Mind machine QUACKERY - Assistance required.

Philosopher x at elf.com
Fri Jan 6 13:38:15 EST 1995

    I'm attempting to write an article to 
provide the cyberpunk/consciousness exploration/new age crowd with a skeptical
analysis of the claims made for these devices and require your assistance. Please
reply via e-mail (or at least cc: a copy to me), because the system I'm on only
stores newsgroup messages for a few days. Often, by the time I get back to checking
the newsgroups, public replies to my postings have come and gone. 

    First off, what are the legitimate uses of photic-stimulation in current
research / clinical practice? What are the legitimate uses of binaural beats,
if any, in research and/or clinical practice? I feel it's important to mention the
"mundane" uses of these things in order to help underscore the New Agers' 
misunderstanding/misappropriation of them.

    Are there any known side effects to photic-stimulation (hereafter referred to
as PS) other than seizures? Or rather, are there any common side effects other than
EEG driving? For example, one man wrote to me claiming that a neurologist put him
to sleep quickly utilizing pulsed light (which he suspects was at a rate of 4 Hz),
and that this was no New Age quackery. Would you say the man fell asleep due to the
monotony of the stimulus rather than any entrainment phenomenon? I'm reminded here
of the folk theory of "highway hypnosis" where one allegedly falls asleep at the
wheel of a car due to stroboscopic bursts of sunlight (through lines of trees on
the side of a road).

    I don't know if you've ever tried one of these PS devices yourself, but visually,
they can produce some fairly interesting effects (at least the ones that frequently
change their pulse rates and flashing patterns [i.e. flashing simultaneously in both
eyes to flashing alternately]). Under closed eyelids, I observed mandala-like
geometric shapes, spirals, tunnels, etc. Is there a name for this phenomenon? Does 
it have something to do with phosphenes? Where can I learn more about this phenomenon?
I was intrigued by all this since I'm one of the odd ducks who can't visualize. 

    A few years ago, I built a simple PS mind machine with a few parts from Radio
Shack and did some informal testing among friends. Most of the subjects reported 
seeing images of various kinds. They ran the gamut from "my grandmother" to "zeus"
to "a mushroom cloud." One woman (who admittedly was intoxicated at the time) started
crying a minute after donning the PS goggles. I stopped experimenting after the 
latter incident. I hadn't expected anything odd to happen, and I'd thought I was 
being safe by asking my subjects if they had epilepsy before exposing them to PS. 
How does PS trigger hallucinations/memories? I think it's important to say something
about the visual phenomena. Remaining silent about them only serves to make the 
conspiracy-minded more confident in their view that the FDA is conspiring against
them. I imagine thoughts similar to the following going around in the heads of these
people, "The FDA _knows_ we're on to something and wants to deprive us of it."

   Another concomitant phenomenon here is the following:
I noticecd that when the pulse rate was suddenly switched from a slow one (4 Hz?)
to a fast one (12 Hz?) that large grins would light up on the faces of my subjects.
I know at least for myself that such a switch produces a subjective rush of mild
euphoria. What might be going on here psychophysiology? Presumably, endorphins are
being released (I'm probably being painfully naive here, but that's why I'm seeking
your assistance), but what's the mechanism/process? How does PS (if in fact it does)
trigger the release of endorphins?

   These devices may not lead a person into a specific, intersubjective quasi-mystical
state AC ("Alpha Consciousness"), but they certainly seem to be doing something - 
just what exactly, I don't yet know. I'd like to be able to describe the phenomena
induced by these devices with parsimony; Shaving Robert Monroe's beard with
Occam's Razor. 

   Setting aside the more outlandish claims made by mind machine proponents (i.e. the
sufficiently vague so as to be virtually meaningless "enhanced mental performance"
and "brain expansion"), would you say that these light/sound devices might at least
be capable of putting someone into a trance/hypnotic state (as tribal drumming or
chanting might do)? If so, perhaps this is the only effect a good number of people
expect to obtain from these devices (again, setting aside the outrageous claims of
the mind machine snake oil men). Assuming for the moment that a trance/hypnotic state
is of some value, I can see the benefit in using one of these devices as opposed to
keeping one's neighbors awake all night with mumbo-jumbo of one variety or another.

   Would you consider hypnosis/trance to be a unique, specific inter-subjective state
of consciousness? What is happening to the brain when one is hypnotized? Can hypnosis
be used with any effectiveness in behavior modification? (and I'm not referring to
subliminal messages... speaking of subliminal messages, have there been any articles
on the INeffectiveness of subliminal messages other than those in the Skeptical
Inquirer?) "Accelerated learning?" Is there any concensus among neuroscientists/
psychologists as to what hypnosis is? I've read so much tripe on the subject of
hypnosis that I'd like to start fresh. I think one psychologist, Robert Baker (U.
of Kentucky I believe), claims that there's no such thing as hypnosis - that it's
just a form of play acting on the part of the subject - yikes, if that's the case,
I'd hate to have a dentist who preferred hypnosis to anaesthesia. Baker's book, 
_They Call it Hypnosis_ is published by Prometheus. I haven't gotten around to 
reading it myself. 

   Thanks for your help!

								- Dana

|                             | "We should not act and speak as if  | 
|                             |  we were asleep." --- Heraclitus    | 
|                             |_____________________________________|  

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