What are Mind Machines? From the MIND-L list.

Author: "J. Brad Hicks"

Release: MM FAQ version 0.1
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 1991 21:44:00 -0500

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is version 0.1 of the FAQ for MIND-L, compiled by J. Brad Hicks (jbhicks@mcimail.com). The author is not responsible. (grin) Send clarifications, corrections, and suggested additions to the author. Send requests for additional info to MIND-L@ASYLUM.SF.CA.US. Send flames to /dev/null.

Mind Machine Digest "Frequently Asked Questions"

Q: What do you all mean by "mind machines?"

A: The phrase "mind machines" covers a whole range of technologies that work directly or indirectly on your mind. In broad categories, this includes HemiSynch tapes, light and sound mind machines, TENS and CES electrical stimulation hardware, biocircuits, lucid dreaming machinery, consciousness alteration software, and of course the old classic sensory deprivation tanks.

Q: What is a HemiSynch tape?

A: HemiSynch and similar tapes are cassette tapes, meant to be played over headphones, that play different things into each ear, sometimes to create a binaural beat frequency. Some use different sythesized frequencies, and the new Paraliminal tapes use an odd technique of telling two different stories at the same time, one into each ear, to work directly onto your subconscious by confusing your conscious mind. And of course, there are the old classic hypnotic suggestion tapes and subliminal programming tapes.

Q: What is a binaural beat frequency?

A: The makers of these tapes want to play sounds into your head that are exactly at the frequencies they want to entrain you to. The catch is, there isn't a human being alive or dead who can hear a 10 hertz "pitch" as one continuous sound. So they cheat: they play (for example) 450 Hz into one ear and 460 Hz into the other; theoretically this sets up a "beat frequency" of 10 Hz (460 - 450 = 10).

Q: What is a light and sound mind machine?

A: These consist of a pair of opaque goggles with built-in flashing lights, and normally a pair of headphones with synchronized beeping sounds. Studies have shown that if the flashing lights and beeping sounds start at something close to your current "dominant frequency" and then slowly change the "beat frequency" it "entrains" your brain to the desired frequency. So for example, if you entrain to alpha frequencies, you experience some of the same benefits as experienced meditators. Additionally, almost all users report some kind of hallucinations from the flashing lights; mostly colored moire patterns, but some people see detailed hallucinatory scenes. And, of course, many of the same effects as hemisynch can be achieved by the sound synthesizers in a light and sound mind machine. Alternatively, most of the better light and sound mind machines include sound inputs so you can mix the headphone synthesizers with your choice of music, environmental, or HemiSynch-like tapes or compact disks.

Q: What are these "brain wave frequencies" you've mentioned?

A: While only the most science-ignorant fool thinks that the entire brain pulses in time to one frequency, EEGs show that at any given time, your brain produces distinct waveforms in four frequency groupings, called beta waves (14 to 30 Hz, pronounced hertz, meaning cycles per second), alpha waves (8 to 13 Hz), theta waves (4 to 7 Hz), and delta waves (1 to 3 Hz). When we say that you are "in beta state" (which you normally are), what we're saying is that that's the dominant set of frequencies, the ones with the highest amplitudes. Beta is associated with alertness, with the highest frequencies in that range often described as "fight/flight" mode. Alpha frequencies have long been associated with meditation and relaxation. Theta waves are considered by some to be associated with a dreamy, creative states. Delta waves are generally strongest when you're asleep.

Q: What is the Ganzfield Effect?

A: The ganzfield effect is a sort of mini-isolation chamber. It turns out that the mind reacts better to a blank but steadily-lit field for sensory deprivation than it does to darkness. Many light and sound mind machines have a setting to produce the ganzfield effect, and at least one, the Tranquilite, is just for the ganzfield effect. You can get some of the effects of this, though, with the cheapest mind-altering technology: cut a ping-pong ball in half, paint both halves orange or light blue, and tape them over your eyes, then sit where you can look into a bright light.

Q: What is the Schumann resonance?

A: 7.83 Hz. That's the average "resonance" frequency of the Earth's magnetic field, and some people think that by entraining your brain to 7.83 Hz, you can be more "in tune with the planet." Whether or not that's true, it makes sense that it would be a perfectly good alpha meditation frequency, wouldn't it? The idea started with TENS (see below) hardware, but many light and sound mind machines have Schumann resonance entrainment programs.

Q: What is lucid dreaming, and how do you do it with a machine?

