Archive for February, 2007

Brain Art, and art generated by Neural Networks and simulated cells

The brain is one of the most enigmatic and mysterious objects in the known universe. It is an organ of thought, abstraction and the subjective experience. It talks to itself, and influences itself. It alters the world and the environment, while constantly adapting to change. It is the seat of identity, emotion, memory and, some would say, the soul.

So, it is not surprising that artists find such inspiration in our gray, 3 pound friend. What could make a better artistic subject: it won’t fidget, and everyone has intimate experience with it.

PsicoCafé has compiled a large number of brain-related pictures into a gallery on Flickr:[email protected]/

Here are some of my favorites:


On the subject of brain art, Jonathan McCabe, an engineer and digital artist, has been exploring the use of neural networks and other computer simulations to generate art. This has produced some absolutely fascinating works.

A neural network is kind of a small, virtual brain. Here is how McCabe explains it:

Each image is essentially a visualisation of the output state of a small neural network. The X and Y coordinates correspond to two variables in the connections of the network; the colour of the pixel at that point is a representation of the network’s behaviour for those parameters. So the image is a map of system states; coherent colours show areas of relative stability or gradual change; edges show sharp jumps in the output; marbled swirls show complex oscillations.

This is the result of one network, which McCabe calls “Nervous States”:

McCabe has also engineered a virtual network of cells to do the same. Notice how organic the results look, as if it were taken from an actual microscope:


Google as the first phase of Augmented Cognition?

Cynthia and I were wondering yesterday how we used to survive without the internet. She needed a fuse replaced in her car but when she went to replace it, she noticed that the fuse box was not in it’s normal location. She talked to a number of experienced technicians, and one even examined the vehicle, but none of them could find it. Then, of course, she turned to the internet and to Google, and after typing in “Toyota Fuse Box”, found the answer within minutes.

These days, nearly everyone can relate to this story. In a very real sense, Yahoo Maps or MapQuest corrects my horribly pathetic sense of direction. It compensates where my brain lacks.

What we are seeing could be the first signs of Augmented Cognition, or the use of technology to augment human intelligence.

A short but thought provoking essay on enhancing human intelligence was written by Harvard Psychologist Stephen M. Kosslyn. He outlined 3 ways human intelligence could be increased dramatically in the future. The first is probably obvious to our readers: Brain Exercise. But, the last 2 were more surprising:

Second, people often grapple with problems in groups, be they formally designated teams or casual huddles around the water cooler. I am optimistic that understanding the nature of such group interactions will increase human intelligence. Just as a mechanical calculator can extend our mental capacities, other people help us extend our intelligence—both in a cognitive sense (as required to solve problems) and in an emotional sense (as required to detect and respond appropriately to emotions, ours and those of others). In this sense, other people can serve as “social prosthetic systems,” as extensions of our own brains; a wooden leg can fill in for a missing limb, and others’ brains can fill in for our cognitive and emotional limitations. To the extent that researchers come to understand how such social prosthetic systems arise and operate, they will understand how to increase human intelligence.

Third, the line between animate and inanimate information processing is becoming increasingly blurry as research in multiple fields proceeds apace. I expect that engineers will continue to press forward, designing increasingly powerful machines to help us extend our intelligence. For example, some people carry computers with them everywhere they go, and treat Google as an extension of their own knowledge bases. Or, in my case, my PDA extends my organizational ability enormously. We soon will have a wide variety of mechanical helpmates. The distinction between what goes on in the head and what relies on external devices is becoming more subtle and nuanced, and in so doing human intelligence is being extended.

There is an interesting article from the Neurophilosophy blog on Augmented Cognition, including a video commissioned by the infamous DARPA (which was mentioned in the video post here):

Here is an excerpt about a particular device called the “CogPit”:

One device that is currently being developed is the CogPit, a “smart” cockpit for fighter aircraft of the future. The CogPit uses an electro- encephalogram to take readings of the brain’s electrical activity while a pilot uses the conventional controls of the craft. It is a closed-loop simulation; brain activity is monitored, and specific patterns of brain waves – those associated with stress, for example, trigger the system into action.

