Mona Sobhani, Ph.D., is a cognitive neuroscientist, author, and entrepreneur. A former research scientist at the University of Southern California, she holds a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Southern California and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University with the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project. She is now co-founder and Head of Research at Pala, a platform that delivers trusted wisdom in short, engaging, and relatable videos using scientifically-proven methods that accelerate personal and professional growth.
Her work has been featured in the New York Times, VOX, and other media outlets. She is the author of Proof of Spiritual Phenomena: A Neuroscientist’s Discovery of the Ineffable Mysteries of the Universe (forthcoming September 9, 2022, Park City Press/Inner Traditions), in which she details her transformation from a diehard scientific materialist to an open-minded spiritual seeker. In the Brave New World of Psychedelic Science newsletter, she writes about the psychedelic renaissance and consciousness.
Please enjoy my conversation with Mona Sobhani.
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Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 234
Mona Sobhani 0:00
I think that once you open to the universe, I think it opens to you. And I talked about this in the book too. Like, even if you don't like any of this metaphysical stuff, there's a lot of philosophers and physicists who think that we live in a participatory universe.
Alex Ferrari 0:12
I'd like to welcome to the show Mona Sobhani, how you doing Mona?
Mona Sobhani 0:25
Good. Thank you for having me.
Alex Ferrari 0:27
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Like I was telling you earlier. Anytime I get to talk about spirituality, and science, it is one of my favorite subjects because they are getting closer every day. In things that were talked about 5000 7000 years ago, science is starting to kind of catch up.
Mona Sobhani 0:44
I know it's funny. It's like progress to history.
Alex Ferrari 0:48
Exactly. Exactly. So my first question is, what was your life like, before you started on this crazy adventure?
Mona Sobhani 0:54
Yeah, I mean, I was a normal. I mean, quote, unquote, normal. I don't know what that means anymore. It's, it's a typical scientist, materialist scientist, I, I worked at a digital health center, I was a cognitive neuroscientist by training. I did like brain imaging work for most of my career. And then the last few years before all of this happened, I was working in digital health centers. So we were using technology like wearables and mobile apps to collect data from people physiology, behavioral data, to see if we could predict health and human performance. So I didn't know I was doing that. And I loved it. I was really passionate about it. I've always been, you know, I love science, I've always been passionate about how can we measure? How can we like use tools and technology to get a better understanding of how we work biologically and behaviorally so.
Alex Ferrari 1:48
you know, we're you did you have a spiritual background or religious background?
Mona Sobhani 1:52
No, not at all. I was very, actually very anti spiritual and anti religious kind of, because, I mean, I just don't come from a religious family and never really needed it. I wasn't exposed to it a lot. And then the more and more, you know, by the time you finish grad school, and you get more pulled into science, you just your whole the way you think about everything changes drastically, and you really think in a more, quote, unquote, scientific mindset or a reductionist materialist mindset. And it's hard. It was hard for me anyway, to see where spirituality could fit in there. So
Alex Ferrari 2:32
So then what was the spark? Then? What was the spark that this because I've had other scientists on, I've had quantum physicists, and neuroscientists on, and it's always interesting, there's always that thing that sends them off onto this road, and then they start bringing their science in to the new knowledge that they're learning. So what was it for you?
Mona Sobhani 2:51
Yeah, well, that's a series of life events, as it you know, usually is like a perfect storm of things. But for me, it started, I guess, like the seed being planted to there being, to me understanding that there's more to the universe, was that I'm Persian is that's my cultural heritage. In my, in our culture, we use I mean, not in modern day Iran. But in our traditional culture, we use the practice of divination, which means if you have a skilled reader, they can use anything like tarot cards, or mean runes, or in my family's case, it was coffee, coffee grounds, or tea leaves, I guess people are more familiar to you, or you can read anything, because idea is that the universe contains information in every form. So my grandmother used to read coffee grounds. And it's not American coffee, it's like, Middle Eastern coffee. So you leave the grounds in the coffee, you don't use a filter, like American coffee, and then you let them dry. And then the reader looks in and tries to find pictures and stories and into information about your life, supposedly. So my grandmother was really good at it. And my, my mom, also did it kind of for fun for family and friends all the time. And I never, you know, she never did it. For me. I never paid attention really, until I was in grad school. And I would go home on the weekends, just to see my parents, my mom and I would have coffee. And she would she just would absent mindedly like pick it up and start reading for me. And I just didn't really pay attention to it until, you know, she did this for me for months, years. And then I started noticing that the things that she said would come true. And sometimes there'll be months in advance. And there would be things that she couldn't know, there'll be things that I wouldn't know, right, that I wouldn't expect to be happening. Like we're moving at work or something like our lab suddenly moves. And so there were things like that where I was like, Wait, that's so weird. How could you have known that? But it was also the deeper I got into into grad school. As I said, the more your mind goes into a scientific mindset, and you kind of start especially in neuroscience, you're taught that everything you create meaning for your brain creates meaning You're finding the coincidence. So it was a real, like cognitive dissonance I lived in like, because she was right. So I listened. And I would always write down, I started writing down what she said, Because I'm like, Oh, she's more right than she's wrong. I don't know how it works, but it's useful to have it, but I never tried to understand it. And then two huge emotional life events happened where she saw in the coffee, and that's these were my, like, tipping points. So one of them was she kept saying something kind of ominous in like six weeks in advance of it happening. And she'd never seen anything like that before, or never gave me warnings like this. But she started saying, like, they think you're gonna get some really bad news. And it was, it was creepy. And it was scary. Because for six weeks, I was like, What is the news? Like, where's it coming from? What's going to happen? And then one of my professors, was killed by one of the students at our university. And it was awful and unexpected. Out of the blue. It was so unusual. It was just, you know, like, one of those crazy things that you can't believe happened. And it was someone I had, had helped me with my dissertation experiments. And so it was a terrible events in general. But on top of that, I was so shook about how it my mom foresaw a death, like so everything else at that point had been, you know, like, don't make sure you don't you pay your bills, make sure you don't misplace your wallet, like little things like that. daily things. But this was a death. And so this creeped me out. Because I was like, how could the information of someone's death be out in the universe like six weeks in advance, and it upset me very much. But I and I wondered about fate and destiny and stuff like that. But I was, you know, moving through grief. And then I was really busy at