PhD (Hons) in Wisdom Studies, Ubiquity University is a Jungian Analyst, and author and co-author of 7 books. These include, (with Jules Cashford) The Myth of the Goddess; Evolution of an Image; (with Andrew Harvey), The Mystic Vision and The Divine Feminine; (with Dr. Scilla Elworthy), Soul Power: An Agenda for a Conscious Humanity and a book for children, The Birds Who Flew Beyond Time. Her most recent book The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul (2013, updated and reprinted 2020) was awarded the Scientific and Medical Network Book Prize for 2013. The ground of all her work is a deep interest in the spiritual, mythological, shamanic and artistic traditions of different cultures. Her websites are devoted to the affirmation of a new vision of reality and the issues facing us at this crucial time of choice. See www.annebaring.com and www.anne-baring.com

21st April, 2022

Prof Marjorie Woollacott on “How mind relates to brain: what is the evidence for the primacy of consciousness?” 

In this presentation I am going to explore evidence from my own lab and the research of others, to support the hypothesis that the neurophysiological characteristics of mind-brain interactions are actually different than I used to believe, as a materialist neuroscientist. Instead of showing evidence that the brain creates our conscious experiences, I will give evidence that a variety of mystical experiences are associated with either a reduction or an absence of brain activity. My proposal is that there are filters within the brain that actually obscure a wider, more expanded awareness of the universe around us, and they are a critical aspect of daily life; however, there is evidence that the activity in these filters is reduced during mystical experiences. We will be asking questions about what Is the normal physiology of the mind-brain interface and what happens to the brain during mystical experiences. We will conclude with a possible neurophysiological model of mind-brain interactions that may help increase our understanding of the origin of mystical experiences. Marjorie Woollacott is Professor Emerita, former chair of the Department of Human Physiology, and ongoing member of the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon. As a professor she taught courses in neuroscience and rehabilitation as well as complementary medicine and meditation. She is President of the Academy for the Advancement of Post-Materialist Sciences (AAPS) and Research Director for the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). Dr. Woollacott has received over 7.2 million dollars in funding for her research in child development, rehabilitation medicine, and, most recently, meditation, spiritual awakening, and end-of-life experiences. She has published more than 200 scientific articles and written or co-edited eight books. Her latest book, Infinite Awareness: The Awakening of a Scientific Mind (2015)—winner of eight awards, including the 2017 Parapsychological Association Book Award, Eric Hoffer Book Award, and Nautilus Book Award—pairs her research as a neuroscientist with her self-revelations about the mind’s spiritual power.

24th March, 2022

Nigel Topping on “Neither Unrelieved Pessimism nor Sappy Optimism: How to make sense of COP26”

This is one of the rules for truth telling from the great Dana Meadows, one of the authors of the Limits to Growth which turns 50 this year.  The outcomes of the Glasgow COP26 had plenty to get to grips with for both pessimists and optimists alike - but how can we avoid choosing one camp and learn to see the truth more clearly and 'resolve to tell the truth about both the successes and failures' and have the 'courage to admit and bear the pain of the present , while keeping a steady eye on a vision of a better future' [Meadows again!].  Nigel Topping is the UN High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26, charged with mobilising all 'non-parties' in support of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, This means in particular working with cities, regions, businesses and financial institutions as well as frequent engagements with young people, indigenous leaders and activists around the world.  Working alongside Chilean Gonzalo Munoz and hundreds of partners, Nigel and team created global momentum through the Race to Zero, Race to Resilience, Glasgow Finance Alliance for Net Zero and the Glasgow Breakthroughs.  Looking clearly at what actually happened in Glasgow in the context of previous international negotiations and in the context of the stark realities of the climate science helps us to put Donella Meadow's advice into practice.  If we want to see systems change, we need to be able to talk truthfully about the state of systems change! [See Nigel's TED Talk here] Nigel has now held this position for two years, after 15 years working on how to harness the forces of global business and finance to deliver climate solutions first with the Carbon Disclosure Project and then as CEO of We Mean Business.  His time studying at Schumacher College in 2006, the year the Stern Review, drew the clear link between climate and the economy, which triggered his transition from working in industry to working on industry. 

24th February, 2022

Fr. Jim Barlow on Vision, Ecstasy and Unitive Consciousness – a view from the Kurdish mountains.

In this talk, Jim will briefly review the study of mystical experience in terms of William James, perennial philosophy, constructivism and more recent work, including neurological.  Then we look at how historical evidence can help inform those discussions, such as texts from the East Syrian mystical tradition and especially the writings of Joseph Hazzaya from the 8th century.  The description and discussion of mystical experiences in these ancient texts and our knowledge about the embodied practices of the authors often challenge both popular and scholarly views of what mystical experiences reveal. Fr. Jim Barlow is Rector of St Mary’s Totnes and of the wider Totnes Team Ministry in the Church of England.  He has a life-long interest in religious experience and mystical theology.  Although this interest is primarily practical, he has engaged with the study of mystical experience in general and the historical origins of Christian mystical theology in the wider Mediterranean context.  He has a particular interest in the East Syrian mystical school of the 5th to 8th centuries of the common era and is collaborating with other scholars to produce critical editions and translations of texts from that tradition.

