New technologies are promising a shortcut to enlightenment

Brain stimulation. Neurofeedback. Synthetic psychedelics. Can they deliver?

Vox / November 1, 2021

Neurofeedback is just one of the newer technologies being touted as a way to catapult us into higher, more enlightened states of consciousness. Other technoboosts include brain stimulation, which uses electric currents or other means to directly target certain brain areas and change their behavior, and synthetic psychedelics, which are lab-created versions of drugs such as ayahuasca. Collectively, they form a genre that Kate Stockly and Wesley Wildman, researchers at Boston University’s Center for Mind and Culture, call “spirit tech.

Like me, the researchers started out skeptical of these technologies. But they grew fascinated as they began exploring big questions: Can we use tech to provoke experiences that will make people lastingly more compassionate and altruistic? Is an experience of enlightenment that’s induced by technology “authentic” (and does that matter)? If we democratize spiritual insights so they become accessible faster to lots more people — not just those of us who can afford to spend decades meditating in a cave somewhere — can that help our species evolve?

These questions, and the shifting answers to them, hint at the strange new terrain we are wandering onto, as neuroscience, self-optimization tech, and mindfulness collide.