#70 from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 12          December 1993

Transcendental Meditation—Accessing Creativity
by John Fagan, Ph.D.

Professor Fagan is a molecular biologist at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa.  He works on gene regulation and cancer and has a Research Career Development Award from the National Cancer Institute.

Why did I move from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to a small university in a tiny Iowa town?  The answer is the creativity stimulated by the regular practice of meditation.  I believe the deep inner experience of meditation allows us to connect directly with the field of abstract intelligence where the laws of nature reside.

In science, the big ideas often blossom instantaneously in our minds, full-blown and unbidden.  Even though we spend the bulk of our research time grinding out results through the trial-and-error of objective investigation, the breakthroughs originate as sudden intellectual dawnings, as great intuitive leaps.

While I was still working at NIH, I was intimately involved with Transcendental Meditation (TM) and regularly visited Maharishi International University (MIU).  Twice a day, while there, I walked to a soaring, golden- domed building and took part in MIU's unique educational feature:  group meditations of all students, faculty and staff.  It seemed that after every visit, I returned to my NIH lab with a stack of good research ideas.

Fine Tuning

The opportunity to work in an environment where everybody's mind was being fine-tuned twice a day was one reason why I moved to MIU in 1985.  Since then, my work and career have flourished, and the experience forced me to search for a deeper understanding of scientific creativity.  I think regular meditation helps develop that most prized scientific quality—a penetrating intuition into nature's functioning.

To an otherwise standard curriculum, MIU adds the daily practice of TM as brought to light by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  The goal is to provide all students the means to systematically increase their intelligence, creativity, and psychological maturity.

While other schools focus on knowledge—on facts, theories, and skills—MIU also develops the knower—the consciousness of the student.  MIU is accredited through the Ph.D. level.  Our faculty compete effectively for academic publication and grant support, and our graduates are accepted at the best post-graduate programs.  Of those interested in the sciences, many end up working with computer, biotechnology, or other technical industries.

Not only does this yield excellent science, but it has also resulted in a number of advances with important practical applications.  For instance, to meet the needs of his own research program on neuronal development, one MIU faculty member devised a revolutionary approach to real-time three-dimensional imaging of living cells.  This led to the researcher forming a company, Vital Images, that has successfully applied this new method to such diverse fields as medical diagnostics, oil exploration, and the testing of airplane wings.

Likewise, a collaboration between a physicist and an electrical engineer at MIU led to the development of a new type of compact disk player that virtually eliminates noise, which also led to the founding of a new company, Enlightened Audio Design, to market these products.

These are not the kinds of contributions one usually expects from the faculty of a small university (enrollment is 800).  Even with limited resources, researchers at MIU compete successfully in fast-moving areas where innovation is essential.

Where Do Insights Come From?

The longer I have worked at MIU, the more interested I have become in two questions:  Where do sudden insights come from?  And how can we have more of them?

I think scientists have, within their intelligence, immediate access to the laws of nature.  This idea has been forwarded through the ages, from Plato to Roger Penrose, the Oxford mathematical physicist who wrote Emperor's New Mind (Oxford University Press, New York, 1989).  In this conception, the intelligence in the human mind and the intelligence in nature are identical—the Aha! moment is a sudden penetration into “pure intelligence” and its store of eternal truths.

After intuitive breakthroughs, which often seem clear and utterly convincing, we must return to ordinary scientific methods for the brick-by-brick validation of what we first saw all at once and whole.  I have come to regard these two phases as revolutionary science and systematic science—the orderly and progressive accumulation of observations that confirm and fill in the details of the revolutionary hypotheses.

Priming for Intuition

How can we nourish the ability to make breakthroughs?  How can we increase intuition?  Although many researchers have long recognized that intuition distinguishes great scientists from the throng of competent investigators, we lacked the ability to systematically develop this fundamental scientific tool.  But that’s changing.  Like many scientists, I originally began practicing TM because it’s the one meditation technology that has been thoroughly researched.  (For a good overview, see Jevning, et al., Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 16:  415, 1991; Alexander, et al., J. Social Behavior and Personality 6:  189, 1991).  Maharishi himself was trained as a physicist before moving into the field of consciousness, and he has challenged scientists to investigate the benefits of the technique he teaches.

TM is performed for twenty minutes, twice a day, to settle the mind to a deep silence and inner wakefulness.  You can find out more about TM through easily accessible books and tapes.  It’s easy to learn the process through an instructor (found in virtually every area of the US and Europe). 

It is possible to explain the effectiveness of TM solely through objective investigation.  More than 500 research studies, showing a wide range of benefits, have been carried out over the last 20 years at more than 200 universities and research institutions.  The research shows that TM results in distinct and highly reproducible physiological changes, improves health, and allows one to deal more effectively with stress (all reviewed in Jevning, et al.).

Studies have also shown that this meditation technique increases intelligence and creativity (Cranson, et al., Personality and Individual Differences, 12:  1105, 1991; Travis, et al., Journal of Creative Behavior, 13: 169, 1979).  The latter research showed that TM significantly improved figural and verbal creativity by Cornell undergraduates.  The authors hypothesize that the increase in blood flow to the brain and brain wave coherences that take place during TM may contribute to these improvements in intelligence and creativity.

An Ancient Tradition

To the extent the research is accurate, this explanation is logical.  But I find a deeper explanation more satisfying:  Transcendental Meditation stems from the ancient Vedic tradition in India which sees all of creation as based on a single, underlying field of pure consciousness—something akin to Plato's realm of pure intelligence.

Whatever the explanation, I'm convinced it works—and it's practical.  TM is so easy that even ten-year-olds can learn it.  It requires no change in religious beliefs or philosophical outlook.  You don't need to sleep on a bed of nails or even wear a turban.  I know many scientists—at major industries and universities—who swear by their daily practice of meditation because of the benefits they experience in work and personal life.

Why is the practice of meditation revolutionary in scientific terms?  Because until now we've never had reason to think that we could enhance baseline creativity.  We used management techniques and problem-solving methods to help people make the most of their native creativity—but we usually took that baseline level of creativity as a given.

I'm convinced that scientists and engineers can systematically upgrade their creativity and dramatically boost their productivity.  In fact, it's now clear to me that if I ran a lab anywhere else, one of my first steps would be to make TM available to all my colleagues.  

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