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Thread: The Neuroscience of Mindfulness

  1. #1

    The Neuroscience of Mindfulness

    I was surfing the internets and stumbled on this article. I'm not at work so I can only see the abstract but it looks very interesting. Apparently, there are two parts of the brain: one which control how people separate the time-enduring self and one which controls experiencing the present. This part of the brain is what we unblock when we practice shikantaza. So it's not really dropping here and there but it's dropping the self-narrative of here and there and just being.

    Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference
    Norman A. S. Farb1, Zindel V. Segal1,2, Helen Mayberg3, Jim Bean4, Deborah McKeon4, Zainab Fatima5 and Adam K. Anderson1,5

    1Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, ON M5S 3G3, Canada, 2Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, ON M5T 1R8, Canada, 3Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, 4Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic, St. Joseph's Health Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M6R 1B5, and 5Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest, Toronto, Ontario, M6A 2E1

    It has long been theorised that there are two temporally distinct forms of self-reference: extended self-reference linking experiences across time, and momentary self-reference centred on the present. To characterise these two aspects of awareness, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine monitoring of enduring traits (’narrative’ focus, NF) or momentary experience (’experiential’ focus, EF) in both novice participants and those having attended an 8 week course in mindfulness meditation, a program that trains individuals to develop focused attention on the present. In novices, EF yielded focal reductions in self-referential cortical midline regions (medial prefrontal cortex, mPFC) associated with NF. In trained participants, EF resulted in more marked and pervasive reductions in the mPFC, and increased engagement of a right lateralised network, comprising the lateral PFC and viscerosomatic areas such as the insula, secondary somatosensory cortex and inferior parietal lobule. Functional connectivity analyses further demonstrated a strong coupling between the right insula and the mPFC in novices that was uncoupled in the mindfulness group. These results suggest a fundamental neural dissociation between two distinct forms of self-awareness that are habitually integrated but can be dissociated through attentional training: the self across time and in the present moment.

    Keywords: self-reference; attention; meditation; fMRI; insula; prefrontal cortex; somatosensory; plasticity
    http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/cont ... ct/2/4/313

    I'll take a look at it when I go to work to see if there's anything else cool.

  2. #2

    Re: The Neuroscience of Mindfulness

    Hi Tracy!

    I just had to laugh out loud when I saw this! I spent 11 years at the University of Oregon teaching and doing research in cognitive neuropsychology and brain electrophysiology. I was Buddhist and the man I worked with, Dr. Don Tucker, and his counterpart, Dr. Michael Posner, were often speculating about meditation and the effects self-evaluation by looking at the changes in the PFC, amygdala, and the cortical-thalamic interactions.

    Know where it got me? The hell out of dodge and into a monastery to become a monk! :lol: :lol: :lol: I'm serious...at a certain point I finally had to look at all the data, the research, and ask myself: How is this of service to others? How is it bringing the end of suffering to myself and others? And the echoing sound of the silence, the utter void of answer, finally got me out.

    Now, here's a hoot: I got out of the monastery in the Fall of 2004. I go to the store and am in shock and a bit dazed because I've only been back "in the world" for about a week and it was a huge and traumatic event. I'm standing in the check out line and my gaze glances over a picture on the front of Time magazine of a freakin' MONK with a neural net (the one Don developed at UO) on his freakin' head!! I find out that Don and Richie Davidson at MIT had been collaborating whilst I was meditating and finally got their dream to come true...to study the effects of meditation. On MONKS!

    I looked Don up after I got out...what did he want to do? Sit and talk about the precepts? NOooooooo....wanted to slap a net on my head and have me participate in the experiment. :roll: I laughed and said thanks but no thanks and waved goodbye.

    Now, lest you get a ruffle in your feathers, I'm just sharing my experience with you not providing you with commentary about whether or not your sharing is of value. I just find it a hoot that I ran so far to get away from this kind of stuff only to find it knocking on my doorstep. (Of course, I choose whether or not to distract myself by going there or just say, "Thanks, gave at the office." :lol: )

    Be well...

    Lynn

  3. #3
    Hi Tracy,

    Just a couple of points. Maybe it's nitpicking, but isn't there a difference between 'mindfulness meditation' and what we do in 'shikantaza'? The former is more like a vipassana practice where you concentrate on something or label thoughts etc. and shikantaza is open awareness. Wouldn't that make a difference to the tests?

    http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?o ... ew&id=2125

    I know it's interesting to scientists but I don't really see how knowing what part of the brain is active for what stimuli helps us understand very much about the nature of mind or thought. There is a theory (The Identity Theory of Mind) ".....that when we experience something - e.g. pain - this is exactly reflected by a corresponding neurological state in the brain (such as the interaction of certain neurons, axons, etc.). From this point of view, your mind is your brain - they are identical'"

    http://www.philosophyonline.co.uk/pom/p ... y_what.htm

    But I can't agree with that. Thoughts are what the brain secretes - how could they be identical with the brain hardware that produces them?

    Gassho,
    John

  4. #4
    Wow, this is really incredible, two neuroscientists posting here!

    I'm currently studying computer science but got a bit disillusioned with the field, so I'm considering getting a research master in neuroscience/neuroinformatics to make the transition. I was thinking that reverse-engineering the brain, in addition to being interesting and a huge challenge, would give me the feeling that I'm doing meaningful and rewarding work. So, Lynn, could you please elaborate on why you found it not be of service to others?

    Also, I'd like to know what a day doing neuroscience research is like? What kind of things do you have to do? What do/did you like and dislike about the work? What advice would you give to a potential newbie in the field?

