This Dialogue explores a perennial human predicament: the nature and destructive potential of “negative” emotions; for example, when jealousy turns into murderous rage. The Buddhist tradition has long pointed out that recognizing and transforming negative emotions lies at the heart of spiritual practice. From the perspective of science, these same emotional states pose a perplexing challenge. These are brain responses that have shaped the human mind and presumably played a key role in human survival but now, in modern life, they pose grave dangers to our individual and collective fate. In examining the nature of emotions and when they become “destructive,” distinctive answers come from Buddhist and Western philosophy. From the perspective of affective neuroscience and evolutionary theory, the destructive emotions are seen within the wider context of the full human range, such as maternal love, pleasure seeking, and defense — functions that have shaped the neural architecture that now forms the basis of our emotional repertoire.

Mind & Life revisited the research and insights catalyzed by this dialogue at the Science & Wisdom of Emotions Summit, held twenty years later in May 2021.

LOCATION: Dharamsala, India


Participants

Richard J. Davidson, PhD

Mind & Life Chief Scientific Advisor, Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Paul Ekman, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Mark Greenberg, PhD

Pennsylvania State University

Convening Faculty, Fellow, PPC Member

Thupten Jinpa Langri, PhD

McGill University

Matthieu Ricard, PhD

Karuna-shechen

Convening Faculty, Fellow

Francisco J. Varela, PhD

Mind & Life Institute

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