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.

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