Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bored Teens Discover Brain Machine

I've been busy this month promoting and getting ready for last weekend's book signing event at Magus Books, which went pretty well, and I apologize for the recent lack of posts. I'll be setting up more such events soon, so watch the feed from my author web site over on the right hand panel for details.

I've written in the past about the brain machine, which is a device that uses flashing lights and binaural sounds to stimulate particular brain wave frequencies. The machine that I have is a Nova Pro 100, which is one of the nicer models available, and I've found it to be particularly helpful for getting me into the right frame of mind for scrying. Without the brain machine I'm not very good at it, but if I run the alpha/theta brainwave program for about ten minutes before giving it a try I get much better results.

The Nova Pro comes with software that you can use to put together your own light and sound programs. You select the brainwave frequency you want to target and how long you want that portion of the program to target and the machine does the rest. I haven't gotten as much of a chance to play around with this as I might like, but it seems to me that it has a lot of potential for magical work. My basic hypothesis is that in a magical ritual brainwave frequencies start low, around the alpha/theta range, increase as the ritual approaches its climax, and then drops back down to the alpha/theta range as the generated thoughtform is released, and at some point I plan on putting together a custom program that follows this pattern and testing to see if it increases the probability shift that I can generate.

Some enterprising individual on the Internet has gotten a completely different idea and is using various custom programs to make money by marketing them as "JUST LIKE TAKING DRUGS!!!" You do a little research to see what brainwave frequencies are generally present when taking a particular drug, whip up a program on the Nova Pro or similar machine, and then record the audio output from the machine as an MP3. Teens can then download the MP3's, play them with their eyes closed or covered, and convince themselves that they're getting high. The phenomenon has been dubbed "i-dosing," and it's really not a lot different than what I did at that age, which was sit in the dark with headphones and blast Pink Floyd albums.

I-dosing hit the mainstream media a couple of weeks back with the predictable moral panic nonsense that these MP3 clips could become addictive, or by some mysterious "gateway drug" mechanism could get teens hooked on real drugs.

But there has been such alarm in the U.S. that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs has issued a warning to children not to do it.

‘Kids are going to flock to these sites just to see what it is about and it can lead them to other places, spokesman Mark Woodward said.

He added that parental awareness is key to preventing future problems, since I-dosing could indicate a willingness to experiment with drugs.

‘So that's why we want parents to be aware of what sites their kids are visiting and not just dismiss this as something harmless on the computer.

‘If you want to reach these kids, save these kids and keep these kids safe, parents have to be aware. They've got to take action.’

The "gateway drug" hypothesis was debunked by the La Guardia Committee all the way back in 1944 based on research involving real drugs, but nonetheless prohibitionists still throw it around like it was actual science. Here are a few facts about binaural sounds - first off, they're nothing like dumping outside chemicals into your brain because there are no outside chemicals involved. Second of all, my understanding is that most of the research that went into the development of the brain machine showed that it was primarily the flashing lights that produced specific brainwave frequencies and the binaural tones produced a secondary effect at best. Since you need special glasses with diodes in them to experience the light effects you can't just sell the light tracks - but most teens these days have MP3 players.

To tell the truth, this is a brilliant snake oil marketing scheme and I wish I had thought of it. I've had my machine and the programming software for years, and I could have spent those years cranking out the tracks and pulling in big money. It's a well-known fact that the placebo effect means a lot of people will get results if they believe they are going to get them, so even if my MP3's weren't made on a brain machine and just sounded weird I would most likely have tons of testimonials about how awesome they were in no time. A "for entertainment only" clause would free me from any lawsuits and nobody would get hurt because all I was selling them would be a bunch of strange droning sounds that do little besides waste peoples' time and get reporters all worked up.

