Still good to be me


The lawn, since evidently melting snow is interesting.  ^_^

The news from the world are mostly unpleasant: Banks collapse, millions lose their jobs, bacteria become resistant, capitalism is dead, Mugabe lives and continues dictatorierating, and Barnes & Noble have bought Fictionwise. Oppression in Tibet goes from worse to even worse, and the world doesn’t much care because it is weeping over its lost wallet.

But here in my cozy rented little house, there is nothing of all that. As a Norwegian song from my much younger days put it:

“Bare jeg får kose meg i bingen min
kan de andre gjøre hva de vil
ja bare jeg får kose meg i bingen min
er det ikke noe mere som skal til

(As long as I can enjoy myself in my pigsty,
The others can do what they want.
Yes, as long as I can enjoy myself in my pigsty,
There is nothing more that is needed.

OK, I would feel better if my sinuses dropped the low-key infection that keeps sending great gobs of green gelatinous goo down my throat, there to choke me at random times of day and night. Hacking like crazy to get the stuff up before I drown in it is rather scary and unpleasant. But apart from that, I really enjoy myself in my pigsty.

The package from arrived yesterday, about a fortnight earlier than expected. (A book, strangely enough in these electronic times. “Integral Life Practice.” I have not read it, but it is by Ken Wilber and friends, so it is probably interesting for the abnormally intelligent, less so for anyone else. I’m somewhere in between there, so I plan to read it someday. So far I have not opened it though.)

I have moved on to the industrial strength HoloSync that I wrote about when it arrived two days ago. I am supposed to do only the first track (“the Dive”) for the first two weeks. The only problem with this is that I fall asleep fairly early during that first track, and when I wake up it is already a ways into the second. This is probably not a problem at all, especially given that I am asleep, but I should probably set up some kind of beeper to go off after half an hour just to be sure I get it right. If it is like the demo, I will be able to stay awake gradually longer through it. Whether it takes as little as two weeks, however, remains to be seen. Perhaps if I actually sleep enough at night… Fat chance!

There are just too many fun things to do if I shouldn’t sleep too. The beta testing does not get as much attention as it deserves, and my sims run with only half an eye of attention. (I have a second Prosperity Challenge, for those who are into the terminology, and it runs on the other computer here in my home office. At least I am not blogging it, the way I do Micropolis.) I have been thinking about starting a game of Civilization IV again – it has been a year or two since last time – but I just can’t find time for it. (I mistyped this a “O just can’t find time for it” which is probably at least as accurate, although it will only make sense to readers of One Cosmos or at least of Bion.)

Have I mentioned that I got another of the new rye breads made with sourdough (leavening) and plenty of sunflower seeds? Just today I read someone complain about the spreading practice of putting sunflower seeds in the dark breads. But the truth is that I like it almost too much. Now that I can only eat a few grams of fat every six hours, I have a constant low-key craving for fat. After I regained much of my lost weight, the desire no longer manifests as pangs of need, but virtually anything fat still tastes delicious. And sunflower seeds are full of oil, delicious yummy oil! It is supposedly fairly healthy too, as fats go. But it is still fat, which means that I need to be aware of it and eat that much less of other fats. It is still worth it though. Mmm, yummy bird seeds! I hope this itching is not my wings trying to grow out…

The snow is melting quickly, although it could come back any day. Today it was hot in the living room when I came home, like a greenhouse. I think that is the first time this spring, although it was pleasantly warm another day or two before. It was a totally sunny, shiny day, although the sun went down around the time I came home. It is still Norway, after all. But then again Norway is the best place to live, so I’m not complaining. Or at least not today.

Misanthropic principle


Even Japanese teenagers are somewhat familiar with the anthropic principle, it seems.

You may be familiar with the “anthropic principle”, the notion that the universe seems to be suspiciously ideal for human life. If only one of the many cosmological constant had been a tiny bit different, intelligent life – or even life at all – would not have been possible. There are just so many things that must go right for us to be here.

While this was not its original purpose, the anthropic principle has been cited as a reason for theism, the belief in one or more higher beings that created and/or guided the universe to this state of being.

In contrast, atheists generally cite the reverse anthropic principle: If the universe were not fit for intelligent life, we would not be here to talk about it. There could be trillions of uninhabited universes and we would never know, since we could not live in them. (In fact, many cosmologists take for granted that there are a huge number of universes just for this reason, that it would be extremely unlikely that the only universe ever was one that harbored life. Others say that this multiplies entities beyond necessity, thus falling foul of Occam’s Razor.)

