Brainwave entrainment and sleep, again

Open your mind and let the New Age of Technology in! Messing around with your brain waves may sound scary, but that’s what they thought about flying too. And before that, running faster than horses. If God wanted us to go beyond our limitations, He would have given us the ability to create!

An online friend complained about insomnia again, so I hurried to recommend delta brainwave entrainment. This little masterpiece of modern science can replace up to 2 hours of sleep with half an hour of entrainment. Beyond that, you run into rapidly diminishing returns – it is not possible to replace sleep entirely, not even if you use several different frequencies of brainwave entrainment. Still, it is pretty impressive.

Unfortunately, it turns out my friend had experimented with brainwave entrainment in the past, on my recommendation, but experienced side effects that were worse than her lack of sleep. Even 10 minutes of delta entrainment caused blurred vision, sometimes migraine, and once she even experienced a seizure afterwards (although it is unclear whether this actually came from the entrainment). Unsurprisingly, she then gave up on the project, despite observing the almost magical effects of the technology.

It is more the rule than the exception that you will experience something when you first start using brainwave entrainment, especially if you start with delta, which is the slowest brainwave frequencies and only dominates naturally during our deepest sleep. So yeah, expect the unexpected. But for most people, the side effects are pleasant or just plain weird. Pain or neurological distortions like blurred vision or temporary loss of short-term memory are rare and typically symptoms of excessive use. The only permanent damage I have heard of is one user who got tinnitus, ringing in the ears. Given the thousands of users of brainwave entrainment, it is as likely as not that the fellow would have developed the problem during the same time period regardless. But who knows. Still, the odds are pretty good that you will benefit, and it is very unlikely that you will malefit, as it were.

Still, I recommend the LifeFlow approach of starting with a more accessible frequency. The LifeFlow program starts at 10 Hz, which is similar to a beginner’s meditation, or the relaxed feeling of lounging in a Stressless chair. It is recommended to use this for 40 minutes a day for two months before moving on to 9 Hz, a slightly deeper form of alpha wave, similar to what you experience the last few minutes before falling asleep. It continues this way down to 1 Hz, which is solid delta and comparable to deep sleep. During a night of sleep, you are unlikely to have delta after the first two sleep cycles unless you are a child. A sleep cycle is 90 minutes, and consists of several phases, so few adults and virtually no elderly get as much as 30 minutes of it naturally. Children do, however, and I don’t think delta entrainment is useful for them. They should get the opportunity to sleep naturally.

As I mentioned, the value of delta entrainment in connection with sleep is that it provides a type of brainwave that we need but which we don’t get much of as we grow older. Sleep consists of four phases, but two of them are particularly important. Deep sleep with delta waves is one of them. The other is REM sleep, or intense lifelike dreaming. Delta occurs naturally only at the beginning of the night, while REM increases gradually with each cycle through the night. Again, children have more of both, elderly less. In fact, elderly often go nights without delta at all, but also have less REM. Their dreams are often so prosaic that they wake up thinking they have not slept at all, despite snoring loudly!  When humans – and even animals – are kept awake for a long time, they catch up by having more delta and REM sleep the first night they are allowed to sleep again. This is a pretty good hint that these sleep phases are particularly important.

We don’t know any way to induce REM electronically. Sex will do it in rabbits, or so I have read. But delta waves we can create with precise sound patterns. All you need to do is close your eyes. You don’t even have to think about England. As long as you refrain from intense, primal emotions – fear, anger, lust or disgust – the entrainment will work its magic. You can even worry a little, if you feel the urge, just don’t panic.

But to reduce the risk of creepy side effects, I recommend starting with lighter frequencies (alpha or at least theta) and perhaps even shorter time spans in the beginning. Notice that most side effects are actually either pleasant or just psychedelic, but they are still distracting. The less you think about the experience, the better really. Just close your eyes, relax and let the sound wash over you.

I have an MP3 player with delta tracks beside me on my bed. That way, if I go to bed early enough to not fall asleep instantly, I can spend the time relaxing with delta waves. It is pretty nifty. I am a lot more awake at work than I used to be – I used to need to nap twice or thrice during most workdays, although my naps were brief – and I can now work full days instead of 90%. I still have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and perhaps I will for the rest of my life, but at least now I can do something to reduce the impact on my life.

I should admit that I am not sure it all comes from the brainwave entrainment, I made other changes in my life too. I learned laws of the mind from Happy Science and started to read esoteric books of timeless wisdom by Christian and near-Christian philosophers during the same time frame. It may even be a combination of several of these. Perhaps the passing of a couple years count as well, midlife changes and all that. But from a scientific point of view, when it comes to the effect on daytime sleepiness, brainwave entrainment is the main suspect.

A bit more enthusiastic than me, this fellow LifeFlow user escaped psychiatric hell by the power of brainwave entrainment. There are a number of such stories among the LifeFlow regulars.  His review is here at MeditationStars.


Brainwaves, entrainment & meditation

Last year I wrote several entries about brainwave entrainment and the two products I have bought and used for this purpose, first Holosync and later LifeFlow. I have tagged this entry with the same tags, so you should be able to use the tag feature of WordPress to quickly get a list of the other entries where I have used those tags.

This is a more basic overview, for those who are absolutely new to this field.