work. And so I didn't really, it just kind of rattled me, but I didn't do anything with it. And then a few years later, there was another event like that I started dating this guy that my mom had seen coming, it was so like, weird. She like, saw him for months and months. And I was like, I'm not dating anyone, I swear. And this guy, like came out of the blue. And then she kept saying it was gonna be positive, and then it ended. And so to me, that was not positive. So I was, I was upset because I was also not very happy at the time. And I kind of had decided, I was like, Wait, this relationship is gonna make me happy, which, you know, in hindsight, that was a red flag for me as a person. I'm like, hello, this is not how you should live. But so I put all my faith in that. And then when that fell through, I It was a dark night of the soul moment. And it wasn't just the relationship, right? It was like the, it was kind of what, like everything that I probably had been brushing off or suppressing or not paying attention to, came to the surface. And I was like, I don't understand why we're here, living, what is the point of life like it was, I lost hope and optimism, and I was like, nothing's ever going to be happy again. So. So it was dark. And then I wasn't ready to look at myself yet. So instead, I, I focused on the readings at first, and I was like, what is what is it? What is it about these readings? My mom said I was going to be positive, Did something change? You know, not even like, like me going deeper and being like, is there something positive I missing here? Which is really what I should have done, but I didn't do till later. And so I got really interested in, in the readings, and my girlfriend's had, you know, we live in LA, they had gone to psychics before I had never because I didn't believe in it. And they were like, Oh, we know, you know, we know really good psychics you should? Let's go to a psychic. You know, your mom's great. But maybe you want to get another reading if you're curious now. And so we went and we did this, like in formal kind of, we went a few times a few different times, and we swapped readers, and then we swapped readings to kind of see are they giving vague information? Is it information readings that you could we could swap and would be applicable to each of our lives. But we found, since they had, like, vetted them, you know, they had gone to them before they were good. I realized that no, like these, we can't swap readings, like they're pretty specific to each of us. They would say things like really specific about each of our paths. And like, correct, you know, as scientists, I was, like, they're correct on like, seven variables, like what are the odds of that like, specific variable, and they would name cities like involved with events, and I was like, Oh, my God, like, how many cities are in the United States of America? How could they possibly get the correct one? So it was things like that, that I was really taken aback and I thought, well, you know, maybe we don't understand everything about the universe. And maybe there's information or energy or something like there's a lot we don't know about physics. But what I was really interested in as neuroscientists was how is it coming in and how are how are we perceiving it or like, how are the readers perceiving it? So I got interested in that And, and then at the same time, I, oh, I serendipitously was I wasn't listening to anything spiritual. I wasn't spiritual at all. At this point, I was just kind of curious about psychic readings. But I was listening to Chelsea Handler's podcast, and she had a psychic medium on like, right at this time when I was just interested in this stuff. And Chelsea Handler was a skeptic. So I was like, This is strange. So she has me along. But I listened. And the second medium was Laurel and Jackson, she's, she had been tested by this institute called the wind bridge Institute. She talked about the scientific studies that she had participated in. And so like, I suddenly perked up and wrote down everything that she said, and I went to, you know, go look it up and research it. And then they mentioned a book, the two of them, Chelsea and Laura Lynn mentioned, many lives, many masters. And there was just like, it's a psychiatrist case study. I didn't know what it was about. They're just like, it's the second high interest case study. Everyone should read it. So I ordered it and it arrived. And then I read it. And I was like, What am I reading? Like, I didn't know what path my progression was. I didn't know anything about that stuff. And I was like, this is like, this is the book they recommended. But as I was reading it, I realized that I was like, oh, some of what the psychics the ones that I had gone to had said, what some of what they said went over my head. And I went back to look at the notes because it matched what was in Brian Weiss's book. And then it matched what Laurel and Jackson had said, they were talking about, oh, we come to earth to learn lessons, they talked about reincarnation, to talk about the spiritual things I had never heard of, before and never thought about. And I just kind of sat with it. Because I was like, you know, is a scientist, you look for different sources of information. And I was like, these are three separate sources of information, and they're all converging on the same story that I've never heard of, and that I'm not comfortable with and that I don't believe in. And in my head, there's no evidence for. But you know, I was just curious about like, this is interesting. And then especially for Brian Weiss, because he was like Yale and Columbia educated, you know, I'm like, I was snob. So I was like, oh, degrees, I love that I cared, cared more about what he had to say, or I was interested in it was like, hey, you know, how could this guy with this background write this book. And that was really the starting point. Because then I thought, Well, what I read all his books, and then I read out the people who referenced that, and then I just spun off into a past life regression, reincarnation near death experiences. So I read as much as I could to learn, just just learn and understand the framework. And to me, what was particularly odd is that as a neuroscientist, you know, and I'm interested in mental health and stuff, that these paths I progressions seem to be really healing for people. And then on top of that, some of the, the facts could be verified from their past lives, or whatever. I mean, now, I'm like, not as interested in that anymore. But at the time, I was so fascinated by that. And then especially the fact that a lot of these psychiatrists and behavioral health practitioners from the 60s 70s and 80s, like Brian Weiss stumbled across this in their practice, like they weren't trained in it, they didn't believe in it, they didn't want to do it. Like it just kind of fell in their lap, like Michael Newton, Brian Weiss, Roger Woolgar, like all these practitioners. So, you know, I've spent a lot of time defending this, or there's like, so much criticism around it. But it's, it's weird. To me, it was weird to me that if you put someone in a hypnotic state, and you ask them about a spiritual framework, they all describe, like these 1000s of patients from all these different practitioners describe the same framework. And it's not a popular one in Western culture, right? Like, it's now it's more, but I think at the time, you know, I don't, there wasn't an internet, it's not like, information was readily available. So that really just perplexed me. And it was kind of the hook of like, what is there something is there? Like, what if? And, like, if I stepped back into my own body and my science mind, I was like, no, but if I just in my head, I was like, if I just step forward and ask what if and be curious? Because there's something it's a phenomenon. It's strange. It may not be true, but it does raise questions about like, what is in our psyches? What did what is in our genetics, why does this story emerge spontaneously from people? And so I just became curious and started interviewing people. I went on interview journey, I started like, I need to know the answer, but started interviewing people.