A: A lucid dream is one in which you know that you are dreaming, and therefore have full control over what happens to you in the dream, even though you're still asleep. People who are really "into" lucid dreaming say that it puts your sleeping hours to work to enhance your creativity and that it helps you get a feeling of control over your waking life to have your sleeping life under control. The Lucidity Institute pushes a roughly thousand-dollar piece of hardware that looks like a slightly oversized set of light and sound mind machine goggles and monitors you for REM state. When it detects the onset of REM, it flashes a dim LED onto your eyelids. The idea is that you'll see the light in front of you in your dream, and remember that that's your cue that you're dreaming.

Q: What do electrical stimulation mind machines do?

A: Transcutaneous Electrical Neural Stimulation (TENS) is sort of like "electrical accupuncture." Small voltages are run across, for example, an aching joint, to stimulate healing and endorphin release. Cranial Electro-Stimulation (CES) is the next major step: transmitting even smaller voltages directly across your brain (via electrodes that clip onto your ear lobes), to stimulate endorphin release and produce the same kind of brain-wave entrainment as a light and sound mind machine.

Q: What is a biocircuit?

A: A biocircuit is made up of copper plates connected via copper wire to copper plated handles. You arrange them in specially designed "circuits" and then lie down on them, holding onto the handles, and it somehow "balances" your body's electrical fields. Sounds silly to some of us, but there were some double-blind studies which suggest that they may be able to produce mind-altering effects. They are also available in silver and in silk, and some people claim different effects depending on the materials.

Q: What do you mean by consciousness alteration software?

A: It varies. Some people stretch this category far enough to include thinking aids like "idea processors" such as Idea Generator Plus, Brainstormer, and The Thinking Machine, which offer up thinking strategies and help you organize your brainstorming sessions, and non-linear "hypertext" writing systems like HyperTies and Guide. Then there's "shrink in a box" software like the old classic Eliza, its modern, hipper incarnation Racter, PC Guru, and Timothy Leary's (now mostly remaindered) Mind Mirror. But much closer to the idea of consciousness alteration software is a little gem for both PCs and Macintoshes called Synchronicity, which uses vaguely oriental art and digitized nature sounds to aid you in meditation upon computer-generated I Ching oracles.

Q: What are sensory deprivation tanks?

A: Mostly the same old classic "flotation tanks" pioneered by Dr. Lilly and publicized in the book and movie {Altered States}. A flotation tank is a light-sealed tank of body-temperature water, mixed with enough Epsom salts to guarantee that you float in it. After a prolonged period of sensory deprivation, the "floater" experiences various states of consciousness alteration.

Q: You keep saying "consciousness alteration." Does this have anything to do with drugs?

A: Not in the sense that you mean it, probably. Some (I stress that, SOME) researchers claim that they've seen a synergistic effect from mixing light and sound mind machines with some of the experimental nootropics such as Piracetam.

Q: Are all of these things legal?

A: HemiSynch, hypnotic, subliminal and so forth cassette tapes are entirely legal, though the FDA is considering restricting the advertising claims that they can make. Light and sound machines are unregulated by the FDA due to the fact that a crude form of this kind of hardware pre-existed the FDA, and is therefore "grandfathered." Biocircuits are currently unregulated. TENS and CES are considered medical devices, and available only by prescription. And flotation tanks are perfectly legal, albeit expensive.

Q: Well, if the FDA can't regulate it, is it safe?

A: Opinions on the list are sharply divided about this. Some of the oldest "mind spas" have confirmed that approximately three out of every ten thousand sessions with a light and sound mind machine have produced mild epileptic seizures ... but that almost all of those were in known epileptics, the kind of people to whom strobe lights are dangerous, too, and the others turned out to be in undiagnosed epileptics. Some list users believe that these machines may somehow "cause" epilepsy in previously normal people or possibly worsen epilepsy for undiagnosed epileptics, but these people have NO research or other evidence on their side.

It was once thought that people with migraine headaches should avoid light and sound mind machines, on the theory that bright lights can trigger migraine attacks. In fact, the one real study so far ended up showing that light and sound mind machines not only don't cause or trigger migraines, but reduce or eliminate the pain of migraine attacks in 72% or more of migraine sufferers. (cf {The Futurist}, July-August 1991, p. 5)

Makers of TENS and CES electro-stimulation hardware recommend against using their devices if you have a pacemaker or other built-in electronics, for the fairly obvious reason that the current might interfere with your existing circuitry. Also, please remember that TENS and CES hardware are supposed to be available in America only by prescription to persons under a doctor's supervision.

Q: How much will all of this stuff cost me?

A: The cassette tapes and CDs are competitive with music tapes and CDs, mostly, with prices ranging from around $10 to $40 for most of them, with some multi-tape sets running up around $100 or so. There are light and sound machines available for under $150, b