  5. #5
    reverse-engineering the brain
    I know where to find a few unused ones for your research. :twisted:

  6. #6
    Soitgoes, I hope you weren't referring to me when you said TWO neuroscientists. Lynn, yes, me - no! I just play with test tubes. :lol:

    Lynn, I've read Dr. Posner's work. Isn't he the guy who said he could detect which part of the brain was stimulated when people claimed they could sense God?

    I gotta admit, the name Don Tucker doesn't ring a bell but why did you expect him to talk about the precepts? Is he a scientist AND a monk?

    Like Soitgoes, I'd also be interested in hearing more about why you had such an aversion to the research that you had to run away. I'd also be interested in hearing why you think that knowledge of this kind is not a service to people.

    John, the abstract doesn't specify what kind of meditation was going on. I didn't know that mindfulness meditation was a specific reference to vipassana. The abstract did state that the subjects' focused more on the here and now. Therefore, I'd wager that skikantaza and and vipassana would give similar results. As to your comment on these types of studies and what they can tell you about mind and thought, I think even neuroscientists would agree that mind and thought are not solely brain processes when you consider the big picture. The brain is simply the cpu. From what I've read, Buddhists and other Eastern philosophies give the "mind" a much more broad definition. Correct me if I'm wrong, folks, but I take it that the mind is the whole shebang, a circuit of brain, body and environment including responses to past stimuli. So doing these types of studies simply tells you the brain part of the mind; a key but not only player.

    From Mike Luetchford's interpretation of the Genjo Koan
    When sailing along in a boat, if we look at the shore, we can believe that the shore is moving back past us. But if we keep our eyes fixed on the boat, we notice that in fact the boat is moving forward. In the same way, when we try to understand the world around us based on confused assumptions that separate the world into the physical and the mental, it is easy to believe that we have something called a mind, which is enduring. But when we act, we bring ourselves back to this concrete place, and it is then obvious that the world is not centered around me.
    To me, these kinds of studies don't change the above quote. I'm always of the view that acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a fundamental need for all sentient beings. Humans especially have this need just like our appreciation for art or shikantaza. No immediate applications should be required for simply doing a natural, healthy human practice. However, we're always surprised to later find previously unthought of applications (for good or bad) to the acquired knowledge. Maybe this line of research will help people with self-awareness issues. Wouldn't it be wonderful if doctors took time to listen to their patients and maybe suggest they find some 'spiritual' means to some of their minor health problems instead of throwing meds at them.

    From a Buddhist point of view (IMO), it points to a physical component of practice (again, not saying the brain is everything, only that it is part of the process and now we have an idea of how its part of the process). I think Shak found out through experience what scientists can only glimpse with their instruments. It stresses that what happens with meditation is not magical or mystical. It's just what it is so we have to practice, practice, practice.

    I know where to find a few unused ones for your research.
    I got one from a someone named Abby Normal. :lol:

  7. #7
    Thanks for the story Lynn

    So you didn't leave the monastery at all when you were there?

    Gassho Will

  8. #8
    Stephanie
    Guest
    Great story, Lynn. Where were you a monk?

    I find neuroscience research fascinating. I suspect that it can't answer a lot of the questions that are the most personally significant to me, but it does suggest a lot of interesting things about our subjective experience. It's still such a young field, though, and just because we know what areas of the brain light up during certain tasks doesn't tell us all that much.

  9. #9
    OK..I'll try to be brief. :? CAVEAT: This is my experience. I own it! YMMV.

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    Lynn, I've read Dr. Posner's work. Isn't he the guy who said he could detect which part of the brain was stimulated when people claimed they could sense God?
    LOL! Maybe, but I haven't read that...it's either way before my time working with him or after he moved to New York.

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    Like Soitgoes, I'd also be interested in hearing more about why you had such an aversion to the research that you had to run away. I'd also be interested in hearing why you think that knowledge of this kind is not a service to people.

    I'm always of the view that acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a fundamental need for all sentient beings. No immediate applications should be required for simply doing a natural, healthy human practice. However, we're always surprised to later find previously unthought of applications (for good or bad) to the acquired knowledge.
    Well, I disagree with you, Tracy. That sounds like Ivory Tower logic. I do not believe that it is an innate desire for human beings to simply acquire knowledge for the sake of sitting around and debating. I have worked with hundreds of grad students just starting out: what do they want to do with their research? Other than answers from those who simply wished to become professional students, the overwhelming answer was "To help other people." They initially are there to be of service.

    (BTW, do you think this kind of statement would fly with the people in Darfur who might be much more grateful if someone was collecting knowledge to help end the genocide rather than so that they can sit around and *talk about the genocide?? )

    My own experience is that every time I turned around and we discovered a new "blip" at some millisecond interval and ran the data through hours of crunching in order to pull out some kind of dipole source localization I would ask, "What is the practical application??" and I *never, in eleven years, got an answer. No new medicine, no new therapy. Nada. And our research was supposed to be helping understand depression. It ended up being just a bunch of words leading to a grant continuation that claimed it was *supposed to be helping (you sort of have to justify to NIH why you need another half million bucks to go on for another 3 years) but honestly, Tracy, nothing. (Except endless meetings with a lot of idea people who never got a lot implemented.) As both John and Stephanie said, knowing where it happens doesn't tell you diddly do about why and no help was forthcoming.

    So your statement No immediate applications should be required for simply doing a natural, healthy human practice. However, we're always surprised to later find previously unthought of applications (for good or bad) to the acquired knowledge. is one of the reasons that much of the really important research in this nation is not getting funded. It's backwards. Too many people have sucked too much money with no practically applicable results that better the lives of others. Science should be driven by a strong, demonstrable "service to others" guideline and funding should be cut off immediately when it becomes clear that people are screwing around and just living off govt. monies to fund their R&D to get their products marketed and schmooze at their international conferences. (And this happens all the time for YEARS!) Maybe I sound jaded, but I have direct knowledge and experience in that system.

