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Author Topic: is meditation whack?  (Read 6548 times)
Nicol
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« on: October 27, 2011, 06:40 am »

On the one side, we have hypnotism, which has been scientifically proven to be beneficial to patients that have faced trauma. On the other side, we have acupuncture, tarot cards and the like, which are pretty obviously fake.

Where does meditation fit into this scale? If someone tells me that they meditate, should I be accepting their alternate life decision or mocking their gullibility?
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« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2011, 06:41 am »

I think it can be very useful for resolving disputes.
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« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2011, 06:42 am »

I suppose it depends on their goals etc.

I don't doubt that it's calming, but do you really get much more from it than that?
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Karlski
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« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2011, 08:35 am »

I have been known to meditate, it helps me deal with migraines and get to sleep when I'm stressed

plus it's cheaper than the other solution to those problems, whiskey
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« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2011, 09:13 am »

Yeah, me too. Actually, it's probably the only thing stopping me from killing again.
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« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2011, 11:20 am »

There have been a few lab experiments that suggest Buddhist monks have unusually intense and organized brain activity while meditating. In the absence of any serious refutation to these findings I assume it's a legitimate practice if you know what you're doing.
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Luna Fortuna
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« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2011, 12:34 pm »

What exactly is wrong with meditation? I wouldn't say it's anything like tarot cards, palm reading, etc. A person sits, clears their mind, steadies their breathing... I'm not sure I see what's gullible about that at all. I don't meditate (unless you count yoga) but I can't see the practice as anything but taking a pause. It seems healthy to pursue a clear head, to sort their cacophony of thoughts, no matter what the means.

Do some people really believe meditation is like fortune telling?
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Luna Fortuna
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« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2011, 12:39 pm »

Pardon the double post, here are some links to which Not A Spatula might have been referring:

Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds

Study shows compassion meditation changes the brain

Both University of Wisconsin, dated three years apart. The second links to the published study.
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« Reply #8 on: October 27, 2011, 12:51 pm »

It looks like the actual study is this one: http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/pubs/2004/meditators_synchrony.pdf hard to say for sure because of poor journalism.


Study shows compassion meditation changes the brain

Both University of Wisconsin, dated three years apart. The second links to the published study.
Both of those are the same dude's. He has a whole bunch more on his site http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/personnel/director.html many dealing with mediation.
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Honest Abe
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« Reply #9 on: October 27, 2011, 01:38 pm »

On the one side, we have hypnotism, which has been scientifically proven to be beneficial to patients that have faced trauma.

i'm not sure that's entirely true

Quote
On the other side, we have acupuncture, tarot cards and the like, which are pretty obviously fake.

while there are lots of things that proponents of acupuncture claim it can fix which it obviously can't, it also is not demonstrably "fake" and is not on the same level of tarot

Quote
Where does meditation fit into this scale? If someone tells me that they meditate, should I be accepting their alternate life decision or mocking their gullibility?

what are you being told the results of meditation are? if you're being told it's going to cure a disease, i'd agree, that's bullshit. but does it help people deal with stress? i don't see how that is some kind of "alternate life decision" or "gullibility"
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Not A Spatula
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« Reply #10 on: October 27, 2011, 01:42 pm »

Luna, yeah, that was one of the studies I had in mind. Here are a couple more just to clarify that monk meditation has been tested by other researchers, with apparently relevant results.
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« Reply #11 on: October 27, 2011, 01:48 pm »

while there are lots of things that proponents of acupuncture claim it can fix which it obviously can't, it also is not demonstrably "fake" and is not on the same level of tarot
acupuncture is fake and is on the same level as tarot, so is hypnotism
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Bettytron
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« Reply #12 on: October 27, 2011, 02:21 pm »

My understanding is that acupuncture is mainly placebo effects. Is a placebo fake if it has the desired effect in the person receiving it?

And I agree with what Luna said- as far as I know the main goal of meditation is focus and clear-headedness and relaxation, and if you are actively pursuing that and then attaining it I don't see how it could be thought of as "fake".
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« Reply #13 on: October 27, 2011, 03:57 pm »

No, a placebo treatment is not real medicine, even if it does the job. Staying in bed for a week, although it does help, is not a medical treatment for a head cold either.

