from March 25, 2003 9:00-10:30 PM Eastern
Copyright © by
International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design 2003.
Welcome to this ISCID chat event with Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz. I would
like to give you all a heads-up on the protocol for today's chat.
The public (that is most of you) can type in questions and submit them.
The questions WILL NOT automatically be displayed. Rather, they will
be sent to a moderator who will then select questions for everyone
to view. Our guest speaker will then have the opportunity to respond
to the questions that have been selected. When our guest speaker
has finished his comments, the moderator will approve another question.
This cycle will continue until 10PM Eastern. Please maintain professional
courtesy, stay on topic and be as brief and concise as possible.
Our guest speaker today is neuroscientist Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D..
Dr. Schwartz is Associate Research Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA
School of Medicine and a fellow with the International Society for
Complexity, Information and Design. Dr. Schwartz is a seminal thinker
and researcher in the field of self-directed neuroplasticity. He
is the author of almost 100 scientific publications in the fields
of neuroscience and psychiatry, and several popular books. His major
research interest over the past two decades has been brain imaging/functional
neuroanatomy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, with a focus on the
pathological mechanisms and psychological treatment of obsessive-compulsive
Dr. Schwartz's research in OCD provided the hard evidence for his thesis
that the mind can control the brain's chemistry. Dr. Schwartz's has
lectured widely in the U.S., Europe and Asia to both professional
and lay audiences. His most recent academic writing has been in the
field of philosophy of mind, specifically on the role of volition
in human neurobiology.
Welcome Dr. Schwartz.
Hi, here we are. Nice to be with you. If it comes up, I have Henry
Stapp available by cell phone.
I just returned from the quantum mind conference in Tucson. Where you
No, but Henry was, as you probably noticed.
You talk about the centrality of attention to affecting plasticity.
For those with neurodevelopmental variations that interfere with
attention, do you recommend any particular intervention or approach
to intervention to improve the attention system?
Very good question. First off, if we consider a subject on which I
am not an expert, namely patients with frank brain lesions, Ian Roberston
at Trinity College, Dublin, has for several years been studying means
of using sensory cues to improve attentional focus in brain-damage
patients. This has already been demonstrated to improve both performance
as well as enhance frontal cortex function. (More info to follow.)
For patients with obsessive-complusive disorder, for example (which
is, of course, my main subject of expertise), the distractions in
attention are caused more by functional impairments associated in
the case of OCD with overactivity in the orbital frontal cortex.
The use of mindful awareness, which is the key active mental element
in our approach to treatment, has clearly been demonstrated to enhance
people's ability to focus their attention on adaptive phenomena as
opposed to the emotionally disturbing sympton-related phenomena that
distract their attention due to the underlying physiological disturbances.
Dr. Schwartz, how do you see your work applying to inventiveness, particularly
to the phenomena of "eureka!" moments when a novel conceptual
leap is made?
Very interesting and challenging quesstion. There are two parallel
interacting circuits that are critical to the Eureka! phenomena that
you are referring to. On the one hand, there is emotional circuitry
running from the lymbic cortex of which the orbital frontal cortex
(OFC) is a cardinal example through the striatum on its more ventral
(or inferior, meaning more towards the feet) aspect. This circuitry
will generate what might be called the affective or viscerally reward-related
aspects of the discovery experience. (More to follow.)
There is also (and critically) a more dorsal (or superior, meaning
more toward the top of the head) circuit that connects the lateral
aspect of the prefrontal cortex with the striatum and is critical
to the cognitive evaluation of various goals and strategies with
respect to the discovery process. The diagram on page 94 of The Mind
and the Brain (TM & TB) schematically shows these two circuits.
Just as in OCD therapy, the more dorsal (or “therapy”)
circuit modulates the emotional machinery of the ventral limbic circuit,
in the more normative discovery that you were referring to the eureka!
moment probably comes in something resembling the following manner:
when the insights generated via the dorsal circuit concerning emotionally
and value-laden information mediated largely by the ventral circuit
reach what you might call a momentary equilibrium or stability point
such that one gets the felt experience of understanding or comprehending
in some deeper sense the meaning of the emotionally (i.e., reward-related)
information, something more or less related to what we call a eureka!
experience could occur.
