Tagged: pseudoscience

Seven Popular Myths about Meditation

The origin of species, Hendrik van Leeuwen, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The origin of species, Hendrik van Leeuwen, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There’s no scientific consensus that meditation can cure mind, body or soul. So why do so many drink Buddha-flavored kool-aid?

Before you swallow the kool-aid, consider the myths surrounding mindfulness and meditation.

“It is hard to have a balanced view when the media is full of articles attesting to the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. We need to be aware that the reports of benefits are often inflated… whereas studies that do not discover significant benefits rarely pick up media interest, and negative effects are seldom talked about”, warns Wikholm.1

In The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?, Catherine Wikholm co-author, with Dr Miguel Farias, bust seven common myths of meditation.

The University of Surrey and Oxford researchers in clinical psychology found studies that revealed meditation actually raises stress hormones. A US study found that 63% of people on meditation retreats had one adverse side effect, from confusion to panic and depression.2 One in 14 had experienced ‘profoundly adverse effects’.

kool-aid, amanda-freenman, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
kool-aid, amanda-freenman, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There is growing evidence that for some people meditation may cause mania, hallucinations, depression and psychosis.

“…Meditation was primarily designed not to make us happier, but to destroy our sense of individual self–who we feel and think we are most of the time–is often overlooked in the science and media stories about it, which focus almost exclusively on the benefits practitioners can expect,” writes Wikholm.

Article originally appeared in The Guardian

Here are seven popular myths about meditation that are not supported by scientific evidence.

Myth 1: Meditation does not have adverse or negative effects. Meditation only changes us for the better

Fact: Many who have researched the benefits of meditation also have personal or professional interest in promoting the mindfulness movement. The emerging evidence is that meditation can be associated with stress, negative effects and mental health problems.

When something goes wrong or if meditation doesn’t work, the problem say meditation advocates, is not with meditation. There’s something wrong with the patient or the practitioner. “It’s not the meditation. She didn’t practice right or must have already been predisposed to psychosis”. This is called blaming the victim.

Myth 2: Meditation can benefit everyone

Fact: No surprise that meditation may have benefits that vary from person to person. “After all, the practice wasn’t intended to make us happier or less stressed”, says Wikholm, “but to assist us in diving deep within and challenging who we believe we are”. Everyone will react differently during the process of dismantling of the individual “self”. Whatever your belief of self is, your mistake is to try use meditation to define it.3

Myth 3: If everyone meditated the world would be a much better place

Fact: “There is no scientific evidence that meditation is more effective at making us, for example, more compassionate than other spiritual or psychological practices”, writes Wikholm. When we expect to benefit from something, we will most likely find or report benefits.

Myth 4: If you’re seeking personal change and growth, meditating is as efficient–or more–than standard therapy

Fact: There’s no evidence that the benefits of meditation are the same or better as of being in conventional psychological therapy. Most studies compare mindfulness to “treatment as usual” (such as seeing your General Medical Practitioner), rather than one-to-one therapy.

Myth 5: Meditation produces a unique state of consciousness that we can measure scientifically

Fact: The overall evidence is that these meditative states are not physiologically unique. The consciousness or internal sensations from practice can be experienced from many other activities: such as during sleep, relaxation, or engaging in sex or our favorite hobby or sport.

Myth 6: We can practice meditation as a purely scientific technique with no religious or spiritual leanings

Fact: “Research shows that meditation leads us to become more spiritual, and that this increase in spirituality is partly responsible for the practice’s positive effects”, writes Wikholm. Similar to what was noted above about the mistake of trying to define self, trying to define what spirituality is probably a mistake as well. Meditators often have a conscious or unconscious leaning towards illuminating the “self” or becoming spiritual, whatever that means.

Myth 7: Science has undeniably shown how meditation can change us and why

Fact: Some studies show that meditating can have a greater impact than physical relaxation, although other research using a placebo meditation contradicts this finding. Advocates of meditation can be overenthusiastic about scientific studies and overlook the actual findings. When looking beyond the headlines and hype we find that science knows little about meditation, if and why it may or may not work with some people. Unlike established scientific facts, like gravity or evolution, there’s currently no consensus, no testable scientific theory for how meditation changes us and why.