The original misanthropic principle, I believe, is that “danger and death is necessary for intelligence to evolve; therefore a universe with observers is necessarily a scary one.” However, I use the phrase in a more playful way, to illustrate the attitude in this little verbal sketch:

Alice: Bob, I experienced a genuine miracle!
Bob: There are no miracles, just more and less likely events.
Alice: Wait till you hear this. I was on a passenger flight yesterday, and suddenly our plane exploded more than a mile up in the air! I was thrown out as the plane broke in two, and plummeted toward my death. Then suddenly I crashed into an eagle, and it broke my fall a bit, but of course not enough. Just afterward, however, I hit another eagle, and another, and another. This continued all the way down until I landed safely on a bed of moss. It cannot be anything other than a miracle!
Bob: Let me just ask you one thing. If you were dead, would you still be telling me this?
Alice: Of course not!
Bob: See? Since you are here, it was not only likely, it was downright unavoidable! There is nothing mysterious about it at all.



Actually, I suspect an “Exercise for Mermaids” DVD would be less alien to the average reader than what I actually got.  But at least it is surreal.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the HoloSync technology from Centerpointe Research Institute. Since hacking my brainwaves is the kind of thing I would do, I had ordered a demo CD and then the real thing. Well, the first of the real things. I also have Gnaural so I can make my own brainwave hacks once I get competent enough.

This is not an all-out endorsement. As I said on the 5th, their claims seem exaggerated and misleading, but the underlying science is real enough – it just cannot possibly do all the things they want you to believe. Of course, when it comes to the human mind, believing is seeing: If people are gullible enough, they will benefit quite a bit more from it than we skeptics do. The placebo effect should not be written off easily – there are documented cases where people actually react to salt water as if it were growth hormone, once they had experienced the real thing first. So let’s hope that I’m more gullible than I believe, this time!

But even if not, the ability to alter my brainwaves for half an hour at a time is bound to have some effect, or at the very least be interesting. I’ve been using the demo CD since I got it. It is not “industrial strength” as Harris admits in his lengthy sales pitch, but evidently it was strong enough that today was the first time I consciously heard him say that. The earlier days I fell asleep before I got that far. This is a normal side effect of slowing down one’s brain waves, of course. While not the ideal outcome, it is expected and not really a reason to worry. For each passing day, I noticed that I got further into the CD before nodding off. Today was the first time I stayed awake through all of the speech.

(Quoting the FAQ:“Does it matter if I fall asleep while listening? It is a very common in the beginning to nod out while listening. The main program tracks take you into theta and delta brainwave patterns, those of sleep, and your brain is also making a lot of very relaxing neurochemicals, including endorphins. The combination can make you drift off. As you use the program and the brain begins to reorganize itself, you will gain the ability to remain alert throughout. Falling asleep is really one of the many signs that the brain is really being pushed.” Exaggerated as usual, no doubt, but with a kernel of truth: If it were just boredom that made me fall asleep, it would happen the fifth time rather than the first four.)

Now comes the fun part. Normally I would have been at work at this time, but we have a meeting today in some other town, two provinces east of here, and my guts did not allow me to travel that far. So I was at home during work hours, and one of the things I did was to take my daily trip through the binaural beat demo, as described above. I was coming to the second part, after the sound pattern stopped and where a string of satisfied customers were panegyrizing, when the doorbell rang.

Remember that this was around lunchtime. I was not supposed to be here. (I am not officially disabled yet – in fact, apart from the day trips, I have less sick days than when I was young, thank the Light.) Why would anyone except the most brazen of burglars ring my doorbell at 11:15 on a workday? Cautious, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a mail car. I hurried and opened the door. There was a FedEx international priority package. Yes, it was from Centerpointe.

“Priority” may be a bit of overkill, you guys, not that I don’t appreciate it. I think I would have opted for waiting a month and paying very little freight, if that were an option, but the esteemed researcher turned guru turned merchant thinks changing my life for the better must necessarily be a priority. What can I say? It is still easily affordable for a Norwegian, even one who earns only half of what is normal here.

(In contrast, the book I ordered from Amazon is expected to arrive at the end of the month, even though I ordered it weeks earlier. (Integral Life Practices, February 10th.))

