That’s the question two filmmakers, husband and wife team Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo, puzzled over for years before finally taking action. No, they didn’t kidnap or lock anyone in a room. Instead, they created the Science and Nonduality Conference
(SAND), a five day event dedicated to exploring what happens when the worlds of science and spirituality collide.
Six years later, SAND has evolved into something neither could have imagined when they first embarked on this journey. “We started with the idea that we were looking for scientific evidence for spiritual wisdom of all traditions,” Ms. Benazzo explains. “But it became more and more evident, the impossibility of finding an answer,” admits Mr. Benazzo. They realized “It’s not about finding an answer, or proof,” says Ms. Benazzo. “It’s about expanding the questions, both for science and spirituality.”
Now the couple sees SAND as a platform for meaningful dialogue between philosophers, scientists of all disciplines, spiritual teachers, and artists. “Ultimately, SAND is the place where free thinkers converge to share experiences,” Ms. Benazzo says. “It’s a tribe of open-minded people who are interested in the big questions about life, consciousness, and who we are.”
While there are all the usual talks and plenary sessions you’d expect at something calling itself a “conference,” the atmosphere at SAND is positively festival-like. This year, there are two “experiential spaces” where attendees can take classes in various kinds of dance, yoga, meditation, voice, and more. There’s art, including what Mr. Benazzo describes as “a couple of Burning Man-like installations.” The Consciousness Hackers are bringing their cutting-edge, interactive, mind-altering technologies for attendees to play with. And sprinkled throughout the day and in the evenings, there’s live entertainment with music, dance, and comedy performances.
Much of the dialogue this year will be focused on “the nature of consciousness,” a hot topic in philosophy, science, and spirituality. “The only thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt” Mr. Benazzo says, “is that we are conscious. But, at the same time, this is probably the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe.” Ms. Benazzo adds, “Understanding this phenomenon might just be the key to bridging the gap between science and spiritualty, and understanding who we are as a species.”
The magical location where all this unfolds is the 100 year-old Hayes Mansion, one of the South Bay’s most impressive historical buildings. Surrounded by lush lawns, colorful gardens, towering palm trees, and sweeping mountain vistas, this quiet oasis is the perfect setting for conference participants to mingle, play, contemplate, and explore.
Some of the big names presenting this year are Edward Frenkel, the UC Berkeley math professor, bestselling author, and independent filmmaker who, at the ripe old-age of twenty-one, was plucked from some obscure Russian college to become a visiting math professor at Harvard; and Deepak Chopra, MD, author of numerous bestselling books on health and spirituality, and founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing.
Some favorite SAND regulars include Cassandra Vieten, PhD, President and CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and scientist at the Mind-Body Medicine Research Group at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute; and Stuart Hameroff, MD, Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, and founder of the landmark conference, Towards a Science of Consciousness.
Making his conference debut this year is the irrepressible Robert Thurman, renowned Buddhist scholar from Columbia University, best buds with the Dalai Lama, and the first ever American to be ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk.
For those who can’t attend in person, proceedings from the main conference room can be streamed live everyday for a nominal fee.