Archive for December, 2006

A look at 2006: The good, the bad, the growth of the industry and the rise of Isochronic Beats

It’s been quite a year for us, and for the industry. We hired a brilliant new research director and started some formal studies. We launched two new products that have done much better than I could have hoped (here, and here). And, we are nearing the finish line of yet another project that has everyone really excited.

We’ve had some significant challenges as well. The year started with one of the worst experiences of my professional life. Due to a hardware glitch, our main hard drives AND the backups decided to fail at the same time. By some miracle we were able to get most of our data back and recover pretty quickly, though we did lose a little bit. I was sad to lose some of the early company pictures – mainly Cynthia and I making funny faces, or of our workspace in various states of disarray. At any rate, we now have a policy of daily backups to multiple sources, to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

This year has seen a renewed interest in brainwave entrainment, and in Isochronic Tones in particular. So much so, that we are now frequently asked if our programs incorporate them. After this year I don’t think we’ll have to spend as much time explaining what isochronic tones are, and why they are useful. In the future we may even have to label each session as incorporating “isochronics” to avoid confusion. Pretty amazing - considering that the reason we didn’t label them a few years ago was because nobody knew what isochronic tones were!

The industry has seen unprecedented growth in 2006. A number of brainwave entrainment clinics have opened up, and dozens of new vendors have hit the market, many of them using our software. We’ve also been getting frequent calls from newspapers, documentary filmmakers and other media agents interested in what all this brainwave stuff is about.

It can be a challenge sometimes, dealing with this surge in interest, but I’m happy to see the industry expanding – I just hope it grows in the right direction, and encourages more serious research. There are so many unanswered questions and new avenues left to explore. I’m really looking forward to what 2007 is going to bring.

Adam

P.S. Tina will be making her first blog post soon, to update everyone on what she’s been up to

Brainwaves and nonverbal communication, subconscious free will, and devices that “read” your mind

Many of my philosopher friends are convinced there is no such thing as free will – that everything we do is predetermined – by our subconscious, by god, or even by the nature of reality itself. Recent research sheds some interesting light on how much control we have over our own behavior and our own perceptions of reality. My own view is that like many things brain-related, free will is a feedback mechanism – dualistic in that we are capable of being both free and enslaved at the same time.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the subconscious is the way it covertly changes our behavior. A single event can change your mood from bad to good, or make you more social or antisocial. There was a much talked about article in the November edition of Science called “The Psychological Consequences Of Money”, which discussed how the mere mentioning of ”money” causes dramatic changes in social behavior.  Subjects in the study who were reminded of money (subtly – no subject knew what the test was about), became more socially isolated – more dependent on themselves, less willing to help others or ask for help. They even put more physical distance between themselves and other subjects.

'Mmmm Money' - Homer SimpsonIf a single offhanded mention of money is able to so drastically change our behavior, think of all the other emotion-provoking topics we are exposed to on a daily basis:

Love - Family - Religion

War - Hate - Power

Attractiveness – Body weight – Race

..the list goes on and on – each one having its own unique impact on our subconscious, and therefore our behavior.

This reminded me of a Scientific America Frontier show, where subjects were bargaining (monopoly-style) electronically, while an MRI tracked their brain patterns. The interesting twist was that half the time the subjects thought they were bartering with another subject, and the other half with a computer. One would hope that, given the exact same deal, it wouldn’t matter how it was presented to you, or by whom – but the data says differently. For example, if a subject perceived a fellow human as giving them a raw deal, they became emotionally charged, but bargaining with a computer for the same deal was easily accepted.

I saw the show a while ago, but I believe this was it: http://www.pbs.org/saf/1507/

Another intriguing concept is the way the subconscious expresses itself. A series of recent articles in Scientific American Mind discussed how the subconscious has its own modes of communication, and that these modes perhaps even dwarf verbal or written language in a number of ways.