Real medication has a demonstrably effective active agent (usually a chemical compound), and things like PT have much, much higher success rates and all sorts of studies to back them up. The studies on acupuncture have consistently shown that it's fake, there's even this one where they contrasted "real" to intentionally fake acupuncture, and the fake group had a better success rate for a while.

Meditation, I'd say, is "fake", if you will, when it comes to claims of astral body travels, communication on higher planes of existence etc. As a relaxing and mental refocussing technique, it seems to make sense to me. I don't think there's any studies, because how do you measure someone's astral body?
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« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2011, 04:47 pm »

Is a placebo fake if it has the desired effect in the person receiving it?

Yes, by definition. It's the mechanism(s) behind the placebo effect that is(are) real.

Staying in bed for a week, although it does help, is not a medical treatment for a head cold either.

Totally not a big deal, but why not?

Where does meditation fit into this scale? If someone tells me that they meditate, should I be accepting their alternate life decision or mocking their gullibility?

I reject your scale. I think a rejection is what you were looking for, along with an explanation. So here's one: You wouldn't bring science or metaphysics into it if you met someone who squeezes a ball or plays video games to relax. A meditator's specific arguments in favor of the practice might be worthy of scorn or courtly tolerance, but there is no necessary judgement to make of the practice itself.
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« Reply #15 on: October 27, 2011, 05:27 pm »

I feel like you're kind of applying a straw man to meditation here.  I think we can all agree that meditation will not allow you to levitate or perform distant astral viewing.  That doesn't mean that meditation generally is hooey, in that there is a religious, non-occult purpose for meditation and meditative prayer that has physical benefits.  Meditation is medically accepted as a method of reducing blood pressure and stress reduction.  It's not going to magically cure your body of disease or anything, but reducing blood pressure and stress are related to improvements in overall health.
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« Reply #16 on: October 27, 2011, 06:21 pm »

Staying in bed for a week, although it does help, is not a medical treatment for a head cold either.

Totally not a big deal, but why not?
Because it doesn't actively help to alleviate your symptoms. It's sound advice, and any doctor worth their stethoscope will tell you to do it, but it only contributes to the curing in the sense that it relieves stress and strain and prevents exposure to even more infections by keeping you away from other people and their germs.

In the end, the only thing you can do about a cold is wait for it to pass, and it's more comfortable doing that in bed (you also won't infect everybody at work), but a cold will pass whether you stay in bed or not, and usually in about the same amount of time. My doctor has a postcard in her practice that says "A cold is cured with medication in 6-8 days; without it, it takes about a week."

The point is: You still rely on your own immune system alone to get rid of the germs. The difference, as I understand it, is between having your body's back while it's doing its thang and taking external action to actively help it.

To make my point clearer on a different example: Disinfecting and bandaging up a wound is a medical treatment, waiting 2 weeks for it to heal up again is not. Basically, there is advice that your doctor gives you that can help your body in overcoming your condition, and there is actual medical treatment, bringing in specific agents to cure the symptoms in a way your body would not do on its own, be it tailored exercise in PT, a protective bandage in trauma or reverse-transcriptase inhibitors against HIV.

Now back to the meditation, shall we?
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Hypermanic_Zen
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« Reply #17 on: October 27, 2011, 08:34 pm »

I mentioned this to Nicol in IRC last night, but I'll go into it here in a bit more depth. From a strictly therapeutic perspective, meditation is a valid, useful technique, but only for a specific set of problems. Different psychologists use different approaches, but the most common one, and the one starting to be favoured by cognitive behavioural therapists, is mindfulness training. I'm aware it's also a spiritual issue, but when a psychologist talks about mindfulness, they're talking about a process in which the patient practices self regulating their attention, remaining focused on the present rather than past or future, and responds to current thoughts in an evaluative rather than judgmental fashion.

The reason this is as at all useful is because it increases a metric referred to as integrative complexity. Integrative complexity is applied in a number of different fields, but in this what case what it boils down to is the amount of processing a person undergoes before they react to stimulus. This isn't in the sense of long term decision making, it's about snap judgments. Having a low level of integrative complexity means that you hear something, immediately take it a certain way, and have trouble looking at it from another angle. The most common examples of situations where low integrative complexity is a problem tend to be anxiety disorders, or conditions with a strong anxiety component.

