Wednesday, October 19, 2005

They refuse to have the whole in their head.

In a NYTimes article it is reported that a few hundred attendees of an upcoming neuroscience convention are opposed to a scheduled presentation by the Dalai Lama:

He has been an enthusiastic collaborator in research on whether the intense meditation practiced by Buddhist monks can train the brain to generate compassion and positive thoughts. Next month in Washington, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak about the research at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

But 544 brain researchers have signed a petition urging the society to cancel the lecture, because, according to the petition, "it will highlight a subject with largely unsubstantiated claims and compromised scientific rigor and objectivity."

Defenders of the Dalai Lama's appearance say that the motivation of many protesters is political, because many are Chinese or of Chinese descent. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese crushed a Tibetan bid for independence.

The nearest thing to a credible reason is this: association of any kind with "spiritual" matters will discredit the "science" involved. I think that reflects the culture of western academics more than any real peril to a growing field of investigation. Its a diaper load of myopia.

If the Dalai Lama is not afraid to submit the practice of meditation to the rigors of scientific investigation, why should scientists be afraid to hear the results? A scientific convention is a form of peer review, the standard form of science self critique. If there really is a lack of rigor in the methods presented, let the attendees decide that and call investigators to account. If they weren't so steeped in preconceptions of what were and were not valid matters for science to examine, the 500 or so petitioners would understand that rather than science itself, meditation is on trial and taking the risk of a damaged reputation.

As for the political motivation of the Chinese signatories, that is contemptible. THAT does reflect poorly on science as it shows a dependence on politics and nationalism that clouds what should be the most objective view of facts.

When you close your mind, you hurt everyone but none so much as yourself. If one man's openmindedness seems like a hole in the head to the next man, so what? These are scientists, not legislators.

Discovery of the truth is impossible if you think you already know the truth.

Perhaps the neuroscientists are afraid of going through this circus. The tools are more objective and the claims far more down to earth for research to be reported than has been the case with TM.

Postlog: 11 November,AAAS' eurekalert posts MRI-based findings reported by Harvad researcher Sara Lazar working at Mass. General Hospital: "meditation can produce experience-based structural alterations in the brain".


Thivai Abhor said...

Its sad that they deny his knowledge... I remember watching a 6 volume series of the world's great scientist, theologians and artists discussing contemporary theories of the nature of reality and being/becoming.

The Dahlai was brilliant (as were some of his associates) and he easily held his own with the others.

What kind of idiot (in the sense of the Greek word idios) would deny the knowledge that comes from spiritual reflection and discipline.

Argggggghhhhhhhh! ;) sorry just had to get that out!

Anonymous said...

es, I read that Ny Times article (as well as your insightful, related post) about the neuro-scientists wanting to bar the Dalai Lama from speaking at their seminar because they felt his contribution would be spiritually oriented and somehow sully their sense of pristine and rational science.

I agree with you that the scientists in this case are being far too narrow minded and tight-assed with their definition of "science", which to say that which is "knowable".

Some might say that i was being hypocritical by saying its ok for the Dalai Lama to speak and contribute to the broadening of human knowledge, but not ok for the ID folk to contribute to science in the same manner, but there's a crucial difference. For one thing the Dalai Lama has no deity agenda behind his contribution, whereas the ID people do.

The ID folk are not satisfied with the simple and obvious notion that a universe which generates intelligence must in and of itself be intelligent to begin with, but that does not mean that such intelligence necessitates an original creative personality of some sort overseeing it all according to some fixed plan. The ID agenda is not to contribute to a broadening of scientific knowledge as they claim, but rather to supplant ideas which they feel interfere with their deist concepts. How can intelligence possibly exist without a personality behind it? THAT is the rub.

The scientists who would bar the Dalai Lama from speaking are just as much in error as the ID people, but from the opposite direction.


GreenSmile said...

Those who would try to accuse you of being hypocritical should judge themselves by the same test that you or the Dahlai Lama are willing to take: If your contentions admit of proof, you are willing to let others evalutate objectively whether sound proof has been provided. Its a risk but the downside is that you could learn something. I do not believe your would be accusers are willing to play on that field.

Anonymous said...

If your contentions admit of proof, you are willing to let others evalutate objectively whether sound proof has been provided.

Yes, precisely so. Thank you for that observance.


jeb said...

"Discovery of the truth is impossible if you think you already know the truth."

A good way to phrase this!

And I've noticed a lot of people who think they know the truth are genuinely afraid of anything new that might challenge that truth. This behavior of attacking any challenge to the "preferred truth" is also commonly found in science, which I've often found odd; I'm especially surprised at the viciousness of some attacks. Eventually, science because of its methodology, tends to get over its delusions, whereas many other disciplines seem to remain mired there forever.

GreenSmile said...

"...eventually science .... gets over [attacking the preferred truth]..."

You have just provided the one paragraph version of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Gadfly said...

I don't have a problem letting hmi attend the conference. I've seen the videos of the mind control of novice Tibetan monks evaporating water from drenching wet sheets with their own bodies and nothing else. They're doing something.

I do, though, have a quibble with blindly exaulting the Dalai Lama in particular and Tibetan lamasary Buddhism in general over and against the Chinese communist government, without being cognizant of the pre-1959 realities of Tibet.

It was -- a feudal theocracy. True, it wasn't governed by monotheists, like Afghanistan, so the theocracy was more gentle, and more tolerant of, say, any Hindus or non-Buddhist animists, at least theoretically.

But, theocracy was only half of it. It was also a feudal state exploiting peasants.

China did bring education, economic development, etc. Yes, the cost was often brutal. But what of the cost of never having a chance at that in the first place?

Let's not make the Dalai Lama God.

Well, since I'm an atheist, I don't make anybody God, but that's above and beyond the call of duty.

Gadfly said...

Must disagree with Jeb's post linked here.

The answer he offers, IMO, presumes there is a metaphysical "why-causer" above and beyond the "how-causer." I don't see the warrant for such a presumption.

To borrow from Zen, in which I've done my own dallying, the "question of meaning" is a non-question. MU!

Or, to use his categories, call me existential man with a twist of abandoned search man.

Read my poetry at Philosophy of the Socratic Gadfly if you want to see an existential naturalist face straight on into death, existential angst and more.