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".