Academic Studies of Human Consciousness

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Buddhist Meditation and Neuroplasticity

A major new area of consciousness research involves human brain neuroplasticity.  Very recently, this research has begun to examine Buddhist and other Eastern meditation techniques with respect to their affect on neuroplasticity.

As recently as the 1970's, most psychologists were teaching that the brain's hardwiring was locked into place at a fairly young age, i.e., by about the age of 12. Furthermore, it was believed that almost all creative work in mathematics and the hard sciences was done by young people, generally those under the age of 35.  After 35, if you hadn't produced any significant new ideas in your chosen profession you probably never would.  However, the new research seems to indicate that it is possible to rewire your brain in creative new ways throughout your entire life!

Within the last decade, there has been significant academic interest in the scientific study of the effects of Buddhist meditation practices on both human brain neuroplasticity and volition.  Indeed, the Dalai Lama has been cooperating with American university researchers in obtaining experienced Buddhist Monks as participants in neurological studies of various aspects of Buddhist meditation.  Research leaders in this field include:

1)  Richard Davidson, Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, and Director of the Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin;

2)  Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk for 30 years, residing at the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal;

3)   Michael Merzenich, professor in the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences and director of the Coleman Laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF); and

4)  George Ronald ("Ron") Mangun, Professor of Neurology and Psychology, Director, Center for Mind and Brain, University of California at Davis.

An example of a recent study in this field involved comparing electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements of two groups of people practicing meditation.  One group was composed of experienced Buddhist monks from the Shechen Monastery in Nepal; the other control group was composed of subjects having only a single week of meditative training.  Marked differences in EEG readings were obtained between the two groups.  The research study, authored by Davidson, Ricard, et al., was published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences in November 2004 and is available as a pdf file online.

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