Show Notes

Sky Nelson-Isaacs is a physics educator, speaker, author, and musician. He brings together the connection between synchronicity, physics, and real-life using research and original ideas. An educator with nine years of classroom experience, with experience in the industry as a software engineer, Nelson-Isaacs is also a multi-instrumentalist and professional performer of award-winning original musical compositions.

He addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:

  • The importance of wholeness in synchronicity; “from the whole, we get solutions from unexpected places.”
  • The need for “a certain mindset of openness and receptivity” to see opportunities through the noise.
  • The understanding that many of our “systems entice us, not towards wholeness, but towards separateness”.
  • The value of vulnerability in creating connection; “If I sit with you, and you have a different view from me, and I want to understand and expand my view, I have to sit with insecurity and uncertainty.”

Resources

Connect with Sky Nelson-Isaacs

Website: https://synchronicityinstitute.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/skynelsonisaacs/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skynelsonisaacs/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nelson_sky

Transcript

Vicki Robin

Hi, I’m Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project of the Post Carbon Institute. Today’s guest is Sky Nelson-Isaacs. He is an author and physics educator, building a foundation for a scientific understanding of synchronicity in our modern world. I must say that Sky’s combination of scientific proof, mathematics and spirituality brought me again and again in this interview, to a place of sort of peeking into higher consciousness. It was just delightful. He has a master’s degree in physics from San Francisco State University, and has had careers in education, in the software industry, and in music. He has spent the past 20 years studying synchronicity, with the last 12 years publishing academic papers on it. Sky was raised amidst the teachings of integral yoga creator, Sri Swami Sat-chi-dan-anda, through which he developed a modern no-BS perspective on spiritual inquiry, which has guided his scientific pursuits. Sky has always been passionate about personal and professional development, training with the Pathways Institute as a young adult, and years later, with More to Life program. Sky relies on a mix of modality science and self inquiry, to learn from life. Sky is a parent, a husband, an author, a speaker, a trainer, as well as physicist, educator, musician, award-winning composer, and performer and software engineer. So enjoy.

Vicki Robin

Hi, Sky. Thank you for joining me on What Could Possibly Go Right? So you’re a physicist and a musician, and you think deeply about synchronicities, the unexpected guests who can bust in the door and take you away from normal to a different destiny. I grew up on, I sort of came of age with Kurt Vonnegut, and it’s that phrase, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” Did you ever hear that?

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

No, that’s great.

Vicki Robin

There’s a lot of us who were just like, Whoop, that was my life. That influenced me a lot, about paying attention to not just my intentions, but the sort of little sparks of things that are happening between the things that I should have. So, your ideas make a lot of sense. When you say synchronicity doesn’t fix our problems, often it can put us in situations that help us learn along the journey. When an obstacle occurs, we look to the synchronicities around us for clues, and this can help us to stay open to the unexpected. So in terms of what could possibly go right, I wonder if there’s a sunny American optimism built into these assumptions, that if you go with the flow, you will end up somewhere better? And right now we’re in such cross currents, and resisting the flow is increasing in more and more people, because the flow seems to be going somewhere that is frightening. So it’s like a double, triple challenge, to embrace the idea of synchronicities in a time when the outside world seems to be becoming ever more unpredictable.

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

Let me frame it in a different concept, which is wholeness. This is a more broad concept that I think synchronicities come out of, this notion of wholeness. In my research, I published a paper this past year on wholeness in physics. It’s an important concept because in physics, we can look at space and time as a whole. We realize that quantum mechanics itself is a theory that describes systems as a whole, not breaking them down into reducing their parts, but that there’s something to the whole path of a particle, something to the whole system of education, or something to the whole person. You can look at these different ways in which wholeness shows up in our world and see some similarities. There’s something to the whole system that cannot be broken up into its parts and understood. And the ecology is like that.

