The revolution in affordable computing power and imaging technologies over the past decade or so has allowed radical advances in the brain sciences, particularly in the field of brain imaging. Some methods now allow for observation of brain activity in real time, offering researchers fascinating insights into brain function and how it influences our experience and behaviour.

As many eminent experts have noted, though, despite major discoveries about what the brain is doing, and some very pretty pictures to go with them, very little of this new knowledge has ended up changing the way that mental illness is treated, or how children are educated, or how other brain-focused issues are practically managed. While our ability to observe what’s happening in the brain has certainly reached a new level of sophistication, we are yet to fully understand the phenomena that have been observed. It is still a process of discovery.

So what can the very modern science of brain imaging tell us about what is happening in the brain in the state of meditation? What are the events in the brain during the experience of mental silence, the state of non-mind? While we now have a lot more information about this than we used to and some quite fascinating phenomena have been observed and reported to the scientific community, like brain science in general, we are still trying to fully understand it. The more that is discovered, the more questions these discoveries provoke. Despite that fact that it is early days there are a number of general facts worth knowing about the brain and meditation. There are also a number of caveats that will help you critically appraise the next brain imaging “discovery” that makes it onto the nightly news.

We will explore these key issues here.