Thursday 10th October, 2013
5:30pm to 6:30pm
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
In times of economic and global crisis and when confronted with problems such as catastrophic climate change, irresponsible deployment of natural resources, increased egocentricity associated with a rise in stress-related illnesses, new solutions and models are urgently needed. Global shifts can be achieved through changes in institutional designs of economic and political organizations and through personal change. Emerging fields such as affective-social and contemplative neurosciences have produced promising findings, suggesting that training of mental capacities such as attention, perspective taking, empathy and compassion is effective and leads to changes in brain functions associated with increases in positive affect, pro-social behavior, and better health. After a review of recent psychological and neuroscientific findings on the effects of mental training on the brain, subjective experience and behavior, I will explain, using the example of empathy and compassion training studies, how contemplative sciences unify first-person perspective and third-person methods with the goal of creating an integrated approach to the study of the human mind. I will discuss these findings in the context of a necessary balance between three major human motivational systems and show how cultivating compassion can directly help to regulate our achievement and threat-related systems. I will conclude by suggesting that the cultivation of mental faculties and compassion could help to reintroduce secular ethics and foster the notion of interdependence both individually and communally via major societal systems such as our economic system; thereby, emphasizing the need to step into a global responsibility through personal change and growth.
Ph.D., Director of the Department for Social Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig
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