Saturday, August 7, 2010

Not the lesson I expected OR lessons in: ‘I will’ vs ‘will I?’

Some months back I posted how I was going to see if these neurofeedback exercises aided my picking up difficult material. I was hoping for, ‘cool, this is much easier now’, but alas, material I find difficult, is still difficult. I began with a fair amount of determination, and quickly became somewhat disillusioned that my ability to ‘will’ my way through such material had not exactly improved.

There was a lesson in all this however. The lesson learned is that an approach of ‘will I?’ has advantages over a more determined approach (‘I will’). As an example think of training to run, vs training for a golf tournament. In running determination may give you that last mile, whereas in golf determination will probably simply throw off your game. For golf, you want to be relaxed, taking things as they come, and feeling your way through. A good game of golf could be thought of as an artful process, rather than a sheer technical exercise (cannot control all the variables, so a certain intuitive process is involved).

Neurofeedback is an artful process as well. The control you have is indirect, its not a matter of ‘willing’ yourself into a state. Its more of intuitive memory of what a state felt like, and then finding your way back. It takes a certain patience, and willingness to have sessions that are not necessarily great, in exchange for steady progress, or at times unsteady progress.

My lesson learned is that for the material I struggle with, its better to seek & celebrate small gains rather than assume I can chart a course from the outset. This is also true of neurofeedback.

So my learning of difficult material (the language Clojure) is coming along, but as an artful process. There are two contributions that neurofeedback has for this, the first is simply being in a good space which makes it easier to concentrate. The second, potentially more dubious claim, is that for problems that I get stuck on, leaving them in the background and yet maintaining awareness of them, seems to have a reasonable success rate.

If I get brave (doubtful) I may try some of the focus enhancing drugs that seem so popular at the Ivy League universities. I suspect they would be better for this arena. For now I will use the more gentle approach

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Paradigm Shifts

A question of interest is how useful is this training for learning. This is of immediate interest as I find myself in a position where I need/wish to make a major paradigm shift. I am a software engineer, and have been quite pleased with my language of choice: Smalltalk. Recently I discovered Clojure, which is a functional language, and is Lisp based. Now, to move from Smalltalk to a Functional language is a major paradigm shift, and one that is not easily accomplished.

So I have been struggling with this, and feeling very much like a beginner who is starting all over. There is a certain amount of pride involved here, I feel like if what I have been practicing in the neuro-feedback is of value, that I should be better prepared for the challenge than not.

Even so, when facing something difficult, there is this problem with attention, when dealing with something that is hard and unfamiliar, the mind readily comes up with excuses for turning aside.

This brings to mind the neuro training, and what will hopefully be a parallel in my new learning task. One of the definitions of attention is that is the faculty of bringing back a wandering attention, over & over again, that this is the root of judgement, good character, and will. In doing neuro-feedback, you are dealing with this issue, the mind wanders, you remember, you bring yourself back.

The difference between attention & immersion is huge. In immersion, you are fully involved, creating new understandings, following creations to their rightful ends. In 'Zen and the Brain' he talks about 'Artful Processes', that these take patience, practice, & skill. Neuro-feedback has felt exactly like an 'Artful Process', and it has had as its reward that it now feels more like immersion than attention.

Right now I could care less about creativity, all I want is to feel effective in picking up this new skill. I am definitely at the attention stage. Will I be able to use what I hope was learning to be effective in making the transition? I have a such a long way to go. The mind rebels at the new patterns. The stake is planted...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Summary of proposed EEG talk for Infotec 2010 | SpeakerText

Summary of proposed EEG talk for Infotec 2010 | SpeakerText

This is a youTube talk that I put up as a proposal for the Infotec conference, off the beaten track for the conference, but interesting in that I used the SpeakerText translation service which was definitely cool.

Friday, April 2, 2010

In the moment..

I have been on a long posting hiatus. I wanted the test of time to see if I would stick with the neuro-feedback, if I would continue to find it valuable, or if it was a passing fad. I now have more opinions based on experience that I hope will be useful.

