Summary of a lecture by
Zoran Josipovic, Ph.D.
Director, Contemplative Science Lab, Psychology Dept, NYU
Human experiences can be broadly divided into those that are external and related to interaction with the environment, and experiences that are internal and self-related. The cerebral cortex likewise appears to be divided into two corresponding systems: an "extrinsic" system composed of brain areas that respond more to external stimuli and tasks and an "intrinsic" system composed of brain areas that respond less to external stimuli and tasks. These two broad brain systems seem to compete with each other, such that their activity levels over time is usually anti-correlated, even when subjects are "at rest" and not performing any task.
Asian contemplative philosophies, going back to at least fourth century CE, and perhaps much earlier, have described the structuring of human experience along the subject- object dichotomy, accompanied by a competition between internally and externally related mental processes. According to this idea, it might be possible to use meditation to voluntarily alter this fragmentation. Our results suggest that practicing different forms of meditation can alter the anti-correlation between these networks and that their relationship can be modulated in either direction through the choice of a cognitive strategy. The results support the intuitive, but speculative, idea that the typical anti- correlation between the extrinsic and intrinsic systems might reflect the duality of external and internal experiences, and that nondual awareness meditation enables an atypical state of mind in which extrinsic and intrinsic experiences are increasingly synergistic rather than competing.