Meditation Gadgets and Happiness

January 26, 2016
Arnaud Delorme, IONS Scientist

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Can Meditation Gadgets Help You Reduce Your Stress—and Find Happiness?, mentions two opposing views on how meditation gadgets may foster happiness: on one hand, professors like Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, feel that technology cannot possibly be used as an aid to meditation. On the other hand, people like myself or Judson Brewer, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, are described as “reserved” regarding the contribution of the current technology, while other researchers are more enthusiastic about it. I thought it would be worth it to expand upon my view of these technologies in this blog.

As a long time Zen meditator, I value the ancestral teaching. Monks and lay practitioners have taken centuries to refine meditation practice. One thing Zen has taught me is that I am much more than my body. When I put on my glasses – a small piece of technology – they become an extension of me. When I carry my cell phone or when I wear my fitbit or other health-related personal devices, they also become, to some extent, part of my embedded cognitive self. My body in flesh is like the “body” of a car, and I get to customize it. This is definitely a trend, which I believe will increase in the future.

Going back to meditation gadgets, if I get to customize my body, why would I thus reject a potential device, a potential extension of me, that could help increase how mindful I am, and that could potentially help me change my pattern of action and reaction for the better?

In the Wall Street Journal article, my reserve for current meditation gadgets comes from the fact that the technology is very young: I do not currently feel that there are any tools that have demonstrated their ability to assist meditation or a mindful lifestyle. It does not mean that such devices cannot be built. It simply means I feel they have not been built yet or properly validated. The main reason these devices have not been built is because the companies that develop these devices have limited funding and often do not have the resources or expertise to properly test these devices in double-blinded, placebo-controlled assessments. This may change in the future as the field matures.

Providing independent assessments of these new technologies is something IONS is interested in and is carrying out. IONS researchers not only have the technical expertise and the integrity, but most importantly, we have the passion to see these new technologies make a difference in the world for potential global transformation.

Yes to meditation gadgets, but please root them in robust scientific assessments and meditation practices.

Arnaud Delorme is a research scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Under federal funding, he has developed the most used software for processing electro-encephalographic (EEG) data and is widely regarded as one the world’s foremost researchers utilizing EEG for consciousness and meditation research.

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