Summer Research Institute, Last Day

The 2012 Summer Research Institute ended with a flourish today, with a great variety of subjects discussed. The morning started with Richie Davidson giving a history of neuroscience in relation to situated and embodied mind. It was remarkably cogent, thorough, and enlightening. The high point was his description of facial muscle experiments that were aimed at identifying the two-way communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Researchers were looking to find a way to isolate facial muscles in order to remove one variable from the equation, and couldn’t find a way to do it, until the cosmetic use of Botox became popular. People were voluntarily paralyzing facial muscles for the sake of beauty and coincidentally provided neuroscientists with the perfect experimental circumstance.

Richie Davidson talking about Botox

He was followed by a tag-team presentation from  Andrew Dreitcer and Michael Spezio, who presented the Christian contemplative tradition and provided some welcome diversity. The afternoon featured another tag-team presentation, this time by Roshi Joan Halifax and Sona Dimidjian, who talked about their work in bringing compassion to health care. Roshi Joan’s work, in particular, is a model of applied research, and has brought much-needed enlightenment to the field of care for the dying.

Andrew Dreitcer giving the Christian perspective on contemplative traditions

In the evening, Mind and Life President Arthur Zajonc offered an overview of where the organization is and where it is going. That included a look at the new strategic plan and its calls for applied research and an overarching vision called Mapping the Mind. He also offered his view of contemplative practice as a physicist, saying that physicists’ understanding of reality and the mind was even more radical than that of contemplatives.

The last day was capped by a social hour in the dining hall with snacks and lively conversation.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was when Roshi Joan Halifax asked the audience how many of them had generated new ideas for research from the week’s meetings. Almost the entire audience raised their hands.


Here’s a final set of photos from the event. Click on the image to see it full sized.