During the last few decades, hundreds of research studies on meditation have produced numerous significant findings in areas as diverse such as the psychological, physiological, and transpersonal realms.
However, the poor quality in terms of scientific procedure of most published literature on this the field of meditation precludes any definitive conclusion.
Given the tremendous ‘subjectivity of the subject’ of investigation, it is not surprising that the conclusions are ambiguous. The writing style reflects the uncertainty experienced in this field of research, with sentences of the style of “some intriguing hints of meditation changing early cortical processing appear reliable and may reflect changes in attentional resource allocation.”
It is interesting the correlation found between the brain waves of long meditators with those of deep sleep. I cannot avoid to think if the sound meditators will not literally be indulging in drowsiness. Leaving irony aside, it seems scientifically proved that, indeed, there is an increased access to a witnessing awareness of mental contents in meditative and sleep-related states.
As cognitive psychology seems to be moving into the ‘meditational behaviors’ as a promising field of research, I should say emphatically that meditation should not be seized upon as a cognitive or behavioral technique decontextualized from the wisdom in which it is proposed, i.e. the education of awareness by insight, mindfulness and compassion, qualities not easy at all to evaluate in cognitive psychology.
The scientific method, based on analytical objectivity, can not expand to deal with the gnosis of contemplative wisdom because this is derived from elevated mental states that transcend the rational mind and is acquired through moral discipline and trained focused attention. As a result, what actually happens in comparative studies between mystical and scientific gnosis is that the first is always constrained to the study of sacred text, which is the only approach manageable by the rational discursive mind.
And yet, the meanings and interpretations of holy texts are not unique, but can be very different depending on the capacity of the reader. Additionally, they have a very peculiar capacity of affecting the mind at subliminal levels, deeper than the intellectual, by means of the skillful use of a language full of repetitions, archetypal images, metaphors, etc, all of which is completely overlooked in the rational investigation of its meanings.
As long as researchers will be engaged in applying the methods of the reductionist view of scientific positivism, i.e. the physical and material constitutes all there is to reality and the only proper object of scientific scrutiny, it will be impossible to even scratch the surface of subjectivity, or better said, the inter-subjectivity of experience.
Nonetheless, in spite of the many limitations, to explore the scientific views conjointly with the Dharma could be at least interesting and, given the contextual situation of the present era in which science has become so prominent, perhaps even necessary.