October 5, 2023
In this episode, Wendy speaks with cognitive scientist, contemplative practitioner, and ballet dancer Marieke Van Vugt. Marieke is a pioneer in studying mind wandering and meditation through computer modeling, and is also advancing participatory research through her collaborations with Tibetan monastics. This conversation covers many topics, including:
- her braided interests in meditation, dance, and cognitive science;
- computer modeling of mind and meditation;
- exploring distraction, mind wandering, and becoming aware;
- how thoughts can get “stuck” in our minds;
- creating a meditating computer;
- the relevance of stuck thoughts to various mental disorders;
- trauma through the lens of predictive models of mind;
- analytical meditation and Tibetan monastic debate;
- collaborating with monastics in research;
- humility and fluidity of mind;
- re-thinking the tasks used in cognitive science;
- the phenomenon of brain synchrony;
- dance and embodiment;
- the roots of thinking in the body;
- problems with abstraction in science;
- curiosity vs. the critical mind in ballet;
- flow, responsiveness, and compassion;
- and advice to young scholars.
Marieke Van Vugt, PhD, is an assistant professor in the cognitive modeling group at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands). She obtained her PhD with Michael Kahana in the neuroscience program of the University of Pennsylvania, and undertook a postdoctoral fellowship with Jonathan Cohen at Princeton University. Her research aims to understand how, when and why we start mind-wandering; when it is beneficial and when it is harmful. She uses a multimodal approach that combines computational modeling, scalp EEG, intracranial EEG, behavioral studies, and functional MRI. In addition, she is interested in how meditation practice affects our cognitive system, and the consequences this has for our behaviour. She is also interested in how two brains think together, which she studies with EEG hyperscanning, and in real-life situations such as Tibetan monastic debate and dance performances.
- Chapter: Tibetan Buddhist monastic debate: Psychological and neuroscientific analysis of a reasoning-based analytical meditation practice, Progress in Brain Research, 2019.
- Paper: Self-Reported Stickiness of Mind-Wandering Affects Task Performance, Frontiers in Psychology, 2016.
- Paper: The effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on affective memory recall dynamics in depression: a mechanistic model of rumination, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012.
- Blog on Marieke’s work, and time as a Mind & Life Visiting Scholar: Ommm Ex Machina