His Holiness's Message: Better living through chemicals (or electrodes)

His Holiness has spoken. He wants neuro-drugs to take and electrodes stuck in his brain so that he doesn’t have to spend hours meditating each day. (Enlightenment now!) If you want to do hot stuff, study physics or brain science. His interest in neuroscience stems from a long-standing interest in body hair. Yes, body hair. Americans need to figure their own way through this whole intelligent design business. Not all antidepressants are alike; for instance, the Dalai Lama is against tranquilizers. Definitely against tranquilizers. And, perhaps most surprisingly, His Holiness, approves of animal research — when it’s done right and with respect.

Minute-by-minute liveblog follows after the jump.

4:00pm- Just got in. You wouldn’t think it but highly-educated neuroscientists can sometimes be mistaken for a herd of rampaging elephants. Insane! After passing through the most nominal security imaginable (you need to actually look inside the bag, not just annoyingly ask people to unzipper the bag and then pass it through), the next surprise was that laptop folk are apparently second-class citizens and forced to sit in the back. In the back of a 7,500 seat auditorium. This is worse than Foxboro. But definitely warmer.

4:15- No sign of His Holiness. They’re about 75% full in the main room and they keep coming in droves…

4:25- The man takes the stage. Everyone stands. He tells them to sit. Drops his bag on SfN president Carol Barnes and apologizes. Saying she’s a little bit nervous as she introduces him is like saying that there’s a couple of Lama-hungry neuroscientists here. The woman is shaking… every time he moves toward the podium, she edges away.

4:30- His Holiness opens with some comedy: Fakes the crowd out with his apparent lack of English. Sets the standard low and then breaks out the nearly perfect English. He wants to be your friend, and, by the way, now that he’s your friend it means his talk will be informal.

4:43- How he got into neuroscience: Hair on certain parts of the body (and lack of it on others) was an early interest. (Me too!) The 13th Dalai Lama kept some biology books. The young aspiring 14th Dalai Lama found the anatomical pictures of the body “scary”.

4:48- Best unintentional blunder by His Holiness: “I want to express my appreciation to these great, sort of, scientists.” Let’s study emotions: Man made problems are often due to the desire to take an unrealistic approach, due to ignorance. Reduce troublesome emotion, increase positive emotions on the basis of understanding the brain mechanisms.

4:50- Four hot fields: Cosmology, particle physics, neuroscience, psychology. Watch out condensed matter string theorists… he’ll be at your conferences next…

4:55- “I thought there’s no contradiction.” Science and buddhism: Be skeptical, investigate to find the true nature of reality. If only he could get evangelical Christians on board with this religion and science compatibility thing…

5:00- Wants chemical or electrical ways to change negative emotions
“Everybody needs that.” (sweet!) Hatred, jealousy, little operation here and there and it’s all gone. (seriously sweet!) His Holiness wants to be the first patient. Looks like he wants the drugs/electrodes to save some time: “I spend a few hours in meditation every day, [if we get neuroscience-based englightenment] then no need for these things.”

5:05- Realizes that he has a written statement. What, I didn’t follow it? Oh, no problem, you can get copies of that later from assistant. That’s all. Questions?

1) How do you reconcile your ideas about compassion to all beings with animal research? (great question!)
Do the minimum experiment necessary. Try to minimize pain.
“I am exploiting this poor animal to bring greater benefit to greater number of beings.”

2) Do you think the states attained by meditation should just be available without practice?
Yes, he’s for it.

3) Should everyone be on antidepressants, even if they don’t need it?
Paints a fine distinction: He’s against tranquilizers. Can’t be drugs that surpress intelligence.

4) The mind-body problem. What’s your take?
What is the definition of consciousness? Through neuroscience, we will find neural correlates of those things that make up consciousness. (a born neuroscientist)

5) what’s the best way to overcome addiction?
Takes on modern culture: “I hate the word best… best, cheapest, quickest?” His advice: Addiction is not really my field. Treat case by case.

6) What about the co-existence of religion and science, esp. with the controversy in American education. What are your views on intelligent design?
I don’t know. [Big laugh.] Americans need to do some research.

7) If you were to enter the field of neuroscience, what would your PhD thesis be?
I need at least a few more days to think very carefully.

Well, he’s got four more days of intense SfN conferencing to come up with a topic.

2 thoughts on “His Holiness's Message: Better living through chemicals (or electrodes)

  1. Thanks for posting this Neville.

    Do you have more info on what he thinks about antidepressants and why he considers traquilizers supress intelligence (If I understood right)?.

    Will a transcript be available?.



  2. Hm. I’m still torn. I thought it was pretty cool that he would be at the conference, but I couldn’t believe the insane lineups. In the end, was it worth the wait? It seemed like mostly a publicity stunt, both on his and the Society’s part.


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