Archive for January, 2007

Weekly Brain Video #3 – Autistic Savants

Here are some clips from a fascinating BBC documentary on autistic savants – or autistic individuals with selective genius, such as photographic memory. It features a very unique individual, who is autistic  but verbally fluent enough to express what it is like and how he is able to make such huge mathematical calculations in his head.

It also features the original “rain man”, made famous in hollywood. He can read 2 pages at once, and remember every word of it.

Part 1:
[youtube]hKk96kOAnLg[/youtube]

Part 2:
[youtube]8Vs6R5YZQ3c[/youtube]

Also here is a small bit on an autistic man who can draw in photographic detail. He is called “the Living Camera” for a reason: http://dericbownds.net/uploaded_images/TheLivingCamera.wmv

 

Speaking of the BBC, a new series called “All in the Mind” kicked off earlier this month, covering a range of brain-related topics each week. You can listen to the archives of it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/allinthemind.shtml

 

Winter Brain conference

We spent the weekend at the FutureHealth Winterbrain conference in Palm Springs, CA, and just got back Monday evening.

While the primary reason for attending was to see Tina’s presentation, we also had a chance to view some of the speakers and talk to some of the presenters. I spent some time talking shop with Chuck Davis of the Roshi Corporation, and did a session on his new unit. It was pleasant, and we got to try out his “Mag Stims” or electro-magnetic stimulation which he places on the SMR strip. This is in addition to the LED glasses we normally use.

It is an altogether different experience, doing a BWE session in the middle of a room full of people. Yet, in a conference like this it is almost required that you attach something to your head at some point, and zone out. Within 5 minutes I felt invisible, like a fly on the wall, simply listening to the bustle of the room, relaxing. The atmosphere was almost calming, maybe because the dozens of conversations surrounding me easily replaced my own internal mental chatter. Perhaps this is why many people (including myself) find the sounds of people relaxing. In NP1 we included a number of sessions that used chatter from a crowd, a restaurant or the sounds of a city, and you can still find many of those sound files in our member’s area.

I also got a chance to try the new “Healing Rhythms” software from Wild Divine. Again, an interesting experience trying to perform biofeedback in a room full of people, but I surprised myself at how easily I was able to go through the exercises.

The night before Tina’s presentation we had some technical difficulties. My laptop’s mouse became completely unusable, and the powerpoint installation on Cynthia’s laptop suddenly started giving us problems. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones. The laptop provided for speakers by FutureHealth was also on the fritz. There is something about Palm Springs that destroys computers, I’ve decided :)

Despite that, we were able to figure it out and Tina’s presentation went off without a hitch. She did a fantastic job with it. The speech was crammed with useful information – so much that I could tell there was probably a lot more she could have put into it, given a larger time frame. The study itself, when released, will be a great asset to the field and will hopefully draw a lot of interest to BWE.

After the presentation, Tina got some very positive feedback from the audience, and we were approached by a number of people asking for more information about our products. We brought a dozen NP2 trial CDs with us and ended up giving away all of them.

Here are a few pictures I was able to snap:

Tina, near the end of her presentation

Tina near the end of her presentation. You probably can’t see her well here because of the lighting (I didn’t want to be rude and use a flash), but she’s in front of the plant off on the right.

Winterbrain Exhibitor room

Winterbrain exhibitor’s room.

We had a great time, and are considering exhibiting in the future, based on the positive response we got from the presentation.

Well, I’m exhausted still from all the traveling, so that’s all I can write for now. I apologize to anyone who emailed us over the weekend and on Monday – as I said, my laptop died. I spent most of Monday evening trying to catch up. :)

Adam

Variations in sensory perception: Any effect on BWE?

One of the neurological conditions I’ve always found fascinating is Prosopagnosia, or “face blindness”. It is a condition characterized by the inability to recognize faces. Some afflicted individuals could not even recognize their own face if you showed them a picture of it next to someone else’s. Yet their eyesight is fine, undamaged. When they look at any other object they see it just as we would. The reason this condition is possible is because decoding the emotion of a face is so complex that when your brain recognizes that it is looking at a face a new part of the brain, called the right fusiform gyrus, kicks in to “decode” the facial detail. If this part of the brain is damaged or abnormal, facial blindness can be the result. The condition was formerly thought to be pretty rare, but now it is theorized that as much as 2% of the population experiences it to some degree.

