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Mindful : June 2018
Barry Boyce: How is training your attention with meditation different from an off-the-shelf brain training program designed to help you pay better attention? Or from engaging in a psychotherapy program to help you with your emotion regulation, such as anger management? Jha: Right now there are no estab- lished brain training programs that have been able to overcome a really big problem: generalizability. You play a “brain-training” video game over and over again to improve memory, right? What seems to happen is people just get better at that game, but no one has shown that it increases general memory capacity, for example. You don’t meditate to become an Olympian breath follower, so we hope to find out whether there is something about focusing on the breath that may generalize to being able to focus better on things other than the breath. Meditation seems to be categorically different in that the brain-changing and performance benefits do seem to generalize. We give people an attention test after they’ve completed a mind- fulness training program and they perform better than people who got some other type of program. Perhaps mindfulness training promotes alter- ations in how specific brain networks While the study of thought and thinking has been dominated by neu- roscience in recent decades, in a talk at TED2017, Anil Seth, professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the Univer- sity of Sussex, talked about how the study of human expe- rience crosses many disciplines, including “neuro- science, physics, virtual reality, mathematics, psychology, psy- chiatry, neurology, cognitive science, and philosophy,” to name a few. When we range beyond the pure study of “ the brain,” we enter the realm of the mind and consciousness. While the brain and the nervous system are par t of anatomy, the mind cannot be found. How it is that we are conscious— that we experience and know—is not WHERE IS MY MIND? BEYOND THE BRAIN EMBODIED The brain operates within and through- out our body. EMBEDDED That bodily sys- tem is embedded in, connected to, and part of an environment. EXTENDED That environment extends through time and space, meaning it doesn’t have fixed bound- aries and it keeps changing. ENACTIVE We are not passive cognitive processors of a predetermined reality; we “enact” reality through the actions we perform. In ver y simple terms, the reality you experience and create in dif- ferent settings—in a meditation room, a busy airpor t, a forest, an office building—will be very different. The brain shapes and is shaped by our bodies and our surroundings. Therefore it does not make sense to talk about your brain apar t from the environment it is intimately par t of and the ways we interact. something we will ever find in a brain scan. Also, as Anil Seth points out in his TED Talk, we are not passive recipients of a world that is being shown to us like a movie; instead we “actively generate the world.” The simplest study of optical illusions easily demon- strates that we are making up the world as we go along. Cliff Saron emphasizes that when we are talking about the brain and the mind, it helps to not limit our think- ing to activity that takes place in an organ in our skull. Mental activity joins us together with the world and its inhabitants in a vast web of con- nections. As Anil Seth says, when we study how minds and brains work, we quickly see that we are “part of, not apar t from” the world around us. There- fore, in contempo- rary philosophy of mind, many people like to empha- size cognition as something that doesn’t simply reside in one organ in our head. And they shift the emphasis using a schema known as 4-E Cognition: When you mind- wander with awareness, you value the content that emerges— discovering things you didn’t know you were looking for. 54 mindful June 2018 science