The Neuroscience of Mindfulness

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  • TracyF
    Member
    • Nov 2007
    • 188

    The Neuroscience of Mindfulness

    I was surfing the internets and stumbled on this article. I'm not at work so I can only see the abstract but it looks very interesting. Apparently, there are two parts of the brain: one which control how people separate the time-enduring self and one which controls experiencing the present. This part of the brain is what we unblock when we practice shikantaza. So it's not really dropping here and there but it's dropping the self-narrative of here and there and just being.

    Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference
    Norman A. S. Farb1, Zindel V. Segal1,2, Helen Mayberg3, Jim Bean4, Deborah McKeon4, Zainab Fatima5 and Adam K. Anderson1,5

    1Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, ON M5S 3G3, Canada, 2Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, ON M5T 1R8, Canada, 3Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, 4Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic, St. Joseph's Health Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M6R 1B5, and 5Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest, Toronto, Ontario, M6A 2E1

    It has long been theorised that there are two temporally distinct forms of self-reference: extended self-reference linking experiences across time, and momentary self-reference centred on the present. To characterise these two aspects of awareness, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine monitoring of enduring traits (’narrative’ focus, NF) or momentary experience (’experiential’ focus, EF) in both novice participants and those having attended an 8 week course in mindfulness meditation, a program that trains individuals to develop focused attention on the present. In novices, EF yielded focal reductions in self-referential cortical midline regions (medial prefrontal cortex, mPFC) associated with NF. In trained participants, EF resulted in more marked and pervasive reductions in the mPFC, and increased engagement of a right lateralised network, comprising the lateral PFC and viscerosomatic areas such as the insula, secondary somatosensory cortex and inferior parietal lobule. Functional connectivity analyses further demonstrated a strong coupling between the right insula and the mPFC in novices that was uncoupled in the mindfulness group. These results suggest a fundamental neural dissociation between two distinct forms of self-awareness that are habitually integrated but can be dissociated through attentional training: the self across time and in the present moment.

    Keywords: self-reference; attention; meditation; fMRI; insula; prefrontal cortex; somatosensory; plasticity
    http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/cont ... ct/2/4/313

    I'll take a look at it when I go to work to see if there's anything else cool.
  • Lynn
    Member
    • Oct 2007
    • 180

    #2
    Re: The Neuroscience of Mindfulness

    Hi Tracy!

    I just had to laugh out loud when I saw this! I spent 11 years at the University of Oregon teaching and doing research in cognitive neuropsychology and brain electrophysiology. I was Buddhist and the man I worked with, Dr. Don Tucker, and his counterpart, Dr. Michael Posner, were often speculating about meditation and the effects self-evaluation by looking at the changes in the PFC, amygdala, and the cortical-thalamic interactions.

    Know where it got me? The hell out of dodge and into a monastery to become a monk! :lol: :lol: :lol: I'm serious...at a certain point I finally had to look at all the data, the research, and ask myself: How is this of service to others? How is it bringing the end of suffering to myself and others? And the echoing sound of the silence, the utter void of answer, finally got me out.

    Now, here's a hoot: I got out of the monastery in the Fall of 2004. I go to the store and am in shock and a bit dazed because I've only been back "in the world" for about a week and it was a huge and traumatic event. I'm standing in the check out line and my gaze glances over a picture on the front of Time magazine of a freakin' MONK with a neural net (the one Don developed at UO) on his freakin' head!! I find out that Don and Richie Davidson at MIT had been collaborating whilst I was meditating and finally got their dream to come true...to study the effects of meditation. On MONKS!

    I looked Don up after I got out...what did he want to do? Sit and talk about the precepts? NOooooooo....wanted to slap a net on my head and have me participate in the experiment. :roll: I laughed and said thanks but no thanks and waved goodbye.

    Now, lest you get a ruffle in your feathers, I'm just sharing my experience with you not providing you with commentary about whether or not your sharing is of value. I just find it a hoot that I ran so far to get away from this kind of stuff only to find it knocking on my doorstep. (Of course, I choose whether or not to distract myself by going there or just say, "Thanks, gave at the office." :lol: )

    Be well...

