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EUROPEAN SUMMER RESEARCH INSTITUTE (ESRI)


The European Summer Research Institute (ESRI) is an event initiated by Mind & Life Europe bringing together around 120 scientists and practitioners in a unique retreat setting. To get a taste of the kind of dialogues that take place at ESRI, please watch “Conversations at ESRI 2023”.

ESRI 2024 will take place from 4th to 8th August at the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute in Pomaia, Italy. Applications are currently open. Find out more here!

What is ESRI?

Cross-disciplinary dialogue and collaboration

The primary aim of ESRI is to further develop and promote the interdisciplinary community of contemplative science in Europe, with a special focus on preparing the next generation of researchers and practitioners in the field and building ‘gentle bridges’ (F. Varela) between an ever-widening array of disciplines. The programme features interdisciplinary scholarly presentations and dialogue, inquiry through first-person experience, active contemplative practice, and ample intergenerational networking opportunities. Scientists, scholars, researchers, educators, clinicians, and professionals working in this field come together as a community to share ideas, knowledge, methodologies, and experiences from their lives and work, in order to bring about concrete advances in the field.

In addition to theoretical exchanges, there is ample space for practice, whether in the form of contemplation, activities in nature, dance, and movement, or artistic co-creations. It is an invaluable opportunity to build life-long connections and friendships with like-minded people, supporting each other’s growth in the direction of caring and awareness. 

Attendees of the ESRI are eligible to apply for the European Varela Awards for contemplative research. Click here for more information about the European Varela Awards (EVAs). The application period for the EVA 2024 cycle will open around October 2024.

ESRI Thematic Arc 2023-2025 – Caring for Life

2023 marked the first year in a new three-year thematic arc, “Caring for Life,” which will foreground caring as an active, processual, and participative feature of being human in a wildly complex and rapidly evolving ecosystem. In year 1, “Sentience and Responsibility in Critical Times,” we started by questioning the basic terms of inquiry: What is sentience? How do we understand responsibility in the widest possible sense? How might responsibility at once emerge from sentience and tend toward sentience? What is the place of the human in the ‘more-than-human’ realm, whether understood classically as nature or as the emergent network of artificial intelligence that undergirds our everyday lives? Is it even possible to demarcate today a clear boundary between sentience and non-sentience? Besides several prominent scientists and philosophers, we heard from social scientists, clinicians, educators, environmentalists, AI theorists, legal scholars, and more. We endeavoured to thus build a more nuanced understanding of sentience and its ethical implications in a world that desperately needs our tending. 

ESRI 2024: “Living in Groundlessness with Responsibility”

Click here to find out more!

This year’s programme invites participants to probe “Living in Groundlessness with Responsibility”. It will take place from 4th to 8th August (arrival on the 3rd and departure on the 9th) at the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute in Pomaia, Italy.

As living beings, we naturally long for a firm ground. We need a certain measure of stability, predictability, and certainty to be able to survive. We may see groundlessness as specific to this time and to our world. But reality is naturally unstable, unpredictable, and uncertain. That is the human condition. This ongoing tension might cause us to give up and succumb to a sense of meaninglessness. Or we might frantically try to deny this groundlessness and hold on to illusory certainties.

Being sentient means being responsible. So the question is: how can we wisely navigate this field of tension? How can we take up responsibility amid this groundlessness? Can we face groundlessness without despair or defeatism? Can we stay clear of ideology and fanaticism? Can this groundlessness in itself become a source of creativity and compassion?

Mind & Life Europe is partnering with the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute (ILTK) and the Italian Buddhist Union for the European Summer Research Institute 2024 and the MLE Retreat 2024.