We all know that ecology is vastly complex, interconnected ecosystems, and the human ecology as well. So wholeness is this concept we need to understand better. What I love about it is it’s different for everybody. We’re all seeking wholeness in some way. We’re all seeking to enhance the opportunities that we have in life, to express ourselves to our utmost potential, to have equal access to information. It can show up in lots of different ways. Restorative justice is a form of wholeness, because you’re bringing people back into community together, and integrating them in conversation, in healing. So healing comes out of this. I think that’s what we’re seeking right now in this time, is greater sense of wholeness. Obviously, the polarization that we have is the opposite of that. From the whole, we get solutions from unexpected places, and that’s how this connects to synchronicity, right? If we’re looking at our particular narrow view of how we’re going to solve a problem… Let’s say it’s carbon capture. I have a view that carbon capture is the whole thing, right? It’s applicable, we can do it now. All those parts are in place, you just implement them. But that is what I would call a partial story. It’s not capturing the whole story. So it really lies on each of us to be open to a bigger story, and to credit and create that or allow for that. When we talk with other people, we gain more information about what are the limitations of carbon capture? And how does that reinforce the current structure of exploitation, allow people to keep polluting, versus actually trying a different strategy? So, these partial stories are really what’s going on in our narrative right now. And wholeness invites us to open to a bigger story, even when we’re certain that our story is complete.

Vicki Robin

Yeah. Or maybe you suspect your story isn’t complete, but it certainly is the right one, right?

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

Yeah, it feels right. We all feel that. It feels like I’ve got the right answer here.

Vicki Robin

Yeah. So I love how you’re saying this, because one of the things that’s troubling me and captivating me at the same time is this polarization. It’s almost like it’s gone to a level of mirroring. Like, “I’m rubber. You’re glue. Anything you say bounces off me…” It’s really like that kid game.

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten. Right?

Vicki Robin

Exactly. But it’s this sense that we’re really breaking apart, almost into two parallel universes, that both are self referential. It’s almost like there’s two wholenesses, forming in the field of possibility. And it’s not a coherent wholeness. I would like to get down to cases here. In terms of these two parallel universes that seem to be vying for the story. There’s two stories vying to be the “one story” that we all know. What do you see, in the question, what could possibly go right? In this context, what do you see emerging that is almost like the wholeness, trying to magnetize the parts back into itself? I mean, not by force, but just tell us what you see? Go and be practical. I don’t want to be theoretical, because we really want to know what to cooperate with. I do not want to hide out in my house on a Zoom call…

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

Yeah. How do I get engaged in ways that unravel the tension in new ways? Yeah, so there’s a question that I posed, which is kind of a theoretical question, but I’ll turn it into practicality. We tend to approach the world in our Western biblical traditions, in our science traditions; it’s all the same question, which is, how do I create something out of nothing? And when you start with a question like that, you just take it for granted that that’s what you’re trying to answer. How does climate change come from this question, how do I create something out of nothing? It’s a direct result of that question, because we have to heat our homes. So how do we create heat? Well, we go to the fossil fuels or we go to some other source. I’ve got to create a solution. It’s kind of like the core of the colonial mindset is, how do I create something from nothing? I assume some people have nothing. I’ve got to give them something. But what I try and do is pull back from that question and understand what other questions could there be that are actually the opposite of that.

And the question that actually comes out of the science of quantum theory, is this other question: How do I create something from everything? How do I start from a different starting point where, in the model of quantum theory, the main image that comes out of it as a branching tree. Think of this as a multiverse, which is just a simple concept that every choice you make, there’s a different branch of the tree. That tree represents all the possibilities, a complete set of possibilities. So there’s a wholeness there. And when we make choices in the world, it’s depending on how seriously you take this model for everyday people, but it still helps us see that each choice leads to certain branches. If I make a choice to vote, that leads to branches where my vote is counted. And if I make a choice not to vote, that leads to other branches. You can start to see this connection between the choices we make right now, and what kinds of outcomes are possible with those choices. So let me give an example of this. And this is like a negative synchronicity, because I think it’s really important to see that this is a neutral process, if it’s even a scientific process. I try and show that to be the case, but we can just look at the types of opportunities that show up in our lives.