Alex Ferrari 14:44
That's a fascinating story, because it's really interesting because you you've came to the same conclusions that I did, because I've now done 240 or something like that. These interviews from people from all walks of life from All around the world. And they all, there's so many common points. Rarely do I get mixed messages from channelers and mediums and psychics and near death experiences in and out of it all the stories, the same flavors might be different. But that story is the same. So it's you and I have both a very unique perspective in that way. Because we did. You've done your research, I've done mine in very different ways, obviously. But it's fascinating that this I'm so glad that you're, you're you're a scientist with an open mind, which is not a you're like a unicorn. Because scientists generally are they they even even within the physics world. Physicists don't even want to talk about quantum physics, quantum physics, because it's like, it's, it's messy, we don't want to know what really is going on. Like, what's quantum entanglement? We really don't like they don't want to talk about because they don't know. Yeah, because it because it completely destroys the foundation of everything they've put their life at work into, you are brave enough to just go, You know what, I think I'm gonna go down this road, it's fascinating that you did that.
Mona Sobhani 16:13
I just couldn't stop really, it was like a compulsion, because I just couldn't believe it. And I just thought that it hinted it more like, we just don't understand, we must not understand our reality. And it wasn't just, you know, that kind of literature. I mean, I found connections with so many other kinds, I found connections between psychology. So then all of Stan Grace work and Carl Jung and I just started finding, like you mentioned physics, and started seeing these, like Nobel Prize winning physicist, you know, very much into non dual spirituality. And, like, it just all kind of, at first seemed very separate. And then at one point, it all just converged. And I was like, oh, it's very simple. Actually. It's all very related. And it's when you read enough of it, you're like, it's not really a big deal. But I don't know why it's such a big deal. But I know why it's such a big deal. It's because it's people's egos and identities, and our whole paradigm, our whole western culture, everything is, you know, founded on scientific materialism and physicalism. And it's hard to get past that. But I think there's a shift happening. Especially Oh, I was gonna say that, because it's true. It's true that scientists publicly don't. And that's one of the points I make in the book is, is they publicly don't admit this thing. But if you ask them in private, as I did, they all of them have their own stories, they may not believe, you know, people are in a spectrum of belief, because and I don't think belief is linear, you don't go from one thing to believing another. Like, I think we all fluctuate back and forth, and are trying to figure it out. But they all have their own stories. And they all admitted to me, or we all we talked about how we don't know everything. And if you do science, like if you do experimental science, you'll be the first to admit that because we make a lot of decisions. In our experiments, we make a lot of assumptions, like we don't know everything, that we can't know everything with our tools. So in private, and in cocktail hours, they'll tell you, and they're all interested. And like, I was really surprised some of my colleagues, like me had members of their family that had, you know, intuitive abilities. I had colleagues who had read all of the literature that I was just starting to read about psychic phenomena. And I was like, Oh, my God, you know about it, like, you know, these authors. And some of them haven't even tried some of the methods themselves. So I think they're just very curious. But there's so much stigma around it, that we just kind of whisper in private to each other about it. But I don't know, I just thought it was so disingenuous. And really, like I said, By this point, I got to writing the book, like there had been so much evidence that I was like, this is actually unscientific. And I kept coming back to that story of Galileo, and how, like, his colleagues wouldn't even look through the telescope, because they didn't want to be wrong. And I was like, this is this is today, like, people don't want to read the papers, or they don't want to admit it. But it's all there. Like a lot of the research has been done. And that's what was frustrating to me, because I would tell people the story, and they would be like, well, you know, what, like, all psychics are fraud, and there's no scientific studies. And I'd be like, really, because I just spent months reading all of the studies. So there's actually a lot of research and it was just kind of frustrating that it's done. It's ignored. I mean, I've just taken it I don't do that research. I don't you know, I don't really care either way, but I just think if you're really trying to understand reality, why wouldn't you include you know, all That research too.
Alex Ferrari 20:00
So let me ask you, what research have you seen that starts to prove certain aspects of spirituality of psychic phenomenon of Near Death Experiences of past lives of reincarnation? In your studies? What have you found?
