Your brain on fMRI
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with an old friend - I'll call her O - who is a very experienced meditator and yoga practitioner. I told her that I was planning with a friend a phenomenological research on the "background experience", and tried to explain to her my thinking about it. She said she had a sense of what I was talking about but wasn't really sure if she got it. Then followed this exchange:
Me: OK, let me explain it to you experientially. Please put your attention now on that aspect of your experience that is always there, no matter what else is going on, and is like the ever-present backdrop or substrate of all your experiences.
O [sits quietly for half a minute and I can feel her "sinking in". Then she nods her head in understanding and says quietly]: OK, I get it.
Me: Can you tell me what you did, internally, when you heard my request?
O [still in a quiet mode, finding it a bit difficult to speak]: Yes, I did something. And what I did was related to my practice of meditation. [Thinks for a moment and adds] I'm sure that if you were scanning my brain activity when I made that shift, it would have registered a change.
That's the story, and now a question I've been pondering since:
Is it really important that we demonstrate that something happens in the brain activity when we go into meditation, have a peak mystical experience, or turn our attention to the "background experience"? What difference would that make?
I mean, every thing that happens in or that we do with our experience is associated with a shift in brain activity. And so does meditation. Of course! Of course and so what? Does it mean anything of significance? Why is there such fascination (as demonstrated by my friend's comment) with the brain activity associated with meditative states?