Our brain uses a combination of electricity and chemistry to do its work. Signals traverse the neurons – the nerve cells – as a change in the electric potential. Then in the gap between cells, it is converted to a chemical signal carried by a neurotransmitter. If the receiving cell reacts, it more or less recreates the signal and passes it on. Whether it does this, and whether the signal is stronger or weaker than it first was, depends on other signals the cell may also receive, and its experience with signals from that particular cell.

As you may guess by now, measuring the electromagnetic output of the brain will not allow your doctor to read your thoughts. It can only give a rough outline of what is going on in there. In fact, it is different from an EEG (electro-encephalogram) to say whether a person is dreaming or just thinking hard. But certain conditions show up very clearly, such as an epileptic attack or, on the other hand, sleep.

In sleep, the brainwaves slow down. For historical reasons, the usual thinking waves are called beta. They are quick, jagged and don’t go very far up or down usually, though there may be an occasional spike.

The next type is alpha. This appears when we are about to go to sleep, but also during daydreams and other relaxing situations. You can usually create this type of brainwave by simply sitting comfortably alone, closing your eyes, relaxing and then looking slightly upward inside your closed eyes. Don’t roll them back so hard it hurts. In this state of mind it is almost impossible to solve mathematical or logical problems, or anything else that normally requires concentration. These brainwaves are slower, rounder and more regular.

The alpha state is the one where we start doing meditation. However, the alpha brainwaves are not the meditation. This is extremely important to understand. Why then do we use this state of mind? Because 1) this is something every person experiences every day when they go to sleep and often throughout the day as well, and 2) it is a state of mind where consciousness is somewhat reduced. As I said, you cannot do mental work in this state. Most people will automatically start daydreaming (autists don’t) and their thoughts begin to drift aimlessly. Meditation consists of setting up an anchor (a mantra, a simple sequence of counting, observing your breath or something similar) and binding your awareness to it so it does not drift. Over a period of months or years, you gradually learn to remain fully conscious in a state of mind where you normally are not conscious. This is what meditation really is about: The expansion of consciousness.

Below alpha waves (frequency 12-8 Hz) are theta waves (7-4 Hz). These fill most of the night. Just after you fall asleep, or when you nap on the sofa, you remain vaguely aware of the world around you, even though your brain has already begun to produce mostly theta waves. In this situation you can still be easily roused, but you rather prefer not to unless there is some crisis. However, when you return to the same brainwaves after going into deeper sleep, this awareness has been erased, and you remain more or less unconscious throughout the night. In the elderly, some nights there is no deeper sleep, and they may therefore imagine that they have not slept at all, even though they did so for several hours.

The final level is delta (2-0.5 Hz). The brainwaves here are very slow (0.5 Hz means each wave takes two seconds!) and with a much greater amplitude (that is to say, the electric potentials on both sides are much higher). This is the deep sleep that wipes out the awareness of the mind. It is also associated with restoration of the body and brain, maintenance of the immune system and release of Human Growth Hormone.

All of these states can be induced through brainwave entrainment. You can use light or sound, sound being most used because it has no risk of triggering epilepsy. The human ear cannot hear sounds with a frequency this low, so it is made indirectly. The most popular approach is binaural beats. You need headphones for this, as it sends a different signal to each ear. The difference in frequency becomes the frequency of the resulting brain waves. For instance, a tone of 210 Hz and one of 200 Hz will give rise to a 10 Hz wave in the brain. This was discovered rather by accident. Later other methods have been devised that don’t need headphones, the most effective is probably isochronic tones. Here an audible signal is turned on and off (or from one frequency to another) at a rapid interval that corresponds to the target frequency.

With these techniques it is possible to invite the brain into brainwaves normally only found in sleep. You cannot overwhelm the brain and force it into these states though. On the way from the top of the brain stem where these frequencies are generated from the sound input, the waves have to pass through the limbic system. If this system is aroused (through intense emotions such as fear, anger or lust) the signal will be blocked. Conversely, if you willingly relax and don’t concentrate on anything else, the signal will spread more quickly.

If you play a track designed to cause theta or delta brainwaves, it is normal to fall asleep the first times you listen to it. In fact, if you don’t mind, you may continue that way. But if you strive to be alert, you will normally be able to stay awake longer and longer, and eventually throughout the session.

LifeFlow by Project Meditation takes a slightly different approach, as you get 10 tracks, one for each Hz of frequency from 10 to 1. You are supposed to spend at least a month with each, until you are thoroughly familiar with them, starting with those you recognize from waking life, and getting steadily deeper. This way you should be able to remain conscious even at the lower levels, though it may usually take a couple years for a newbie to get there.

Again, the essence of meditation is the expansion of consciousness. A host of problems in life stem from the fact that our “normal” consciousness is a fragile thing. A simple insult may be enough for it to be swapped out temporarily for an altered state in which you behave like a total stranger. The same goes for hunger, fear, lust or revulsion. Because of this, people find themselves unable to reach their life goals or even to maintain the life they already have. Seen from the perspective of someone more stable, they are like foam on waves on a storm sea, thrown helplessly about, broken apart and formed again, but doomed to once again be ripped to shreds. Anyone who has a deep and stable consciousness is certain to feel compassion when seeing this sorry state of being, but most people are sure this is as good as it gets, this is all there is.