Mona Sobhani 20:17
Yeah, so I mean, the reincarnation work at University of Virginia, they've done a lot with children, I think, like between the ages of two to five, so kids, some kids will remember, you know, have memories seemingly have memories from past lives. And so the University of Virginia team, they've done this for years. It started with Ian Stevenson. And then now it's, I think, Jim Tucker, who's running it. But they've come up with like scales and methods to kind of make sure or validate that the children are having that, you know, it's not something their parents fed to them, or that it's not a false memory. So they have this way of kind of validating the memories. And oftentimes, I think it's something crazy, like 60 to 70% of the cases, I think they can actually identify the previous personality, like they get enough information from the child where they can go, like, locate the person's, you know, birth certificate, birth certificate, or death certificate or life history, and they can, they can compare and contrast family members, and then compare notes. And through that kind of research, and they published it, there's so many books, they have a lot of papers. Yeah, so I mean, that's probably the closest we're gonna come to proving reincarnation because it's, it's kind of a hard,
Alex Ferrari 21:36
It's a, it's a tough, it's a tough, yeah, it's not a lot of beakers and
Mona Sobhani 21:41
Yeah, and then the psychic phenomena, I mean, the US government, I wrote about this in the book, but the US government, which did a lot of research on it, they had like a 30 year 25 Year program. I and that those were some of the people I reached out to I spoke to some of the physicists who did that research, just because I was like, Are they I read all the papers, and I was like, this is, you know, insane. Like, It's bonkers. A lot of it is classified, but some of its published and some of those published in like nature and some big science journals. So I wanted to speak to them, you know, to see if they were like crazy, but they were, they were lovely. And then I know some people don't trust the government. So those studies have been replicated. And there'll be things like, you know, very well controlled studies of computerized tasks. And they'll have like, the computer randomly will choose like, one of four or five symbols and then you know, the odds of a symbol coming up, let's say, if it's for the odds is 25% of the time, you'll be corrected, you're guessing. And then they'll have a person try to guess the next symbol. And you know, some people above chance can can guess the correct symbol. And to have more complicated
Alex Ferrari 22:53
Isn't that the scene from the opening scene of Ghostbusters? When Bill Murray's doing that kind of psychic ability, yes.
Mona Sobhani 23:02
But they computerized that task to make it much more scientific and verbal. Yeah, I love that movie. But yeah, they've done a lot of studies like that. And they've done more even unconscious ones like they, they found that you're so in, in neuroscience, psychology studies, sometimes, we might, you might give a response, like verbally, or you might give a response, like by tapping a button. But we can also record unconscious responses. And usually that like heart rate, or, or sweating, you start to sweat. So if you're like, you know, you hear a loud noise, your heart rate goes up, or you start to sweat. So they did those kinds of studies. So it's more unconscious, like it's not the person, and they did like a time thing. Or if they show like some sort of image that normally would make you sweat or your heart rate go up, does the person's physiology respond in advance of the picture being shown, and they found that to be true, statistically ahead. So it seems like so it's either that our statistics and our experimental designs, there's a flaw in them, because we use these methods for all of the rest of our science for all the rest of our psychology and neuroscience, if you're finding the same results with this very odd phenomenon that we think shouldn't exist, then there's something wrong if you don't want to admit the phenomenon is real, then something's wrong with our experimental method in our statistics.
Alex Ferrari 24:26
Either way, the whole the whole system comes crashing down.
Mona Sobhani 24:29
Yeah. The easier thing would be to just admit that there might be a phenomena and to look into it. But you know, either way, it's interesting and it should be looked at and then you know, outside of, but the thing is the outside of the laboratory was why it's important to have both laboratory studies and and I don't like the word anecdotal anymore, but that's what you would call is anecdotal evidence or empirical evidence that's not from the lab, because then it corroborates it like I said, there's convergence. And you've have an of course, it's not just in the lab, right? It's people, you know, no, suddenly knowing something or thinking of someone right before, right at the second that they call right before they call or, you know, waking up to a vision of someone, and then that person died at the same time, you know, halfway across the world. So you hear a lot of these, these kinds of things. And so you're like, okay, yeah, we try to bring it into the lab, to see if there's, you know, we can put numbers behind it. But there's still stories out there in day to day life.
Alex Ferrari 25:31
So I have to ask you, because I've had a 40 plus near death experiencers on the show already, I love to hear and neuroscientists is approach or opinion of the Near Death Experience phenomenon, because, again, just from my anecdotal experiments, interviewing that I've done from people from around the world, and also had a scientist on who studied indigenous, near death experiences, which I always am like, Jesus is everywhere. He's the hardest working man in show business. He's at everybody's near death experience. Like he's always around by God, but what happens to tribesmen what happens to a Buddhist what happens? And they would like aborigine near death experiences or African tribesmen near death experiences, but they all have similar things. So if it was just an American phenomenon, or a Western phenomena, why they having it, I love to hear your point of view on it.
Mona Sobhani 26:33
Yeah, there. So the typical, and this is what have been my response, you know, before this research journey, and transformation for me, is that your brain is losing oxygen and some cardiac arrest, let's say. And, and the truth is, we can't explain it. So because first of all, we don't even know how the brain works in the normal state. So we don't try to figure it out. Yeah. So in a dying state, we also don't know what's going on. But and we'll just say, Well, you know, it's an unusual physiological state. And we have all these explanations, like, there's not enough oxygen, they hallucinate. But what's interesting, what we've been talking about is the similarity between what people see, and it is interesting. I mean, there's some cultural context, in the literature, like, you know, they may see certain figures from their own culture. But there's also like you mentioned cross cultural things that people see. And there's just like, and people have done the studies like, what, actually there was like, there was one that just came out last year, and I think it was comparing near death, I had to look it up, it was like near death experiences and mystical experience or something like people are starting to do the actual, like, word compare, like break down the narrative that the person gives, compare the words and the experiences, categorize and compare them to, so that I think that work is starting to be done. Like it's called the phenomenology, like, how do people describe the experience, or the words that they use the tones that they invoke that kind of thing. So we're trying to break these experiences down into those, those characteristics and then compare them across. So that's sort of I think, some of it's been done, but I think more of it's starting to be done. And I think that similarities across them are interesting. And to me, the most interesting thing about ndS NDS are hard from it, to prove, okay, you know, like, it's hard, it's hard nerves are gonna convince a neuroscientist or a doctor.
