I finally had the time to watch carefully this video .
Again, my response to the video was different from yours, Paul, I guess and I felt that actually what he was sharing was sometimes nearly the opposite of what you tried to share with us over years: be in the present moment and disconnect form the mind.
Let me explain why (even though it would be easier to do this in a conversation than in writing).
Joe Dispenza has been a molecular scientist but not a psychologist or cognitive neuroscientist and thus about 40 minutes of the hour he talks he cites second-hand research that we and my close colleagues are doing and he has partly just misunderstood I feel.
So, for example, he repeats again and again the importance of one single brain region: the prefrontal cortex and claims that training this part of the neocortex is the solution for awakening, spontaneous remission etc...
First, focusing on only one brain region is the typical American reductionism wanting to make life simpler as it is-- seeing things black and white. The brain is a hugely distributed network operating in time and space..not a single brain area alone is doing the whole job for anything. Its a bit like our humanity. We are interdependent and not a single unit is doing all.. this is an illusion on a macroscopic scale as well as in brain science.
Second, even if just focusing just on the prefrontal cortex which is as he said occupying 40% of our neocortex and subserves multiple functions related to controling actions, thoughts and feelings, he ignored that the reason why we humans are emotionally suffering from lots of things is exactly BECAUSE of having developed a prefrontal cortex. Thus, because of this brain regions being able to decouple our thoughts from the incoming sensory stimuli we gained the possibility of our brain talking to itself. This makes us powerful problem-solver and thinker but you may also say that this is why we have developed so incredibly powerful MINDS which are now capable of telling us day and night who we are, what we are not, what we should do in future etc..
So parietal-prefrontal networks subserve what we call mind-wandering. It has been shown that mind-wanering is associated to stress and unhappiness and is especially prevalant in depression (associated with rumination). We have shown that if you stress people in the lab, the amound of self-related mindwandering and activation in parietal-frontal networks subserving these ruminative thoughts is hugely increased. Facit, in contrast to animals who selden suffer depression or burn-out, we have an increase in the prevalance of these symptoms in our world BECAUSE we have overdeveloped our frontal lobes and the ability to "talk to ourselves".
So how on earth strenghtening our frontal lobes and our ability to decouple the mind from sensory input should free us up from suffering?
Third, he suggests that the solution is to learn how to decouple from our (conditioned) feelings being the seed of our suffering by training our mind and observational skills and the prefrontal lobes, that is making a division between feelings and body and mind again (this whas the viepoint of Decarte and has lead to lots and lots of false dichotomies in science over the past centuries). It is interesting however that all contemplative meditation practices I have encountered are proposing and doing exactly the opposite. Decouple from your mind and learn just to observe it (the latter is also proposed by Joe of course) and develope first interoceptive awareness by focusing on the present moment, sounds, smells, touch, the interoceptive body feelings and breathing. All these sensations are bodily and feelings states and associated to somatosensory-body representations in the brain (not the prefrontal cortex).
That is, most long-term meditators we have investigated have actually learned the opposite of what Joe is suggesting: They have learned to observe the present incoming sensory stimuli (vision, odour, touch, interoceptive body signals, breath, autonomic arousal etc..) without categorizing them or predicting their nature based on previous experience and trying to controle or predict them based on past experience (like children do as their prefrontal cortex has not developed yet)...thus instead of doing what we adults usually do, that is using our prefrontal cortex and our mind to predict based on the past experience what will happen in the future, these long-term practitioners dont predict but just let sensory and bodily information coming into their brain as they are..with as less top-down mind interpretation as possible..
Why is that also useful for spontaneous remission in desease? Because most of our suffering is not only based on our thoughts but stored in cellular-body momery connected directly with body representation in our brains (somato-sensory cortices and interoceptive cortex). Thus, to unlearn these conditioned brain-body reflexes, we need first to develope meta-awareness of these loops by cultivating interoceptive awareness of body and its interaction with mind.. and for this we can not disregard feelings and body but instead need to learn to stay with it as it is..even if these feelings and body sensations may not be confortable to feel first.
So, yes, developing meta-awareness partly supported by parietal-frontal cortices is necessary but only in taking account of the body itself and focusing more and more on the present, that is actually primary somato-sensory input and not decoupling from it.
My experience of researchers such as Joe suggesting that decoupling from feelings and body are necessary to get "control" over the mind and suffering is rooted in exactly the tradition he is mentioning at the beginning to be the root of all seperation between spirituality and science. This has led to hundreds of years of science in which male scientists have regarded feelings and body experiences as something we can and should not study scientifially as these are (bad to have) or when it comes to questions of how to free up the mind and soul belonging to religion and we should focus on the study of cognitive functions only. Prefrontal cortex is the example for an area which has control of these bad bodily states and an interest in studying this brain area comes often with the need of mostly male researchers to have control themselves over their own bodily feelings and emotions (as they dont want to feel those).
Social neuroscience however has repeatedly shown that cognition in emboddied and that mind and cognition are deeply rooted in the body and that all seperation between these categories would be misleading.
Our own research so far support such a view and Paul I guess you may also resonate with it?
Its difficult to express myself in writing but I hope I could give some meaningful feedback from my neuroscience perspective on these matters and Joes interview.
I also discussed my view a bit with Kira and I felt I may also just try to record once a similar non-scientific informal talk myself similar to this of Joe... however this time not second-hand reading of science but first-hand transmission of our research and recent cognitive-neuroscience findings. This would be a challenge for me of course as I am not used to do such informal more personal talks but why not trying. As I need to prepare three similar free non-typical scientific talks including a personal story and view point for this year (one TEDx talk in Zürich, one for a conference organized by Otto Sharmer who is a genial change maker from Harvard Buiseness school and one for a media event featuring only international women leaders) it may be a good practice.
Sending you lots of love from over the ocean !
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Monday, 30 April 2012 16:48
Reply to Joe Dispenza Interview…Written by Alan Steinfeld
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