The Center for Mind and Culture invests in the scientific study of human wellbeing. Learning from existing research, we understand physical and emotional healing as a transaction occurring in the mind-culture nexus. Several of our projects are devoted to understanding the healing process, and some to trying to find solutions to pressing human health problems.

Healing Causation Project

The Centers Healing Causation Project aims to move beyond the hundreds of correlational studies identifying the health effects of dietary, spiritual, and social practices to identify the causal, biochemical mechanisms that produce physical and emotional healing. Past partners in this project have been Dr. Katherine Verdolini Abbott and Dr. Nicole Li, funded in part by an NIH subcontract through the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, we are pursuing the computer simulation of healing processes with partners at Boston University and the Virginia Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Center.

Neuroscience and Cognition in Parkinson’s Disease Project

This project, funded primarily by the John Templeton Foundation, and operating in partnership with the Boston VA Research Institute and Boston VA Healthcare, investigates the effect of Parkinson’s Disease on cognition and emotion. This particular disease attacks dopamine-transmitting neurons, which participate in circuits dedicated to evaluating sensory inputs, attaching value to them in relation to the needs and interests of the human organism doing the valuing. The wonderful people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and participating in our research are helping us see more deeply than ever into the mind-culture nexus.

Sleep and Dreams Project

In the far past of our species right up to the present day, dreams and nightmares have been associated with profound meaning. Some dreams seem to convey religious revelations while others express our deepest moral feelings and thoughts. Some people have also cultivated the ability to dream in lucid ways so as to explore the worlds they believe dreaming opens up to them. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of dreams if you haven’t personally experienced their force. In this project, the Center investigates the intricate connections between dreams and nightmares, on the one hand, and the construction of human life meanings, on the other. We employ a wide range of techniques from individual dream narratives to longitudinal dream journals, and from sleep studies to life histories. We aim to tease out the ways dreams and waking life are entangled, which will shed light on big questions such as the evolutionary origins of religion and morality, and the formation of life-guiding conviction and political commitments.

Treating Recurrent Nightmare Disorder Project

People suffering from recurrent nightmares have a very difficult life. Based on our understanding of sleep and dreams, we are exploring novel treatments for this terrible and intrusive disorder.