PULLMAN, Wash. — A neurologist and Zen practitioner will deliver a series of lectures at Washington State University beginning March 9, titled Zen and the Brain. James Austin, M. D., will base his series of six talks on themes in his new book of the same title, which was published in February by the MIT Press.
Austin is professor emeritus of neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and now lives in Moscow, Idaho. He is a member of a local Zen group, the Mindfulness Community (Sangha) of the Palouse.
In his most recent book, Austin explores human spiritual growth in terms of its psychophysiological underpinnings. He believes that experiences of awakening, or enlightenment, are found not only to depend on particular functionings of the brain but, in turn, to enhance and yet simplify the working of the brain itself.
The Zen states of meditation, absorption and kensho-satori are examined as heightened states of consciousness. He also addresses other phenomena, including sleep and dreams, mental illness, consciousness altering drugs and the important social consequences of the rare advanced stage of ongoing enlightenment.
Austin was educated at Brown University, Harvard Medical School and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was a professor of neurology at the University of Oregon Medical School and the University of Colorado Medical Center, and held shorter sabbatical appointments in India, Japan, Sweden and England.
He is the author of a book on the psychology of the creative process, titled Chase, Chance and Creativity, and the author or co-author of more than 130 publications in the fields of neurochemistry, neuropharmacology and clinical neurology.
The lecture series, which opens with an introduction to Zen, is free and open to the public. Austin orients the first three lectures toward a general audience, whereas the final three will proceed increasingly into the more technical aspects of brain functions. The first three talks are on Monday, March 9; Wednesday, March 11; and Friday, March 13, all at 4:10 p.m. in Todd Hall Room 216. The final three lectures are on Wednesdays, March 25, April 1 and April 8, all in Wegner Hall, Room G-50 at 4:10 p.m.
The series is sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, the Religious Studies Program and the Programs in Neuroscience.