2009 SRI

at the Garrison Institute, Garrison, New York, June 7-13, 2009

Scientific and Contemplative Perspectives on the Self

Conference Brochure

Click to view the brochure from the 2009 SRI in PDF format.

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 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 cultivate strategic dialogue between experimental psychologists, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists on the one hand, and contemplative scholars/practitioners and philosophers on the other, in order to develop research protocols to enhance investigation of human mental activity;
  2. to foster a cadre of nascent scientists (graduate students and post-docs) and contemplative scholars and philosophers to participate in the development of 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, behavior and brain function, by informed use of highly trained subjects in human neuroscience protocols;
  4. to explore ways in which the first-person examination of mental phenomena, by means of refining attention and related skills, may be raised to a level of rigor comparable to the third-person methodologies of the cognitive sciences; and
  5. to catalyze the creation of three new scientific and academic disciplines: Contemplative Neuroscience; Contemplative Clinical Science and Contemplative Studies.

Primary Theme

The 2009 Mind & Life Summer Research Institute (MLSRI) will be devoted to the theme of the self, its development in sociocultural and contemplative contexts, and its implications for human flourishing and social transformation. MLSRI 09 will bring together contemplatives and academic scholars from the social, developmental, and clinical sciences, the neurosciences, contemplative studies, and philosophy to dialogue about a variety of topics pertaining to the self. These topics will include conceptualizations of self and identity in various traditions; the development of self in normative and contemplative contexts; the neurobiology of the self , its development, and associated plasticity; the processes of self-identification and their effects on life outcomes such as health, education, well-being and social relations; the phenomenology of the “embodied sense” of identity, ownership and agency in experience, and the relation of these first-person perspectives to the brain and body across development; the concept of “self-regulation” and its relation to issues of mental causation, free-will, and a variety of life outcomes; the role of self processes in psychological illness; and finally, self versus no-self views on the fundamental nature of the mind and consciousness.

MLSRI 09 will engage contemplatives, clinicians, researchers and philosophers in a series of dialogues around these themes with the explicit aim of presenting cutting edge research and stimulating new inter-disciplinary research on issues of self, human suffering, human flourishing and social transformation. Particular attention will again be given to how engagement in contemplative practices over a sustained period of time, as well as the psychological and philosophical theories of mind and consciousness that inform such practices, open new avenues for investigating topics pertaining to self,  its development and functions. Contemplative philosophy provides novel insights into the conceptual nature of self, and contemplative practice affords a uniquely well-suited context in which to study such insights in scientifically tractable ways. Similarly, current scientific research offers a variety of perspectives on the self, and a rich set of rigorous methodologies in which to study the self. Together, we believe that contemplative and contemporary science and philosophy can reveal new insights into the nature of self, mind and consciousness that will be of benefit to humanity.

Through scientific, contemplative, and philosophical presentations, intensive group discussions, and sustained contemplative practice over the course of the week, the 2009 MLSRI  aims to break new ground in our understanding of the self, and to stimulate the development of new interdisciplinary research projects in the emerging fields of contemplative neuroscience, contemplative clinical science, contemplative education, and humanistic contemplative studies. We hope you will join us for this exciting and unique summer event.

Other Themes

Some other possible themes that may 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 transformation in brain and behavior as a function of development, including the impact of control and predictability in direct experience, learning, and memory.
  • 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 contemplative methods with a focus on the interdependence of such effects with 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 practices, as well as from psychological, cognitive and neurosciences.
  • Issues in the professional development of meditation researchers including: how to write a successful grant; what types of professional positions are especially amenable to conducting meditation research; optimal ways to combine one’s own personal contemplative practice with meditation research; and other aspects of professional development.

Format

The Institute is a quasi-retreat in which opportunities for deep dialogue across disciplines, as well as inquiry through first-person meditation practice, are optimized. Formal mindfulness/awareness meditation practice, with appropriate instruction, and periods of silence, are 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 hour-long meditation sessions that will take place morning and evening, there will also be a silent, day-long “mini-retreat” led by the contemplative faculty to extend and deepen the experience, understanding, and challenges of meditation practice. The natural beauty and cloistered atmosphere of the Garrison Institute, 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 scientists, clinicial researchers, Buddhists and other contemplative practitioner/scholars and teachers. The meeting will be restricted to 150 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.

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 mid-afternoon on Sunday, June 7, and continue for 6 days, ending on the morning of Saturday, June 13, 2009.

Application and Registration Schedule

Applications have closed for the 2009 event.

  • January 15, 2009 – Applications open
  • February 20, 2009 – Applications close and materials due
  • March 15, 2009 – Final selection of applicants
  • March 23, 2009 – Notification of applicants (via email)
  • April 23, 2009 – Registration and payment opens for accepted applicants
  • May 18, 2009 – Last day for payment of fees

Who Should Attend

Scientific Attendees
  • Research Fellows
    Trainees, including undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows conducting research in neuroscience, bio and medical science, cognitive and developmental psychology, and clinical science will be considered “Research Fellows”.
  • Senior Investigators
    Established 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”. 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 undergraduate, graduate or postdoctoral level studying contemplative traditions, philosophy, or humanities will be considered “Research Fellows”.
  • Senior Investigators
    Contemplative scholars, teachers or researchers who hold a faculty or comparable position will be considered “Senior Investigators”.

For More Information

For specific questions, not answered on these pages, you may contact sri@mindandlife.org.