2013 Abstracts and Presenters

How Do We Know?

Engaging the World

How the mind engages with objective world has very detailed descriptions in Buddhist tradition and I will try to cover some points about how we examine the world through seven types of mind. There are specific ways by which one particular mind engages with the objective world and roles played by that type of mind. When we talk about the mind engaging with the objective world, we need to talk about how we perceive things and here comes the Buddhist epistemology. I will talk about what is a valid cognition and what is mistaken cognition, and also how we know a valid cognition is valid. There is a sequence of the way the mind engages with the object starting from the mistaken state to the valid cognition. First out of ignorance, one either exaggerates or belittles the object and thus a mistaken perception arises. Then through logical analysis and deeper reflection, the mistaken mind gradually transforms successively into doubt, correct assumption, inferential cognition, and finally into direct perception. The process of the mind engaging into the object could be conceptual as well as non-conceptual. It could also be engaging through the process of elimination and affirmation. This process of the mind engaging into the object is very similar to the scientific explanation of the cognition of the object.

Geshe Tenpa Phakchok, Drepung Gomang Monastic University

Tenpa Phakchok was born in India and became a monk in 1970 at Drepung Gomang Monastery in south India, where he studied continuously for 20 years until finishing his traditional studies in 1990. In 1991, he enrolled for Gelukpa examination and finished his Lharampa degree in 1996. In 1997, Geshe Tenpa joined Gyumed Tantric University to study Tantra and received his Tantric Lharampa degree in 1999. He had served his monastery in various administrative and spiritual positions, including Lama Shunglepa and the disciplinary master. Since 2000, Geshe Tenpa has also been closely involved in the various science education programs initiated by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, including the Emory Tibet Science Initiative and the Science for Monks Program. Geshe Tenpa spends most of the his teaching Buddhist philosophy at his home monastery in South India.

How We Know What We Know

Science is unparalleled as a method for knowing and understanding the natural world. From it’s origins with the birth of mathematics and philosophy 2,500 years ago, it has grown to encompass robust theories of the microscopic structure of matter, the origin and evolution of the universe, and the mechanism for the evolution of function and form in living organisms. Applications of these theories have led to modern technology and huge strides in raising humans out of poverty and in combating disease. For all this success, science has limits and there are some things that are unknowable in principle and others that may be unknowable in practice. This talk will cover the strengths and limitations of science and give a sense of where the limits of knowledge lie.

Dr. Christopher Impey, Department of Astronomy, University of Arizona.

CCC_ChrisImpey_2013Chris Impey is a University Distinguished Professor and Deputy Head of the Department at the University of Arizona, in charge of academic programs. His research is on observational cosmology, gravitational lensing, and the evolution and structure of galaxies. He has over 160 refereed publications and 60 conference proceedings, and his work has been supported by $20 million in grants from NASA and the NSF. As a professor, he has won eleven teaching awards, and has been heavily involved in curriculum and instructional technology development. Chris is a past Vice President of the American Astronomical Society. He has also been an NSF Distinguished Teaching Scholar, a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, and the Carnegie Council on Teaching’s Arizona Professor of the Year. Chris has written over thirty popular articles on cosmology and astrobiology and authored two introductory textbooks. His has published three popular science books: The Living Cosmos (2007, Random House), How It Ends (2010, Norton) and How It Began (2012, Norton). He has three more popular books in preparation. He was a co-chair of the Education and Public Outreach Study Group for the Astronomy Decadal Survey of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2009, he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has participated in the Science for Monks program since 2008.

Knowing in Tibetan Medicine

The Tibetan medical system is based on a set of established theories and principles that describe the subtle relationship between the macrocosmic and the microcosmic world. The diagnostic methods adopted in Tibetan medicine is devoid of any equipment and instruments. By merely touching, looking and talking with a patients, a Tibetan doctor can identify a variety of health issues and risks facing the patient. Tibetan medical text explains in great length the diagnostic principles and methods which needs to be adopted in treating a patient. In my presentation, I will touch on some of the important factors of the diagnostic methods, as well as the effectiveness and the limitation of Tibetan Medicine in the modern world.

Dr. Sonam Dolma, Tibetan Medical Doctor, Men-Tsee-Khang Institute.

