Stuart Hameroff talks about the definition of consciousness, relating to gamma synchrony, EEG spikes, quantum computing and other hot topics in the study of conscious experience.
Stuart Hameroff talks about the definition of consciousness, relating to gamma synchrony, EEG spikes, quantum computing and other hot topics in the study of conscious experience.
You would be surprised by how often we get calls from people thinking that there is someone in their life – their boss, their neighbor, an ex lover – using audio-visual stimulation (AVS) on them with less than kind intentions. For most of them it is a confusion between AVS and “mind control”, which is really not how brainwaves work. One person was convinced that her boss was using the intercom to control her mind. Another was determined to bring down a nearby factory that was emitting mind-controlling sound waves to half the town. Of course, the best we can do in these cases is explain more about AVS and subtly recommend that the caller seek counsel.
However, there ARE non-therapeutic uses for audio or visual stimulation.
Recently there was some news about a nausea-inducing flash light being developed for the Department of Homeland Security, called the “LED Incapacitator”. The device uses pulses of light that are constantly changing in duration, color and brightness level. The disorienting effect this produces causes nausea and vomiting.
“There’s one wavelength that gets everybody,” says IOS President Bob Lieberman. “Vlad [IOS top scientist Vladimir Rubtsov] calls it ‘the evil color.’”
Sound can also be used to produce similar effects. In 2005, a cruise ship warded off pirates off the coast of Africa using a sonic weapon called the LRAD, or Long Range Acoustic Device, which sends high energy beams of acoustic wrath down upon its target.
In 2006, a device called the “Mosquito” was used to disperse a group of rowdy youngsters from gathering near a theater in Swindon, England. The device emits extremely annoying high frequency sound that is usually audible only to people under the age of 25 (younger people typically have higher thresholds for hearing). This is an effective-sounding concept for crowd control, but I have also read about it being used by grumpy old men who don’t want those pesky youngsters stomping on their lawn or skating on the sidewalk, causing younger neighbors nearby to have to endure this acoustic deterrent on a constant basis.
Take a listen to what the Mosquito sounds like here. Can you hear it?
Supposedly, there is even a frequency of tone or pulse that can cause diarrhea (or something very similar), amusingly dubbed the “brown note“. However, it is most likely a myth. The idea was explored on MythBusters a few years ago, and they could not find a way to reproduce the effect.
This video describes a fascinating new way to induce a kind of out of body experience. Here is how it works:
In the Swiss experiments, the researchers asked volunteers to stand in front of a camera while wearing video-display goggles.
Through these goggles, the volunteers could see a camera view of their own back – a three-dimensional “virtual own body” that appeared to be standing in front of them.
When the researchers stroked the back of the volunteer with a pen, the volunteer could see their virtual back being stroked either simultaneously or with a time lag.
The volunteers reported that the sensation seemed to be caused by the pen on their virtual back, rather than their real back, making them feel as if the virtual body was their own rather than a hologram.
Even when the camera was switched to film the back of a mannequin being stroked rather than their own back, the volunteers still reported feeling as if the virtual mannequin body was their own.
The researchers say their findings could have practical applications, such as helping take video games to the next level of virtuality so the players feel as if they are actually inside the game.
Judging from the title of this post, you probably think I’m going to be talking about indirect hypnotic suggestions, or covert mind control experiments. It is the opposite. In fact, the most interesting part about some of this new research is how incredibly banal and ordinary these external triggers can be. It can certainly make you consider how your own environment is subtly influencing your thought patterns and behavior.
In a 2004 study at Yale, students were asked to compete in an investment game while sitting alone in a room with one of two objects: either a backpack or a briefcase. Comparing the results, students in the room with a briefcase were significantly more greedy and aggressive than those sharing it with a backpack.
A recent article in the New York Times shed light on some of this new research, and offered up some theories as to why such ordinary objects can hold such sway on our subconscious:
… New studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs that can only be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses.
…The mere presence of the briefcase, noticed but not consciously registered, generated business-related associations and expectations, the authors argue, leading the brain to run the most appropriate goal program: compete.
In another study outlined in the NYT article, a lab assistent with his hands full asked participants to hold a cup a coffee on the way to the laboratory. It was a set up. Half of the participants held iced coffee and the other half held coffee that was piping hot. Later at the lab, they were asked to read a story and make judgements about a fictional character’s personality. The participants that had held the cold beverage for the lab assistent turned out to be more likely to rate the fictional character’s personality as cold, less social and selfish, and it was the opposite for participants who had held the hot cup! That was all it took to influence the judgement of a stranger.
In a Dutch experiment in 2005, participants were exposed to the smell of a citrus cleaning fluid while filling out a questionnaire. Later, as a supposed reward for their time, they were given a crumbly biscuit which they ate and cleaned up while still under observation. Participants exposed to the citrus smell cleaned 3 times as many crumbs from the table as those who had not.
