Journalists know that when they hear something from one source, they should corroborate it with independent sources before reporting it. The science of memory has taught us that our own memories are also unreliable sources, just as needy of corroboration.
Are so many mediators citing neuroscience these days because it is cool? Hot? Fashionable? I don't know. That the science being cited is often either inaccurate or not helpful to conflict resolution is sometimes a tad disturbing.
Although the book being reviewed is not about conflict resolution, a couple of the paragraphs are relevant to the proliferation of neuroscience in the dispute field . . .
This is where the book truly disappoints. Rather than simply giving us straight talk about how disorganized our thoughts and lives are (but we knew that) and how we can do better (tell us, please!), Levitin insists on informing us repeatedly and in detail about how various regions or pathways in the brain are “involved in” the various cognitive and behavioral phenomena he surveys. He really means that increased neural activity in these areas of the brain is correlated with certain behavioral and cognitive phenomena, which actually means only that such activity tends to occur at about the same time as the behavioral and cognitive phenomena. That is not saying much, which is why Levitin keeps implying more with that vague phrase, “involved in.”
University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Morse has dubbed this practice the “brain overclaim syndrome”—the pathological tendency to fool people into thinking you have a profound understanding of something by pointing to brain studies. It goes without saying that any distinctive thing we do—raising an arm, thinking of sheep or shouting, “Hooray!”—must be accompanied by some corresponding neural activity, but that does not explain the activity.
(Click to read the rest of the review.) How much is neuroscience being used today as a trendy camouflage of basic psychology or wisdom or common sense? What does brain science add to any of those three? Typically nothing or not much, in my opinion. What do you think? What has neuroscience brought us that has changed the practice of mediation?
When we recall something that occurred in the past, our recollection is not accurate like a video camera. Some if not much of our memory is fabricated. Our fuzzy, faulty memory has been covered before both at this blog and in many books and articles: the memory's shiftiness is by now notorious. So why I am writing about it again?
Even though I know about memory's tricks, I need a reminder frequently because it's so, so easy to forget that we forget; the fact that we re-produce, re-shape, re-construct our memories is simply forgotten. A very good reminder is this article from The Conversation titled "Serial: your memory can play tricks on you – here’s how" which I recommend to you. Excerpt:
It is also important to understand that memories are not constructed from precise records of what actually happened – but rather from records of what we experienced. Our perception is shaped by all sorts of things: our knowledge, our mood, the social context, our physical perspective, even our vocabulary (the language we have available seems to affect the way we encode and retrieve memories). But critically, the reconstruction process itself is also shaped by all of these factors.
Context and knowledge therefore provide a framework not only for encoding memories but also for retrieving them. And because both context and knowledge change over time, so can the memories.
Over the years, I have learned that people reading this blog come from a wide range of belief systems, including atheist, agnostic, and those involved to large or small degree in various spiritual and religious practices. Although this blog post to which I am linking today is written by a Christian and part of the post is from a Christian perspective, I think anyone can learn from what Dr. William Struthers calls the Seven Dangerous Neuro-Temptations (The Table, blog of Biola University). Click to see how he defines neuro-essentialism, neuro-manipulation, neuro-divination, neuro-absolution, neuro-narcissism, neuro-normalcy, and neuro-privilege.
Does resolving conflict require learning? Typically, yes, of course. If no one in the dispute learns anything new, the conflict will probably remain unresolved. That's one of the reasons learning is often mentioned here at BonP.
In May, I attended the 26th annual convention of the Association of Psychological Science; some of the presentations I chose among the multitude offered included learning as a focus. One of my favorite programs, and certainly the most entertaining, was one copresented by APS past-president Henry Roediger who is the author of a new book on learning titled Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. This week I have been reading the book for the first time. I say "first time" because I know I will be reading it again: it contains so much of value about teaching and learning. The book is one I will continue to recommend often.
Click to watch Dr. Willoughby Britton talk to the Dalai Lama about her research on the negative effects of meditation. He responds that problems can occur when the practice is decontextualized and is not grounded in tradition, knowledge, ethics, and morality.
So often today we see people blithely stripping off the practice from its tradition and using meditation for be-here-now, anything-goes, feel-good benefits while not including important components such as ethics and ignoring context. The Dalai Lama told the story of being shown the blueprints for a new meditation center. He looked them over and said, "Where's the library?" Knowledge of the tradition, and of the roots and principles of mediation, is critically important.
What are some of the pitfalls of viewing meditation simply as a process of bare attention? When mindfulness is equated with bare attention, it can easily lead to the misconception that the cultivation of mindfulness has nothing to do with ethics or with the cultivation of wholesome states of mind and the attenuation of unwholesome states. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the Pali Abhidhamma, where mindfulness is listed as a wholesome mental factor, it is not depicted as bare attention, but as a mental factor that clearly distinguishes wholesome from unwholesome mental states and behavior. And it is used to support wholesome states and counteract unwholesome states.
Everyday the media report science findings and the journals churn out research articles. In addition to feeling inundated, the lay reader may also wonder what's accurate and what's suspect and what's downright bogus. Here are three articles that can remind us to be discerning.
First is an interview with neuroscience researcher Dr. Willoughby Britton. Although she is addressing the science of meditation, what she says about how research should be evaluated has more general application. Click to read "Meditation Nation" (Tricycle).
There are different levels of scientific research, different levels of rigor. I think this is a place where the public could use a lot of education. Because they don’t know how to interpret science, they assume much higher levels of evidence.
The first level is a “pre-post” study, which looks something like this: We go learn to meditate for eight weeks and at the end of it we feel better. We took a stress and anxiety scale before and after, and our stress or anxiety improved. So we say, “Meditation helped me!” That is actually not a valid conclusion. The conclusion you can make in science is that something helped. We didn’t control for the idea that just deciding to do something is going to help. Just that factor—intentionally deciding to make a commitment to your health and well-being—can make a big difference.
Click to read about other levels of rigor.
Next is a post titled "How to Spot Bad Science"(Big Think) which includes "a rather splendid bucket list of issues to look out for when reading science news."
And finally here is an article in which the authors point out how important the relational context is in evaluating research, and look at some research showing how it might have different results had the relational context been different.
The study of social behavior using any methodology, including neuroscience methodologies, must take relational context into account. Researchers must consider not only the nature of the actor him or herself, but also the nature of the person with whom he or she is interacting, and, crucially, the nature of the existing (or desired) relationship between them. It is this last aspect of multi-person processes on which we focus in this paper.
When researchers discovered neurons in monkey brains that fired when an action was performed or observed, they were dubbed “mirror neurons.” And they quickly became the go-to explanation for empathy. Decades later, says Sharon Begley, the evidence that human beings have them is sketchy at best.
Mirror neurons were indeed a paradigm-changing discovery. From the observation that some premotor neurons fire when action is observed rather than performed, however, it is quite a leap to empathy, autism, and the rest. It’s natural to root for the human brain to have as many cool components as possible, and enticing to think that one of them offers a simple and elegant answer to the question of what make us human. But even if it turns out that we don’t have these nifty mirror neurons, it doesn’t make us any less empathetic. We just lack a simple neurological explanation for it.