Be that as it may, I now have my “industrial strength” binaural beat brain entrainment CD, yay.

(Incidentally, I believe “entrainment” looks identical to “entertainment” to American readers, is that right? During my adventures with Google trying to find about more about this technology, I come across these places where random strangers comment on some article, and am mildly amused by seeing them mistake entrainment for entertainment. I read some article purporting to prove that we actually recognize words by the first and last letters and approximate length. Anyway, I guess my Neural Impulse Actuator may qualify as brainwave entertainment, but that’s another story…)

Anyway, given that I spend only half an hour a day on this, what is the chance that the package would arrive while I was still listening to the demo? Clearly this is a case of synchronicity, of meaningful coincidences, of the universe pitching in or at least the mind interpreting it that way. And not only the same time, but the first time I stayed awake during the demo. And not only that, but at a time I should not even have been at home, as far as the world knows.

But compared to the universe being fit for life in the first place, it is a pretty small coincidence. Of course, if the universe weren’t fit for life we wouldn’t be here to discuss it, and if I hadn’t gotten the package today I wouldn’t be writing about it. And if you hadn’t been alive, you wouldn’t be reading this, but it is still nice to be alive, don’t you think? Hopefully it will be even better after I’ve meddled with my brain waves. Uhm, presumably. Keep watching this space.

Beta testing (and) real life


Spring is still just barely beginning here in southern Norway.

A few days ago, I was invited to a closed beta test of a game. Well, let us not give more details than that, closed beta tests are very secret. I accepted; after all, being invited to closed beta is a great honor. This is particularly true in this case, since I had not asked, applied or in any way taken any initiative to get invited.

For the non-gamers that may read this, testing usually proceeds in three phases: Alpha tests are done in-house, by the developers themselves and quality assurance personnel, and whoever else in the company may be useful. Then comes the closed beta, where a limited number of outsiders are brought in. Their task is to try to break the game by bizarre behavior, and then report any bugs and glitches to the developers. Finally there is the open beta, if any. This is typically only for online games, and serves to test how the game holds up under heavy load.

Beta testers are not paid for their work, but have early access to the game. The job also confers some bragging rights, but not until the closed beta is over. Until then, nobody must know that you are testing it. As soon as the non-disclosure is lifted, you can tell everything and preen like a rooster.

The extremely loyal reader will remember that I spent about a month absorbed in such a test, back in March 2004. It won’t be so noticeable this time, but I am not allowed to tell you why. Let’s just say that if I don’t update every day, it is probably because I don’t have anything to say, not because I am spending all my time playing.

Actually I can easily write even if I have nothing to say, but I try to keep it down.

As proven by today’s photo, I also took the time for a real walk in real life. The body needs to be reminded regularly that it is still in use. Of course, some of us believe that real life is in closed beta as well, that we are here by invitation and that a greatly improved version will be released later. It is sometimes hard to say what things in real life are bugs and which are features, but we faithfully report any dubious events to the creator like good beta testers do.

No matter your views on that, we can agree that real life has amazing graphics and an unrivalled attention to detail. The sense of “being there” is just amazing, if you take the time to stop and just look around, listen and feel. This is strongly recommended from time to time, at least if you live in an area where there is little risk of sudden monster attacks.

As for me, the bugs are the only monsters today. There are bugs in my throat that keep me from dictating, and bugs in my finger hangnail that get in the way of typing. But bugs and all, I’m glad to be here.

Why diets don’t work


Sometimes food just happens. This is a lot less cute when you are 50.

The twin scourges obesity and inactivity are raging through the world, maiming and killing like a berserker army. Each of them encourages the other: Feel free to try jogging with a hundred pound backpack, but be sure to have your last will and testament done first. Likewise, sitting still helps the fat just pile on, forcing you to be even less active, and so on and on.

Given the grim statistics for diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension and the secondary diseases that follow in their footsteps, you’d think the world’s governments would be waging a War on Fat. And you would definitely think it would be one of the hottest topics of science. The world is already spending billions on diets, so why can’t scientists come right out and tell us which one is the best?

Well, you see, none of them work. Or rather, pretty much all of them work, but not in the long run. Losing weight is fairly easy, but large studies show that the pounds come back on. The scientific consensus is that significant weight loss is pretty near impossible (except in the case of chronic illness, of course). It is possible to lose a little weight – like 5% or so – and keep it off. If you get serious about losing weight, however, the body eventually gets serious too. And at some point, it stops listening to you. Basically, your free will starts fading.

