SCIENCE for MONKS

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Cosmology & Consciousness Conference 2014

Cosmology & Consciousness Conference Abstracts

Perspectives on Harmony: Well-being, Self, & Consciousness

Harmony and Happiness: Buddhist Views on Interdependence and Compassion

Lodoe Songpo bio
Gaden Jangtse Monastic University, Mundgod, India

In this dynamic and technologically advanced world, establishing a harmonious society is more crucial than ever. To address what Buddhist can contribute, in terms of building a harmonious society, two central concepts are need to be empirically utilized in our daily livelihoods: Interdependence and compassion. From the Buddhist perspective, these are the seeds of a harmonious society. In what ways we can germinate these seeds is the focus of the presentation. Interdependence is the fundamental view of Buddhism that states all things are connected and depended on each other, or non-existence of absoluteness and intrinsic nature. Compassion is an action that is motivated by the intention of helping other without expecting any reward. Without a sense of closeness, by nature, we do not tend to help others unless there is something to gain back. Deep understanding of interdependence will help us to generate sense of closeness, but without compassion, the practical action driven by intention will always be impeded.

Brain and the Interconnected Self: Science and Signs of Consciousness

Sangeetha Menon bio
National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India

Today, on one side life and physical sciences are increasingly excited about identifying the neural correlates of consciousness. And on the other, there is consensus that better integration at both neural and psychological levels lead to an individual's psychological and physical health. Such a scenario inspires us to review the functionally interconnected nature of brain, and the interconnections between the brain and the self itself. This review will help us to get insights about the nuanced notions of meaning and purpose, and also critically approach the classical schism between affect and reason Towards this task we will discuss some key concepts in neuroscience neuropsychology, and the Vedantic traditions.

The Importance of Human Connection, Kindness & Cooperation to Happiness

Emiliana Simon-Thomas bio
Greater Good Center, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, USA

Psychological science has recently begun to focus on understanding the causes and contexts that predict human happiness. Through multiple study approaches, there is mounting evidence that people’s capacity for connecting with others, people’ tendency towards behaving kindly and compassionately towards others, and the degree to which people engage in cooperative activities with others – in sum – people’s ability to function harmoniously with other humans – is key to lasting happiness.

Attention, Balance, and Well-being

Compassion Cultivation Training for Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Initial Efficacy from Two Preliminary Studies

Marcel O. Bonn-Miller bio
National Center for PTSD, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, USA

Abstract: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is widely prevalent among military populations and other groups who are regularly exposed to traumatic experiences. Existing treatments for PTSD are very effective, but many people find these treatments to be overwhelming and drop out. Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) is a structured 9-week intervention that could serve as an alternative or adjunct to help treat PTSD among people who do not respond well to existing treatment options. Data from two small preliminary studies will be presented to show early evidence for the efficacy of CCT among military veterans with PTSD.

Emotion Regulation Therapy: A Psychotherapy for Anxious Depression Enriched with Contemplative Practices

David M. Fresco bio
Department of Psychological Sciences, Kent State University, USA

Despite the availability of efficacious treatments for emotional disorders, a sizable subgroup of patients fails to evidence adequate treatment response.  This situation is especially true for patients with anxious depression (a combination of apprehensive anxiety and depression symptoms) who often feel their emotions very intensely resulting in trouble resolving the simultaneous motivational cues for avoiding threat and pursuing reward. These individuals also perseverate (i.e., worry, ruminate) in response to this emotionally and motivationally intense distress, which interferes with responding to-, and learning from cues in the environment. Emotion Regulation Therapy (ERT) is a theoretically-derived, evidence based, treatment that integrates principles from cognitive behavioural treatments, Buddhist mental training exercises, and findings from affect science to offer a blueprint for improving intervention by focusing on the motivational responses and corresponding regulatory characteristics of individuals with distress disorders. The goals of this talk are to describe the profile of anxious depression and to show how cultivating mental training exercises may help to resolve the hypothesized emotional and cognitive deficits they experience.  Ideally this characterization of anxious depression and ERT will generate questions and discussion on how best to match contemplative practices to the hypothesized deficits observed in anxious depression.

