Spacetime may emerge from a more fundamental reality.
A growing number of physicists, working in different areas of the discipline with different approaches, are increasingly converging on a profound idea: space—and perhaps even time—is not fundamental. Instead space and time may be emergent: they could arise from the structure and behavior of more basic components of nature.
At the deepest level of reality, questions like “Where?” and “When?” simply may not have answers at all. more...
The plasticity of well-being: A training-based framework for the cultivation of human flourishing (Cortland Dahl)
Research indicates that core dimensions of psychological well-being can be cultivated through intentional mental training. Despite growing research in this area and an increasing number of interventions designed to improve psychological well-being, the field lacks a unifying framework that clarifies the dimensions of human flourishing that can be cultivated.
Here, we integrate evidence from well-being research, cognitive and affective neuroscience, and clinical psychology to highlight four core dimensions of well-being—awareness, connection, insight, and purpose. We discuss the importance of each dimension for psychological well-being, identify mechanisms that underlie their cultivation, and present evidence of their neural and psychological plasticity.
This synthesis highlights key insights, as well as important gaps, in the scientific understanding of well-being and how it may be cultivated, thus highlighting future research directions. more...
Atheism is inconsistent with science, says Dartmouth physicist Marcelo Gleiser (Scotty Hendricks)
Is it saying too much to say something doesn't exist when you have no evidence either way?
Dartmouth College physics professor Marcelo Gleiser has become the first Latin American to win the Templeton Prize in recognition of his “exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”
Prior to winning the 2019 award on March 19, Dr. Gleiser had exhibited his spiritual side to the press, even arguing why he believes atheism is unscientific.
In an interview that will shock many atheists, Dr. Gleiser told Scientific American why he finds atheism to be a bridge too far for a scientific mind: more...
Diet, sleep, and inflammation can all contribute to anxiety—but taking care of your body could help alleviate some of it.
Anxiety is “that hypervigilant feeling that escalates swiftly to a sense of catastrophe and doom,” writes Ellen Vora, M.D., in her new book, The Anatomy of Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming the Body’s Fear Response. Anxiety is “as grounded in the body as it is in the mind.”
Too often, she argues, we turn to only mental solutions for what is in part a physical problem.
That resonates with me. When I feel anxious, some solutions I try—like talking to a friend or watching TV—are hit or miss. Over the years, the only foolproof remedies I’ve found have to do with the body: A good high-intensity workout is bound to make me feel better, and cutting out caffeine has sometimes eliminated anxious feelings for months at a time. Taking care of our body represents a different pathway to healing for many of us, who are already doing everything we can to tend to our minds through therapy or other cognitive tactics. more...
Having trouble sitting still? Here are some suggestions from a meditation researcher.
Have you heard about the many health benefits of meditation—but find yourself struggling to start or keep up a meditation practice?
You’re not alone. Despite how meditation instructions are usually simple (for example, to maintain a gentle focus on the breath), research suggests that new and experienced meditators alike face barriers to practice.
For instance, a study I published with colleagues in 2020 found that new meditators often question whether meditation will in fact be beneficial, doubt whether they’re meditating correctly, struggle to find space and time for practice, and sense that meditation conflicts with their cultural or familial norms. After people complete a formal meditation course, their meditation frequency drops; even experienced meditators describe how hard it is to face difficult feelings that can arise in meditation, like anxiety. more...
What happens after you die? That used to be just a religious question, but science is starting to weigh in. Sam Littlefair looks at the evidence that you’ve lived before.
On March 3, 1945, James Huston, a twenty-one-year-old U.S. Navy pilot, flew his final flight. He took off from the USS Natoma Bay, an aircraft carrier engaged in the battle of Iwo Jima. Huston was flying with a squadron of eight pilots, including his friend Jack Larsen, to strike a nearby Japanese transport vessel. Huston’s plane was shot in the nose and crashed in the ocean.
Fifty-three years later, in April of 1998, a couple from Louisiana named Bruce and Andrea Leninger gave birth to a boy. They named him James.
When he was twenty-two months old, James and his father visited a flight museum, and James discovered a fascination with planes—especially World War II aircraft, which he would stare at in awe. James got a video about a Navy flight squad, which he watched repeatedly for weeks. more...
