Catherine Kerr (1964-2016)

Catherine Kerr (1964-2016) passed away on November 12th 2016, at the age of 52, succumbing to a bone marrow cancer that she fought with great courage for over two decades. Catherine was a Harvard neuroscientist before being nominated Director of Translational Neuroscience in the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown University, where she created the Embodied Neuroscience lab. Her well-viewed TEDx talk is devoted to mindfulness and the brain.

Photo by: Tenzin Choejor OHHDL

Catherine Kerr (1964-2016)I first met Cathy in 2006, at the former Osher Center for Alternative Medicine at Harvard, when she invited me to give a talk on Levinas’ ethics. Our exchanges followed, and ultimately brought us to work together during my 17 month-long Cambridge stay. At the beginning our exchanges were informal, grabbing a sandwich at the MIT Stata Center while discussing human suffering and our possibilities to build bridges in research to provide relief and better understanding of the pained. And even though Cathy was immediately open about her cancer, it was never an issue compared to the achievements lying ahead.

With the support of Ted Kaptchuk, we then created the International and Interdisciplinary Group on Pain and Suffering, a group of 3 people whose existence was only proven by a document on Harvard letterhead. Once my stay was over, and upon my return to Europe, Cathy and I started contacting scholars all over the world in order to insufflate life to our concept and ideas. Our group, that includes 30 members, was formalized with the award I received from the European Science Foundation, and that allowed us to organize two international conferences; Cathy participated in the first one and her talk is available on our website.

I loved Cathy’s profound wisdom and her sense of excellence, combined with deep acceptance of human nature with all its weakness. I was mesmerized by her language and brilliance, and working together was always an exhilarating experience, giving the impression we may actually change the world with our small-scale endeavor.

At some point Cathy halted her contribution. This is the event I would like to talk about, as her renouncement was an important lesson for me on life priorities.

In 2011, five years after we first met, I returned to Harvard in order complete our paper. Upon my arrival, Cathy announced that she would no longer continue with the program, as her involvement stopped at the creation of the group. I remember that we were in front of our salads, sitting on high chairs, when she declared to me that she was not even sure of completing our paper. Cathy generously invited me to stay in her house so that we could work together. To my disappointment, it was not a very fruitful time, and even though Cathy did not say anything, I had the impression that she was weak and overloaded.

One morning she left the door of her daily Qi Gong practice open, and when I was searching for her around the house, she invited me in. Through the doorway, I was struck by her body full of sweat, dripping down her face and arms. I was surprised at the ability of a person to bring herself to deploy such a physical effort while sitting down in a yoga position. Cathy then explained to me that she managed to maintain herself healthy and fight cancer through this daily management of her bodily energy. That was six years ago and I was enthusiastic when I later learnt about the “Vitality Project” she initiated at the Embodied Neuroscience lab, devoted to a clinical trial she designed for investigating the healing role of Qi Gong in cancer survivors.

Cathy’s open demonstration that very morning taught me that a person with an illness cannot fight a death sentence, but can extend his or her time with the right balance between the physical and the mental.

We never completed our paper because Cathy was worried that without experimental studies, our claims could not be published. Much work on alexithymia has been completed since, and I am glad to confirm that her foresight, direction and views were proven right.

My beloved Cathy, your personal and intellectual giving will not be forgotten, it was my honor and my happiness to have known you. I express my deep condolences to Jonathan Kranes, your wonderful life-long husband, to your family, and to the academic community that allowed you to make such ground breaking research.

For information and donations on the “Catherine Kerr Award for Courageous and Compassionate Science”:

Written by Smadar Bustan for the gathering “Celebrating the life of Catherine Kerr”

+ Dr. Catherine Kerr (1964-2016)

Joanna Bourke- The Story of Pain, From Prayer to Painkillers

The Story of Pain From Prayer to Painkillers

The Story of Pain, From Prayer to Painkillers / by Joanna Bourke.

“The story of pain and suffering since the eighteenth century Addresses the big questions about the experience and nature of suffering – and how to respond to it. Charts how our understanding of pain has changed completely over the last three centuries – from positive function to ultimate evil. A fascinating investigation for the 21st century reader into how we have coped with suffering in the past – both our own suffering and that of the ones we love.”  Oxford University Press

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Dr. Kenneth Craig appointed into the Order of Canada

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Kenneth Craig, who was appointed as Officer of the Order of Canada.

On July 1, 2015, his Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, announced the new appointments to the Order of Canada in recognition of “outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.” A world-renowned pain expert, Dr. Craig’s research focuses upon pain assessment and management, socialization of individual differences in pain experience and expression, social parameters of care delivery and pain in infants, children and people with communication limitations.

