Read the following text. As you read it, try to empty your mind. When you encounter grammatical errors or jargon that is impossible to understand, do not try to translate what you are reading. Rather, become one with the obscurity. Read slowly, thoughtlessly, with emptiness of purpose, as though the words were entering your eyes, traveling through your head, and leaving through your ears. The ultimate understanding will be achieved when you reach the end of the abstract and have understood nothing:

Recent neuroimaging studies have identified a set of brain regions that are metabolically active during wakeful rest and consistently deactivate in a variety the performance of demanding tasks. This “default network” has been functionally linked to the stream of thoughts occurring automatically in the absence of goal-directed activity and which constitutes an aspect of mental behavior specifically addressed by many meditative practices. Zen meditation, in particular, is traditionally associated with a mental state of full awareness but reduced conceptual content, to be attained via a disciplined regulation of attention and bodily posture. Using fMRI and a simplified meditative condition interspersed with a lexical decision task, we investigated the neural correlates of conceptual processing during meditation in regular Zen practitioners and matched control subjects. While behavioral performance did not differ between groups, Zen practitioners displayed a reduced duration of the neural response linked to conceptual processing in regions of the default network, suggesting that meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation.

Now, stare at the following graphic untill you see it start to undulate:


i-c2030a03080c2d767f1311bfda79bd49-fmri.gif

Very good. Now, download this paper from PLoS and enjoy learning about Zen and the art of Functional MRI.

ResearchBlogging.orgGiuseppe Pagnoni, Milos Cekic, Ying Guo, Sheng He (2008). “Thinking about Not-Thinking”: Neural Correlates of Conceptual Processing during Zen Meditation PLoS ONE, 3 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003083

Comments

  1. #1 Serena
    September 5, 2008

    Absolutely incomprehensible, and unforgivable. I’m going to meditate my way back into reality…

  2. #2 Ben Zvan
    September 6, 2008

    So the brain has an idle process? Why do I have visions of “top” in my head?

  3. #3 Stephanie Z
    September 6, 2008

    Funny, when I try to clear my mind of “conceptual content,” I get fiction. Well, that and a rather unpleasant dissociative state. I’ll take goal-directed activity if I have any choice in the matter. I prefer that my brain have something other than itself to chew on.

  4. #4 Ana
    September 6, 2008

    Ahhhh….if only I could have done this through Sarah Palin’s, er, i don’t know, what do you call it – speech seems too…F*@K! OK… Please! More techno zen blather…ahhhhhh.

  5. #5 gillt
    September 6, 2008

    More like Zen and the Art of Career Maintenance.

  6. #6 almereyda
    November 13, 2008

    very childish this answer behaviour you guys show aday. might it be possible that there are mental states which didnt occure yet in your ‘mental systems’, so you wouldn’t know about them neither understand ‘em?

    i was just a bit upset to hear people laughing and pointing at the child in the class nobody understands, just ’cause it got some insights, others couldn’t bear yet.

    (could someone please help me out with my english right now? i’m a bit screwed up for myself right now)

    but…

    …attention.

  7. #7 Karl-Johan Englund
    October 19, 2011

    If you really want to understand the experiment you unfortunately have to have some experience of a regular meditation mentioned. As stated in the research they used meditators with 3 years of experience in the experiment since it takes time to learn being present at will. Just like any physical skill, like marathon running. This is naturally a drawback; peers with no experience of the meditation mentioned, easily just don’t get it, naturally so. You can’t know something unless you know it ;-). For me what is interesting in this research is that it can inspire modern man to look into a field that possibly has a lot of potential. Zen or Buddhism or traditional Eastern approaches to living are easily reduced to mysticism and non-relevant to our daily life. We easily hold a colonial view and reduce “the other” to exotic.
    But stress due to a general feeling of alienation, over work, consumerizm etc. – meaning of our lives in general – are all naturally based on our attitudes i.e. thoughts and emotions. We do things because we think things.
    For me this experiment shows that if you stay around a concept longer that neccessary you miss out the continued life that unfolds moment by moment. If you stay in your ideas about any given moment rather than taking it in as it is presented to you, there’s a greater risk that we base our decitions on our conditioned thoughtpatterns and not the actual facts.
    For me as a social worker trying to find creative ways of working with ex. inmates, this is a very interesting study since I need scientific results explaining why things work the way it I say it works.

  8. #8 GregH
    October 19, 2011

    So, when a paper comes along about a research subject we’re properly* skeptical about, we should discount it because the authors aren’t native English speakers and write poorly? Wouldn’t it be more productive to contact PLoS and offer to help improve this stuff? I’m not saying it can be improved, but that seems a better option than jeering at their writing skills.

    *Speaking as a Zen practitioner

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    October 19, 2011

    GregH, I’ve done both. Which I do depends on what else I’ve got going on.

    And, now, I take it you are volunteering to go to PLoS and get this all fixed up? Thanks!

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