We want to map the neural correlates of advanced meditative states known as jhanas, highly pleasurable meditative states often described as "life-changing," "transformative," "better than orgasm," and for many, involve "tears of joy." (Hagerty et al. 2013 and Dennison 2019; Scott Alexander also wrote a post about the modern phenomenon of "jhana Twitter" with followup here). There appear to be a few thousand jhana meditators in the US right now (up 2x in 5 years). It often takes hundreds of hours of practice to learn these states (although some report their first jhana experience in just a few hours), and progress is uncertain because the preverbal and invisible nature of meditation makes it hard to talk about. By mapping the neural correlates of these states and using biosensors like EEG to measure progress, we hope to teach these states at least an order of magnitude faster (e.g. via a headset that gives you or a teacher neurofeedback). If reports like "life-changing" hold, this could be an extraordinary mental health intervention.
We're a team of engineers (Lyft), neuroscientists (Berkeley, Harvard, UofA), and startup operators (Zoox, AV company sold to Amazon) with firsthand jhana experience. We've collected data from several meditators so far using consumer-grade systems in one-off environments and weekend retreats, and have some early success in using ML models to classify these states, suggesting jhana-detection with biosensors is possible. We now need more data, higher quality data, and further investment in our ML pipeline.
To fully fund this we need $11,500, but we can pay two technicians with$4950. 15-20 expert jhana meditators are flying in for a weeklong jhana retreat in which we'll run four labs, each doing 6 hours of data collection a day using best-in-class systems. Everything is already in place: the meditators are coming, the equipment is secured, and retreat logistics are being finalized. We'll spend the money on sufficient staff to ensure the data is of the highest quality. Specifically, we'll hire four EEG technicians with lab experience who we're already in conversations and confident can come given compensation for an intensive 60-hour work week.