Categorize Joseph Dial at your own peril. He is a cattle rancher whose grandfather imported Brahman cattle to South Texas in 1876. He belongs to the Natural Resource Foundation, “We need our eco-system, yet we allow people to exploit nature rather than live with it.” He has a liberal arts degree from University of Texas with little scientific training. He is Chairman of the Science Advisory Board of the Aspen Brain Forum in Aspen, Colorado. He’s a hearty looking cowboy with a big laugh. He has a body worker and practices neural feedback. “The body will heal itself if you eat right, exercise, and sleep well. You work with the body and mind outward to achieve health.”
Perhaps the most consistent thing about Joseph is how he bridges ideological and scientific categories. During the first half hour of our breakfast meeting at the Emma Hotel in the restored Pearl Brewery north of downtown San Antonio, he described my journey from varied perspectives.
On my irregular route: “Zombie consciousness is the things that we do without thinking. If you go to the typical places, you’ll find the typical responses. But if you venture to fresh places, you’ll find original knowledge. That’s how you accumulate wisdom beyond zombie-knowledge, which is corporate and political speak.”
On integrating what I learn: “In the neuroscience of sleep, sleep is where memory consolidation takes place. This is what you’re doing when you’re cycling.”
Eventually, our conversation turned to Joseph’s work in neuroscience. Oilman Tom Slick – that’s really his name – went to India in 1958, met the Dali Lama, and started a foundation to explore how our minds work. Joseph joined the Mind Science Foundation board in 2003 and became Director shortly thereafter. The foundation’s budget, supported by Slick’s oil income, was substantial during the early 2000’s. Joseph initiated research in neuroselfconsicousness, trying to decipher how we are self-reflective. The great strides in neural imaging: MRI, fMRI, and PET scan, allowed researchers to make connections between experiential and experimental aspects of brain study.
After inheriting his family ranch in 2009, Joseph stepped away from the Mind Science Foundation but maintained an affiliation with the Aspen Brain Forum, which hosts two major neuroscience conferences every year. This May’s conference in New York City is ‘The Addicted Brain: New Frontiers in Treatment.’ The conferences are multidisciplinary of the highest order and boast a broad array of neuroscience perspectives.
“Frank Church of Harvard came to a conference a few years ago and said, ‘Discovering DNA and cracking the genetic code was the great scientific challenge of the last century. We did that faster than we anticipated. Now it’s the brain turn. You can crack the neural code.’
“The Buddhists are the mountain men of the mind. They are the initial explorers and have an intuitive understanding of our brains. Western Scientists are the cartographers who come afterward to measure and analyze with precision. Ask a Buddhist a question and he gives a short answer, based on experience. Ask a scientist and get a discourse; scientists are compelled to explain.”
Joseph is particularly keen on architect Frank Gehry’s approach to the design process. “After he visits a site and talks with his clients, Frank unrolls long sheets of paper, which he crumples into various forms. Almost always, he winds up working with the first or second concept. They are the ones derived from intuition, the expression of his flow. He takes something we consider static, like architecture, into something active that triggers our neural fibers.” Joseph bemoans that such intuition is lacking in so much of our physical environment. “We make our public education buildings so block-like, so prison-like, yet we want our children to be creative.”
Joseph is interested in ‘narrowness of conscious’, human’s ability to focus. “Our unconsciousness is swimming with capacity. We access flow when we eliminate distractions of the whole around us and focus full attention to the task at hand.” He explains how, “the boxer Jesse James Leija knew that he was on his game if he was humming when he was in the ring.”
As our conversation came to a close, Joseph returned once more to my own journey. He encouraged me to unfettered exploration. “The role of the true artist is to take your original vision and put it our there as raw as you can. If you let it be whitewashed, you forfeit your role as an artist,” and left me with a favorite quote by Joseph Campbell: “The goal of the hero trip down to the jewel point is to find those levels in the psyche that open, open, open, and finally open to the mystery of yourself being Buddha consciousness or the Christ. That’s the journey.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I hope we are as focused on humans being in nature as we are in high technology today. Human beings are like big-mouthed bass. We float through life attracted to all these shiny lures. The Internet is the newest, shiniest lure. We can’t get hooked by it.
“Technology alone only yields faster/better/cheaper. That only works in the service of contemplation and flow. Technology offers opportunity to build a tribal community, but contentment can only happen in synchronism with nature. I hope we will use technology as a tool rather than an end.
“Technology will never bring happiness, but it can enable it. We have the capability to have transformative experiences. We don’t have to be part man / part machine.
“In Eastern traditions, peace only comes from not grasping. We can all be in flow and contentment that is sustainable. Happiness is great, but it’s not a continuous experience.”