Contemplative Science

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Sander Tideman:

" This field, first postulated by Francesco Varela (1992), gained popularity through the research conducted by medical researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990) whose program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) turned out to diminish the suffering experienced by people with chronic pain, and neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who has shown that contemplative practices such as meditation and other forms of mind-training, can be observed in measurable change patterns in the brain (Davidson & Begley, 2012).

Since then, multiple research studies have shown that this process of contemplation results in positive effects on one’s mental and physical health and well-being. Most interesting is the fact that, when these practices are complemented with other educational methods, they become more than tools for people’s sense of well-being: they help people to expand their awareness of one self and one’s environment—in other words, they expand our frames of reference. MIT researcher Otto Scharmer (2013) describes this shift as a transition from ego-system consciousness to ecosystem consciousness.

Continued research in this field shows that contemplation is not merely an internally oriented process: it is both embodied and interpersonal, which means that it is shared in and through relationships and with the world (Siegel, 2016). The process of contemplation, over time, is set to evoke the discovery of one’s natural interconnectedness with the world around oneself. Such recognition will inevitably lead to a shift in the perception of one’s role in the world, ultimately to the point of recognizing one’s interdependence with the world around oneself, which typically results in an adjusted sense of purpose. At that point, one can no longer see oneself as a disconnected isolated homo economicus, but rather as a full co-creative member of the human family and the sacred natural world.

While this mind-state has been recognized as a possibility for individuals, the question is if it can be applied to the field of economic policy. For example, when people become overly greedy/fearful when confronted by the ups and downs of markets, can policies be envisioned that help people to make more balanced choices by not giving in to the ‘primal’ fightflight-freeze response? Can governments design economic policies that discourage mindless consumption, and instead empower consumers to make sustainable purchasing choices? Currently, many policies achieve the opposite: they reinforce a vicious cycle of desire and fear, with countless negative impacts on nature and society.

Thus, the crucial question is as follows: Can the groundbreaking insights of the emerging contemplative science be translated to the level of policy making? Can we learn to develop policies that help people to transform negative mental states into constructive and compassionate action, replacing negative economic incentives into more positive ones xvi Foreword: Toward Contemplative Social Science that stimulate sustainable economic behavior of individuals and institutions? These are excellent questions to ask in this new field of science, which we can call contemplative social science.

In conclusion, while there are many initiatives add ressing the crisis in capitalism directed at changing political-economic systems from the ‘outside’—such as ecological footprint reduction, the circular economy, green product innovation, sustainable investing, new governance and accounting systems—this book makes the argument that equally important is changing the ‘inside’ realm of the mind-sets and worldviews underlying the outer economic systems. Contemplative science has ascertained that these mind-sets can be developed through education and mind training (they are available to us because they are integral to our human nature).

This argument is not just theoretical: it may be the most important work that we need to do in order to sustain human life on this planet.

Contemplative social science can now take this further by exploring how to develop the mind-sets, beliefs, assumptions and mental models that can help us create sustainable economic systems that are in line with actual human nature and respect planetary boundaries." (


From the Foreword: Toward Contemplative Social Science in the book: Co-Designing Economies in Transition: Radical Approaches in Dialogue with Contemplative Social Sciences.Ed. by Giorgino, Vincenzo Mario Bruno, Walsh, Zachary David. Palgrave/Macmillan, 2018 [1]