    Lynn
    When we wish to teach and enlighten all things by ourselves, we are deluded; when all things teach and enlighten us, we are enlightened. ~Dogen "Genjo Koan"

    Comment

    • John
      Member
      • Sep 2007
      • 272

      #3
      Hi Tracy,

      Just a couple of points. Maybe it's nitpicking, but isn't there a difference between 'mindfulness meditation' and what we do in 'shikantaza'? The former is more like a vipassana practice where you concentrate on something or label thoughts etc. and shikantaza is open awareness. Wouldn't that make a difference to the tests?

      http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?o ... ew&id=2125

      I know it's interesting to scientists but I don't really see how knowing what part of the brain is active for what stimuli helps us understand very much about the nature of mind or thought. There is a theory (The Identity Theory of Mind) ".....that when we experience something - e.g. pain - this is exactly reflected by a corresponding neurological state in the brain (such as the interaction of certain neurons, axons, etc.). From this point of view, your mind is your brain - they are identical'"

      http://www.philosophyonline.co.uk/pom/p ... y_what.htm

      But I can't agree with that. Thoughts are what the brain secretes - how could they be identical with the brain hardware that produces them?

      Gassho,
      John

      Comment

      • soitgoes
        Member
        • Jan 2008
        • 15

        #4
        Wow, this is really incredible, two neuroscientists posting here!

        I'm currently studying computer science but got a bit disillusioned with the field, so I'm considering getting a research master in neuroscience/neuroinformatics to make the transition. I was thinking that reverse-engineering the brain, in addition to being interesting and a huge challenge, would give me the feeling that I'm doing meaningful and rewarding work. So, Lynn, could you please elaborate on why you found it not be of service to others?

        Also, I'd like to know what a day doing neuroscience research is like? What kind of things do you have to do? What do/did you like and dislike about the work? What advice would you give to a potential newbie in the field?

        Comment

        • Rev R
          Member
          • Jul 2007
          • 457

          #5
          reverse-engineering the brain
          I know where to find a few unused ones for your research. :twisted:

          Comment

          • TracyF
            Member
            • Nov 2007
            • 188

            #6
            Soitgoes, I hope you weren't referring to me when you said TWO neuroscientists. Lynn, yes, me - no! I just play with test tubes. :lol:

            Lynn, I've read Dr. Posner's work. Isn't he the guy who said he could detect which part of the brain was stimulated when people claimed they could sense God?

            I gotta admit, the name Don Tucker doesn't ring a bell but why did you expect him to talk about the precepts? Is he a scientist AND a monk?

            Like Soitgoes, I'd also be interested in hearing more about why you had such an aversion to the research that you had to run away. I'd also be interested in hearing why you think that knowledge of this kind is not a service to people.

            John, the abstract doesn't specify what kind of meditation was going on. I didn't know that mindfulness meditation was a specific reference to vipassana. The abstract did state that the subjects' focused more on the here and now. Therefore, I'd wager that skikantaza and and vipassana would give similar results. As to your comment on these types of studies and what they can tell you about mind and thought, I think even neuroscientists would agree that mind and thought are not solely brain processes when you consider the big picture. The brain is simply the cpu. From what I've read, Buddhists and other Eastern philosophies give the "mind" a much more broad definition. Correct me if I'm wrong, folks, but I take it that the mind is the whole shebang, a circuit of brain, body and environment including responses to past stimuli. So doing these types of studies simply tells you the brain part of the mind; a key but not only player.

            From Mike Luetchford's interpretation of the Genjo Koan
            When sailing along in a boat, if we look at the shore, we can believe that the shore is moving back past us. But if we keep our eyes fixed on the boat, we notice that in fact the boat is moving forward. In the same way, when we try to understand the world around us based on confused assumptions that separate the world into the physical and the mental, it is easy to believe that we have something called a mind, which is enduring. But when we act, we bring ourselves back to this concrete place, and it is then obvious that the world is not centered around me.
            To me, these kinds of studies don't change the above quote. I'm always of the view that acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a fundamental need for all sentient beings. Humans especially have this need just like our appreciation for art or shikantaza. No immediate applications should be required for simply doing a natural, healthy human practice. However, we're always surprised to later find previously unthought of applications (for good or bad) to the acquired knowledge. Maybe this line of research will help people with self-awareness issues. Wouldn't it be wonderful if doctors took time to listen to their patients and maybe suggest they find some 'spiritual' means to some of their minor health problems instead of throwing meds at them.