Concept note

Previous ESRIs

ESRI 2023: “Sentience and Responsibility in Critical Times”

This year’s programme invited participants to probe “Sentience and Responsibility in Critical Times” through five primordial qualities of being — Equanimity, Joy, Loving-kindness, Care, and Commitment — each of which allowed us to ask questions about where sentience begins and ends, how sentience might enter into right relationship with the ailing (and more-than-human) world, and what ethical frontiers have yet to be considered in a rapidly evolving technocracy. Each day was devoted to one quality, taken up by a dense matrix of different disciplinary perspectives in the morning, and explored through playful and participatory workshops in the afternoon. Relying as much on empirical research as on creative and contemplative practices, the programme helped us all to build a more nuanced and cross-disciplinary understanding of life on this planet. 

Mind & Life Europe partnered with the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute (ILTK) and the Italian Buddhist Union for the European Summer Research Institute 2023 and the MLE Retreat.

Conversations at ESRI 2023

Conversation between Prof Jay Garfield & Br Pháp Linh

In this deeply probing conversation, Prof Jay Garfield, distinguished professor of philosophy, logic, and Buddhist studies at Smith College, and Br Pháp Linh, beloved monastic, meditation teacher, and musician in the Plum Village lineage, show us what a dialectics between academic research and contemplative practice might look like in action. Reflecting on the critical times in which we are living, they consider what is necessary to untangle ourselves from our “primal confusion,” as Prof Garfield puts it, and which qualities are most needed to fruitfully engage across different disciplinary conceits — trust, good will, epistemic humility, and the mind of practice. They also discuss the dangers of falling into a form of “naive realism,” as Br Pháp Linh refers to it, mistaking our maps and models of reality, be they narrative, mathematical, or scientific, for reality itself. Ultimately, this allows them to examine the nature of experience itself, through the different lenses of their respective disciplines, and to argue for a more nuanced and non-dual understanding of conventional reality and ultimate reality.

Conversation between Dr Luc Steels & Dr Laura Candiotto

In this deeply compelling conversation, renowned AI scientist Luc Steels and philosopher of emotions Laura Candiotto ask some of the foundational questions underlying the theme of last year’s European Summer Research Institute, “Sentience and Responsibility in Critical Times”: What is (the ground of) sentience? How do we cultivate sentience, if it is an ability or process and not a static property? Does it make sense to speak of AI as sentient? Are emotions and values the very things that make us human? What is it within us that makes ethical know-how possible? What might AI science teach us about the enduring enigmas of the human mind, and about the ground of experience? Taking a cue from Francisco Varela’s “meshwork of selfless selves,” Laura and Luc revisit the different domains, or regions, of the mind (the chemical-hormonal, the cognitive, sapience, consciousness, etc.) in order to shed light on how experience is built from self-organising systems, and these systems are inherently interactive. As Luc reminds us, it is not a top-down situation, but “emergent behaviour that comes from the interactions taking place.” Ultimately, this conversation examines the possible bridges between science and ethics, and between AI technology and the humanities, with the view that AI is a set of tools to revisit some of the fundamental questions about the relation between mind, life, and matter. 

Interview with Dr Andreas Weber

https://youtu.be/semhE2kmXgA

In this heartfelt conversation, biologist and philosopher Dr Andreas Weber provides some more personal insight into his presentation at ESRI 2023, “Bodies Are Love Processes.” He walks us through his own definition of love as a practice — not a feeling — and as part of a gift-giving relationship, related to the very notion of autopoiesis, by which an organism participates in a continuous desire to recreate itself from that which is not itself. Ecosystems, too, are love processes, as it turns out, and we can even think of the ‘commons’ as a similar process in our societal life. The conversation ultimately leaves us with Dr Weber’s reflections on sentience, and particularly the ethical dimension of sentience, which was a key theme at ESRI 2023.

ESRI 2022: “Learning with Others: Living Connection and Transmission”

ESRI 2021 (online): “Care for Life: Enacting Knowledge in an Interdependent and Uncertain World”

ESRI 2020 (online): “Grounding Knowledge in Uncertainty”

ESRI 2018: “Kinship, Conflict, and Compassion”

ESRI 2017: “Exploring Experience”

ESRI 2016: “From Physiological Plasticity to Societal Changes”




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