by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
Published: 7 September 2017
To date, no story of discovery has convinced me that “Science needs it’s adventurers” as much as Coleman and Davidson did throughout this book. Beginning from humble roots in the 1970s, the authors – who were graduate students at the time – describe the evolution of scientific method used in psychology and neuroscience, whilst taking the reader on a quest for scientific evidence relating to the benefits of meditation for health.
The book begins by exploring the cultural origins of meditation practise, inviting the reader to consider the importance of culture within scientific discovery. Amongst wide spread criticism and doubt from the scientific community, ‘Dan’, a science writer and ‘Richie’, now a professor of psychology and psychiatry at University of Wisconsin define, and subsequently challenge, what meditation is, whilst introducing the principles of neuroplasticity – and how it contributes to wellbeing.
As a scientist myself, I was extraordinarily sympathetic to the discussion in chapter four, in which the authors explore the limitations of a traditional scientific framework for studying cognitive function and psychological traits. Sceptics are often quick to mention limitations of research methods when evaluating conclusive remarks, however the authors describe nothing short of pure dedication to the practise, as they use tackle the unknown questions from all perspectives. In chapter 11, “A Yogi’s Brain’, the authors recounts the moment that ‘science’ really began to “(pay) attention” – “a critical inflection point in neuroscience history”. I would entirely agree with Jon Kabat-Zinn, who describes the story as being ‘impressive in its scope and depth (and) staggering in its implications’.
Whilst enlightening the reader to the foundational knowledge in neuroscience – such as the structure of key neural circuits and different types of brain waves – the authors do not neglect the vast insight that the Buddhist culture has provided, in evaluating the effectiveness of meditation. From honest stories of Tibetan retreats, to entrenched anecdotes of modern science, this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to begin, or gain deeper insight into, the practise of meditation. As a non-neuroscientist, this book was the perfect balance of precise, but highly accessible science knowledge and non-fiction story telling – and it remains as fascinating to me, how practising (meditation) for “as short as three days” can change everything.
During August this year, I decided to prioritise mediation practise and have since experienced the exact benefits described in this book. I do not, however, consider myself a seasoned meditator and can honestly say this book has only made me want to learn more and more about how to embrace uncertainty and the importance of stillness in an ever-changing world.