            From a Buddhist point of view (IMO), it points to a physical component of practice (again, not saying the brain is everything, only that it is part of the process and now we have an idea of how its part of the process). I think Shak found out through experience what scientists can only glimpse with their instruments. It stresses that what happens with meditation is not magical or mystical. It's just what it is so we have to practice, practice, practice.

            I know where to find a few unused ones for your research.
            I got one from a someone named Abby Normal. :lol:

            Comment

            • will
              Member
              • Jun 2007
              • 2331

              #7
              Thanks for the story Lynn

              So you didn't leave the monastery at all when you were there?

              Gassho Will
              [size=85:z6oilzbt]
              To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
              To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
              To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
              To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
              [/size:z6oilzbt]

              Comment

              • Stephanie

                #8
                Great story, Lynn. Where were you a monk?

                I find neuroscience research fascinating. I suspect that it can't answer a lot of the questions that are the most personally significant to me, but it does suggest a lot of interesting things about our subjective experience. It's still such a young field, though, and just because we know what areas of the brain light up during certain tasks doesn't tell us all that much.

                Comment

                • Lynn
                  Member
                  • Oct 2007
                  • 180

                  #9
                  OK..I'll try to be brief. :? CAVEAT: This is my experience. I own it! YMMV.

                  Originally posted by TracyF
                  Lynn, I've read Dr. Posner's work. Isn't he the guy who said he could detect which part of the brain was stimulated when people claimed they could sense God?
                  LOL! Maybe, but I haven't read that...it's either way before my time working with him or after he moved to New York.

                  Originally posted by TracyF
                  Like Soitgoes, I'd also be interested in hearing more about why you had such an aversion to the research that you had to run away. I'd also be interested in hearing why you think that knowledge of this kind is not a service to people.

                  I'm always of the view that acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a fundamental need for all sentient beings. No immediate applications should be required for simply doing a natural, healthy human practice. However, we're always surprised to later find previously unthought of applications (for good or bad) to the acquired knowledge.
                  Well, I disagree with you, Tracy. That sounds like Ivory Tower logic. I do not believe that it is an innate desire for human beings to simply acquire knowledge for the sake of sitting around and debating. I have worked with hundreds of grad students just starting out: what do they want to do with their research? Other than answers from those who simply wished to become professional students, the overwhelming answer was "To help other people." They initially are there to be of service.

                  (BTW, do you think this kind of statement would fly with the people in Darfur who might be much more grateful if someone was collecting knowledge to help end the genocide rather than so that they can sit around and *talk about the genocide?? )

                  My own experience is that every time I turned around and we discovered a new "blip" at some millisecond interval and ran the data through hours of crunching in order to pull out some kind of dipole source localization I would ask, "What is the practical application??" and I *never, in eleven years, got an answer. No new medicine, no new therapy. Nada. And our research was supposed to be helping understand depression. It ended up being just a bunch of words leading to a grant continuation that claimed it was *supposed to be helping (you sort of have to justify to NIH why you need another half million bucks to go on for another 3 years) but honestly, Tracy, nothing. (Except endless meetings with a lot of idea people who never got a lot implemented.) As both John and Stephanie said, knowing where it happens doesn't tell you diddly do about why and no help was forthcoming.

                  So your statement No immediate applications should be required for simply doing a natural, healthy human practice. However, we're always surprised to later find previously unthought of applications (for good or bad) to the acquired knowledge. is one of the reasons that much of the really important research in this nation is not getting funded. It's backwards. Too many people have sucked too much money with no practically applicable results that better the lives of others. Science should be driven by a strong, demonstrable "service to others" guideline and funding should be cut off immediately when it becomes clear that people are screwing around and just living off govt. monies to fund their R&D to get their products marketed and schmooze at their international conferences. (And this happens all the time for YEARS!) Maybe I sound jaded, but I have direct knowledge and experience in that system.

