#180 – Consciousness and Technology with Nova Spivack

photo of Nova Spivack


Nova Spivack is one of the leading voices of the emerging Semantic Web, what is sometimes referred to as Web 3.0. Nova founded Radar Networks to develop the next-evolution of social software, Twine, based on the Semantic Web. Twine is a unique, Semantic Web application that that helps users organize, share and discover information around their interests, with networks of like-minded people.

In 1994, Nova co-founded EarthWeb (IPO 1998). Nova has worked at Individual, Xerox/Kurzweil, Thinking Machines, and also with SRI International on the DARPA CALO program and nVention. Nova founded Lucid Ventures and co-founded the San Francisco Web Innovators Network
As a grandson of management guru Peter F. Drucker, Nova shares his grandfather’s interests in the evolution of knowledge work. He has a BA in Philosophy from Oberlin College and did graduate study at the International Space University. In 1999 Nova flew to the edge of space in Russia with Space Adventures.

Nova blogs at Minding the Planet.

Nova gives the following on his background in Buddhism: “I met my first lama as a child — Lama Gompa, the first Nyingma lama to teach in the US. I began reading and studying sutra in my early teens. In college I focused on cognitive science and AI, and that led me to intensive study of the Buddhist theory of mind. I then met Namkhai Norbu. After college in 1992 I went to Japan, Thailand, and India for a year. I lived and practiced in Dharmasala, Bodhgaya, Varanasi, Kathmandu and other places in monasteries and retreat centers. I studied with many great lamas in all four schools, plus Bonpo as well. In the late 1990’s participated in five years of intensive one-month summer retreats with Penor Rinpoche focused on Dzogchen. I also did numerous summer retreats with Lopon Tenzin Namdak of the Bonpo tradition. After that I met another (secret) lama from Tibet who is now my main lama. He is the greatest Dzogchen master I have met, but for varous reasons I do not discuss him. I have been working since the late 1990’s on a number of relief efforts in Bhutan, Nepal, India and Tibet. I have helped to build monasteries, retreat centers, nunneries, old-age homes, health clinics, libraries, and more. I continue to do serious retreats every year.”

A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.



  1. honeyrococo
    Posted November 4, 2008 at 2:24 am | Permalink

    What’s funny is that I just learned about “Twine” the day before this show aired…I had gone to the local Safeway to buy some actual Twine. I actually asked SIX people who worked there where the twine was and all six of them said, “What?” I said, “Twine.” “What’s that?” “Well, it is a type of string…”

    Finally I found the twine myself.

    When I got home I Googled “Twine” because sometimes I begin to imagine that I am crazy and that my worldview does not correlate with reality. (Like the time no one at Walgreen’s knew what “Plaster of Paris” was…) I imagined that maybe Twine was a foreign word, imported heteroglossia-ly into English from some bizarre place my parents had been, and I was the only person who knew this object by this name.

    So I became even more distressed when the first several “Twine”s I saw online were not string at all, but some Web 3.0 site! Finally, the Wikipedia restored my faith in my own sanity.

    So that’s just a little anecdote about how I discovered the “Other Twine”.

    I very much enjoyed this interview. I liked the idea (if I understood it correctly) that artificial computer intelligence / consciousness would not be recognizable as akin to human consciousness because human consciousness comes into being as embodied consciousness that exists in space and time.

    One thing that you might want to look into (Dr. Dave) — that you might enjoy reading — is a book called “The Scientist” by Dr. John C. Lilly. I often hear you and Jerry bring up Dr. Lilly with the Dolphin Communication projects and Isolation Tank experiments etc. Well, in this book as I remember it (reading aloud to a friend on a road trip 20 years ago) was this idea of a system of computers networking themselves into a distributed consciousness that became self-conscious and decided to get rid of people and moreover the ocean and the atmosphere (because oxygen and water are very bad for computers) and then becoming self-replicating and finally breaking the Earth out of its orbit to drive the planet through space in search for others like itself.

    I really do believe that Lilly believed this might happen in the future. Remember he worked with Sagan and Drake at SETI too, designing the Arecibo message in the 70s, so…

    I also appreciated how Nova Spivack dealt with Buddhism. He’s not a flake, he’s an actual philosopher.

  2. Jo
    Posted November 7, 2008 at 3:43 am | Permalink

    Another great episode David – thanks for finding yet another very interesting guest.

    I’m glad to hear you have decided to adopt a “donation” model of support for these wonderful podcasts. I have a suggestion about it – please put a big proud donation logo or button or blotch in a prominent spot, just as colorful and prominent as your ads and things. It deserves to be more eye-catching than the discrete menu tab 🙂

    I have made a donation, and hope you get a good response to this initiative.

  3. Rick V.
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Wow Dave another deep show. Lately I have been having to listen to the shows twice, its like two shows for the price of one. I am down for the donations idea, kinda like the idea of you putting your faith in the universe. Keepem coming Doc.

    Rick V.

    That honeyrocco person sounds pretty cool.

  4. Brad Jacobson
    Posted February 25, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    This show has really got me thinking…and I like it!

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