Neuroscientist Spencer Kelly of Colgate University analyzed the brainwaves of subjects while they watched a video of people talking and using various physical gestures. His study suggests that the mind responds to the gestures in much the same way it responds to words. In fact nonverbal, and largely subconscious, communication may even be more significant from a neurological standpoint. Gestures often precede verbal communication because it is easier for the brain to process a thought as a gesture, while verbal communication has to go through another series of filters to construct a grammatically correct sentence. And gestures are more base – primates and animals communicate nonverbally, and actually have an enormous range of motions to choose from (just watch “The Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan for an example of that) – so it is no surprise that there is a deep, very efficient part of our brain devoted to decoding nonverbal communication.

Monkeys!

All of this is in line with various NLP concepts, one of which is:

“You cannot not communicate”

..even if you decide not to verbally express what you are feeling, the information is always available in some other form. The subconscious nearly always finds a way to rear its head.

Lie detectors analyzing variations in voice, gestures, facial movements and eye position and dilation are becoming disturbingly accurate. Over 10,000 combinations of facial gestures have been identified. Psychology professor Paul Ekman discovered what he called “Microexpressions”, which last for only a 5th of a second, and seem to express what we are truly thinking or feeling – the expression our subconscious imprints on our face before our conscious mind has a chance to adjust.

There is a wearable device under development at MIT, that is able to analyze nonverbal gestures. It is intended to help people who have severe problems in social situations (such as those with Autism). It is called the “Emotional Social Intelligence Prosthesis”, or by its more appropriate abbreviation: ESP.

Quantum physics aside, we “emit” our subconscious, just by standing around and being human. It is not surprising that people often report self-fulfilling prophecies, or visualizations that come true exactly as imagined, when so much of our behavior is based on what our subconscious wants. The trick is to make sure your subconscious is in line with what you actually want out of life.

 

What we are up to here at Transparent:

The holiday season is keeping us busy, which is interesting since, as my father noted, “Why would anyone want to give a self-improvement program out as a gift. Wouldn’t that kind of be an insult?” Gee, thanks dad :) But despite this many people seem to be doing just that. I just had a call from a long time customer who is buying it for his son as a christmas present to help him with his college studies.

Our research director Dr. Huang (Tina) is working on a number of studies and projects, that I hope to ellaborate a bit on either in my next post or at the beginning of the year.

The new project is coming along. Programming is like anything else in life – it’s the little things that get you. Most of the major functionality is done, now I’m just going through and fixing this and that, this bug and that bug, this piece of the application I was too lazy to program a month ago, etc. I will release a teaser as soon as I can (I have been getting a lot of requests), I just want to put some final touches on it and make it presentable.

I would say happy holidays to you all, but I expect I will be making another post or 2 before the end of the year. Still, if I don’t see you by then, have a great holiday and new year!

Adam

Music-induced schizophrenia, the neurology of sound and a kind of musical Turing Test

A fascinating show from New York Public Radio delves into some fundamental questions about music, through the lens of neurology. How does it differ from language? What makes music pleasant or unpleasant? How are auditory illusions formed in the brain? And, possibly the most important question - how is sound associated with emotions?

In my previous post I mentioned Schizophrenia. Well in this show it is theorized that a piece of music in the early 1900′s actually caused an audience to become temporarily schizophrenic. The music was so dissonant, unexpected and unfamiliar that it caused a flood of dopamine (linked to schizophrenia) - after which, of course, they rioted!

Also featured is a computer program that is used to capture the patterns of musical composers to create entirely original music along the same vein. It is so good that it can apparently fool even the experts into thinking new music from long dead composers had been discovered. A number of selections were played, patterned from musicians I’m familiar with – and I must say, I was blown away.

The pattern-based computer program is particularly interesting to me. I wonder how long it will be before a program is able to emulate a well known personality. Say, a public figure, whose numerous speeches, interviews, writing and appearances can be analyzed for patterns, such that we could resurrect, in a fashion, long dead personalities. Would it finally pass the famous Turing Test?

You can listen to the entire show, here.

