Ruben Laukkonen & Heleen Slagter, VU Amsterdam
From many to (n)one: Meditation and the plasticity of the predictive mind
How profoundly can humans change their own minds? In this talk I will discuss our recent paper which offers a unifying account of meditation under the predictive processing view of living organisms. We start from relatively simple axioms. First, the brain is an organ that serves to predict based on past experience, both phylogenetic and ontogenetic. Second, meditation serves to bring one closer to the here and now by disengaging from anticipatory processes. Thus meditation gradually reduces predictive processing, in particular counterfactual cognition—the tendency to construct abstract and temporally deep representations—until all conceptual processing falls away. Our many-to-(n)one account also places three main styles of meditation (focused attention, open monitoring, and non-dual meditation) on a single continuum, where each technique progressively relinquishes increasingly ingrained habits of prediction, including the self. This deconstruction can also make the above processes available to introspection, permitting certain insights into one’s mind. I will present key evidence for this view and highlight several testable hypotheses. Our novel account ultimately suggests that the mind shows more top-down malleability than previously thought.