Alex Ferrari 28:36
Interrupt you, but yeah, but there is been verifiable, nde's where they hover above,
Mona Sobhani 28:42
I was just gonna say that, what I what I find interesting, and about them is when they can see they see like some other you know, like, the waiting room of the hospital or their with their sister who's driving to their consciousness is when their sister driving to the hospital, and then they come when they come back to consciousness. And they say, like, oh, you know, I heard you telling my daughter when you called her in the car, or whatever, thank you for saying that to her. And, you know, their sisters, like what? So I love those stories of like, oh, they know what was going on in the hallway, or in the waiting room or somewhere else where their consciousness could not have possibly been, but then they they provide data or information that you can verify. And to me, that just would seem crazy, and you could brush it off. But it's not because you have all these other cases of that right as we, as we talked about, like there's a lot of other instances. So there's, you know, it all it all comes together and you can't just brush it off.
Alex Ferrari 29:44
Now. Did you in your studies or your research? Did you find any studies where they connected either channelers medium psychics to a brain a scanner, if you will, to see what happens to the wave length of their brains when they're either channeling, or doing mediumship, or doing a psychic reading or something like that,
Mona Sobhani 30:07
At the time I wrote the book, I did try to look at that I haven't since then, which has been a few years. So I don't know if there's been any published. And then when I looked, there were a few, I think there was like a few that use trance mediums are a few that used like, nuns that went into trance states or meditative states. The problem with brain data is that it's very noisy and messy, and you need a lot of people and you need a lot of samples, we call it. So you need like, the person to be in the scanner for a while repeating the task you need from them so that you can like compile all the data together and look for the, the true phenomenon that's going on and get rid of all the noise because there's a lot of noise, like your brains doing a lot of stuff, right? So the problem with brain data is that to find a true effect, you need so many studies, so many subjects, and so many trials. And with unfortunately, with these kinds of phenomena, no money has been put very little money has been put into it. So so few studies have been done. But there's not a lot we can say with confidence. But I do know that that there seems to be convergence on the fact that when you go into altered states of consciousness, like certain, you know, put your brain to a certain frequency, like a very relaxed state, that state between sleep and wakefulness, deep meditation, there just seem to be something there. Like that's the kind of state where, which is like your brains and you know, kind of a lower frequency, maybe, I don't know, I shouldn't even I shouldn't even say I don't know anything about sound harmonics and stuff, but just a lower frequency and like, it's if somehow has access to something, the field, if you will, I don't know some people. We don't know what it is right? We don't know anything. But some of the studies that have been done have looked at a few psychics, a few trans channelers, I think. But I can't say anything definitively because there haven't been enough. There's not enough like good overlapping data.
Alex Ferrari 32:12
How about meditation, because there has been obscene amounts of research into meditators and Buddhist monks and like, meditators?
Mona Sobhani 32:22
Well, I could say this, from the meditation literature, which you write, there's more of that, and the psychedelics which is just happening now. There is a network besides the putting, putting your brain in a kind of a meditative lab is giving us that word meditative state, it does seem like there's a network in our brain called the default mode network. And that is the network that when you're not engaged in a task, like when you're just kind of sitting, and you're like thinking about the past, and the future, and whatever. That's your default. So that network is activated when you're doing that when you're just sitting. And it's very self focused, right? It's like I'm thinking about me, my past my future, my moment, it seems that meditate in certain types of meditation and people who can meditate really well, you see, the default mode network kind of being deactivated, there's less focus on the self. And that's what people say, when they're meditating. Right? There's less focus on the self, there's your boundaries between what is ni and what is not me, what is ni, and what is the environment blur, and you expand, and you become one. And so you kind of see that reflected in the neural correlates. And they've seen similar things with psychedelics, which is interesting, because initially, psychedelics are like, we would have expected an explosion of brain activity, because there's so much the subjective experience of taking a psychedelic is very sensory enhancing, right? Like, there's more visuals, there's more sound, there's more light, there's a lot more emotion, there's a lot going on. So the hypothesis was that you would see the brain have more activity. But in the initial studies actually found that there was less activity, which was really confusing. And the default mode network was one of those areas where there was less activity. But then when you think of it, like in conjunction with the meditation literature, oh, it makes sense. Like there is sometimes less of a focus on yourself and psychedelics, like it breaks you out of that normal state of thinking about yourself, which we are all doing all the time. And it widens your perception and expansion. And that's, you know, on psychedelics, you can, I felt connected to everything I felt connected to the nature to everyone. You know, I lost my sense of self, my ego dissolved, and I was one with everything. And so it makes sense that you would see a decrease in default mode network, but that that story is nice, but it's not the full story and they're they're continuing to do research so we'll learn more.
Alex Ferrari 34:54
Well, now that they've kind of decriminalized it and now the scientists can actually go back and do research on site. The deluxe that they started back in the 60s, thank God there is because it's there's, I'm fascinated with psychedelics and what it does to the brain. And I've had I spoke to a, a military veteran with PTSD. And he went to my Alaska three days in a row took Ayahuasca down in the in the Amazon. And now he's just coming back. He's like, I just tell all of my vet friends, you've, this will help you. That's it, there's something about it. But I'd love to hear your thoughts. We're gonna get a little bit more on the philosophical standpoint with the mind bit. When you take a psychedelic, you said something really interesting that your view widens. Because when you're here on this plane, this earth, this experience that we're all going through, we're our vision is very, very tunnel vision, like you were saying, me, me, me, what is this? Why is life happening to me? Oh, my God, you're bad. I'm good, all this kind of stuff. But psychedelics does the same thing as meditation does, as spiritual as deep spiritual practices does, which it opens the door is your your view, and then you'd like you start to become one with everything. When I asked a spiritual master that they go, it's a cheat. Because you're only going through that door. First of all, you're not invited into that door. Secondly, you only could do it for a short time. And you can't Rahm das said that he got tired of going and coming back going and coming back until he finally found meditation and the Marashi. So what's your point of view on the awakening kind of thing that it does in the brain?