This morning I watched a TED talk that dealt with being in the moment. This is a short talk (7 minutes) by Patsy Rodenburg that discusses being in the present, and the insights it has given her. This is of particular interest as this is effectively the Open Focus technique that I have found to be my favorite for practicing the neuro-feedback...

So it comes down to how we are experiencing the present, how we form our current state of mind.

I am slowly becoming able to identify the feel of certain neural states. More importantly I am slowly becoming able to switch states without the EEG. It is not a skill like reading where you can simply do it. It takes time and practice, and cannot always be called on. It is always a reach to change, but the reach becomes easier with practice. Just like any skill, you can be 'on your game', or 'off your game'.

The idea that we form our state of mind intentionally, and can change its current makeup by the brainwaves we are choosing to produce is an interesting evolutionary direction. The Neuro-feedback training is a faster way to experience what Patsy Rodenburg was discussing in her TED talk. Who would not want to be more connected? And I am not talking Linked-In or Facebook!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Refinements, then & now

I started this blog with my EEG manifesto that indicated brain waves would reflect the inner state, and that by manipulating the one, you could create the other. I now believe that this is an over simplistic view.

My current approach is one of exploration, so being in the convenient position of not needing to defend any one position, its very useful to sample the current theories & practices that are out there.

Most recently I have been trying some exercises as put forward by Les Fehmi, PhD, author of 'The OpenFocus Brain', who was one of the first to build and experiment with an EEG machine. Its interesting to contrast Fehmi's approach to this, vs say Austin (author of Zen & the Brain). Austin, as a neurologist, goes into incredible detail as to what is going on in the brain in various states, and the 'Zen' take on some of this. Fehmi's approach reminds me of one my favorite Lisp (programming language) books called 'The Little Lisper'. In 'The Little Lisper' there is no theory, but instead a set of exercises that you work through, each only a page or so in length. As you go through the book, you realize that you are getting Lisp at a working level, a level that will let you take the practiced concepts and apply them to other languages, other situations. This is how Fehmi's book strikes me. It comes with a CD that goes through a set of exercises whose intent is to create brain synchronicity by opening the sensory field, each about 15 seconds in length. Doing both exercise sections on the CD takes about an hour, but at the end of that time you are in this really interesting state, that she refers to as 'open focus'. The idea behind open focus is that you be able to switch attentional states from diffuse & immersed, to narrow & objective. As an example (how could I mention the Little Lisper without giving an example?) take a golfer coming up to tee off. He/she starts in focus (narrow, objective, thinking) by considering the wind, the lay of the land, what club to use. As he/she is ready for the swing they switch into the nonfocus, the diffuse & immersed state where they are using the body intelligence, the subconscious to make the shot. The open awareness lets you be more in the moment, more relaxed, better able to pull off the performance without thinking what you are doing which might destroy the moment.

So Fehmi's approach is more of a bottom up, vs a top down as given by Austin. I think both approaches are good, but I think for interests sake, that if I only had an hour or so to decide if this was worth my time, I would want the experience versus the knowledge. One is probably a much more effective driver of the other.

But here is the kicker, I get the state change that I want from Fehmi's approach, but I am not seeing anything that would indicate anything particularly interesting in the brain waves. Now this was monitoring with the Neurosky, which is only a single channel, so if there was brain synchronization going on that would be interesting I would have missed that. The question of synchronization has me thinking I am going to convert my OpenSource EEG over to a 4 channel unit which is probably the minimum to check for synchronization. I wish the Emotiv people would allow access to the straight brain wave data, as theirs is at least a 6 channel.

Another blow to my thinking that brain waves are a sufficient measurement is that if I am training for Alpha, then I can get a state change by just significantly impacting the amplitude of the Alpha waves. But how I feel when I get the state change is dependent on how I get there.

A final blow to my thinking is that I have noticed large differences in my end state depending on how I use my attention to arrive there. For example, for awhile I was using 'compassion' meditations to get the Alpha, and those felt very spiritual. Going after large amplitude in the Gamma region had a very different feeling end state.

I am keeping my 'manifesto' for now. But I think of it differently. I now see that there are many optimal end states, and the goal is to explore ways of getting there, and ways of staying i.e. persisting them after the end of the session.