I believe this is how some of the world’s great religions came into being, through the compassion of great souls who had a deep, stable consciousness. But because people tried to understand it without doing the practice (in other words, because of “theology”) the religions degraded into cheat codes for getting health, prosperity and generally tricking the gods into ignoring your destructive behavior and treating you as if you were someone else. As opposed to, you know, becoming that other person, from the inside out.

There is a distinct risk that the same may happen with brainwave entrainment. Already the claims made by various suppliers go a ways beyond what you should reasonably expect. But you should definitely expect some benefits if you use it regularly.

Holosync out, LifeFlow still in

I even have a pair of good headphones I bring with me on the commute and wherever I want to listen to brainwave entrainment tracks on the move. It is a pretty good use of such time, don’t you think?

Looking at my tags, it seems I have not written about my brainwave entrainment since last summer. I know I have meant to write about it later, but I may have done so only in my head, or only a draft that I did not upload. Time to fix that. I think some people may benefit from knowing. There is still a good deal of searches for Holosync on my statistics. And reasonably so, for it is a pretty expensive program by the standards of most of the world, especially with the current economy. It is not like everyone lives in Norway where there is no recession and even an underpaid office worker in a part-time job can afford to try out stuff like this and shrug off the bill almost without noticing.

(You know envy will land you in Hell, right? And that’s even before you’re dead. Envy is bad for your spirit, soul and body. Repent, repent!)

Anyway, Holosync. I guess a part of that steep price goes into their enormous marketing budget. Or you may call it “outreach”. If not for them, hundreds of thousands of people would never have heard of brainwave entrainment. That would have been a loss, for it is quite an interesting technology.

Basically, you use sound (or in some other products light pulses) to set up a standing wave in your brain. Unless you put some effort into making other brain waves, this wave will spread from the deeper parts of the brain where it is created, and engulf both hemispheres. This is thought to improve communication between the various parts of the brain, although I am not sure this follows logically. After all, your brain has whole-brain waves each night during dreamless sleep. This happens several times a night, especially early in the night. (Dream sleep makes up an increasing portion of sleep as morning approaches. Brain waves during dream sleep is similar to waking life, only more excited.)

Of course, during sleep you are not conscious, so that may make a difference. In any case, it is definitely a different experience. And as I have said repeatedly, sitting down and shutting up for half an hour or a whole hour each day with a noble intention will surely cause personal growth. This is proven by thousands of years of monks, nuns, sages, gurus etc, whose quiet life actually used to be a backbone of civilization. Whether civilization today has a backbone I will leave as an exercise for the reader.

I’ve stopped using Holosync, though, because I am more impressed with LifeFlow from Project Meditation (warning: sound!). While still a little heavy on the hype, they are more realistic, encouraging a combination of entrainment and meditation, and also not flooding their customers with constant mail (both electronic and paper) promoting largely unrelated new-age and general quackery products like Bill Harris / Centerpointe does. More importantly, I think their product is better (eventually) and I agree with their approach.

LifeFlow starts with entrainment at 10 Hz, a fairly everyday alpha level which most of us experience when we relax. For each month you subscribe, you get a new track that is 1 Hz lower: 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and finally two bonus tracks with gamma (very high frequencey) for those who dare experiment with that. These frequencies are associated with religious ecstasy but may also trigger a panic attack, so it is probably a good idea to go through a year of familiarizing yourself with brainwave entrainment first. Me, I prefer to get my religious ecstasy from religion, if at all. Anyway, LifeFlow combines the use of binaural beats (which Holosync also uses) with monaural and isochronic tones. It does not use ramping (sliding frequencies) as the brain anyway uses several minutes to entrain to a frequency unless you are deeply familiar with it.

The different frequencies have somewhat different effect on the brain, although not in great detail: They mostly fall into three groups. But all of them induce synchronization of large parts of the brain. Of special interest is the deepest frequencies, which correspond to the waves of delta sleep, or slow wave sleep. Natural delta waves have a frequency ranging from about 0.5 to 2 Hz, or oscillations per second. So this is quite slow indeed.

During deep, dreamless sleep the brain seems to rest more deeply than otherwise, and this is also where growth hormone is released in adult men (the only group of humans where this has been studied in detail as far as I know). In young adults, delta sleep make up a significant part of the first sleep cycle (about 90 minutes), a smaller part of the next, and very little from then on. In the elderly it is quite common to not have slow waves sleep at all most nights. Being able to induce this state in the brain artificially may have substantial health potential. What I can say is that it certainly seems to let me do with less sleep each night and still be less tired than I used to be during the day.

After I got the deepest levels of LifeFlow, I have had no need for Holosync. I have not sent it back for a refund though (they do have a 1 year money back promise if you don’t buy any higher levels). After all, I used it for several months, so I feel I got my money’s worth. I just think LifeFlow is more effective, once you get to the deeper levels. You also have more levels to choose from, for different purposes. That it also happens to be more affordable is just an added bonus. Recommended. (They also have a great forum where meditators with decades of experience will share their wisdom with newcomers. It’s not quite like having your own guru, but probably better than nothing. Plus, you have me! ^_^)

So that’s how it ended, at least so far. I may write more if I find I have left out anything important.

Brainwave entrainment update


You probably wonder if I have forgotten all about the brainwave entrainment projects I wrote about this spring? After all, I am a self-confessed fadboy, only my fads are out of sync with the rest of society, as am I generally. Or perhaps YOU have forgotten about them, although Holosync in particular has shot past anime in my site’s referrals. Anyway, no, I have not forgotten.