Stricken with anxiety as a child, Buddhist teacher Mingyur Rinpoche learned how to heal his panic with awareness. He teaches us three techniques that helped him.
I suffered terrible anxiety in my childhood. I desperately wanted to run away from it or fight it off. I don’t know exactly what the true cause of my panic was, but it manifested in many ways.
I was terrified of snowstorms. In my hometown in the Himalayas, winter brings many snowstorms. I remember one in particular. The wind was so intense it shook the house, and my mother found me holding fast to the house’s central beam. “What are you doing?” she asked. I said, “I have to save us from this wind!” Mom found this very funny. more...
A new book explains that anxiety can give us clues about how to make our lives better.
Anxiety can feel like a heavy weight that we didn’t ask to carry. Who wouldn’t love to get rid of it?
But neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki wants to challenge the way we look at our anxiety. In fact, her new book is called Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion.
If you’re skeptical, so was I. But Suzuki’s point is that anxiety is a natural human emotion, one that evolved to serve a purpose. We feel anxious when there is some kind of danger; it primes our body to fight or flee from that danger, in hopes that we’ll end up better off (i.e., alive). In the same way, our modern anxieties can be a warning signal for things that are wrong: not enough rest, too much multitasking, isolation from others. Our anxious energy alerts us to change our lives for the better, she argues. more...
After seeing multiple headlines about the dangers of meditation, Randy Rosenthal decided to investigate it for himself. Here’s what he found.
“How has Vipassana changed your life?”
This is a standard question on the student intake form for a Vipassana course in the S. N. Goenka tradition. For years, after taking my first ten-day retreat in 2003, I used to write a paragraph-long answer describing all the positive ways Vipassana had affected me. Over time, something shifted and now I simply state, “I’m more sensitive.” And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. more...
Is the physical universe independent from us, or is it created by our minds, as suggested by scientist Robert Lanza?
Is there physical reality that is independent of us? Does objective reality exist at all? Or is the structure of everything, including time and space, created by the perceptions of those observing it? Such is the groundbreaking assertion of a new paper published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.
The paper’s authors include Robert Lanza, a stem cell and regenerative medicine expert, famous for the theory of biocentrism, which argues that consciousness is the driving force for the existence of the universe. He believes that the physical world that we perceive is not something that’s separate from us but rather created by our minds as we observe it. According to his biocentric view, space and time are a byproduct of the “whirl of information” in our head that is weaved together by our mind into a coherent experience. more...
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (1920–1996) on the differences between Mahamudra and Dzogchen — and the relationship between them.
In Mahamudra, you are introduced to mind and then you train with awareness. The practice is mixed with mind until reaching nonmeditation. Then the practice is only rigpa, the ultimate view. In one-pointedness and simplicity, you exert lots of mental effort, through which fixation greatly reduces and obscurations are cast away. It is like peeling off different layers of corn; first one is peeled, then the next and the next. In Dzogchen, from the very beginning you are introduced to nonmeditation, nondistraction.
According to the words of Künkhyen Tsele Rinpoche, also called Tsele Natsok Rangdröl:
Mahamudra and Dzogchen
differ in words but not in meaning.
The only difference is that Mahamudra stresses mindfulness
while Dzogchen relaxes within awareness. more...
Is Avoiding Other People’s Suffering Good for Your Mental Health? (Elizabeth Svoboda)
An international study finds that people who turn away from compassion have felt more depressed and anxious during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As COVID-19 ricocheted around the globe, millions of us sought shelter in retreat. Not only were we quarantining at home, we were putting up internal walls against the suffering we saw in the world. For more than a year, it’s been easy to justify an inward focus rather than an outward one.
But a new study suggests that retreating from compassion in the name of safety may not protect us as we hope. Shutting off our compassionate response during the pandemic may threaten our mental health, the research team found, and fray the social connections that sustain our well-being. more...
Mindfulness may have many benefits – but the latest research shows it can also make some people more selfish.
Mindfulness is said to do many things for our psyche: it can increase our self-control, sharpen our concentration, extend our working memory and boost our mental flexibility. With practice, we should become less emotionally reactive – allowing us to deal with our problems more calmly.
One ‘benefit’ that you might not expect to gain, however, is heightened egotism. Yet a recent study suggests that, in some contexts, practicing mindfulness really can exaggerate some people’s selfish tendencies. With their increased inward focus, they seem to forget about others, and are less willing to help those in need.
