January 26, 2006

TM introduction

David Lynch's TM presentation

I happened to see part of this presentation that took place at the UW, on cable today [January 7, 2006]:

Consciousness, Creativity, and the Brain

I wouldn't have paid attention to a lecture about meditation, but the part I came in on was showing pictures of activation in areas of the brain, like it was a real science show. They think, and want you to think, that a person who has anger problems or has been abused will have what are called "functional lesions" in the frontal area of their brains, areas where activity is lower as if there are physical lesions, compared with a normal brain scan.

The speaker, Dr. Fred Travis, claimed that when you're stressed, it causes this damage because your brain does "down shifting" to depend more on the motor area for activity, which can lead to making blunders like running to class and forgetting your homework. He explained that the frontal areas do the conscious decision making, "That's where your David Lynch is." He blames damage there for poor decision making, such as violent behavior.

Then the show got even better: They had a young man hooked up to an electroencephalogram and pointed out the differences in the graphs they showed on screen for the front and back of his brain as he they had him blink, close his eyes, open his eyes, and lastly, meditate. (A disclaimer on the screen said due to technical difficulties, some of that was recorded separately.) It made it look like meditating has some scientifically measurable effect, compared to just closing your eyes.

David Lynch and the other speakers talked for a few minutes about the benefits of transcendental meditation and surprisingly it wasn't boring. Knowing that the TM movement is like a religion, it seems like they may have been exaggerating with some of the success stories, such as reducing recidivism in a prison in Africa. (Once I heard a Christian missionary give a speech about a miracle in some place in Africa: lightning out of a clear blue sky that killed a lion. That sort of story about a place that listeners can never check on, if presented as if it is evidence rather than just a story, reduces the credibility of a presentation.)

The closing title screen gave this web address:


You can watch or download a video of the "Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain" presentation that was given at Emerson College in Boston (77 minutes). Film students ask Lynch questions about his movies for the first few minutes, until a film teacher asks the expected question about what TM can contribute to film making creativity and he starts on his speech about it.

After a few more questions, John Hagelin the physicist, who was in the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?" gives a speech about consciousness.

From 48:40 on, the presentation is similar to what I saw and described above, but with a little more apparent nervousness and searching for words, and not seeming to make the entertaining points as well, showing that a month and several tries later, they had improved their presentation. That's evidence of thinking on their feet, an ability which they would probably credit TM for enhancing.

What about the story of the prison in Africa? The first version I looked at: abstract from Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 2003. It says in Senegal, TM was introduced in prisons from 1987 to 1989, and recidivism went from 90% down to 3%. Next I found a webpage by David Orme-Johnson, Dean of Research, Maharishi International University, from 2001 that said recidivism went down to 8%. Here's a paragraph from an article from Corrections Today, December 1991:

"Before the TM program was introduced in Senegal in January 1987, inmates there returned to prison at a rate of about 90 percent within the first month. After TM had been instituted, a study of 2,400 inmates released through an amnesty in June 1988 revealed that fewer than 200 of them returned within the first six months-80 percent of those who returned did not practice the technique."

So the prisoners who didn't reoffend were released in an amnesty, not the usual releases. That means they might not be the usual inmates held for short times for offenses that are often repeated.

A letter from Colonel Mamadou Diop, Director of the Penitentiary Administration (in Senegal,) from January 1989, to one of the writers of later articles about it, who translated it from French, gives the same information, plus more details. It's at www.tmscotland.org/popup/senegal although the index of the site is not up. It appears to be the source behind the other stories. It contains this sentence just before the recidivism statistics:

"Indeed, we can say that in Senegal usually about 90% of the inmates released after serving their sentence (or those released because of the yearly presidential pardon) come back to prison within one month."

So the author (or maybe the translator?) has thought of adding the parenthesis about the yearly pardon to make the implications more scientific. Still, did the pardon in 1988 release the right prisoners for once?

Senegal is a majority Muslim country. Transcendental Meditation is associated with Hinduism. It seems unlikely they would let there be TM classes in the prisons for both the prisoners and guards, but maybe that's why the project was discontinued despite seeming so successful. Some critics of the TM movement say that studies about any form of meditation are called evidence for TM, so maybe it was some form of Sufi meditation.

Who knows what really happened? There are some countries where you can buy forged documents from government officials to have evidence for whatever you like.

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