Emerging Paradigms of Consciousness Research: News and Views on Consciousness and Mind Science Connected and Gathered from around the Internet

"Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. ~ Carl Jung "

Brain Wave Entrainment

Brainwaves and the Brain

The brain is a complex electro-chemical computer, containing 100 billion neurons. These neurons communicate by firing electrical pulses at varying speeds and intervals, thus signaling different combinations of chemicals to be released, withheld, or transformed into other chemicals. Science has found that the speed or frequency at which this electrical process takes place rhythmically fluctuates and changes with the internal and external environment. This continual rhythmic process creates electro-magnetic pulses, or what we know as brainwaves, and can be observed through the use of an EEG machine (electroencephalogram). The typical measurement used when describing the frequency of brainwaves is hertz (hz) or cycles per second.

By observing brainwaves in a healthy brain, we can roughly relate the various brainwave frequencies to different conscious states, such as sleeping, day dreaming, concentrating etc. Neurologist Hans Berger, was the first to apply the EEG to the human brain, and subsequently coined the common terms for the different brainwave states, "alpha" being the first state he examined. Thus we now use the following terms to identify key dominant brainwave states:

0 - 4 Hz - Delta - Slow Wave Sleep / Deep sleep
4 - 7 Hz - Theta - Deep trance / REM sleep
7 - 12 Hz - Alpha - Light trance / Day dreaming
12 - 30 Hz - Beta - Awake / Alert
30 - 100 Hz - Gamma - Hyper Alert

It is important to note that when referring to an "alpha state" or a "theta state", for example, we are not talking about the exclusion of other brainwave patterns, rather we are referring to the brainwaves that are most dominant. In a theta state the brain produces notably more theta brainwaves, than delta, alpha or beta.

Brainwaves and Health

The state of our brainwaves can change and vary throughout the day and can be affected by our environment, diet and activities.

Closing the eyes, for example, tends to result in more dominant Alpha waves and has a calming effect on the mind. A deeper state of Theta can be achieved through various trance meditation techniques and under deep hypnosis, but is also reached every night during sleep. Focus your attention on say, an intellectual conversation, or perhaps reading this article, and your brain will produce more beta waves. Watching television can result in a passive Alpha state of mind, which can be an alarmingly suggestible state of mind considering all the advertising we are exposed to through this medium.

Our diet can also affect our brain chemistry, and thus our brainwaves. For example, caffeine has been shown to increase beta waves, while L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, has been found to increase alpha brainwave activity. Alcohol and cannabis increase alpha brainwaves, while Amphetamines, Nicotine and Cocaine will increase beta brainwaves. The problem, of course, being that the tendency for over use of these substances can result in an unnatural imbalance in the brain chemistry, and brain waves.

Too much Beta waves are associated with stress, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, mental fatigue, muscles tension and high blood pressure. Too much Theta could result in attention deficit problems and hyperactivity. Too much alpha activity could leave you in a dreamy state, tired and unable to concentrate or focus on work or study.

Brainwave entrainment

There are many methods of entrainment, some more reliable than others, but all tend to be based on the idea of resonance, or frequency following response, where your brain attunes itself to follow the rhythm of an external stimuli.

An example of this phenomenon occurs when listening to shamanic or tribal drumming, the brainwaves fall naturally into line with the entrancing rhythm of the music. Baroque music has been shown to have a similar effect with its 60Hz rhythm. Likewise the monotonous rhythm of soldiers boots marching on the ground could have a similar entrancing effect.

The three main types of auditory brainwave entrainment techniques popular on the internet today are binaural beats, monaural beats and isochronic tones.

Binaural Beats

The binaural beat method was popularised by Robert Monroe and The Monroe Institute, they utilised the method in their trademark "Hemisync" products, so called because of it's ability for creating cohesion between the two hemispheres.

The effect was discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove.

It works by playing two slightly different pure tones or frequencies, one into each ear, the brain then compensates for the difference between the two frequencies and creates a phantom beat equal to the difference. For example, a 300Hz tone in one ear and a 310Hz tone in the other will cause a phantom binaural beat inside the head at a 10Hz rhythm. Thus the two hemispheres of the brain are syncronised to 10Hz which is in the Alpha range.

Monaural Beats

Monaural beats are more akin to the earlier example of drumming. They are created using pure layered tones that mix together outside of the brain to create in interference pattern/rhythm. The main advantage being that you do not need a set of head phones or stereo hearing to get an effect. They will not create the same syncronised hemisphere effect that binaurals create but will still entrain your brainwaves.

Audio based entrainment uses two or more tones because the human ear cannot hear sound below around 100Hz, so in order to create the effect of a lower frequency that the brain can entrain to we use two slightly different tones to create the interference pattern with the desired rhythm.

Isochronic Tones

Isochronic Tones are becoming more popular largely due to a company called transparentcorp who claim is it a more effective form of entrainment than Monaural or Binaural beats. Isochronic Tones are created by using one tone and rhythmically pulsing it on and off to the desired Hz. The effect sounds like a vibration running through the sound. Like monaurals, this method does not require stereo sound.

Each of these methods can be listened to on it's own, or combined with other sound, for example white noise, music or hypnosis scripts, to distract the conscious mind from the sound of the beats.

Entrainment does not seem to work for everybody, but for many it is an effective non-toxic, and legal method for achieving desired brain states.

..Is all that we see or seem,
but a dream within a dream.
Edgar Allan Poe