Daniel Goleman wrote the best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence” and several others. Nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize, Goleman recently released his narration of a scientific dialogue between the Dalai Lama, Western psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers. The book is called “Destructive Emotions.” Last week, Goleman came to Ann Arbor to read from and discuss his book.
Following is an interview with the author:
The Michigan Daily: Have Buddhist insights changed the way you view science and psychology?
Daniel Goleman: When I was doing my doctorate at Harvard, I studied Asian religions as psychological systems. The psychological system within Buddhism is very little known in the West, but it’s been operating for about 2,500 years. We kind of have a hubris that psychology started within the last century in America and Europe, but it’s been around for millennia.
TMD: Your previous discussions with the Dalai Lama and your new book deal with the connection between emotions, the brain and health. What new discoveries were made this time around?
DG: One of the findings in chapter 14 in this book is a recent study where they taught a meditation method to people who are in very high-pressure jobs, kind of like being a student and having exams. They did eight weeks of training in a method called mindfulness, and what they found was that over the course of that eight-week training, the subjects stopped feeling stressed and overwhelmed and started feeling engaged and enjoying their work, and at the same time, their immune system became much more robust.
TMD: Have the talks with the Dalai Lama motivated further studies on how meditation, scientifically, can change the brain?
DG: These encounters with the Dalai Lama have catalyzed a new level of collaboration between spiritual practitioners and scientists. Now, the highest-level practitioners, the people who have done years of solitary retreat and would never go to a lab, because the Dalai Lama is involved, are coming into labs. One of these people was perfectly able to read people’s emotional expressions, didn’t startle to a gunshot, and had the highest positive value for the emotional set point. Those are rather remarkable finding in science.
TMD: How frequently are these Lamas coming to the labs?
DG: It’s very hard to get Yogis and Lamas to come to the lab. First of all, they tend to live in Asia. Next, this lab visit isn’t part of their yearly routine.
TMD: So yearly lab visits aren’t one of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism?
DG: (Laughter) No, I don’t think so.