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The Generative Contemplation Symposium was hosted by the Contemplative Sciences Center at the University of Virginia in April 2023. The following is the video proceedings along with searchable transcripts of Session I: Cognitive Effort and Control Practices which focused on issues of attention in meditation. Video proceedings from other sessions will be posted in subsequent posts. We invite you to watch these creative interdisciplinary explorations between Buddhist Studies scholars, scientists, philosophers, and teacher-practitioners.

This symposium united specialists from diverse fields, including religious studies, philosophy, cognitive neuroscience, the arts, and Buddhism, at the Special Collections Library Auditorium at the University of Virginia. The event featured four thematic sessions over two days, fostering open discussions among attendees, which included UVA faculty, students, experts and contemplatives from other institutions as well as locally. These interdisciplinary dialogues formed the symposium’s core, enabling attendees to merge insights from different fields and forge new understandings of contemplation and the impact of these practices on human experience. Attendees, both participants and the audience, departed with fresh insights, connections, unanswered questions, and a shared determination to continue these dialogues and collaborations.

Session I: Cognitive Effort and Control Practices: To illustrate how meditation involves effortful cognition, this domain concerns characterizations of mindfulness-based meditation in terms of present-centered attention or memory. Interlocutors discuss relevant theories in Buddhist texts, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind with special attention to the extent to which these theories distinguish mindfulness from (a) pleasurable absorption, and (b) cognitive control, both of which involve enhanced attention and memory. Considering contemporary models of the expected value of control in the sciences and philosophy, the domain will discuss the primary achievement in meditation being meta-control: gaining control over typically sub-personal elements of the control process.  

Contributors to this session of the Symposium were: 

  • Zachary Irving (Philosophy), University of Virginia
  • Sonam Kachru (Buddhist Studies), Yale University
  • Chandra Sripada (Psychiatry), University of Michigan
  • Karin Meyers (Practitioner), Mangalam Research Center
  • Georges Dreyfus (Buddhist Studies), Williams College

Opening remarks

Part 1

Part 2

Visit the Generative Contemplation Symposium Collection to watch or search the transcripts and related information.