Some people may get benefits from meditating. But not everyone. And, occasionally meditation may cause depression, paranoia, and psychosis. Meditation was not designed to make people happy, but was designed by renunciants who wanted to destroy the sense of individual self. When the benefits of meditation are not forthcoming or when things go wrong it’s not always caused by the practitioner. We need better scientific studies and a testable theory for how and why meditation works. We need open public discussion about the adverse (side) effects of meditation practices, not just the benefits.

Is it any surprise that some people might go mad from meditation–as it was not designed originally for human happiness but for destruction of the individual self?

Are you surprised by the above myths or facts? Submit your comments below.

Further reading


1 Quote from Mindfulness apparently isn’t as good for you as science originally thought, The Debrief

2 See my post “Unusual experiences” of mindfulness for more data on adverse events occurring during meditation retreats

3 See Why “Being Authentic” is Holding You Back, Fast Company for further discussion about practical problems of defining “self”

Skepticism & Nonbelief

Using "Science" To Market Yoga

flickr, Creative Commons
flickr, Creative Commons

A clever way to convince yourself or others your religion is true is: claim that it’s science.

Spinning sciency sounding jargon into book titles or language doesn’t necessarily make it scientific.

Calling something “science” or “scientific” when it isn’t is misleading, maybe even unethical. Why?

When the word science is used in marketing copy we associate the product with our ideas of sterile laboratories, petri dishes, test tubes, verified facts, clinical experiments, and approvals from bona fide scientific communities of spectacled, PhD geniuses wearing lab coats. When “science” is used we are led to believe the product being promoted has been verified by scientific method.

PublicDomainPictures, pixabay
PublicDomainPictures, pixabay

What genuine science is able to say about the benefits of meditation is interesting. I spend hours each week reading articles, scientific- and scholarly-texts, and examining the intersection of science and meditation.

Red flags should go up immediately when we see the word “science” used to promote products or worldviews that aren’t really scientific. This would include 98.9% of meditation, Buddhist, and spiritual products that use science.

Paramahansa Yogananda and the Self-Realization Fellowship (in whose monastic order I was formerly ordained) flaunt the word “science” in these yoga-meditation book titles:

    • The Science of Religion
    • The Holy Science
    • Scientific Healing Affirmations
    • The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India’s Universal Science of God-Realization
    • God Talks With Arjuna — The Bhagavad Gita: Royal Science of God-Realization

In The Science of Kriya Yoga, Chapter 26 in the Autobiography of a Yogi1, Yogananda makes the hard sell that his version of yoga meditation is “science”. These are only a few of the glaring examples when “science” is used to sell products and promote a religious worldview.

Buddhist authors are no less guilty of spinning science into their marketing copy and product titles:

    • The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet
    • Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed (Buddhism and Modernity)
    • Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge
    • Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
    • The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

There’re 2000+ books under Buddhism Science/Religion & Spirituality books on Amazon.

Type these search terms into Amazon’s Religion & Spirituality catalog: science, quantum, scientific, and physics. You will find tens of thousands of sciency-sounding religious products.

I don’t blame sincere Yogis, Buddhists, and Spiritual-seekers for believing their religion or practice is true. Sincerity doesn’t make claims true, ethical, nor scientific fact. It’d serve Seekers to do objective, independent research before they buy these “scientific” products. Would you buy a car just on the car salesman’s word? Kovacs_special_1968_scientificYou verify before you buy that what is being sold is a reliable vehicle. You research Consumer Reports, Kelly Blue Book, and ask your mechanic to check under the hood. I now do my homework and plenty of skeptical inquiry before buying anything important.