Borderline personality disorder, for example, is characterised by extreme mood swings, and strongly emotional reactions to generally minor issues. The aetiology of BPD generally involves the person growing up in an environment they found in some way threatening. As such, they had to learn to quickly spot the signs of a forthcoming emotional or abusive event. This leads to a fast decision making process, and lowers integrative complexity. This means that in later life, relatively small things can trigger extreme reactions because they are processed very quickly, with the first, generally most threatening option taken as fact, and reacted to accordingly. Of course, this can go both ways, hence the mood swings. Similarly, PTSD sufferers are quick to make threatening determinations, such as the typical hearing a backfiring car and interpreting it as a gunshot. In cases like those, mindfulness training, or meditation in general, serves to help the person slow their thinking process down, engage in more reality checking, come up with alternate explanations for what they just encountered, and generally moderate their reactions. Again, this doesn't mean hearing a noise and sitting there for thirty seconds listing all the possible things it could be, it's about the process of snap second, basically subconscious decision making and evaluation.

Other therapeutic paradigms have different explanations for why this works, but they ultimately all mean the same thing. Humanistic therapy explains it as allowing the person to become more authentic, ie act in a way more similar to their ideal self. Existential therapy claims it offers the opportunity to accept the existential givens and remove sedimented thought patterns. Traditional psychodynamics takes the position that meditation allows the ego to resolve conflicts between superego and id, etc.

Point is, meditation is therapeutically accepted as being useful within a specific subset of conditions. There are of course side effects such as stress relief, but they're largely dependent on the individual. As for direct medical side effects, I'm familiar with a proposed link between high stress and elevated levels of C reactive protein, which does cause inflammation and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. I'm not aware of how evidence based that link is; I'll leave that to someone with a bit more knowledge of the area.

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Nicol
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« Reply #18 on: October 28, 2011, 01:27 am »

What exactly is wrong with meditation?

what are you being told the results of meditation are? if you're being told it's going to cure a disease, i'd agree, that's bullshit. but does it help people deal with stress? i don't see how that is some kind of "alternate life decision" or "gullibility"

I actually never considered meditation from the angle of: "it just helps me relax". I was imagining being told by someone who meditates: "because of meditating I am healthier than I would otherwise be." Of course, if someone told me the former and the two options I picked from were the two in my original post, I'd be pretty obnoxious. And if nobody has ever claimed that meditation does the latter, then my face is pretty red, but this has been claimed before.

There is no actual person, so I can't provide a list of their meditation goals. I just wondered whether there was scientific evidence for mental/physical benefits of the practice. My university library is fairly academic, yet they keep very few books exploring meditation, so I was definitely naturally sceptical.

Where does meditation fit into this scale? If someone tells me that they meditate, should I be accepting their alternate life decision or mocking their gullibility?

I reject your scale. I think a rejection is what you were looking for, along with an explanation. So here's one: You wouldn't bring science or metaphysics into it if you met someone who squeezes a ball or plays video games to relax. A meditator's specific arguments in favor of the practice might be worthy of scorn or courtly tolerance, but there is no necessary judgement to make of the practice itself.

Because I did not make very clear that I was wondering about the health benefits of meditation in my original post, I accept that that post is not good. I am definitely not treating someone with scorn or courtly tolerance for choosing meditation as a tool for relaxation/calming.

I included the scale, with Tarot Cards as the obviously ridiculous extreme, because a lot of "natural therapies" also make the claim of bettering physical/mental health, and while some of them are obviously fraudulent, others are only latently fake after the haze of tradition/religion is cleared from around them.

That's a lot of words that pretty much add up to: "Nicol does not know what he is talking about". I felt I should quickly jump in here and clear that up before I read the studies and HypermanicZen's post, so I'm going to go ahead and do that now.
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« Reply #19 on: October 28, 2011, 07:22 am »

I was imagining being told by someone who meditates: "because of meditating I am healthier than I would otherwise be."

A lot of relaxation will reduce your long-term chances of getting almost every disease, especially cardiovascular ones. The only question is how successful the meditation is at making a guy relax. So that claim is still not specific enough to really nail the bastard with skepticism.
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