CCC_SonamDolma_2013Sonam Dolma is Tibetan medical doctor with Men-Tsee-Khang, the Tibetan Medical Institute, in Dharamsala. Sonam completed here BA and MA from Punjab University, Chandigarh. Sonam went on to study Tibetan Medicine for 6 years at Men-Tsee-Khang, from 1992 1997. Dr Sonam has studied under some of the most preeminant Tibetan medical doctors and completed her Menramap degree in Tibetan Medicine in 2009. Dr Sonam has also worked as a translator, where she has translated fundamental medical texts such as the ‘Four Tantras’ from Tibetan into English. From 2010 to 2012, Dr. Sonam served as the vice-chairman of the Central Council of Tibetan Medicine, as well as head of the Translation Department at Men-Tsee-Khang. Dr. Sonam is currently serving as head of Men-Tsee-Khang’s Documentation & Publication department in Dharasmasala where she continues to practice Tibetan medicine.

How Do We Extend Our Knowing?

Dharmanauts: Contemplation and Science in the 21st Century

Much of the dialog between science and contemplative traditions assumes that science is modern and contemplation is ancient. In my presentation, I want to reverse the relationship between the two, that when it comes to certain key developments of the 21st century, contemplative traditions are the future, while scientific inquiry is still stuck in the past, and that much progress will come out of recognizing this role reversal.

What do I mean by the provocative statement in the last line of the previous paragraph? For most of the last four hundred years, science has rejected the study of subjectivity, consciousness and being and concentrated on third-person objective inquiry instead. The objective method has been remarkably successful, but it’s reaching its limits now. Further, the great challenges of the 21st century are either centrally tied to subjectivity – such as the study of the brain – or tied to human impact on nature – such as climate change. Technological advances in big data, neuro-engineering and synthetic biology also promise dramatic changes in who we are as much as what we know. The sciences, because of their focus on third person inquiry, are uncomfortable with studying practices that lead to self-transformation. That’s a glaring fault at a time when scientific and technical progress promises massive self-transformation.

You can see where I am going. Contemplative traditions have engaged with practices of self-transformation for millennia. They provide us both with a theoretical framework and with a moral compass when it comes to self-transformation. I believe that in the coming years, contemplative understanding will (or should!) become mainstream, of great interest not only to people seeking the end of suffering, but also companies like Google that will create products and collect data about 1st person experience at a massive scale. The goal of my talk is to bring Gurus and Google together.

The future belongs to the Dharmanaut; a person who combines a deep understanding of the fundamental issues raised by contemplative inquiry, but who is simultaneously fluent in the language of science and technology. My presentation will cover the scientific and contemplative issues involved in this new imagination, hint at work that we are doing to take this vision forward and speculate (somewhat wildly) on what the future might bring.

Dr. Rajesh Kasturirangan, Professor National Institute for Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science

Rajesh Kasturirangan research interests are in cognitive science and philosophy of mind. His current work relates to applying a combination of philosophical argument, mathematical techniques and empirical observations to classical problems in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind such as the semantics of natural languages, the epistemology of beliefs and the structure of intentionality and consciousness.

Recent Findings from Neuroscience on how Contemplative Practices Affect the Brain

Contemplative practices derived from the Buddhist traditions, such as shamatha-vipashyana meditation or the cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion through lo-jong methods, have become a topic of significant interest for scientists investigating how the human brain works. This talk will provide an overview of recent scientific research within the burgeoning field of contemplative neuroscience, which concerns itself with the scientific investigation of the effects on the brain of various forms of contemplative practice. We will briefly review brain imaging studies from the past decade which indicate that contemplative practices may indeed change the brain structure and how the brain functions. Several studies to date suggest that individuals with extensive meditation experience exhibit differences in their brains compared to non-practitioners, both in terms of anatomy of specific brain regions, and in terms of patterns of brain activity. In addition, there is mounting evidence that training in meditative practices yields changes in the brain that can be measured over time in beginning practitioners after only a few months – or even shorter periods of time. Overall, these studies point to the general notion that contemplative practices affect the brain in measurable, objective ways. This finding has major implications towards understanding how the brain works and how it can be trained.

