The Tibetan research of Herbert Benson

7 minutes

3D-printing coral reefs

4 minutes

The final nights

18 minutes

Jackson Pollock: Blue Poles

17 minutes

This is your brain on Pokémon

7 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

Ceramic coral reefs and sawdust houses – the architects 3D-printing the future from scratch

3D printing is moving beyond plastics: instead, the American architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello (working together as Rael San Fratello) use a wide array of recycled and organic materials – everything from car tyres and sawdust to grape skins and coffee grounds. Via experimentation with such novel substances, the duo aims not only to create more sustainable approaches to 3D printing, but to brainstorm innovative solutions to pressing societal problems too. This video from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York takes viewers inside Rael San Fratello’s ‘print farm’ in Northern California, and spotlights two of their most promising initiatives – a project to support coral reef restoration via protective clay ‘coral seeding units’, and a prototype cabin built from ceramic and sawdust tiles to help solve California’s affordable housing crisis.

Video by MoMA

Director: Jennifer Sharpe

What a ‘good death’ can look like, in the quiet company of a compassionate stranger

‘When I can’t do things for someone else, I simply become unhappy,’ says Loes Prakke, waiting outside the front door of a small house late one evening. She rings, enters and introduces herself to Joop, an elderly man who is sitting up in bed and clearly sick. She tells him she’ll be staying through the night, so that Joop’s loved one, Ria, can get some rest. After acknowledging his hardship, she offers to spend some time chatting so they might get to know one another a bit.

The third volunteer to watch over Joop in his illness, Loes’s warm presence is a simple yet deeply meaningful gift to the couple – a reassurance that Joop will be cared for and comfortable during this final phase of his life. In her short documentary The Final Nights, the Dutch director Reneé van der Ven matches the gentle presence of her subject with her filmmaking, capturing Loes’s extraordinary gift for compassion with a respectful observational style. In chronicling Loes and Joop’s nights together, the film quietly reflects on the meaning of a ‘good death’, as well as the power of human connection in its many distinct forms.

Director: Reneé van der Ven

Why a Jackson Pollock masterpiece became an Australian tabloid sensation

The American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock (1912-56) is a rare artist whose name, style and influence has grown to reach far beyond the art world. But when the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 bought one of Pollock’s most celebrated works, Blue Poles (1952), for a record-breaking sum of US$2 million, it set off a national controversy over the merits of abstract art, as well as about the painting’s place in Australia’s national collection. This short documentary from the New York City-based filmmaker Alison Chernick recalls the unlikely story of how the Australian government’s landmark purchase divided the nation as well as the art world, became an unlikely tabloid sensation, and ultimately found its place in Australian culture.

Director: Alison Chernick

Producer: Alison Wright

Website: National Gallery of Australia

Parents have long suspected Pokémon rewires kids’ brains. Now there’s evidence

Since 1996, the wildly popular Pokémon media franchise has encouraged kids to geek out over its cast of now more than 800 fictional species. For Jesse Gomez, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, the impact of Pokémon video games presents a unique research opportunity. Inspired by his own childhood love of the original Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, which reward the Game Boy player for registering small differences between eight-bit renderings of the characters, Gomez developed an experiment to interrogate how the brain processes visual information.

While pursuing a PhD at Stanford University, Gomez presented images of Pokémon to a group of adults who had played the games as kids and another group that hadn’t, and captured fMRI brain images of the results. Ultimately, Gomez found that, when processed by childhood Pokémon players, the images lit up a small groove in the temporal lobe that remained mostly inactive in the brains of Pokémon newbies. This short documentary from NPR’s show Science Friday tracks how Gomez’s work could potentially lead to a better understanding of learning disorders such as dyslexia and, more broadly, how clever psychological experiments can be sparked by personal experience.

Video by Science Friday

Produced: Luke Groskin

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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From Piers Plowman (1427) by William Langdon. Bodleian Library MS. Douce 104. Courtesy the Bodleian Library, Oxford

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