Can Contemplative Science Bring Meditation to (Western) Life?

  • Norman A. S. FarbEmail author
Part of the Studies in Neuroscience, Consciousness and Spirituality book series (SNCS, volume 2)


Secular meditation training (MT) practices such as mindfulness training have sparked recent public and scientific interest, yet it is unknown whether such practices can contribute to lasting cultural change. This chapter argues that widespread cultural integration of meditation depends upon whether the scientific community can provide clear explanations for how meditation promotes well-being. In this spirit, a functional approach for studying MT is proposed: while research can and should be informed by practitioners’ subjective reports, meditation research gains scientific ground only by proposing and testing for change in measurable perceptual or regulatory capacities. This empirical commitment need not stand at odds with the beliefs of spiritual practitioners, but can instead reinvigorate discourse and a commitment to deeper understanding of the principles underlying effective meditative practice. A discussion of the author’s work illustrates how the functional approach has been applied to investigate MT’s purported regulatory benefits, while acknowledging many unresolved mechanistic questions. This chapter is intended to provide the reader with a greater understanding of how a fledgling scientific model of meditation has developed, and suggests some upcoming challenges on the road to achieving a broad social impact.


Emotion Regulation Mindfulness Training Anterior Insula Meditation Practice Body Awareness 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Bikhchandani, S., D. Hirshleifer, and I. Welch. 1992. A theory of fads, fashion, custom and cultural change as informational cascades. Journal of Political Economy 100(5): 992–1026.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brefczynski-Lewis, J.A., A. Lutz, H.S. Schaefer, D.B. Levinson, and R.J. Davidson. 2007. Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104(27): 11483–11488. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0606552104.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chiesa, A., P. Brambilla, and A. Serretti. 2010. Functional neural correlates of mindfulness meditations in comparison with psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and placebo effect. Is there a link? Acta Neuropsychiatrica 22: 104–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Craig, A.D. 2002. How do you feel? Interoception: The sense of the physiological condition of the body. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 3(8): 655–666. doi: 10.1038/nrn894.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Craig, A.D. 2009. How do you feel–now? The anterior insula and human awareness. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10(1): 59–70. doi: 10.1038/nrn2555.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Farb, N.A.S. 2012. Mind your expectations: Exploring the roles of suggestions and intention in mindfulness training. Journal of Mind-Body Regulation 2(1): 27–42.Google Scholar
  7. Farb, N.A., A.K. Anderson, H. Mayberg, J. Bean, D. McKeon, and Z.V. Segal. 2010. Minding one’s emotions: Mindfulness training alters the neural expression of sadness. Emotion 10(1): 25–33. doi: 10.1037/a0017151.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Farb, N.A., Z.V. Segal, and A.K. Anderson. 2013a. Attentional modulation of primary interoceptive and exteroceptive cortices. Cerebral Cortex 23(1): 114–126. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr385.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Farb, N.A., Z.V. Segal, and A.K. Anderson. 2013b. Mindfulness meditation training alters cortical representations of interoceptive attention. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 8(1): 15–26. doi: 10.1093/scan/nss066.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Farb, N.A.S., H.A. Chapman, and A. Anderson. 2013c. Emotions: Form follows function. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2013.01.015.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Fox, K.C., P. Zakarauskas, M. Dixon, M. Ellamil, E. Thompson, and K. Christoff. 2012. Meditation experience predicts introspective accuracy. PLoS One 7(9): e45370. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045370.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gibson, Eleanor J. 1953. Improvement in perceptual judgments as a function of controlled practice or training. Psychological Bulletin 50(6): 401–431. doi: 10.1037/h0055517.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Goleman, D.J. 2004. Destructive emotions: A scientific dialogue with the Dalai Lama. New York: Bantam Dell.Google Scholar
