Scientists objecting to the Dalai Lama’s talk at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience next month are forgetting what should be the most important tenet of their profession: an open mind. In signing a petition protesting the society’s invitation to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, 544 scientists unwittingly assume the role of small thinkers who would slam a door shut rather than engage in a discussion.

The Dalai Lama has been asked to give a 30-minute talk on his collaboration in research on Buddhist meditation and how it might promote compassion and emotional well-being. For years he has been bringing together scientists for dialogues on meditation at the Mind and Life Institute in Colorado, which he helped fund. Those explorations are part of a rich field of study cutting across many disciplines of science that have long delved into the mind/body response like how meditation can lower blood pressure.

Letters to the society expressing fears that the Dalai Lama’s lecture might be perceived as an endorsement of a religious figure, or that it would blur the lines between religion and science, are focusing too narrowly on negatives rather than on what might be learned from an extraordinary man, whether one agrees with him or not.