Western and Eastern science of mind: what can we learn from each other?
In October 2014, I had the opportunity to go to India in the context of the Science for Monks project (www.scienceformonks.org). During this visit, I learned various things. First, there is a big culture difference in how knowledge is approached. While Western science relies predominantly on observation, the Eastern tradition predominantly focuses on introspection and first-person observations. From their perspective, the monks were mostly interested in the Western perspectives on consciousness, and hoped there would be more research into compassion is trained and how that affects us. From the Western perspective, we were focused on collecting “objective” data.
Secondly, I learned how the monks do not spend most of their time meditating, but rather memorizing Buddhist texts and debating about those. I think this debate opens up some interesting venues for future research. Can memorization and debate also transform your mind? Thirdly, while the monks mostly approved of my model of mind-wandering and meditation, they suggested I included some mechanisms of laxity and excitation. Those are not concepts typically used in Western cognitive neuroscience discourse, and I will present some thoughts about these, and the latest progress with my modeling.