Decentering from Distress: Regulating Negative Emotion by Increasing Psychological Distance

Kathrine Shephard bio
Department of Psychology, Kent State University, USA

The capacity to “decenter,” or adopt a self-distanced, objective perspective on internal experiences (e.g., thoughts, emotions), is cultivated by mindfulness meditation practice. Increasingly, research supports decentering as an important component of healthy emotion regulation, mental health and well-being; however, the nature and mechanisms of the process are poorly understood. Here we explore one potential piece of the puzzle: the process of getting psychological distance, or “taking a step back,” from emotional stress. Using a novel experimental paradigm, we examined the salutary effects of increasing psychological distance from distressing visual stimuli, and whether the benefits of distancing varied as a function of individual differences in mindfulness and decentering. Results and implications will be discussed.

Clearing the Mind: Dissecting the Effects of Meditation on Cognition by Means of Computational Models

Merieke Van Vugt bio
Department of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Engineering, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Meditation practice has been claimed to lead to greater mental and physical well-being. But how does it do so? I use computational models of the mind to explore exactly what mental mechanisms are being affected by meditation. I will show how meditation seems to improve people's mental clarity. In a different study, depressed patients appear to be less stuck in patterns of negative thinking. These results emphasize the usefulness of precise models of cognition in the study of mental training through meditation.

Reciprocal Interactions between Emotions and Attention

Narayanan Srinivasan bio
Centre of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, University of Allahabad, India

Recent research in cognitive and neuroscience has indicated reciprocal links between emotions and attention. We have investigated the reciprocal links between scope of attention and emotions in the context of a putative link between distributed attention (broad scope) and happy emotions as well as focused attention (narrow scope) and sad emotions. I will discuss results based on multiple experimental paradigms focusing on both emotion identification as well as moods. The results clearly indicate a bidirectional link between emotions and attention that is dependent on the scope of attention and also point to the potential ways in which training attention might be linked to emotions.

The Interdependent Cosmos & Perspectives on Happiness

In the Quest of Harmony & Happiness: The Largest Eye on the Sky

Saket Singh Kaurav bio
Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai, India

Since the dawn of the civilization, we have been exploring the universe in the search of answers of fundamental questions about the cosmos including our own existence & purpose in it. This presentation will explore a connection of harmony and advancement in the field of astronomical knowledge, and mainly highlight the role of bigger telescopes in providing crystal-clear views of stars and galaxies billions of light years farther away than anything Galileo ever saw, each breakthrough in size bringing a new and deeper understanding of the cosmos.

The Scientific Search for Equilibrium

Paul Doherty bio
Teacher Institute, Exploratorium, San Francisco, USA

Scientists study equilibrium in its many forms: stable, unstable, and metastable. They begin by looking at forces in balance and out of balance. Then they make topographic maps of potential energy where the mountains, valleys, saddle-like ridges and plains illustrate the different forms of equilibrium. Scientists apply these fundamental concepts of equilibrium to the universe at all scales ranging from nuclei and atoms, to solar systems and beyond. When scientists apply their concepts of equilibrium to the real world they see new things for the first time. As an example, recently, scientists discovered a new stable shape named the gomboc that led them to understanding how a tortoise shell with that shape allows the tortoise to escape the death-trap of being caught in the wrong equilibrium position, upside-down. Even quantum mechanics applies to the scientific understanding of equilibrium showing how even in a stable equilibrium a particle is never at rest, it always “explores” its local environment. At the human scale, ideas from the scientific understanding of equilibrium can inspire the essential search for equilibrium in everyday life.

Five Steps in Developing a Science for the Monk

A.K. Mukhopadhyay bio
All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Five steps in developing a Science for the Monk are identified. At the outset, one has to understand what is science, and what limits the present science. The next step is to deliberate on consequences of already opened-up cosmology, cosmology of multiple universe(s). The third step is on the one of its essential requirements, a supracortically “open” brain. The fourth step is how to do ‘sciencing’ of nature, which is beyond Planck’s scale. The final step, actually the first step, is to examine what really the “information” is and what could be its science.

Happiness

Siling Rinpoche bio
Sera Mey Monastic University, Bylakuppe, India

From a tiny primitive insect to a sophisticated human, we are all looking for it, and in the pursuit of that phenomena familiar to us as happiness, we dedicate wealths that we possess. We also endure many hardships now to ensure multitude of happiness later, many a times by trading our own lives with it. So what is this thing called happiness? Is it about being happy the whole time or is happiness merely a process of the consciousness believing that one’s at peace irrespective of the reality? Is there a ‘real’ happiness out there? If so then why does everyone experience it so differently?

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