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There’s an app for that, or is there? Scientific investigation of intensive meditation

Clifford Saron

The benefits of engaging in contemplative practice are pervasively promoted as being justified by scientific evidence. iPhones come with Mindfulness tracking alongside screens for logging steps and aerobic minutes. Yet this scientific evidence is often weak, taken out of context, and overinterpreted beyond what the data actually show. This state of affairs is laden with implicit scientific hegemony that discourages rigorous methodological scrutiny and the relevance of personal understanding. It also plays into narratives that promise large results with little effort. One correction for this emerging view of “better living through all things mindful” may be to focus on what we can know through our lived experience and what we cannot know using our current research tools. I will use findings from our research on intensive meditation in retreat contexts to explore the challenges of this field. I will also present a transdisciplinary phenomenological model that frames aspects of cognition that may be impacted by different styles of meditation. Finally, I will discuss the possible roles and consequences of using technology in this intimate human practice.