    I needed to be of real service. Something I could say, at the end of the day, helped someone's life. My strong faith in my practice led me to consider the monastic path, but that was not where I was best suited. So, now I am a nurse. I do hospice. I work with the elderly. I make about 1/4 the money I did at university, but I can honestly say that it is a right livelihood and in keeping with my practice. At the end of the day I remain unpublished by peer review...but I am content. (well...*most days... :? )

    Will and Stephanie: I was at Shasta Abbey in N. CA. I left the monastery maybe 12 times in three years but always accompanied by other monks and it was usually a Dr.'s appt. or something like that. We were fairly cloistered (evening news was watched only by the abbot and a few senior monks), no newspapers and the laity were discouraged from talking about outside events. But family and friends could always arrange visits. We weren't prisoners

    Well, shuga...that wasn't very brief. Tracy, I hope that you are involved in the kind of research that is truly leading to ways to help the suffering of others. If so...you are very lucky. May you be well and be content in what you do.

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn

  10. #10
    Hi,

    I will express my personal hope for the future of neurological research and Buddhism. I speak, of course, as a Buddhist and not as a neuroscientist. However, I have been following the research for some time as an interested observor.

    I believe the research is in its early, rudimentary stages. But it will not always be so. Please remember the Wright Brothers and the 'Turing Machine', the first attempts at heart transplants or in understanding the Genetic Code. Already, important discoveries are being made through the fMRI studies.Some of my favorite research involves studies on the "teenage" brain (including with relation to teen violence and criminality) which explain much of the behavior that most parents of a teenager know well (their inability to see the long term consequences of actions, for example. This seems to be an important factor in teen criminal behavior too) ...

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline ... teenbrain/

    And, I believe, the research has the potential to directly relieve human suffering ... even in places like Darfur. Let me briefly explain ...

    Buddhists have been debating the nature of "mind" for thousands of years, with all variety of very creative and conflicting theories. See, for example:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness_(Buddhism)

    Western scientists and philosophers are still far away from defining the exact relationship between the brain and the human mind and consciousness. However, it is clear that there is an intimate connection, and that the mind (the mind in ordinary human experience) is likely in whole or part an emergent property of the trillions of neural connections in the brain. In one way or another, physical damage or other changes to the brain result in changes to the mind.

    I believe that Zazen Practice has two important elements: (1) our work on the Zafu whereby we encounter certain experiences and perspectives on 'being' through daily Zazen and (2) the lifelong effort to incorporate those experiences and perspectives into our day to day lives. I believe that technology is being developed that will help along (1), and allow people to "taste" what we taste on the Zafu through various modern means. I think that devices and various other "assists' will be developed that will take the place, to some degree, of the sensory deprivation experience of "facing a wall". However, I do not think that technology will get to (2) anytime soon.

    I also believe that good research is being done on the criminal brain, the violent brain, etc.

    http://www.law.stanford.edu/news/pr/72/ ... n%20Grant/

    Research is also being conducted on aspects of the brain directly related to Buddhism, such as greed, anger, altruism, caring etc.

    I am looking forward to the day in which we can treat criminal behavior by a means other than incarceration. We will be able to "flip 'off' the switches" that trigger violence in violent criminals. We will be able to "flip 'on' the switches" that gives rise to a peaceful inner nature, empathy for other human beings, love, genorosity and the like. (Brain research is showing that it is rarely if ever just a single region of the brain, or single gene or the like, that would be the trigger for any aspect of human behavior, but a complex interaction. Still, I am confident that we can "flip those switches" someday). We will learn what gives rise to a brain that can commit genocide such as in Darfur, and we will learn to treat that brain as if it had a disease to be cured.

    Give it another 50 years. Hopefully the technology will not be misused (it is coming down the pipe, one way or the other)

    Gassho, Jundo

  11. #11
    As I said, the technology is coming in time, notwithstanding whether it is to be used for good or bad purposes, as a military weapon or just to sell more coca-cola. Thus, here is another area of the field I am very interested in:

    "NEUROETHICS,"
    the study of the ethical issues involved in using these new technologies. Here is an article from the University of Pennsylvania, where a lot of work is going on:

    [i]As our ability to peek inside the brain—and to alter it—expands, the field of neuroethics is beginning to emerge … to study the implication for society and the individual. The technology is already here. It’s called optical imaging … “a cheap window on the brain” that’s also noninvasive. … t might be used in airport security to look for terrorists. But the question is, will it finger a flying-phobic soccer mom instead? ... What can technology reliably tell us about the workings of the human mind … ? And who has a right to use this information? How far should we go in treating or enhancing the brain? Those are a few of the concerns that make up the emerging field of neuroethics.

    http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0104/frith1.html


    .
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-15-2013 at 03:20 AM.

  12. #12
    Hey Jundo,

    Isn't that effectively removing the ability to choose to resist those violent urges? I agree that incarceration isn't working (ex CJ major myself) as a rehabilitation tool, it just doesn't seem ethically right to shut off a section of a human brain.

    We choose to rewire our brains through practice, but that just strikes me as something a little too Orwellian...or maybe Anthony Burgess.

    *edit* thanks for that article

  13. #13
    Makes me think of Logan's Run, Rev :?

  14. #14
    Hey Guys,

    As I said, the ability to do these things is coming whether we like it or not. The only question is what we do with the technology.

    I am well aware of the dangers and ethical questions involved in "treating" the mind and body of the psychopath, rapist, child abuser or the like to prevent them from acting upon their urges. But, I am also aware of (1) the harm they do to their victims if let loose on society, plus (2) the nightmare of imprisonment in our cruel and inhuman prison system. Do you think that putting someone in prison for a number of years is giving them "the ability to choose"? And do you know what our prisons are like, and the potential for these folks to re-offend on release? What is the difference between what I am describing and, for example (what we now sometimes do) administering hormones or the like to cut sexual urges for sex offenders?

