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conducts scientific research to investigate what makes a healthy mind and ways to increase well-being. Cross-disciplinary collaborations between experts in the arts and humanities, physical and natural sciences and social sciences lead to groundbreaking explorations of the science of emotions, as well as kindness, resilience, compassion and more.

resources – say, a Buddhist tradition or a historical document – to add context to discussions.

While Dunne is interested in some major questions – What is the nature of consciousness? What is the nature of the mind? – he also appreciates being part of a team that conducts research to ultimately benefit people throughout the world.

“Often those kinds of questions are handled by a single discipline,” he says, adding that the involvement of several disciplines offers multiple perspectives, which enriches understanding of scientific results.

“Part of what drives me is an interest in practical benefits,” he says. And collaboration is key in both pursuits. “It’s the future of the humanities,” Dunne says. “It’s already very much a part of the sciences.” So how, exactly, does a humanist like Dunne collaborate with scientists? While he doesn’t physically run scans on research subjects, he can help scientists interpret data in different ways. Or he can bring additional

For instance, when predicting what happens when a person achieves mindfulness, it may be helpful to turn to Tibetan texts that describe the experience. Or look into the philosophical mechanisms involved in being aware of one’s emotions.

Dunne says he isn’t the only humanist who will be contributing expertise and experience to cognitive research at the Center for Healthy Minds. And he couldn’t be more enthusiastic about where that could lead. “The Center is a wonderful place to work,” he says. “The generosity of our supporters has been phenomenal. The future is very bright.” – Story by Katie Vaughn

Center for Healthy Minds staff members Marianne Spoon and Ty Christian take a break from the day to participate in led meditation practices. (Photo by Finn Ryan)

WELCOMING THE CENTER FOR HEALTHY MINDS Well-being can be an elusive thing. It comes naturally to some, and completely evades others. Trying to determine how people build and process well-being on a neurological level can be difficult, but drawing on expertise from many disciplines can provide critical insights. L&S welcomes the Center for Healthy Minds, led by psychology professor Richard Davidson, into the family of L&S centers and institutes this year.

Find out more at


L&S Annual Review, 2015-16  

The Annual Review for the College of Letters & Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

L&S Annual Review, 2015-16  

The Annual Review for the College of Letters & Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.