Meditation and Neuroscience

Meditation-Higher Ground by oddsock

Wired Magazine had an article in the February 2006 issue entitled “Buddha on the Brain”. It tells of the speech the Dalai Lama gave as the guest speaker at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting. Richard Davidson, a prominent neuroscience professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, did a research project of 12 Tibetan Buddhist monks. He found that the monks after tens of thousands of hours meditating did have altered brains.

Some scientists set up an online forum protesting the research which generally happens when a study is controversial. For Davidson’s first subject, he attached 128 electrodes to Mattieu Ricard, a monk from the Shechen Monastery,who has more than 10,000 hours of meditation. He asked Ricard to focus on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion”. The research showed that there was powerful gamma activity and that the oscillations from the various parts of the cortex were synchronized. As John Geirland, the author of this article, states that the synchronizing is usually experienced by patients under anesthesia.

Yi Rao, a professor in the neurology department at Northwestern University, led a protest petition opposing the close relationship between Davidson and the Dalai Lama. In rebuttal, Davidson states that over half of the petition signers are Chinese. The Chinese forced the Dalai Lama to leave his homeland in 1959 after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. In 1989 the Dalia Lama received the Noble Peace prize and is considered one of the world leaders of peace and compassion.

Davidson’s research is the beginning of meditation research. As Geirland states: “Scientists can try to test the validity of the Dalai Lama’s first-person perspective. But if they allow reverence for him to cloud their judgment, they will cease to be scientists and take rebirth as something quite different: acolytes.”


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