Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies Examines Spiritual Enhancement Technology

Guest Speaker Wesley Wildman, of Boston University, Applies Science to Understand Religion

​Hartford, Connecticut, April 15, 2016 – Trinity College recently hosted a lecture by Wesley Wildman, a professor of philosophy, theology, and ethics at Boston University, on several emerging brain-based technologies of spiritual enhancement. Wildman is the co-founder and executive director of the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, which works to apply scientific research, computer simulation, and modeling to the understanding and functions of human religion. The March 29 event in the Mather Hall Terrace Rooms was sponsored by the Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Wildman’s lecture, “Spirit Tech: Brain-Based Technologies of Spiritual Enhancement,” discussed the rise of technologies that include computer-brain interfaces and neurofeedback-guided meditation training. He also spoke of his research into high-tech entheogens, which are non-addictive ingestible substances that produce experiences people describe as profoundly spiritual. 

Wildman’s publications pursue a multidisciplinary, comparative approach to important topics within religious and theological studies, and he has lectured on these themes in many parts of the world. He is also a member of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the International Society for Science and Religion.

Through the use of fictional stories he transcribed, Wildman conveyed the spiritual enhancement experiences that could realistically take place in the near future, including mind-reading, mind-writing, and mind-melding. “In terms of intervening in the process of how synapses operate, there are a bunch of different ways that you can change your consciousness, whether it’s stimulating neurotransmitter releases, blocking receptors, or inhibiting breakdowns,” said Wildman. He described how these new forms of “spirit tech” work, evaluated their safety, and discussed what to expect from them.

Matthew Millendorf ’19, a student enrolled in the Trinity course called “Buddhist Thought,” was encouraged to attend the lecture by Ellison Findly, Scott M. Johnson ’97 Distinguished Professor of Religion. “I’m pretty interested in brain activity under the influence of stimulants and its role in meditation,” Millendorf said. “Professor Findly recommended this lecture to provide insight to the brain’s activity under relaxed, meditative states.”

Wildman also provided a portion of his unpublished manuscript, titled Spirit Tech, for participants at the March 31 TIIS Common Hour workshop called “The Art and (Neuro)Science of Mysticism,” as part of the yearlong celebration of 25 Years of Neuroscience at Trinity College.

Wildman’s TIIS lecture was co-sponsored by the Trinity College departments of English, history, and religion, the Neuroscience Program, and the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life. For more information about the Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, click here.

Written by Josh LeBlanc ’16