Brain science and spirituality

When I read Sam Harris’s book The end of faith, I was most interested in his ideas about what an areligious, naturalistic (as opposed to supernatural) spirituality might look like. (He described spirituality as an effort to learn, rationally and empirically, how to “change our relationship to the contents of consciousness, and thereby … transform our experience of the world”, which sounds like a fascinating endeavor to me.) In this entry in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” forum, Harris makes some observations about consciousness, the self, and what neuroscience might be able to tell us about the experiences people have when they meditate or enter other contemplative states.

Toward the end, Harris mentions a series of meditation retreats for scientists at the Mind and Life Institute, which I’d never heard of. I’ve been experiencing some health problems lately that I’m told would probably be improved if I could just learn to relax (well, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that…) and so I’m particularly interested in meditation at the moment. I went the institute’s web site for more information. The institute’s vision is “To establish mutually respectful working collaboration and research partnerships between modern science and Buddhism—two of the world’s most fruitful traditions for understanding the nature of reality and promoting human well-being.” That sounds promising; I’ll have to spend some time investigating the site. All I really want to do with meditation right now is improve my well-being, but I can’t help wondering what I might learn about the nature of my own consciousness (if not of reality).


  1. Thanks! It looks like there’s a lot of good reading at those links. I read Owen Flanagan’s “The problem of the soul” a couple of years ago (noticed his name on the Center for Naturalism’s advisory board) and will look up the Murry book.

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