By filtering out irrelevant information, the CogPit system could reduce the pilot’s stress levels, enabling them to focus their attention on the most important information. It could provide assistance or, if necessary, take complete control of the aircraft if the pilot is under excess stress. Currently, the CogPit system is fully equipped with flight instruments, including a radar warning receiver which detects surface-to-air missiles, and a “targeting pod” which can locate, track and destroy targets.

Although most of the serious research into Augmented Cognition has so far been directed at creating human war machines, we are seeing more and more metropolitan areas installing universal wi-fi access, and immensely powerful computers are becoming smaller and smaller. It is inevitable that this technology will prosper in the private sector.

One worry I have is that too much augmentation could lead to too little cognition! In college I worked in a small local bookstore with an ancient boss who despised technology and would openly brag about having never even turned on a computer in his life. Yet because he grew up without calculators or any form of information technology, he could perform huge mental calculations in his head extremely quickly. When depositing checks at the bank, he would often challenge the clerk to calculate the total faster than he could. With his employees (including me) he insisted that we determine our customer’s totals (including tax!) in our heads without the use of the register. After a few months of this, I noticed that performing these calculations so quickly became second nature. Unfortunately, many years and many handy calculators later, I have almost completely lost that ability. What will happen when universal access to the internet is always available? Will we lose much of our capacity for memory? For attention, or organization?

Interesting stuff 🙂

Weekly Brain Video: The Human Brain – Version 2

This is a controversial but thought-provoking documentary on recent advances in Neurotechnology. You may have seen this on TV already, or bits and pieces of it.

Featuring a remote controlled rat.



Lack of sleep prevents brain cell production, and midday napping strengthens the heart

Recent research reported by the BBC suggests that missing sleep causes the brain to stop producing new cells:

This research focused on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in memories. I’ve spoken with many insomniacs who also suffer from memory loss, along with depression and a host of other problems. A short relaxation session can work absolute wonders for these people, and if a normal sleep pattern can be restored many (if not most) other issues simply evaporate. I often wonder how often sleep deprivation is the root cause for many psychological issues people grapple with. Insomniacs aside, most people I know do not get enough sleep.

There was also some recent buzz about a study at the University of Athens Medical School which indicates that a short midday nap may reduce risk of heart problems by up to 64%!

Some employers have started installing special recliners in the office, specifically designed for cat napping. Now all they need is a brainwave entrainment session for that unlucky majority that can’t nap on command. 😉

The Mind-Over-Body Diet: Part 2 – Hypnosis doubles weight loss results

As a follow up on this post, I found a number of studies analyzing hypnosis as a way to increase weight loss results.

A meta-analysis of the subject was conducted in 1996, by Irving Kirsch, Ph.D. at the Department of Psychology in the University of Connecticut. The meta study analyzed the data of 2 other studies, as well as 2 previous meta-analyses.

Averaged out, hypnosis nearly doubled the weight lost during the trial period!

Additionally, subjects whose treatment included hypnosis kept the pounds off for 2 years following the trial. Kirsch noted that the effectiveness of hypnosis seems to increase over time.

Here is the abstract:

The next time you try to lose weight, remember what your mind is capable of.

EEG signals controlling robots, musical instruments, performance art and ancient archade games!

Believe it or not, brainwaves are not only used for medical diagnosis and therapy. For decades EEG activity has been investigated as a non-invasive way to control external devices using “thought power” alone.

This could become an extremely useful technology for disabled persons, but could also be a way to improve productivity in many work environments, or could give users finer control over complex equipment. For example, the U.S. government is currently exploring ways EEG could be used to give personnel “hands off” control over vehicles and planes. A few months ago I saw a bit on the news about a guy who connected the steering on his boat to an EEG, so he could use his own thought to steer the ship around a harbor.

Popular EEG software today has many interesting capabilities built in. You can use your mind as a remote control for DVDs, to control games or create music.

But could the brain’s activity alone replace the steady hands of a painter? Could the brain alone replicate the complex melodies of professional musicians?


Brainwaves as a musical instrument

The use of brain waves to control tones and MIDI instruments has been the subject of research for some time. During the WinterBrain conference I heard the distinct atonal, random-sounding notes coming out an EEG-controlled synthesizer. Coming from a musical family myself, I wouldn’t call what comes out of most of these devices music. But improvements in the algorithms used could revolutionize the process. Here is a recent video that will show you what I mean:



Brainwaves as a paintbrush

Brainwave Performance Art!The definition of art is an interesting debate to follow, and has changed a lot in modern centuries, with Marcel DuChamp famously submitting an unaltered urinal to a museum as his showpiece in 1917.