This past weekend, I’ve been getting involved with universal basic income and trying to learn about the topic and speaking about it in groups and educate myself, and forming discussion groups. Suddenly, somebody just a week into that discussion suggested that there’s a protest going on, or a rally happening in about an hour from my house this past weekend. I thought, well, that’s great, right? Good timing. So this opportunity comes to go to this rally. But I was really busy that week, and I didn’t actually plan it out very well. So the day of the rally comes, and I’m excited to go, but I have this other obligation and I have my daughter to take care of. All things being equal, I ended up getting stuck in traffic and arriving an hour late. Well, it turns out I realized on the way down there that Andrew Yang was at the rally, the former presidential candidate. A really amazing opportunity to meet this really important incredible person. Even though the rally was from 1 to 4, all the speakers were in the first hour. So because I navigated that situation in a sort of lackadaisical way without without a clear intention, without managing my time very well, I ended up missing out on this great opportunity that I didn’t even realize was showing up. So I look at that and I say, how often are these opportunities for advancement showing up in our lives? And are we able to see them through the noise and take advantage of them? And I think it takes a certain mindset of openness and receptivity to do that.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, it’s always so easy. It’s almost like the English language almost forces us to speak – and I mean American society with our individualism – it forces us to speak in examples of an individual advancing through the viscosity of whatever this is that we live in, and your choices making the viscosity move. So it always feels when we talk about this, like our little boats, it can very easily go into the sort of self-improvement category, like how can I dominate some situation. But I think what you said, just really sparked for me how do we not create from nothing but create from everything? It’s almost physical when I think about that, because really what you’re saying is, it’s almost like a statement of social responsibility. How do I guide my little boat through the viscosity, in the awareness of all the other little boats. Not navigating them when they come into view, but somehow or another saying, Okay, if my life is going to turn out, the possibilities for everybody and everything, somehow or another – without going crazy to try to be a saint – somehow or another, I’m creating in a context of other creators. So just boiling it down to polarization. I cannot address I, Vicki or I, Representative of well meaning person, cannot address polarization without in some way embodying whatever happens turns out for the people that I’m in polar opposite to. How do I create from that? Do you see where I’m heading?

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

I think the analogy of carving is good, because when you carve a statue, you start with a whole. All of the statue’s in there, right? It’s hidden inside the material. A garden is kind of a similar thing. You have a garden that you’ve grown, whatever you started with, but now it’s in full bloom. Your job is not to go in and plant new plants; your job is to weed out what you don’t want. So it’s like looking at life experience and the world that we live in as this constantly growing field, that our job is to pick and choose carefully. We don’t have to go out there and say, here’s the right answer, and I’m going to implement it. That’s coming back to more of a dominate and control mindset, instead. And that’s true when we’re in polarization, we’re having a conversation and I have to convince you of my perspective. That’s a dominant and control mindset, versus all the possibilities for how this conversation could go are there and I don’t have to convince you of my perspective, in order to get what I need out of the conversation. How can I approach this situation to learn from you, and actually desire to be changed and changed in my perspective? That’s kind of an expansive view. It’s like carving away the sculpture and revealing something that you didn’t even know was there. But it was within that sculpture the whole time.

Vicki Robin

I think many people in our society may be way outside that model, because the level of curiosity about the other point of view, and being able to stay in curiosity and not collapse into the polarization. It’s almost like the polarization is like a black hole. I want to just ask you, where do you see in the melee of all that’s happening right now, where do you see possibilities that are rising? Whether it’s examples or stories or news. What’s coming together?

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

I see that what we can really do right now is hone and identify, what are the real sticking points, because I don’t think we’re in a position to really solve climate change. I don’t think we’re being the kind of people that can do that when we are continuing to reinforce systemic structures of racism. We’re continuing to reinforce systems of education that do not entice us to be whole people. Our systems of education entice us to focus and narrow our perspective, and limit what we can see in order to become a good employee and make money in the system. Our systems of justice focus on separating out certain people who break the social contract, and not integrating those people back into our society and not learning from them, and not treating them as whole human beings.

So we have these systems that entice us, not towards wholeness, but towards separateness. I think that we are all part of that; especially, there’s a tendency to think that we’re right. I come from a certain part of the country where we have a very specific view, and I grew up with that view, and I aligned with that view. I also see that that cannot be the whole picture, that there is a wider view, people I talked to in other parts of the country that have a different perspective. And that is part of the whole. If I don’t understand how it’s part of the whole, that’s really on me. So I think that the conversations we need to have, need to go a level deeper. Not just what’s your opinion, but why do you have that opinion? What stories are bringing you to that opinion? Or do you work in an industry that’s going to be threatened by climate legislation? It’s really understandable that there’s a different dialog that has to happen in order to make sure that you are safe, and that you feel safe in that transition to a sustainable environment. So these are the conversations that get lost at the national level when we’re talking about policy and we’re just advocating our point of view, and we’re trying to do that – just advocate, advocate, advocate. But there’s really a healing level conversation that has to happen among the people. I don’t think it’s politicians that are really at fault here. The politicians are the proxies of the people who disagree with each other and are coming from these different stories. We need to be able to tell a broader story and that requires listening in a way that we’re not really comfortable with, and being willing to really change our views when we hear each other.

