Thursday, November 20, 2014

Brain Stimulation and Magical Consciousness

Science News has an article up today about the rising popularity of electrical brain stimulation. The technology is based on solid research, but critics contend that the findings are still preliminary and require more investigation. Many people exploring the field currently make use of DIY techniques and devices, which makes the practice sound a bit fringy, but reading over the article I wonder if I might be seeing a new, more effective method for inducing magical states of consciousness.

The first time Nathan Whitmore zapped his brain, he had a college friend standing by, ready to pull the cord in case he had a seizure. That didn’t happen. Instead, Whitmore started experimenting with the surges of electricity, and he liked the effects. Since that first cautious attempt, he’s become a frequent user of, and advocate for, homemade brain stimulators.

Depending on where he puts the electrodes, Whitmore says, he has expanded his memory, improved his math skills and solved previously intractable problems. The 22-year-old, a researcher in a National Institute on Aging neuroscience lab in Baltimore, writes computer programs in his spare time. When he attaches an electrode to a spot on his forehead, his brain goes into a “flow state,” he says, where tricky coding solutions appear effortlessly. “It’s like the computer is programming itself.”

Whitmore no longer asks a friend to keep him company while he plugs in, but he is far from alone. The movement to use electricity to change the brain, while still relatively fringe, appears to be growing, as evidenced by a steady increase in active participants in an online brain-hacking message board that Whitmore moderates. This do-it-yourself community, some of whom make their own devices, includes people who want to get better test scores or crush the competition in video games as well as people struggling with depression and chronic pain, Whitmore says.

While I am not a proponent of the psychological-only model of magick, altered states of consciousness are part of the process of a magical operation no matter what model you subscribe to. Technological methods such as light and sound machines have been used to alter consciousness for a long time, and as I wrote back in 2006 I was finally able to get eyes-open scrying to work properly by using an alpha-theta meditation program on the Nova Pro. Brain stimulation could offer a more direct method for inducing such states, bypassing light and sound completely.

At this point the area of the brain to stimulate in order to induce magical consciousness is not clear. Researchers don't study ceremonial magicians, though some of the studies of advanced meditators might prove analogous. One exciting possibility is that once this area of the brain is identified, it might be possible to evaluate magick in a more controlled fashion by analyzing the correlations between the different levels of stimulation made possible by this method and shifts in probability. This would be a nice complement to research I've proposed that would compare local brainwave analysis with rates of magical success.

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Unknown said...

Nup. Doesn't work. I've tried this at home heaps of times, and the part where you have to solder a DIY brain stimulator back into a toaster can be quite challenging after you've zapped yourself to no avail.

Scott Stenwick said...

It might have been the wrong spot. This stuff can be hard to quantify on an individual basis. Either that, or the toaster was just out to get you the whole time. ;)