The Science of Meditation

July 19, 2009

The colour of happiness

  • 24 May 2003 by Owen Flanagan
  • Magazine issue 2396

MEMBERS of my tribe – we call ourselves philosophical naturalists – treat all talk of souls and spirits as metaphorical. We think of the seat of the soul as the brain, in concert with the rest of the nervous system. The Dalai Lama speaks of a “luminous consciousness” that transcends death and which he thinks might not have brain correlates, but we believe even this must be realised neurally.

So an interesting question for neuroscientists is how do the brains of Buddhist practitioners – or indeed any other wise, happy and virtuous people – light up? How are the qualities of happiness, serenity and loving kindness that arise from the Buddhist practice of mindful meditation reflected in the brain? How does that subjective experience manifest itself?

Neuroscience is beginning to provide answers. Using scanning techniques such as PET and functional MRI, we can study the brain in action. We now …

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