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Hacking My Brain

Posted 2011.04.03 21.19 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

I just built a Brain Machine kit from Adafruit. Originally designed by Mitch Altman, it reminded me of a bio-feedback brain device I had built some 20-25 years ago, after reading about it in a issue of Radio Electronics magazine.

The basic premise in both cases is that you can guide the brain to synchronize with external stimuli oscillating at a rate that matches one of the brain’s normal wave patterns – Beta (awake / consious), Alpha (dreamy / trancy), Theta (subconsious), Delta (creative), Gamma (intense thought, problem solving).

The Brain Machine is designed so that you can program it with an entire sequence of patterns, changing the waves and durations as desired for a given program purpose. The kit comes with a 14 minute meditation program already written to the microcontroller.

The stimulus given to the brain is in the visual and auditory areas, by way of two red LEDs (one per eye) and a set of standard stereo headphones. The LEDs alternate-pulse at the desired brain-wave frequency while the left and right speakers of the headphones each play a different tone; the offset between the tones (binaural beats) is also the desired brain-wave frequency.

Personally, I found the headphones a bit distracting so I won’t use them as much. Maybe it’s just me but I only experienced the ‘binaural beat’ thing a couple isolated moments, otherwise I just heard two different (slightly annoying) tones. Useful for blocking out external noises, but my home is already a quiet environment, usually.

Using the brain machine is… trippy. I would love to be able to share images of what I saw, but in lieu of that, here are some attempts at describing a few moments.

  • Predominantly I experienced a lot of geometric patterns that were repeated infinitely across my field of view; waves of triangles, squares, pentagonal and hexagonal forms. Sometimes superimposed, eg. my left eye was seeing hexagons while my right was seeing pentagons.
  • Then it was like floating through outer space, surrounded by stars. While flying through a meteor shower. With TRON special-effects. As viewed through a kaliedescope.
  • I became able to see the individual cells of my own eyelids.
  • Then I could see the electrons travelling through my optic nerves, all buzzing about in frantic bio-feedback.
  • Then everything fell away and I could see the entire Milky Way galaxy above me, moving in accelerated time.

It’s amazing just how many colours you can actually experience, given that the only colour used is red. I was seeing blue, green, purple, red, and white, and to a lesser degree, yellow and orange.

After taking a couple trips with the default meditation program, I am thinking it would be cool to create a bunch of different programs. The ATTiny25 chips are inexpensive so you could actually burn a number of them, each with a different program. Then just pop in the one you want at the moment, and let it run.

You could have a chip/program to get your mind stimulated and ready to work; a program for relaxing at the end of the day; a program to get the creative juices flowing; a program to just bounce from one waveform to the next to give your brain a slamming roller-coaster ride. Feed your brain various programs, and see what happens.