27th January, 2022

Prof Roland Griffiths on Psilocybin-Induced Transformative Experiences: Implications for Therapeutics, Enduring Change, and Consciousness

This talk will review research conducted at Johns Hopkins over the past two decades with psilocybin, a classic psychedelic substance which is the principal active component of the so-called "Magic Mushroom." Classic psychedelics are a class of psychoactive compounds that produce a unique profile of changes in thoughts, perceptions and emotions, often including profound alterations in meaning and beliefs about the nature of reality, that are rarely experienced except in naturally-occurring mystical experiences, and acute psychosis. A robust and provocative finding is that administration of psilocybin to carefully screened and well prepared and supported participants can result in "peak" experiences to which participants attribute enduring positive changes in moods, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior for months and possibly years after a single session. Notably, such effects have been documented in the majority of participants from a series of studies in healthy volunteers and in patient populations. This research has immediate applications in therapeutics and has broad implications for advancing our understanding of consciousness, prosocial and ethical behavior. 
Roland Griffiths, is the Oliver Lee McCabe, III Professor of the Neuropsychopharmacology of Consciousness in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, and Founding Director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His principal research focus in both clinical and preclinical laboratories has been on the behavioral and subjective effects of mood-altering drugs. He is author of over 400 scientific publications, has trained more than 50 postdoctoral research fellows and has conducted extensive research with sedative-hypnotics, caffeine, and novel mood-altering drugs. About 20 years ago, he initiated a research program investigating effects of the classic psychedelic substance psilocybin, including studies with healthy volunteers, beginning and long-term meditators, and religious leaders. Therapeutic studies with psilocybin include treatment of psychological distress in cancer patients, major depressive disorder, nicotine addiction, anorexia nervosa, and several other psychiatric disorders. Related studies of brain imaging and drug interactions are examining pharmacological and neural mechanisms of action. His research group has also conducted a series of survey studies characterizing and comparing various naturally-occurring and psychedelic experiences resulting in enduring changes in beliefs, attitudes, moods, and behavior.

29th November, 2021

Dr Stephen Fulder on - How Can We Make a Difference in These Difficult Times?


We may feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of uncontrollable and unpredictable events, and not at all sure how we can go out and make a difference. Buddhist inspired teachings do not encourage us to take positions, but offer potentials that will help us and others at this time. Mindful awareness, for example, allows us to return home to ourselves and the world, and dissolve disempowering voices such as of helplessness, anxiety, and frustration. There is the power of compassion which will drive us to do whatever our heart tells us and the power of steadiness which helps us to be an island in the stormy seas and find the courage to turn the crises to opportunities. In this event there will be a talk, Q & A, and a guided meditation. See details at https://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org/agency-in-urgent-times
Stephen is the founder and, for 25 years, has been the senior teacher of the Israel Insight Society, the major Buddhist oriented practice and teaching organisation in Israel. He teaches many retreats, courses and classes annually to large numbers of participants and engages in peace work in the Middle East. His recent books include, What’s Beyond Mindfulness: Waking Up to This Precious Life, and The Five Powers: A Guide to Personal Peace and Freedom. See www.stephenfulder.com

21st October, 2021

Dr Dean Radin on Consciousness and Its Interconnections Beyond Space and Time

Throughout history, mystics have claimed that within non-ordinary states of awareness they perceive that everything -- the entire universe -- is deeply interconnected. Such perceptions may be evoked spontaneously, or through disciplined meditative practice, or via psychedelics. Until recently in historical time, the primary way of understanding these states was through metaphors or expressed in terms of divine revelation. Over the last century or so, as scientific ways of understanding reality advanced beyond earlier narratives, controlled methods were developed for studying what might be called "mini-mystical" experiences on demand in the laboratory (i.e., psychic phenomena, or "psi" for short). Today, the scientific gold-standard for providing credible evidence relies on independent laboratory replications of claimed effects, and replication in turn is measured using meta-analytic techniques. There are now nearly 20 meta-analyses of various classes of psi experiments based on thousands of laboratory studies performed by scores of investigators around the world, published in peer-reviewed journals. Overall, today's body of scientific evidence for the existence of psi phenomena is overwhelmingly positive, but within academia a meme stubbornly persists that such effects are literally impossible. This meme has resulted in the paradox of over 90% of the general population reportedly having had one or more psi-like experiences, but at the same time fewer than 0.5% of universities around the world are known to have at least one faculty member actively engaged in studying the ontological reality of these experiences. The exquisitely ironic origin of this false meme will be discussed, as will the implications of psi for our understanding of consciousness and its role in the physical world. Dean is Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Science (IONS) and Associated Distinguished Professor of Integral and Transpersonal Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. His original career track as a concert violinist shifted into science after earning a BSEE degree in electrical engineering, magna cum laude and with honors in physics, from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and then an MS in electrical engineering and a PhD in psychology from the University of Illinois. For a decade he worked on advanced R&D at AT&T Bell Laboratories and GTE Laboratories. For over three decades he has been engaged in research on the frontiers of consciousness. Before joining the research staff at IONS in 2001, he held appointments at Princeton University, SRI International, and other academic and industrial facilities. He is author or co-author of hundreds of scientific, technical, and popular articles, four dozen book chapters, and four best-selling books including The Conscious Universe and Entangled Minds.

30th June, 2021

Prof Max Velmans on - Do we have free will? A dialogue with China.

