Neuroplasticity and a Possible Agenda for an Experiential Neuroscience

Neuroplasticity and a Possible Agenda for an Experiential Neuroscience


This meeting underscores the plasticity in brain and mental function that exists throughout life, and the potential role of practices designed for change in actually producing beneficial changes. As a case in point, studies on how negative emotions operate at the level of brain function offer an opportunity to develop an entirely new understanding of equanimity as a classic antidote to this range of emotions. Further, a neural-experiential complementary framework can be developed to actively guide new research, using modern brain methods (such as neuroimaging) to provide an independent window on the trait changes induced by refined ongoing learning, embodied in practices such as quiescence (shamatha). However the topic of neuroplasticity introduces a number of delicate issues around this new kind of research that mixes, on equal footing, data from third person or scientific perspective, and on first person or experiential access. On the one hand, there is little idea yet how to validate collectively data coming from first-person access. On the other hand, the mere identification of neural correlates of consciousness is only in its beginnings, and it typically leaves untouched how experiential, first person methods can play a role. We will outline a three-pronged program of research. The first element will consist of a detailed and thorough examination of the conceptual and methodological conundrums encountered in the study of self-report and an outline of a program of research to examine the possible impact of dharma practice on accuracy and biases in self-reports of subjective experience. The second element concerns the boundary between automatic and controlled processing and the extent to which this boundary is subject to plastic changes induced by meditation and other similar forms of training. Again, a series of experiments will be proposed to examine these questions. Finally, the third element consists of examining the neurobiological correlates and substrates of these processes.

  • Dialogue 8
    11 sessions
  • March 24, 2000
    Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
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Francisco Varela