Dr. Schwartz, what implications can you draw from your work to apply
to specific problems in the philosophy of mind (consciousness, mental
content, mental causation, etc.) Have you been formally corresponding
with philosophers on these topics, and if so, what have been their
responses to your ideas?
Micah, do you always ask such easy questions… Give me a minute.
The primary philosophical implication of the scientific work reviewed
in TM & TB concerns the need to interpret neurobiological data
with respect to active volitional processes as opposed to viewing
all aspects of human experience as being simply the result of material
brain-related phenomena. These implications have been elaborated
upon in philosophically oriented journals such as The Journal of
Consciousness Studies, specifically in their volume titled “The
Volitional Brain.” Because the attempt to bring active mental
function into a scientific and philosophical culture completely dominated
by the perspective of materialist reductionism, I have been told
that my views are seen are quite controversial. (More to follow.)
However, since the phenomena of effort as a core aspect of reality
that needs to be studied in a scientific and medical context cannot
be approached in any intuitively meaningful way via the regnant materialist
paradigm, and since modern approaches to physics are entirely consistent
with viewing effort as playing a key role in the workings of physical
aspects of nature, it would seem incumbent on the materialists at
some point to enlarge their perspective concerning the explanatory
necessity for viewing mental phenomena as having genuine causal efficacy.
I am sure we are all confident that this culturally transforming
change in perspective among the academic elites will at least begin
to occur in the not-too-distant future.
I was interested in your buddhist background. Could you spaek about
this and anatta, (not-self)
what is the position of buddhism with regard to evolution/darwin?
Oy, vey! Another simple, straightforward question
My Buddhist background (although I must immediately stress that my
religious identity is unequivocally Jewish) goes back to 1975, when
I began formal training in Vipassana (or insight) meditation. I have
been practicing this approach to meditation in the context of the
Theravada Buddhist tradition even since, and have practiced at least
one hour every day consecutively for almost sixteen years. In addition,
I have been studying the Pali language, in which the Theravada canonical
texts are preserved, for about a dozen years. (More to follow.)
In basic Buddhist philosophy, there are three characteristics of reality.
The one you ask about (anatta) is the most difficult one to describe.
So let me begin by briefly mentioning the other two. Dukkha and Anicca
(meaning suffering/unsatisfactoriness and impermanence) are more
concrete and in fact if properly understood entail an understanding
of anatta (or Not-Self). In the cardinal discourse on the characteristic
of anatta (the second discourse delivered in the life of Gotama),
he explicitly explains Not-Self in terms of the impermanent and therefore
unsatisfactory nature of all (non-Nibbana) phenomena. (I’m
Since all phenomena are constantly changing (this of course being completely
consistent with modern physical theory), they are unsatisfactory
in the sense that desiring or clinging to them must logically entail
suffering since one will be attached to something which must of necessity
cease to exist at some point. It is in this sense that there is no
self, since all aspects of mental and material existence also follow
this inexorable rule of constant change resulting in whatever is
existing coming to non-existence. The key missing ingredient from
a Buddhist perspective in the above explanation, and the one that
would begin to allow an answer concerning the question of evolution,
is the absolutely critical aspect of reality called volition/will,
the indigenous word for which is Karma.
Because in Buddhist philosophy volition or Karma is the driving force
of all phenomena, perhaps one can begin to see how issues related
to effortful striving could begin to allow some discussion of the
evolving nature of reality. What is manifestly not the case with
respect to Buddhist philosophy (and this is of course also true of
Judeo-Christian philosophy) is that one would view the evolving phenomena
as in any sense merely random. (Done.)
It seems to me the placebo effect and biofeedback are two areas where volition
or mind has been scientifically studied and demonstrated to interact with with
reality. Do you know of others?
It is certainly true that placebo effect is a major scientific area
in which volition, and especially mental expectation, is an absolutely
cricial explanatory variable. My close friend Donald D. Price of
University of Florida, Gainesville, has written extensively on this.
(Give me a second, and I'll think of some others.)
