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Toward a “contemplative” contemplative science

Clifford Saron

Toward a “contemplative” contemplative science: issues and models in the scientific investigation of meditation.

In a 1984 interview, Francisco Varela stated that “science, in its core, its active living core, is pure contemplation. It has little or nothing to do with manipulation.” In 2017, the wisdom of engaging in contemplative practice is pervasively promoted as justified by scientific evidence of its benefits. Yet this evidence is often weak, taken out of context, and interpreted in over- simple fashion 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. One correction for this emerging instrumentalist narrative 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. This includes integrating the concerns and methods of other disciplines within the sciences and humanities into our own professional identities and scholarship. I will use examples from our research on intensive meditation in retreat contexts and an initial foray into the building of a transdisciplinary model of aspects of cognition that may be impacted by styles of Buddhist meditation to explore the challenges in implementing research that begins to approach adequacy in light of recent critiques and second thoughts regarding the promise of this field.