Saturday, November 12, 2005

Buddhist Meditation Changes Brain Structure

Artist: Alex Grey

Reported by Yahoo News: Sara Lazar, assistant in psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital, conducted a small study (20 subjects) involving people with extensive training in Buddhist meditation practice. The results are published in the November issue of NeuroReport.

Results of brain imaging "revealed increased thickness in cortical regions related to sensory, auditory and visual perception, as well as internal perception -- the automatic monitoring of heart rate or breathing, for example.

The study also indicates that regular meditation may slow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex.

"What is most fascinating to me is the suggestion that meditation practice can change anyone's gray matter," said study team member Jeremy Gray, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale. "The study participants were people with jobs and families. They just meditated on average 40 minutes each day, you don't have to be a monk."

This confirms the widely held belief that meditation practice can alter brain physiology. It's a perfect example of UL quadrant influencing UR.

Wilber has maintained that meditation practice and the frequent exposure to higher states of consciousness can lead to a movement toward higher stages of consciousness development. [Wilber's view on states and stages is available here.] I have been skeptical of his position in this area.

I do believe meditation practice is essential to experiencing higher states of consciousness, and it may make the transformation to higher stages possible, but several other factors must be present for any movement up the Spiral to occur. First, as Wilber has often pointed out, cognitive development is necessary but not sufficient for reaching higher stages. Second, there cannot be any severe traumas or unhealthy lower vMemes in the stack, or else transformation will be partial or blocked. Any early wounds to the ego must be healed before the ego can be transcended. And third, life conditions must be such that the individual can make the transformation to a higher vMeme or stage of consciousness. As an example: an inner-city gang member, no matter how much he meditates, isn't likely to make any significant leap in consciousness without a change in daily life conditions. A Red Meme environment is not conducive to Meme change without some Blue structure and order.

I have argued in the past that meditation is necessary but not sufficient for major Meme change, and I still hold that view, even in light of this new research.

Related Story: Some neuroscientists are bent out of shape about the Dalai Lama speaking at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting this weekend. They have some valid complaints related to "soft science" as opposed to "hard science" (not many of the studies to date have been well-designed or of a large, untrained population), but the protest was initiated by several Chinese scientists, so the real motivation for their objection seems rather obvious.
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