Monday, December 13, 2004


Religion and Science: Buddhism on the brain

From news@nature: Religion and Science

Many religious leaders find themselves at odds with science, but the head of Tibetan Buddhism is a notable exception. Jonathan Knight meets a neurologist whose audience with the Dalai Lama helped to explain why.

Richard Davidson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the coordinator of the Dharamsala conference, has learned from the monks through study. He found that certain neural processes in the brain are more coordinated in people with extensive training in meditation, an observation that may be linked to the heightened awareness reported by meditating monks (A. Lutz et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 101, 16369–16373; 2004).

Gage says that what particularly impressed him was the Dalai Lama's empirical approach. "At one point I asked: 'What if neuroscience comes up with information that directly contradicts Buddhist philosophy?'," says Gage. "The answer was: 'Then we would have to change the philosophy to match the science'."

So far that hasn't been necessary. And if the reported benefits of laughter are correct, there is no need for the Dalai Lama to rein in his sense of humour either. During a discussion of how our childhoods shape who we are, he observed that he liked to play with toy guns as a child and even picked on his brother. "I was the mean one," he said, thereby stabilizing blood sugar levels throughout the room."

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