William James was the quitessential contemplative scientist. He engaged with humanistic philosophical thinkers around enduring questions related to value, aesthetics and morality. He was an acute observer of the "inner stuff" of conscious experience via introspection. He took a strong, observational interest in contemplative religious experience. His scientific greatness and importance comes from the ways in which he leveraged these subtle, ineffable questions and experiences to demarcate the new science of psychology. His scientific formulations of questions related to attention and consciousness still stand as crisp and critical signposts for the modern field of psychology.
In honor of William James' status as a model scholar-scientist for the field of Contemplative Studies, our senior thesis prize bears his name: prize winning theses are those, that in the spirit of William James, use innovative multidisciplinary approaches, derived from the Humanities and the Sciences to answer an important contemplative question.
This year's winner of the William James prize is Chloe Zimmerman, for her thesis, "Embodied Medicine: Elucidating Neural Mechanisms of Maladaptive Body Awareness in Chronic Pain." Chloe's thesis integrates qualitative, anthropological and historical approaches to chronic pain to develop a rigorous testable scientific theory (maladaptive body awareness in chronic pain) which she then tests in a resting-state brain neuroimaging study in IBS, a chronic functional pain disorder. Her finding, that patients who schore high in somatization show increased connectivity between visceral awareness (anterior insula) areas and attentional network areas (DLPFC and ACC). This finding provides strong support for Chloe's theoretical formulation and represents pathbreaking publishable work that, importantly, emerged directly from Contemplative Studies' multidisciplinary integrative approach.