When I was in college, I worked every weekend at a relaxation center in West Hollywood called the Altered States Mind Gym, where I would train people how to use sensory deprivation tanks, biofeedback monitors, and brain entrainment devices.
After working at Altered States, and after spending several years studying the effects of electrical brain stimulation in neuroscience labs, I became inspired to write a science fiction novel called Brainchild, which is about the invention of an iPod-sized electronic device that one can use to activate any brain state that he or she wishes to experience.
Every day, technological developments, and advances in neuroscience, are bringing us closer and closer to actualizing the possibilities in my science fiction novel, and this week we’ll be taking a look at some of the closest technologies that are currently available--what are commonly referred to as “brain machines” or “mind machines,” which have been growing in sophistication over the years.
There are two basic types of mind machines that we’ll be discussing in this column: light and sound, brain entrainment machines (sometimes referred to as “Auditory Visual Stimulation Devices” or “AVS devices”) and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units.
(In future columns, I’ll be covering other neuro-technologies, such as virtual reality, biofeedback monitors, electrical brain stimulation, and direct brain-computer interfaces.)
The AVS devices have three basic components: a small computer that operates as the control unit, a set of headphones, and LED-lit strobe-light goggles. The small computer is loaded with programs that cause the goggles to rapidly blink, and the headphones to pulsingly bleep, in frequency patterns that match certain frequency patterns in the brain.
As the tiny lights in the goggles start to flash, and the headphones start to bleep in regular, trance-inducing rhythms, one becomes pleasantly mesmerized, as his or her brain begins mimicking the frequency of the rhythms, and this puts one into a particularly desired brain wave state--such as alpha, beta, theta, or delta.
The pulsing lights and sound tones gently alter one’s brain wave patterns, leading our brains into states of consciousness that are, according to the claims of one manufacturer, “ideal for super-learning, stress reduction, meditation, lucid dreaming, creativity, out of body exploration, self-hypnosis, psychic development, creativity...for breaking negative addictions; smoking, weight loss, and much more.”
A number of scientific studies have looked into the effects of AVS devices, and they confirm that at least some of these claims are actually based on sound reasoning. The research suggests that AVS devices can offer effective treatments for migraine headaches and other types of pain, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity, as well as helping with stress reduction, anxiety, and possibly some other psychiatric ailments.
AVS devices can also be a lot of fun; like a private psychedelic light-show that can be mixed with music. Most people find their experience with these machines to be quite pleasurable, and one also sees a kaleidoscopic, geometrically-organized tapestry of brightly colored patterns unfolding across the back of one’s closed eyes during a session, that are reminiscent of psychedelic drug visions.
These safe, noninvasive, non-addictive devices can be effectively used to help one relax and sleep, to help one focus and concentrate, or to voyage on shamanic inner journeys. Although most people use these units for relaxation, meditation, or to help with insomnia, other potential uses are being explored.
For example, some artists, musicians, and writers report that it enhances their creativity, and helps them to discipline their minds.
According to Jeff Labno, who was a co-owner of Altered States, and is an expert on brain entrainment machines, “More people have been using it for children with learning disorders. I think this is one of the best uses for it. Another important arena is for addiction because it seems to balance out the anxious urge for a dopamine rush. It certainly is great to take your mind off your mind.”
Labno said that he thinks that the state of the art in light and sound mind machines right now are devices made by Photosonix. For several years now, I’ve personally been using a device by MIndGear called a PR-2X, which I love, and Labno rates as “very good.”
Labno also recommends using the AVS devices as learning tools.
He said, “I find it very good for whole brain data processing. Get online to a storybook site, and listen to story of choice while doing a session. It is invaluable as a language learning tool, because people pay better attention on how to pronounce foreign words, and thus are more successful in their communications.”
Another popular type of mind machine is known as a TENS unit, which stimulates nerves for therapeutic purposes, and these devices are primarily used for the treatment of pain, both acute and chronic.
Scientific studies show that high and low frequency transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation produce their effects by activating the opioid receptors in the central nervous system. Unlike the AVS units, these “electronic opium” machines require a prescription from a physician to purchase.
While these mind machines appear to have have valuable therapeutic uses, as with floatation tanks, more than a few people have experimented with these technologies, while under the influence of psychedelic drugs, in order to amply their effects.
Some people have reported fascinating results using these synergistic combinations as tools for self-exploration. Psychonaut author Zoe 7 has written several books about his psychedelic voyages while using various brain machines, such as Into the Void and Back from the Void, which contain some truly great adventure stories.
To learn more about the Photosonix AVS devices see: www.photosonix.com
To learn more about TENS Units see: www.alpha-stim.com
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