As time moves on, we will see advances in technology creating many new and exciting art forms and genres. Some might call EEG a pure form of expression unequaled by other mediums, where you are truly peering into the soul of the artist.

So far visual representation of EEG signals has been largely limited to wave-like images of varying colors, used mainly for therapy and analysis. But newcomers to the field are taking this to an entirely new level. I saw some interesting video coming out of a booth at WinterBrain, not unlike the visualizations used in Mind Stereo and other media players.

Here are some videos of the innovative, EEG-powered “Mind VJ”:

Excerpt from the site:

The role of the VJ is to create a visual performance in real time, inspired by the rhythm and flow of the DJ’s music performance.

In MIND VJ, the idea is to use the rhythm of our own brain waves as the conducting element for the performance. In this manner, we can tap into a normally “hidden” area of our body (brain function and its electrical activity) and make it “visible” in the form of projected images. In this case, the images projected won’t be wave graphs, like the ones usually plotted by medical EEG machines, but artistic images, undergoing real-time changes and manipulations controlled by the current brain wave output of the subject (the MIND VJ)


Brainwaves as a game controller

Space Invaders - remember this?There was a lot of buzz at the end of 2006 about the new gaming controller released by Nintendo. Because it requires more movement than the typical gamepad or joystick, chiropractors and fitness gurus around the world hailed the new controller as a healthy advancement likely to make our society a tad bit less sedentary.

Perhaps in 5 or 10 years the latest and greatest game controller will be a headband that picks up on brain signals, and neurologists around the world will praise it for its capacity for brain exercise.

Here is a recent article on a teenager who learned to control the game Space Invaders with an EEG signal:

Here is another game that has been making some news lately, called MindBall:

You can try EEG games for yourself using the EEG units we offer, and an available game package such as “InnerTube” available here.


Brainwaves for controlling robots??

I admit I’m having trouble thinking of ways this could be useful to society, but it sure is cool!




The Mind-Over-Body Diet

I’ve always seen this as a kind of “holy grail” of the mind’s potential control over the body. In today’s society, who wouldn’t want to program their mind for weight loss?

The Wall Street Journal recently featured a study that examined this very thing. Here is an excerpt(provided by Frontal Cortex):

Psychology researcher Ellen Langer of Harvard University has long been intrigued by mind-over-body effects. She and student Alia Crum therefore invited 84 women, ages 18 to 55 years old, who worked as housekeepers at seven Boston hotels, to participate in a study. Those in four hotels were told that their regular work was good exercise and met the guidelines for a healthy, active lifestyle. After all, the women cleaned about 15 rooms a day, taking 20 to 30 minutes for each, so they did get a bit of a workout. Those in the other three hotels were told nothing.

Questionnaires established that the actual amount of work the women did, at work as well as off duty, didn’t change over the four weeks of the study. Yet the so-called informed group told the scientists that their life was healthier. They had taken to heart the information about the fitness value of stripping beds and scrubbing bathrooms.

More surprising, the women in the informed group lost an average of two pounds, saw their systolic blood pressure (the first number) drop 10%, lost about 0.5% of their body fat, and reduced their body-mass index by .35 of a point. The other women showed no such changes.

True, these weren’t “I dropped 20 pounds in a month!!” results. But considering that the women made no changes in how they lived or ate (the informed group didn’t start dieting, for instance), it was nothing to sneeze at. The only change for the women who reaped these benefits was in their heads: They now believed that their cleaning work was a fitness routine.

“If you can put the mind in a healthy place, you can have dramatic physiological consequences,” says Prof. Langer, whose study will appear in the February issue of Psychological Science.

I’ve actually talked to hundreds of people who have used self-hypnosis or visualization techniques to augment their fitness routine, and most report great success.

This reminds me of an article by Hilda Silva Rubio, which luckily I was able to find. Hilda experimented with various self-help techniques meant to completely replace her diet. Here is an excerpt from her story:

Dr. Bruce Lipton speaks often about how our thoughts dictate our lives. This we have known for eons and yet we continue with negative programming. By this I mean, what is the one main thing that we say when we see a big, luscious piece of creamy cheesecake dripping with your favorite topping? Do you say, “If I eat all of that giant piece of mouth watering pie conceived by a heavenly beings, I will stay at the weight I am at?” NO! We are in the habit of saying, “If I even look at that cheese cake I will gain weight instantly!”

