A flickering candle, the sound of surf, beating drums, psychotropic plants - those can all be seen as early “devices” for altering mental states and consciousness. Now, there is a wide range of much more sophisticated devices, software and smart drugs designed to enhance awareness and cognitive abilities, which may or may not work.
The process known as brainwave synchronization or entrainment has been used for years in sound-light based mind machines (termed Auditory Visual Stimulation Devices). The main idea is to “drive” our average brainwave frequency from a high or faster level to a lower level, more associated with relaxation and meditative states.
Bill Harris, founder and director of Centerpointe Research Institute, describes his company’s version of this technology, acclaimed by many personal development leaders including James Ray and Jack Canfield.
Harris notes, “In the early 1970s the Menninger Foundation studied some Indian yogis who were in the United States. They hooked these yogis to different machines in order to measure the yogis’ control over supposedly unconscious mental and physical functions. These studies gave researchers the first peek at the electrical brain wave patterns of meditation.
“At about the same time, but completely independently, a researcher named Dr. Gerald Oster of Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York… discovered a method, using sound, to create any desired electrical pattern in the brain, including those of meditation.”
“The Paraliminals provide a noticeable concentration boost that allows me to steadily flow through my work while still maintaining my priorities — that delightful state of flow. For me this effect translates directly into practical, down-to-earth results. During a period of a few weeks when I used Paraliminals once or twice a day, I completed several key projects that required a lot of focus and concentration, definitely much faster and at a higher level of quality than I would have otherwise.”
Another area of mental health and performance enhancement is biofeedback: using body activity like muscle and heart electrical signals that can be translated into sounds or images, and thus “fed back” so you can “see” what your body is doing, and control those activities more consciously.
The photo is the emWave program which collects data through a finger or ear sensor which plugs into a computer, to translate heart rhythms into user graphics.
Benefits claimed include more creative energy levels and less stress.
Another form of the technology - neurofeedback - displays graphics based on brainwaves, and is also helpful for stress management, plus treatment of ADHD and other conditions.
Now on to drugs.
The Temple of the Oracle of Delphi in Greece [approx. 1400 B.C. to A.D. 381] was visited by people seeking answers about the future.
The photo is one of the oracles, as depicted in the movie “300.”
Research confirms a mythology about the psychedelic origin of the Oracle’s typically obscure or enigmatic messages. A National Geographic News article by John Roach says there were hydrocarbon gases in spring water near the site of the Delphi temple; one is ethylene, which has a sweet smell and produces a narcotic effect described as a floating or disembodied euphoria.
But what about more targeted cognitive enhancement drugs, like Ritalin?
Maia Szalavitz, writing for MSN Health & Fitness, notes that a recent online poll by Nature magazine of 1,400 readers, mainly scientists, “found that one in five admitted to using stimulants to boost brain power and 80% said they thought such drug use should be permitted.
“A study also found that 4 percent of students—and on some campuses, up to a whopping 25 percent—admitted to using drugs to improve academic performance.”
She adds, “For people with attention-deficit disorder (ADD), stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall (a form of amphetamine) clearly improve intellectual performance. But do they boost brainpower for people without ADD?
“How helpful—or potentially harmful—is it? And what do we know about how these stimulants affect different types of thinking—like creativity—anyway?”
She quotes Martha Farah, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania: “There are plenty of laboratory studies that suggest that stimulants are somewhat helpful for most people. We don’t know how helpful they are if you are trying to learn a language or master some new area of study or write the great American novel.”
Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond notes “Drugs and alcohol are often employed precisely for this purpose, a sort of chemical lubrication of the creative process.”
But, he warns, “such immersion in the unconscious can be dangerous, and the artist can be swamped, inundated and swept away into full-blown mania. Or the mood can suddenly switch to its opposite, triggering a major depressive episode.”