In recent years, the scientific study of meditation and psychedelic drugs has seen remarkable developments. The increased focus on meditation in cognitive neuroscience has led to a cross-cultural classification of standard meditation styles validated by functional and structural neuroanatomical data. Meanwhile, the renaissance of psychedelic research has shed light on the neurophysiology of altered states of consciousness induced by classical psychedelics, such as psilocybin and LSD, whose effects are mainly mediated by agonism of serotonin receptors. Few attempts (...) have been made at bridging these two domains of inquiry, despite intriguing evidence of overlap between the phenomenology and neurophysiology of meditation practice and psychedelic states. In particular, many contemplative traditions explicitly aim at dissolving the sense of self by eliciting altered states of consciousness through meditation, while classical psychedelics are known to produce significant disruptions of self-consciousness, a phenomenon known as drug-induced ego dissolution. In this article, we discuss available evidence regarding convergences and differences between phenomenological and neurophysiological data on meditation practice and psychedelic drug-induced states, with a particular emphasis on alterations of self-experience. While both meditation and psychedelics may disrupt self-consciousness and underlying neural processes, we emphasize that neither meditation nor psychedelic states can be conceived as simple, uniform categories. Moreover, we suggest that there are important phenomenological differences even between conscious states described as experiences of self-loss. As a result, we propose that self-consciousness may be best construed as a multidimensional construct, and that “self-loss,” far from being an unequivocal phenomenon, can take several forms. Indeed, various aspects of self-consciousness, including narrative aspects linked to autobiographical memory, self-related thoughts and mental time travel, and embodied aspects rooted in multisensory processes, may be differently affected by psychedelics and meditation practices. Finally, we consider long-term outcomes of experiences of self-loss induced by meditation and psychedelics on individual traits and prosocial behavior. We call for caution regarding the problematic conflation of temporary states of self-loss with “selflessness” as a behavioral or social trait, although there is preliminary evidence that correlations between short-term experiences of self-loss and long-term trait alterations may exist. (shrink)
Although research has found that long-term mindfulness meditation practice promotes executive functioning and the ability to sustain attention, the effects of brief mindfulness meditation training have not been fully explored. We examined whether brief meditation training affects cognition and mood when compared to an active control group. After four sessions of either meditation training or listening to a recorded book, participants with no prior meditation experience were assessed with measures of mood, verbal fluency, visual coding, (...) and working memory. Both interventions were effective at improving mood but only brief meditation training reduced fatigue, anxiety, and increased mindfulness. Moreover, brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning. Our findings suggest that 4 days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators. (shrink)
This study investigated the link between meditation, self-reported mindfulness and cognitive flexibility as well as other attentional functions. It compared a group of meditators experienced in mindfulness meditation with a meditation-naïve control group on measures of Stroop interference and the “d2-concentration and endurance test”. Overall the results suggest that attentional performance and cognitive flexibility are positively related to meditation practice and levels of mindfulness. Meditators performed significantly better than non-meditators on all measures of attention. Furthermore, self-reported (...) mindfulness was higher in meditators than non-meditators and correlations with all attention measures were of moderate to high strength. This pattern of results suggests that mindfulness is intimately linked to improvements of attentional functions and cognitive flexibility. The relevance of these findings for mental balance and well-being are discussed. (shrink)
This paper seeks to analyse an under-discussed kind of self-control, namely the control of thoughts and sensations. I distinguish first-order control from second-order control and argue that their central forms are intentional concentration and intentional mindfulness respectively. These correspond to two forms of meditation, concentration meditation and mindfulness meditation, which have been regarded as central both in the traditions in which the practices arose and in the scientific literature on meditation. I analyse them in terms of (...) their characteristic intentions, distinguish them from concentration and mindfulness in general, and examine the relations between them. Concentration involves keeping the mind focused on a single object, while mindfulness requires noticing whatever mental states occupy the focus of one’s consciousness. In the course of the investigation I examine the role of phenomenology and volition in the activity of meditating, and how they change as meditative capacities develop. (shrink)
I argue for a possible Buddhist theory of free will that combines Frankfurt's hierarchical analysis of meta-volitional/volitional accord with elements of the Buddhist eightfold path that prescribe that Buddhist aspirants cultivate meta-volitional wills that promote the mental freedom that culminates in enlightenment, as well as a causal/functional analysis of how Buddhist meditative methodology not only plausibly makes that possible, but in ways that may be applied to undermine Galen Strawson's impossibility argument, along with most of the other major arguments for (...) free will skepticism. (shrink)
Mindfulness meditation describes a set of different mental techniques to train attention and awareness. Trait mindfulness and extended mindfulness interventions can benefit self-control. The present study investigated the short-term consequences of mindfulness meditation under conditions of limited self-control resources. Specifically, we hypothesized that a brief period of mindfulness meditation would counteract the deleterious effect that the exertion of self-control has on subsequent self-control performance. Participants who had been depleted of self-control resources by an emotion suppression task showed (...) decrements in self-control performance as compared to participants who had not suppressed emotions. However, participants who had meditated after emotion suppression performed equally well on the subsequent self-control task as participants who had not exerted self-control previously. This finding suggests that a brief period of mindfulness meditation may serve as a quick and efficient strategy to foster self-control under conditions of low resources. (shrink)
A critical reply to the anti-mindfulness critics in the collection, who oppose the popular secularized adoption of mindfulness on various grounds (it is not Buddhism, it is Buddhism, it is a tool of neo-capitalist exploitation, etc.), I argue that mindfulness is a quality of consciousness, opposite mindlessness, that may be cultivated through practice, and is almost always beneficial to those who cultivate it.