This is a disturbing situation, and well worth considering. We all know from experience that we have free will. We can decide to do something unpleasant and do it, and we can decide to not do something pleasant and avoid it. In each case, we clearly see ourselves as having a choice. But the law of large numbers says something else. In the long run, it is easier to ride the horse the way it is already going. In the case of the weight loss, the body will throw at us ever more frequent and intense temptations. If that is not enough, the discomfort will intrude on our lives more and more: Hunger pangs that make it impossible to sleep, chronic fatigue that makes it hard to be active and burn calories. In extreme cases, you may find that there are blank spots in your memory and empty spots in the fridge. You have no memory of having eaten, and you certainly don’t feel like you have eaten, but you have. You may even find that food is gone from your fridge while you slept. The body will defend its fat as if it were its life. And that is no coincidence.

In the wild, too much food is not the problem. For tens of thousands of years, until just recently, hunger was the real risk. A surplus of food was temporary. If you started losing weight, no matter what your weight was at the outset, the body would interpret this as a famine coming on. It still does. And it will do what it takes to defend you from starvation, even if it means tricking or outright overruling your free will.

One clue comes from people with anorexia. It has been known for a while that patients with this mental illness have a very high mortality. But a look at the causes of death shows something less obvious: A striking number of the deaths are from suicide.

Other studies show that a lot of people – especially women – sometimes want to kill themselves but cannot. Humans are basically built with a certain level of protection. When facing death, we shrink back automatically. This is a good thing, and it is in a way unfortunate that it does not always work. As I like to say, the game is rigged: You can kill yourself when you are feeling down, but you cannot become immortal when you are feeling good. But at least it turns out there is some level of defense. But some people don’t have that level of defense. And these are the same people who are able to lose weight indefinitely. In other words, as far as the brain knows, weight loss is just another type of suicide, and it will use the whole range of defenses to avoid it.

The irony of this is of course that in our time, gaining weight above the “well rounded” level is the actual suicide. The body thinks otherwise, however.

What does help, then? First of all, it is best to not have put the weight on in the first place. But the single most reliable predictor of body fat is the body fat of people around you: Friends, family and coworkers. This works even on a national level: A Japanese moving to America will gain weight over the course of just months, while an American moving to Japan will eventually lose some. But it also works on a local level. The people around you seem to somehow calibrate you to eat slightly more or less than you normally would. (I had noticed this effect on myself long before I read about it in popular science magazines, but then again I don’t always know that I am typical enough to be a useful example.)

And physical activity seems to be more important than body mass anyway. As I said, the problem is that being obese makes it hard to exercise. But you have to start at the level where you are. Remember, if you are severely obese, you are literally in the same situation as someone who carries a heavy load, so don’t try exercise that would be suitable for a slim person. That would be like them going jogging with a heavy recliner strapped to their back or something. Simply walking will be great exercise for the obese, and in the beginning you may want to limit yourself to stretches where you can find a place to sit down and rest if you get exhausted. The single biggest jump is from complete inactivity to a little exercise. Once you get used to that, your body will gradually adapt, so you can be a tiny bit more active next week again, and so on.

But trying to simply assert your willpower and stop eating (or eat just tomatoes)? Won’t work. The body comes with failsafe against that kind of crazy behavior. It keeps tabs on you and if your diet works, it will start blocking it.

Perhaps science will have a solution one day. For now, all it has is an explanation, but we can use that to adapt at least to some extent.

After the recession


“We were downsized, so we’ve got nothin’ to do but drink.” It need not be that way – there is enough for everyone. As long as we think new, that is. Otherwise not.

It is widely agreed that the recession will end someday, somehow. Things may get horribly much worse before they get better, but we assume that in the end, everything will gradually return to how it was. I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen.

That is not because I like to see people suffer. It is because our economy –  our way of life, actually –  was not sustainable. That is to say, it could not continue this way. And it must not. When we emerge on the other side in some way, we must go in a different direction.

To take the purely economic first, we had a flood of fantasy money. Money is not really a thing but a measurement, like inches or megahertz. Money is a measure for value, and our measurements were way off. We counted with future incomes that were not realistic, and then we used them.

