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Mindful : June 2018
We are in the middle of an epidemic spread of BS about the brain. Something new comes up just about every week that grossly oversimplifies both what science currently knows about the brain and how the brain might actually work. that you can use science to rewire your brain. Among its claims: You can “overcome PTSD without medication by strengthening neural circuits in Brain 3.0, making your emotional immune system stronger.” Let’s be clear. This is not science. It is snake oil. The problem, scientists and science educators point out, is not that people are being coached and coaxed to “use their brains better.” The problem is using pseudo-science as evidence for the effectiveness of a practice or to present outmoded models of the brain and mental expe- rience. These models are often taught to children in school, who go home and tell mommy and daddy that the amygdala is bad and the prefrontal cortex is good. Is it fair to reduce something so wondrous as the brain to a couple of parts—even if this mythology helps children to notice their reactivity and calm down? To delve into the state of the brain science surrounding meditation, we invited two neuroscientists to join in conversation with Mindful about how to effectively talk about the brain when presenting mindfulness and meditation. Amishi Jha, PhD, is associate pro- fessor of psychology and the founder and head of the Jha Lab at the Univer- sity of Miami. Her pioneering work, much of it funded by the Department of Defense and carried out with the military, students, and athletes, shows how mindfulness can protect atten- tion and working memory. The lab is also working on how to scale up mindfulness for larger populations and make its effects long-lasting. She is working to find accessible train- ing that can be broadly adopted by high-performance and high-demand groups, including first responders, police, and firefighters. Cliff Saron, PhD, is a researcher at the Center for Mind and Brain and director of the Saron Lab at the Univer- sity of California, Davis. He is known for directing the Shamatha Project, a multiyear investigation of long-term intensive meditation. Findings so far indicate that the practice sharpens and sustains attention, enhances well-being and empathy, and improves physiologi- cal markers of health. Saron is inter- ested in not just what the brain is doing when attending to a task, but what’s happening on a moment-by-moment basis as we construct reality. While Saron and Jha are separated by a continent and different research goals, they see eye-to-eye on the need to be cautious in making assertions about long-term alterations to the brain. They collaborated with a few others on an important paper that provided a preliminary model for distinguishing a variety of mental factors involved in a range of medita- tion practices. Our several conversations lasted many hours and ranged far and wide. Here are some of the highlights of our exploration of brain and mind. Barry Boyce Editor-in-Chief June 2018 mindful 45 science