This paper first reviews key Buddhist concepts of time anicca , khanavada and uji and then describes the way in which a particular form of Bhuddist meditation, vipassana, may be thought to actualize them in human experience. The chief aim of the paper is to present a heuristic model of how vipassana meditation, by eroding dispositional tendencies rooted in the body-unconscious alters psychological time, transforming our felt-experience of time from a binding to a liberating force.
On the basis of many years of personal experience the paper describes Buddhist meditation as a mystical practice. After a short discussion of the role of some central concepts in Buddhism, William James’ concept of religious experience is used to explain the goal of meditators as the achievement of a special kind of an experience of this kind. Systematically, its main point is to explain the difference between a craving for pleasant ‘mental events’ in the sense of short-term moods, (...) and the long-term project of achieving a deep change in one’s attitude to life as a whole, a change that allows the acceptance of suffering and death. The last part argues that there is no reason to call the discussed practice irrational in a negative sense. Changes of attitude of the discussed kind cannot be brought about by argument alone. Therefore, a considered use of age-old practices like meditation should be seen as an addition, not as an undermining of reason. (shrink)
In recent decades, social psychology has produced an expansive array of studies wherein introducing a seemingly morally innocuous feature into the situation a subject inhabits often yields morally questionable, dubious, or even appalling behavior. Several fascinating lines of philosophical enquiry issue from this research, but the most pragmatically salient question concerns how we ought most effectively to develop and maintain the virtues so that such putatively morally problematic behavior is less likely to occur. In this paper, I examine four empirically (...) embedded accounts of virtue cultivation: Hagop Sarkissian’s social signaling, Mark Alfano’s virtue labeling, Nancy Snow’s self-punishment, and Peter Railton’s implementation intentions. But none of these accounts of virtue cultivation provides adequate resources for regulating our affective states, whose attention-constricting and behavior-priming functional roles are likely at the root of much of our less than virtuous behavior. Instead, I defend an account of virtue cultivation that proceeds via meditation, which can help us to identify and regulate our emotions and moods. Further, meditation enables us to develop the attentional focus, emotional intelligence, and sense of social connection that ground the virtues and, thus, our virtuous behavior. (shrink)
Meditation can be conceptualized as a family of complex tial to be speciﬁc about the type of meditation practice emotional and attentional regulatory training regimes under investigation. Failure to make such distinctions developed for various ends, including the cultivation of..
Using theoretical analysis of self-consciousness concept and experimental evidence on the brain default mode network (DMN) that constitutes the neural signature of self-referential processes, we hypothesized that the anterior and posterior subnets comprising the DMN should show differences in their integrity as a function of meditation training. Functional connectivity within DMN and its subnets (measured by operational synchrony) has been measured in ten novice meditators using an electroencephalogram (EEG) recording in a pre-/post-meditation intervention design. We have found that (...) while the whole DMN was clearly suppressed, different subnets of DMN responded differently after 4 months of meditation training: The strength of EEG operational synchrony in the right and left posterior modules of the DMN decreased in resting post-meditation condition compared to a pre-meditation condition, whereas the frontal DMN module on the contrary exhibited an increase in the strength of EEG operational synchrony. These findings combined with published data on functional–anatomic heterogeneity within the DMN and on trait subjective experiences commonly found following meditation allow us to propose that the first-person perspective and the sense of agency (the witnessing observer) are presented by the frontal DMN module, while the posterior modules of the DMN are generally responsible for the experience of the continuity of ‘I’ as embodied and localized within bodily space. Significance of these findings is discussed. (shrink)
In two experiments and two different research paradigms, we tested the hypothesis that Zen meditation increases access to accessible but unconscious information. Zen practitioners who meditated in the lab performed better on the Remote Associate Test than Zen practitioners who did not meditate. In a new, second task, it was observed that Zen practitioners who meditated used subliminally primed words more than Zen practitioners who did not meditate. Practical and theoretical implications are discussed.