  14. Hölzel, B.K., S.W. Lazar, T. Gard, Z. Schuman-Olivier, D.R. Vago, and U. Ott. 2011. How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neutral perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science 6(6): 537–559.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hunt, L. 2003. Kung fu cult masters. London: Wallflower Press.Google Scholar
  16. Jay, Z. 2003. Public service announcement. The Black Album. New York: Roc-A-Fella Records.Google Scholar
  17. Jha, A.P., J. Krompinger, and M.J. Baime. 2007. Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience 7(2): 109–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kabat-Zinn, J. 1982. An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results. General Hospital Psychiatry 4(1): 33–47.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kabat-Zinn, J. 1990. Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York: Delacorte.Google Scholar
  20. Kabat-Zinn, J. 2003. Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 10(2): 144–156.Google Scholar
  21. Khalsa, S.S., D. Rudrauf, A.R. Damasio, R.J. Davidson, A. Lutz, and D. Tranel. 2008. Interoceptive awareness in experienced meditators. Psychophysiology 45(4): 671–677. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2008.00666.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kroll, U. 1974. The healing potential of transcendental meditation. Atlanta: John Knox Press.Google Scholar
  23. MacLean, K.A., E. Ferrer, S.R. Aichele, D.A. Bridwell, A.P. Zanesco, T.L. Jacobs, et al. 2010. Intensive meditation training improves perceptual discrimination and sustained attention. Psychological Science 21(6): 829–839. doi: 10.1177/0956797610371339.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McCown, D., D. Reibel, and M.S. Micozzi. 2010. Teaching mindfulness: A practical guide for clinicians and educators. New York/London: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Menon, V., and L.Q. Uddin. 2010. Saliency, switching, attention and control: A network model of insula function. Brain Structure & Function 214(5–6): 655–667. doi: 10.1007/s00429-010-0262-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Miles, B. 2004. Hippie. New York: Sterling.Google Scholar
  27. Penfield, W., and E. Boldrey. 1937. Somatic motor and sensory representation in the cerebral cortex of man as studied by electrical stimulation. Brain 60: 389–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Popper, K.R. 1962. Conjectures and refutations; the growth of scientific knowledge. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  29. Sahdra, B.K., K.A. MacLean, E. Ferrer, P.R. Shaver, E.L. Rosenberg, T.L. Jacobs, et al. 2011. Enhanced response inhibition during intensive meditation training predicts improvements in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning. Emotion 11(2): 299–312. doi: 10.1037/a0022764.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sasaki, Y., J.E. Nanez, and T. Watanabe. 2010. Advances in visual perceptual learning and plasticity. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11(1): 53–60. doi: 10.1038/nrn2737 10.1038.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sayadaw, M. 2006. Practical insight meditation: Basic and progressive stages. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.Google Scholar
  32. Schmidt, S. 2011. Mindfulness in East and West- Is it the Same? In Neuroscience, consciousness and spirituality: Studies in neuroscience, consciousness and spirituality, vol. 1, ed. H. Walach, S. Schmidt, and W.B. Jonas, 23–28. Dordrecht/New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Shapiro, D.H. 1992. A preliminary study of long-term meditators: Goals, effects, religious orientation, cognitions. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 24(1): 23–39.Google Scholar
  34. Shapiro, S.L., L.E. Carlson, J.A. Astin, and B. Freedman. 2006. Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology 62(3): 373–386. doi: 10.1002/jclp.20237.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Silananda, S.U. 2002. The four foundations of mindfulness. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
  36. Tang, Y.Y., Y. Ma, J. Wang, Y. Fan, S. Feng, Q. Lu, et al. 2007. Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104(43): 17152–17156. doi: 10.1073/0707678104 10.1073/pnas.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tashi, T., and G. McDougall. 2009. Emptiness, The foundation of Buddhist thought, vol. 5. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
  38. Trungpa, C., and J.L. Lief. 2009. The truth of suffering and the path of liberation, 1st ed. Boston: Shambhala: Distributed in the United States by Random House.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rotman Research Institute, BaycrestTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations