HoloSync pseudoscience


I may have too much time on my hands, but it could also be that I don’t understand because it makes no sense.

I think Bill Harris and the Centerpointe Research Institute are doing a commendable job in some ways, making binaural beat technology attractive to the non-scientist public. (The same goes for the original Monroe Institute, with their Hemi-Sync, but let us take one sync at a time here.) What I don’t think is commendable is the faux science. In all fairness, it is not all just taken out of thin air, but some of it is exaggerated, speculative or interpreted in a less than likely way.

For instance, a central claim for HoloSync is that the unusual stimulus is “overloading” the brain, forcing it to “reorganize on a higher level” by growing new neurons connecting the two hemispheres. This is classical pseudoscience. It is almost certainly true that you grow new neurons while listening to HoloSync, but you grow new neurons while listening to Beethoven or a crying baby, or watching porn, or feeding your dog. Almost all neuron growth in adults (and then some) takes place in the hippocampus (the “file allocation table” of the brain, the index that lets us recall memories). Any conscious experience is stored in the brain and connected through the hippocampus. Few other places see actual new neurons, but don’t worry: Existing neurons can grow and establish new connections, even thousands of them in extreme cases. Existing connections can become faster and more reliable.

Since the binaural beat is in fact created by cooperation between the two hemispheres, it seems likely to increase adaptation in the brain to synchronize the two sides more easily. People who have used this for a while will almost certainly find it easier to establish a standing brain wave in both hemispheres at once. But this is no more a “reorganization on a higher level” than people who read kanji will find it easier to read kanji. That is how brains work. Whatever you do, your brain will endeavor to make you do it better.

So it is not that binaural beats don’t work. They certainly do, and there is pretty solid research on that. They just work differently, do something else than what Centerpointe claims. Or at least something else than what you would believe Centerpointe claims, if you read their materials as a non-scientist.

Again, HoloSync (and competitors) train you in creating, maintaining and recognizing standing waves across both hemispheres of the brain, waves of a lower frequency than usually experienced while we are conscious. This may come in handy during meditation, where you set aside the distractions of ordinary thought so as to focus your mind on the eternal and immaterial. (“All that has form is subject to decay; Strive diligently” to quote the Buddha’s last words.) And regardless of any spiritual practice, defragmenting the mind is bound to be a good thing for most people in our stressed time. (Although breaking the boundaries of the ordinary life may be bad for a minority – if you have a history or family history of psychosis, you should talk with a professional before starting to hack your brain waves. Centerpointe fails to mention this as well, or at least I never noticed.)

Obviously some simplification is acceptable. We have the expression “lies to children” to describe that. For instance, we portray the electrons like balls orbiting around the atomic nucleus, but that’s not what they really are. They are more like fields, not easily defined in space. (Uncertainty principle and all that.) I probably did not take any harm from being deceived about the nature of atoms when I was a kid – I simply could not have understood the real thing. Actually I still don’t, I just understand it a bit better, mostly understanding more of how little I understand.

But I think HoloSync (and HemiSync) are not so much simplifying it, for the real thing is fairly simple, only a bit different. By training our brain to maintain standing waves, we raise our consciousness of how our brain works in a hands-on way. Surely that is just as impressive. And we become better at fending off distractions, since we can regulate our brains in more ways. That’s something to write home about, don’t you think?

Another speculation – as far as I can see at least – is the notion that the brain is producing Human Growth Hormone and other “beneficial neurochemicals” during delta waves. The brain does indeed do this during deep, dreamless sleep, where synchronized delta waves are the dominant pattern. But this does not mean that the delta waves cause all the effects of deep sleep. It could easily be that the waves are another effect rather than a cause. You have to specifically measure increased levels of growth hormone during artificially induced delta waves in conscious subjects, and I have seen nothing of that so far. Then again the research section of the website is somewhat chaotic and reads like a cross between a scientific report and a sales pitch, which is probably intentional.

The one invention that sets HoloSync apart from the other Syncs is the discovery that you can increase the effect of binaural beats by lowering the frequency of the carrying waves. As I’ve mentioned, you get binaural beats by giving two slightly different frequencies to each ear. For instance if one signal has an average frequency of 500 Hz and the other has the same modulations but average on 508 Hz, you get a standing wave of 8 Hz in the brain. That’s the secret of binaural beat technology. But according to Harris, the same resulting wave is more “powerful” if the carrying frequency is lower. To the best of my reading so far, nobody else has ever noticed this, and the thousands of happy customers of the competing Syncs seem not to miss it at all.

I won’t say out of hand that Harris just made this up in order to fleece the disciples, by selling them new “higher steps” every half year or so. The effect may well be observable, but it does not seem to have neither neurological nor spiritual origin. More likely it stems from the all too human tendency to want to measure our progress, to “level up” as we gamers say.

But I’ll hopefully find out more about this after I have joined the ranks of happy HoloSync customers. As with other my recent purchases (the Linux netbook and the Neural Impulse Actuator), I try to support those technologies I wish to see in the future, even if they are far from perfect yet – as long as they are marginally useful. And from my few days of experiments with HoloSync, it seems to fall in that category, warts and all.

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