Vicki Robin

And do you see that happening anywhere?

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

Well, that’s a good question. Yes, I do. I do see that happening. I think what’s really difficult about it is how personal it is. I can talk about people in my family, or people that are my friends who I have a tough time talking with, even though we agree on the specifics. When we disagree, it’s very difficult to have that conversation because we have a legacy of taking things personally, feeling like we’re being attacked. So if my point of view might be partially not correct, and I’ve hung my hat on that point of view for a long time, it can be very difficult to see why somebody would disagree; very, very difficult. It requires a deconstruction of our framework.

I think that’s what’s so challenging about something like systemic racism. I’ve talked to a lot of people who don’t see the racism that exists just in the systems. They go to a different place, whether taking it personally and saying, I’m not a racist, but actually, we all live in a system that is designed to limit housing opportunities for people of color, and to make it easier or more likely to be pulled over by the police. If you’re a person of color, these are just the ways the system is designed and it can be very difficult to see that if you’re not open to reconstructing your own view of the world. But I do see this happening. I see people, especially in young people, I’m very connected or optimistic about young people. They’re a little frustrated, I think, with the older generation that thinks they know how it is; this is what’s going to work, we got to deal with climate change, or we got to deal with tax code or whatever. But the younger people, I think, have a really more connected emotional awareness perspective on how to relate to each other first. I think relating to each other comes first. and solving the problems hopefully comes out of that.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, I agree on younger people. I’m thinking about so many people, whether it’s family or your close friends’ circle. I talked to so many people who are stymied, because they are in different universes with the people that they are closest to. There’s almost like a choice, like I’m going to either rupture the relationship, or I’m going to have to get sucked into their black hole. It’s like being able to stay. It’s very hard for folks right now. It’s almost like what you’re saying is if the conversations are not about who’s right or wrong, but how do we stay a family, even though we see things differently? That may be a little piece of the shift that you see is going on.

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

I think there’s another piece to it. There’s people becoming vulnerable about what’s motivating them. Why do I feel strongly that this particular solution is right? or Why do I feel strongly that there’s no such thing as racism today that affects people? or Why do I feel strongly about these positions? And if we don’t address why we feel strongly about it, that’s a misdirection. There’s no way forward without healing, and healing requires vulnerability. So we do have to have those conversations. They can be very eruptive if people are unwilling to look a little bit closer inside at their own patterns. So that’s where I focus; what are the patterns that I’m carrying? What are the filters? When we talk about wholeness, we’re gonna come back to that… Wholeness is hard to define. It’s different for each of us. But what we can define are the filters, the thoughts and feelings and body sensations that we have, which create the story that we have. It could be from our childhood, it could be how I interpret what you say to me. These are the filters that are driving everything we talked about. And if we start to identify those filters, we can have a little more space to have the conversations we need to have.

Vicki Robin

That’s a lovely way to say it. It’s sort of like filters are cognitive mistakes. They’re just cognitive errors, as in ways that we choose from, because of the language, because of where we were born, because of our gender, because of all these conditions. We choose filters that allow us to cope with reality and when you think about it that way, there’s so much less blame involved. You become curious about your own filters, or curious about somebody else’s filters. You’re not talking about their person. You’re not talking about their social circles, you’re not talking about things that are important to their dignity. You’re talking about how did we get to be the way we are?

