What a great post and really good to see some research being done into higher states of consciousness rather than the plethora of studies just focusing on mindfulness.
There needs to be more scientific research into meditation and the physical and mental effects that result from such practice. I would never have become interested in meditation in a million years if I had not discovered the research conducted into meditation and neuroplasticity. Reading about the scientifically proven physical effects of meditation upon the human brain and affective behaviour convinced me that meditation and (eventually after further investigation), Buddhism was something far more worthwhile persuing than I had ever realised.
Reading that hard data convinced me in a much more concrete way than any previous attempt at persuading me to become interested in meditation or religion ever had. Indeed what I had learned about religion and meditation previously had completely turned me off ever turning to that sort of thing for help, I saw it as something for people with weak minds who had difficulty coping with reality.
Religion to me was nothing more than a superstitious holdover from primitive times and peoples, mystical mumbo jumbo full of prostrations and prayer wheels, deva’s, gods and demons with human supplicants appealing to these imaginary beings in a selfish desire to save ourselves from our own stupidity and excess.
Imagine my surprise when I started reading these studies and realised there was far more to it in reality and that shock horror - it actually works! That it is even of great benefit even when practiced improperly or by beginners. That the effects are even stronger for those who have practiced for longer, indicating a cumulative and lasting effect. That different forms of meditation can effect different areas of the brain. That meditation may have a neuroprotective effect. The results continue to be made and while any one paper by itself can be put to question, the cumulative body of work that is being compiled by researchers is pointing to some very interesting things.
So I can honestly say that if I had not read the 95 or so papers on meditation I have saved to my hard drive, I would never have even learned to meditate, let alone subscribe to Therevada Buddhism. I hope to see much, much more research done about the positive effects of meditation in the future, it can only induce more and more people to become interested in trying it out for themselves.