Episode 124 :: Ginger Campbell :: Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty

| June 30, 2012 | 7 Comments

Dr. Ginger Campbell

Dr. Ginger Campbell speaks with us about science of the brain, and about the unconscious origins of certainty.

How often have we been absolutely certain of something? We remember it clearly, we know it in our gut, it’s a sure thing. Only it’s not a sure thing. We’re fallible creatures, us humans, and our evolutionary trajectory didn’t make us perfect, it made us human.

Part of being human is the possibility of being wrong about something. A mark of our maturity is the understanding, acceptance, and integration of the fact. When we build into our daily life responses to our environment that our brains are not tape recorders, that we sometimes decide on emotion rather than reason, and that our ideas about the world are not always an accurate reflection of the world, we’re able to have more realistic, positive, and reasoned responses to others.

Dr. Ginger Campbell is an experienced emergency physician with a long-standing interest in mind-body medicine, the brain, and consciousness. She is also interested in a wide variety of other topics including the history of science and ideas, began podcasting in 2006, and has discovered that it is a great way to share ideas with people from around the world. Her Brain Science Podcast explores how recent scientific discoveries are unraveling age-old mysteries, such as intelligence, emotions, personality, and memory.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Downy White tea.

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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

 

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Cross of Light” from his CD, Shakuhachi Meditations.

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Category: Book Reviews, The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (7)

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  1. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Great interview! We all need to realize how skeptical we should be of our own minds, beliefs, and feelings of certainty. Neat to hear about Ginger’s background, and I am a huge, huge fan of the Brain Science Podcasts. If you have even minor interest in how our minds/brains work, do listen to them. Great stuff!

  2. Ellen says:

    I LOVED this interview! Learning to be skeptical of my own mind has been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned through meditation and Buddhist studies, and this interview helped me understand the mechanism behind that unreliability. It also helped me understand “true believers”, who have always baffled me.

  3. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Thanks for the comments, and I’m happy to say that we’re arranging another interview with Ginger on conciousness and concepts of self for an upcoming episode. Stay tuned!

  4. Candol says:

    Oh good. I’m looking forward to that one. Funny how pretty much all the things she says about certainty are things i’ve noticed myself. I loved also her story about how she made up stories about the people in her spirit rock retreat. I was doing that too and learned later with much surprise how wrong my speculations were.

    I haven’t quite understood the relationship between the placebo question in the discussion and secular buddhism or even just meditation.

    On podcasting. I like them as a way of easily learning about new info that I can’t find but i have a lot more time to listen than other people. People with exhausting jobs don’t have the time or energy. That’s why i think its hard to grow your audience at a certain point. Also after listening to a lot of podcasts, i found i needed a break for a while. There are a few other good sites i’ve found around the place but I guess i stick with the one that is most acutely connected to my own interests which is this one.

  5. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Good question, Candol, perhaps I can explain about why there’s some attention given to placebo on this site. First, it should be understood that a theme which appears to be shared by most, if not all, people who identify as Secular Buddhists is naturalism. That is,

    “… naturalism as a metaphysical thesis is driven by a desire for a clear, reliable account of reality and how it works, a desire that generates an unflinching commitment to objectivity and explanatory transparency.”1

    We are, simply put, interested in what works in the world, whether it’s in the context of science (neutrinos do not move faster than light), medicine (homeopathy does not work), or our practice (meditation will not lead you to levitation). All of those are provisional, of course, and our outlook can and should be updated with new evidence that is externally verifiable.

    Placebo effects are often misinterpreted as being the effects of the supposed treatment itself, rather than being caused by something else. When someone reports “feeling better”, it’s not because of the claimed mechanisms of acupuncture when you get the same result from sham acuptuncture.

    We see the same thing in meditation. We know we feel better and it helps calm us, but is that because of meditation itself, or because our minds have had the condition set to expect we’ll be more calm because we’ve been told we will? Is there any difference between meditation and just taking a break? Is guided meditation going to show any greater effect than someone telling you a relaxing story?

    So, we’re interested in how we distinguish that, and testing if the biological effects we’re seeing are specific to the techniques of meditation, or if there’s something else going on.

    1 http://centerfornaturalism.blogspot.com/2008/11/worldview-naturalism-in-nutshell.html

  6. Candol says:

    Yeah yeah, i know about the naturalism thingy. I’m with you on that of course.

    “Placebo effects are often misinterpreted as being the effects of the supposed treatment itself, rather than being caused by something else. When someone reports “feeling better”, it’s not because of the claimed mechanisms of acupuncture when you get the same result from sham acuptuncture.”

    Oh i see. Its funny but when i think about alternative medicines and my skeptiism about what was actually going on if something “appeared” to work, the word placebo never entered my head. But now i’m with you and agree too. I mean now i understand why you guys were talking about. For me with placebo, i always only ever equate it with sugar pills and clinical trials. I never considered that the recovery/cure whatever happens when one swallows a homeopathic therapy would be called the placebo effect. I don’t know why. Just never heard people talk of it that i guess and i never twigged.

    “We see the same thing in meditation. We know we feel better and it helps calm us, but is that because of meditation itself, or because our minds have had the condition set to expect we’ll be more calm because we’ve been told we will? Is there any difference between meditation and just taking a break? Is guided meditation going to show any greater effect than someone telling you a relaxing story?”

    “So, we’re interested in how we distinguish that, and testing if the biological effects we’re seeing are specific to the techniques of meditation, or if there’s something else going on.”

    Right ok. I see. Never thought of a possible placebo effect re meditation either. I guess having experienced a relaxation effect and thinking i understand something of the mechanism that brought it about, I’ve just accepted that its not placebo that is making the difference.

    I’ve also experienced meditations that do not relax me. My experience is that not all meditation methods are relaxing. Not all meditation experiences are relaxing. But some styles of meditation do give rise to relaxation and some experiences do result in relaxation. I mean, when i am doing it on my own, or following my own mindfulness practice, some times i get up more relaxed than others.

    As far as relaxation goes, the styles i find most relaxing are those guided meditations where relaxation is main goal and where i am seated comfortably (usually in a chair) or lying on my back. The style and approach i do not necessarily always find relaxing is vipassana a la goenka, or mindfulness as most people talk about it as i’ve been taught. A lot of that is about the way i’m sitting combined with the activeness of the mind. AT least not in a shortish session and goenka session, not at all because its so demanding.

    But i don’t do mindfulness for relaxation purposes per se.

  7. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Yeah, Candol, I think the “meditation as relaxation” is a bit of a misrepresentation. Although many people do experience relaxation, that is not the point of Buddhist meditation. The point is to develop mindfulness of whatever arises. That could be relaxation, it also could be a circus of thoughts, emotions, etc. The beauty of meditation is that when we sit, we are slowing down and presumably setting ourselves in an environment not lacking in stimulation so that we can see our processes at work, the way thoughts arise and fall away, the way they grab our attention, the way emotions feel in the body, the way the dissolve. Meditation is lab time to learn about yourself.

    If we do meditation for relaxation, we are likely to be disappointed and miss true beauty of meditation. It’s not a feel good exercise. It’s a classroom of the mind and body!

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