Upcoming Wonder Season and the Brainwaves Weekender @ The Barbican

Dream Electric


Personally, I’m rather keen on brains and brain-related things. So it’ll probably come as no surprise that I’m rather excited about the Barbican’s upcoming Wonder Festival devoted to the mind, including a weekend (March 2nd-3rd)  focused on all things brainy. Ahead of the British Neuroscience Association’s festival at the Barbican in April, this season throughout March and April looks to explore the much intertwined relationship between neuroscience and the arts, through a series of talks, workshops, film showings, comedy, theatre and music events. It’s a collaboration with the Wellcome Trust, who were also behind that rather brilliant Brains exhibition last year.

Amongst the events on over the season are a few crafty sessions to help people get creative as they get to grips with a bit of neuroanatomy, including sessions where you can knit a neuron and dissect a jelly brain. I’m not sure if these events are more aimed…

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Genome-wide expression changes in a higher state of consciousness.

Genome-wide expression changes in a higher state of consciousness.

Wow…I didn’t think I’d find research like this already. This research group rounded up a small number of “experienced meditators” (again, its difficult to assess what this really means without a solid descriptor used by all, but the researchers did their best) and used a micro-array to determine what genes are upregulated and downregulated during higher states of consciousness. Some similarities and differences were found, as expected. 

What does it mean? Who knows. Its really hard (for me) to interpret micro-array data. They had more similarities in under-expressed genes than over-expressed genes. Generally they noticed a down regulation of “metabolic and cell cycle processes, signaling, protein transport, regulation of gene expression, DNA repair, epigenetic mechanisms.”. 

While not being grilled for this during my dissertation, I’d say that this is what we might expect right? Everything seems to be slowing down when we meditate for long periods – our thoughts, our breathing, ability to regulate temperature. 

Very cool if this type of research begins to take hold. This is a very small study – but at least someone did it (AND GOT FUNDING!?)


Research on Meditation & Mindfulness

Brewer, J.A., et al. (2011). Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 108(50). Published online.Full text.

Abstract: Many philosophical and contemplative traditions teach that “living in the moment” increases happiness. However, the default mode of humans appears to be that of mind-wandering, which correlates with unhappiness, and with activation in a network of brain areas associated with self-referential processing. We investigated brain activity in experienced meditators and matched meditation-naive controls as they performed several different meditations (Concentration, Loving-Kindness, Choiceless Awareness).

We found that the main nodes of the default-mode network (medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices) were relatively deactivated in experienced meditators across all meditation types. Furthermore, functional connectivity analysis revealed stronger coupling in experienced meditators between the posterior cingulate, dorsal anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices (regions previously implicated in self-monitoring…

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Alpha brain waves correlate with sensory focus = Meditation + Secondary Benefits

This is very interesting. For years, meditation researchers have noted that meditators produce different (often slower) types of brain waves when they meditate compared to “regular” awake states. But we haven’t really come up with any great reason how or why these two things correlate.



Typically, when a person closes their eyes, they immediately produce a spike in alpha brain waves (8-12 Hz). The beginnings of meditation also show an increase in these brain wave frequencies. When they open their eyes, their brain waves speed up to produce beta wave states (13-38 Hz). Experienced meditators show greater quantities of even slower brain waves. Theta waves, (4-7 Hz) are found in greater quantities in experienced meditators and in sleep states of normal individuals. Delta waves (< 4 Hz) are also found in sleep and deeper meditative states. Oddly, very experienced meditators show deep states of meditation correspond with very vast brain waves called Gamma waves (>40 Hz). 

Research from Brown University using magnetoencephalography (MEG) show that sensory attention correlates with alpha rhythms in the cortex. Additionally, persons who have mindfulness training are better able to regulate localized alpha brainwaves  than non-trained individuals. A computer model was also built by the investigators that simulates electrical activity of neural networks and makes predictions about how the alpha waves are produced. 

The model predicts that timing and strength of alpha waves can be controlled,

“from two separate regions of the thalamus, called thalamic nuclei, that talk to different parts of the cortex. One alpha generator would govern the local “tuning in,” for instance of sensations in a hand, while the other would govern the broader “tuning out” of other sensory or cognitive information in the cortex.”

So, as we gain control of our focus of thought during meditation, we also gain control of our focus of thought on our sensory system and our regulation of our alpha wave brain states. Let’s not forget that the alpha wave brain state also seems to correlate with people being able to overcome depressive thoughts or chronic pain signals. There are a lot of correlates in this train of research, but nonetheless, its very interesting.