I still use the Holosync Dive track pretty much every workday morning, although I have skipped it a few times. It is a nice enough way to wake up – not beautiful, but a reasonable compromise between sleep and wakefulness. Holosync does not require actual meditation, and frankly I don’t find it conductive to traditional meditation either. The crystal (?) bowls, while somewhat more melodic than actual pots and pans such as your toddler may bang on, are still more in that direction than actual musical instruments in the European sense.

Still, it is half an hour to sit down and shut up, always a good thing in a hectic world. You might think I do nothing else, being unimaginably single for life and having the whole house to myself. But with The Sims 3 out now, it is so very easy to jump into a simpler pocket universe where there is always something going on. Stealing half an hour from sleep (thanks to the 10 minutes of delta at the end, which is as much as you get from 90 minutes of sleep in the morning) is a pretty good deal.

While I don’t find Holosync particularly pleasant, LifeFlow 8 has a certain appeal. It is the third and lowest of the alpha levels, the next being the 7 Hz theta level. Actually LF7 is a bit higher, to resonate with the Schumann Resonance, the natural base resonance of Earth’s ionosphere. I am not sure how useful that is, but some like to have that option. But enough about that. I have only heard a shorter sample of it and it did not resonate with me, at least yet.

LifeFlow 8, on the other hand, did. Even though the musical instruments on it are not particularly pleasant (some kind of trombone perhaps, or some weird form of bagpipe?), I immediately felt at home with it. I had not felt that way with the first two levels. I found them honestly to be a distraction rather than a help for meditation. I felt that I would normally meditate deeper than that when I meditated naturally and spontaneously. But with LF 8, it seemed strangely familiar. It did indeed feel like it resonated with me. Putting on the headphones, I would move into non-thinking mode in a matter of heartbeats, much as when meditating spontaneously.

For the non-meditating reader, thinking may sound like a good thing and non-thinking may sound like something your spouse does too much of. That is not quite what I mean. I believe that humans normally daydream when they don’t think. That is, while they are staring blankly, they are actually reliving memories or seeing images of things they want (or fear, for those of a less lucky mental constitution). I don’t do that, but that’s another chapter. What I talk about here is a state of brain where I don’t talk to myself, don’t visit imaginary worlds, but just am. I exist, I observe my own mind casually, but I don’t interact with it. Thoughts still come up, but I don’t think them. I don’t agree or disagree with them, I don’t extend them or compare them, and I don’t subvocalize them.

Usually when verbally oriented people think (and I believe that is most of us), we subvocalize like crazy. That is to say, we partially form the words we think, with our vocal tract, even if we don’t say them or even whisper them, even with our mouth closed, there are still small movements of the muscles we use when we talk. Sensors made with modern sensitive electronics can pick up these movements and actually play your thoughts out loud, although this can still only be done in a laboratory setting and with equipment placed directly on your body. So the CIA cannot actually monitor your thoughts from a distance, and never will with this technology. It just serves as proof that people are indeed directing their thought with the muscles of their vocal tracts. Once you are aware of this, you can start looking for it in yourself, and learn to shut down the whisper of the muscles. Or it could happen spontaneously, when you enter a state of mind where you have nothing you want to say.

For me, this happened first when I prayed to God. At first, I had prayed the American way, rattling off a wish list to God and hanging up. But I considered that this was pretty rude if God was real, and you would not do it in the first place if not. So after talking to God, I started to wait in case he had something to say to me. Some people report that God does actually speak to them. Perhaps they have a different mental constitution than I. God did not speak to me the way people do. But while waiting for him, I had nothing more to say, not even in my thoughts, since God supposedly reads those too. And so, perhaps for the first time in my life, I fell silent inside.

What happened after that, regarding my prayers, is of no concern to this article. But once I knew that it was possible to be silent inside, I could also practice this even when not in prayer. I don’t do that much, because life is full of fun things to do, one after another, and you could live for a million years and not stop having fun. But sometimes I really want that quiet, even though I am not sleepy. Because it is… not fun, exactly, but good. When you don’t have much food, food is good, and when you don’t have much quiet, quiet is good. I guess it is part of the recipe for being human.

It is this silence inside, ironically, that the soundscape of LifeFLow 8 reminds me of. The actual sound is outside the skull and after a few seconds I barely notice it. The quiet is inside, where I retreat to.

For those who have not meditated even casually for a long time, it may be another frequency (probably a higher one) that resonates best with you. Or you may have to get used to the process from scratch first. In the past I would have tried to tell you how, but there is an excellent introduction on Project Meditation, for free. You can even download free spoken instructions and timers of various lengths. I personally did not use a mantra when I first started scientific meditation, I simply counted very slowly to four. Some count to ten. Some just observe their breath. But mantra is probably the most common. Anyway, you probably know all this if you read this entry, unless you are a concerned relative or friend.

So to reiterate: Holosync is an alternative to meditation, while LifeFlow is a way to trigger and maintain meditation. I recommend Holosync when one is sleepy and LifeFlow when not, personally. I am not going to buy the second and later levels of Holosync though. I can afford the rather steep price, but I don’t for a moment believe in the “carrier frequency” theory, and I certainly don’t want affirmations in my meditation. They are an abomination, as far as I am concerned. Perhaps I will write about why, one day, or perhaps not. This is plenty for today.

