The fine lines between philosophy, religion, and science have been of interest to researchers since, perhaps, humans developed consciousness – and the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies (SBI) aims to blur these lines to create a unified discipline.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the SBI is that unlike most similar organizations, the institute seems to have little agenda beyond exploration. Spiritual and religious groups tend, understandably, to be interested in suggesting a certain type of being as the one way to achieve happiness or salvation or another type of spiritual goal. Scientists, equally understandably, often dismiss results that have not been achieved through rigorous scientific enquiry.
The SBI, on the other hand, keeps a collective open mind – which makes this Santa Barbara organization such a refreshing anomaly. The Institute sponsors a variety of research endeavors, all of which are a fascinating mixture of Western science and, frequently, Eastern meditation techniques. The UCLA MAP (Mindful Attention Program) Project, which is cosponsored by the SBI in association with faculty at both UCLA and UCSF, is investigating how focused concentration techniques, such as those used in some types of meditation, can be beneficial for attention deficit disorders.
Another research project sponsored by the SBI is a study of the physiological effects of yoga and meditation. Endorsed and supported by such disparate entities as the Dalai Lama and the Hershey Family Foundation, the SBI’s Shamatha Project aims to prove that such spiritual practices truly do have measurable and quantifiable health and cognitive benefits.
The SBI also holds local events with some regularity, sometimes to present their research findings and often to give a special guest the chance to speak to the Santa Barbara community. On August 30, B. Alan Wallace, the SBI’s president and founder, will conduct a one-day seminar at the Unity Church entitled “Pay Attention! The Power of a Focused Mind.” Wallace has a PhD in religious studies, in addition to having studied physics as an undergraduate; he is also an eminent scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, and was at one point a Buddhist monk.
The other staff, directors, and advisors of the SBI have equally eclectic backgrounds. One has a doctorate in astrophysics, and another is an Anglican priest. This openness to differing perspectives on the part of the staff suggests that their talks may be equally fascinating and the SBI has many other events upcoming for anyone interested in learning more.