New research suggests that the brain displays a similar pattern of chaotic activity during meditation as it does during the psychedelic experience. The findings, published in the journal Neuroscience, indicate that meditation is associated with increased brain entropy.
“We are currently witnessing a major psychedelic renaissance, both in science and society. Psychedelics are being reconsidered as comparatively safe tools to investigate the relationship between brain, mind and consciousness, as well as promising clinical alternatives to treat certain psychiatric disorders, such as depression,” explained study author Enzo Tagliazucchi a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and director of the Computational Cognitive Neuroscience Lab.
“I became interested in certain overlaps between the phenomenology (i.e. ‘what it feels like’) of some meditation traditions and the psychedelic state. For instance, both states have been consistently linked to a collapse of self-boundaries and a merging of the subjective and objective sides of reality.”
“My colleague Robin Carhart-Harris, one of the leading figures of the psychedelic renaissance, has put forward a theory of the psychedelic state as a brain state of increased entropy, and I became interested in finding out whether meditation could also be associated with increases in the entropy of brain activity.”
Brain entropy describes the randomness and predictability of brain activity. Tagliazucchi and Carhart-Harris were previously involved in research which found that people had higher brain entropy — meaning a larger range of potential brain states — under the influence of the psychedelic drug psilocybin.
In his new study, Tagliazucchi and his colleagues recorded participants’ brainwaves to calculate their brain entropy during meditation. Electrical brain activity and oscillation patterns were measured by electroencephalogram in 27 Himalaya Yoga meditators, 20 Vipassana meditators, 27 Isha Yoga meditators, and 30 individuals with no meditation experience.
The researchers found that Vipassana meditation resulted in the highest entropy increases, with the most salient increases occurring in alpha and gamma brainwaves.
“In spite of not feeling at all like brain activity, your conscious experience is the result of processes that happen in the brain, and because of this there has to be a correspondence between what happens physically in the brain and how that feels in your first-person point of view,” Tagliazucchi told PsyPost.
“The acute effects of psychedelics and some meditative practices both lead to states departing from ordinary conscious wakefulness, and are experienced subjectively as richer in information and capable of sustaining an ample repertoire of contents. Because of this, we hypothesized that meditation would be associated with increased information content (in other words, increased entropy) of brain activity recordings, which was confirmed in the study.”
Future research could use other tools — such as functional magnetic resonance imaging or magnetoencephalography — to examine brain entropy during meditation.
“We need to replicate this result using other techniques to measure brain activity. We also need to probe the conscious experience of the subjects during or immediately after their meditation practice to verify whether time to time changes in entropy correspond to the fluctuating nature of their subjective experience,” Tagliazucchi explained.
The study, “Meditation Increases the Entropy of Brain Oscillatory Activity“, was authored by Rocío Martínez Vivot, Carla Pallavicinia, Federico Zamberlan, Daniel Vigo, and Enzo Tagliazucchi.