Friday, October 21, 2005

Is Compassion Scientifically Measurable?

[The Dalai Lama] has been an enthusiastic collaborator in research on whether the intense meditation practiced by Buddhist monks can train the brain to generate compassion and positive thoughts. Next month in Washington, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak about the research at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
This is interesting for practicing Jews as well because it raises the question whether kavanah - or intentionality in prayer - is also measurable and, therefore, efficacious in a manner that can translate persuasively to a modern-trained sensibility.

Of course, the very fact that such an experiment takes place - religion, God forbid! mixing with science - attracts its share of immediate, kneejerk detractors.
But 544 brain researchers have signed a petition urging the society to cancel the lecture, because, according to the petition, "it will highlight a subject with largely unsubstantiated claims and compromised scientific rigor and objectivity."...

[M]any scientists who signed the petition say they did so because they believe that the field of neuroscience risks losing credibility if it ventures too recklessly into spiritual matters.

"As the public face of neuroscience, we have a responsibility to at least see that research is replicated before it is promoted and highlighted," said Dr. Nancy Hayes, a neurobiologist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey who objects to the Dalai Lama's speaking. "If we don't do that, we may as well be the Flat Earth Society."


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