From: The University of British Columbia website


An Interdisciplinary Symposium


PASCOM at the Interdisciplinary Symposium (Health and Phenomenology) at OXFORD UNIVERSITY, Torch Research Center

“On the 27th & 28th March, the Oxford Phenomenology Network hosted this inaugural conference at the Oxford Research Centre in The Humanities, bringing together a wide array of disciplines for a fascinating exchange of ideas, research, and critique within the context of medical and phenomenological studies in health. Its mission statement was to “explore the interrelations between phenomenology and health from a wide variety of perspectives” (event organisers Cleo Hanaway-Oakley and Erin Lafford; see Cleo’s post on the Life of Breath blog, ‘To breath is all that is required‘). This was certainly achieved, via talks on subjects from philosophical, medical, literary and scientific perspectives including the phenomenology of mental health; of disability; of motherhood; in literature; of living and dying; of breast cancer; in medical encounters, and many more. “

“Most of the talks were relevant to our project remit by virtue of the focus on phenomenology and health. However, some themes stood out, including link between chronic pain and breathlessness that runs through several previous posts (see, for example, Breathless in Cambridge and Signal Failure? Thinking outside the lung). Indeed, the conference provided refreshing opportunities to see how phenomenological insights have guided research. This was shown in Smadar Bustan and Sandra Kamping’s paper on combining phenomenology and experimental pain research. It reminded me of how models such as ‘total pain’ have been used to create analogous ‘total dyspnoea’ models, and how these alternative models incorporate a fuller picture of the impact of pain and suffering on the whole embodied and socially-situated person, rather than focusing on symptoms.”

Breathless in Oxford


MARINA NEMAT Wins Geneva Human Rights Prize

GENEVA, May 14 – Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch announced today that it will be awarding its prestigious annual human rights prize next week to Iranian dissident and best-selling author Marina Nemat, now living in Canada, who was jailed and tortured as a political prisoner in Tehran when was only 16 years old.

“UN Watch is honoring Marina Nemat for her brave and outstanding work worldwide in bearing witness to the horrific crimes perpetrated against her by a regime that continues to assault, jail, torture, rape and execute human rights defenders, religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, and thousands of other innocent men, women and children,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

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Marina Nemat

Professor Jean Decety has been awarded With The International Neuropsychology Prize

Professor Jean Decety has been awarded the 2013 J.-L. Signoret Neuropsychology Prize awarded by the Fondation IPSEN in Paris. The international prize recognizes Decety’s scholarship on new understandings of empathy, affective processes, and moral decision-making in children and adults, as well as individuals who have dysfunctions in those social and emotional abilities, such as psychopaths.

Recipients of the prize are selected by an international jury that recognizes a scholar of recently published important research in the field of behavioral neurology. Decety is the Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and has a secondary appointment in the Department of Psychiatry.

Uchicago news


Sharon Webber-Zvik was honored with the distinguished Golden A Design Award

I am incredibly proud and happy to announce that Sharon Webber-Zvik, the program’s art director, has won the international honorable Golden A’ Design Award for her branding and design work of “The Pain and Suffering Interdisciplinary Program”. Her designs competed with the works of 4000 candidates worldwide, receiving unanimous appraisals (and not a single criticism!) from the jury members. Sharon will receive the prize in an official ceremony on the 14th of April in Como, Italy. Her printed work from the site will be presented in the general exhibition at the museum (“Ex Chiesa di San Francesco”, located at Viale Largo Spallino, 1, 22100, Como / Italy) and kept there. In addition, her designs will appear in books, magazines and in the media worldwide.

Here is an introduction to the A Design Award Competition:

Here are the jury members for this years’ 2013 competition:

Here is the interview of Sharon:

And last but not least, here is the official press release announcing her award:

Sharon yekara sheli, after 5 years of working together for our program, nothing makes me happier than to see you receive such a prestigious award in recognition of your talent and absolutely, but absolutely, unbelievable creativity. With my deepest affection and love

Dr. Smadar Bustan

Physicians’ Brain Scans Indicate Doctors Can Feel Their Patients’ Pain — And Their Relief

” A patient’s relationship with his or her doctor has long been considered an important component of healing. Now, in a novel investigation in which physicians underwent brain scans while they believed they were actually treating patients, researchers have provided the first scientific evidence indicating that doctors truly can feel their patients’ pain — and can also experience their relief following treatment…”

Click here to read the full article:

Article by Dr. Catherine Kerr.

A study on altruism and empathy in children in China

Disasters prompt older children be more giving, younger children be more selfish / By William Harms:

“A natural disaster can bring out the best in older children, prompting 9-year-olds to be more willing to share, while 6-year-olds become more selfish. Researchers at the University of Toronto, the University of Chicago, and Liaoning Normal University made this finding in a rare natural experiment in China around the time of a horrific earthquake.”

Posted on the University of Chicago web site. Click here to read the full post: University of Chicago

{Reference by Prof. Jean Decety}

Project milestones overview

July 3-5, 2011: Second Workshop at the University of Luxembourg, first stage of the book project

Nov. 12-14, 2009: First Workshop (ESF Exploratory Workshop) at the University of Luxembourg

January, 2009: European Science Foundation Exploratory Workshop Award

2008: Initiation of the project at Harvard University