Do we have the freedom to make choices and decisions in the ways we intuitively feel we can? Or are the choices and decisions really decided by our brains? In this Cafe, these fundamental questions, along with an intuitive way to resolve them are introduced in an entertaining 50 minute film, made by a Chinese-American production company for distribution in both China and the West. The film centres on the challenges posed by the neuroscience of free will to the natural intuitions of a group of Chinese artists and intellectuals in interaction with Max Velmans--and ultimately suggests deeper, interconnected ways in which the self can be free. As usual in the Cafe, the presentation will be followed by Q&A in which both the themes of the film and associated social issues can be explored.
Max is an Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, and has been involved in consciousness studies for over 50 years. His main research focus is on integrating work on the philosophy, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology of consciousness. He has over 130 publications on this topic including his major work Understanding Consciousness (2009), the co-edited Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2017), Towards a Deeper Understanding of Consciousness (2017), and Consciousness (2018) a 4-volume collection of Major Works on consciousness.

29th October, 2020 

Prof Edward Kelly on Expanding the Science of Consciousness--And our Basic Picture of Reality 

The received wisdom worldwide is a doctrine known as “physicalism”, which asserts that reality consists of tiny bits of matter moving in fields of force in accordance with mathematical laws, and that everything else that exists must arise somehow from that basic “stuff”. According to the associated physicalist “production” model of the brain/mind relationship, everything in our human minds and consciousness is manufactured by neurophysiological processes going on in our brains. Under ordinary conditions of everyday life, mental events and physical happenings in the brain are strongly correlated, and this has been widely interpreted as supporting the production model. However, a variety of less common but empirically validated experiences and abilities demonstrates the falsehood of the production model and leads to an alternative “filter”, or “transmission”, or “permission” model of the sort advanced by William James and various colleagues. According to this, the brain does not manufacture our everyday conscious mind but shapes, constrains, and focuses the operations of a more comprehensive mind and consciousness that is to some degree functionally, and perhaps, even ontologically distinct from it. This alternative conception of the brain-mind relation is at least equally consistent with the available psychobiological evidence, and more consistent than the production model with leading-edge developments in physics and philosophy. It also opens a path not only to the possibility of postmortem survival but to richer forms of metaphysics such as dual-aspect monism and outright idealism, in which consciousness is a fundamental – perhaps the most fundamental - constituent of reality. Ed is currently a Professor in the Division of Perceptual Studies within the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia. He received his Ph.D. in psycholinguistics and cognitive science from Harvard in 1971 and spent the next 15-plus years working mainly in parapsychology, first in J. B. Rhine’s Institute for Parapsychology, then through the Department of Electrical Engineering at Duke, and finally through a private research institute in Chapel Hill. Between 1988 and 2002 he worked mainly in neuroscience, and returned to full-time to psychical research in 2002, serving as lead author of Irreducible Mind (2007), Beyond Physicalism (2015), and Consciousness Unbound (2021). He is currently engaged in intensive psychophysiological studies of paranormal or “psi” processes and psi-conducive altered states of consciousness in exceptional subjects.

A SELECTION OF EARLIER EVENTS 

5th September, 2018

Transformations of Consciousness:  A Totnes Consciousness Café Special Event

Professor Etzel Cardeña on ‘Altered Consciousness and Enhanced Human Abilities’
This presentation will review research on the relation between altered states of consciousness, the procedures and practices to induce them, and enhanced performance, including performance in psi (parapsychological) experiments. Multiple studies on meditation, hypnosis, sensory homogenization, psychoactive drug ingestion, and spontaneous alterations of consciousness show a relation to enhanced physiological and psychological functioning, such as increased ability to withstand cold temperature and painful stimuli, heightened perceptual sensitivity and attention control, and enhanced positive affect and personality change. Parapsychological research also indicates that when individuals are exposed to techniques to alter their state of consciousness they produce stronger evidence of psi phenomena, such as precognition and micro-psychokinesis than when they are in their ordinary waking consciousness. Etzel Cardeсa (Lund University, Sweden) holds the Thorsen Chair in Psychology and directs the Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology (CERCAP). His areas of research include alterations of consciousness and anomalous experiences, dissociative processes, the neurophenomenology of hypnosis and meditation, and the stream of consciousness during waking and altered states. He has more than 300 publications and various awards for his empirical, theoretical, and pedagogical contributions.

Dr Milan Scheidegger on ‘Mind in Nature: Towards a Molecular Epistemology of Consciousness’
The interfaces between mind, brain, consciousness and nature, remain exciting unresolved frontiers in science and philosophy: What is the nature of the human mind and how does conscious experience and meaning emerge in living systems? In the context of the renaissance of psychedelic research we are currently facing a paradigm shift in the understanding of consciousness. As Freud’s dream theory deepened the psychoanalytic understanding of the unconscious, psychoactive compounds could nowadays serve as promising epistemological tools for the scientific exploration of consciousness. Psychoactive plants have been used in ritualistic contexts throughout human history for shamanic, therapeutic and psychospiritual purposes. Beyond shaping social and cultural evolution, psychedelic states of consciousness also raise profound philosophical and existential questions about the nature of subjective experience and the creation of meaning in the universe. This transdisciplinary talk provides an integral approach of understanding the nature of human existence from its molecular basis up to the level of phenomenal consciousness. Interfaces between different epistemological perspectives such as pharmacology, neuroscience, biosemiotics, philosophy of mind, and deep ecology will be explored.Milan Scheidegger (University Hospital of Psychiatry, Zurich) has an academic background in medicine, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychiatry. His MD-PhD degree was in functional and molecular neuroimaging at the Institute for Biomedical Engineering (University and ETH Zurich). He is currently researching the neurobiology and pharmacology of altered states of consciousness. He investigates the potential of psychedelics such as ketamine, psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT to facilitate therapeutic transformation. On his ethnobotanical expeditions to Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, he has explored the traditional use of psychoactive plants in indigenous rituals.