External stimuli can also affect cognitive performance:
In 2007, a 2 year extensive study was concluded at the University of Minnesota, examining how ceiling height affected individual performance. Higher ceilings, it was found, stimulated more “out of the box”, creative thought patterns, while lower ceilings encouraged attention and focus.
In a study conducted at Dartmouth College, it was found that showing the name of a lover or a passionate hobby increased cognitive performance results on subsequent tasks.
A briefcase, a cup of coffee, the height of the ceiling - these are not hypnotic, or technologically advanced. These are stimuli we are exposed to every day. Yet, they can have a tremendous impact on our subconscious and our behavior.
If you keep up on the news, you may have seen a lot of talk recently about new research that calls into question the common assumption that women talk more than men. It turns out, men talk about the same amount, or 16000 words a day. Here is a link to an article about it. Actually, men did talk less than women by around 500 words a day, but that was statistically insignificant.
In light of this, it is interesting to explore the differences between the way the two sexes think, and to analyze whether it could have any effect on language.
One such study found that men think more with what is called “Gray Matter”, while women use more “White Matter”. Men have 6.5 times more gray matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have almost 10 times more white matter related to intelligence.
Gray matter refers to nerve cell bodies, while white matter refers to the axons that transmit nerve cell messages. You could think of gray matter a bunch of little computers, and white matter as the internet.
The interesting part is that this fact doesn’t significantly affect cognitive performance. Men and women both perform equally well on a large variety of cognitive tests, although the neural methods used to reach the same correct answer may be different. Neural processing in men is more localized, while in women it is distributed, integrating information from many different areas.
“These findings suggest that human evolution has created two different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior,” said Richard Haier, professor of psychology in the Department of Pediatrics and longtime human intelligence researcher, who led the study with colleagues at UCI and the University of New Mexico.
However, this could help explain why certain fields are preferred by either sex. The localized processing favored by the male mind is ideally suited to mathematical processing, while the distributed computing of the female mind is ideally suited to – you guessed it – highly developed language skills.
Here is an article on the topic: http://today.uci.edu/news/release_detail.asp?key=1261
The Radio Lab started up a new season on May 18th. I haven’t gotten around to listening to them until now. I just finished the first episode, which is a fascinating program about placebo and the power of suggestion.
The placebo effect is a very interesting subject. Ernest Rossi estimated that as much as 56% of the effect of pain killers is due to placebo, and many believe that percentage may be significantly higher. Radio Lab explores some cases where the effects are identical to actual treatment, and not just for pain killers: for mental disorders, warts, even Parkinson’s!
Of course you cannot talk long about placebo without talking about its natural ally, Hypnosis. Radio Lab reviews some astounding cases of hypnosis, and also takes a look at Anton Mesmer, the inadvertent father of hypnotism and the author of probably the most widespread and well known example of placebo – Mesmerism, or “animal magnetism”.
Radio Lab also explores how the white coat that doctors wear has such a powerful impact on patients, and on the attitude of the doctors that wear them. Users of NP2 may recognize some of this from the “white coat” visualization technique.
Radio Lab, Season 3, Ep 1: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2007/05/18
Here is a direct link to the full episode: http://audio.wnyc.org/radiolab/radiolab051807pod.mp3
“Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.
Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality.”
I’ve used this blog-space to talk about the neurology of free choice, politics, creativity and other topics that I find interesting. Yesterday a fascinating article appeared in the New York Times about the biology of Morality that I thought I would share.
Traditionally, morality has been the heavily guarded dominion of theologians and philosophers. It is also thought by most people to be a uniquely human quality. Not so, according to this article. After studying primates it seems we share with them the amazing gift of empathy, and so the place of morality in the realm of religion and philosophy could be shifting to a more biological perspective.
Here is another excerpt:
“Social living requires empathy, which is especially evident in chimpanzees, as well as ways of bringing internal hostilities to an end. Every species of ape and monkey has its own protocol for reconciliation after fights, Dr. de Waal has found. If two males fail to make up, female chimpanzees will often bring the rivals together, as if sensing that discord makes their community worse off and more vulnerable to attack by neighbors. Or they will head off a fight by taking stones out of the males’ hands.
Dr. de Waal believes that these actions are undertaken for the greater good of the community, as distinct from person-to-person relationships, and are a significant precursor of morality in human societies.”
The deeper you dive into it, the more mysterious and ambiguous the subject of Morality becomes. Even looking at it through the lens of biology, there are many unanswered questions. For example, monkeys will kill those who act or look different than them – something they are genetically programmed to do, for the better of the group – yet still something we as humans would find horrifying and certainly not moral.