    Anthony Burgess it is. Fortunately or unfortunately, "Clockwork Orange" was very prescient.

    Gassho, Jundo

  15. #15
    I have to give some of your questions some thought and get back to you.

    But I can't help but think there has to be another way. Someway where folks can be rehabilitated without resorting to locking them in cages (images of Abu Ghraib, Angola Penitentiary, and the women's prison that I have been in and can't remember the name spring to mind quickly. I am also aware of the amount of repeat offenders. Not to mention that prison is treated as a cakewalk by some folks...others are profoundly changed by the experience) or altering people chemically.

    Recently here in Baltimore a man threw his 3 year old son off the Key bridge. I wonder what is in a person's head to make them do such a thing.

    Truth of the matter is if the Clockwork Orange solution works, it works. If it keeps people safe then good.

    The "best" option is the one that is most helpful and healthful from what we have available. I may have misgivings, but I can't argue with results, so we'll see what happens.

    Still the ability to do this doesn't negate that the conditions that give rise to some of this behaviour need to change as well.

  16. #16
    Wow! What an interesting thread – some really weighty issues being discussed.

    First off, I agree with Tracy up to a point, and I notice that I am falling into the usual trap of making a dualistic distinction between mind/brain and body.

    Pure research has its rewards. We can’t always see the way ahead clearly enough to be able to tell what research lines will be fruitful, On the other hand, as Lynn points out, a lot of it is impractical and wasteful. I was diagnosed with FSH Muscular Dystrophy 52 years ago and was told that a cure would be along sometime soon! You should hear the amount of criticism that is directed at the MD society on an FSHMD website I visit – about all the millions generated by Jerry Lewis each year that never seems to bring any practical treatments or results. There is a middle way here I suppose.

    Jundo says: “We will be able to "flip 'off' the switches" that trigger violence in violent criminals. We will be able to "flip 'on' the switches" that gives rise to a peaceful inner nature, empathy for other human beings, love, genorosity and the like. (Brain research is showing that it is rarely if ever just a single region of the brain, or single gene or the like, that would be the trigger for any aspect of human behavior, but a complex interaction. Still, I am confident that we can "flip those switches" someday). We will learn what gives rise to a brain that can commit genocide such as in Darfur, and we will learn to treat that brain as if it had a disease to be cured.”

    That kind of genetic engineering scares me a bit, Jundo. I’ll have to think about that.

    Ok I haven’t any practical experience of working with criminals, but I don’t like the approach of separating society into ‘goodies and baddies’ and then appointing ourselves ‘as goodies,’ as judges who then decide what should be done to the rest who step out of line. Pragmatism isn’t always the best approach, IMO. It just goes along with the status quo instead of trying to change the rotten things in our society. Doesn’t Buddhism teach that we are all interdependent? It isn’t just ‘us and them’? If a large part of our society is committing crimes, then surely we are partly responsible for creating the social climate, the social conditions that help to produce the need or attitude behind the motive for committing the crime. (The widening inequality in the possession of material goods seems one way to create resentment to me). It seems to me that we should be doing our best to understand and rectify that situation instead of erecting a false barrier to stand behind and condemn others.

    Gassho,
    John

  17. #17
    Thanks for those links, Jundo. When I read these studies, I also thought about drug companies wanting to find meds to specifically target certain areas of the brain. Personally, I would prefer more natural ways to do this like what we do at treeleaf or the Quakers or whatever group that have found ways to practice peace day in and day out.

    Well, I disagree with you, Tracy. That sounds like Ivory Tower logic. I do not believe that it is an innate desire for human beings to simply acquire knowledge for the sake of sitting around and debating. I have worked with hundreds of grad students just starting out: what do they want to do with their research? Other than answers from those who simply wished to become professional students, the overwhelming answer was "To help other people." They initially are there to be of service.

    (BTW, do you think this kind of statement would fly with the people in Darfur who might be much more grateful if someone was collecting knowledge to help end the genocide rather than so that they can sit around and *talk about the genocide?? Sad )
    Well, I gotta say, Lynn, the above was insulting to me personally and not thoughtful on your part. Did you really mean to say that the quest for knowledge is not a natural, healthy and extremely useful desire in humans? How many important scientific discoveries were just someone tinkering around or someone was actually working on a completely different goal?

    I'll give you one great example. A lady scientist curious to see how an electric current would affect bacteria growth. Well, it appeared to block cell division. Was it the current itself or something else? Lo and behold, she found that it was a major product of electrolysis during the experiment. Cisplatin! Still in wide use today as an effective anticancer drug. You know when cisplatin was first synthesized and characterized? Mid-19th century. Would someone have independently thought to use a platinum-based drug for chemotherapy? Doubt it. It took some dude playing around with chemicals in the 1800's and some lady playing around with bacteria in the 1900's to give us cisplatin.

    Just because you couldn't see where your research was going, doesn't mean someone else won't. That's my whole point. Graduate students who go into research to help people is perfect but if everyone gave up after 10 years or so because they couldn't see the immediate effects of their research, we'd have nothing.

    I do basic research on chromosome structure. I don't spend > 60 hrs a week away from my family for very little pay to sit in an Ivory Tower and debate. I work my can off doing research because it has been shown over and over and over again that the big discoveries that help people are almost always through basic research. So, yeah, I hope my research helps people but I'm not such a fool to think I know exactly HOW it will help people. Again, that was my point.

    Oh and BTW, that abstract I posted help ME so that's one person who was helped by neuroscience.