Friday 29th January, 2016

Dr Peter Fenwick – “Can Near-Death and Actual-Death Experiences Extend our Understanding of Consciousness?


In the near-death experience due to cardiac arrest there is a profound and deep loss of consciousness.  However, about 10% of people say that while they are unconscious they experience wide transcendent feelings and other phenomena, including light, the presence of dead relatives or, occasionally, spiritual beings. Actual death experiences (when higher brain functions and mind appear to be entirely absent) occur in 10-25% of cardiac arrest patients that subsequently recover. Over 80% of these report that they are visited by dead relatives or spiritual beings who come to help through the dying process. Around 80% also report transiting between this world and a transcendent realm similar to that of the near death experience. Just before the moment of death there may be a short period of terminal lucidity in which a patient may suddenly become alert from coma to say goodbye to relatives, and people with advanced Alzheimers or brain damage may briefly lose their pathological mental state, and return to normality. There are also many reports by relatives of deathbed coincidences - visits by the dying person at the moment of death to someone to who they are emotionally attached, usually to convey the message that they are alright. Around the time of death there are also reports of non-local phenomena such as clocks stopping, dogs howling, shapes leaving the body etc. This talk will evaluate such findings and discuss how they might extend our understanding of consciousness and its relationship to the embodied brain. Dr Peter Fenwick is Consultant Neuropsychiatrist Emeritus to the Epilepsy Unit at the Maudsley Hospital, which he ran for twenty years.  He is also Emeritus Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry Kings College and Southampton University, and Emeritus Consultant Clinical Neurophysiologist at Broadmoor Hospital. He has a long standing interest in brain function and the problem of consciousness and has published a large number of research papers related to altered states of consciousness, and abnormalities of consciousness and behaviour. One of his main interests for some years has been near death experiences and the dying process, including a research project in hospices in the UK, Holland and Japan into the experiences reported by the dying and their carers around the time of death, the results of which are included in The Art of Dying, co-authored with his wife, with whom he has also published a study of near death experiences, “The Truth in the Light”.

25th April, 2014

Consciousness Cafe Special Event on Transformations of Consciousness at Dartington Hall

Prof Etzel Cardeña (Lund, Sweden) on 'Hypnosis and meditation'; Prof Roland Griffiths (Johns Hopkins, USA) on 'Psilocybin and the mystical experience; Prof James Fadiman (Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, USA) on 'Using the best tools for transformation-a Western approach; Dr Michel Bitbol (CNRS, Paris) on 'Transforming consciousness the phenomenological way'; Prof Jonathan Shear (Western Virginia, USA) on 'Meditation in contemporary society'; Prof Anand Paranjpe (Dalhousie, Canada) on 'An enquiry into what remains the same within oneself: an elusive but priceless way to pure consciousness'.

27th February, 2014

Dr Susan Blackmore on ‘Buddhist Jhanas: Altered states of consciousness without drugs?’

Susan writes that the jhanas are a series of eight increasingly absorbed states described in the early Buddhist texts, although rarely discussed or practiced in most traditions today.  Her own 30-year training has been in Chan/Zen, mostly zazen or open meditation, and until a recent course at Gaia House she had little experience of the type of concentrative meditation on which the jhanas are based. She found the results surprising and will describe the techniques used, the different states – some of which she learned to enter and some not – and the way they can encourage insight.  She welcomes the chance at Consciousness Café to hear others’ views on the different techniques, the nature of these altered states, and the apparently profound effects that they can have.  Sue is a psychologist and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She blogs for the Guardian, and often appears on radio and television. The Meme Machine  (1999) has been translated into 16 other languages; more recent books include Conversations on Consciousness (2005), Zen and the Art of Consciousness (2011), and a textbook Consciousness: An Introduction (2nd Ed 2010).

15th January, 2014

Polly Higgins - 'A Different Kind of Conversation' 

In this talk international environment lawyer and barrister Polly Higgins asks “What does it take to step into a place where we can seed a different kind of conversation, one based on putting people and planet first?”  In her book Eradicating Ecocide: laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our planet, she sets out to demonstrate how ‘compromise’ laws have caused the problem and why we can destroy the Earth without consequence. The solution offered is to create a law of Ecocide, the 5th Crime Against Peace.  Such a law will hold to account heads of corporate bodies as well as other ‘natural persons’ in positions of superior responsibility. She argues that the opportunity to implement this law represents a crossroads in the fate of humanity; we can accept this one change and in doing so govern our Earth for future generations, or we can continue to destroy it, risking future wars over disappearing resources. Eradicating Ecocide was the 2011 winner of the People’s Book Prize for non-fiction. Her second book, Earth is our business: changing the rules of the gameexamines the missing law of Ecocide in greater detail, arguing that law and carbon trading mechanisms are not enough: rather, she advocates a new form of leadership that places the health and well-being of people and planet first, and she demonstrates how law can provide the tools to build the bridge to a new way of doing business. She also argues that Earth is everyone’s business, not the exclusive preserve of the executives of the world’s top corporations. In 2013/14 Polly was the visiting Arne Naess Chair of Global Justice and the Environment in the University of Oslo. You can read more about her at http://www.pollyhiggins.com

28th November, 2013

Christopher Titmuss on ‘Who Am I: Is this a deep question?’ 

