The Tibetan research of Herbert Benson

7 minutes

Out of the blue

8 minutes

Soft awareness

13 minutes

Kitezh-Vladimirskoe

9 minutes

Do you have imposter syndrome?

4 minutes

How a scientific attempt to demystify Buddhist meditation yielded astounding results

In 1981, Herbert Benson, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School, set out to study the ancient meditation practices of Buddhist monks on the Tibetan Plateau. With the Dalai Lama’s blessing, Benson spent roughly a decade in remote regions of the Himalayas in northern India researching an especially intense technique known as tummo, as well as the physiological effects of other advanced forms of meditation. Rather than debunking the seemingly tall tales of advanced practitioners capable of raising their body temperatures to dry cold, wet sheets around their bodies, Benson’s work actually confirmed and expanded upon these anecdotes. In particular, by tracking vital signs and body-heat output during meditation sessions, Benson found that these monks possessed remarkable capacities for controlling their oxygen intake, body temperatures and even brainwaves. In 2013, a second study conducted on advanced Tibetan tummo meditators by Maria Kozhevnikov, a cognitive neuroscientist the National University of Singapore, corroborated much of what Benson had observed, including practitioners’ ability to raise their body temperatures to feverish levels by combining visualisation and specialised breathing.

This extended trailer for the UK filmmaker Russ Pariseau’s feature documentary Advanced Tibetan Meditation: The Investigations of Herbert Benson MD relays portions of Benson’s landmark research, which ultimately signalled a seismic shift in how Western science views Buddhist meditation. Simultaneously, the material makes evident the disparate ways that Western scientists and Tibetan Buddhists understand the self.

Director: Russ Pariseau

Jim Hall, 78, has a blue body – but his outlook on life is more unusual still

‘I decided it was OK to have fun with my body … I probably have more balls than anybody!’

Jim Hall worked in urban development for four decades before retiring as the principal city planner of Baltimore. Aged 78 and beginning to feel some of his faculties slip, he is planning a move to Texas to live out his final years. These unremarkable details of his biography might seem at odds with his unique look – most conspicuously, the blue tattoo covering almost every inch of his skin. But despite the unusual choices he’s made to modify his body – including some unusual, intimate augmentations hidden from view – Hall’s outlook on life is deeply practical, centred on playfulness and an enduring sense of gratitude for what he sees as the incredible gift of being a human. With a palette that complements Hall’s own chosen colours, this short documentary from the US directors Jonathan Bregel and Steve Hoover finds wonder and wisdom in a man who is as hard to define as he is plain-spoken and pragmatic.

Directors: Jonathan Bregel, Steve Hoover

Website: friendzone

What’s it like to chat with an AI that mimics you? Uncanny conversations with Replika

Replika is a chatbot that was launched in 2017 with the aim of offering users emotional support – or, as the company’s advertising copy puts it, becoming their ‘AI friend’. To give users a personalised experience, the deep learning bot gathers information about conversation partners by asking them questions, adapts to their conversational style and, over time, attempts to mimic them. Beyond companionship, Replika’s creators believe that the technology could eventually serve as a conversational stand-in for deceased loves ones.

In Soft Awareness, Anastasia Sif Karkazis, a Danish film student and co-director of the film, engages in a series of conversations with Replika, drifting between a series of loosely connected subjects – including art, dreams and identity. Throughout, the exchanges seem to teeter between meaningful and unintelligible, offering a window on Karkazis’s inner world, how Replika ‘understands’ her, and the many hazy areas in between. Beneath the surface of these uncanny exchanges, larger questions about privacy and the contours of intimacy between humans and AI slowly emerge.

Via Labocine

Directors: Cecilie Flyger, Olivia Mai Scheibye

Co-director: Anastasia Sif Karkazis

Website: Copenhagen School of Film and Photography

Postcards from Vladimirskoye – the sleepy town near the ‘Russian Atlantis’

According to Russian legend, in the 13th century, the mythical city of Kitezh was on the verge of being ransacked by Mongols when its residents began to pray. In an instant, water spouted from the earth, at once submerging the city and protecting Kitezh from invaders. Today, in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Lake Svetloyar – the body of water that Kitezh supposedly sunk into – is a tourist destination for both the faithful and those simply wishing to enjoy its beaches. The flow of visitors, however, barely touches the small town of Vladimirskoye just a kilometre away. In Kitezh-Vladimirskoe, the Dutch photographer and filmmaker Pieter Ten Hoopen depicts town life in a series of intertwining tableaux – baptisms, kids on their bikes, old men shouting from windows – all suffused with a comically incongruent soundtrack. It’s an offbeat, charming portrait of a place, like a series of moving postcards from an ordinary town off the tourist track.

Director: Pieter Ten Hoopen

Do you feel like a fraud after a success? It can mean you’re doing something well

‘When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud, and take everything away from me?’
Tom Hanks, winner of two Oscars, four Golden Globes and six Emmys, interviewed in 2016

First coined in a 1978 research paper on high-achieving women in the workplace, the term ‘imposter syndrome’ describes those who believe they have less talent that others think, who attribute any personal successes to luck, and who worry that they’ll ultimately be exposed as the frauds they perceive themselves to be. This kind of reflexive self-doubt is not so much a ‘syndrome’ as it is a widespread state of psychological distortion, with roughly 70 per cent of people experiencing it at some point in their lives. In this video from BBC Ideas, Sandi Mann, a psychologist and lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, discusses the roots of imposter syndrome and details some practical ways to fight it.

Video by BBC Ideas

Website: We Are Tilt

How a scientific attempt to demystify Buddhist meditation yielded astounding results

In 1981, Herbert Benson, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School, set out to study the ancient meditation practices of Buddhist monks on the Tibetan Plateau. With the Dalai Lama’s blessing, Benson spent roughly a decade in remote regions of the Himalayas in northern India researching an especially intense technique known as tummo, as well as the physiological effects of other advanced forms of meditation. Rather than debunking the seemingly tall tales of advanced practitioners capable of raising their body temperatures to dry cold, wet sheets around their bodies, Benson’s work actually confirmed and expanded upon these anecdotes. In particular, by tracking vital signs and body-heat output during meditation sessions, Benson found that these monks possessed remarkable capacities for controlling their oxygen intake, body temperatures and even brainwaves. In 2013, a second study conducted on advanced Tibetan tummo meditators by Maria Kozhevnikov, a cognitive neuroscientist the National University of Singapore, corroborated much of what Benson had observed, including practitioners’ ability to raise their body temperatures to feverish levels by combining visualisation and specialised breathing.

This extended trailer for the UK filmmaker Russ Pariseau’s feature documentary Advanced Tibetan Meditation: The Investigations of Herbert Benson MD relays portions of Benson’s landmark research, which ultimately signalled a seismic shift in how Western science views Buddhist meditation. Simultaneously, the material makes evident the disparate ways that Western scientists and Tibetan Buddhists understand the self.

Director: Russ Pariseau

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William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody (third from left) alongside the author’s great-great uncle Sheriff Plunkett (right) at Deadwood in 1906. From Deadwood: 1876-1976 (2005) by Beverly Pechan and Bill Groethe/Arcadia Publishing

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