Mona Sobhani 36:35
I think psychedelics are, are great. I'm not encouraging anyone do them. But I do think in a clinical clinical setting in the right environment, with the proper care, and preparation and integration set and setting and all that. I think that they're great. I understand what the spiritual traditions are talking about, because depending on the dose and the substance that you're using, this is actually one of the things I'm really focused on right now, because psychedelics can well, and not just psychedelics, any, you know, you could have a spontaneous mystical experience, you could have a deep meditative experience that lasts you open, so it's not to narrow it down to psychedelics, any of these trends, self transcendent experiences, can be very disruptive, to your understanding of yourself in the world, and, and your worldview, and those things are not those are, that can be a problem for you. And that's why these things need to be, you know, especially with psychedelics, because it is more of a like one point, it's like, two hours, intense thing. You need to prepare for it properly. And it really helps to have someone with you, as you're going through it to guide you and then also, especially afterward to integrate it because you may not understand what you've seen, you may not know how to incorporate those emotions into who you were before the experience, because you may be someone completely different after and it sounds weird talking about it. But it's true. And it's it's so important. So I understand when the spiritual truth, like when they say that it's true, because if you go into it naively not prepared. It can really
Alex Ferrari 38:20
Jack you up. Yeah, we'll get but if you're but if you're, you know, in a journey of 20 years or 30 years in the spiritual path, whether that be through meditation or other spiritual practices, not religious, but spiritual practices, doing inner work, you are kind of prepping the body and the mind and the consciousness to open slowly. It's a slow, you know, even Ascended Masters took lifetime to get to where they were as opposed to the psychedelic, it's a cheat and you kind of walk in the door I talked to, I talked to one person who had a psychedelic experience, a screenwriter in Hollywood. And he was in the 60s it was it was Timothy Leary's LSD. Long story. And he's he said that story, I bet. I think he was fantastic, sir. But he went all the way to the end of the universe and his trip. He met a being and that being said, you're not supposed to be here. Go back. Then he came back and then like, he did it again. Like maybe a year later. He went back to the same place. And the beings they're like, What do you do? You're not supposed to be here. Go back.
Mona Sobhani 39:36
That's really funny. I've heard I've heard that. But so some people down they'll encounter entities that are like, Oh, you're not supposed to be here. Which is so strange. Yeah, I am telling you. You're gonna go It's wild. But I do think that they're valuable. And I do think that if you can prepare for it. Well, that it's good because you Just because in this day and age, dedicating yourself to emitted meditation or spiritual practice is a high threshold to reach like a Thai, it's hard for people. And so it is a cheat, right, like you're saying, but I don't know, sometimes I think it's unnecessary cheat because while also just knowing that you can get to that feeling, just experiencing some something gives you hope that you can experience it again. And, you know, whereas it might take you years from through meditation, but I think, obviously, they should go hand in hand and always with care. But I'm not quite as strict as I don't I think about that, like the cheat because people have mentioned it to me. And I was like, I don't know, I don't think anything's achieved. I think if it's available, it's available. I don't I don't get it,
Alex Ferrari 40:47
Right. But it's kind of like if I show you a crack in the door, and it's dark in your room, and all you can see is a little sliver of light. And I give you a cheat to crack the door open real quick. You see the outside, and then the door closes. And now you're back in that same little room, you are now aware that there is a bigger thing. So I think you're right, in a sense that when you go into that it does from from I forgot who's doing a lot of the leading research in, in psychedelics, I forgot what college is doing it, but there's a son, it's Hopkins, exactly. A little known College, a little known Institute, the research that they're doing, they're saying that everyone who goes through it, it's it's like, eight out of 10 say it's or like five out of 10 states, one of the top five experiences of their life up there like the birth of a child death of a family member. And then
Mona Sobhani 41:45
It's 80% actually is on the study 60 to 80%.
Alex Ferrari 41:49
It's top five, and then it's even a little bit higher than that, that it's the number one experience of the because it's a glimpse of what is there it answers a lot of questions in that glimpse. Yeah, so there is value there. And I'd love to what do you think of micro dosing?
Mona Sobhani 42:05
Yeah, I don't there haven't been that many studies on micro dosing like a well controlled ones. So I, I did I searched for them, but people seem to, I don't know, it seems to work for people. But the truth is, we don't know if that's placebo or not yet. But I think Paul Stamets actually just released a study last year, he's a mycologist. And they they showed like a good effect. So again, there's not if you're looking, there's no like double blind. There haven't been any studies like that yet. They're probably being done now. But it'll take a while for them to publish those. But for people, they've what they've done is like app, you know, like internet survey, like, do you microdose and then they'll ask for the results. And people report Oh, you know, increases my productivity, my creativity, my mood brought me out of my depression brought me out of my anxiety, like nothing worked for years and years. You know, some people have tried everything for their depression, and then they start micro dosing, and it works. So, you know, we don't know. But if it's the placebo, who cares? I'm with you. I totally,
Alex Ferrari 43:09
That means something's working. That means you're doing it yourself. But that's even weirder.
Mona Sobhani 43:14
No, it doesn't. No, I'm always like, it doesn't matter if it works. Just continue doing it. I don't think it will hurt you. But yeah, that's not a popular thing to say in America with the FDA is like no.
