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Evolutionist biologist, Josh Mitteldorf meditates daily and has been teaching yoga classes for 30 years. Even so, he questions whether science can prove that meditation helps live longer. “From the articles I have read, I believe research points in this direction,” he wrote in Science magazine’s website. “But it doesn’t prove it.” According to him the base methods applied in studies are overly simplistic.

Mitteldorf asks readers to imagine designing an experiment to test the effect of meditation. “Animal models are useless,” he writes (with certain irony) when discarding studies of animals. According to him, the best would be to take a diverse group of people, divide them into two statistically-matched subgroups, and instruct one group to meditate and the other not to. Everything else about their lives should be kept the same. But this is practically impossible because “during a substantial period of time, meditation practice is likely to change attitudes, habits and occupations. Therefore, these two groups of people will no longer be comparable.”

Experiments with real human subjects must respect their freedom. We can compare a set of people who meditate with another set that doesn’t meditate. We can select them in such a way to match their ages, their sexes, their weights, diets, exercise habits incomes and ethnicities, but these groups will have had different life experiences, different social environments, and their attitude toward life will not be similar.

The same vision of the world. “People who choose meditation have a take on the world and a set of values that likely leads them to pay more attention to care for themselves and others,” says Mitteldorf. These social determinants of longevity are quite important, and any epidemiological study of meditation must use a combination of selection and ANOVA (Analysis of Variance, and its common mathematical procedure for separating and evaluating various contributing causes of one outcome).

Even so, there would be inevitable ambiguity in how to translate the question into statistical terms. He explains with an example: “How can one say that the practice of meditation led someone to give up smoking? Do we compare this against a matched control who continues to smoke, or to a subject who quit smoking without practicing meditation? Do we count the benefits of improved self-care as part of the benefit of meditation, or do we factor it out as if it were an independent decision?”

The study he imagines would be adequate would have to include a large number of subjects with detailed information about each individual’s health and lifestyle. “It has never been attempted, to my knowledge,” he says. “The studies that have been done are far more modest, and so the evidence that we have is at best tentative and indirect.” Click here for full article.