Holosync vs. LifeFlow

Or, more exactly, not. Something I have noticed on the Project Meditation forum is that there are people who go for LifeFlow because it is cheaper than Holosync, which they have considered before or even started with. (I am guilty of picking up LifeFlow after Holosync as well, although for other reasons. Holosync has a lot more PR, so people tend to discover it first.)

The thing is, the two competitors have quite different approaches. You cannot just substitute one for the other and use them in the same way, then expect the same results. Oh, there are similarities: They both use binaural beat technology to create a standing wave in the brain of a desired frequency, and they both warn their users that this may cause weird experiences as formerly unconscious material comes to the surface. Even unpleasant or scary stuff to some degree. But they both maintain that for most people, the pleasant experiences dominate. And reports from several users seem to bear all of this out.

However, Holosync uses more of a “brute force” approach. They start with delta waves from day one, which may be nice if you want to substitute meditation for sleep, but is very hard to assimilate. They actually claim that the intention is to overload certain parts of the brain in the hope that it will reorganize on a higher level of efficiency. I have mocked this in the part, I hope, saying that if so they should play the sound of screaming babies. No other sound overloads my brain at least faster than that. Clearly that cannot be what happens, or at least not the only thing that happens.

LifeFlow takes a different approach. While meditation is optional with Holosync, it is a central part of the recommended use for LifeFlow. And LifeFlow starts with pure alpha wave soundtracks, a form of brain waves that occur naturally in humans while awake, although it is most common just as we are about to fall asleep. Still, many people experience alpha waves simply by relaxing and closing their eyes. And if that is not, rolling the eyes back gently (as if trying to look through your forehead right above your nose, the so-called “third eye”) will usually trigger it. To further recognize this type of brainwaves, you will notice that it is incompatible with mathematics and other stuff that normally would make you furrow your brows to solve problems. Even long sentences may be hard to handle in this mode. However, you are still very much aware, in fact in some ways more than before. More present, perhaps. And sounds may sometimes seem louder.

Anyway, you should be able to recognize the alpha waves from daily life. If all goes well you should be able to spend most of the meditation session in this state. Not that you can’t do that without artificial stimuli too. But after about a month, you move on to a slightly deeper alpha level. Each month you get access to a deeper frequency. After something like three or four months, you are within the range we call theta waves. I think those are kind of overrated, they appear naturally in shallow sleep if I understand it correctly. Contrary to the claims on their website, vivid dreams (REM) actually use beta, same as waking thought and experiences. Although in me at least, dreams during shallow sleep can be scaringly intense and lifelike, as I have written about earlier this spring.

Over the course of about a year, you gradually get used to lower and lower frequencies, until you can supposedly experience delta waves and remain conscious, or at least aware. I wonder about that. It probably takes much longer time for most. But at least it should be theoretically possible.

I still use Holosync to wake up in the morning. It has a great combination of the meditative background sounds and the clanging of metal bowls that helps keep one awake even if sleepy. But I am not so sure about the psychoactive effects. The standing wave seems to remain confined to the deeper layers of my brain (and it probably is real, since I seem to need less sleep when I use it regularly) but my mind is not affected, or not noticeably.

This may be just as well, since without getting used to lower frequencies gradually, I would almost certainly go into deep sleep. The ability to retain witnessing awareness during deep sleep is something only the most adept meditators experience. (Although it can happen spontaneously once or a few times in life for others. It happened to me once when I was sick and had been awake at a time where I should normally be in deep sleep. I did fall asleep again, but somehow I did not lose consciousness completely. I have described it as a single candle somehow burning in the lightless deep somewhere in the ocean, hundreds of yards below the surface and its light, but it was not actually scary, and it was not actually a candle, just the “light” of awareness. Perhaps a better description is in the song by G.O.L: “All sound had died away, and it was quite dark. But in the void and in the silence, there was still a kind of knowledge, a faint awareness. Awareness not of name or person, and not of memories of the past. The awareness knew only itself.” Unlike the rest of their song, however, the experience was absolutely peaceful and not at all creepy. Merely detached awareness, without reflection or wishes.)

Now, I have no such experiences with either Holosync or LifeFlow, and I don’t know if I ever will. Probably not. I seem to be quite resistant to the actual experiences, which is ironic since I can have intense experiences of alternate states from music or sometimes silent meditation. But I hope to continue my experiments for some time to come, if I have some time to come at all. (Not that I know anything else.)

Sitting down, shutting up


I need to calm myself down!  If you sometimes feel like that, you may want to read this. If not, you may NEED to read it…

I was thinking to write about the two brainwave entrainment systems I have tested this spring, Holosync and LifeFlow.  However, I realized that this should come first.

As I said already when I was reading up on Holosync, before buying the first (and for me, last) module: Personal growth and transformation will come in some form to virtually anyone who sets aside an hour a day for a monotonous task with a noble purpose. Or to put it more bluntly:  Sit down and shut up, and you will become a better person.

I do not know if it has always been like this. Probably, for in ages past, the day often went with simply working and caring for the most immediate needs. Only a few had the leisure to choose between wisdom and debauchery. But today, the whip we crack to keep us running is inside us rather than outside. The ever running, hectic mind will not be quiet. We work only half as much as our ancestors, and still we have barely time to sleep.