Alex Ferrari 43:26
Well, let me ask you this. You said something earlier about when we're talking about meditation, and when you get down to these lower frequencies. And that from my understanding to those like, they got to gamma, and then there was a monk said, Oh, I could go lower. And they discovered a whole new frequency after after the monk because he's 30 Year 40. Year, monastery Monk. But you get to that let you said something you said, yeah, they're like they get access to the field. Now I know what you mean. Can you explain to everybody listening what the field is?
Mona Sobhani 43:59
I just used that because in my book I published I say that right? sided one paper. So I read a lot of theories about what you know, what could what the model like? What's a model of our reality that explained some of these phenomena? Or just in general, what's a model of like a different model of consciousness? Because some of these phenomena, one explanation for them is that consciousness does not arise from our brain, per se, which is what traditional neuroscience believes conventional neuroscience believes. But that maybe consciousness is something filtered through the brain, maybe it's a field of energy. And I've actually found in the last few months, a few articles published in peer reviewed scientific journals, proposing multiple different theories similar to this. They all vary on things but the idea is basically like maybe there's a field of Oh, because we have fields we have electric fields, electromagnetic fields all around application. If quantum field Yeah, so the theory is very widely, but I took one, it paper, just as an example in the book it was it's by Kepler to lose like 2020. And the theory he uses is Cosmo psychism. And his theory basically goes that, let's say consciousness is, oh, actually, I don't think he does. He's consciousness of now I've read so many papers, I'm getting confused. But anyway, he says, like, he proposes that there's a field that runs through everything, right? It's a field. And it's and that it contains two aspects, not only a physical aspect, but also a fun, not phenomenological aspect, which is what I was talking about earlier, that subjective feeling. So like, what it feels like to be me, like nobody will ever know, you'll never know exactly what it feels like to be me or the way that I experience water, or drinking alcohol or having a strawberry. And the same is true for you. And neuroscience has no answer for how our firing the electricity in our minds, creates this experience, the subjective experience. And so he proposes that this experience is its own thing in the field, next to the physical things, and that it's possible that our brains, our physical brains interact with the field through these like states, like it goes into different states different frequencies, and it pulls down experiences. And part of that is this like subjective experience this experience. So that's one example. And I know that oh, that one of the businesses that I spoke to, from the SRI, the Stargate, sometimes called the start start programs. He has a theory that he calls it the zero point field. It's a, I think it's a quantum field that runs through everything. And I say in the book, it's like the Star Wars, the force,
Alex Ferrari 46:51
The force, it's the force, yes, yeah, as I say.
Mona Sobhani 46:53
Yeah! And that we basically are in touch with that all the time, but that in certain states, we have more access to it, and that the field has everything. It's like the past the present the future, it has all information. And that that's how we would be able to get information that we're not supposed to have, like I'm not supposed to, in our physical world, in our normal model, I'm not supposed to have information about what you're doing, you know, if I'm not talking to you, and you're on the other side of the planet, but in certain instances, like we've been talking about, people get that information somehow. And the question is how and so those are just some of the models like maybe there's a field of information, and sometimes we can access it better than others.
Alex Ferrari 47:29
So is that the Akashic records?
Mona Sobhani 47:32
Yeah. So I guess that's what they say to people. The physicists who propose these models say that maybe this is what the spiritual texts have been talking about. Because there's a lot of Yeah, like descriptions of this same exact thing in non physics terms in the spiritual texts. So and they say the same thing. Like it's crazy. When you look at the text, they say, when you quiet your mind, you get access to right, I don't know if they use the word field, but the records, right. So they know that when you quiet your mind down and take the focus off of yourself and expand your awareness, suddenly you have more, you're getting more information that you shouldn't be getting
Alex Ferrari 48:11
And what you said what you just said, again, for people listening is like you widen your awareness. I think that's the key to all of this is the widening of your awareness, experience, and understanding of the world. Because if you have a very small point of view, you live a small kind of point of view, life or experience. But as you open yourself up to other ideas and thoughts and experiences, even on the physical level, you have a more rich life, but on the spiritual level or the deeper levels, you you start to see things differently. I'd love to ask you, though, from your scientific person, when you were Mona, the scientist, to now moaner the spiritualist last scientist. How has your experience changed? From the, I guess a smaller scientific point of view to this wider point of view of oh, this is so much bigger than I thought before. I was just living day to day for you changed?
Mona Sobhani 49:16
Yeah, it's changed drastically, which is another reason I wrote the book because it changed on multiple fronts because I think first of all, I found that spirituality was useful, which was surprising to me, was valuable. I didn't I the simple like so from that karma, reincarnation, like, spiritual framework. I took the exercise of What if every events and experience in our lives is meant to help us grow and teach us a lesson, which modern day psychology even, you know, uses that to propel people's growth. But for me, it was suddenly had a new metaphysics. Build dimension to not just how do I make meaning? And how do I grow from this experience? But like, what if there was a bigger plan and a bigger purpose that I'm going through this, you know, through this experience of reason for and asking that simple question changed my day to day experience drastically in a way that I didn't expect. Like it calmed me down and kind of again, got the focus off my, my negative experience of the moment, on to, okay, what could this possibly mean for me and my life experience? What would be the purpose of this? Why is this happening to me, but in a in a like, in a more in a better way? That that really helped. And then I think just the idea that we're all interconnected. And I think that once you, I think that once you open to the universe, I think it opens to you. And I talked about this in the book too. Like, even if you don't like any of this metaphysical stuff, there's a lot of philosophers and physicists who think that we live in a participatory universe. And so once you do that, which I did, I just noticed so many more synchronicities, like, and coincidences, so a lot stronger connections between me and the people in my life, like crazy things happening. And I just take them as like reminders that we're we're all connected, and it's nice. It's like a nice feeling. So it's, it's drastically, drastically changed my life. For the better, it's also provided just meaning which I think was missing before, I found some texts that you know, from the, from indigenous cultures. It's from a historian as Western cultural historian, Richard tarnis, I read one of his books, and he talks about like, how the Western mind and how our western culture emerged. But one of the distinctions is actually this is that cultures used to, they didn't think of themselves as separate individuals, from their communities or from nature, they saw, that's why they always were imbalanced with nature, but Western, the Western mind emerged as the individual as separate from nature, you know, dominate nature control, nature, subdue nature, and also separate from each other. And that they, you know, culture is like, my personal culture like we you everything in the universe has meaning like they everything is imbued with meaning. And so you're always reading the signs, right? That's why you might say, Oh, two hawks, flew over at the moment, I spoke about this thing, like, it must be significant, which Western people might laugh at Western culture might derive. But people used it for millennia, successfully, to guide their lives. So I think that that idea that the universe is meaningful in whatever way that whatever that means for you, for me, made a lot of sense. Like, for some reason, with my life experience, it just resonated. And I don't know, it just helps me in my day to day living.