This is my response to the criticisms of Gregg Caruso, David Cummiskey, and Karin Meyers, in their roles as members of the “Author Meets Critics” panel devoted to my book, Buddhism, Meditation, and Free Will: A Theory of Mental Freedom at the 2019 annual meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, organized by Christian Coseru. Caruso's main objection is that I am not sufficiently attentive to details of opposing arguments in Western philosophy, and Cummiskey's and Meyers’ (...) objections, similarly, are that I am insufficiently attentive to details of Buddhism. I argue that all such objections, however putatively correct, do not rise to the level of objections that actually undermine my account of mental freedom. (shrink)
This paper juxtaposes Asian spiritual narratives on meditation alongside medical and scientific narratives that emphasize meditation's efficacy in mitigating distress and increasing well-being. After proposing a working definition of meditation that enables it usefully to be distinguished from categories of similar practices such as prayer, I examine meditation's role in Mind/Body medicine in the West. Here, I survey a number of scientific studies of meditation, including the work of Dr. Herbert Benson and his colleagues who (...) examine a meditational variant they call the ‘Relaxation Response', to examine the breadth of efficacy claims made on behalf of the complex and multidimensional grouping of diverse practices we have come to as ‘meditation'. Among other positive outcomes, meditation has been credited with reducing blood pressure, anxiety, addiction, and stress, while Relaxation Response has been shown to decrease sympathetic nervous system activity, metabolism, pain, anxiety, depression, hostility, and stress. I conclude the paper by suggesting that findings from cognitive neuroscience on the subject of visual imagery can be used to elucidate genres of meditative practice that focus on internal visualization sequences, and I use practices from the Rnying ma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism to illustrate why certain integral aspects of meditation forever will remain beyond scientific grasp. (shrink)
The paper argues that empirical work on Buddhist meditation has an impact on Buddhist epistemology, in particular their account of unity of consciousness. I explain the Buddhist account of unity of consciousness and show how it relates to contemporary philosophical accounts of unity of consciousness. The contemporary accounts of unity of consciousness are closely integrated with the discussion of neural correlates of consciousness. The conclusion of the paper suggests a new direction in the search for neural correlates of state (...) consciousness or creature consciousness. (shrink)
Meditation comprises a series of practices mainly developed in eastern cultures aiming at controlling emotions and enhancing attentional processes. Several authors proposed to divide meditation techniques in focused attention and open monitoring techniques. Previous studies have reported differences in brain networks underlying FA and OM. On the other hand common activations across different meditative practices have been reported. Despite differences between forms of meditation and their underlying cognitive processes, we propose that all meditative techniques could share a (...) central process that would be supported by a core network for meditation since their general common goal is to induce relaxation, regulating attention and developing an attitude of detachment from one’s own thoughts. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a quantitative meta-analysis based on activation likelihood estimation of 10 neuroimaging studies on different meditative techniques to evidence the core cortical network subserving meditation. We showed activation of basal ganglia , limbic system and medial prefrontal cortex . We discuss the functional role of these structures in meditation and we tentatively propose a neurocognitive model of meditation that could guide future research. (shrink)
Meditation has been for long time avoided as a scientific theme because of its complexity and its religious connotations. Fortunately, in the last years, it has increasingly been studied within different neuroscientific experimental protocols. Attention and concentration are surely among the most important topics in these experiments. Notwithstanding this, inhibition of emotions and discursive thoughts are equally important to understand what is at stake during those types of mental processes. I philosophically and technically analyse and compare results from neuroimaging (...) studies, produced by leading authorities on the theme, dealing with two types of meditation: "one-pointed concentration" and "compassion meditation". Analysing "one-pointed concentration", I show the differences between novice and expert meditation practitioners in terms of brain activity and connectivity, considering the relationship among increased attention and concentration and decreased activity in areas related to discursive thought and emotion. Analysing "compassion meditation", I show the importance of the limbic circuitry in emotion sharing. I follow the same strategy of comparing novice and expert meditation practitioners. The conclusion establishes a common structure to those different ways of dealing with emotion during meditation. (shrink)
Many spiritual traditions employ certain mental techniques (meditation) which consist in inhibiting mental activity whilst nonetheless remaining fully conscious, which is supposed to lead to a realisation of one’s own true nature prior to habitual self-substantialisation. In this paper I propose that this practice can be understood as a special means of becoming aware of consciousness itself as such. To explain this claim I conduct some phenomenologically oriented considerations about the nature of consciousness qua presence and the problem of (...) self-presence of this presence. (shrink)