If you have been running around like that, not able to sit still for more than five minutes at best, doing “nothing” for an hour (or even a half!) can be a harrowing experience.  Bill Harris of Centerpointe and Michael Mackensie of Project Meditation both speak of “resistance” as being common, and even “upheaval” being possible, and they give much similar advice on how to deal with it.  Many of these things will happen even if you just sit there, say I.  Memories you had forgotten return out of the blue. Feelings you cannot explain suddenly arise, whether happy or sad.  You become aware of many bodily sensations that you did not notice before.  You suddenly think of a lot of things you should have done. You suddenly miss an old friend or relative that you could phone, or you realize that the house badly needs cleaning.

(Actually, unlike some respectable sages, I think the cleaning urge can be a good sign.  Sitting exercise increase the order within you, so the disorder around you become more obvious and contrary to you. I have good experience with doing some modest amount of cleaning and then returning to my position. But it is also possible that it can serve merely as a distraction, if the need is not real.)

More obvious hindrances are the intense feeling of boredom and urge to be entertained.  Normally people who have nothing else to do will sit down with the TV.  Failing that, a computer will do. It has endless entertainment and distraction.  (I feel the urge to open City of Heroes even now – I guess Goodwin is right that blogging can also be a form of spiritual exercise, “blogio divina” I think he calls it, although Google seems to not recognize that phrase.)

Failing any of these outlet, the human mind will throw itself into remembering (and often rewriting) the past, planning for the future, and constructing elaborate daydreams.  This is what I have written about so often lately, the “default network” of the brain.  (Google will offer to drown you in information about this if you don’t remember my earlier rants.) Everything to make sure we are not actually present in the moment.

Holosync, Hemisync, LifeFlow and many others may have other virtues as well, but arguably their main effect is that they keep people from escaping (or fleeing in horror) from the very act of quietude. Meditation and prayer do this as well, in addition to their own specific effects. Even listening to classic music (I recommend Back on principle) or watching art could have some effect.  And of course watching paint dry.

Before you go into any act of quietude with the sincere intention to make it part of your life, you should be prepared that resistance will appear.  The effect of quietude is growing awareness.  At first this awareness will be dispersed and unfocused, and therefore you will see these effects:  Random memories, feelings, impulses, small pains or itches or strange sensations of your body.  They are the first encounters of your awareness!  The awareness needs to be collected, tamed and trained to go beyond these distractions if you want to grow as a person.  You will meet things you have failed to integrate in the past, or as in my nightmare, thrown down in the basement and locked the door. You will even meet the collective delusions of our culture, and must go beyond these to begin to wake up.

But the first step is to stop stepping, sit down and shut up for a while.

Fat chance

Today I had a chance to test a hypothesis. Based on one data point, I’d say the hypothesis failed. Hypothesis: Brainwave entrainment may counteract fat poisoning.

Regular readers will know that I get fat poisoning if I eat more than a few grams of fat in a single meal (about six hours). I start feeling cold regardless of the temperature in the room, a cold that comes from inside. (A thermometer, when I can be still long enough, confirms that my body temperature usually is lower than normal, not higher, so it is not fever shaking.) I start shivering and then shaking. My body goes stiffer than usual, so intense exercise to heat me up is out of the question – it would tear my muscles as it is basically the opposite of warming up. Finally come the worst symptoms, fear and diarrhea as the muscles in my digestive tract join in the dance to keep me warm. Queasiness, gut pain, violent bowel movements and in extreme cases the beginning of a rectal prolapse. Not a pretty sight, but you can see it many places on the Internet if you are curious. The final symptom is irresistible drowsiness and deep sleep, regardless of the time of day.

Since some of the symptoms are neurological, I have wondered if brainwave entrainment could have an effect. So when I got the first symptoms, this came to mind. I also put up the heat in the bathroom to max, it has a radiating space heater. Walking in place in front of the heater, I played an alpha wave entrainment track with my eyes closed for about 20 minutes. Luckily it was only a small attack. I had not expected one at all, since I haven’t eaten all that much fat. I have eaten more rice chocolate than usual lately – usually I only eat one 1-2 wafers of thin mint dark chocolate a day, exactly because even a small bite of chocolate takes a big bite out of my fat ration. A lot of the tastes we enjoy through the day are fat soluble, so I tend to be very protective of my fat rations.

On the bright side, I did not feel serious fear. But this is explained by the fact that I did not have colon spasms. This again probably comes from the heat and activity that I set in early, and the fact that it was a very small attack. So the total attempt at treating the attack was a success. But the brainwave entrainment part was not: There was no noticeable different in my body’s reactions either as I began entrainment or after 8 minute, the time at which entrainment should normally be complete.

So at best entrainment may be attempted to minimize the risk of panic, but not the things that would cause the panic in the first place.

Perhaps a better idea would be to get the brain to look for less fat in the first place?  Although I have become pretty good at this, I could still do fine with half the fat I now eat.  We need only very small amounts of fat in our diet, less than 10% of our daily energy expenditure. Even I eat more than double that, and most people in the western world double that again.  (Fat is twice as rich in energy as either sugar, starches or proteins. It is also very compact, so we tend to grossly under-estimate it in our diet.)

