What #Meditation Can Do To Your Mind Is Nothing Short of Sci-Fi

What #Meditation Can Do To Your Mind Is Nothing Short of Sci-Fi

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Imagine this: you are being aware of the unconscious processes going on in your mind. You can control your heart rate with an intention. You can witness the thoughts and emotions and can decide which ones to act on and which ones to ignore.

This is not science fiction but this can be a reality for you. The only requirement is to meditate daily.

In the new study, a team at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, found that people who meditate are more aware of their unconscious brain activity.

The results hint that the feeling of conscious control over our actions can vary – and provide more clues to understanding the complex nature of free will. The famous experiment that challenged our notions of free will be first done in 1983 by neuroscientist Benjamin Libet. It involved measuring electrical activity in someone’s brain while asking them to press a button, whenever they like, while they watch a special clock that allows them to note the time precisely.

Typically people feel like they decide to press the button about 200 milliseconds before their finger moves – but the electrodes reveal activity in the part of their brain that controls movement occurs a further 350 milliseconds before they feel they make that decision. This suggests that in fact, it is the unconscious brain that “decides” when to press the button.

In the new slimmed-down version of the experiment (omitting the brain electrodes), with 57 volunteers, 11 of whom regularly practiced mindfulness meditation. The meditators had a longer gap in time between when they felt like they decided to move their finger and when it physically moved – 149 compared with 68 milliseconds for the other people.

This suggests they were recognizing their unconscious brain activity earlier than most people, says Peter Lush, a member of the team, supporting the belief among meditators that it helps them to become more aware of their internal bodily process, he says. Such a result has previously been predicted by the Buddhist scholar Georges Dreyfus.

How much free will is really free will?



Hypnotisability and Awareness

The non-meditators were also tested on how well they could be hypnotized. After they were out of any hypnotic trance, the experiment was repeated. Those who could be easily hypnotized felt like they decided to move their finger 124 milliseconds later than did those of low hypnotizability. In fact, the easily hypnotizable group had the sensation of deciding to move 23 milliseconds after their finger had actually moved.

It is not that people who are highly hypnotisable are puppets, says Lush, but that they may have less conscious access to their unconscious intentions.

“Self-awareness of our intention to act is a fundamental part of being human, so anything that affects it is important,” says Stephen Fleming of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging in London. “The results indicate that hypnotisability and mindfulness might be at opposite ends of a spectrum of self-awareness,” he says.
Previous research has suggested that people who meditate are less easy to hypnotize and people who can be hypnotized are less “mindful”, in other words, are less aware of their internal bodily processes. So if you have trouble getting hypnotized by a hypnotist or through self-hypnosis, it might be because you are more aware of your mind.

Another study using Libet’s set-up has shown that people who are impulsive also have shorter time intervals between their conscious awareness of an intention to act and the act itself.

Meditate daily. Here are the benefits of meditation and here is a very good meditation technique everybody can practice.

Journal reference: Neuroscience of Consciousness, DOI: 10.1093/nc/niw007
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