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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Contemplative Neuroscience: An Integrative Approach for Investigating Consciousness


This paper explores the field of contemplative neuroscience as a means of studying consciousness on both neurological and experiential levels. While our current scientific paradigm favors the view that consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon and should be examined as such, contemplative neuroscience posits that awareness, attention, and emotion are malleable skills that can be refined in order to provide detailed, accurate self-reports about the conscious experience. These reports can then be used to inform neurological data, in order to form a more holistic understanding of consciousness as both a physical and mental process. Buddhist meditation techniques are a paradigm example of the type of training necessary to cultivate accurate awareness of mental states. I practiced Buddhist meditation extensively over several months as a way to inform my study. In addition, I conducted a comprehensive review of scientific publications on the current research being conducted on meditation, and philosophical literature on the importance of contemplative training in respect to neuroscience. My experience meditating highlighted the large difference between the untrained, unaware mind and the mind that has been trained in awareness, emphasizing the value of using experienced contemplative practitioners as a means to further consciousness studies. These results point to a need to use refined phenomenological reports as a more accurate way of interpreting neurological data, making use of subtleties and details that would not be available to us were we to use untrained subjects.

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