    Sorry if I've lost my temper here (doesn't happen often) but that Ivory Tower remark pushed the Hell out of my buttons.

  18. #18
    Hi Tracy,

    I want to apologize for you taking something personally but that wouldn't be quite right. I was expressing my opinion as I often do. It wasn't an attack on Tracy, it was my opinion on that type of statement, on that kind of thinking which isn't unique to Tracy and which *I* have a button about.

    Here's what you say in your latest post:

    Did you really mean to say that the quest for knowledge is not a natural, healthy and extremely useful desire in humans? How many important scientific discoveries were just someone tinkering around or someone was actually working on a completely different goal?

    This statement is pointing to the quest for knowledge being useful *and goal oriented. I would agree with that. No, I didn't say that the quest for knowledge isn't natural, healthy and an extrememly useful desire in humans. We would not survived as a species if it weren't. You finish this by stating that this desire in combination with a goal has led to many things that have helped humanity. Absolutely. And we survived this far because our quest for knowledge has helped us try to understand and adapt to our world, our cosmos.

    Now, here is what you said initially which is what I responded to:


    I'm always of the view that acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a fundamental need for all sentient beings. No immediate applications should be required for simply doing a natural, healthy human practice. However, we're always surprised to later find previously unthought of applications (for good or bad) to the acquired knowledge.


    I interpreted that as saying: we should simply allow that it is an innate human quality to gather knowledge about life with no reason or goal to inform it. Knowledge for knowledge's sake is exactly what you stated. This implies that there is no other goal...that we are not driven by a need to learn about something in order to somehow better our lives and the lives of others.

    And so, you gave a wonderful example to refute the above when you state:

    I do basic research on chromosome structure. I don't spend > 60 hrs a week away from my family for very little pay to sit in an Ivory Tower and debate. I work my can off doing research because it has been shown over and over and over again that the big discoveries that help people are almost always through basic research. So, yeah, I hope my research helps people but I'm not such a fool to think I know exactly HOW it will help people. Again, that was my point.


    Which was my point all along. You don't do all that because you just want to play with petrie dishes and spout cool bits of random knowledge at cocktail parties! You do that because you have a goal that may not be coalesced at the moment but has a direction *for applicability. Maybe not one that you would guess at, but there's something you're shooting for. Something making that effort, those sacrifices, worth it because we don't want to look at our lives and feel that we have wasted time and made sacrifices for nothing. (That's never really possible, but it can feel like that sometimes.)

    Sadly, I have seen another side of science which led to my disillusionment not because we didn't get immediate gratification, but becasue it was amorphous to goals, unfocused, sucked govt. grant funding, and I just watched many, many sad and lonely people cycle in and out of my lab their lives untouched by anything I did. None of the research *I* was involved in led to something substantial by the time I left. Hence, we lost grant funding. Now, I won't say that all that data is going to prove to be utterly useless ad infinitum...but it looked that way by the time I left and I never got answers to my questions from anyone "in the know."

    That, according to my understanding of right livelihood at the time, led to my leaving.

    So, I hope this helps to clarify why I responded the way I did. Perhaps just a combination of my misreading and your mis-stating what you actually meant, eh? Truth is, when I read it I was surprised because I didn't really think you would come up with that. You've always impressed me with your responses in other threads.

    So that is *my experience, Tracy, not yours. Which is awsome. Do your research and keep the passion for it alive. You go girl!

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn

    PS...I am grateful for this exchange because it's allowed me to see where I still need to get straight. I will work on why I let my button get pushed (some ego something or other there) and on right speech because I didn't mean to create harm. For any harm I may have caused you, Tracy, I *am sorry.



    [/b]

  19. #19
    Stephanie
    Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    As I said, the ability to do these things is coming whether we like it or not. The only question is what we do with the technology.
    I actually have my doubts. The assumption that we will be able to do things like this involves a lot of basic assumptions about how the mind works, the relationship between brain activity and consciousness, etc., that may not be accurate. It's as if we're assuming that the cause for these things is in the brain, like the chocolatey goodness of a Klondike bar is in the fridge. That if we can get in there and extract something or flip a switch we can take out the "bad stuff." I think that's the sort of perspective people will laugh at 100 years from now.

    Criminal behavior is not the result of some innate 'brain malfunction.' It is most plainly the result of the environmental conditions that give rise to it. We already have the 'solution' for reducing crime and violence--improve the conditions in the violent, impoverished, oppressed neighborhoods that give rise to it, overhaul the prison / criminal justice system, etc. The thought that we can "fix it" through the sorts of practices we have already decided are unethical--lobotomies, involuntary shock treatment, etc.--to me is just lazy and misinformed. It also begs the question of whether you think it would be fair for someone to lobotomize you because they didn't like your behavior. Because the line between an 'upstanding citizen' and a 'criminal' is not so obvious.

    I think the notion of tinkering with the brain as a form of social control runs completely against all of the precepts and the Buddhadharma; it is based on a notion that "good" and "bad" are static, the results of switches we can turn on or off. The moment I look at someone and say, "You're bad, I'm going to fix you," I have violated the precepts and the wisdom of the way things are. I have given rise to the sort of violent thinking that leads to violent, antisocial behavior. Maybe if I'm the "cop" and you're the "bad guy," society will smile at me for it, but that doesn't make it any less criminal or horrible. This is essentially a violent and controlling point of view, the antithesis of the peace and gentleness of the Buddha Way.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rev R
    Recently here in Baltimore a man threw his 3 year old son off the Key bridge. I wonder what is in a person's head to make them do such a thing.
    It's obviously a taboo subject, but I think the urge to kill one's offspring is not that uncommon or unnatural an urge. I'd say all it would take would be a flash of desperation or anger and poor impulse control. Did he show remorse and regret afterwards?

