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Mindful : June 2018
parts of the cortex. Huge amounts of the brain are involved in even the simplest of tasks. Barry Boyce: These models are meant to provide children with a way to think about emotionality as a natural brain process—to help them depersonalize it and find calm and composure. Is it such a problem if it’s a cartoon-like oversimplification? Jha: It’s an open question whether using a model of brain function actu- ally helps them calm down. These kinds of models are not limited to presentations to children. I’ve heard Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduc- tion teachers talk about the reptilian brain needing to be overcome by the modern-day frontal lobes. That’s the “triune brain hypothesis”—a 1960s- era story of a battle between the older and newer brain not widely accepted in neuroscience today. It’s not part of the curriculum for MBSR, but it’s a kind of freelancing that people do. We don’t really have any evidence that you would get any less benefit if you didn’t use a model of the brain in teaching people meditation. Why mislead if you don’t need to? The mod- ular view of the brain—with a specific function separately housed within a particular chunk of the cortex—is like a holdover from phrenology, when people thought brain functions were tied to bumps on the skull—a bumpy forehead meant someone was more intelligent. We can do better than this. Barry Boyce: Why does it matter if we’re using notions of the brain that make it easier for us to understand what this thing inside of us is doing? Saron: As someone who tries to think and teach carefully about the brain, one of the things I grapple with is the difference between feeling like you understand something and having the experience that something is beyond one’s grasp. Fully understanding the human brain falls into the latter cate- gory. To think otherwise is a carica- ture of what neuroscience is about. → June 2018 mindful 47 science