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Conference Report:
Mindstates IV and Altered States and the Spiritual Awakening I
by Erowid
Nov 2003
Citation:   Erowid. "Conference Reports: Mindstates IV and Altered States and the Spiritual Awakening I". Erowid Extracts. Nov 2003;5:2-3.
Mindstates IV: May 23-25, 2003 (mindstates.org)
The Mind States IV conference, held at the International House in Berkeley like two previous Mind States, drew more than 500 attendees. The International House is a reasonably good location for conferences; its beautiful main auditorium has a tall vaulted ceiling, good acoustics, and enough peripheral space to accommodate 500 people. This year the addition of a richly decorated chill space provided some participants a place to relax and mingle. The chill space was decorated with visionary art, including an original Alex Grey painting on loan from a private collection and a life-size mixed-media sculpture depicting the spirit of ayahuasca in the form of a wise old woman.

Unfortunately, there are aspects of the layout of the International House that are less than ideal. The vendors area, in the hallway outside the auditorium, is quite crowded. The chill space--the only place other than the auditorium where guests could hang out in relative comfort and privacy--is too small to accommodate as many people as needed and too separated from the main auditorium to be readily accessible. Finally, the parking in Berkeley is generally pretty tough, especially this year, as the conference was held on graduation weekend. But all in all, the positives of the International House outweigh the negatives. This was arguably the best of the three Berkeley Mind States conferences, with more speakers, visionary art by more artists, an auction that benefited related organizations such as Erowid and MAPS, Sheldon Norberg's one-man performance of Confessions of a Dope Dealer, Mark Pesce's opera about Terence McKenna's life, and an interesting collection of attendees. Bob Wallace and Mind Books were conspicuously and sadly missed, but books from Mind Books inventory were available for purchase.

Three panel presentations--Artists, Elders, and LSD--provided the opportunity for more presenters to speak. In some ways this was great, but there were a few speakers on panels, like Myron Stolaroff, whom we would have loved to hear talk for an hour rather than the limited 10 or 15 minutes that was available to them. Fire and Earth participated in the LSD panel where they presented data about analytical testing of street LSD.

Lectures were given by Mind States newcomers V.S. Ramachandran, Jaron Lanier, and researcher David Nichols as well as by many old favorites. Mistress of Ceremonies Susan Blackmore was stalwart in her task of keeping presentations to their allotted time, causing some good-humored exchanges between her and several speakers.

Word is that Mind States V will be held in Oaxaca, Mexico in September 2004. Updates and information can be found at mindstates.org. Jon Hanna and the Mind States crew have learned how to put on a great conference, mixing the old and new, trying out ideas while sticking with what works. We're looking forward to the next one.


Altered States and the Spiritual Awakening: July 12-13, 2003 (assacon.com)
Altered States and the Spiritual Awakening was a consciousness-related conference held by the San Francisco group False Profit. This was the first event of this type that False Profit has produced. It attracted about 200 attendees, pushing their maximum capacity, with minimal advertising (mostly word-of-mouth and mailing lists).

One of the notable advantages to this conference was the low entrance fee. Often conferences have high overhead with the rental of auditorium space, speakers' fees and travel costs. The organizers worked hard to keep costs to a minimum in order to create an event that was affordable to more people while still providing a full roster of interesting speakers. Conference fees even included excellent meals (two catered continental breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner). Guests could also pay for just one day of talks if their time or budget was limited. Ancillary workshops, offered by some of the speakers (for additional reasonable fees), allowed more intimate forums.

The venue for ASSA was False Profit's warehouse space. It was significantly more informal than the average conference space--there were couches and cushions on the floor for attendees, who listened to speakers sitting in easy chairs on a raised stage in the corner. This provided a very comfy, laid-back atmosphere but some participants, especially older guests, found the sofas uncomfortable for long durations. Presentations were kept impeccably on-time.

A large outdoor area was available for those who didn't want to be indoors. As this was the only place to be other than the main room, and was uncovered, it's a good thing it didn't rain. As it was, Fire got a sunburn from standing out in the sun all weekend.

The topics were well-balanced between empirical and spiritual orientations. Presenters included Stanley Krippner speaking about shamanism; a panel discussion moderated by Erik Davis about spirituality, technology and altered states; Luis Eduardo Luna speaking about the non-shamanic use of ayahuasca; and Charles Tart's thoughts about enlightenment and spiritual growth. Earth and Fire gave a brief talk about the variety of ways the word "drugs" is used depending on the context and situation, and then joined Ann Shulgin in a Q&A session where audience members were encouraged to ask questions about psychoactive-related topics. For details about this excellent event, see assacon.com.