In this episode, I spoke with Dr. Miguel Farias from Coventry University in the UK on his seminal book, The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? (2nd ed. Watkins Media, 2019) (co-authored with Catherine Wikholm). Miguel was one of the first academic researchers to expose the dark side of meditation. Our conversation touched on the history of Transcendental Meditation (TM), the use of science as a means to justify the legitimacy of meditation, and the many parallels between TM and the modern mindfulness movement.
Miguel Farias received his doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Oxford where he was a lecturer until 2014, and a research associate at the Psychology of Religion Group at Cambridge University. He currently leads the Brain, Belief and Behaviour research group at Coventry University. Dr. Farias has pioneered research on the analgesic effects of religious beliefs and the stress-buffering effects of science beliefs. He led the first randomized-controlled trial on the effects of yoga and meditation in prison and is the lead author of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change -- a book that examines the science and myths about the effects of these practices, now in its 2nd edition published by Watkins Media. Dr. Farias is chief editor of the forthcoming Handbook of Meditation, to be published by Oxford University Press.
How many times have you heard people claim that Buddhism isn’t really a religion, that it’s a philosophy, a way of life, that its spiritual but not religious, or even that it’s a “science of mind”? These familiar tropes are a legacy of Buddhist Modernism, what Evan Thompson aptly has coined “Buddhist exceptionalism.” In this episode we explore these common claims, especially how they have been taken up by Secular Buddhists, mindfulness teachers and even scientists. We explore in this interview the historical reasons for why Buddhism has received special treatment, with its modernist claim that it is fundamentally different than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism. We dive into the confused understandings of mindfulness meditation which has been portrayed as a privatized “inner telescope” to objectively view our interior minds (brains), along with the misguided attempt to map meditative experiences onto brain states and neural correlates (Neural Buddhism). Evan challenges the popular view that Buddhism is compatible with science, and that science can validate Buddhist insights. Drawing on his intimate friendship and collaboration with the late Francisco Varela (a key founder of the Mind & Life Institute) he takes aim at how the so-called Buddhism – Science “dialogue” has been one-sided and stifling of mutual learning.
Evan Thompson is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He writes about the mind, life, consciousness, and the self, from the perspectives of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy (especially Buddhism and other Indian philosophical traditions). As a teenager, Evan was home-schooled in Southampton, NY and Manhattan at the Lindisfarne Association, an educational and contemplative community founded by his parents, William Irwin Thompson and Gail Thompson. He received his A.B. in Asian Studies from Amherst College (1983) studying with Robert Thurman, and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto (1990). Evan has been actively involved as one of the leading researchers and advisers for the Mind & Life Institute.
We spoke today with Evan about his new book, Why I Am Not A Buddhist, published by Yale University Press in 2020. He is the author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015); He is also the co-author with Francisco J. Varela and Eleanor Rosch, of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991, revised edition 2016).
In this Episode, I spoke with Dr. Michael Ungar, who is a Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University and Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience, as well as a family therapist – about his new book, Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and The Path to Success (Sutherland House Book, 2019). Michael dispels the myths of the self-help industry with its victim-blaming messages and emulation of the rugged individual. For too long, the familiar tropes have espoused a cruel form of optimism, telling us that our success and happiness can all be self-determined by simply pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and that all change comes from within us.
Based on his years of research on children, families, and communities, Michael tells that resilience has more to do with the resourced individual – and changing the environment.