The Neuroscience of Suffering–And Its End

by Jeff Warren

suffering“Do not pursue the past. Do not usher in the future. Rest evenly with present awareness” —Tibetan meditation instruction.

It was 1972, and Gary Weber, a 29-year old materials science PhD student at Penn State University, had a problem with his brain. It kept generating thoughts! – continuously, oppressively – a stream of neurotic concerns about his life, his studies, whatever. While most human beings would consider this par for the course, par for the human condition (cogito ergo sum), Weber wouldn’t accept it. He was a scientist, a systematizer, a process guy. He liked to figure out how things worked, and how they could be tweaked to work more efficiently. And at that moment his brain wasn’t very efficient. It expended a lot of energy going over and over the same anxieties and cravings and storylines. “Most of these thoughts had no purpose,” he said. “They were not going to cure cancer.”

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