We have previously found that attention to internal somatic sensations during a heart beat perception task increases the misperception of external touch on a somatic signal detection task , during which healthy participants erroneously report feeling near-threshold vibrations presented to their fingertip in the absence of a stimulus. However, it has been suggested that mindful interoceptive attention should result in more accurate somatic perception, due to its non-evaluative and controlled nature. To investigate this possibility, 62 participants completed the SSDT before (...) and after a period of brief body-scan mindfulness meditation training, or a control intervention . The meditation intervention reduced tactile misperception and increased sensitivity during the SSDT. This finding suggests that the perceptual effects of interoceptive attention depend on its particular nature, and raises the possibility that body-scan meditation could reduce the misperception of physical symptoms in individuals with medically unexplained symptoms. (shrink)
The article explores meditation-based examination of experience as a means for developing a contemplative, nonnaturalized, and existentially meaningful empirical research of consciousness in which the experiencing person is regarded as the primary investigator. As the first phase of a broader project, a group of seven researchers carried out a series of five meditation retreats. We sampled the ongoing experience of the researchers at the same random moments during meditation practice. The acquired data, consisting of more than 500 (...) journal entries, interview transcripts, and participatory analysis records, set the ground for three lines of enquiry: (1) What, if any, kind of meditative practice is suitable for researching experience? How can it be cultivated? (2) Can a group of researchers skilled in meditation systematically investigate selected experiential phenomena? (3) What is the actual lived experience of a group of researchers engaged in a continuous meditation-based examination of experience? In this report, we primarily focus on the third question, offering a concrete ethnographic overview of our research enterprise. We conclude by relating our findings to the discussion of the phenomenological practice of the epoché as an empirical tool for the study of consciousness. (shrink)
Research has increasingly focussed on the benefits of meditation in everyday life and performance. Mindfulness in particular improves attention, working memory capacity, and reading comprehension. Given its emphasis on moment-to-moment awareness, we hypothesised that mindfulness meditation would alter time perception. Using a within-subjects design, participants carried out a temporal bisection task, where several probe durations are compared to “short” and “long” standards. Following this, participants either listened to an audiobook or a meditation that focussed on the movement (...) of breath in the body. Finally, participants completed the temporal bisection task for a second time. The control group showed no change after the listening task. However, meditation led to a relative overestimation of durations. Within an internal clock framework, a change in attentional resources can produce longer perceived durations. This meditative effect has wider implications for the use of mindfulness as an everyday practice and a basis for clinical treatment. (shrink)
The therapeutic potential of meditation for physical and mental well-being is well documented, however the possibility of adverse effects warrants further discussion of the suitability of any particular meditation practice for every given participant. This concern highlights the need for a personalized approach in the meditation practice adjusted for a concrete individual. This can be done by using an objective screening procedure that detects the weak and strong cognitive skills in brain function, thus helping design a tailored (...)meditation training protocol. Quantitative electroencephalogram (qEEG) is a suitable tool that allows identification of individual neurophysiological types. Using qEEG screening can aid developing a meditation training program that maximizes results and minimizes risk of potential negative effects. This brief theoretical–conceptual review provides a discussion of the problem and presents some illustrative results on the usage of qEEG screening for the guidance of mediation personalization. (shrink)
In this article I share some of my experiences of practising Korean Zen meditation and how, without ever mentioning the word ?mindfulness,? this practice helps us to become mindful. This leads me to suggest that the main ingredients of Buddhist meditation are samatha (which I will translate here as ?concentration?) and vipassan? (which I will call ?experiential enquiry?). No matter which Buddhist tradition one follows, the practice of samatha and vipassan? will lead to the cultivation of mindfulness. I (...) also intend to show how the traditional doctrine of the ?four great efforts? is very close to therapeutic methods advocated in MBCT. I will also propose that the Buddha's five methods of dealing with difficult thoughts as presented in the Vitakkhasa h?na Sutta (Majjhima Nik?ya 20) are examples of an early Buddhist cognitive behavioural strategy. (shrink)