Then there is the small question of the environment: Pollution, limited resources, ecosystem extinction, and climate change. Luckily, some of these are opposing forces. For instance, there is no need to worry about what happens to the climate when the entire world uses as much gas as the USA: There is not that much gas. There was barely enough last year, as you may remember. And that was mainly China. Most of the developing world is still developing fairly slowly. But even one billion people having their income grow by 10% a year for some years was enough to make many resources scarce. There are still several billion people left in relative poverty.

And that is another part of it. For much of my lifetime, the economic growth was mainly in the rich world. Our consumption was gradually changing more and more toward luxury. The developing world was not expected to actually develop. That came as a bit of a shock. “Oh no, what will happen if they do the same things as we do?”  Perhaps we should have thought of that before we set a bad example, instead of hoping that they will fail.

Meanwhile we have reached a standard of living where more luxury does not really make us happier. Rather, we have to spend like crazy to keep up with the neighbors, so they won’t think we are losers. It is not the hope of improvement but the fear of shame that powers so much of modern consumption. This may seem reasonable there and then, but it is not reasonable when you compare with the developing world and its very real needs. People who want shoes that fit them, instead of having to wear too large or too small shoes. People who want a bike and a road to connect their village to the nearest town. People who want a separate shed for the chickens so they don’t need to sleep in the same room. People who want clean waters so their kids don’t get sick. And we are worried about being rejected for picking the wrong brand of soft drink??

I heard a news story on the radio Monday morning. Economists had calculated that a normal two-income family in Norway would get around kroner 60 000 more this year (close enough to $10 000) –  if they stayed employed, that is. Even in Norway, unemployment is expected to rise. Luckily for the unemployed, the benefits are generous enough that you can normally keep your house while you are unemployed, unless you divorce (which is common during unemployment) or eventually become disabled. In some other countries, losing your job can be a much more drastic change. From having plenty to fighting for your existence, in some cases. (I am looking at you, Americans. You sure don’t like sharing, do you?)

The truth is that a number of unemployed Norwegians earn more in unemployment benefits than I earn in salary. This is because my income is only around ½ of what is common for men my age in Norway. I can’t say it bothers me, since I have more than I need of all things most of the time. (The exception being the botched move a couple years ago, when I had to pay rent 3 places at once for a while. That was harsh.) I don’t keep up with the neighbors, don’t even pretend to. Since I am not reproducing, I need to impress the local humans about as much as I need to impress their cats.

Obviously that is an extreme example, but seriously: You don’t need to live in luxury to be happy. There are many fairly low-cost things that are a lot of fun. We used to do those things only a short time ago. Playing board games, go skiing (in cold climates) or swimming (in hot climates), paint, cook our own food. We don’t really need as much money as most people make today in the richest countries of the world. And the resources are better used elsewhere, where people have more real needs.

(Of course, a new computer twice a year is a human right. But apart from that, I mean…)

So what I propose is that we should not recover from this recession. Instead, we should adapt to it. We should get used to consuming a good deal less. And we should look for ways to share so we don’t have some people wallowing in luxury while their neighbors are starving, just because of luck of the draw. Those who don’t want to work shall not eat, as the old proverb says (it is actually from the Bible), but there are many who would not mind working but just aren’t needed now. It does not need to be the government that shares our wealth with the poor –  if we had done it ourselves, there would have been no need for the government to step in. But people are not very eager to share, even those of us who like to pretend that we believe in something higher than money. And so in the end a greedy people is punished with a greedy government, what we call socialism or more vaguely “the Left”. Think of it as collective karma.

There are some wild-eyed people who want us to go back to the Middle Ages, or the Stone Age in the worst cases. That is not what I’m thinking of. Actually I am thinking about something vaguely futuristic: Using our most advanced technology to create a sustainable lifestyle, and our most advanced psychology to create a happiness-centered rather than wealth-centered society.

For instance, it is commendable to use electric cars instead of gas-powered cars, and it may even become a dire necessity because the world’s oil runs out. But even better is to reduce driving overall. By enabling people to work from home or from neighborhood centers, and to do most of their shopping in the neighborhood as well, most of the daily driving is eliminated. This is becoming more common, but oh so slowly. People cling to the old forms out of habit and fear. “This is how we have always done things here”,  as you will hear if you propose some improvement in any workplace, church or even family.

We need a revolution of the hearts and minds. Not the old style of revolutions where the oppressed become oppressors, but one where we throw off the oppression of our collective and personal mind parasites and concentrate on what we really want. What we really want is not money, but such things as happiness, safety, acceptance and purpose. The way we go about getting these things is often roundabout and even ridiculous: In order to save time, we get various time-saving devices, which we then have to work overtime to pay for. Unless we love our job, we have basically made our own hamster wheel where we run to stay in the same place.

