I am fortunate to be working with Deepak Chopra, M.D., and Dr. Rudy Tanzi, co-authors of the bestselling book Super Brain, on a technology called Brain Wave Entrainment. Deepak is very well known, but Rudy is an amazingly interesting person as well. He is the Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Vice-Chair of Neurology at Mass General Hospital. Rudy co-discovered three of the four original Alzheimer’s genes and today runs the Alzheimer’s Genome Project. He also plays the keyboards, including, at times, for Aerosmith. He is kind of a real life “Buckaroo Banzai.”
Brain Wave Entrainment is any procedure that causes one’s brainwave frequencies to synchronize with a periodic stimulus (sound, vibration or light) having a frequency corresponding to the intended brain-state (for example, to induce a trance, dreams, sleep or relaxation.) It is also called the Flicker-response because of how staring at a campfire or the flickering of a burning candle can lull you into a state of calmness and serenity. There was an extensive article on this phenomenon by Gerard Oster in Scientific American in 1973. It may sound novel, but in many ways, this is old tech.
Most wisdom traditions have employed methods that allow the subjects’ brain waves to slow down such as meditation, [Hindu] kirtan, [Gregorian, Menzuma or Sufi] chanting, Hebrew davening, Native American drum circles and rain chants, Tibetan prayer bowls, and whirling dervishes and African trance dancing. The rhythm of these wisdom tradition technologies actually slows people’s brain waves from their normal busy brain frequency we call Beta (13-30 cycles per second or Hz), to Alpha (8-13Hz) — meditation, Theta (4-8Hz) — deep relaxation and dreaming, and Delta (.5-4Hz) — slow wave or dreamless sleep.
To alter brain states, other cultures use peyote, ayahuasca, mushrooms and more recently LSD.
One can also learn to control and slow down their brain waves through various neurofeedback technologies such as electroencephalograph (EEG), galvanic skin response (GSR), and heart, pulse and breath rate monitors. These devices measure stress and relaxation parameters and then “play” back the signals to the user so they can use the signals as a beacon to guide and “steer” themselves into a relaxed state. This takes some time, work and discipline but is much quicker than learning meditation.
With brain wave entrainment technology, changing brain wave states is an instantaneous and effortless process. The ‘periodic stimulus’ can be sound, vibrations and/or light. We have found that we get the best results with blinking lights which are experienced through closed eyelids. This is only problematic for people with existing diagnosis of photo-induced epilepsy, as blinking lights can induce a seizure in them. The programs are enhanced with Deepak Chopra doing the narration along with holographic sound effects and original music composed and performed by Rudy Tanzi.
Most programs start at a work/life busy brain Beta frequency of twenty light flashes per second (20Hz) and slowly ramp them down to Alpha (relaxation and meditation) at 8-12 HZ, Theta (deep relaxation and dreaming) at 4-8 Hz) and Delta (dreamless deep relaxation) of .5-4Hz. We have taken measurements at Mass General with state of the art EEG equipment and have seen a slowing of the brain waves from Beta to Theta in two minutes and complete brain wave harmonization in the left, right, anterior, posterior and occipital regions of the brain.
A psychiatrist and professor of medicine, Dr. Badri Rickhi, reported to the New York Times that “these [light and sound] machines help stop your mind from wandering.”
Rudy’s primary work is on Alzheimer’s. In this disease, beta amyloid proteins form plaques in the brain and kill nerve cells eventually leading to dementia. Research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis shows that when people’s brains are in a Delta brain wave state, beta amyloid production in the brain ceases and the toxic material is cleared away. One thought is to explore the possibility of using brain entrainment technology to help treat Alzheimer’s, but at this point all it is being used for is to help people meditate, relax and dream instantly and effortlessly.