Positive Psychology News Daily » IPPA Closing Keynote: Now Is the Time to Study Compassion

A Propitious Time in the History of Science


A neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Richard Davidson made a commitment to the Dalai Lama in 1992 to help get meditation and compassion onto the scientific map by studying the way they affect the brain. At that time, a word like compassion would not appear in the index of a respectable textbook. Now, there are results that make it a serious subject of inquiry. He said we live at a very propitious time in the history of science for the following reasons:


1. Neuroplasticity, the concept that the brain is an organ built to change in response to experience, is now widely accepted.

2. Epigenetics is causing a revolution in nuclear biology. Gene regulation — when genes are or are not expressed — can be affected by the environment, including training. There are extraordinary new methods to look at epigenetic changes. (Wikipedia on Epigenetics: the study of heritable changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence).

3. Neurally inspired behavioral interventions are proving to be the best ways to change the brain in specific and localized ways. Compared to them, drugs are blunt instruments.

4. Scientists are putting the brain back into biomedicine, studying the pathway back to the mind. We can study the way psycho-social factors affect the brain, and thus the mind.