So this semester I’m taking a class on zen and zen arts in Asia, which is super interesting as it is. What is even more interesting is how much the concepts of zen overlap with the main goals of neuroscience. It may seem like a leap, but bear with me. Today in class we had a short meditation tutorial where we were actually taught how to meditate. In the middle of attempting to sit still and empty my mind, our zen teacher starts talking about how Buddha was the first neuroscientist, how randomly relevant right? As you can imagine, my ears immediately perked up and my thinking mind started bursting in, which completely messed up my mediation. The whole point of meditation, or zazen as it’s called, is to explore our ever-changing mental experience, what it is to be human. Our humanity, our uniqueness, is exactly what neuroscientists like Sebastian Seung are trying to find the origin of.
Thinking about zen and Sebastian Seung led me to another thought: how does the practice of meditation change my brain? Taking it even further, how does becoming “enlightened” change someone’s brain? Or does it at all? Then, of course, I start thinking of how we would investigate such a question. I start envisioning comparing the neuroanatomy of “normal” unenlightened brains with the brains of past zen patriarchs like Bodhidharma or perhaps even Shakyamuni himself. What would we learn from such a study? I’m guessing that the connectome of someone who supposedly understands the fundamental truths of the universe would look much different from mine, but it would be interesting to see how and why they are different. Maybe I just need to meditate more and I’ll understand?