2007 SRI

at the Garrison Institute, Garrison, New York, June 3-9, 2007

Purpose

The purpose of the Mind & Life Summer Research Institute is to advance collaborative research among behavioral and clinical 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, clinical researchers, and contemplative scholar/practitioners interested in exploring the potential influences of meditation and other contemplative practices on mind, behavior, brain function, and health. This includes examining the potential role of contemplative methods for characterizing human experience and consciousness from a neuroscience and clinical intervention perspective.

The specific goals of the Summer Research Institute are:

  1. to nurture creative and strategic dialogue between modern experimental psychologists, clinical researchers, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, on the one hand, and Buddhist and other contemplative practitioners and scholars, on the other, with the aim of developing research protocols for investigating 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 Buddhist and other contemplative practitioners and scholars in an effort to develop the next generation of scientists, clinicians, and scholars interested in innovation and collaboration at the mind-brain-behavior interface;
  3. to advance a collaborative research program to study the influence of contemplative practices on the mind, on illness and 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.

Venue

The 2007 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/home.php.

Strategy

The week will take the form of a retreat in which opportunities for deep dialogue across disciplines, as well as inquiry through first-person meditation practice, are optimized. The natural beauty and cloistered atmosphere of the venue, coupled with the informal and collegial nature of the gathering all contribute to a relaxed but vigorous community of intention and mutual respect. The Faculty will consist of a small group of scientists, clinicial researchers, Buddhists and other contemplative practitioner/scholars.

The meeting will be restricted to 125 participants, as innovative and interdisciplinary scientific conversations and potential collaborations and new projects are more likely to develop successfully with a limited number of committed participants. It is also hoped that emerging areas of research and even 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.

Format

  1. Both the scientific and contemplative presentations will be structured to encourage substantive dialogue. The scientists will give talks on subjects closest to their research interests. The contemplative faculty will respond to these talks by raising relevant connections concerning how specific mind insights might shed light on specific aspects of the brain research. The contemplatives will give talks on topics such as the nature of mind, or consciousness, and the scientists will respond to these presentations from their perspectives. 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. The specific topics will be decided by a committee (see below), and posted on the website once the entire program is defined.
  2. Formal meditation practice, with appropriate instruction, is an integral part of the program, allowing all concerned to have an extended first-hand experience of what is involved practically speaking in engaging in contemplative practice, and the challenges of honoring and learning from first-person experience. In addition to the daily meditation sessions that will take place morning and evening, there will also be a day-long “mini-retreat” led by the contemplative faculty to extend and deepen the experience, understanding, and challenges of meditation practice. This mini-retreat is an integral part of the larger institute, and the faculty has committed to being present for the entire week.
  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 the domain of contemplative practice on the other. These two epistemologies constitute different ways of investigating and understanding 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 cogent issues inherent in studying the mind.

The scientific emphasis will include developing rigorous experimental designs to evaluate both state and trait effects of contemplative practice, clinical trials methodology for evaluating the impact of meditative-based interventions 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.

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.
  • Fundamentals of clinical intervention research to study comparative outcomes of meditation-based interventions, as well as to investigate the causal agency of contemplative practices in reducing suffering and promoting health.
  • Integration of first-person methods in research on brain function, meditation, and consciousness
  • Affective and cognitive trait 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

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.

Schedule

The Summer Research Institute will begin in the evening of Sunday, June 3, and continue for 6 days, through noon on Saturday June 9, 2007.

As noted above, a committee consisting of scientists, philosophers, Buddhists, and other contemplative practitioner/scholars, together with selected participants from previous Summer Institutes, will constitute the planning committee for this meeting, and will develop the specific topics and themes for the presentations, as well as the overall structure. The schedule will be posted on this website when it is complete. Readings will be posted in advance. Informal talks with ample time for discussion will be the typical mode of presentation.

Approximately 2 hours/day will be devoted to talks by Buddhist and other contemplative practitioner/scholars. The remainder of the time will be devoted to scientific talks and dialogue.

Faculty

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

Who Should Attend

Scientific Attendees:
  • Research Fellows
    Trainees, including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows conducting research in neuroscience, clinical science or intervention research and/or biomedicine will be considered “Research Fellows” and pay the reduced $325 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 $625 cost of the institute.
    Other professional groups (e.g. clinicians/therapists) who are independent practitioners will also fall into this category.
Contemplative Attendees:
  • 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 $325 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 $625 cost of the institute.