This meditation is a series of reflections about some milestones along my philosophical journey that concern universals, universal definitions, claims to universal moral principles, and universal dialogue. It begins with a focus on the Socratic search for universal definitions of general terms; and it continues with a look at the way my discovery of non-Euclidean geometries began to challenge my attitude toward the possibility of universal definitions of all general terms. Along the way I bring out how Wittgenstein’s notion (...) of “family resemblances” added to this challenge. The meditation continues with reflections on Kant’s attempts to make a case for a universal and unconditional moral imperative. Following this I sketch a counter-case that the concrete human being gets lost in a haze of Kantian abstraction. These reflections bring out the clear conceptual linkage between the “abstract universal” and the “external relation” as canons ofinterpretation.The meditation then makes a shift to some later milestones on my journey, beginning with reflection on the “concrete universal” and the “internal relation” as alternative canons of interpretation. I try to illustrate how Marx critically appropriated Hegel’s view of these canons via discussion of Marx’s notion of “praxis;” and then go on to adopt these canons of interpretation throughout the rest of the meditation. Employing these canons of interpretation, and with Aristotle’s very broad understanding of the term “politics” in mind, I construe universal dialogue to be a mode of discourse oriented toward the development of a new “politics of the global village” that could cultivate the practice of concretely relating to the other person as a person. Inasmuch as Aristotle construed “politics” as involving a developed ethics as well as a “science of society” , the meditation proceeds with a preliminary sketch of these two dimensions of a new “politics of the global village.”My meditation goes on to suggest a fundamental ethical principle that could be concretely and universally adopted by all people, and that could guide universal dialogue. The meditation continues with a sketch of a philosophical reconstruction of a humanistic Marxist “science of society,” and integrates the fundamental ethical principle with it. This sketch is basically a philosophical clarification of Marx’s theory of cultural evolution that brings into play the key role of the concrete universal and the internal relation as fundamental canons of interpretation. The meditation concludes with an argument that universal dialogue on the part of a very wide spectrum of ordinary people, as well as specialists, is the sine qua non for any hope of transforming the secular basis of human societies in the direction of social justice, as all of humanity faces the daunting crises that loom throughout planet Earth. (shrink)
Visual attentional processing was examined in adult meditators and non-meditators on behavioral measures of change blindness, concentration, perspective-shifting, selective attention, and sustained inattentional blindness. Results showed that meditators noticed more changes in flickering scenes and noticed them more quickly, counted more accurately in a challenging concentration task, identified a greater number of alternative perspectives in multiple perspectives images, and showed less interference from invalid cues in a visual selective attention task, but did not differ on a measure of sustained inattentional (...) blindness. Together, results show that regular meditation is associated with more accurate, efficient, and flexible visual attentional processing across diverse tasks that have high face validity outside of the laboratory. Furthermore, effects were assessed in a context separate from actual meditation practice, suggesting that meditators’ better visual attention is not just immediate, but extends to contexts separate from meditation practice. (shrink)
Although there are very few published studies on the issue, there is much anecdotal evidence that, despite all its undisputed benefits, meditation practice can have psychologically deleterious effects. In this paper I will describe a body-based model for understanding trauma, the Trauma Resiliency model, and suggest it might be a helpful tool in anticipating, preventing and/or mitigating these effects. I will argue that Buddhist traditions are replete with frameworks, tools and techniques for addressing some of the psychological pitfalls highlighted. (...) However, some of these methods may have been ‘lost in translation’ as Buddhist meditation training has been adapted for a Western audience. I will make the case that, somewhat ironically, in operational terms some of the secular modalities for teaching mindfulness may be psychologically ‘safer’ than those offered in a Buddhist context. I will call for further inquiry about how to mitigate and protect against psychological harms in Buddhist meditation training. (shrink)
In Thailand the pre-reform Therav?da meditation system, bor?n kamma??h?na, is now practised only by small and isolated groups. To promote detailed comparative study of bor?n kamma??h?na, the tradition of it taught at Wat Ratchasittharam, Thonburi, is explored through a translation of a text on?n?p?nasati attributed to Suk Kaitheun, the head of its lineage. This is followed by a detailed discussion and comparison with the description of the same technique in the Visuddhimagga. Some close connections between these two sources are (...) identified and it is speculated that, despite features concerning nimitta, bodily location, terminology etc. that are diagnostically distinctive for bor?n kamma??h?na, its method for?n?p?nasati can be seen as a rational development of earlier techniques advocated by Buddhaghosa. (shrink)