Well, this is already moving into “too long, didn’t read”  territory. More later, Light willing.

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.

Do other people change?

di090304 I am sure a sore throat can improve after three days, and perhaps some simple skills, but what about personality? How many days, years or decades does that take?  Is it even possible?

I was home sick Monday. It is merely a severe cold, I think. Not enough fever to be the flu, though I have been uncomfortable the whole weekend and coughed up green goo. It was therefore well deserved to get a day off from work. To further console me, I got a thick envelope in the mailbox. It was the demo CD and promotional brochures from Centerpointe, creators of HoloSync.

I wrote about HoloSync last month, and my opinion has not changed much. It has not changed much even after listening to their demo CD. It contains soft soothing background sounds that also carry a binaural beat, a difference in frequency between the left and right ear. (Earphones strongly recommended – in fact, they claim it won’t work without them, while the Monroe Institute believe that you may also use one loudspeaker on each side of you and still get some effect.) The binaural beat will gradually – over a period of minutes – create a standing wave in your brain. In this demo, the wave slowly deepens over the course of the demo, taking your brain into frequencies usually only seen during sleep or very deep meditation. In fact, most people would fall asleep if not for the voice.

The voice belongs to Bill Harris, founder and leader of Centerpointe Research Institute. While the scientifically proven sound effects gradually slow down your critical mind to a crawl, he will tell you what an amazing thing HoloSync is. This is so blatant, I cannot even call it swindling. He is all up front about the effects, unless you have been reading the website very superficially and start the CD without having read the thick scientific-looking paper enclosed. And who would do that? Just locate the CD, pop it in and close their eyes? Even then he tells you at the outset that you would probably fall asleep if he wasn’t talking. (In the end, I fell asleep anyway, but then again my clogged bronchial tubes have made it hard to get enough sleep this weekend. I would almost certainly have fallen asleep anyway if I closed my eyes for 20 minutes, even if the King of Norway himself had been speaking.)

I woke up when the sound stopped, feeling calm and clear-headed and with a deep need to buy HoloSync… OK, just kidding about the last part. I am mildly surprised that it did not seem to influence my feeling on the matter, but then again I was fairly positive already. And just in case I was still undecided, the sound came back on. The next quarter of an hour or so was filled with testimonials from satisfied users, some of them with European accents not unlike my own. (Being international is a big bonus point for them in my book. I hate having to pretend to be American to check out some new technology.)

Now we are homing in on today’s headline. You see, these people had experienced so many wonderful changes in their lives. And some of them even claimed that their family and coworkers had noticed. Now that made my ears perk up. (And I can literally move my ears, by the way, to an amazing degree for a human. Why didn’t I procreate when I still could? What a loss to the human gene pool!)

Change. You see, a lot of people believe in change. While most prefer to try to change the world instead of themselves, there are still a goodly number of people who earnestly set out to change their lives to the better. Midlife crises often have this effect, I think. I have previously described my journal as “like a midlife crisis without the crisis”, and this is a big part of it. I have seen so much new over these last few years, I wish I could share it with others. But the more I see, the more removed I become from ordinary human experience, and the harder it becomes to share it. So you get entries like this instead.

Saying “I have changed for the better” is one thing. Mildly interesting, even that. But what really makes me sit up with a start is when someone says “My husband has changed for the better” or “My brother has become a better person.” You see, we tend to very easily place good things on ourselves, things like improvement. If we feel more goodwill to other people, we are happy. But until THEY feel our goodwill, I am still only moderately impressed.

Unfortunately none of the testimonials were from people telling me that their family members had become better people thanks to HoloSync. Rather, this were the people who supposedly had become better people, telling me that their family also thought so. This is a step in the right direction, but not a very big step.

You see, I have known people who changed for the better. In the Christian Church, this was not exactly unfamiliar. It was more or less expected. Some of the changes were pretty drastic, such as alcoholics or drug abusers who completely left their old life behind and became radically self-sacrificing people. And they did not need to meditate for 10-15 years to experience this change either. Then again, their new life needed a lot of “after care”, so it wasn’t exactly a hobby for them.

