Sunday, April 25, 2010

Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

The banner above probably invokes a sense of dark irony and distrust in many of us. It would me, so maybe I am projecting my emotions on my readers, and maybe you are not anymore bothered by it than you probably are by this:The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, a program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is under the direction of Richard Davidson, who, readers of this blog will know, I have criticized often for his two-faced, misleading, and mutually contradictory positions of promoting himself as a spiritually realized friend of the Dalai Lama who is concerned with the happiness and well-being of all beings (as he expresses by frequently reciting the quote above from Albert Einstein), with his lessor known and rarely mentioned by anyone other than me, research collaboration with UW Department of Psychiatry Chair, Ned Kalin, and Kalin's glorified diener, Steve Shelton.

I find the Center's banner grotesque, like the banner for the Eichmann Center. Compare what they say on their website with the other work Davidson does:But here's another part of his work:
An experienced surgeon made an opening in the frontal bone posterior to the brow ridge to expose the frontal cortex. Both hemispheres were lesioned in a single procedure by lifting the brain to expose its ventral surface. Using microscopic guidance, electro-cautery and suction were applied to the targeted brain area.” From: Role of the primate orbitofrontal cortex in mediating anxious temperament. (Kalin N. H., Shelton S. E., Davidson R. J. Biological Psychiatry. 2007.)
This just doesn't jibe with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds stated mission:
Goals of the Center include the study of people's brains during contemplative practice and the use of contemplative practice to "nurture positive qualities of mind such as kindness [and] compassion...".

I suspect that there are kind and good people affiliated with the Center who intend to do good work. But imagine that the same could be said of people working at the imaginary Eichmann Center. Would the good works of some good people overshadow Eichmann's crimes or the nastiness of the Nazi's racial policies generally?

Maybe, like the carnage and monstrosities that occurred in South Africa and Rwanda, some forgiveness could be mustered if the perpetrators stepped forward and enumerated their crimes and asked for forgiveness; maybe. But that hasn't happened in the case of Richard Davidson. Davidson wants it both ways.

On the one hand, he wants to be seen and known as someone who has embraced the message in Einstein's quote: "Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty," while on the other, he argues that the potential benefit to humans from his highly invasive brain and behavioral experiments on particularly fearful young monkeys are excusable because he has "good intentions."

These two claims are mutually exclusive. It is highly unlikely that such diametric positions can coexist in a healthy mind. This leads me to wonder about possible research at the Center.

Richard Davidson should identify others who simultaneously hold similar contrary opinions regarding kindness and invasive experimentation (there are a number of such people.) This cohort should be randomly divided into two groups.

Group 1 should engage in a putatively compassion-enhancing contemplative practice while their brain is scanned, and once their brain activity settles and remains static for some period of time, they should be told of the details of Davidson's research on fear in young fearful monkeys and be asked to contemplate the monkeys' experiences.

Group 2 should begin by contemplating the details of the fear experiments and then be asked to stop thinking of that and begin the putatively compassion-enhancing contemplative practice, with their brains being scanned throughout.

Control Group 1 should be composed of random people selected only for age and gender similarity with Group 1. They should repeat the conditions in group 1.

Control Group 2 should be likewise composed and duplicate the the conditions in Group 2.

Post-screening by competent psychologists blinded to the participants' group assignments should attempt to identify those with healthy minds as defined by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and those who don't. I hypothesize that the psychologists will identify the majority of those in Groups 1 and 2 as individuals with unhealthy minds, and will identify a significantly larger number of individuals with healthy minds from Control Groups 1 and 2.

If my hypothesis is borne out, we will have a collection of brain scans from people with unhealthy minds that might lead us to possible therapies to cure them. There would finally be hope for people like Richard Davidson.

1 comment:

Juniper Young said...

I think you are doing a noble thing in sticking up for the rights of primates. It is quite the conundrum that many psychologists and neuroscientists face, between the seemingly valuable knowledge that is gained through some primate research and the inhumanity of that same research. I think it is time we started scaling it back, given the advances in brain scan technology.