To boldly go

This brain is going to get called on to do some heavy duty work over the Bank Holiday weekend, so I thought I’d see if I could boost its capacity through science.

You can get brainwave generators online. A “brainwave generator” doesn’t claim to give you inspired ideas. Not that sort of brainwave, fool. It’s supposed to let you set your brainwaves to specific frequencies.

I downloaded a file from Noramaa Solutions and installed it. I’ve listened to some presets and so far I’d have to say it just seems to be a collection of mildly irritating sounds.

Then again, I can’t claim to have entered into the spirit of the thing yet. (I sort of fell at the first hurdle – finding where I’ve put my proper headphones. I don’t believe that frayed-cable mp3 headphones will do the trick -given that they make even music sound so bad that I’ve had to go back to reading to make the journey to work bearable.) So far, I’ve only listened through speakers.

So the jury’s still out on its effectiveness, but that is due to sloppy experimental technique, rather than to an inherent flaw in the (free) product. Will try again later, more systematically. With headphones.

The BBC h2g2 site waxes moderately lyrical about Brain States and How to Induce Them but it comes with a health warning, after listing a range of conditions that brain wave alteration is supposed to help with

.. it is this Researcher’s suggestion that you try to avoid those that try to tie in new-age things like ‘magic crystals’ and channelling because unlike those things, brainwave alteration does work, even if it is a bit ‘out there’.
Another, although a more untested3, function of brainwave patterns is mental programming, or brainwashing: this is thought to be possible since inducing states of hypnosis and accelerated learning have been proven possible.

In an old Bad Science post titled, Bring me a God helmet and bring it now Ben Goldacre got pretty enthused about the idea of making a God Helmet – a device that is supposed to generate “spiritual” experiences through magnetic coils around the skull, without the need to believe tosh. Goldacre acknowledged that the device developed by Dr Michael Persinger was a serious scientific project. He said:

You can order a commercial product online for just $220 (£119): it is basically eight magnetic coils that fit over the relevant parts of your skull; the signal is generated by your computer’s soundcard, and then played through these magnetic elements, instead of through the magnetic coils of your speakers.

More excitingly, you can go to the open source development forum Sourceforge and check out “Open-rTMS”, where designs for the necessary hardware and software are being developed collaboratively and openly, and by the same people who brought you “OpenEEG”, a surprisingly effective EEG system that you can also make at home

My electronics wizard skills wouldn’t get me into the first grade at an electronic Hogwarts, so my chances of making one are admittedly zero. But, the idea really appeals. Why should the religiously deluded get all the peak experiences?

This post was partly sparked by the news item about the PC-induced out of body experience which was the source of a blog post here two days ago. EvolutionaryMiddleman commented to say there’s a video of it on