See Inside November / December 2009

Secrets of How Meditation Works

New research reveals the cell mechanisms underlying a meditative state


In the fall of 2005 the Dalai Lama delivered a lecture at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., highlighting the areas of convergence between neuroscience and Buddhist thought about the mind. He took the opportunity to remind the audience that not only is he a Buddhist monk but that he is also an enthusiastic proponent of modern technology. [For more on the Dalai Lama’s lecture, see “Meditations on the Brain,” by R. Douglas Fields; Scientific American Mind, February/March 2006.]

Elaborating, the spiritual leader of Tibet explained to the audience of scientists that although he meditates for four hours every morning, it is hard work. He divulged that if neuroscientists could find a way to put electrodes in his brain and create the same outcome he gets from meditating, he would be an eager volunteer. Now a set of experiments from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University moves us a step closer to making his wish a reality. The neuroscientists managed to induce in mice a brain-wave pattern associated with meditation—answering a long-standing question about how this pattern is generated and theoretically laying the groundwork for a cognitive-enhancement technology that could mimic meditation’s effects.

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