Crowdfunding update

Hey guys, we’re about a month into our crowdfunding initiative.  There are several informational videos and illustrations up on the “lab notes” section.  One talks about automation in psychological research.  There are some embarrassing videos of me talking.  I plan to also write some text entries, but damn, this grad school business keeps you hopping; no rest!
tl;dr: Why this project is important, and why crowdfunding is appropriate. Namely, it’s outside of the mainstream mission of the NIH, which funds most of the research on meditation; it’s a part of the deeper process of inter-cultural dialog between Science and Eastern Wisdom, or whatever you want to call it.  Please contribute!

The crowd funding site:  or

The snazzy web site:  or

I had the opportunity to orient two new undergrads the other day, whom we hired to succeed Andy Schoen, the amazingly talented guy who has been my assistant for the last few years.  He made the web site and the videos and stuff.  He had an interview for a position at Stanford, which he’s really excited about and should get, in my opinion.  Anyway, I was pleased that I was able to sit down and give a coherent overview of why I’m doing this project, and what it means.  So I was inspired to share with other people I know, too.

I came out here because I wanted to study “meditation research”; I didn’t know much about what I was getting into but I knew that the whole Tibetan-buddhist-monks-plus-high-tech-equipment was the vibe I wanted in my life. So I worked on the projects I was given, and, in short, none of them worked out.  As you know, a null finding is nothing more than inconclusive; it’s very unsatisfying and just leaves you wondering. One problem that occurred to me is that most of the research was based on a clinical kind of model of dose-response curve: if a little meditation does a little bit of something, then more will do more. But according to the Buddhist tradition, the “liberative” benefits of meditation come from the development of insight, vipashyana in Sanskrit, vipassana in Pali, or lhaktong in Tibetan. The wide range of various meditation and other techniques taught across the range of Buddhist traditions are intended to support the development of insight.  But, there is no guarantee of insight.  So, if I’m analyzing data with a linear dose-reponse model, but the actual effect is mediated by an unreliable relationship with an unmeasured factor of insight, then it might explain why I couldn’t find anything.

This analysis of the traditional teaching on the effects of meditation suggests a testable hypothesis: the effects of meditation on well-being are mediated by the insight factor.  So if we can measure the insight, we can do a more specific test of the traditional account of meditation than anything that has been done before.

Of course, most of our research is funded by NCCAM, the National Centers for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the NIH.  They are interested in funding meditation research because their mission is to study CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) modalities that people are actually doing, as part of a larger public-health role for the NIH.  So they’re not really interested in what the tradition says; they are just interested in applying standard clinical research methodology to what people are already doing.  So, that’s a reason for me to look for alternative funding for this kind of study.  I suspect that if I developed positive findings, then it would be possible to get further funding from NCCAM; like any granting agency, they love to follow on already-successful studies.

So, that’s a very brief overview of how I got to where I am now.  Which brings me to the hard part, for me, which is asking everyone to pledge to the crowd funding initiative.  We’re about halfway through our 60-day term.  We should be getting a mention in SciAm Mind soon, and might be able to get some other high-profile blog mentions, but all the advice I’ve received tells me that the key is to prime the pump with friends-and-family donations before it goes out to the wider public.  So far we have three donors, one of which is from a total stranger, which is encouraging.  But we need more!  For this initial stage, it’s more about seeing that there is “social proof” for the venture.  So, I’d really like to ask that you not be discouraged by not wanting to give very much.  If a bunch of people give only $5, that’s still useful because then there’s all that social proof from all those names and faces!  And of course, I’d also really appreciate it if you could pass on word on your own other blogs and email lists and so on.  I would be very happy to talk more with anyone who would be interested in blogging this and wants to discuss more about why it’s interesting and important!

As a final aside, this is another bit of academic meta-education for me.  Being in academics, I get the impression that most of one’s work consists of hustling for grants.  I’m not very good at asking for money, or any other kind of help for that matter. So, I’m sending this appeal to you guys as a growth exercise for myself, as well as everything else.  This has been a bit difficult for me; I’ve been procrastinating it for weeks.  I actually wrote this message out offline, a little bit at a time, because it felt awkward.  I tried to emphasize the personal narrative, and the science, to make it easier, rather than thinking of it as hustling… I want to make it clear that I really appreciate any help, and I’m not taking this for granted by any means. I will be deeply grateful for any support and will be totally devoted to continuing to communicate about the work!

And, as always, I’m also extremely grateful for any advice or feedback! 

Take care, wish me luck, please ask any questions, and I hope you are willing to contribute, to pass this on to your various blogs or email lists, or both!


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