Brainwave Machines

Rhythm Calms the Brain


As early as the 1920s scientists were using electrodes to pick up signals from electrical activity in the brain. By the early seventies researchers began to notice relationships between certain rhythms in that activity and specific frames of mind. In particular, they noticed that people in deep states of meditation displayed brain-wave activity oscillating at 9-12 cycles/second (Hz.) In other words, nine to twelve times every second, a wave of electrical activity would sweep across the neurons of the brain like a gust of wind through a wheatfield.1,2,3

The effects of electrical currents on the body have been explored since antiquity. By the early 1980s, investigators had documented a variety of healing and harming effects when applying micro-currents of electricity directly to the body.4,5 Brain researchers found that applying very mild electrical stimulation at specific frequencies could reduce drug cravings in recovering addicts.6 It appeared that discrete frequencies stimulated individual brain regions, inducing them to greater activity including the release of mood and attention altering neurotransmitters. Various "mind tuning" effects could be induced by essentially beaming patterns of these frequencies into the brain.7,8

At about the same time (the late seventies) a semi-retired Texan entrepreneur (Robert Monroe) who had built a fortune in the early cable TV industry became fascinated with brain wave activity after spontaneously having a series of out-of-body experiences. He invested his money in the search for technological ways of inducing these experiences. In 1975 he patented a process for inducing patterns of brainwave activity by pulsing tones through headphones into the ears. Again, very specific mental states were found to be associated with particular patterns of brainwave rhythms. The same phenomena were also investigated by a New York biophysicist name Gerald Oster, who used slightly different frequencies in each ear to produce beat frequencies inside the brain, so as to entrain or induce brainwave patterns at frequencies too low for the ear to hear.9

All of this work involved expensive, custom-designed audio and electronic equipment. Today the basic principles of inducing brainwave patterns and their associated mental states has been well-established, and a few hundred dollars will buy technology that a couple of decades ago cost fortunes to build. Inventors have added flashing LED diodes to sound frequency stimulation, finding that it substantially enhances the effect.10 While these devices don't work for everyone (some find them intrusive and annoying), those who can allow themselves to shift their thinking and "go with the flow" of the experience find that they can rapidly and deeply recharge themselves after stress and tension-filled days, enhance their ability to concentrate and study, prepare themselves mentally for athletic competitions or other performance tests, and more. In my own work I find that they're very useful for relieving stress and "shifting gears" between tasks that require different kinds of thinking.

For those who find they can use them, mind machines have a number of advantages. While they require a moderate up-front investment (the simplest machines retail for $150 or so, more elaborate programmable models can go for $700 and up) they last a long time and so ultimately can be a very cost-effective form of stress intervention. They don't require a doctor's prescription, but please see the note about seizures in epileptics.10 Their use doesn't require introducing any foreign substances into the body, and so there are generally no side effects. The smallest machines can fit in a pocket and so one can tune one's brain wherever one happens to be and whenever it's convenient.

Here's some places one can find good brainwave machines:

There’s also a company that makes CDs that supply the sound half of the equation; a gentler way to go:

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 1. Hutchison, M. 1986. MegaBrain. New York: William Morrow, 168.

 2. Banquet, J.P. 1972. EEG and Meditation. Journal of Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 33: 449-458.

 3. Banquet, J.P. 1973. Spectral Analysis of EEG and Meditation. Journal of Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 35: 143-151.

 4. Bauer, William. 1983. Neuroelectric medicine. Journal of Bioelectricity. 2 (2-3): 159-180.

 5. Becker, R.O., Marino, A.A. 1982. Electromagnetism and Life. Albany: State University of New York Press.

 6. Brovar, A. 1984. Brain electric therapy helpful to cocaine addicts. Brain/Mind Bulletin. 9(14).

 7. Hutchison, Ibid. 145.

 8. McAuliffe, Kathleen. 1983. Brain Tuner. Omni. January.

 9. Oster, Gerald. 1973. Audio Beats in the Brain. Scientific American. Sept.

10. Flashing lights can induce seizures in epileptics, and not every epileptic knows that they're epileptic. Proceed with caution.