  20. #20
    Hi Guys,

    Well, I want to say that I think such treatments would be appropriate for murderous psychopaths, rapists and child molestors. Not shop lifters or jay walkers. Certainly not for folks who vote the "wrong way" or who have the "wrong" religious view.

    Who is to decide the difference? Judges and juries do that everyday. We live in societies of laws. Our judges and juries now decide who will pay a fine, who will get treatment, who will go free, who will be locked away for life, who (unfortunately) will get the death penalty. We now live in societies with civil rights (although stretched recently), freedom of thought and action, yet have a system to take that freedom away from violent offenders. No difference in my view from deciding who will lose 20 years of their life behind bars, except for the method of confinement and treatment.

    Rev wrote

    But I can't help but think there has to be another way. Someway where folks can be rehabilitated without resorting to locking them in cages ... Still the ability to do this doesn't negate that the conditions that give rise to some of this behaviour need to change as well.

    If that better way of rehabilitation is found for psychopaths, repeat rapists and child molestors, I will support it. And I 100% agree that we should work on removing the societal conditions that give rise to crime. But, even so, we will still have murderous psychopaths, repeat rapists and child molestors and need to eliminate the threat they pose to the innocent.

    John wrote

    That kind of genetic engineering scares me a bit, Jundo. I’ll have to think about that.

    Scares the bejeevers out of me! Imagine if it fell into the hands of a totalitarian government!

    Still, like the H-Bomb and nuclear technology, it is technology coming whether we like it or not. The only question is our societal maturity and ability to handle it or not. Fortunately, I think most Western democracies can control the uses. (It is coming even if we can't).

    Ok I haven’t any practical experience of working with criminals, but I don’t like the approach of separating society into ‘goodies and baddies’ and then appointing ourselves ‘as goodies,’ as judges who then decide what should be done to the rest who step out of line.

    Unfortunately, that is exactly the decision that judges and juries make each day at the local courthouse.

    Pragmatism isn’t always the best approach, IMO. It just goes along with the status quo instead of trying to change the rotten things in our society. Doesn’t Buddhism teach that we are all interdependent?

    I 100% support the Buddhist notion that we are all one, that the rapist or murderer is as much a victim of violence as the person raped or murdered, that Hitler was just myself. I really believe that. I believe that first we must deal with the social causes like poverty and broken homes.

    Still, societies must figure out ways to deal with their rapists and murderers and genocidal maniacs. We cannot let them run loose.

    Having been a Buddhist volunteer in Florida maximum security prisons (and a lawyer ... we need to find a "treatment" for lawyers too :roll: ), I will say that subjecting people to the violence, terror, rape and abuse of out modern prison system is no Sunday picnic.

    Stephanie wrote


    I actually have my doubts. The assumption that we will be able to do things like this involves a lot of basic assumptions about how the mind works, the relationship between brain activity and consciousness, etc., that may not be accurate.


    We can already do it, if we are willing to take a meat cleaver to the brain, and leave people as vegetables.I wold not support my society doing that. I hold out the hope that the technology will become more refined in the future.

    But the fact is that we are already doing this, via such means as offering physical and chemical castration to rapists ...

    "http://www.csun.edu/~psy453/crimes_y.htm">http://www.csun.edu/~psy453/crimes_y.htm

    ... or chemical treatments to the drug dependent to eliminate addiction. I would also say that lifetime imprisonment and (certainly) the death penalty are "mind altering" experiences.

    Criminal behavior is not the result of some innate 'brain malfunction.' It is most plainly the result of the environmental conditions that give rise to it. We already have the 'solution' for reducing crime and violence--improve the conditions in the violent, impoverished, oppressed neighborhoods that give rise to it, overhaul the prison / criminal justice system, etc.

    I agree that the causes of criminal behavior are manifold, but propose that dealing indirectly with social causes is of limited value for true psychopaths, serial rapists and child abusers who already have the urge.

    It also begs the question of whether you think it would be fair for someone to lobotomize you because they didn't like your behavior. Because the line between an 'upstanding citizen' and a 'criminal' is not so obvious.

    I would not like it or approve it in the least (unless I was a psychopath). As I said, these distinctions are the same ones made by our judges and juries daily, the only difference being the method of confinement. Fortunately, my country still knows (just barely) that we don't lock people away or give them the death penalty for voting the wrong way or going to the wrong church, and I think we can keep it that way.

    I think the notion of tinkering with the brain as a form of social control runs completely against all of the precepts and the Buddhadharma; it is based on a notion that "good" and "bad" are static, the results of switches we can turn on or off. T

    I do not think that punishing criminals violates the Precepts, so long as that punishment does not amount to torture and is not cruel. I would put to you that our modern prison system, and virtually any prison system we could design (short of a 5 Star Hotel) is true torture.

    Truly, I would love to see rapists and child molestors freed of their harmful urge so that they could live next door to us, get married, raise a family, hold a job (I mean, they do that now ... but only because we have no alternative but to let them out of jail after a time and hope they won't succumb again). I think my dream is humane.

    Hopefully, our court system will continue to know the difference between a father who tosses his child off a bridge and a fellow who steals a loaf of bread to feed his family.

    Gassho, Dr. Frankenstein

  21. #21
    Truth of the matter is if the Clockwork Orange solution works, it works. If it keeps people safe then good.

    Well, I seem to remember that in "A Clockwork Orange," it actually didn't "work."

  22. #22
    Well, to add my worthless two cents. I think that in a way, every time we sit we are actually rewiring our brains a little bit. We are using different neural pathways than we normally use. And, if you can know your brain well enough to avoid going down anger pathways, I think the theory is that those pathways will diminish over time. And hopefully, the neural pathways for virtuous behavior (or at least not ones that cause suffering) will increase.