Dr. Gaëlle Desbordes, Research Fellow, Center for Biomedical Imaging, Harvard Medical School

CCC_GaelleDesbordes_2013Gaëlle Desbordes is a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging within the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and a visiting scholar at Boston University. Trained as a neuroscientist (PhD, Boston University) and with previous postgraduate training in engineering and computer science, Dr. Desbordes’s current research focuses on the neuroscientific investigation of contemplative practices, using advanced methods in brain imaging (especially functional MRI) and physiological measurements of the autonomic nervous system. She is particularly interested in contemplative methods for cultivating loving-kindness and compassion (e.g., Tibetan lo-jong practices). For the past four years, Dr. Desbordes has worked in collaboration with Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi (Emory University) and Dr. Charles Raison (University of Arizona) on a scientific study that examines how Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT), an 8-week secular training program based on lo-jong practices, affects emotional processing in the brains of participants and their physiological response to psychosocial stress. In addition, Dr. Desbordes is the recipient of a Francisco J. Varela Research Award from the Mind and Life Institute for an ongoing study of the neural and physiological correlates of visualization practices in experienced Vajrayana practitioners. She is also on the neuroscience faculty at the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative—an ongoing effort overseen by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives aimed at implementing a comprehensive and sustainable science curriculum for Tibetan monastics.

Cultural Subjectivity – Building Bridges Between Science and Buddhism

The connection and relationship between English and Tibetan language is relatively new. Until recently these languages and cultures were highly isolated. In the last decade many scientific words have been coined in Tibetan, and likewise, many words from Buddhist philosophy have been coined in English. However, there are often significant differences between these words that can lead to great misunderstanding during dialogue and exchanges between traditions. Often equivalent terms do not exist. Sometimes one Tibetan term can be used for four or five scientific terms, and sometimes there are numerous terms from the Buddhist tradition that are without an English equivalent. We are not only talking about two different definitions but cultural backgrounds that can confuse understanding of words that may appear similar. The correct meaning, is often unique to the culture and the cultural connotation of the words. Understanding these issues can help avoid misunderstandings and misconceptions. Just knowing that they have different meanings might encourage you to be cautious. But to really understand, it takes time. If we are careful as speakers and as listeners, and avoid jumping to conclusions, we can build more effective bridges between Buddhism and science.

Karma Thupten, Science Staff, LIbrary of Tibetan Works & Archives

new_karmaKarma Thupten was born in Tibet to a nomadic family and left for India in the pursuit of freedom and education at the age of ten. He did his schooling from the Tibetan Children’s Village Schools and later Delhi University where he received a Bachelors in English Literature. In 2006, he joined a translation training program at Library of Tibetan Works and Archives and shortly after was hired by the Library’s Science Department as a research and translation officer. Karma has organized and translated various programs related with the promotion of scientific education in Tibetan monastic communities, helping build bridges between scientific and Tibetan Buddhist communities. Karma has also undertaken various science publications of the Library, including his latest translation “Tibetan Buddhism and the Modern Physics: Towards a union of love and Knowledge” by Professor Victor Mansfield. Based on his many years of experience with both Tibetan monastics and western scientific community, he sees that language and cultural subjectivity of these two traditions often become an obstacle for understanding each other that limit the scope of collaboration. He is interested in approaches that clear these source of misconceptions and further the development of this fruitful collaboration.

The Hum of the Universe Within

In recent years a lot of groundbreaking work has been done in the area of brain-machine interfaces (BMI), and more generally, what we may call brain-body-machine interfaces. This includes both BMIs where brains control machines, as well as Sensory Substitution Devices where artificial sensors extend the abilities of existing sense organs. These interfaces have chiefly been seen as feats of engineering, while the philosophical questions they raise have been ignored. In this presentation I will frame some of these questions in the context of a novel interface designed in our lab.

The central question we’re exploring is whether the brain is the sole player when a person adapts to such an interface. What about the role of agency and other intentional phenomena that can’t be localized in space? Through this line of inquiry we hope to build on the extended mind hypothesis and related ideas that try to understand the relationship between the mind and the dynamics of the brain-body-environment system.

Specifically our interface connects two users by enabling one to ‘listen’ to the other’s brain-activity in a natural setting. We want to study how the users’ intentions structure the dynamics of this system. Also, by making brainwaves a part of our perceptual domain, we hope to open up a whole new world for scientific and experiential exploration.