Interestingly, if you want to emulate this condition in your own brain, try spending a few hours with a particularly cryptic crossword puzzle: http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2006/11/cryptic-crosswords-impair-face.html

Another form of selective sensory impairment is more applicable to what we do: Amusia or what might be called “Music Deafness”. As with face blindness, Amusia is characterized by perfect hearing with inability to recognize and “decode” the subtleties of music. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 20 people suffer from this condition, although the exact numbers are still being determined. Here is a musical test you can take if you are curious: http://www.delosis.com/listening/home.html

Other more common and less severe forms of audio impairment exist. Tone deafness is one, as anyone watching American Idol right now would no doubt find quite familiar.

I do not have perfect pitch, but I can usually tell if someone is off key. Very few people in the U.S. have perfect pitch compared to Asian countries, whose languages emphasize tone, and using a different pitch for the same word can result in a completely different meaning.

How do these more subtle audio limitations affect our perception of music? Perhaps those profoundly tone deaf prefer songs emphasizing more rhythm, while those with perfect pitch cannot stand listening to the off-pitch singing of Billy Corgan or Bob Dylan. For those of us that lie somewhere in the middle, it is interesting to wonder how much of the musical experience we are missing by not having a Mozart-like perception of sound. A recent internet-based tone deafness survey was conducted, you can view the results here: http://jakemandell.com/tonedeaf/

And then there is the inability to “keep a beat” or recognize rhythm. Very common, even so far as to be an unfortunate stereotype of Caucasians.

In some discussions last year with Tina, we mused about what effect, if any, not being able to keep a beat would have on the brain’s susceptibility to brainwave entrainment (BWE). Entrainment is, after all, a very fast and precise rhythm. Also interesting is what role tone deafness or Amusia would play on the effects of carrier frequencies.

None of these questions have been explored in depth, though we are very much hoping to look more into this in the future. If our readers can relate to any of these conditions, speak up! Share your experience.

Adam

Weekly Brain Video #2 – Milton Erickson Hypnosis Inductions

Erickson was a medical doctor, a brilliant psychiatrist and arguably the most influential hypnotherapist in history.

Paralyzed by Polio at an early age, Erickson became acutely aware of the nuances of verbal and non-verbal communication by observing and listening to those around him. He later integrated this experience into his therapy by developing many non-verbal therapeutic techniques, and some highly advanced verbal methods.

You’ll notice in the videos he has a special way of talking to patients. He emphasizes unexpected words, asks out of place questions and always seems to get the subject to follow along without making any direct commands. For example at the beginning of the first video he asks the subject if she is forgetting about the light in the room. It seems to throw her off guard, but serves its purpose in the end. You’ll also notice many non-verbal methods at play. For example, he seems to move his head in a circular motion as he talks (in NLP books they mentioned this as a type of anchor he used to reproduce the trance state in later hypnosis sessions).

Erickson believed that the depth of a “trance state” doesn’t matter. A trance can occur in an unexpected situation, or while becoming completely immersed in an activity such as reading or watching TV. Further, Erickson believed that the unconscious mind was always on, always listening, and that carefully worded suggestions could be used at any time, to obtain the desired result with a client.

 

Full hypnosis session recorded:

[youtube]6-uYUXAwx64[/youtube]

 

Documentary on Milton Erickson: (60 minutes)

NOTE: You might want to mute your volume for the first 10 seconds of the video, since it has an annoying squeal at the beginning. The rest is intriguing.

[googlevideo]2263950358152051417[/googlevideo]

 

Erickson believed that any habitual pattern that is interrupted will result in a temporary trance state. Here is his “handshake induction”, that I stole from his extensive wikipedia entry

  • Initiation: When I begin by shaking hands, I do so normally. The “hypnotic touch” then begins when I let loose. The letting loose becomes transformed from a firm grip into a gentle touch by the thumb, a lingering drawing away of the little finger, a faint brushing of the subject’s hand with the middle finger – just enough vague sensation to attract the attention. As the subject gives attention to the touch of your thumb, you shift to a touch with your little finger. As your subject’s attention follows that, you shift to a touch with your middle finger and then again to the thumb.
  • This arousal of attention is merely an arousal without constituting a stimulus for a response.
  • The subject’s withdrawal from the handshake is arrested by this attention arousal, which establishes a waiting set, and expectancy.
  • Then almost, but not quite simultaneously (to ensure separate neural recognition), you touch the undersurface of the hand (wrist) so gently that it barely suggests an upward push. This is followed by a similar utterly slight downward touch, and then I sever contact so gently that the subject does not know exactly when – and the subject’s hand is left going neither up nor down, but cataleptic.
  • Termination: If you don’t want your subject to know what you are doing, you simply distract their attention, usually by some appropriate remark, and casually terminate. Sometimes they remark, “What did you say? I got absentminded there for moment and wasn’t paying attention to anything.” This is slightly distressing to the subjects and indicative of the fact that their attention was so focused and fixated on the peculiar hand stimuli that they were momentarily entranced so they did not hear what was said.
  • Utilisation: Any utilisation leads to increasing trance depth. All utilisation should proceed as a continuation of extension of the initial procedure. Much can be done nonverbally; for example, if any subjects are just looking blankly at me, I may slowly shift my gaze downward, causing them to look at their hand, which I touch and say “look at this spot.”. This intensifies the trance state. Then, whether the subjects are looking at you or at their hand or just staring blankly, you can use your left hand to touch their elevated right hand from above or the side – so long as you merely give the suggestion of downward movement. Occasionally a downward nudge or push is required. If a strong push or nudge is required, check for anaesthesia.