Buddhism and Vedanta explore the question“Who am I?” through meditation and inner inquiry and often regard this as the most profound question a human can ask, taking the meditator deeper than name, identity and roles. Does the question eventually lead to an ultimate answer or down a cul-de-sac? Christopher will explore this, referring to inner responses as well as the benefits and limits of the question. Rather than exploring the view of the self from the standpoint of East and West traditions, Christopher will address the issue from our immediate shared experience and the potential for the question to point to a liberating and compassionate realisation. Christopher’s teachings focus on insight meditation (vipassana), the expansive heart and enquiry into emptiness and liberation. Poet and social critic, he is the author of numerous books including “Light on Enlightenment,” “An Awakened Life” and “Poems from the Edge”. He has numerous Dharma talks freely available on line and writes a weekly Dharma blog on a wide variety of issues from a Dharma perspective. A former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, he is the founder of the online Mindfulness Training Course. He teaches annually in Australia, Israel, France and Germany, has led retreats in India since 1975, and lives in Totnes.

27th June, 2013

John Lockley on 'Indigenous Medicine for the modern World' 

John Lockley is a traditionally trained South African Shaman or “Sangoma” of the Xhosa lineage - the tribe of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. He is one of the first white men in recent history to be invited to undertake this prestigious training, which lasted 10 years. He has pioneered reconciliation and cross cultural spirituality in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, and travels internationally, leading ‘Ubuntu’ (humanity) workshops, in which he teaches people how to connect to their dreams, Ancestors, nature and one another.  John has an honours degree in clinical Psychology, a background in Zen Buddhism and studied under the well known Zen Master Su Bong from South Korea. He was accepted to become a Zen monk, but decided to become an African dancing monk (Sangoma) instead. John will be available to give private Sangoma divinations on Friday 28th June. To book a session please email Mark Flaherty on mark@markflaherty.co.uk. For more information about John and his work see www.african-shaman.com .

18th April, 2013

Ya’Acov Darling Khan on ‘Movement medicine: Dancing your way back home’

According to Ya’Acov, since ancient times, shamans have travelled on the rhythm of the drum, which can awaken the dancer inside you who lives inside your bones and the remembrance of the magnificence and interconnected nature of life within and all around us. Movement medicine is a contemporary expression of this ancestral heritage and is the result of 30 years of research into the power the dance has to awaken us and remind us of the exceptional wisdom of the life force inside us. It is a call to remember who you are and what you are here to create. Ya’Acov has been studying and practicing shamanism all his life with many gifted teachers from the Arctic to the Amazon. He has been teaching internationally since 1989 and is the Co-Author of “Movement Medicine – How to Awaken, Dance and Live your Dreams”.

25th October, 2012

Dr David Donaldson on ‘Chemistry of the Mind’

David Donaldson was Consultant Chemical Pathologist in the NHS for 31 years at East Surrey Hospital, Crawley Hospital,  and Gatwick Park Hospital with a special interest in the underlying chemistry of the brain and mind. He is author of three books, the last one being, ‘Psychiatric Disorders with a Biochemical Basis - including Pharmacology, Toxicology and Nutritional aspects’, and has published over 100 papers. He has undertake several lecture tours abroad including Canada, India, etc. He will illustrate his talk with an abundance of wide-ranging clinical anecdotes in order to show what happens to the mind when the physics of the brain becomes deranged, the chemistry goes wrong or there is a biological disorder. There will be opportunity for the participants to attempt their own diagnosis and to contribute ideas as to the possible nature of the problem in each case. He will look at each of us as socio-psycho-biologico-chemico-physical beings, reacting and interacting with each other - and at every level within ourselves.

21st June, 2012

Prof Robert Forman on ‘Enlightenment aint what it’s cracked up to be’

On this international book tour associated with his latest book, Robert asksWhat if you spent years and years of your life seeking religious or spiritual enlightenment, but were looking in the wrong place the whole time? It’s happening right now to millions of seekers around the world. And if the traditional take on enlightenment is heading in the wrong direction, then where should we be heading? What are we really after? And how do we get that?”  A meditator of 40+ years, and founder of The Forge Institute for Spirituality and Social Change (USA), Robert has a Ph.D in Comparative Religions (Columbia U), where he specialized in the nature of (and philosophical issues around) mystical experiences and the spiritual life. A tenured professor of religions at Hunter College of the City University of New York and a professor at Vassar College, Union Theological Seminary and the New School for Social Research, he has taught courses on mystical experiences and spiritual goals in every tradition, and his books are used in courses around the world. He was the co-founder and is executive editor of The Journal of Consciousness Studies, which has become the principle journal in the field. He is the author of ten scholarly books on spirituality, mysticism, consciousness and world religions. Further details available at http://enlightenmentaint.com/author/