Out of sync and shape

di090403 I have reason to believe that the word “headdesk” did not exist until the coming of  computer networks…

This morning I decided to skip the Holosync session. After all, I had slept 7 hours, slightly more than I usually did before I even started these experiments. Besides, I was planning to do a 40-minute LifeFlow 10 today, the first of these. The demos have tended to make me more sleepy rather than less, but that would be a concern for the afternoon when I did that brainwave entrainment.

But already on the commute bus to work I became very sleepy and napped for much of the way.  This is something that rarely ever happened even before I started syncing in the morning.  Perhaps if I slept only half the night or if I got up very early. But I was actually half an hour late (thank you, large intestine) and had slept for 7 hours.  Huh.  At work I became sleepy again after lunch, although 10 minutes of focused counting meditation cleared that up.  Still, later in the workday I became sleepy AGAIN and napped for 10-15 minutes.   Either the brain does get used to the morning sync or it has a really good placebo effect!

Still haven’t gotten along to testing the “industrial strength” version of LifeFlow as of 20:10 (8:10 PM DST). This is because of the Linux laptop.  I have used it almost exclusively to play music at work for a good while now, but I can do that with the Vista laptop.  It just isn’t as easy with iTunes as it is with Amarok, the KDE music player. Well, that probably does not tell you much unless you came here by searching for Amarok, KDE, or “Linux music” – and I sincerely hope this entry is many pages down on any of those searches!

Anyway, I don’t play much music anymore. It happens, but it has diminished greatly of late, and more so now that I can directly hack into my brainwaves with low-frequency sound effects. Between this and the speeches of the “researchers” in this area, my “recently played” list looks nothing like its old self.  So I took the old HP pavilion ze5600 with me home finally.

This ties in with my rant about Norton antivirus, last seen in my March 27 entry.   With my relationship to  Symantec back to enemy level (I know it’s been there once before) there is only a firewall between me and an Internet raging with worms.  Unlike viruses, which passively drift along with stuff you download (mail included), worms are actively trying to get into your computer and infect it through any one of the many thousand ports that opens you to the Internet.  The obvious solution is to have a firewall, which closes all these ports (think of them as small holes that worms may worm their way through).  My router does indeed have a great firewall, but… it gets in the way of downloading Japanese cartoons.

I have had neither the time nor the inclination lately to watch such “anime” as it is called.  But this is things that have come and gone in the past, although the fad seems to be slightly weaker each time it returns.  It seems like a reasonable goal to at least complete the series I have begun.  Besides, while it may be technically illegal, I still see it as a valuable cultural exchange that I should encourage. After all, it is not like you could rent these in your video store – or indeed any video store in the western world.  Some of them are even hard to find in Japan anymore.

Anyway, the short of it is that someone needs to run BitTorrent without a firewall, and if that someone is me, the worms don’t die.  This is where Linux comes in.   The small laptop has Ubuntu Linux instead of Windows, which means worms won’t work on it.  The two operating systems may do many of the same things, but they are very different inside.  Worms are all written for Windows, except possibly one or two for Mac.  Linux has simply too many different variants to be worth writing a worm for. It is not that it is impossible, perhaps not even harder than for Windows, but you will only infect a few machines, and then they change again.   So, by putting my Linux laptop on the network, I can download and upload anime without getting worms.

Of course, first I had to get the machine home. It is just a laptop, and I carried it in a suitable box along with cables and such.  It was not really heavy, but it still felt heavy after I had carried it long enough.  (I walk about 15 minutes from work to the bus station, and around 10 minutes from the bus stop home.)  My arms are ridiculously weaker than my legs now after I have not trained with the bow since I moved here, or years anyway.  I really should starting carrying a box with a laptop to work and back every day, except it would look kind of weird in the long run.

Connecting the laptop to the Internet was a snap, literally. I just snapped into place the network cable that I had once used for the Dell laptop.  (Unfortunately I never managed to get the Dell to run Ubuntu or Xubuntu, and then it kind of died. Or at least its screen did.)

Connecting to the home network, however, was surprisingly difficult.  I know I have done it before with an earlier laptop.  And the Ubuntu installation on Trine the tri-core computer accesses the network without a second thought.  But the laptop simply could not open the network named “ITLAND”, although it managed to see that it was there.  (It also saw a network named “WORKGROUP” that is the default Windows network, I believe, but that I thought I had removed.  This cannot be opened either.

I manage to set up access to one shared folder by using another alternative (Linux is big on alternatives). I used the choice “Connect to server” and gave the internal IP adress for the computer where my anime is stored, and the folder name on the network.  So I got around it that way.  I was also able to connect to part of the network for a while by running the network wizard on the Windows XP machine again with the same network name as originally and no other changes.  But it faded after a while, for unknown reasons.  I will probably continue to hack on it from time to time, but the temporary solution is good enough for what I wanted to do right away,  get more episodes of Astro Fighter Sunred, an old parody on the Japanese version of super heroes.

Why do I have to hack and rig these things anyway?  I should be able to rent the anime I want to see directly from the Japanese company that holds the copyright, and stream it directly to my computer using safe, reliable components of the world’s leading operating system.  There should be no need to hack, fudge, jury-rig or improvise, rely on the kindness of strangers and tiptoe on the shady side of the law.  Come the revolution, this is all going to change! But for now, Linux is the most revolutionary we have. And it gets the job done, with a little help from the Google.

