A new world is emerging from invisibility. Because it has never been seen, we must learn how to see it. Once we do, we see it has always been so.
It matters how we think about matter. And for that matter, it matters how we think about things in general. The metaphors we use as conceptual shorthand for encoding our understanding matter most; because these, essentially poetic, explanations of how we believe the world operates at any given time are creative and formative – they exhibit a feedback effect: your view of the world is what gives your life its meaning and what guides your creative interaction with the world.
We are also bound to each other by our commonly held views. Shared memes have increased viability. This enhances their ability to convey information. We evolve toward our shared visions.
The new global paradigms of human awareness are in significant part, scientific. We are now quite familiar and conversant with scientific metaphors. They pervade our popular culture and provide concise and useful explanations of trends and events. Also, as we inhabit increasingly technological environments, scientific metaphors are well-suited to our lived narratives.
Because contemporary science involves relativistic and quantum effects, indeterminacy, probability, theories of entanglement, and hypotheses of multiple dimensions, many worlds, and parallel universes, the new scientific paradigms have much in common with perennial philosophical inquiry, metaphysical speculation, and the aesthetic imagination.
The classical idea – that the universe is made of matter, which is composed of constituent particles that obey a special set of universal laws – has value when calculating the trajectories of things like planets, billiard balls, and bullets. Contemporary notions of waves, quanta, fractals, chaotic systems, complexity, information theory, and holograms have great value as metaphors for understanding the world we live in now. They are essential constituents of the cybernetic paradigm, in which vast amounts of complex information are moved, stored, processed, and retrieved by means of the manipulation of electrons. This kind of information processing is echoed in the genetic evolution of species and ecosystems, and it is a reflection of cosmic evolution through multiple dimensions. It is also a very powerful model of consciousness and intelligence.
In future entries of this series, we’ll look at ideas and metaphors most helpful in making sense of the new ways of thinking that are everywhere emerging into human awareness.
Image – “New World” By Tullio DeSantis, altered image and ink drawing, 2011.
YouTube Video – Alan Watts: Life is a Dance of Pattern
The author using his brainwaves to control a computer display
The past decade has seen the proliferation of interface technology, which allows humans to control mobility devices and other sensory-motor applications by electromagnetic pulses issuing from electrodes attached to the scalp. The technology is straightforward, in that the brain emits electromagnetic waves, which are sufficiently specific to allow for the discrimination of a user’s intentions in terms that can be translated into simple commands for controlling input devices.
This is the most basic form of brain/machine interface – using the brain’s electrical potential as a controller to effect a change in the environment. It is another thing entirely to use the electromagnetic signals produced by the brain to change the state of the brain itself – in other words, to use the brain’s output as a form of input in a feedback process.
EEG evidence demonstrates a predictable range of discrete frequencies produced by the brain during specific states of consciousness ranging from deep sleep to wakeful attentiveness. Because there is an observed correlation between the electrical output of the brain and our various states of consciousness, it is possible to “tune” various brain frequencies for optimal states, according to specific performance models.
There are many ways to define “optimal performance”. Specific forms of brain training can be adapted to address specific models of consciousness. Some forms of biofeedback emphasize training for peak performance in the Alpha range and corresponding states of relaxation. Other methods emphasize the production of Theta waves, promoting flowing states of deeper meditation.
Some models of consciousness see the brain as a chaotic system, in which initial conditions and strange attractors form the interconnected landscape of the human mind. In living systems, states of non-linearity and openness to the environment are optimized in healthy individuals, while pathology is described as the system being stuck in repetitive linear patterns. Theories of coherence, resonance, and related ways of looking at wave systems are applied to brain research with varying degrees of efficacy.
Whatever the goal, neuroplasticity ensures the brain can be trained to produce specific frequencies or to exhibit particular patterns in response to specific input. By definition, the brain is a system that learns. And the way it learns is a physical process of reinforcement, exemplified by the axiom “neurons that fire together wire together”. Several popular modalities of neurofeedback provide proprietary algorithms, which are used to process and modify the feedback signals sent back to the subject’s brain.
The author using his brainwaves to control a computer display
I do this work with a psychologist who operates several proprietary systems, and I have equipment that I use at home to practice staying in preferred states of attention or meditation. Some programs employ visual cues to stay focused – flying a video-display airplane or moving various animations in specific patterns. Other systems involve electrical signals induced via optical pathways (using a set of specially-designed glasses), and still others employ audio feedback, electronic sounds, and activating a multimedia player to produce a continuous display. These systems variously train, reinforce, and train the brain to experience and produce more coherent and efficient patterns of energy.
