Lost in Translation, emptiness is found

There are things too little to really merit attention, yet still big enough to be bothersome. Things that fly under the radar of consciousness only to appear when you are looking elsewhere and disappear you try and train your focus on them. What are those things, really? Sometimes they are just little concepts, words that sound familiar enough not to be really considered, even if they somehow fail to hold a concrete shape if you were asked to define them. Translational was one of those word for me:

Earlier this year I went through a bunch of papers on the effect of mindfulness on health and cognition. Among those, there was one entitled “A translational neuroscience perspective on mindfulness meditation as a prevention strategy” by Tang and Leve (2016). In the paper, they proposed “a translational prevention framework of mindfulness and its effects”, a sentence in which every word made sense on their own, but when put together, the significance escaped me. Now, upon learning in the lecture that translational is an alias for applied, there’s only the “prevention network” to decipher… 😉

Now, the point of this linguistic exercise is not to complain about the language of the paper, even if I sign to notion that difficult things should be explained using simple language (Feynman paraphrase: If you can’t explain it to your grandmother…). What the lecture brought vividly to my attention was how empty words really are on their own. Empty in the Buddhist sense of emptiness, i.e. not existing as absolutes on their own but merely as a collection of references, all depending on each other.

What has this principle of emptiness / interconnectedness got to do with neuroscience? If we begin zooming in from the interconnectedness of all living systems to interactions between humans, we end up inside a human brain where the neuron are vastly interconnected. Somewhere in this interconnectedness, consciousness emerges from neurons that in themselves are not conscious. And in this lecture, it fits beautifully to the mention in the summary slides (on the overall principle of neurotransmitter systems function): “Everything influences everything”. In fact SI system depicts similar principles in a greatly simplified manner:


If you find yourself interested in the concept of emptiness, there’s an excellent book, Emptiness and Joyfull Freedom, by Greg Goode (a philosopher) and Thomas Sander (a mathematician) that can be found on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Emptiness-Joyful-Freedom-Greg-Goode/dp/1908664363). For a short, refreshing poetic break, Thich Nath Hanh’s text “Interbeing” is a nice one (http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=222).


Tang, Y. Y. and Leve, L. D. (2016) ‘A translational neuroscience perspective on mindfulness meditation as a prevention strategy’, Translational Behavioral Medicine, 6(1), pp. 63–72. doi: 10.1007/s13142-015-0360-x.


Posted by Tapio Saarinen

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