2004 SRI

at the Garrison Institute, Garrison, New York

Purpose

The purpose of the Mind & Life Summer Research Institute is to advance collaborative research among cognitive and affective neuroscientists and Buddhist contemplative practitioners and scholars. The long-term objective is to advance the training of a new generation of cognitive/affective neuroscientists interested in exploring the influence of contemplative practice on mind, behavior, and brain function, including the potential role of contemplative methods for characterizing human experience and consciousness, and Buddhist scholars interested in expanding their knowledge of the modern mind sciences.

The specific goals of this program are several:

  1. to elicit strategic discussion between modern experimental psychologists, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, on the one hand, and Buddhist scholars, on the other, in order to develop research protocols to enhance investigation of human mental activity;
  2. to have a cadre of nascent scientists (graduate students and post-docs), and some young Buddhist scholars, participate in these discussions in an effort to develop the next generation interested in innovation at the mind-brain interface;
  3. thereby to advance a collaborative research program to study the influence of contemplative practice on mind, behavior, and brain function, by informed use of the well-controlled mind in human neuroscience.

Strategy

A small group of scientists and Buddhist scholars/practitioners will be the Faculty. The meeting will be limited to some 60 participants, as innovative and interdisciplinary scientific advances are more likely to succeed in a small meeting of committed scholars. Moreover, new fields can be dramatically shaped by providing training opportunities for young scholars who are in the very early stages of their careers or who are still in training.

Meeting Structure

  1. Scientific and Buddhist presentations will be set up to encourage dialogue. All talks are “bottom up” in that scientists will present the subject closest to their research interests and then the Buddhist discussion comments will tie in relevant connections regarding what mind insights may complement the brain research. Buddhist topics such as the nature of mind, or consciousness, will be presented and then discussed by scientists to clarify any related brain discoveries.
    Each day will have one principal science topic presented, then discussed by Buddhists, and one Buddhist topic, then discussed by scientists. Each session will last about 2 hours.
  2. Faculty have been selected to be comfortable with this structure — and not naïve to the science/contemplation interface — e.g., for this first Institute, all Faculty will have experience and empathy with the project.
  3. Meditation, with appropriate instruction, is part of the program, in order to ground any discussion of first-person contributions in actual experimental practice.
  4. Small group discussions of 10-15 students and 2 Faculty (one Buddhist, one scientist) will occur in the evenings, to allow exploration of the topics in more detail, directed towards testable hypotheses.

Themes

The overriding theme of the meeting will be to foster a meaningful dialogue between modern cognitive/affective neuroscience and Buddhist contemplative practice. For such dialogue to occur, it is important for the participants to appreciate the theoretical commonalities and differences between Buddhist and modern scientific perspectives. Hence attention will be given to issues that arise in studying the mind.

The scientific emphasis will be given to developing rigorous experimental designs to evaluate both state and trait effects of contemplative practice and potential experimental designs for incorporating “first-person” contemplative methods into cognitive/affective neuroscience research on consciousness. We will encourage the active collaboration of scientists and Buddhist scholars in all phases of research. Examples of early findings from such collaborations will be provided.

With these goals, the choice of participants is much more important than the choice of topics; i.e., interest and enthusiasm of the Faculty for pursuing this agenda is key. Thus, we may follow or expand upon the topics of the 2003 ITM Meeting, but this is not critical, since there is no fixed content, in psychology or Buddhism, that needs to be covered in this 5-day program.

Rather, a set of interactions on several topics in cognitive and/or affective neuroscience which lend themselves to investigation of the interface to be informed by contemplative practice will be ideal for this first Summer Institute. The process is more important that the topics – and the product would ideally be a set of experiments to test specific hypotheses, and a group of enthusiastic scientists and contemplatives (including, especially, students and post-docs) eager to pursue these ideas.

Examples of the possible themes that will be addressed include:

  • Functional neuroimaging research on relations between changes in subjective experience during meditation and alterations in brain function.
  • Neuroplasticity and its implications for understanding transformations in brain and behavior produced by contemplative practice.
  • Integration of first-person methods in research on brain function, meditation, and consciousness
  • Affective and cognitive traits effects of meditation and methods to interrogate these changes in brain and behavior
  • Longitudinal research with meditation practitioners
  • Epistemological and methodological issues about introspection and meta-cognition, as seen from the perspectives of Buddhist psychology and modern cognitive science

Format

The Summer Institute will be held at the Garrison Institute in Garrison, New York. Please see the Garrison Institute website for more details:  www.garrisoninstitute.org/homepage.html .

It will begin in the evening of Monday, June 21, and go for 6 days, Tuesday, June 22 through Sunday, June 27th. It will be co-chaired by a small committee consisting of scientists, philosophers, and Buddhist scholars. They will provide overall guidance and will also constitute the planning committee which will decide on the speakers and choose a format for the application and review process for the trainees.

Readings will be distributed in advance, as well as distributed at the meeting itself. Informal talks with ample time for discussion will be the typical mode of presentation. Approximately 2 hours/day will be devoted to practice and talks by Buddhist practitioners. The remainder of the time will be devoted to talks and discussion.

Venue

The Summer Research Institute will be held at the Garrison Institute, a former Capuchin monastery overlooking the Hudson River, 50 miles north of New York City. Please see the Garrison Institute website for more details: www.garrisoninstitute.org.

Faculty

Click on the links below for a biography of the faculty members