                  I needed to be of real service. Something I could say, at the end of the day, helped someone's life. My strong faith in my practice led me to consider the monastic path, but that was not where I was best suited. So, now I am a nurse. I do hospice. I work with the elderly. I make about 1/4 the money I did at university, but I can honestly say that it is a right livelihood and in keeping with my practice. At the end of the day I remain unpublished by peer review...but I am content. (well...*most days... :? )

                  Will and Stephanie: I was at Shasta Abbey in N. CA. I left the monastery maybe 12 times in three years but always accompanied by other monks and it was usually a Dr.'s appt. or something like that. We were fairly cloistered (evening news was watched only by the abbot and a few senior monks), no newspapers and the laity were discouraged from talking about outside events. But family and friends could always arrange visits. We weren't prisoners

                  Well, shuga...that wasn't very brief. Tracy, I hope that you are involved in the kind of research that is truly leading to ways to help the suffering of others. If so...you are very lucky. May you be well and be content in what you do.

                  In Gassho~

                  *Lynn
                  When we wish to teach and enlighten all things by ourselves, we are deluded; when all things teach and enlighten us, we are enlightened. ~Dogen "Genjo Koan"

                  Comment

                  • Jundo
                    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                    • Apr 2006
                    • 39419

                    #10
                    Hi,

                    I will express my personal hope for the future of neurological research and Buddhism. I speak, of course, as a Buddhist and not as a neuroscientist. However, I have been following the research for some time as an interested observor.

                    I believe the research is in its early, rudimentary stages. But it will not always be so. Please remember the Wright Brothers and the 'Turing Machine', the first attempts at heart transplants or in understanding the Genetic Code. Already, important discoveries are being made through the fMRI studies.Some of my favorite research involves studies on the "teenage" brain (including with relation to teen violence and criminality) which explain much of the behavior that most parents of a teenager know well (their inability to see the long term consequences of actions, for example. This seems to be an important factor in teen criminal behavior too) ...

                    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline ... teenbrain/

                    And, I believe, the research has the potential to directly relieve human suffering ... even in places like Darfur. Let me briefly explain ...

                    Buddhists have been debating the nature of "mind" for thousands of years, with all variety of very creative and conflicting theories. See, for example:



                    Western scientists and philosophers are still far away from defining the exact relationship between the brain and the human mind and consciousness. However, it is clear that there is an intimate connection, and that the mind (the mind in ordinary human experience) is likely in whole or part an emergent property of the trillions of neural connections in the brain. In one way or another, physical damage or other changes to the brain result in changes to the mind.

                    I believe that Zazen Practice has two important elements: (1) our work on the Zafu whereby we encounter certain experiences and perspectives on 'being' through daily Zazen and (2) the lifelong effort to incorporate those experiences and perspectives into our day to day lives. I believe that technology is being developed that will help along (1), and allow people to "taste" what we taste on the Zafu through various modern means. I think that devices and various other "assists' will be developed that will take the place, to some degree, of the sensory deprivation experience of "facing a wall". However, I do not think that technology will get to (2) anytime soon.

                    I also believe that good research is being done on the criminal brain, the violent brain, etc.

                    http://www.law.stanford.edu/news/pr/72/ ... n%20Grant/

                    Research is also being conducted on aspects of the brain directly related to Buddhism, such as greed, anger, altruism, caring etc.

                    I am looking forward to the day in which we can treat criminal behavior by a means other than incarceration. We will be able to "flip 'off' the switches" that trigger violence in violent criminals. We will be able to "flip 'on' the switches" that gives rise to a peaceful inner nature, empathy for other human beings, love, genorosity and the like. (Brain research is showing that it is rarely if ever just a single region of the brain, or single gene or the like, that would be the trigger for any aspect of human behavior, but a complex interaction. Still, I am confident that we can "flip those switches" someday). We will learn what gives rise to a brain that can commit genocide such as in Darfur, and we will learn to treat that brain as if it had a disease to be cured.