Short update

Looks like my next fad may indeed be gaming. I started a new “Build a City” challenge  in Sims 2. (Rules here.) This fiendishly complex challenge makes your first sim start all alone with no regular jobs, having to survive on gardening, fishing, selling paintings or novels etc. The goal is to build a thriving city by fulfilling various criteria for getting more people to move to the area, unlocking various careers, shops and nearby neighborhoods.

I was inspired to this one by reading the Build a City challenge of an online friend of mine, at . Mine is more tongue-in-cheek, with a city called Copycat and a founder named Nekomimi Eien (roughly translated, CatEars Forever). There will be robots. There will be catgirls. There will be catgirl robots. Or perhaps I’ll think of something else if I wake up tomorrow.
The weather is really nice now, but it’s still spring and I come home from work not long before sunset. The night comes later for each passing day though, and the snow is melting AGAIN.

The LifeFlow folks sent me another email. Just in case it wasn’t an automatic mailer, I sent a reply. It is a tough time being a skeptic, even a partial skeptic such as I. Life must be really interesting for the people who think brainwave hacking can cause them to leave their bodies, attract beautiful women and get threatened by the IRS. All this without necessarily believing in higher powers ( not counting IRS).

Quivering at work


Kyaaa! Endlessly happy endorphins and hormones course through their minds and bodies, causing them to quiver with pleasure!  And today it was my turn…

“Within 8 minutes you will quiver with pleasure ” says the website.  It sounds like something you would confine to the bedroom, doesn’t it?  Not that I know anything about those realistically vibrating rings or whatever my fellow singles collect.  No. But it is amazing what the mind can do with a little technical assistance pulsing at the right frequency. Or so we have learned from the website. In fact, the bedroom is one recommended location.  I tried that last night before going to sleep, but no quivering ensued. Perhaps because my ultra wide frequency headphones are really big, heavy and lumpy to wear in bed.

LifeFlow did make me quiver with pleasure at work today, though. Although I am not sure how much came from the isochronic tones and how much came from reading the outrageous deadpan parody of Bill Harris at their forum.

You can say what you will about Bill Harris, and a lot of people do just that, since he is rich and famous and they are not.  But one thing he does right is to pile on with information.  Actually the scientific content is pretty low – it is popular science at its most popular – but there is some science, some common sense and a lot of anecdotal evidence.  The sum total of this makes for a fairly specific impressions.  Well,  LifeFlow subtly copies the same recipe. They use their own words, no cut and paste, but they retain and use the same key concepts and in roughly the same order. If you have read Centerpointe stuff, it is very obvious.  Hilariously so, at times, although I am not sure if that was intended.  That makes it even funnier.

(The two competitors use the same basic technology, but only at the very core.  Both of them use binaural beats, which I have written about for a month now.  LifeFlow also uses monaural beats (where interference between two tones takes place in the air rather than the head) and isochronic tones (where a carrier tone is cut on and off, and the frequency at which it goes on and off is the target frequency).  Actually, the human ear cannot hear frequencies lower than 20 Hz at best, which is higher than those used to assist meditation.  Your body can FEEL the beat however if it is loud enough, but there is doubt about whether this causes brainwaves to follow the frequency. Isochronic tones however should work, in much the same way that pulses of light do.  They can also be used without headphones, but you still need the headphones for the binaural part.)

Where Centerpointe advertises “The lazy man’s way to meditate”, LifeFlow sells “the laziest, most enjoyable way to meditate ever”.  Centerpointe: “Did you know that people who meditate everyday are many times happier than those who don’t? They’re also healthier, and live longer.”  LifeFlow: “Did you know that people who meditate daily are much happier, healthier and live longer than those who don’t?” And so on, and on, for pages.  Everything Bill says, down to the dubious theory about reorganizing the brain on a higher level and the sage advice to not resist the change, Michael says too, in slightly different words.

So at work today I fired up the free demo MP3 which I had downloaded from their site.  While MP3 is a “lossy” compression, the LifeFlow Project Meditation still thinks it should have enough effect to impress the listener.  The sound was pretty soft, so I  turned it up quite a bit.  The result was an amazing feeling of suddenly being in a sunlit forest glade.  Birds were twittering, a small brook was gurgling happily in the background, and there were other vague sounds  like wind.  At this sound level, I could feel the  slight vibration in my body from the deep sounds that we can’t hear.  You may know this as “infrasound”.  In any case, it was as close  to being outdoors as you can be while in an office.

I enjoyed my improved work environment.  When the 14 minute demo stopped, I  just played it over. And over. At the fourth playing through (I think), I took a break from work and looked at their website, where I found the stuff above, where they were aping the Holosync Solution, down to the money back guarantedd (although there is only half as much money involved here) and the offer of personal follow-up and even a set of CDs on how to meditate. Each of these things and many others were lifted straight from Centerpointe’s Holosync pages, but casually written in other words.  At that point, I started to quiver with pleasure – or at least mirth – as endlessly happy endorphins and hormones coursed through my mind and body. As we say here in Norway, “a good laughter prolongs life”.

I had to turn off the sound and take a walk, but it took more than half an hour before the endlessly happy endorphins drained  enough that I could concentrate on work for more than a few seconds at a time.  I’ll definitely be more careful in the future, if any.  But whether the isochronic sounds could cause that kind of high without the hilarious and possibly unintentional parody, I don’t know.  If I find out, I will try to report again.

Unfortunately, the frequency used here (alpha) does not substitute for sleep, so I really really could need a bed now.