24th May, 2012

Christopher Titmus on 'The Power of Mindfulness'

Monasteries of the Theravada Buddhist tradition have established the practice of mindfulness for more than 2000 years. In the past couple of decades, mindfulness has become regarded as a branch of psychology in the West. Traditional mindfulness practices now have widespread application in the West, including use in clinics, hospitals, schools, prisons, the public and private sector. Spiritual retreats, yoga classes, stress reduction courses and workshops for conflict resolution apply mindfulness exercises to develop the power of presence to situations. What are the benefits of mindfulness for everyday life? Has mindfulness in the West become a single limb cut off from the whole body of the Buddha’s teachings? Christopher, a former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, teaches Awakening and Insight Meditation around the world..A senior Dharma teacher in the West, he is the author of numerous books including Light on Enlightenment, An Awakened Life and Mindfulness for Everyday Living. Poet and writer, he is the co-founder of Gaia House, an international retreat centre in Devon. He has lived in Totnes for 29 years. 

26th April, 2012

Prof Raymond Tallis on ‘Why Neuroscience Will Never Explain Consciousness’

Raymond Tallis will argue that, while the brain is a necessary condition of every element of consciousness, it is not a sufficient condition. He will examine some of the most important reasons for not identifying human consciousness with neural activity, including the irreducibility of phenomenal appearances to events in the brain along with inescapable aspects of first-person being such as a sense of unity over time. Ray is a philosopher, poet, novelist and cultural critic and was until recently Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester and a consultant physician in Health Care of the Elderly in Salford. Over the last 20years he has published fiction, three volumes of poetry, and 23 books on the philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, art, and cultural criticism. Together with over two hundred articles in Prospect, Times Literary Supplement and many other outletsthese books offer a critique of current predominant intellectual trends and an alternative understanding of human consciousness and of what it is to be a human being. In the Economist's Intelligent Life Magazine (Autumn 2009) he was listed as one of the top living polymaths in the world.

23rd February, 2012 

Anthony Freeman on Embodied consciousness and personal responsibility

Both common sense and legal theory assume that human beings are for the most part free agents, who consciously choose their actions and are therefore responsible for them. This straightforward view is currently under attack from representatives of philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and a whole range of disciplines associated with the science of consciousness. This talk looks at these issues with a special emphasis on our personal experience of decision-making and sense of responsibility. Anthony Freeman was editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies from its launch in 1994 until his retirement in 2011, and is author of the book Consciousness: A Guide to the Debates (2003). He holds degrees in chemistry and theology from Oxford University.He was ordained in the Church of England in 1972, but following the publication of his controversial book, God In Us: A Case for Christian Humanism (1993), he was dismissed by his then bishop. He remains in the priesthood and is an honorary assistant priest at Crediton Parish Church.

26th January, 2012

Dr Martin Shaw on 'Exploring the Margins of Consciousness in Story and Initiation'

Martin Shaw is an author, mythologist and storyteller. Director of the Westcountry School of myth year programmes in both Devon and Northern California, he is visiting lecturer on the Desmond Tutu Leadership programme at Oxford University. After fifteen years of leading wilderness rites-of-passage (an extended fast in the wild), Martin became aware that the most vulnerable period in the process was not the exposure to the elements and psychological awakening, but the difficulty integrating that experience with everyday life—and that without integration one risks making a marginal life out of a marginal experience.  Through story, anecdote and ideas from his new book, A Branch FromThe Lightning Tree, he shows how storytelling can both protect such intimate experiences and transmit their essence to the wider community in a nourishing way.

24th November

Franklyn Sills on 'Being and Becoming: the nature of being and selfhood'

Franklyn is Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Karuna Institute where he is a trainer in Core Process Psychotherapy. His published books include The Polarity Process, Craniosacral Biodynamics, and most recently, Being and Becoming, Psychodynamics, and Buddhism and the Origins of Selfhood. Franklyn offers teachings internationally, including America, Germany and Switzerland. In the 1970's he was a Buddhist monk under the most venerable Taungpulu Kaba Aye Sayadaw of Northern Burma, and also studied in the Zen and Taoist traditions. In this talk he will explore the nature of "being" within both spiritual and psychological contexts, and the generation of our personality  system from the conditions and contingencies we  meet in early relational life. He will also touch on the alleviation of suffering through the use of mindfulness as a healing practice.

22nd September, 2011 

Nicholas Colloff - 'We are all doing time'

"I thank you rusty prison grating/for your sharp glinting bayonet blades/have given me more wisdom/than learning over long decades," (Irina Ratushinskaya, imprisoned Russian poet, from a song sung by her cellmate). After studying religion, philosophy and the psychology of religion at the Universities of London and Oxford, Nicholas co-founded the Prison Phoenix Trust in 1988. This grew out of a research project into religious experience, and now supports projects in over two-thirds of the prisons in the United Kingdom. For over twenty years, the Trust has been enabling prison inmates to discover new possibilities of life through the practice of meditation and yoga. Cells become places of retreat and places to learn a new connectivity to the world. Given that 'we are all doing time' and have our own particular imprisonments, we can learn much from their experience. This talk will explore the work of the trust, its impact on people's lives and its implications more widely for the practice of a spirituality that transforms. Nicholas is presently the Director of Strategy and Innovation at Oxfam GB.