                    Give it another 50 years. Hopefully the technology will not be misused (it is coming down the pipe, one way or the other)

                    Gassho, Jundo
                    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                    Comment

                    • Jundo
                      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                      • Apr 2006
                      • 39419

                      #11
                      As I said, the technology is coming in time, notwithstanding whether it is to be used for good or bad purposes, as a military weapon or just to sell more coca-cola. Thus, here is another area of the field I am very interested in:

                      "NEUROETHICS,"
                      the study of the ethical issues involved in using these new technologies. Here is an article from the University of Pennsylvania, where a lot of work is going on:

                      [i]As our ability to peek inside the brain—and to alter it—expands, the field of neuroethics is beginning to emerge … to study the implication for society and the individual. The technology is already here. It’s called optical imaging … “a cheap window on the brain” that’s also noninvasive. … t might be used in airport security to look for terrorists. But the question is, will it finger a flying-phobic soccer mom instead? ... What can technology reliably tell us about the workings of the human mind … ? And who has a right to use this information? How far should we go in treating or enhancing the brain? Those are a few of the concerns that make up the emerging field of neuroethics.




                      .
                      Last edited by Jundo; 12-15-2013, 03:20 AM.
                      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                      Comment

                      • Rev R
                        Member
                        • Jul 2007
                        • 457

                        #12
                        Hey Jundo,

                        Isn't that effectively removing the ability to choose to resist those violent urges? I agree that incarceration isn't working (ex CJ major myself) as a rehabilitation tool, it just doesn't seem ethically right to shut off a section of a human brain.

                        We choose to rewire our brains through practice, but that just strikes me as something a little too Orwellian...or maybe Anthony Burgess.

                        *edit* thanks for that article

                        Comment

                        • Longdog
                          Member
                          • Nov 2007
                          • 448

                          #13
                          Makes me think of Logan's Run, Rev :?
                          [url:x8wstd0h]http://moder-dye.blogspot.com/[/url:x8wstd0h]

                          Comment

                          • Jundo
                            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                            • Apr 2006
                            • 39419

                            #14
                            Hey Guys,

                            As I said, the ability to do these things is coming whether we like it or not. The only question is what we do with the technology.

                            I am well aware of the dangers and ethical questions involved in "treating" the mind and body of the psychopath, rapist, child abuser or the like to prevent them from acting upon their urges. But, I am also aware of (1) the harm they do to their victims if let loose on society, plus (2) the nightmare of imprisonment in our cruel and inhuman prison system. Do you think that putting someone in prison for a number of years is giving them "the ability to choose"? And do you know what our prisons are like, and the potential for these folks to re-offend on release? What is the difference between what I am describing and, for example (what we now sometimes do) administering hormones or the like to cut sexual urges for sex offenders?

                            Anthony Burgess it is. Fortunately or unfortunately, "Clockwork Orange" was very prescient.

                            Gassho, Jundo
                            ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                            Comment

                            • Rev R
                              Member
                              • Jul 2007
                              • 457

                              #15
                              I have to give some of your questions some thought and get back to you.

                              But I can't help but think there has to be another way. Someway where folks can be rehabilitated without resorting to locking them in cages (images of Abu Ghraib, Angola Penitentiary, and the women's prison that I have been in and can't remember the name spring to mind quickly. I am also aware of the amount of repeat offenders. Not to mention that prison is treated as a cakewalk by some folks...others are profoundly changed by the experience) or altering people chemically.

                              Recently here in Baltimore a man threw his 3 year old son off the Key bridge. I wonder what is in a person's head to make them do such a thing.

                              Truth of the matter is if the Clockwork Orange solution works, it works. If it keeps people safe then good.

                              The "best" option is the one that is most helpful and healthful from what we have available. I may have misgivings, but I can't argue with results, so we'll see what happens.

                              Still the ability to do this doesn't negate that the conditions that give rise to some of this behaviour need to change as well.

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