Friday, October 04, 2013

Excerpts from Being Human 2013

I attended a unique conference last weekend that explored the science and mystery of the human experience in the light of cutting-edge technology, philosophy and evolution. Being Human 2013 brought together some of the top scientists in the world working on understanding the past, present and future of human psychology, sociology and biology.

Of the many interesting presentations and discussions, three things particularly stood out for me. First, Prof Richie Davidson presented a series of studies showing the positive effects ofmeditation on the immune system, including increasing effectiveness of inoculation  He also observed children who learn to control their emotions at an early age end up successful both financially as well as parents. And, compassion training on loved ones vs. a difficult person have dramatically different results. It's like weight training at the gym, heavier you go, quicker the results. Results showed compassion meditation practiced for two months on a loved one has the same effect as two hours on a difficult person. Now, there's a tip to get on the fast track to nirvana!

Second, a study showed we humans have a tendency to empathize with strangers better than people we know. Certainly counter-intuitive, we try harder to look at their point of view and have a better chance of guessing how they feel when we are not familiar with the person. Familiarity results in projecting our feelings on friends and relatives, expecting them to like what we like, causing strain in relationships over time.

Third, David Eagleman did a fascinating presentation on how the human being processes sensation. They found that sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are ultimately reaching the brain as signals. If one loses hearing (or is born without it), for instance, one can still hear as long as an input is received as an signal in some form. One may wear a device that turns audio to a mechanical signal, like a bracelet, that will gently poke the arm with Braille-like font and the brain will process that information just as if it had ears. This is true for any of the sense organs, which gives immense hope for people with sensory disabilities.

You can watch a replay of these and other presentations and conversations from the conference here.

Great talks aside, the biggest value for me at these kind of events is connecting with the people, both attendees and speakers, who are questioning the meaning of life on earth. Those conversations in the hallways and the courtyard are the ones that are most inspiring!

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