26th May

Matt Harvey -  ‘The Way of the Worrier”

Drawing on his own experience as a poet and performer, Matt will explore the ways in which effective worrying, under pressure, can stimulate creativity. Rather than trying to move beyond worry and anxiety, “worrying done well” and living with potential failure can encourage a teasing lightness of touch and open up new possibilities in the relation between the conscious and the unconscious mind. There might even be a poem or two. Matt, who describes himself as an “enemy of all that’s difficult and upsetting”, hosts the Wondermentalist Cabaret, performs up and down the country in arts centres, small theatres, village halls, festivals, conferences, colleges, and the 2009 Edinburgh Festival. Matt is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live and for the last two years has written the Desktop Poetry slot in the Guardian. Along with much praised collections of poetry, he is the creator of Empath Man, who had his own mini-series on Radio 4 described as “Very funny, very satirical”  in The Times. Matt lives with his family in Totnes.

24th February, 2011

Dr Jean Hardy - A Wiser Politics 


This talk is based on themes from her new book, in which she writes "We live in a time of considerable disenchantment with the political formula of conservative - liberal - labour - communist, and need a reframed view of the issues faced by the world in the early 21st century. This should take into account the dangerous way humans are living on the earth, the continued great disparity between the richest and poorest people, the loss of species, globalisation of religious and social systems and confl icts inherent in this. A Wiser Politics puts forward the view that a radically revised view of the nature of the person needs to be linked more intelligently to the form of the social system, and both require an awareness that we live in a mysterious and awesome universe." Jean  has been a university teacher for most of her life, is a writer, editor and teacher, and actively works towards social change. She is interested in the relationship of psychology and spirituality to politics, ecology and economics, in the search for a more whole world. She now lives and works in South Devon.

20th January, 2011

Prof Max Velmans - 'Reflexive Monism: How to arrive at an Eastern place from a Western direction'.

Max is an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, Univ. of London, Visiting Professor of Consciousness Studies, Univ. of Plymouth, and National Visiting Professor (for 2011) of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research. In this talk Max will introduce some of the ways in which the phenomenal world can be thought of as a projection of the mind and some of the ways in which one's conscious sense of self can relate to one's own unconscious ground of being. These themes connect Reflexive Monism (a Western approach to understanding consciousness) to Advaita Vedanta (a classical Eastern understanding of consciousness)--themes he will also be addressing  in his forthcoming lecture tour of 9 Indian universities and institutes in February, 2011. 

28th October, 2010:

Stephen Dyer on 'Altered States, Other Worlds, and being Human'

Stephen Dyer was initiated into a yogic form of meditation practice in 1973 with profound personal consequences. In the eighties he began an exploration of shamanic ceremony. Since then he has led hundreds of ceremonies mainly in Holland and Spain with many hundreds of people. Steve described his and other people's experiences gained through many plant medicine ceremonies, working with Ayahuasca, a powerful ‘tea' from the Amazon region, and with Iboga, ‘the visionary root of African shamanism.’ Both of these plants have been used successfully by clinics working with drug addiction and earlier in October Steve described his work at the 2nd International Conference for Ibogaine Treatment Providers in Barcelona. According to Steve, ’the real gift of these plants is the depth of stillness, of peace, that can be experienced when used with focus and intent. Consciousness can be thought about and discussed but far more rewarding is the experience of being conscious, of being in presence.’ 

June 16th, 2010

Profs Ed and Emily Kelley on 'Unexplained depths of the Mind'

Ed and Emily have carried out extensive empirical and theoretical work on dimensions of the mind that don’t fit easily into the current materialist, reductionist paradigm, and their massive (800 page) recent book "Irreducible Mind: Towards a psychology for the 21st Century" provides what is probably the best, existing evidence for these unexplained depths.  Their research ranges from mind-body relations and functional neuroimaging studies of unusual states of consciousness to the history of experimental psychology, parapsychology and studies of near-death experiences. Ed Kelley is currently Research Professor and Emily Kelley is Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at the University of Virginia.

29th April, 2010

Suzanne Dennis on 'Psychosynthesis--a Psychology with Soul'

Suzanne is a senior trainer, supervisor, and psychotherapist at the Psychosynthesis and Education Trust, London. She is also a BPS chartered Counselling Psychologist with a private practice in London, and Totnes. Initially trained in Developmental Psychology and Social Work, she worked in the inner city for 15 years. Having explored Psychoanalysis, Gestalt, Psychodrama, Art therapy, Bioenergetics, and Co-counselling , encounters with spiritual disciplines and meditation led her to realise that these could be profoundly important in healing and developing meaning and purpose, adding a much needed dimension to psychological work. This led to a training in Psychosynthesis, which is known as a “Psychology with a soul”. Since then she has set up and developed therapeutic services, and devised many courses in transpersonal psychology, and contributed to books on this subject. In her talk she will describe some of the ideas that are key to Psychosynthesis.

