Reply To: Inhibitory neurons at play between L+R prefrontal cortex

  • Don Salmon

    May 3, 2023 at 7:09 pm

    Whit, I’m going to give you one more piece of background that might help make clear my own view.

    I started studying the brain in the early 70s; it was around the time I started meditating. i was working as a profession musician and had not gone to psych grad school yet.

    There were hemispheric theories that – despite Iain’s constant protestations – WERE exactly the same, psychologically, as what he is now proposing. The RH = emotion and LH = logic were NOT what the scientists doing good work were doing.

    And as interesting as that was (I found the correlated descriptions in ancient Indian philosophy of far more practical use) I found Ernest Rossi’s studies of the brain and circadian rhythms and trance states – drawing on the work of 19th century psychiatrist Pierre Janet, who many now acknowledge as having a far more profound view of the psyche than Freud or most of his followers, or even Jung!) far more interesting.

    Yet try as I could, I could never find anything in the brain studies that were useful for practice.

    In the late 1990s, toward the end of my grad school studies, I was taking classes and attending seminars in neuropsychology, going to labs and seeing people actually working on brains (I mean, dissecting brains in the lab) and talking with friends in neurofeedback who were INSISTING that this was the way to go.

    I’ve never found any literature showing neurofeedback to be fundamentally more effective than somatic therapies without any machinery. Similarly with biofeedback.

    Fast forward a few years later, I was never personally that impressed with Rick Hansen’s writings, but I was totally blown away by Dan Siegel’s interpersonal neurobiology. Unlike Iain, Dan has books full of very concrete practices associated with the brain. Now, I didn’t think this through very carefully, and soon enough I began including Dan’s practices in my workshops (pain management, general mindfulness and more).

    By this time I was also working as a professional psychologist, often including neuropsychological testing in my evaluations (I’d get people with various forms of brain injury, dementia, etc). Now, over time, my students would challenge me and ask why they had to learn about the amygdala, vagus nerve, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the cortical subcortical difference (there’s your conscious subconscious threshold)

    And you know what? I never really had an answer for them. I asked others who were including neurological facts, and they would end up saying (as I STILL do) that enormous numbers of people just FEEL like you’re talking about something real when you talk about the brain. Hence, the title of our effortless mindfulness course, “Train Your Brain, Change Your Life.”

    But I’ve gone from using anywhere from 10-20 neurological terms to talking about:

    “The prefrontal cortex”

    “The autonomic nervous system”


    oh, “neural pathways.”

    Now, there’s absolutely nothing about them that are NECESSARY for practice. But I know for certain, that the people who come to me for help dealing with habits, just consider it more scientific and more valid if I tell them that by bringing a neutral attention to the desire for sweets, they’re weakening the neural pathways associated with that craving, instead of saying, “well, you know, if you observe the craving in a neutral manner, it will weaken.”

    It’s not even the same thing – because “craving” refers to a multi-layered experience, and “neural pathways” is really a limited, one dimensional image. Really, the neurological language has a placebo effect, and i would even go as far to claim, that’s really the value of Iain’s work. he’s talking to a world that still doesn’t quite believe in psychology, so when you give them the placebo tablet of neurological language, they believe in it and then it has real psychological and physical effects.

    You know, i would go even one step farther. I’ve asked every psychologist, therapist, psychology professor I’ve met – “tell me just ONE thing that psychological science has discovered that was not known in contemplative literatures.”

    One of the most common is the idea that modern psychology discovered developmental theory. Ken Wilber is one of the biggest promoters of this theory.

    And it’s just not true. If you read the Tantric literature, you can find a complex developmental theory the likes of which nothing in the past 200 years of neuroscience and psychology has even come close to.

    And I still like being a psychologist and still appreciate psychological research. It’s just good to see what place it has in the larger scheme of things. I mean, we have physical sciences for which there is absolutely no explanation for anything. nothing. We have no idea how laws of nature come about, what “forces” actually are, what “matter” is, anything. Science as practiced in the last several centuries simply is a highly developed form of engineering, it’s not a means of understanding anything.