The 2006 Society for Neuroscience Meeting is approaching (in October), and I just wanted to repost this about the Dalai Lama’s speech at SFN last year, from the “archives.”
First, this post is a summary of online accounts from people that heard the Dalai Lama’s speech at the Society for Neuroscience; I was unable to attend his talk (blame my laptop!). The Lama’s speech was entitled “The Neuroscience of Meditation,” it was one-hour long and was followed by a question and answer session.
The really interesting part was the questions, which gave a lot of insight into his thoughts on drugs, animal research, and electrical stimulation to induce “positive feelings.” A few highlights:
He became interested in science after noticing body hair in some places and not others!
He wants chemical or electrical ways to change negative emotions (But is against tranquilizers).
“I spend a few hours in meditation every day, [if we get neuroscience-based englightenment] then no need for these things.”
Questions and the Lama’s Answers (note: All posed questions were approved by some kind of intermediary):
1) How do you reconcile your ideas about compassion to all beings with animal research? He is for animal research! Is for doing the minimum experiment necessary and try to minimize pain.”I am exploiting this poor animal to bring greater benefit to greater number of beings.” Feels compassion for the suffering of the animal but its potential to save greater numbers is more important.
2) Do you think the states attained by meditation should just be available without practice? He thinks it should be available.
3) Should everyone be on antidepressants, even if they don’t need it? He’s against tranquilizers because they possuppressupress intelligence and decision-making abilities.
4) The mind-body problem. What’s your take? What is the definition of consciousness? Through neuroscience, we will find neural correlates of those things that make up consciousness. Consciousness is the surface and obvious-to-us level representing hundreds of neural events.
5) What’s the best way to overcome addiction? “I hate the word best…best, cheapest, quickest.” He admits that addiction is not really his field and that given the differences in individuals and brains themselves, best to treat case by case.
6) What about the co-existence of religion and science, esp. with the controversy in American education. What are your views on intelligent design? I don’t know. [Big laugh.] Pretty much that’s our problem! (Ok, a cop-out here).
7) If you were to enter the field of neuroscience, what would your PhD thesis be? “I need at least a few more days to think very carefully.”
The overall impressions were that the Lama was very articulate and good-natured but a little vague and evasive on specifics. Given, he himself is not a scientist, and just because he’s a religious guru doesn’t mean he knows all the answers. It was encouraging to see that the head of a major religion had the guts to take a stand as to the compatibility of the missions of religion and science. I hope others will take notice.
Going back over this post, nearly a year later (9-28-06), I think I was a little too lenient on him. Re-reading all his answers to questions, well they were all pretty much permutations of “I don’t know” or “I’m not qualified.” That left me with the feeling of ‘Why the heck did he come speak at a *science* conference?’ Did we scientists get a little starry-eyed at the prospect of a world-wide political figure taking note of neurostuff? (I guess this one did.)
(A bit of light Monday blogging, my apologies!)