Recent Research on the Brain, Consciousness and Self
It's pretty well accepted that science uses one hemisphere of the brain, and contemplation and imagination exercises the other half.
That might be why so many people who are interested in hard science have trouble with 'new age' subjects.
Worse, it's also why so many people whose consciousness is more cosmic have trouble backing their theories with facts.
The explosion in information about the brain means it is hard to keep up with, or to understand, the implications of new research.
We try to put our perspective on information as it becomes available, but we also give you the links so you can do your own thinking.
On one level, the better we understand the mechanisms of meditation, the easier and more effective our meditation might become.
On another level, this is a very rich area of inspiration for contemplation. You may wish to meditate on a deeper personal understanding of some of the scientific insights.
A Medical View of Meditation
John Taylor from Kings College, London explores the physiological effects of meditation here.
This is part of what he says:
Early measurements .......determined there were radical alterations in heart rate and oxygen uptake, and related bodily processes were slowed. This was detected as due to decrease of skeletal muscle activation, controlled by chemical neuro-modulators released by brain activity.
Observations of the nature of brain activity used EEG methodology found that under Transcendental Meditation subjects increased low frequency brain activity, especially in slow alpha waves (8-9 Hz) in central and frontal regions. Beta (12-14 Hz) also remained constant or decreased, but fast beta spindles occurred in the deepest meditation states, most predominantly in anterior channels.
This could be related to increased attention control being affected by frontal regions. Increased EEG coherence was also observed especially in alpha bands. This was correlated in particular with subjective reports of the experience of pure consciousness. This interpretation is supported by the recent study of 20 TM practitioners who were found to develop increased alpha coherence between frontal and centro-parietal sites.
More recent studies have used PET and fMRI approaches able to probe brain localisation more precisely than EEG. The PET study found increased frontal blood flow during meditation compared to rest, with a larger decrease in primary and secondary visual regions. The fMRI study also found similar frontal, but also parietal, increases, as well as reductions of brain activity in early visual areas.
These results, along with those from EEG measurements, support the presence of increased prefrontal and parietal activity related to increased attention control, There was concomitant reduced visual activity observed, corresponding to lowered content in the experience of the subjects. Increased vigilance occurred throughout the meditation state in terms of autonomic responses to sudden stimuli.
These physiological study support the claim that "pure conscious experience" (meditation) is a distinct state of consciousness, corresponding to one in which attention is attending to itself alone.
The idea of a pure conscious experience fits very well with Douglas Harding's awareness of "who we really are". Douglas' very fast induction to this state is here. Look for 'Experiments' and 'Pointing Here'.
Could this be the Third Eye?
We've been intrigued by the news that a Yale University researcher Dr M. Marc Abreu has discovered a brain temperature tunnel. It acts like a kind of cooling duct from the center of the brain to a spot on the skin near the eyes. He says it will provide a way of measuring the core brain temperature.
We wonder if it may provide a way of regulating the brain's temperature - and whether the traditional position of the Indian bindi (above and between the eyes) marks the spot. The media release (and our web search) couldn't provide the answer.
Some Insights from a Leading Neurologist.
The recent BBC Reith Lectures by Prof VS Ramachandran provide up-to-date science, and interesting philosophical questions about our unconscious and ability to imitate. Our summary is here.
The Broader Background
To get an idea of the broad scientific background this you might like to have a look at Some Sources for Your Enquiring Mind.