October 7, 2022
In this episode, Wendy speaks with contemplative researcher Norm Farb. Norm was one of the first people to study how meditation impacts our brains, and his broader work incorporates emotions, body sensations, and present-moment awareness. Their conversation covers many topics, including:
- his initial research on meditation, neural networks, and modes of self;
- predictive models of mind;
- reinforcing vs. updating our model of the world (and implications for political polarization);
- the default mode network and its role in cognition;
- how meditation can help shift our habitual patterns;
- what happens in our minds when we learn to meditate;
- the concept of mental foraging;
- interoception and how sensing the body might reduce conceptual processing;
- depression & interoception, and getting stuck avoiding difficult feelings;
- the self as the current model of the world;
- a deeper look at the idea of no-self;
- the ethics of updating our self model responsibly;
- localization vs. distribution in the brain;
- and the state of research on meditation and the brain.
Norman Farb, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, where he directs the Regulatory and Affective Dynamics laboratory. His research focuses on the psychology of well-being, with a focus on mental habits, such as how we think about ourselves and interpret our emotions. He is interested in why some people are resilient to stress, while others are vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Norm is currently exploring online assessment and training to support well-being, and uses neuroimaging to understand how emotional reactions to stress predict mental health over the lifespan. He is also a fellow at the Mind & Life Institute.
Faculty website at University of Toronto
- Cathy Kerr Award Lecture (21 min): How to Choose Between Beautiful Stories
- Paper: Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2007.
- Paper: Interoception, contemplative practice, and health. Frontiers in Psychology, 2015.
- Preprint on interoception leading to widespread cortical deactivation: Neural dynamics of interoceptive attention and awareness: A within-participant fMRI study. Biorxiv, 2022.