So using the EEG is helpful at the moment, and lets you know when you are getting interesting changes moment to moment so you know when you are getting it right. But as to where you end up, that is dependent on your starting state, and the type of attention you are using to modify your brain/state.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

EEG made simple

What interests me is this problem of establishing reliable knowledge about the universe and how easy it is to get the wrong answer. That's what I'm writing about. --Gary Taubes

When I started using the EEG I first looked for books that had information that would be useful for using the device. From Amazon I ordered:
Getting Started With Neurofeedback -John Demos
The High-Performance Mind -Anna Wise
Train Your Mind, Change your Brain -Sharon Begley
Zen and the Brain -James H. Austin, M.D.

But I am not sure they were necessary. For those wanting the 10 minute overview of what they should aim for, I would have to recommend the following paper: EEG full protocol by Valdeane W. Brown, Ph.D., who has some 20 years experience. For my own practice I have been mostly using Browns paper. This paper was originally in the public documents section of one the yahoo EEG groups, but was unformatted, so I formatted & republished it as the above web link. As a quick start, suppress Delta (2-5hz), increase Theta(6-8hz) & high Alpha (14hz), that will keep you amused for weeks.

Another interesting paper by an unknown author discusses EEG 40 Hz Rhythm.

I will discuss the other books more in a later post, but I will mention one thing I found interesting in 'The High-Performance Mind'. This was definitely the least 'scientific' of the books, and a good part of it deals with visualization exercises and how to tell when you are doing it right without having an EEG. But what I did find interesting was the measurement of yoga masters brains were producing high amplitude waves throughout the range, which was considered to be an 'awakened mind'. If you are using the Neurosky this is easy to train for as you simply try to create as large a complete circle as possible in the Brainwave Visualizer.

If I were wealthy I think I would send a bunch of Neurosky units to places where they train for meditation. That brings back the quote that starts this blog about how easy it is to get the wrong answer. If you have feedback, then it is easy to avoid going down false paths.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Forgive the title 'Key', but I think it is appropriate. I like the concept of enlightenment, not in the all encompassing sense of suddenly being a totally new person, but rather as in a 'key' idea where now you understand what is behind the view at the surface, or in other words the rules that generate the surface effects. Therefore my definition of enlightenment is one of those 'aha' experiences that adds to your understanding.

I put out a previous post on how I was missing the 'theta' waves & my intention of working on these. Now what is interesting about this is that I have been working on generating the brain waves I want for some months, but because of the view I was using I was totally unaware of what I was missing, or how it might affect my sessions. So without feedback there was no indication of what I was missing. Having been reading 'The High Performance Mind' (book report coming) and now with an excellent graphical view that the Neurosky software gives of the brain waves, I realized my mistake and brought attention to the missing component. I plan on posting an accelerated view of a session in the not too different future, but for now I will give a verbal description. I spent more time not having the theta component than having it, but at times the theta component would pop in anywhere from roughly 25 to 90%. I think this is the best meditation I have had to date. The aha experience was in realizing that it was not enough to only hit the desired brainwave frequencys, but also that the experience is greatly affected by the expectation. In the past I hesitated to give too much significance to what was used as the center of the session (new ideas, compassion, relaxation) thinking that what was important was the brainwaves. But this just is not so, I noticed that if I did a compassion meditation that I typically felt quite a bit happier, and dare I say it(?), spiritual, which hardly defines how I think of myself, being an atheist and all.

So this time with the theta component coming on not incrementally but generally in large jumps that would then decay there was this feeling of slipping into another universe. I tell yah, if you want to do games for this I would do setups where the travels & discoveries in the game were part of your state, it could have been really fun, and much more life like in that things are not always in your control.

I think this is a perfect example of my earlier post on placebos & brain systems. If you get the brain expectations set in just the right directions it is as if it is on autopilot and taking you there without any effort on your part. What a great system! I think this will get easier as I become more expert at remembering a feeling, which can regenerate the desired brain state.

This brings up some ideas on types of intelligences which I will discuss in a future post