Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness
Antoine Lutz, John D. Dunne, Richard J. Davidson
In press in Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness edited by Zelazo P., Moscovitch M. and Thompson E.
Keys words: meditation, mental training, introspection, consciousness, neural synchrony, neuroimaging, brain oscillatory rhythm, electroencephalography, attention training, emotion regulation, brain plasticity, mind-brain-body interaction, physiological baseline, reflexive awareness, Buddhism, compassion, open presence, Śamatha, neurophenomenology.
The overall goal of this essay is to explore the initial findings of neuroscientific research on meditation; in doing so, the essay also suggests potential avenues of further inquiry. The essay consists of three sections that, while integral to the essay as a whole, may also be read independently. The first section, “Defining Meditation,” notes the need for a more precise understanding of meditation as a scientific explanandum. Arguing for the importance of distinguishing the particularities of various traditions, the section presents the theory of meditation from the paradigmatic perspective of Buddhism, and it discusses the difficulties encountered when working with such theories. The section includes an overview of three practices that have been the subject of research, and it ends with a strategy for developing a questionnaire to more precisely define a practice under examination. The second section, “the Intersection of Neuroscience and Meditation,” explores some scientific motivations for the neuroscientific examination of meditation in terms of its potential impact on the brain and body of long-term practitioners. After an overview of the mechanisms of mind-body interaction, this section addresses the use of first-person expertise, especially in relation to the potential for research on the neural counterpart of subjective experience. In general terms, the section thus points to the possible contributions of research on meditation to the neuroscience of consciousness. The final section, “Neuroelectric and Neuroimaging Correlates of Meditation,” reviews the most relevant neuroelectric and neuroimaging findings of research conducted to date, including some preliminary correlates of the previously discussed Buddhist practices.
The article is 120 pages long, but it's good.