In the next entry of this series, I’ll discuss specific neurofeedback methods in more detail.
Brainwave Chart from: alpha-theta-brainwaves.com
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Feedback is a characteristic process of complex systems, in which all or part of a signal – originally produced by the system itself – is applied for reprocessing, thereby altering the system’s future behavior. Feedback processes are often regulatory in nature, especially in living organisms. As there are aspects of living systems which are chemical and electromagnetic, a science of human biofeedback has been studied and applied with measurable effectiveness, since the 1950s.
It is well-known and verified by experimental results that people can be trained to lower pulse-rate, blood pressure, and other vital metabolic processes by means of attending to visual and auditory cues. In the 1960s, Dr. Joe Kimiya established several protocols for recognizing, producing, and enhancing a state of peak-performance by encouraging the production of alpha waves through EEG biofeedback training.
During the same decade, Dr. Barry Sturman, from UCLA, was invited by NASA to adapt for the US Space Program, the systems of brain-wave reinforcement he had discovered to be effective in sleep research upon feline subjects.
While the sum of electromagnetic vibrations of the human brain may constitute the most complex pattern of information produced by the entire universe, it is possible to distinguish between several frequency ranges, which are correlated with certain states of consciousness.
Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, Gamma Waves, which range in frequency from under-4 to over-30 Hz, describe a continuous spectrum of human consciousness. Our various “states of mind” – from deep sleep to attentive alertness – and even thoughtful, creative states – can be observed to accompany characteristic waveform measurements using electroencephalographic recording equipment.
These correlations are employed in several current technologies, which involve assessing the particular wave patterns produced by a subject’s brain and using that information to modify a signal, which is then re-assimilated by the subject in a continuous feedback loop. This process effects a modification of the brain’s response to stimulus and can affect the subject’s ultimate state of mind in predictable ways.
My own biofeedback and neurofeedback work includes several proprietary systems and other methods which I have employed over years of personal and professional aesthetic study, experimentation, and research. I will discuss these in future entries.
Image: The author during a recent neurofeedback session
YouTube Video: How the Body Works. An EEG: Brainwaves
YouTube Video: Neurofeedback for Peak Performance
During a recent session of neurofeedback work, my friend, a Doctor of Psychology, made the point that health is stronger than pathology. It made a significant impression on me and I want to share it with you, along with the context of our discussion and how it relates specifically to the healing power of neurofeedback.
The premise is simple enough; we heal our world by healing ourselves. And because health is stronger than pathology, this is an optimistic evolutionary world view.
Our history as a species is not one to be terribly proud of. Looking back at what humans have accomplished since climbing down from the trees on the African savannah, must give one pause – if only out of reverence for the terrible suffering and devastation caused by our armies of conquest. We have the capacity to do good but the history of man’s inhumanity to man is too horrible to be comprehended, much less explained away by logic or simplistic belief.
To be sure, there has been great technical advance. We have learned, step by step, how to capture and channel the vast mineral and electromagnetic energies of the Earth toward the construction of a great global technological infrastructure, which provides shelter, transportation, and sustenance for billions and can organize and process information at the speed of light. Nevertheless, a clear-headed appraisal of the state of the world indicates the presence of pathology in our species as a whole and concomitantly in each of us – as individual members of a dysfunctional collective.
Coming to terms with the pathological tendencies of Homo sapiens is possible in our individual lives, as it involves a process of personal transformation encapsulated in each of us as we make our own path from pathology to health.
My life has been a series of experiments, therapies, self-help regimens, spiritual and philosophical programs of study – all with the intention of integrating my aesthetic perceptions with existential experience. In other words, because my own search for beauty, truth, goodness, and inspiration is in conflict with the illusion, brutality, negative energy, and banality of much of experience, being an artist involves first and foremost healing those aspects of myself which participate in the persistently pathological conditions of all humanity.
My neurofeedback work has continued for over a year now and I can report progress in terms of EEG readings, but more significantly, in terms of my own world view. These insights have informed my art and writing in subtle and obvious ways.
Neurofeedback training and therapy are an outgrowth of biofeedback techniques, in which signals are received from the brain and, through various feedback processes, are sent back for purposeful, healthful, and restorative assimilation and response.
Next Entry: More on Neurofeedback and its effect on my life and work.
Image: The author during a recent neurofeedback session
YouTube Video: What is Neurofeedback? – NeurOptimal®