In Support of the Dalai Lama's Lecture at SFN 2005
Dr Carol Barnes, President of the Society for Neuroscience
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We applaud the decision to invite the Dalai Lama to be the inaugural speaker in the "Dialogues between Neuroscience and Society" series at SFN's 2005 annual meeting. This series has been specifically created to feature non-neuroscientists whose work is relevant to neuroscience, and will help to build public understanding of neuroscience.
As neuroscientific research is largely a publicly funded endeavour, it's crucial that we encourage exchanges such as this, which help to bridge the "Two Cultures" divide and to place our work in cultural context. The Dalai Lama is a perfect example of a non-scientist who can help SFN members (and whom SFN members can help) in our scientific and educational endeavours. Though he would not be an appropriate speaker in a scientific session, he is an excellent choice for Dialogues between Neuroscience and Society.
Conflicting and contentious claims exist as to whether the Dalai Lama's topic, "The Neuroscience of Meditation," represents a legitimate area of neuroscientific enquiry. Although we do not necessarily take any position in this controversy, we affirm our belief that the Society for Neuroscience should not stray from this and other controversial topics; such controversies are most effectively resolved by the light of reason and the free exchange of ideas.
We disagree with the objection that science and religion are and must be inherently separate and incompatible. Indeed, science can be viewed as its own sort of religion, a faith that this or that theory alone represents the most logical or most parsimonious explanation of one's observations - and thus the very opposition to mixing religion and science may itself be a form of religious belief!
With regard to religion, as with any dogma, the most literal and concrete interpretations often are the most unproductive, and generative of unfortunate and unnecessary ideological conflicts. For instance, some may view mind as existing without body abstractly, in the same way that mathematics continues to exist even in the absence of a calculator or a pencil and paper. Such philosophical beliefs do not necessarily conflcit with the empirically based constructions of science.
The interests of the Society for Neuroscience as well as those of the public will be well served by the Dalai Lama and by further speakers in the "Dialogues between Neuroscience and Society" series.