Questions about meditation

Alright. First off, is meditation dangerous or not? I keep hearing all the good effects like lower disease and stress rates, but I hear the bad effects too like ‘dissocation’.

I tried to learn to become ambidextrous not too long ago but quit after I read that some people just confuse their brains by doing it and end up doing things backwards or improperly.

Secondly, there is something called the Maharishi Effect in Transcendental meditation. The theory behind that is that consciousness could be an electromagnetic field and as a result meditation can have an effect on the consciousness of those around you. Fifty studies have been done showing if small percentages of people practiced it it could make effects in crime and violence nearby.

Alright. I know alot of skeptics will have a ‘bullshit’ alarm and that is fine. I am open to the idea and I mostly believe it and will think it is plausible until someone disproves all 50 of the studies.

However, if there is a Maharishi Effect does it apply to all forms of meditation or just TM? If this effect exists does it apply to all forms of meditation? There are forms where you focus on absorbing hate and releasing love, kinds where you focus on your goals, kinds where you focus on the moment, kinds where you focus on nothing, etc.

Here’s another perspective on transcendental meditation

Yeah, I put the skepdic link in my OP, but it was to a different part of the skepdic website.

Again, they didn’t disprove the 50 studies, they just ignored them. When you do that you actually encourage metaphysics and belief in the metaphysical because it appears that people can’t offer alternative explanations. If the counterpoint is to ignore unfavorable evidence that just makes the original point look stronger. It also creates a mentality simliar to the catholic church of the 17th century where you have an organization who thinks they’ve figured everything out already saying ‘this is so anyone who believes different is wrong and evil’ without backing that up with evidence.

That article partially disproved one of the 50 studies and I can’t find more info on what really happened or what constitutes ‘made up the data’, if that means the data was totally fabricated or what. If they disprove all 50 studies, or at least more than partially disprove a single one then I’ll listen. Again, I’m not a nut who believes anything, but I believe in evidence more than closed minded skeptics. If they disprove the studies I’ll admit its all fake but so far it appears there is something there.

I think you may be misunderstanding the scientific method a bit. We don’t just believe an experiment because it hasn’t been disproved. We believe an experiment because its result can be reproduced consistently. I suspect, and the article I linked to suggests (with cites), that there have in fact been other studies which have not shown a positive result for transcendental meditation having the sort of effects you describe. However, the people promoting transcendental meditation (and who stand to profit from people believing in it) are selectively reporting only those studies which back support their claims, not those which contradict them. I also suspect that if you look at who’s conducting these experiments, you’ll find that those which achieved a positive result were overwhelmingly the work of people who already believed in or were the proponents of transcendental meditation, whereas those that contradict it were not. If it were a real phenomenon, you wouldn’t expect the result of the experiments to be correlated with what the experimenters believed. I suspect that the investigators are either conducting biased experiments or simply not reporting those results which contradict their hypothesis. (See cites in the skepdic article for some support of this.)

Here’s why you can’t just judge an experiment on whether or not it has been disproved: even if the experiment is biased, it may not be possible to identify the source of bias (unless you could travel back in time and examine the conditions under which the experiment was conducted). If I simply omit some information about the experimental procedures (or give false information), then the source of bias in my experiment will be concealed. But if the experiment can’t be duplicated by independent, unbiased researchers, then it’s a good bet they did something wrong. (Even so, many of the experiments the TM promoters are touting have been shown to be biased – TM promoters just fail to mention this, and deny it when it’s brought up.)

You might think you “believe in evidence” and that I’m a “closed minded skeptic”, but the fact is that the evidence for TM having these effects is really quite lacking, despite what TM promoters might claim. It’s easy to produce biased studies to support just about any conclusion, and the promoters of TM have a strong financial incentive to do so. Furthermore, my skepticism is, I think, well justified. The TM promoters claim to observe phenomena with no known physical cause, and then go on to claim they know how these things work, and offer an explanation based on pseudoscience like “higher states of consciousness”. What percent of neurologists do you think believe in “higher states of consciousness” of the sort Maharishi Mahesh Yogi describes? It would be one thing if he were saying “I think this works, but I can’t explain it.” But he says he can explain it. Modern science doesn’t know everything, but do you really think it likely that this man knows so much more than scientists who have devoted their whole life to the study of the brain, using the most advanced techniques available to us? That doesn’t make you the least bit skeptical? I ask you, which is more likely: that he spent a couple years in meditation and suddenly discovered some hidden secret of the universe, or that he saw an opportunity to get rich by telling lies?

If you’re really “open minded”, you should search for and read some of the literature claiming transcendental meditation is a fraud, and weigh those claims against those of the TM promoters to see which seems more plausible. (You can start with the stuff linked to from that skepdic page.) But it sounds like you’ve instead chosen to assume that the TM promoters are telling you the truth, despite their obvious incentive to lie to you. It’s one thing to be open minded – to consider all the claims put to you fairly. Another thing to assume that people are telling you the truth, and to trust extreme claims without going over the evidence with a fine-toothed comb, listening to the criticism of those claims, and seeing if it really holds water. Skepticism doesn’t mean closing your mind to possiblities, it means demanding extreme proof for extreme claims. Unless you have strong reasons to believe the studies aren’t dishonest, biased, or otherwise flawed, 50 studies or a million doesn’t amount to extreme proof.

I am not sure why 50 studies where alot are in peer reviewed journals should be de facto disqualified off the bat, many have p<0.01 or less values for error. I do not know enough about replicating the studies, or if study replication has been done yet. I would like to see though as that is very important.

I’m very open to the idea that TM could be a fraud. But I’d like to see people disprove the studies or try to replicate them and fail consistenly.

That’s a bad effect? More like the aim of vipassana.

BTW, the definitive book that examines Zen meditation is Zen and the Brain, written by a Buddhist who’s also a firm materialistic neurologist.

I don’t know about the Maharishi effect, but I do know that the main effect of meditation is to maintain your brainwaves at Alpha frequencies, which is difficult to do without training. Most people only get fleeting glances of Alpha, and spend most waking hours in Beta mode.

An alternative to meditation is EEG biofeedback. Once you have an indication of your brainwaves, it becomes much easier to control them. There are fun little brain exercise gadgets that do things like move a toy train when your brainwaves are in the right frequency band.

[QUOTE=Wesley Clark]

I tried to learn to become ambidextrous not too long ago but quit after I read that some people just **confuse their brains by doing it and end up doing things ** **backwards or improperly.[/**QUOTE]

For what it’s worth, I do believe that meditation can be a great way to deal with stress (as can vigorous exercise, spending time with loved ones, community service, prayer, and a lot of other things). (I’m basing that on my experience with less-commercialized forms of meditation, not TM.) But people like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi make all sorts of outlandish claims that go far beyond that. I absolutely believe this guy is a scammer, who has lied and cheated people out of millions of dollars. (For more detail, see, for instance, this article.) Moreover, he’s used pseudo-science to do it, a particular pet peeve of mine.

Here are some studies which don’t support the claims of the TM promoters. You notice they never mention those when talking about TM. (I realize those aren’t particularly focused on the “Maharishi Effect” specifically, but I only had a couple of minutes to search for this stuff, and unfortunately the TM promoters – who stand to profit from people believing in this stuff – have saturated the web with claims that it works, making it harder to find independent reserach.)

Remember, these are the same people who routinely claimed that they could fly, and yet were never able to demonstrate this claim in front of skeptics. It seems wise to take everything they say with a huge dose of skepticism. And frankly, it’s just not that hard to get studies published if you have sufficient resources.