SHOULD WE BE FOCUSED ON INNER OR OUTER DEVELOPMENT?
We obviously need a sane society that secures for its citizens enough challenge, nourishment, safety, felt equity & reliable access to knowledge so that individuals and groups become more free
to pursue spiritual, ethical, artistic, cognitive and other forms of psychological self-refinement within a world of ongoing changes.
Yet, at the same time, we will never get such a society unless we dramatically increase the maturity, wisdom, self-organization, energy, concentration, flow states, peak experiences and deep insights of individuals. A tricky trap.
Fortunately, there is something that mediates between psychological, social & material concerns: leading-edge neurosciences.
Brains! (insert trite zombie noises)
That's where Dr. Matthew Sacchet
Matthew is shepherding the Meditation Research Program
at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School toward a comprehensive science of meditative development, transformation and well-being. They are currently ramping up, reaching out to leaders in the fields of psychosocial evolution, looking for increased funding & preparing to leverage the extensive expertise of Mass General and Harvard in neuroimaging, mental health and mind-body medicine.
The goal is "a global hub for the science of meditation: a highly interdisciplinary and collaborative environment that will support world-leading research on meditation and related constructs and practices toward reducing human suffering through improving mental health and fostering general well-being and transformation."
In recent decades, spurred partly by the intelligent exchange of ideas between contemplative spiritual practitioners and scientists, and partly by the introduction of new neuroimaging technologies, there has been a pivot toward making meditation and similar practices into legitimate objects of clinical study -- and even of medical recommendation.
This has seeds-of-a-new-renaissance written all over it.
These studies, however, have largely been superficial. They have done the good but preliminary work of demonstrating how relatively simple procedures of repeated intentional attention cause moderate increases in self-regulation, reported well-being and concentration.
Yet they have, in general, not been funded well enough to deploy truly leading-edge neuroimaging tech and they have not been philosophically nuanced enough to both include and deconstruct subtle variants in the instructions, phenomenology and mechanisms of traditional and idiosyncratic meditative praxis.
They have also typically not been radical enough to concentrate on spiritual goals such as "enlightenment" and "awakening" and other remarkable shifts in self-identity and experience. Those are the areas that we need to start robustly mapping.
The next steps are obvious.
We need deeper data. We need precise measurements and correlations. We need rigorous protocols. We need an enriched and critical analysis of the various activities involved in the phenomenology of all different kinds and degrees of meditation so that we can appropriately inspect their neurophysiological correlates.
That's how we start to build up a scientifically-vetted catalogue of traditional and new practices that can be tailored to diverse individuals in order to accelerate the unfolding of wisdom, heightened human capacity, heart-awakening, transcendental states and profound existential satisfactions. Without this, we are unlikely to be able to scale up to a "planetary wisdom-civilization" in any significant sense.
Dr. Sacchet and his team seem ideally positioned to advance this project.
Their immediate areas of concern involve the integration of:-Affective and cognitive neuroscience
-Clinical psychology and psychiatry
-Computer science and related computational disciplines
-Contemplative and religious studies
-Neuroimaging and electrophysiology
-Psychometrics and psychological assessment
These integrated genres of inquiry step outside of the conventional distinctions between social & personal, subjective & objective, psychological &biological, material &informational, worldly & spiritual.
Sounds like the sweet spot.