The fact is that even if binaural beats produce specific brainwave patterns in some people there is no way that anyone could become addicted to them like real psychoactives. The main mechanism by which drug addiction works is that extra psychoactive chemicals mess with the homeostats in the brain that regulate neurotransmitters and/or other chemicals such as endorphins. The brain's regulatory system thinks too much of the chemical is floating around and down-regulates it, so in order to keep feeling good you need to keep taking more of the drug. This results in drug tolerance and produces withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug. That's pharmacology 101.

Proponents of "behavioral addictions" or "psychological addictions" (food, sex, or just about anything else that people really enjoy) at worst confuse addiction with having a good time and at best confuse it with compulsion, which is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD can manifest as any particular behavior or set of behaviors pretty much at random. Some individuals wash their hands over and over, some flip a light switch a certain number of times when leaving a room, and some overeat or act out sexually. What the "behavioral addiction" folks fail to understand is that the presence of food, sexually explict material, sinks, or light switches have nothing to do with the behavior in conjunction with which OCD will manifest.

OCD results from a chemical imbalance in the sections of the brain that control conditioning loops and is best treated with drug therapy. "12-Step" methods adapted from chemical dependency treatment do nothing for OCD, and in fact some neuropsychologists contend that they do a lot less for real drug addictions than their proponents claim. Without pharmacological intervention even if you can manage to stop one compulsive behavior completely another is going to take its place. It's not impossible that somewhere you could find a kid with OCD that manifests as a compulsion to play lots of binaural MP3's. But even that wouldn't mean the clips are addictive, it would just mean that there's a kid out there with untreated OCD.

In fact, thinking about it I wonder if a "reverse-gateway drug" mechanism could be at work here. If teens believe that a binaural MP3 is just like taking a drug and then find the experience boring or unpleasant it seems to me that they might decide taking real drugs is a bad idea, or at least not nearly as interesting as the prohibitionists make it sound. That sounds like a win all around, even if the clips themselves do absolutely nothing but line the pockets of some clever brain machine programmer who knows how to market.

My advice to anyone who tries out these clips and finds them interesting is to get your own brain machine and see how much better it works. The Nova Pro is kind of expensive but there are many models available that are quite a bit cheaper. The sound programs are much more effective with the lights and with the machine you can run your own programs instead of having to buy someone else's.

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Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

The brain program you and I need is one that stimulates the same centers of the brain that the snake oil salesmen use.

Scott Stenwick said...

My guess is that there are a lot of advertising departments doing research into that very subject. How else can you explain all the weird commercials that are out there? Most of the time I can't imagine how most ads could possibly sell products, and yet they apparently work.

Giania said...

"which was sit in the dark with headphones and blast Pink Floyd albums."

I can think of a lot of albums that have transported me to another place. Music is such an amazingly powerful thing.

"The "gateway drug" hypothesis was debunked"
While I don't support the idea of gateway drugs, I do think it's important to note that if a kid/teen/young person is seeking out something they're told will get them "high", they're obviously curious. Parents who find that their kids are looking into this "idose" business should probably A) encourage them not to believe everything they read B) discuss mind-body altering substances C) show them erowid.org. Knowledge is power, and information the best defense against a series of potentially dangerous decisions. Not to mention having open, supporting parents/adults is sort of critical when you're still learning how your body interacts with the world. It's not about "gateway drugs" it's about ignorance, desire, and no outlet other than experimentation. (And experimentation is fine, but knowing what you're getting into is better.)

Interesting breakdown on how OCD works.

Scott Stenwick said...

I do think it's important to note that if a kid/teen/young person is seeking out something they're told will get them "high", they're obviously curious.

I guess my point here is something to the effect of "what teen isn't?" The main factor that seems to determine whether or not teens try drugs is availability. The main factor that seems to determine whether or not they keep doing them is how they respond to the drugs that they have the opportunity to try, which is almost completely biological and varies from person to person.

I'm with you 100% on teaching kids solid critical thinking. Beyond drug use, most problems in our society seem to trace back to groups of people lacking such skills. And Erowid is a fantastic resource for learning what drugs really do as opposed to all of the ridiculous propaganda out there.