In a 1984 interview, Francisco Varela stated that “science, in its core, its active living core, is pure contemplation. It has little or nothing to do with manipulation.” In 2018, the utility of engaging in contemplative practice is pervasively promoted as justified by scientific evidence of its benefits. Yet this evidence is often weak, taken out of context, and interpreted in an over simplified fashion beyond what the data actually show. Further, the crucial role of context, be it social, physical, or related to shared world- views is widely removed from consideration. This state of affairs is laden with implicit scientific hegemony that discourages rigorous methodological scrutiny and the relevance of personal understanding.
One correction for this emerging instrumentalist narrative of “better living through all things mindful” may be to focus on what we might be able to know through our lived experience of meditation training and practice and, in contrast, what we cannot know using our current research tools. We will explore these issues primarily using data drawn from the methods of cognitive neuroscience, social and health psycho- logy, molecular biology, and sociology drawn from our research on inten- sive meditation in retreat contexts. We will then discuss an initial foray into the building of a transdisciplinary model of aspects of cognition that may be impacted by styles of Buddhist meditation to explore the challenges in implementing research that begins to approach adequacy in light of recent critiques and second thoughts regarding the promise of this field.