Alex Ferrari 53:03
As a scientist, we, as we stated earlier, that the most open minded of a group of group of peeps. So when you came out with this book, how would you explain it? How were you treated by your colleagues? By friends, you know, that, that are in the business, the scientific business? What, how did you deal with it?
Mona Sobhani 53:26
I thought everyone was gonna abandon me. But
Alex Ferrari 53:31
You didn't have a near death experience, you just wrote a book about scientific study. Let's just put this clear here.
Mona Sobhani 53:37
Everyone was gonna leave me now. But, but like I said, a lot of them have their own experiences. So actually, it's been pleasant because pleasantly surprising that a lot of them have reached out to me to say, like, I really loved your book. And I've, I've always thought there was more, you know, or I've had this, this or that experience, a lot of scientists have reached out to tell me their experiences, because they've had no one to tell. And since then, I've found like, we had me in a collaborator had a, we held a neuroscience and spirituality, social at the biggest neuroscience conference in November. And we, we've kind of marked it as like, Have you ever had an experience, you couldn't explain whether you classify it as spiritual or not? And I thought no one was going to come, I was like, I'll just go because I told her, I would do it. But but then 50 people showed up and they stayed the whole time, like three hours, and they were so excited to discuss these things. And they wanted us to like create a group and send them reading like reference lists. And so we did all that. And so I think I've since then, I've just daily been connected to more and more scientists and to other groups of scientists, and and physicians of people who have either experienced these things or are interested and so I mean, now it's a totally different thing, right? Like, before November. It was just like one on one or my, my scientist friends would be like, I read your book. I love Yeah, that's a cool, cool, cool, but now, now I have a whole community of like hundreds of scientists. And so now it's like, I don't actually care if there's a few that don't believe it, because it's just that they may not have experienced it yet, but it doesn't invalidate the experiences of all those other hundreds of ones that have.
Alex Ferrari 55:21
It's remarkable. I pray, I applaud you for being brave. And not only putting this book out, but just having the initial curiosity and openness to just dive into the research. Just as simple as that just diving into the research. It's not like you're, you're proposing woowoo stuff here, you're proposing woowoo stuff that is now backed by studies and continuous studies that are really shining a light on things that we thought was insane. Yeah, you would have been burned at the stake, let's just, frankly, you would have been. Exactly. Maybe that's why it took us a while to get this out. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions, ask all my guests. What is your definition of a good life?
Mona Sobhani 56:07
I really think I really believe that it is being able to find meaning in every moment. And and I think relationships are the I mean, you know, they're, to me, the most important thing in our lives, like I actually had a near death experience on a psychedelic ones. And the only thing I thought about in the moment that I thought, Oh, my God, I died. Was my, for all of my relationships. I didn't think about any of my accomplishments, my achievements, money club, nothing, just the people in my life. So when I came back, I mean, it was life changing. I was like, Oh, my God, the only thing that matters are the people in our lives. So I think nurturing those relationships and just finding meaning wherever you can makes a good life.
Alex Ferrari 56:56
What is what is your How do you define God?
Mona Sobhani 56:59
The creative force of the universe.
Alex Ferrari 57:01
Fair enough! And what is the ultimate purpose of life?
Mona Sobhani 57:04
Be the expression of that creative force probably.
Alex Ferrari 57:07
Good answers. And where can people find out more about you? And where can they purchase your book?
Mona Sobhani 57:10
My website has everything. It's Mona PhD. I'm sorry, monasobhaniphd.com. And you can buy my book wherever books are sold. And there's links to it on my website that Amazon Barnes and Noble inner traditions
Alex Ferrari 57:26
And the name of the book?
Mona Sobhani 57:28
Proof of spiritual phenomena.
Alex Ferrari 57:30
And do you have any final words for our audience?
Mona Sobhani 57:33
Stay radically curious. That's my new my new mantra.
Alex Ferrari 57:37
Mona thank you so much for being on the show. And thank you for the good work you're doing in the world to hopefully help us all awake a little bit more every day. So thank you, my dear.
Mona Sobhani 57:45
Thank you so much for having me. It was a delight.
Links and Resources
- Mona Sobhani – Official Site
- Read the book – Proof of Spiritual Phenomena: A Neuroscientist’s Discovery of the Ineffable Mysteries of the Universe
- Earthing.com: End Inflammation Today – Discover the Science-Based Healing Powers of Earthing/Grounding
- FREE Mindvalley Spiritual Masterclasses
- MUSE 2: The Brain Sensing Headband – Meditation Tracker Headset Device
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