    I know that since I've begun meditation, I do not replay bad scenes from my life in my head. Those scenes replayed for 30-40 years (I was certainly reinforcing those neural pathways) but through meditation, I stopped my brain from doing that.

    So, I don't know if we'll be able to reform criminals, but I know that rewiring my brain has sure diminished my suffering.

  23. #23
    Stephanie
    Guest
    The problem I see, and where I see the violation of the Precepts, is in the notion that there are certain kinds of people who are "criminals" and certain kinds of people who are not. You're basically saying, "This is okay because this would only happen to a certain kind of person who is not me." But I think that is 100% erroneous. We all have these sorts of things in us. I like the saying "There for the grace of God go I," because the idea is that if one had met the same circumstances in one's life as the person one is critiquing, one might have ended up doing the very same thing that they did.

    It's nice to think, "I'm not a murderer," or "I'm not a thief," or "I'm not a psychopath," or whatever, but that's wrong, and that's a violation of the tenth grave precept not to slander the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. When we decide that there is something out there that is an "evil element" that we can modify or destroy, we are engaging in the worst sort of violent thinking. We are not embracing the world in its is-ness in the arms of love and compassion, we are saying, "Won't the world be lovely when it looks exactly like how I think it should look."

    Which is sick, because don't we as meditators know how deluded our thinking can be? How can we trust any of us to make those sorts of decisions, about who is a good candidate for this sort of thing or not? I'm not invoking Godwin's Law here lightly, but that sort of thinking is exactly what leads to the creation of a person like Hitler, who believed that if he eliminated certain kinds of "undesirables," he could create a perfect, harmonious world. I think this sort of cold, calculating social control type of thinking is more dangerous and violent than the passions that lead someone to lash out in a fit of jealousy or rage.

    It's denying the humanity of the suffering beings who have become what our world helped them to become. Certainly, we find such people distasteful, but they all have stories of suffering that the world is begging us to hear and understand. The moment we say, "We don't need to listen to these stories, all we need to do is lobotomize these people and 'fix' them," we are just making things worse because we're committing the same fundamental error than any person of violence commits, thinking that the problem is "out there" in something we can eradicate or "fix." It will never work because it is fundamentally based on a deluded view that is not in accord with reality.

  24. #24
    Hey Jundo,

    If that better way of rehabilitation is found for psychopaths, repeat rapists and child molestors, I will support it. And I 100% agree that we should work on removing the societal conditions that give rise to crime. But, even so, we will still have murderous psychopaths, repeat rapists and child molestors and need to eliminate the threat they pose to the innocent.
    Unfortunately, we will still have murderous psychopaths, rapists, and child molesters even with this potential treatment, because we can only apply it to those we convict in accordance to the law. Then we have to insure that they stay on their meds (unless the procedure is surgical).

    The world will never be "perfect" but it can be better.

    I think I will go with "wait and see" as my official stand until we see some trials.

    This is one of those gray areas we talk about sometimes.

  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    The problem I see, and where I see the violation of the Precepts, is in the notion that there are certain kinds of people who are "criminals" and certain kinds of people who are not. You're basically saying, "This is okay because this would only happen to a certain kind of person who is not me." But I think that is 100% erroneous. We all have these sorts of things in us. I like the saying "There for the grace of God go I," because the idea is that if one had met the same circumstances in one's life as the person one is critiquing, one might have ended up doing the very same thing that they did.

    It's nice to think, "I'm not a murderer," or "I'm not a thief," or "I'm not a psychopath," or whatever, but that's wrong, and that's a violation of the tenth grave precept not to slander the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

    ...

    ... that sort of thinking is exactly what leads to the creation of a person like Hitler, who believed that if he eliminated certain kinds of "undesirables," he could create a perfect, harmonious world. I think this sort of cold, calculating social control type of thinking is more dangerous and violent than the passions that lead someone to lash out in a fit of jealousy or rage.
    Hi Steph,

    I agree with you completely. I am, somewhere within me, my brother the rapist, pschopathic murderer etc. I am both Mother Theresa amd Hitler too. There, but for the grace of Buddha, go I. Still, we have a judiciary system to remove such individuals from society.

    Both the child abuser and the abused child are victims ... still, I know which one the Precepts guide me to protect over the other (especially as I am talking about something far short of stoning or electrocuting the abuser here).

    Steph, here is a map of all the registered sex offenders in your neighborhood, the Brooklyn New York area (search New York, New York and the map will come up). I invite you to go door to door and express your fine sentiments to them

    http://www.familywatchdog.us/

    And I do not think that we should compare Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, the physically and intellectually challenged and other victims of Hitler's genocide with phycopathic murderers and child abusers. I think that we can keep the difference straight. I don't think that there is a slippery slope from neurological castration of repeat rapists to death camps.

    But, as the Rev says, we can just leave this for now and take a "wait and see". However, I predict it will be a subject of some debate (in and out of Buddhist circles) in the coming few decades. Unfortunately.

    Gassho, Jundo

  26. #26
    Stephanie
    Guest
    One of my clients struggles with an inner voice that tells him to rape and hurt women. He's never done it because his "angels" always win out (he has schizophrenia), and he's one of the gentlest people I've ever known. Yet I suspect he would easily be seen as a candidate for the "treatment" you propose because he's black and poor, has mental illness and a developmental disability, and is in "the system." The kinds of things he wrestles with are so scary that the average person in our society would rather dope him up and lock him away than deal with it in a way that honors his human dignity and worth. It's because we're lazy and we're cowards, not because that is the best approach.

