Abstracts 25.04.14

Mona Irrmischer (VU)
Mind wandering and meditation

Mind wandering refers to cognitions unrelated to the current demands of the external environment, and plays a prominent role in our daily life. It is an internal process, which due to its subjective nature, is not directly observable and consequently not easily measurable. Moreover, direct questioning interrupts the train of thought and inadvertently disturbs the temporal dynamics of this process. We need to explore different ways to estimate its dynamics.

The aim of this study is to validate a novel analysis method for understanding the dynamics of switching attention from external to internal sources of information, to find EEG correlates of mind wandering with a view to understand the role of specific EEG states and mind wandering in behavior lapses.

Subjective reports of participants show that meditators seem to experience less mind wandering than matched controls, raising the question if it is possible to influence the mind-wandering dynamics by meditation. It has been shown that meditation training induces differences in attentional control, which in turn could have an effect on the mind-wandering dynamics. These we hope to investigate with this new method in the future.

Richard Gill (UL) slides
Methodology of being right: mental illness causing medical treatment
or medical treatment causing mental illness?

The Torrey vs Whitaker debate will be discussed (which focussed on Schizophrenia) from the point of view of a statistician/epidemiologist. From a detached point of view one realizes straight away that many apparently natural yes/no questions are actually wrong questions. Even ordinary scientists know the saying: “Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer”. [Note: I do call myself a statistician, but cannot call myself an epidemiologist. However I think to understand the epidemiologist’s point of view, and have some familiarity with their methodology.]
References. Robbert Whitaker: Anatomy of an epidemic, Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, Crown [2010].
Criticism by Fuller Torrey. Discussion by John McManamy.
For those who can read Dutch and want to find out about epidemiology Luc Bonneux’s book “En ze leefden nog lang en gezond” and his blog is highly recommended.
I don’t know an equally accessible and thought provoking entrance to these topics in English.

Henk Barendregt (RU) slides
Mindfulness, vipassana, and the hypnotic force of dissociation:
why these are natural and need to be better understood.

Mind-states have three aspects: they are phenomenological, physiological, and behavioral, thereby determining how we subjectively feel, physically thrive, and act. Hence these mind-states are quite important. Mindfulness is a substate of which one can arguably state that it contributes to flexibility and balance. Systematic development of focused attention and mindfulness as practiced in vipassana meditation has as aim to reveal the stream of consciousness and its mind-states, thereby laying bare its modular fluctuations and automaticity. It is fair to say that this experience is a(n artificial) dissociation.
Hypothesis 1. In some way it can be observed that neural actions form a modular, discrete, and deterministic process; this perception underlies different forms of dissociation.

At first the practitioner reacts with fear, delusion, and disenchantment; these form a substantial part of the spectrum of clinical phenomena. These reactions can be seen as a forceful cover-up of the dissociation.
Ego doesn’t like to see that it is a process rather than an entity and with posthypnotic force there is grasping whatever can be taken. This runs via symptomatic feeling, thinking, and acting, whether wholesome and functional or not.
Hypothesis 2. The resulting dysfunctional grasping is the underlying cause of many mental problems.

The practice of vipassana continues towards the development of equanimity. Then with a determined surrendering the symptomatic forms of psychological hold can be abandoned and one observes awareness below the phenomena of consciousness, which is a substantial improvement.
Hypothesis 3. There is path to decondition this grasping, involving a disciplined and concentrated effort together with patient mildness.