Nishant Seth, Graduate Student Researcher, National Institute for Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science

CCC_NishantSeth_2013Nishant Seth is a PhD Student in the Cognition Program at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He completed his undergraduate studies in Biological Sciences and Electronic Engineering at BITS-Pilani, Rajastan. Nishant has been part of the Doctoral Program since 2012, during which he has taken short courses on the Philosophy of Language and Signs, Embodied Cognition, Non-Linear Dynamics, Complex Systems, and Interdisciplinary, among others. His research involves philosophizing about, and experimenting with, perceptual extensions. These are artificial interfaces that change, or add to, our existing senses. During work hours, Nishant can be found toying with ideas and electronics to improve or test out a new perceptual extension. Over the past year he has built two such interfaces, one for echolocation, and another for neural-feedback.

Extending and Restraining Our Senses

Within the realm of forms the five senses are termed as internal forms as they can be perceived by only mental consciousness. The sense organs do not refer to the gross external organ but to the actual physical mechanism of perception. Each of the senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind) have a different consciousness, that is at each moment of experience there is different experience as well as a different object of experience. The importance of the role played by these sense cannot be downplayed. Even in the briefest of experiences, each of the six sense consciousness occur: one sees, hears, tastes, smells, touches, and one thinks. However in Buddhism, unchecked desires are like the rubber band and stops only when it breaks. The five senses are the outlets allowing you to engage in the sensual objects. If our inner consciousness has no say then our senses, mind, and intellect will not know where to draw the line. Therefore one of the important conditions for successful meditation is putting restraint on the sense outlets. Real happiness does not come from sensual pleasures. Gratification of the senses leads to more desires which actually act as fuel to the fire. If seeking happiness is a natural human instinct, what really makes one happy is not self-indulgence, but transcending sensual desires and finding fulfillment in a higher spiritual plane and bringing happiness to others. We need to respond carefully to situations in life. A great many of our physical sicknesses could be avoided if we could only change our attitudes. Happiness, at its core, is about discovering meaning, and counting your blessings, not your woes.

Geshe Lhakdor, Director, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives

CCC_GesheLhakdor_2013Geshe Lhakdor is the director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India. A distinguished Buddhist scholar, he was the English translator for His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, from 1989 to 2005. He has co-translated and co-produced several books by the Dalai Lama. From 1976 to 1986, Lhakdor studied specialized Buddhist philosophy in the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, Dharamsala and received the Master of Prajnaparamita in 1982. He also received the Master of Madhyamika in 1989 and the Master of Philosophy from the University of Delhi. Since 2002, Geshe Lhakdor has been an Honorary Professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. In 2008, he was also conferred an Honorary Professorship by the University of Delhi, Department of Psychology.

How Do We Act?

Neurotechnology: Promises and Perils

Neurological disorders affect approximately 1 billion worldwide. In the United States alone, movement disorders that require 24 hour care, 7 days a week, cost $500 billion each year. There is a clear need for technologies to assist people with neurological problems and tremendous progress has been made by researchers to build systems and devices that interact with the nervous system to assist these patients. Although scientists and engineers “can” develop these new neurotechnologies, many ethical concerns and questions about how researchers “should” proceed are raised. The current state of neurotechnology research and the following neuroethical issues and questions raised by this research will be discussed:

Privacy/security: What type of information should be collected from neurotechnologies? Who should have access to the information? How can the device be protected from outside interference?

Normality: What is the difference between an abnormality and a difference in neurological function; acceptance of differences; what are the benefits of neurodiversity; will new technologies be accepted by end-users?

Authority/Control: Who decides how neurotechnology is controlled? How much autonomy is given to the device?

Identity: When does a device become part of a person?

Responsibility: Who or what is responsible for the actions of a machine? What happens if the device fails or injures someone?

Justice: Who will have access to the technology? Who will decide how a device is used? Do the benefits of the technology outweigh the side effects? Is there a difference between repair and enhancement of the nervous system? What responsibilities do researchers have with regard to how their devices are used?

Dr. Eric Chudler, Research Associate Professor, University of Washington, Seattle

Eric H. Chudler is a research neuroscientist interested in how the brain processes information about pain and nociception and how neuroactive chemicals from plants affect the nervous system. Eric received his Ph.D. from the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1985. He has worked at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD (1986-1989) and in the Department of Neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA (1989-1991). He is currently a research associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering and the executive director of Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. He is also a faculty member in the Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine and the Graduate Program of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of Washington. In addition to performing basic neuroscience research, Eric works with other neuroscientists and classroom teachers to develop educational materials to help K-12 students learn about the brain. His web site, Neuroscience for Kids, is accessed millions of times each year by students and teachers from around the world.