Another major area which is just now coming to fruition scientifically
is the study of mental processes relevant to the performance of cognitive
behavioral therapy procedures, an area of both profound psychological
and philosophical importance. Very recent work by my good friends
Mario Beauregard, of University of Montreal, and Kevin Ochsner, of
Stanford, have investigated specific cognitive phenomena that are
very relevant to performing cognitive behavioral therapy. Specifically,
the mechanism of cognitively reattributing the emotional and value-laden
responses to stress-inducing experience has been shown to systematically
alter areas of the brain activated from limbic circuits to dorsal
prefrontal circuits—just the circuits we described earlier
with respect to the process of creativity.
Indeed, I think going forward that the study of the kinds of mental
actions that cause this limbic to prefrontal (or, if you prefer,
ventral to dorsal) shift are going to be among the most productive
both clinically and scientifically, as well as philosophically, for
those of us interested in a data-based approach to substantiating
the active and physically transformative capacities of mental life.
What sorts of tests can be done to determine whether the mind acts
on the brain or is merely an epiphenomena of brain, and what sorts
of practical implications
are there for the outputs (i.e., artifacts) produced by mindful agents? In
other words, if the mind indeed acts upon the brain, does this impact what
we would expect as "output" of mental processes versus what we would
expect if the mind is more of a passive outworking of neural complexity (more
of an epiphenomenon)?
The issue of the extremely problematic nature of viewing the mind as
epiphenomenal is dealt with in chapters one, nine, and ten of TM & TB.
Henry Stapp has also written extensively on this, and this work can
be easily accessed via his Web site, the URL of which I will be happy
to forward in a day or so. The thumbnail summary is that consciousness
must have genuine efficacy; otherwise, there is no scientifically
coherent way of explaining why it exists at all. (Granted, this explanation
presumes that one accepts the notion of selective pressure in some
evolutionary sense of the word.)
The issue of “tests” is probably not entirely on point
since this question in the final analysis is in principal not cross-sectionally
approachable. The main problem is that, within the materialist worldview,
in which the mind can be nothing but passive, we cannot explain our
primary experience of the efficacy of willful attentional focus in
any intuitively coherent way. When coupled with the fact that modern
physical theory has shown that this classical materialist perspective
is demonstrably false even as a purely physical theory, the reluctance
of our cultural elites to acknowledge the gross inadequacy of the view
that all mental life is passive/epiphenomenal seems to be more of a
sociological phenomenon than a scientific one.
Do you sometimes recommend training in techniques of mindful awareness meditation
as part of your treatment of OCD, or would you for a patient who had co-morbid
attention issues unrelated to the OCD?
Finally, an entirely straightforward question.
The Four Step method presented in my first book Brain Lock contains
systematic aspects of the use of mindful awareness as an intrinsic
part of its use. So in that sense, all of my patients are to some
degree using systematic mindful awareness as part of their treatment.
For those patients who want to pursue the practice of mindful awareness
in a purer form, there are several excellent publications available.
Probably the best introduction to this subject matter is the following
pamphlet freely available at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/bps/wheels/wheel121.html
(Indeed, the entire www.accesstoinsight.org site is an incredibly valuable
resource.) In addition, I would encourage all people interested in
this subject matter to look at my second book A Return to Innocence
(which will be re-released this fall by HarperCollins under the title
Mastering the Lost Art of Self-command: Letters to a Young Man),
available at http://www.pariyatti.com/book.phtml?prod_id=102401
That site (www.pariyatti.com) is also excellent for mindfulness literature.
Finally, I would also recommend the book Mindfulness in Plain English,
by Venerable H. Gunaratana, easily available from Amazon.com. As
to the applicability of this practice to attentional issues of All
sorts and varieties, I will conclude with the words of Gotama himself: “Mindfulness,
monks, I declare, is always beneficial.
ISCID would like to thank Dr. Schwartz for the engaging discussion.
We hope that the conversation was stimulating for everyone involved.
Thank you very much for your interest and participation. May we all
put our active mental awareness to the aid of the forces of Good
struggling to prevail in an always-dangerous world.
I'll be happy to receive E-mails. I'll promise to read but simply cannot
commit to responding to the messages that may be received. My E-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a nice evening everyone.
Copyright © by
International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design 2003.