In a Wired article titled Buddha on the Brain, John Geirland writes about some research that I’d read about before (in a Sharon Begley science column in the Wall Street Journal):
In June 2002, [University of Wisconsin researcher Richard] Davidson’s associate Antoine Lutz positioned 128 electrodes on the head of Mattieu Ricard. A French-born monk from the Shechen Monastery in Katmandu, Ricard had racked up more than of 10,000 hours of meditation.
Lutz asked Ricard to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion.” He immediately noticed powerful gamma activity – brain waves oscillating at roughly 40 cycles per second – indicating intensely focused thought. Gamma waves are usually weak and difficult to see. Those emanating from Ricard were easily visible, even in the raw EEG output. Moreover, oscillations from various parts of the cortex were synchronized – a phenomenon that sometimes occurs in patients under anesthesia.
The researchers had never seen anything like it. Worried that something might be wrong with their equipment or methods, they brought in more monks, as well as a control group of college students inexperienced in meditation. The monks produced gamma waves that were 30 times as strong as the students’. In addition, larger areas of the meditators’ brains were active, particularly in the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for positive emotions.
What if Darwin was right conceptually, but failed to grasp that homo sapiens’ most powerful evolutionary strategy is faith?
In light of the fanaticism and violence that “faith” hath begot in some circles, it’s good to bear in mind that the malleability of the self can be harnessed for good, too.
[tags] faith, meditation [/tags]