Thoughts on psychosis, creativity, what is “normal” and random brain stimulation

It is intriguing to think of how much of the brain is a continuum, and how much the definition of “normal” shifts from era to era. Traditionally black and white concepts such as genius, evil and madness, are challenged by new discoveries, and new looks at the way the brain processes impulses and inhibits behaviors. To many of us, this is old news. As any long time owner of a brain will tell you, it is hard to deny occasionally walking the line between normal and madness, or between genius and mediocrity. Recent surveys of the general population add further evidence to this. “Do you ever think people are talking about you?”, “Do you ever hear voices?”, “Do you ever think you might have special powers?”, “Do you ever talk to yourself, out loud?” Many people considered normal answer yes to questions usually reserved for people with some form of psychosis! I admit I have been talking to myself and openly berating malfunctioning electronic equipment since I was old enough to speak. In truth the brain often seems like a gray area in more than just color, and the definition of normal seems to be shifting.

A recent study by Daniel Nettle, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, suggests that one of the only defining differences between creativity and schizophrenia is the motivation to act, and the ability to feel and express emotions. Interestingly, he also analyzed mathematicians for symptoms of schizophrenia, and found just as many as in poets and artists – but in different areas. While mathematicians in general didn’t report near as many unusual experiences as schizophrenics, they did exhibit an “abnormal” lack of emotion and motivation.

Salvador Dali - Perfect example of an insane genius if there ever was oneDespite the evidence to the contrary, most of us feel fairly normal and well adjusted. In fact many people feel they could use an enhancement to their creative side. Creativity is “in”, and any resulting eccentricities are an acceptable side effect. Corporations pay big bucks to have their employees attend creativity-enhancing seminars. From a brainwave perspective, bursts of creativity seem almost inevitable. When I first started using entrainment I was amazed at the myriad of unrelated thoughts that would pass through my head. Memories from years past would surface, and my mind would start connecting ideas I never considered before. Creativity itself seems to be the act of connecting two previously unrelated ideas to form a new one. It is no surprise that ADD is linked to creativity. Having a mind that is naturally “out of the box” and constantly jumping from subject to subject can be an advantage during a brainstorming session.

Michael Hutchison wrote of a creativity-enhancing technique involving random stimulation at varying frequencies. David Siever writes of a similar method using music to control the entrainment rates, noting that “music modulation far outperforms theta sessions for creativity enhancement”. Our “brainstorming” session in NP2 follows these concepts by delivering erratic, semi-random stimulation that follows no particular pattern or predefined purpose. The idea is to stimulate the brain such that it is bombarded with as many ideas, memories and states as possible, until NEW ideas begin to take shape, and new mental connections are formed. There is a similar concept implemented in the “pRoshi” device by Roshi Corporation, which delivers semi-random stimulation from 1-45 hz, changed every few seconds. There is growing evidence that “random” protocols do stimulate neuronal growth. What is even more fascinating, in light of recent research on psychosis, is the evidence that random protocols may even be useful in TREATING schizophrenia. Common sense would say the last thing someone with psychosis needs is more randomness in their life, but again – analysis of the brain and how it processes information is dramatically changing how we look at everything.

The famous musician Sergei Rachmaninov composed his greatest work using a form of hypnosis. The “Rach 3″ is so complex that people have been driven near insane just trying to play it :)

Click here to hear an excerpt of audio insanity… er, I mean normality.

What we’ve been up to:

One of my favorite parts of this job is testing new equipment, and I just got done spending several weeks with a new pair of light glasses from AVStim. I must say, I’m impressed. The main feature I like is the positioning of the lights. No matter where my eyes drift to during a session, they still seem equally illuminated by the light. Additionally, the fact that these glasses can easily convert into an “open-eye” design is a fantastic feature (though one I don’t personally use often). According to the manufacturer, they spent a lot of time and money researching this new set, and so far I think it has lived up to the hype. I’ve taken quite a liking to them.

Here are some home made pictures I made of the new glasses:

  

Till next time, take care!

Adam