Why do we do this to ourselves?

 And the results!

I ordered all that I wanted including the cheesecake but before I ate I closed my eyes, took a deep cleansing breath and said the following: “This food will help me reduce in weight for better health and my mind and body will be satisfied.” That night before going to bed I went to level and used the mirror of the mind technique. In the blue frame I saw myself standing on a scale and it read 263. I saw a big belly with “wide load” hips and I saw the size label of my blouse, which read 4x and the size label of my pants that read 26W. I had a sad unhappy face. I then moved over to the white frame and saw myself standing on the scale and it read 220! The labels on my blouse, were now 2x and my pants were 20W! I was smiling. The next night I put all my energy on only the white frame. DO NOT USE THE BLUE FRAME AGAIN TILL YOU REACH THIS FIRST SHORT TERM GOAL. I continued to say this affirmation with everything that I ate and drank. After 2 months I had not gained weight and I then began to shed the pounds the day after the second month was completed.

I have gone from a size 4x blouse to an 18-20 and from a size 26 pant to a 14 in a little over two years! Yes the reduction is slow compared to other diets but it has stayed off. It is less of a shock to the system, it is easy and I feel great!


Article on Prosopagnosia (face blindness)

I mentioned “Face Blindness” in another recent entry. As a follow up on that, there is an interesting article about it today on

Weekly Brain Video – The bionic arm

Decades after Robocop, the Six Million Dollar Man and the ending scenes of the Empire Strikes Back, most prosthetics still don’t act and feel like a real limb. Merging electronics with the body proved to be pretty challenging. But, neurotechnology is quickly advancing to the point where these kinds of procedures are possible. It seems every few weeks now I read a story about how a blind person can now see, or a deaf person can hear, after implanting complex electronic prosthetics.

Two successful limb replacement operations have been performed. This video shows the end result of one.

Claudia Mitchell lost her arm in a motorcycle accident, but the nerves necessary to operate the missing limb remained. Using a new procedure called targeted muscle reinnervation, an electronic prosthetic arm was able to be grafted to existing nerves. She can now literally use her own thoughts to control the prosthetic.

Amazingly, Claudia can even feel sensation in her arm when touched!


Here is a podcast explaining the procedure:

This is only the beginning of where this technology could go.

More on random brain stimulation, and a FREE third party tool for creating random NP2 sessions

I’ve talked a little bit about “random” brain stimulation before. It is a provocative topic, since it flies in the face of traditional AVS, yet seems to hold promise for many neurological conditions and also for performance enhancement. Chuck Davis, the creator of a device known as the “pRoshi”, told me that this works because random stimulation emulates the brain’s own internal communication. Davis asserts that the brain uses rapid frequency and phase changes to communicate with itself, so presenting a similar signal through the optic nerve fools the brain into thinking it is receiving a message. The brain then tries to decode this signal to retrieve the necessary instructions. But, of course, the signal actually says nothing (it is random). Davis says the brain’s reaction to this is to quiet itself, similar to how you would try to be as quiet as possible if you were trying to hear a very faint whisper.

Davis did show me some convincing EEG readouts of what happens during a random session, when I spoke with him at the Palm Springs conference. According to the data, the brain does seem to quiet down. It is buzzing one minute and near silent the next. Davis calls this the “zero point”.

Interestingly, earlier generations of the Roshi had EEG attachments that would take EEG data and literally feed it back to the brain in the form of a flicker. I have heard that the new “Atlantis” EEG system is capable of something like this, but I haven’t confirmed it myself.

There is still a lot of research to be done with it, and random stimulation is definitely something we will be exploring further. In fact, it is a major part of this new project we’re working on.

If you want to explore this topic for yourself, open source programmer Sam C. Lin has created a tool called “NP2Rnd” that you can use to create random NP2 sessions.

Here is a screenshot of a resulting session:

 Random session created by NP2RND utility

Give NP2Rnd a try by downloading it here:

I’m always excited to see third party development for our programs. Community involvement is a great thing. Some very effective protocols and techniques have come out of home-grown experimentation.