This finding, alone, should not be a cause for you to cease meditating, if you do find it useful in other ways. But it adds to a growing body of research suggesting that mindfulness training can have undesirable side effects as well as potential benefits – and many psychologists now believe that the potentially negative consequences of certain meditative practices should be advertised alongside the hype. more...
A new study suggests that everyday experiences of empathy contribute to our well-being and kind behavior toward others.
Empathy is one of many skills that help us build better relationships. When we resonate with people’s feelings, consider their perspective, or feel compassion for them, we are more likely to be generous and altruistic, and less likely to be prejudiced against them.
But empathy can sometimes feel like a lofty concept. While it may be good for us and others, what does it actually look like in real life, and how can we cultivate it? Findings from lab studies don’t give us the full picture, often suffering from narrow definitions of empathy and not reflecting people’s everyday empathy experiences. more...
It’s not sufficient, says the Dalai Lama, to simply think that compassion is important. We must transform our thoughts and behavior on a daily basis to cultivate compassion without attachment.
Before we can generate compassion and love, it is important to have a clear understanding of what we understand compassion and love to be. In simple terms, compassion and love can be defined as positive thoughts and feelings that give rise to such essential things in life as hope, courage, determination, and inner strength. In the Buddhist tradition, compassion and love are seen as two aspects of the same thing: Compassion is the wish for another being to be free from suffering; love is wanting them to have happiness. more...
At best, we’re on Earth for around 4,000 weeks – so why do we lose so much time to online distraction? (Oliver Burkeman)
Silicon Valley makes billions by stealing your attention. No wonder it’s so hard to focus.
One Friday in April 2016, as that year’s polarising US presidential race intensified, and more than 30 armed conflicts raged around the globe, approximately 3 million people spent part of their day watching two reporters from BuzzFeed wrap rubber bands around a watermelon. Gradually, over the course of 43 agonising minutes, the pressure ramped up – the psychological kind and the physical force on the watermelon – until, at minute 44, the 686th rubber band was applied.
What happened next won’t amaze you: the watermelon exploded, messily. The reporters high-fived, wiped the splatters from their reflective goggles, then ate some of the fruit. The broadcast ended. Earth continued its orbit around the sun. more...
The Thukdam Project (Daniel Burke)
Inside the first-ever scientific study of post-mortem meditation
Three days after his heart stopped, Geshe Lhundub Sopa was leaned upright against a wall, his odorless body perfectly poised, his skin fresh as baked bread. He looked like he was meditating, remembers Richard Davidson, a prominent neuroscientist and friend of the late Buddhist monk.
Sopa, a tutor of the Dalai Lama’s in Tibet, moved in 1967 to Wisconsin, where he co-founded the Deer Park Buddhist Center and taught South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin.
By conventional Western standards, Sopa died on August 28, 2014. Five days later, and two days after Davidson’s initial visit, the neuroscientist returned to Deer Park and observed his friend’s body a second time. “There was absolutely no change. It was really quite remarkable,” he said. more...
How challenges faced can become motivators for finding purpose.
Your true nature is like the sky, says Mingyur Rinpoche, its love and wisdom unaffected by the clouds of life. You can access it with this awareness meditation.
Humanity is currently facing some of the greatest challenges in its history, including climate change and a global pandemic. Many of us face difficult challenges and uncertainty in our own lives, from illness to job loss to traumatic relationships.
People are desperate for methods to ease their suffering in uncertain times. While many Buddhist meditation practices are helpful, none surpasses recognizing and resting in awareness itself. The reason for this is that the true nature of awareness is a source of lasting strength and resilience. Awareness is beyond conditions like pain and pleasure, suffering and ease. It is that which allows any and all experiences to arise, and yet is unchanged by them. more...
The teacher-student relationship in Vajrayana Buddhism is intense and complex. It is easy to misunderstand and can even be misused. The respected Tibetan teacher Mingyur Rinpoche explains Vajrayana ethics, how to find a genuine teacher, and what to do if a teacher crosses the line.
As a Buddhist teacher, I am often asked questions about meditation and profound Buddhist principles, like interdependence and emptiness. I am happy to share what I know on these topics. But I have noticed that people rarely ask me about ethics and how to live a virtuous life. more...