Source: http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2013/02/mindfulness


Video Series – The Compassionate Brain with Dr. Rick Hanson

This is a great video series really on point with this blog. I encourage you to check it out. You’ll first need to register at:

Here’s a run-down of the whole series with some heavy-hitters in this field:

Session 1: How the Mind Changes the Brain
Recorded on Monday, October 8, 2012
With Dr. Richie Davidson, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin and co-editor of The Asymmetrical Brain

Session 2: Mindfulness of Oneself and Others
Recorded on Monday, October 15, 2012
With Dr. Daniel Siegel, executive director of the Mindsight Institute and author of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation

Session 3: Cultivating a Forgiving Heart
Recorded on Monday, October 22, 2012
With Dr. Tara Brach, founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha

Session 4: The Evolution of Compassion: From Gene to Meme
Recorded on Monday, October 29, 2012
With Dr. Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life

Session 5: Balancing Compassion and Assertiveness
Recorded on Monday, November 5, 2012
With Dr. Kelly McGonigal, senior teacher and consultant for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

Session 6: The Power of Self-Compassion
Recorded on Monday, November 12, 2012
With Dr. Kristin Neff, professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas, Austin and author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind

Session 7: Compassion in the Wider World
Recorded on Monday, November 19, 2012
With Dr. Jean Houston, co-founder of The Foundation for Mind Research and author of The Possible Human: A Course in Enhancing Your Physical, Mental, and Creative Abilities

Session 8: At Home in the Heart—Practical Takeaways from This Series
Recorded on Monday, November 26, 2012
With Dr. Rick Hanson

It seems obvious that the classroom interventional strategies for these problems should include meditation training at their core. Its really the best way for kids to understand their five senses in addition to vestibular, joint/muscle sense and their thoughts.

All Kinds of Minds

SensesThe following guest post is by Dr. Penny Cuninggim, Founder and Associate Director at New England Adolescent Research Institute (NEARI) and Director of the Brain-based Learning and Resource Center. You can sign up for NEARI’s “Smoothies for the Brain” Newsletter here

Imagine your child in a world where something as basic and reliable as the sound of the school bell or another person’s touch is perceived as something foreign or threatening. Imagine that when others climb and happily slip down the slide, your child cringes, feeling dizzy at the top of the ladder, and has to back down the rungs in shame. Or imagine that when other children are eagerly examining a dead frog your child is crumpling to the floor woozy from the smell. If this describes your child, then learning is not a fresh and rewarding experience. Instead, it is fraught with landmines of all kinds.


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Learn from a 3D Brain/Einstien’s Brain Facts

Learn from a 3D Brain/Einstien’s Brain Facts

A LITTE GROUND WORK FIRST – Over the next while, I’ll be posting some information that will talk about different brain structures. Its always hard learning about something if you don’t actually have an idea about what the structure does, what the structure looks like, where its located, and what is beside it!

If you want to follow along or go back and reference this post, I’d suggest this tool from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a fun way to learn about structures and functions. 

Just hover over the brain to identify structures and use the dialog box to the right to learn about the features of 29 different structures.

Check it out here: http://www.g2conline.org/

……..Ready?….Ok….Now that you’ve learned about some of the structures, here are two facts about Einstein’s brain. Go find these structures on the map!

  • Einstein’s parietal lobes were wider than normal parietal lobes. In addition, he had extra grooves and ridges in his parietal lobes (perhaps related to his advanced visual, mathematical, and spatial thinking)
  • Einstein had knoblike structures on his motor cortex. (perhaps related to Einstein’s musical ability)

I didn’t see this when it came out. Daniel Ingram in the mainstream. He’s a very interesting guy. Check out my first post for a link to his site!

Meditation Los Angeles

Wow, right there in the New York Times! A piece about a real (failed, oh well) attempt at stream entry! You just don’t see this very often. The piece, entitled “The Anxiety of the Long-Distance Meditator” just completely caught the attention of this longish-distance runner, and features Daniel Ingram and an appearance by Hokai Sobol, even. The real stuff, in my opinion. From what I know…

Here’s a brief quote from the article:

Ingram was encouraging but also somewhat ambivalent. He seemed to have some reservations. I soon found out why: the next day everything fell apart. My mind jangled like a live wire — old fears and insecurities, the heartbreak of an unhappy love affair — images and judgments tortured me for hours and then for days on end. I dreaded the meditation now — it was like sticking my attention into an electrical socket.

My schedule collapsed…

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I’m sure I’ll be posting many articles like this. It seems like researchers are really pumping out a never ending stream of results showing THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS (often MBSR). It also seems like everyone is beating a dead-horse….as a reader of this kind of stuff…I GET IT. Its good for so many things. But that is science – you have to prove EVERYTHING. Nothing is surprising to me now – meditation seems to benefit overall health in MANY different ways.

Research on Meditation & Mindfulness

Henderson, V. P., et al. (2013). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Women With Early-Stage Breast Cancer Receiving Radiotherapy. (Abstract). Integrated Cancer Therapy, Epublished January 28.

Purpose. To test the relative effectiveness of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) compared with a nutrition education intervention (NEP) and usual care (UC) in women with newly diagnosed early-stage breast cancer (BrCA) undergoing radiotherapy.

Methods. Data were available from a randomized controlled trial of 172 women, 20 to 65 years old, with stage I or II BrCA. Data from women completing the 8-week MBSR program plus 3 additional sessions focuses on special needs associated with BrCA were compared to women receiving attention control NEP and UC. Follow-up was performed at 3 post-intervention points: 4 months, and 1 and 2 years. Standardized, validated self-administered questionnaires were used to assess psychosocial variables. Descriptive analyses compared women by randomization assignment…

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The direction of meditative research

This article is a great introduction to the history of our definitions of mindfulness and where our definition of mindfulness is going both theoretically and neurobiologically. I’m not going to dare to comment on it. But it’ll be a great intro for anyone who wants to dig in deeper to what’s going on in the brain during mindfullness AND what we really mean by mindfullness.