You could ask their family and friends and they would tell you in no uncertain terms that these people had changed. They had not just improved, they had become new, they had been transformed. But there were never all that many, to be honest. Most of my friends in the Christian Church had always been fairly nice, so it was more of an in-depth work that others could not see. I am not out to belittle that. And anyway the Christian Church at the time was quite small and not growing fast at all. There was rejoicing for every soul who was added to the Church, and for everyone who stayed despite the relentless pull of the World.

It may seem unfair to compare a living Church to a $127 techno-meditation course. Scratch that, it is blatantly unfair. I wouldn’t do it if they weren’t this close to doing it themselves, with the fervent testimonials and comparison to “saints and mystics of the last 10 000 years”. I’ve known a very few of those, you see. And it is hard to not be a little bit changed just by that. But that is another story, not for today.

Be that as it may, I started thinking. I have mentioned that the western world is flooded by self-help books and videos and retreats, so that you would expect to walk among demigods and heroes. But the opposite seems more true. One must be grateful that some of one’s coworkers actually wash their hands after a heavy-duty session on the toilet. (A prior medical condition has given me the opportunity to spend more time in the lavatory than average, so I am starting to notice trends. I can’t see who they are though, and they can’t see me. Though they can probably hear me scrubbing my hands for as long as it takes to sing two verses of “Happy Birthday To You”, although I don’t actually sing that out loud.)

So dear reader: Have you known someone whose life was changed, radically improved, transformed or at least much better in any way through any physical or spiritual practice? Let us exclude life phases, like college and marriage and parenthood. Antidepressants are probably not quite newsworthy either. But anything from the Atkins Diet to the Torah, as long as there are noticeable and long-lasting changes in people’s lives. People who are not you. Tell me, tell me. I am all (movable) ears.

Quick health update

I’m trying to go back to work today after two sick days. Those have been quite rare for me recently, I am happy to say, unlike a decade ago when I supposedly was younger and healthier. Anyway, my throat is sore but I can breathe normally (for now at least) and my nose is no longer leaking like a broken faucet. And unlike last night, I am not even queasy. What more could a man ask for?  So off to work I go.  This is the best time of the year for me to work anyway. So many files to merge. Yummy!

EDIT after work: Perhaps I was a day early. Throat sore like on Friday and deep cough also like Friday.

Goodbye Tamiflu


What is the meaning of this apple?  It is to keep the doctor away so he doesn’t give you useless flu medicine.

As I mentioned in January 2004, I remember scientific magazines trumpeting neuraminidase inhibitors as the end of influenza, more or less. And with the rise of the Bird Flu threat, governments in the rich world bought huge quantities of Tamiflu, the edible product. (Relenza is inhaled, which causes greater risk for side effects. In particular, it is not well suited for asthma patients, which are among those who need flu medicine the most.)

Last year, about 19% of flu cases in the USA were immune to Tamiflu. This season the number is close to 100%, and it is worldwide. Tamiflu simply has no effect anymore against ordinary flu. It may still protect us against the bird flu, which is a different strain. But we don’t know that, because the avian flu has not yet mutated to a form that spreads easily among humans. If it does, it will almost certainly be by combining genes with ordinary human flu. Which means it may or may not pick up the immunity to Tamiflu. There is no way to know until it comes, if it comes.

Here is one article, one of many. “Hundreds of thousands of flu patients continue to be treated with Tamiflu this season,” Roche replies in this Reuters article. Which is true enough. The sad part is for 98.5 % of them, a spoon of honey would have been just as effective and tasted a lot better. Sucks to be Roche, since this is a flagship product for them, and they have probably built large factories to supply the surge of demand from rich world governments stockpiling for the avian flu.

Influenza is already resistant to two older attempts at medication, but neuraminidase inhibitors were supposed to be the final solution. Work is still in progress for the next attempt to curb this implacable enemy of mankind. A generic antibody shows some promise, but is still years from reaching the market even if it works and is found to be safe. (Source: International Herald Tribune)

Vaccine is still the best way to prevent the flu, but at least here in Norway there is not nearly enough to create herd immunity. Only the elderly, the chronically sick, health workers and a few other crucial public servants are encouraged to get the vaccine. (It varies a bit from year to year – some years there is more and people are encouraged to come and buy the rest.)

So for the near future, we shall once again have to rely on washing hands and getting plenty of sleep. Not a bad idea anyway, I say. (At least until our meditation practice replaces sleep – more about that in 10-15 years perhaps…)