MEETING OF THE MINDS John Dunne fosters cross-disciplinary connections that lead to revolutionary research
A few years back, John Dunne was part of a team studying the effect of compassion on the mind. The researchers asked a group of advanced Tibetan meditators to practice while having their brains scanned and then rank the quality of their meditation on a scale of one to 10. To the researchers’ surprise, the meditators — some of whom had logged more than 30,000 hours of practice — all gave their own efforts low marks. John Dunne (left) speaks with Mingyur Rinpoche, a visiting Tibetan monk. Dunne is the new Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Humanities, housed in the Department of Asian Languages & Cultures and the Religious Studies Program. This recently endowed position is supported by the Center for Healthy Minds. (Photo by Sarah Morton)
Dunne immediately recognized the problem: This group abided by a cultural norm of humility. Only an inexperienced meditator would describe himself as great. The researchers, Dunne explained, simply needed to reword their instructions. This wasn’t the first time Dunne, who has built his career working in the places where disciplines intersect, had served as a “cultural interpreter.” Over the years, he has become adept at helping
scientists look more deeply into the effect of spiritual practices on the body. As the new Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Humanities, Dunne focuses on Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice, specifically where they coincide with cognitive science and psychology. In 2000, he began working with psychologist Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds, a UW-Madison institution that
L&S Annual Review 2015-2016
The Annual Review for the College of Letters & Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.