Monday, July 2, 2012

Tutorial 6: Blackmore

Monday, July 2 2012 13:30 - 16:30 @ Old Ship Hotel

Tutorial 6: "Meditation and consciousness: Two ways meditation can contribute to consciousness science"

Susan Blackmore (University of Plymouth, UK)


There are two ways in which formal meditation may contribute to consciousness studies.

First, there is research exploring how physiology and brain function change, both in the short term during meditation and in the long term after years of practice. Studies of stress levels and relaxation generally do not support popular claims, but dramatically slowed breathing is often found. PET, fMRI and other methods reveal increased overall coherence, and more specific effects are found especially on attentional systems. All these types of study face serious methodological challenges, especially in finding appropriate control groups and conditions, but some of these have been overcome with recent advances. When well conducted these studies may contribute to our understanding of the neural correlates of altered states of consciousness, and especially the correlates of changes in attention.

Second, meditation may (or may not!) be considered useful as a method for training more accurate introspection into consciousness. Traditional Zen koans (paradoxical questions used in meditation) often tackle questions familiar to consciousness researchers such as ‘Who is meditating?’ or ‘When is this?’. Using meditation in this way confronts all the problems of first-person inquiry, especially that of independent corroboration. We shall discuss whether (as I believe) the results may legitimately inspire new theories of consciousness or refute existing theories and assumptions.

This tutorial will include short lectures covering the major empirical findings of meditation research, interspersed with brief meditation sessions that will help us better understand the methods and effects entailed in that research.

Tutorial Outline:
0.00 Introduction. Two ways meditation research can contribute to consciousness studies.
0.10 Meditation exercise 1: Ten minutes calming the mind.
0.25 Physiology of meditation: breathing, arousal, blood O2, CO2 etc. levels, significance for claims of relaxation and stress reduction. Brain function changes, PET, fMRI, problems and implications. Meditation as training attention.
1.00 Meditation exercise 2: Ten minutes watching the breath, with timing exercise
1.15 Discussion
1.30 break (optional – practicing mindfulness during the break)
1.50 Meditation as disciplined introspection. A possible contribution of first-person practice?
2.15 Meditation exercise 3: Brief koan practice and discussion
2.30 Implications for current theories of consciousness
2.50 Final discussion

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