MEG – Magnetoencephalography, or a giant hair dryer that reads your mind

Giant Hair Dryer!A new technology in brain imaging is emerging and showing great promise. It is called MEG or magnetoencephalography. Similar to EEG, it picks up on brain activity directly through the scalp – only instead of measuring electricity it measures magnetic fields. This is useful since every electric current produces a magnetic field.

The advantage over EEG is that magnetic fields travel unimpeded through the skull, making it significantly more accurate.

However, picking up on magnetic fields is more difficult than attaching a few electrodes to the head. Each MEG machine is a superconductor housed in a magnetically shielded room, with a pool of liquid helium nestled around the head of the subject.

Here is an interesting article on MEG: http://www.wired.com/news/technology/medtech/0,72277-0.html?tw=wn_index_1

Some great photos: http://blog.wired.com/wiredphotos12/

I also found a video:

[youtube]fPi5fxkYU18[/youtube]

Much ado about Free Will – Analyzing choice from a neurological perspective

Some recent events have sparked a flurry of talk on the issue of Free Will. I wrote about it a bit in a previous entry. It is not a spiritual issue, rather than a growing mass of neurological evidence that the subconscious controls a lot more of our behavior than traditionally thought.

And – While looking at choice from a neurological viewpoint, some intriguing concepts regarding the nature of conscious thought start to surface.

 

fascinating article in the New York times brings a lot of these issues into the mainstream. Here are some quotes.

(quoted from the article) A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.

Here is one such experiment with an EEG:

In the 1970s, Benjamin Libet, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, wired up the brains of volunteers to an electroencephalogram and told the volunteers to make random motions, like pressing a button or flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a clock.

The order of brain activities seemed to be perception of motion, and then decision, rather than the other way around.

In short, the conscious brain was only playing catch-up to what the unconscious brain was already doing. 

Interesting, eh? The study has been reproduced countless times in various ways, and other research seems to point to the same conclusion: the conscious mind acts more as an observer than an active participant!

 

But what about the Buddhists?

All this recent neuro-analysis of choice makes me wonder how much variance there would be if people outside of the “norms” were analyzed. For example, people who had learned to control their mind to a greater extent – meditators, NLP experts, people who regularly practice neurofeedback, etc.

Would their “will” be stronger, or would their perception of (the lack of) free will be more objective?

There could be significant differences – in the same way there are huge differences in the EEG responses of meditators vs regular people to sensory stimuli. Perhaps taking away certain emotional components of an experience, or having the ability to observe internal urges and thoughts objectively – all of which buddhists and frequent meditators claim to do – would give one more “free will”?

Perhaps one day there will be a standard measure, or scale, based on a psychological or neurological test, meant to quantify exactly how much mental freedom an individual has. Like an IQ test, or the kinesy scale of sexuality. This may even be a good thing, if it were followed up by an effort to give individuals with “low free will scores” more control over their own mind.

Where would you be on Adam’s Free Will scale of 0-100? ;)

 

How about the rest of us?

One thing I’ve noticed that is conspicuously absent from this debate is the origin of a subconscious. We are not born with it. It is programmed into us – by our parents, our world around us, our own internal dialogs, struggles, and so on. To seasoned psychologists and hypnotherapists, all this buzz about the subconscious is hardly news, and neither is the cure for unwanted behavior: RE-programing the subconscious based on what the conscious mind wants.

Optimistically speaking, Free Will can be a feedback mechanism. You perceive an action, a choice you have made – good or bad – and analyze the consequences of those actions. You then interact with your brain and make slight alterations to your brain’s “operating system”. A child whose subconscious mind made him touch a hot stove is not likely to do it again. Of course, whether we repeat the same mistakes over and over is based solely on the control we exhibit over the programming of our own mind.

Another article excerpt:

“All the varieties of free will worth having, we have,” Dr. Dennett said.

“We have the power to veto our urges and then to veto our vetoes,” he said. “We have the power of imagination, to see and imagine futures.”