Weaving sciency-sounding jargon into marketing copy no longer tricks me. I wish earlier in life I’d known the difference between genuine science, pseudoscience, and marketing using “science”. I probably would not have bought, consumed, and committed so many hours and years to highly questionable products. Granted there can be some helpful advice and inspiring ideas in them. Wishful thinking makes me want to believe and hope for miraculous enlightenment. But, I now realize wishing or calling things “science” doesn’t make them true or real.

Question for readers: When would use of “science” NOT be misleading in spiritual-product marketing?

You may also be interested in reading:

How to Quack-Proof Yourself Against Pseudoscience

Is Meditation Overrated? Scientific Evidence Is Scant, says Scientific American

Meditation: A stress reliever, but not a panacea

Fake Science and New Age

1 The Science of Kriya Yoga, Chapter 26 in the Autobiography of a Yogi 

Fake Science and New Age

New Age ScienceThe borderlands between science, pseudoscience, and the supernatural are often fuzzy. My 20+ years of meditation practice and many metaphysical experiences have taught me to be open to the possibility there is more to life than meets the naked eye. Indeed, that’s why I became a monk in the first place, why I eventually left the monastery, and why I continue today to explore the borderlands between science and the supernatural.

In this post I try to draw important distinctions between the borderland of New Age or religious “Science” versus Natural Science. Modern religions, from liberal Christianity, to Islam, to New Age often co-opts modern science to promote their metaphysical worldview.

What is the borderland or boundary line between science and pseudoscience?

5 key traits of Pseudoscience and Natural Science

The “Science” of New Age Religion (aka Pseudoscience):

1. Co-opts scientific-sounding ideas, like quantum physics, to promote its metaphysical worldview.

2. Opposes current scientific consensus– says science is too materialistic and rational.

3. Rebrands itself: as “leading edge” science, as heretically brilliant, and as enlightened.

4. Suggests mainstream science will someday catch-up, and be able to know the “Mind of God”.

5. Seeks loyalty to it’s own ideas. Regards internal consistency, philosophical elegance, and religious profundity more than using scientific method or just saying “don’t know”.

Natural Science, strictly following scientific method:

1. Studies the natural, observable universe– instead of claiming to know what is beyond human comprehension.

2. Opposes supernatural ideas as either irrational, improbable, or as inevitably yielding to natural explanations.

3. Uses observation, hypotheses, predictions, and experiments to reproduce results and obtain independent consensus.

4. Studies the natural universe and can detect invisible “objects”, atoms, and forces, like radio waves beyond ordinary human comprehension– has yet to find supernatural “objects” or causes.

5. Checks itself, is not loyal to itself. A theory can be reliable for years, but when shown to be wrong later, or a better idea comes along, the old theory may die hard but is eventually discarded.

Hopefully we see a clearer borderline or demarcation line between New Age religious science, aka “Pseudoscience”, and Natural Science.

Wall of Crosses in Nogales, photo by jonathan mcintosh on Flickr
Wall of Crosses in Nogales, photo by jonathan mcintosh on Flickr

Atoms to Astral Bodies

Natural Science has been able to obtain knowledge about our physical, observable universe, including detection of atoms, electrons, radio waves, and myriads of “invisible” objects in our known universe. This knowledge, while not perfect, has made virtually every modern technological gadget and medicine possible today. It’s important to notice (see my diagram above) that many scientific discoveries, like atoms, gravity, and DNA, are invisible and undetectable by ordinary human comprehension. Yet, we accept them as real and practical in our everyday lives.

Whereas New Age “Science”, aka religious pseudoscience, has not adequately explained why natural science has yet to find transcendent “objects”, like souls, past lives, or astral bodies, and it’s curious that Religious believers seem to be the only ones who can detect them. (I find it curious that natural science detects atoms and electrons–the building blocks of our universe, matter, and energy– but can’t find any trace of astral bodies, souls, past lives or any other supernatural objects or forces). Yet, we should be suspicious of supernatural and “pseudoscience” claims. Even if we “say” we are believers, a part of us always doubts–that’s healthy, that’s human.

Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light is winning. – Rust, True Detective

Questions for readers: What could prevent the natural sciences from detecting or discovering “objects” in a metaphysical universe? Modern science and technology can “see” atoms, DNA, gravity, microbes, infectious diseases, etc. Why not souls, chakras, or astral bodies?

Works Cited

New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Hanegraaff, Wouter J., Brill: Netherlands, 1996. Print.

Scientific method, RationalWiki

How to Quack-Proof Yourself Against Pseudoscience

We think of ourselves as savvy, informed individuals who approach the world with discerning eyes. But the truth is that we’re often remarkably gullible when it comes to pseudoscience and quackery. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is surprisingly easy to tell quackery apart from real science.

This post was adapted from an article originally appearing on lifehacker.

Pseudoscience and quack claims are typically decorated with red flags, if you know what to look for. What follows is a list of six red flags—watch out for these types of claims, and you’ll be better suited to spot pseudoscience quackery from a mile away. In this post, we’re going to illustrate six red flags using some pseudoscience claims of yoga meditation, religion, and New Age movements.

Six Red Flags Of Pseudoscience Claims

1. Claims of Secret Knowledge – The so-called esoteric “sciences” like yoga, pranayama, or energy healing are almost always claims of secret knowledge available to the specially initiated. Typically, this secret knowledge is given to you through spiritual rites, mystical experience, or religious indoctrination. Real science is not secret.

2. “It’s All A Big Conspiracy” – The claim is that the scientific community, Big Pharma, Big Government, Big Corporations, and Big Religions are hiding the real truth from us. Vast conspiracies, encompassing doctors, scientists, and public health officials exist only in the minds of quacks. The people who make these conspiracy claims apparently have access to some “secret knowledge” kept from the rest of us.

3. False Flattery – Being “special”, chosen, or initiated into secret knowledge makes us feel, well…special, chosen, and “above” anyone else who is not. The exclusivity of many religious beliefs, gurus, and spiritual teachings apparently give us access to esoteric knowledge. To the initiated, to the graduates of esoterica, it’s flattering to think you may know more than others or are specially chosen.

 4. Toxins Are The New Evil – Juice cleanses, detox diets, and colonics are purges. The pseudoscientific belief is we are surrounded by poisons that get into our systems. Trouble is toxins are invisible and all around us, like demons. Nevertheless, pseudoscience claims that toxins are released into our environment and our body by “evil” corporations, drug companies, or inorganic foods. But the real science says the chemicals responsible for most diseases are nicotine, alcohol, and opiates.

5. “Brilliant Heretic” as the Source of Information – Believers argue that science is transformed by brilliant heretics whose fabulous theories are initially rejected, but ultimately accepted as the new orthodoxy. Mystical revelations or pseudoscientific ideas dreamt up by mavericks are not “science” nor are they reliable sources of information. Revolutionary scientific ideas are not dreamed up; they are the inevitable result of massive, collaborative data collection, that gets tested over and over in labs to be either proven false and then discarded, or to be replicated and found true as a practical theory.

6. Using Esoteric Scientific Theories – Quacks love to dazzle followers with sciency language. They invoke esoteric scientific theories, like Quantum mechanics or atomic particles, for example. But these are incredibly difficult scientific disciplines, heavy on advanced math. If you don’t have a degree in either one, you aren’t qualified to pontificate on them.

When we don’t know to look for these six flags we easily fall prey to pseudoscience and sciency-sounding esoteric products or claims. Quack claims come at us daily, from many people and from many sources. For example, there’s 8,000+ Religion & Spirituality books on Amazon using “science” in the title.

There is a saying in science that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Quack claims are typically extraordinary, but quacks don’t offer evidence; they raise some or all of the six red flags, often in an attempt to trick you into buying what they are selling. When you see one of these red flags, you can be virtually certain that you are in the presence of bad science. – Amy Tuteur, MD

For the original article Six red flags you need to recognize to quack-proof yourself

Also, see my posts on 21 Great Reasons To Think and Be A Skeptic and  A Recovering Yogaholic