The NYT article hinted at a part of the brain dedicated to morality, similar to the neural areas of Broca and Wernicke for language. But I wonder what triggers this area. What stimulus triggers the “moral consciousness” in our brains. For years the phenomenon of road rage has been studied. In the enclosed confines of a car, morality seems to deteriorate significantly, allowing people to behave in a way that they would never do were they face to face with someone. More recently, the decline of online etiquette is becoming a huge problem. Behind a screen, without a human face in front of you, seeing their emotions, seeing how they react to what you are saying to them – all of this leads to a sharp decline in moral behavior. Conversely, it has been proven that theft can be reduced by putting up posters of human eyes (you know, the kind of pictures that seem as though they are always looking at you no matter where you are in the room).
Many of you also may have heard of the famous Milgram Experiment, which studied the effects of authority on morality. It seems that if there is an evolutionary system for morality, it can break down or become transferred to a person of higher social authority.
Here is a link to the NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/20/science/20moral.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5090&en=84f902cc81da9173&ex=1332043200&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss
Also, here is an interesting morality game you might enjoy: http://www.philosophersnet.com/games/morality_play.htm
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.
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.
If 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.
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!
What will Neuro-Programmer version 10 or 20 look like? Will it even incorporate the same technology? Perhaps by then we’ll all be jacked in like Neo, or swimming with dolphins like John C. Lilly. Or by that time, will something so radically different have taken hold of the industry. There has been some buzz lately in the neuroscience community regarding emotions and motivation, and how to obtain conscious control over them. Humans have thus far exercised extreme control over the physical environment – air conditioners, light bulbs, molecularly engineered fabric for every season – why not move this scientific energy to controlling our emotional environment? The debate promises to be very interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out. People who already have significant control over their emotions regard them more as conscious choices than experiences, while anyone who has experienced chronic depression or anxiety would vehemently disagree. The interesting part is that research on the brain seems to agree with both, though advances in this field in the short term are more likely to focus on neurochemicals such as serotonin and oxytocin (implicated in love and human bonding). A recent study used an oxytocin spray to reduce the fear response in subjects. Maybe one day love potion #9 will truly become a reality, and in an easy to use spray bottle!
A few weeks ago, I listened to a speech and question/answer segment given by Candace Pert, as I was making the 3 hour trek to visit with relatives. Pert is best known to scientists as a discoverer of the opiate receptor, and known to everyone else as the author of the book “Molecules of Emotion” and a contributor in the controversial movie “What the Bleep?!”. She presented a radical idea based on evidence that many neurochemicals are not exclusive to the brain, and that neuropeptides and their receptors can be found all over the body. Conversely, body chemicals like insulin can also be found in the brain (interestingly, in the emotional centers). She calls neuropeptides “information gatherers” and suggests that communication is not one sided, but is a constant flow, back and forth between the body and the mind – using many chemicals most people think are exclusive to the brain. Based on this, Pert presents the fascinating idea that the body IS the subconscious mind, or at least a significant part of it – challenging the idea that the mind is the one and only seat of thought.
Here is a small excerpt from the speech, appropriately entitled “Your body is your subconscious mind”:
I imagine many in the neuroscience community would be skeptical of some of the more radical ideas expressed in the speech. There are lots of intriguing ideas floating around right now, and at this point I approach them more as “brain candy” than facts. I have always enjoyed discussing science fiction concepts such as the idea of transporting the brain to a new body. Could you become immortal simply by downloading the data in your brain to a computer? It is interesting to wonder how much of a person would change in a new body, or by abandoning the body altogether.
What we’ve been up to lately:
A new brainwave entrainment clinic is opening up near Santa Cruz today, and I’m happy to say they have chosen to use our software. I had a great chat with the owner and clinician, after a few weeks of phone tag, and I’m wishing them great success. If anyone in the Santa Cruz/Soquel area is interested I can probably find out where it is.
We’re still plugging away on the new project I mentioned in the last post. Nothing interesting to report. Let me just say that there is a reason we’re the only ones in the industry to implement Undo and Copy/Paste functionality.
I’m looking forward to testing some new equipment we received from AVStim, and we may have a new product in the accessories area soon if our tests prove successful. Over the last 6 months we’ve also been testing cordless headphones, but unfortunately we have yet to find a set that is adequate for use with entrainment or hypnosis – for music it is great, but for entrainment, not so much. There are too many cut outs, bursts of static, random reductions in volume, and other problems that can easily jolt you out of an otherwise relaxing session. Hopefully we will find one that works well and be able to offer it (or at least recommend it) on our site. I know the feeling of emerging from a session in a spider’s web of headphone cords – kind of ruins the euphoria.
By the way, I talked a bit about MRI in the last entry, here’s an interesting article featuring footage of the first MRI and the latest advances: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5371748.stm
Till next time, all the best!