    I know that one of the worst things we can do as human beings is to give up--on each other, on the world, on an individual person. I know it's not "doing good" to try to cast people in my own image. To "do good" is to let go of my need to control and to be willing to meet the world as it is, to meet others in the dark places and reach out to them there. I believe that all of us know these things, we just resist them in hopes that there's an easier way. And there isn't. I believe we all have to be willing to go to Hell and meet the people there and do whatever we can to help them out of that hell. That's what the world is waiting for us to do, not further block out and lock away everything that scares or unsettles us or makes us uncomfortable.

    One of the most inspiring things I've read in months is Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You, and I agree with Tolstoy that the greatest freedom as a human being is knowing that no one can force you to act against your own conscience. I know I don't speak for everyone when I say this, but I would personally rather be attacked, raped, even killed, than to know that I was responsible for administering someone a chemical lobotomy. I just know that it's wrong. People who do those things--harm, rape, and kill--are in Hell, and I don't have to join them by becoming a demon myself.

  27. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by lindabeekeeper
    Well, to add my worthless two cents. I think that in a way, every time we sit we are actually rewiring our brains a little bit. We are using different neural pathways than we normally use. And, if you can know your brain well enough to avoid going down anger pathways, I think the theory is that those pathways will diminish over time. And hopefully, the neural pathways for virtuous behavior (or at least not ones that cause suffering) will increase.
    Hi Linda...

    The field that you speak of is called neural plasticity and it is utter fascinating!!! I have no doubt that meditation is not just behavioural modification but, indeed, does re-wire so to speak in that when certain pathways begin to light up they are re-routed or short circuited volitionally.

    As you mention, in directing this potential toward violent and criminal behaviours, we would never be able to say with 100% or, really, even 90% certainty that this is going to be corrective enough to send them back into society as "rehabilitated." Why? Because lasting plasticity occurs only with some type of physiological damage whereby those old pathways are physiologically unable to function...as in, lobotomy. Without this, the neural trigger pathway is still available. Just as, your anger pathway is still there and you do not know when it could be re-ignited due to circumstances that no amount of meditation could control.

    By the by, John is right on the money to question the little "flip the switch" electrodes in the brain type of behaviour modification that has been bandied about. And for just this reason...the brain is utterly amazing in its ability to re-wire itself and create a new pathway for an old behaviour or emotion. If someone wants to maintain a pathway whereby they continue to create violence because this justifies their world view, I bet they can do it. There have been some fascinating studies done with people who do not have their corpus colosum in tact and are basically functioning with two brains (each half a mirror of the other with speech centers, vision centers etc. fully developed.) We are only scratching the first molecule of the tip of the iceberg on what the brain can do.

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn

  28. #28
    Achieving a state of peace, calm, equanimity, and mindfulness, without any effort doesn't necessarily mean enlightenment or understanding. Sure natural wisdom would evolve, but probably not the understanding of what wisdom is, where it comes from, what makes one wise? What makes one peaceful? What makes one equanimitous (Is that a word? :? )


    Gassho Will

  29. #29
    I am grateful for this exchange because it's allowed me to see where I still need to get straight. I will work on why I let my button get pushed (some ego something or other there) and on right speech because I didn't mean to create harm. For any harm I may have caused you, Tracy, I *am sorry.
    No need to apologize, Lynn. I should apologize. Scientists have been sort of under attack from certain circles and I tend to be overprotective of my peeps. That's no excuse for me throwing such a fit! :lol:

    {{{{Lynn}}}}

    Looks like a great discussion but I have to do "The Jundo" before bed time. :lol: Guess I have to read tomorrow.

  30. #30
    interesting ...
    where to start ....
    Perhaps at the least controversial thread.

    It turns out I too have a professional interest nearby, generally behavioral finance, but there is a new genre called neuro-economics. Economists and Financial theorists have known that the most elegant descriptions of economic decision making simply do not agree with the way we actually make decisions.

    Consider the Ellsberg paradox ( yes that Ellsburg of the Pentagon papers ... he was an economist). Suppose I give you an urn, and tell you that it has 10 black marbles and 10 red marbles. Pick a red one and win 100 bucks. At what price to play? 49.95 or less depending on how much fun you get out of gambling. Now suppose I give you the same urn but don't tell you how many of each? The fair price is still the same, but we suffer from an aversion to ambiguity and won't play the game at that price. From a probability point of view the odds are the same. fMRI studies show that the region of the brain that allows us to correlate rewards with risks is inhibited in the presence of ambiguity.

    Something in the reptilian core of our brain wants to know that there are five alligators at the watering hole. We can cope with looking out for them and deciding if we think it is safe to drink. But show up to a new watering hole, maybe there are none maybe there are twenty. Let some other chimp go first. There are good reasons to be adverse to ambiguity if you are to be someone's appetizer. Unfortunately we can't turn it off when the stakes are much lower. Its hardwired.

    Before the advent of the fMRI, behavioral finance posited these empirical results as anomalies. Now we see a biological basis for why we are not fully rational, at least in the Vulcan sense.

    Given my interests I also picked up a copy of James Austin's Zen and the Brain, although it remains unread.


    Stephanie, statistically speaking, we were overdue for an application of godwin's law here at treeleaf... etiquette dictates that we end the thread.

    Lynn, you are full of surprises. I would add that some of the best discoveries are unplanned.
    Penzias and Wilson thought that the noise in their radio telescope was birdshit. T'aint birdshit, thats the remnant of the big bang. Now we know and it is of no practical use but damn interesting.

    Tracy, you have peeps? Are they named Frodo and Bilbo Baggins?
    These two sites might help you with understanding your grad students.

  31. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by louis
    There are good reasons to be adverse to ambiguity if you are to be someone's appetizer.
    or you can tie a gourd to a long stick.

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