25th March, 2010

William Murtha - on Dying for a Change

Based on his best-selling book, William's talk will focus on an incredible, transformative, near-death experience that challenges beliefs about miracles, coincidence and fate. In the spring of 1999, and at the height of a stress-filled career in sales management, William was traumatically swept off the Dawlish seawall and out to sea by a huge freak wave. Freezing, losing consciousness and close to dying, he then had numerous mystical encounters that would go on to totally change his life.  That life changing incident inspired him to sell the business he had founded, and instead concentrate all his time writing about urgent issues relating to personal, social and global transformation. One of those initiatives is the soon to be published, “the 100 Words book”, which pulls together specially commissioned 'vision statements' of hope' from renowned luminaries and change-makers around the world. He has three daughters and still lives close to the coast, at Dawlish.

February 25th, 2010

Chris Salisbury on ‘Rekindling our love of Nature’

Chris founded WildWise in 1999 after many years working as an education officer for Devon Wildlife Trust. With a background in the theatre, a training in therapy and a career in environmental education he uses every creative means at his disposal in his roles as instructor, trainer and educator to encourage people to enjoy and value the natural world. He is also a professional storyteller aka 'Spindle Wayfarer', founded the Westcountry Storytelling Festival for which he is the artistic director, and collaborates on the Westcountry School of Myth. Chris is trained as a 'Be the Change' facilitator and offers symposiums for interested groups wanting to find their next steps forward in creating a fairer, more sustainable world.

January 19th, 2010

Prof Ravi Ravindra on “The transformation of Consciousness according to the Yoga Sutras”

Ravi, a native of India, emigrated to Canada following his early education, and, in 1977, was made a Member of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton to do fundamental research in physics. He served from 1978 through 1980 as the Founding Director of the Threshold Award for Integrative Knowledge and, in 1989, was the pilot Professor of Science and Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. At present Ravi holds the position of Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, Canada, where he has served as Chair of Comparative Religion, Professor of International Development Studies, and Adjunct Professor of Physics. In addition to his study of the world's great traditions, Ravi Ravindra's spiritual search has involved him in the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, G. Gurdjieff, and Zen. The author of numerous books on religion, mysticism, and spirituality, including a new translation of the Yoga Sutras from the original sanscrit, Ravi lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

November 26th, 2009

Carlos Glover – on The Discipline of Peace

The “Discipline of Peace”, is a new expression of ancient Earth Wisdom that flourished among the Mayans and follows Medicine Wheel teachings developed by the Native American Indians.   It offers a thought-matrix of eight sequential principles to nurture peace in the Self which is the first step in creating peace as a reality in our relationships and in our world.  Following his training in Medicine Wheel teachings for over 20 years with the Ehama Institute in New Mexico, Carlos teaches Earth Wisdom in courses, vision quests and other ceremonies.  He has also been a long term student of Ki-Aikido, counselling and therapy and lives near Rattery, South Devon with his wife and two children.

October 29th, 2009

Prof David Fontana – ‘On the Borders of Consciousness: Some Evidence for the Extended Nature of Consciousness’

David is currently Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Cardiff University and Visiting Professor of Transpersonal Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University.  He was Foundation Chair of the Transpersonal Section of the British Psychological Society and past President of the Society for Psychical Research. He has authored more than 200 papers and 45 books that together have been translated into 27 languages.  He has a particular interest in the mind-brain relationship and the evidence for some sort of survival of consciousness after physical death, and has written widely on these and similar themes.  Two of his most recent books are Is There an Afterlife?’ which looks at some of this evidence, and ‘Beyond Death’, which discusses what a possible afterlife might be like.

June 25th, 2010, 2009

Dr Richard Ryder on ‘Animal Consciousness and Welfare’

After studying psychology at Cambridge, Colombia and Edinburgh Universities and work in animal research, in 1969 Richard began to speak out against animal testing and became one of the founders of the modern animal liberation movement. He has been chairman of the RSPCA, a president of Britain's Liberal Democrat Animal Protection Group, Mellon Professor at Tulane University, New Orleans, and from 2004, has been parliamentary consultant to the Political Animal Lobby. Inventor of the concept “speciesism”, he successfully campaigned to stop otter hunting and to reform the law on animal experimentation. His books include Victims of Science (1975), Painism: A Modern Morality (2003), and Putting Morality Back into Politics (2006).

May, 28th, 2009

Christopher Titmuss on “The Transformative Power of Romantic Love”

Christopher, a former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, teaches Awakening and Insight Meditation around the world..A senior Dharma teacher in the West, he is the author of numerous books including Light on Enlightenment, An Awakened Life and Mindfulness for Everyday Living.  Poet and writer, he is the co-founder of Gaia House, an international retreat centre in Devon. He has lived in Totnes for 27 years. The forum will explore love, Eros, passion and intimacy as a vehicle for profound awakening and why romantic love has such a powerful impact on our emotional life. Christopher will draw upon the authentic 2000 year old tradition of Tantra that sees romantic love as a spiritual practice through communication, the arts and the yogas.

April 30th, 2009

Michael Quinn on ‘Visions of the Dreaming’

Michael is an anthropologist, linguist, and storyteller as well as having a background in philosophy and religious studies. He has spent 17 years working with the Djabuganydji, an Australian aboriginal rainforest people, working to keep alive their endangered language. In this talk, he examines their mythology, the vital role played by their initiation system, the role of shamanism and altered states of consciousness, and the significance of totemic dreaming. Michael writes “In a world characterised by increasing alienation and the destruction and pollution of the environment it is increasingly vital to rethink our relationship to this planet and its life-forms and there are lessons to be learned from the experience of indigenous people like the Djabuganydi."

 

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