The Road Less Traveled

Until very recent times, contemplative practices have been believed to be the privilege of the learned few. The so called common man delved in spirituality usually when in a place of worship or when on a pilgrimage. Spirituality and living our lives at its best were compartmentalized, like two linear parallels, never meant to intersect. Ten years ago to say that I could integrate spiritual teaching and education, would have been scorned at. However that didn’t stop certain individuals and institutions to put into practice their beliefs. Orkids is an organization which has been working in the field of special education for almost 20 years. Starting with providing services likes remedial education to children, Orkids expanded into professional development. Our vision of making education possible for all children irrespective of ability was reinforced by being instrumental in changing the mind-sets and quality of skills of the trained professional. We at Orkids believe that gaining knowledge about the outer universe can be further enhanced if we are in touch with our inner universe. The more we go within, the better we are at living our best in this world. My presentation will throw light on how we work with the realities and practicalities of our world of schools and colleges, lack of awareness, insensitivity, lack of accountability, teacher trainings, jobs, exams, marks, grades and the list goes on. And at the same time how we gain strength from our strong empowered self which holds happiness dearly. A balancing act – an act which has over time produced children who are proud of their diverse neurodevelopmental profile, teachers who are sensitive to all needs of all children and an environment which believes that differences are criteria for celebration and not segregation.

Geet Oberoi, President and Founder, Orkids Foundation

Geet Oberoi, Founder President, Orkids Foundation Society, has been working in the field of special education for almost 20 years. She started her teaching career in 1994 teaching children with special education needs as a special educator and today is one of the front-runner crusader for Inclusive education in our society in the real sense of the word. Geet’s tenacity and the determination to be a true advocate for children with special needs has always been the underpinning of her endeavors. Special needs is a much misunderstood and ignored reality in the Indian society and needs crusaders who can work relentlessly towards the shift from a ‘charity-based’ model to a ‘rights-based’ model of society. It is a task needing persons who believe inclusion is a way of life and Geet has exhibited that over the years. Geet has a Doctorate in psychology (Learning Disabilities), a Masters’ degree in Psychology and Diploma in Special Education.

Hands-on, Eyeball-to-Eyeball, The New Philanthropy

For over a decade, the Sager Foundation has employed a special brand of philanthropy that focuses on building personal connections and leveraging business sensibilities. For the individual, this means contributing your time, energy and talents, rather than just your money to maximize the return on investment you get from philanthropy. This is far from the tradition of writing a check and going to an annual dinner.  It is about accountability, and applying business skills to make strategic and smart decisions about how to cleverly deploy limited resources. The Sager’s approach emphasizes going beyond our immediate bubble of experience, to listen carefully, and to immerse oneself in the issues facing the community. By being hands-on, looking people in their eyes, feeling their humanity, and letting them feel yours, vibrant and open relationships that bring about change for the greater good are established. It isn’t just helping, it’s a way to live life to the fullest.

Bobby Sager, President and Founder, Sager Family Foundation

Bobby Sager is a tough-minded businessman who made a fortune by seeing opportunity where others have not. Bobby was a driving force behind the spectacular growth of Gordon Brothers Group. Bobby joined Gordon Brothers in 1986 when it was a small Boston-based jewelry business. Today, Gordon Brothers is a preeminent global financial services business conducting over $10 billion of transactions annually, with over 10 offices in North America, Europe and Asia. Bobby currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Polaroid. In 2000, Bobby and his wife and kids founded the Sager Family Traveling Foundation & Roadshow. Three dozen trips later, the Sagers have established their own special brand of hands-on, eyeball-to-eyeball philanthropy. Their philanthropy uses business principles and business accountability, whether it’s fostering entrepreneurship in Rwanda and Palestine, training teachers in Pakistan or a leadership program for Tibetan monks. Bobby has also been a pioneer in catalyzing Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) as a platform to make a difference. YPO is a global network of 20,000 business leaders in 120 countries whose companies’ sales are equivalent to the world’s third largest economy.