In this regard, causality is not our enemy but our friend, giving us the ability to look ahead and plan. “That’s what makes us moral agents,” Dr. Dennett said. “You don’t need a miracle to have responsibility.”

 

Others find the idea of no free will a comforting idea. I admit, it does have its appeal. Here is a great quote from Einstein:

“This knowledge of the non-freedom of the will protects me from losing my good humor and taking much too seriously myself and my fellow humans as acting and judging individuals”.

Weekly Brain Video #1

One of my resolutions is to start posting to the blog more, so to start this off I’m going to post a weekly video, and other smaller posts, in addition to my longer ramblings :)

[youtube]FZ3401XVYww[/youtube]

3D animations of neurons can be really beautiful.

From Tina: My research so far, a critical overview of the BWE field and thoughts on future developments

Happy New Year to the members of the Transparent Community!

Adam asked me to say a few words about what I’ve been doing since I’ve been hired to work with Transparent Corp, and to fill you in on our plans.

I joined Transparent Corporation primarily because I’d been touched by the effects of brain entrainment, and saw in it an enormous potential to transform the world of mental health due to its simplicity of use, ease of administration, cost and safety profile.  I was tremendously impressed by the software, its cost, and Adam and Cynthia’s commitment to make mental health solutions available to all!  Thus I came on board with the intention to work towards mainstreaming brain entrainment provided that my personal findings (and those of yours) could be confirmed with scientific research.

Luckily for me, only 2 weeks after I started, the first Brain Entrainment conference in the US was about to be held at Stanford University.  It was a wonderful starting point for me to gage where the field was and what needed to be done first.  It is important that every research project begin with a review of the literature, and my searches in the formal literature (those found in scientific journals) suggested that the few review articles that were published were very limited in their scope.  My findings were confirmed at the conference, as most researchers in the field appeared to be quite limited in their understanding of the history of brain entrainment or the work of their predecessors.  So with the help of a colleague I met at the conference, Christine Charyton, Ph.D., a visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ohio State, I decided to begin my work at Transparent Corp with a comprehensive and thorough analysis of the literature on the effects of brain entrainment on psychological outcomes.  Our aim is to publish it in a high impact journal that will catch the eye of those in the more traditional mental health fields, such a clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists and neuroscience and psychology researchers.

One of the reasons why information has been so limited in the field is that the terms used to describe brain entrainment have varied widely within the literature.  In fact, the term “brain entrainment” is not used in the scientific literature.  Instead, terms such as “photic stimulation”, “auditory stimulation”, “frequency following response” have been used, and these search terms return thousands of articles that have nothing to do with brain entrainment!   To make sure we’ve found all the articles, we’ve had to search through all possible databases that can access, and examine all the references of the papers that we’ve found.  So, we’ve been busy.  We’ve found 18 articles so far that met our criteria and we are currently analyzing them to address some basic questions to satisfy the general scientific community.  Although many of the individual studies are preliminary, all of them show positive effects, and we hope that the collective effect of presenting and analyzing them simultaneously will generate some excitement among within the scientific community and beyond.

We envision and hope that this study will be a launching pad for future research for those within the field, and those we hope will be inspired to join us.   Because of the cost of research, with regards to finances, the importance of being associated with a major University or research institute (for resources), and the need for expertise within a wide variety of fields, my future goals are dependent upon opportunities to collaborate with others.  My aim is to continue to work to address questions to determine if brain entrainment is effective for specific outcomes, which I believe is the most effective way for the brain entrainment field to gain recognition of the greater scientific community.  Also, importantly, I am interested in addressing questions with regards to how to improve the effectiveness of the brain entrainment response as determined by psychological tests.  So, I hope to be able to further compare photic vs. auditory stimulation, and the various modes of auditory stimulation (binaural, monaural and isochronic) on specific outcomes. 

I will be presenting our preliminary findings at the Winter Brain conference in January, and hope to present it again at this year’s Brain Entrainment conference at Stanford as well.  We plan to submit the paper to a journal in the Spring.  We will notify you once the paper has been peer reviewed and accepted into a journal, and Adam will then post it to the member’s area.  Please note that publication of an article is highly subject to its reviewers and editors, and can take months to years.  Given it is such a new field to mainstream clinicians and scientists, it may be met with much resistance.  Please keep your fingers crossed!

My other work with Transparent Corp involves the development of ideas for new products, and their testing.  I am also working with Adam to help expand use of our software by making it more intuitive.  And importantly, we want to expand awareness of brain entrainment and our products and plan to develop workshops to address these goals. 

We will keep you updated as things unfold in 2007!

Happy New Year!

Tina L. Huang, Ph.D.