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

Yeah, and everyone is there. We’re all in that together. So, if someone comes to me, and they call me out on being wasteful, on throwing out my garbage in the wrong container. Let’s just pick a simple example. And I feel like they’re attacking me. Right? Then it might not be a good conversation, because I’m going to come back at them, and they’re going to feel like, Oh, I should never point that out again. So now I can’t go telling people when they are doing things that need to change. We need to be able to have those conversations. If the reason I react to your criticism of me is because that’s the way that I react and respond when anybody criticizes me from my childhood, because I was actually attacked in my childhood in that way, then that’s my pattern, like you said, it’s a misinterpretation of what’s really happening. Criticism, often as adults, it’s often an invitation to a more deeper connection, somebody who’s actually making themselves vulnerable by sharing what they have to share with us. If we get defensive, we miss out on the opportunity for connection. If we can open when we feel shame, if we can redirect our attention to openness, that allows for connection. I think that’s what we’re trying to do, is redirect from these negative emotions into vulnerable connection.

Vicki Robin

I think I share your point of view. Right after 9/11, some friends and I started something called Conversation Cafes, trying to have people in conversation across all those differences that exploded into 9/11. But, I have spent my adult life in a sense of urgency, because I’ve listened to the data, not just about climate, but justice, resources. I’ve been listening to the data for 30-40 years. So I have a sense of urgency. Now a lot more people are infected with the urgency that I have felt for 50 years or whatever. But as you say, what’s bubbling up is the unhealed places in us. As things polarize, as they get more urgent, we grab harder onto those little sticks from the Titanic. And so there’s urgency, and yet in that urgency, the urgency is we have to heal. We can’t solve this without healing. But healing takes so much. It seems to take time, from a wholeness perspective.

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

So this is why I think it’s really useful to have a scientific model or a scientific framework of wholeness, because there are systems in the world that can illustrate this for us and give us a sense of what we’re doing inside. So one of the examples I use is, if you take a digital photograph, and everybody has done this at some point, especially if they’re a graphic designer. You take a photograph and you want to modify it. Sometimes, the Zoom setting where there’s a blurry background? How do you get the whole background blurry? Well, you do a modification by converting it to a different format, which is the frequency domain representation. It’s just using a thing called a Fourier transform. Happens all the time. And in that other format, the modifications you make, they change the entire picture. So if I want to make a picture blurry, I remove all the high frequency information, all the quickly changing pixels. What that does is it blurs out, it spreads out all the data. When I convert it back to the spatial representation, you get a blurry image. That’s a whole. So this is really important. You’ve changed the picture in a very local specific way, and you’ve changed the actual end result as a whole.

Is it possible that there are systems or ways that we can change as humans on the inside which are very simple, like becoming more patient or becoming more able to sit with negative emotions like shame, and redirect our attention away from defensiveness and towards receptivity, and see that that actually changes everything on the outside? It changes our work life, it changes our home life with our spouse, it changes our parenting, because this new tool that we have affects all parts of our lives in this holistic way. So this model of wholism and the filters that we experience from the whole, I think provides a tangible framework that is more accessible than just this idea that I got to go take a workshop and become deeply emotional, and all this stuff. It’s a cognitive framework, we can understand how change works in humans.

Vicki Robin

At varying levels of scale. Just being a little bit more patient, in a small circumstance, sort of creates a little field of patience, and then you can be a little more patient in something else that would have pissed you off, and on it goes. It doesn’t take any jargon to do that. I mean, patience is patience, it’s a universal virtue. I think it’s a cross cultural virtue.

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

And there’s a central conclusion I would draw from this. How much are we able to sit with insecurity and uncertainty? These are very uncomfortable feelings. But that’s what happens when we open up to a bigger story. If I sit with you, and you have a different view from me, and I want to understand and expand my view, I have to sit with insecurity and uncertainty. And we don’t do that in policies in the US. We focus on certainty and clarity and goals. So just the ability to sit more with the uncertainty of what it means to communicate with someone who’s different from us, and sit with the insecurity of that, allows us to expand our stories, and create a bigger hole from all the parts that come together.

Vicki Robin

I think that sentence is a wrap. I could actually go on and on with you, exploring this. There’s so many branches, from my own life and my own observations that link with your branches. This beautiful, branching conversation, but for now, in kindness to our listeners, let’s call that a beautiful wholeness. Thank you so much for joining us.

Sky Nelson-Isaacs

It’s my pleasure to be here and I love your show. Thanks for making it happen.

Vicki Robin

You’re so welcome. My pleasure, too.

 

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