2005 SRI

at the Garrison Institute, Garrison, New York

Purpose

The purpose of the Mind & Life Summer Research Institute is to advance collaborative research among behavioral scientists, neuroscientists, and biomedical researchers based on a process of inquiry, dialogue, and in some cases, collaboration, with Buddhist contemplative practitioners and scholars and those in other contemplative traditions. The long-term objective is to advance the training of a new generation of behavioral scientists, cognitive/affective neuroscientists, Buddhists and other contemplative scholar/practitioners interested in exploring the influence of contemplative practice on mind, behavior, brain function, and health, including the potential role of contemplative methods in characterizing human experience and consciousness.

The specific goals of this program are:

  1. to nurture strategic dialogue between modern experimental psychologists, clinicians, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, on the one hand, and Buddhists and other contemplative practitioner/scholars, on the other, in order to develop research protocols to enhance investigation of human mental activity and its potential effects on health and wellbeing;
  2. to encourage and mentor a cadre of nascent scientists (graduate students and post-docs) and young Buddhists and other contemplative practitioners and scholars in an effort to develop the next generation of scientists and clinicians interested in innovation at the mind-brain-behavior interface;
  3. in the process, to advance a collaborative research program to study the influence of contemplative practices on the mind, on behavior, and on brain function by informed use of individuals who have, through intensive training and practice, developed a high degree of intimacy with and control over their own mental functioning.

Strategy

A small group of scientists, Buddhists and other contemplative practitioner/scholars will be the Faculty. The meeting will be restricted to 90 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, Buddhist and other contemplative 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 and other contemplative discussion comments will tie in relevant connections regarding what mind insights may complement the brain research. Buddhist and other contemplative topics such as the nature of mind, or consciousness, will be presented and then explored by scientists to clarify any related brain discoveries. Each day will have one or two principal science topics presented, then discussed by Buddhists and other contemplatives, and one or two Buddhist or other contemplative topics, then discussed by scientists. Each session will last about 2 hours.
  2. Meditation practice, with appropriate instruction, is an integral part of the program, allowing all concerned to experience directly “from the inside” what it means to credit first-person experience and what is involved practically speaking in engaging in contemplative practice. In addition to the daily meditation that take place morning and evening, there will also be a full day of meditation practice led by the contemplative faculty to extend and deepen the experience and challenges of meditation practice.
  3. Small group conversations of 10-15 students and 2 Faculty (one Buddhist or other contemplative, one scientist) will allow exploration of the topics in more detail, directed towards developing testable hypotheses.

Themes

The overriding theme of the meeting will be to foster a meaningful dialogue between modern psychology on the one hand, and Buddhist and other contemplative practice on the other, different ways of knowing and investigating the mind. For such dialogue to occur, it is important for the participants to appreciate the theoretical commonalities and differences between contemplative and modern scientific perspectives. Hence attention will be given to issues that inherently 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, Buddhists, and other contemplative practitioner/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 previous Mind & Life Institute meetings, but this is not critical, since there is no fixed content, in psychology, Buddhism, or other contemplative practice, that needs to be covered in this 6-day program.

Rather, a set of interactions on several topics in psychology and neuroscience which lend themselves to investigation of the interface to be informed by contemplative practice will be selected.
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 as a function of development, including the impact of educational methods, with a focus on certain critical issues in developmental psychology.
  • 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 and other contemplative psychology and modern cognitive science

Format and Schedule

The 2005 Summer Research 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.

The Summer Research Institute will begin in the evening of Sunday, June 26, and continue for 6 days, through noon on Saturday July 2. It will be co-chaired by a small committee consisting of scientists, philosophers, Buddhists, and other contemplative practitioner/scholars. They will provide overall guidance and, together with selected participants from the previous Summer Institute, will constitute the planning committee which will decide on the meeting structure. Readings will be distributed in advance. 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 and other contemplative practitioner/scholars. The remainder of the time will be devoted to scientific 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

Presenting Senior Investigators

Who Should Attend

Scientific:
  • Research Fellows
    Trainees, including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows conducting research in behavioral science, neuroscience and/or biomedicine will be considered “Research Fellows” and pay the reduced $300 cost for the institute.
  • Senior Investigators
    Academic researchers in these same areas who hold university or college faculty appointments (full-time, clinical or adjunct) at the level of Assistant Professor or above will be considered “Senior Investigators”, and cover the full $600 cost of the institute. Other professional groups (e.g. clinicians) who are independent practitioners will also fall into this category.
Contemplative:
  • Research Fellows
    Dharma students or other students at the graduate or postdoctoral level studying contemplative traditions will register in the category of “Research Fellows”, and pay the $300 reduced fee.
  • Senior Investigators
    Contemplative scholars, teachers or researchers who hold a faculty or comparable position will be considered “Senior Investigators” and cover the full $600 cost of the institute.