Abstract. The placebo effect these days is no longer merely the insubstantial, subjective response that some patients have to a sham treatment, like a sugar pill. It has been reconceived as a powerful mind-body phenomenon. Because of this, it has also emerged as a complex reference point in a number of high-stakes conversations about the metaphysical significance of experiences of religious healing, the possible health benefits of being religious, and the feasibility of using double-blind placebo-controlled trials to investigate the efficacy (...) of prayer. In each of these conversations, the placebo effect is always pointing toward some larger issue, serving some larger agenda. The agendas, though, tend to pull in different directions, leading to a situation that feels at once fractured and stalemated. This essay reviews the main areas of interest, and proposes some specific issues where humanistic scholars of religion in particular might be able to introduce constructive and creative new perspectives. (shrink)
Western science has generally addressed human nature in its most negative aspects-the human potential for violence, the genetic and biochemical bases for selfishness, depression, and anxiety. In contrast, Tibetan Buddhism has long celebrated the human potential for compassion, and is dedicated to studying the scope, expression, and training of compassionate feeling and action. Science and Compassion examines how the views of Western behavioral science hold up to scrutiny by Tibetan Buddhists. Resulting from a meeting between the Dalai Lama, leading Western (...) scholars, and a group of Tibetan monks, the volume includes essays exploring points of difference and overlap between the two perspectives. Opening with the story of the extraordinary meeting in Dharamsala India, the book then takes the reader through the best of what Western behavioral scientific tradition has to say about altruism, ethics, empathy, and compassion-looking at how different elements of this science are challenged by cross-cultural examination. In a series of essays, the participating scientists and scholars ask not only how Tibetan and Western understandings of emotion differ, but how Western behavioral science might broaden and enrich its understanding of human nature to do justice to the study of human emotions. An essay by the Dalai Lama reveals his views on human nature, offering a useful exposition of the Buddhist point of view. Also included are direct excerpts from the dialogues themselves, which are filled with intellectual intensity, moments of convergence, and frequent humor. This extraordinary cross-cultural dialogue about our most essential natures will appeal to scientists, scholars, and the educated lay reader. (shrink)
This book examines how Western behavioral science--which has generally focused on negative aspects of human nature--holds up to cross-cultural scrutiny, in particular the Tibetan Buddhist celebration of the human potential for altruism, empathy, and compassion. Resulting from a meeting between the Dalai Lama, leading Western scholars, and a group of Tibetan monks, this volume includes excerpts from these extraordinary dialogues as well as engaging essays exploring points of difference and overlap between the two perspectives.