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Neuroscience And The Mind In Meditation

Neuroscientists are discovering more and more how the human brain works, even as they seem to understand less and less the mind in meditation.

For example, they’ve discovered something called “aphantasia,” an apparently inherited neurological condition in which the afflicted person has no ‘mind’s eye.’ In other words, their brains appear to not create and traffic in images.

Most people live entirely in terms of images, whether of others or of ourselves. Indeed, having ‘self-image’ is taken as a given, and it’s only a matter of having a good or bad one.

However, having an image of a person or thing is synonymous with seeing “through a glass darkly.” That is, when perception is through an image, one isn’t actually seeing oneself or others at all.

Neuroscientists have found that “people with aphantasia can have the same feelings from their experiences as others without the supposed defect, but they don’t amplify them later through mental imagery.”

Since we’re not seeing others or ourselves as we actually are when we have images, this raises an interesting question: is aphantasia a defect at all?

Of course many people, including philosophers, maintain that no one ever sees things as they actually are. We are, they say inescapably ‘hermeneutical creatures,’ which means we interpret present experiences through prior experiences, including and especially the images we’ve formed.

That sharply contrasts with what happens during deeper states of meditation. Without a method or system, non-directed attention gathers in the brain and brings about a complete cessation of memory, words and images. A state of stillness of thought in all its functions – memory, association, images and interpretation – permits the brain to have direct perception of what is.

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Then one experiences the wholeness of the earth and the cosmos. Given how man is fragmenting the earth and humanity to the breaking point, that is the most important thing a human being can do. Right action flows from it.

To the extent scientists put science and knowledge before quieting thought through right observation and attention, they are contributing to the fragmentation of humanity and the earth.

Therefore scientists and non-scientists need to understand what science can and cannot do. Neuroscientists arrogantly maintain that the scientific study of the human brain can encompass and explain the mind in meditation because they believe the meditative state is generated by the brain and arises solely between skull bones.

The premise is false on the face of it. The dualism of inner vs. outer falls away with sufficient attention to thought. The universe is in a state of meditation. Therefore the brain does not generate the meditative state; it participates in it when thought is no longer in the way.

The scientist studying the phenomenon is inherently separate from the phenomenon. That defines the intrinsic limits of science, and of knowledge itself.

Therefore it’s hubristic for scientists to assert, explicitly or implicitly, that their observations, machines and theories can encompass actually experiencing meditative states.

So the observer (scientific or otherwise), as well as knowledge has to be set aside for the mind in meditation to emerge. That entails holding knowledge in abeyance and ending the inherent separateness of the observer. Then the brain (not the self) gathers attention until the known (prior experience) drops away. At that moment the mind is in meditation.

Can scientists who study meditation through brain scans and other means also actually bring about meditative states within themselves?

There’s no insurmountable barrier to being both an adept meditator and an expert scientist. However such a person would understand, firsthand, that science and knowledge must take a backseat to actually experiencing the wholeness of nature and holiness of the mind in meditation.

Regarding the question of aphantasia, the strange thing is that even for someone with a tendency toward strong mental imagery like myself (called ‘hyperphantasia’), there is no urge to repeat the meditative experience. One realizes that each meditation is unique, and that it’s over when it’s over, however long the meditative state lasts.

Neuroscientists report, “brain scans looking for circuitry that give rise to aphantasia and hyperphantasia suggest that mental imagery emerges from a network of brain regions that talk to each other.”

That’s undoubtedly true, as contrasted with meditative states arising from the complete stillness of thought. They are neither recorded in any detail, nor does the meditative state give rise to the desire to “amplify them later through mental imagery.”

In short, there’s no crosstalk between different regions of the brain when the entire brain is attentively, silently and holistically aware of the movement of thought in the mirror of nature.

Experiencing the sacredness that imbues life and permeates the cosmos depends on the complete stillness of thought brought about by meditation.

Martin LeFevre


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