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Research Findings

Neural Feedback and Brainwave Training Part 2

Brain Activity and the Source of Alpha Waves

The EEG is considered to monitor “gross” neuronal activity. It does not monitor individual neurons per se, but large groupings. Whenever rhythms are seen in the EEG, it is the net result of many thousands of neurons “in unison.”

Because alpha is seen so easily in the EEG, it was originally thought that there must be some kind of intra-cranial control mechanism (pacemaker) that caused all of those neurons to fire in unison.

Recently two Dutch scientists claimed to have proven the existence of such an alpha-pacemaker. It supposedly was located in the thalamus, located in the brain stem. It was thought to gate impulses from the body (spinal cord) into appropriate locations in the brain. Hand impulses are thus gated into that part of the brain designated as hand. Alpha, then, was thought to be a very rhythmic gating of the information from the body to the brain.

This rhythmic gating results in alpha, is thought to be the result of a very relaxed state. Non-rhythmic gating, resulting in dyssynchronous brain wave activity,. was considered a type of coping response, a response to impinging stimuli. While the pacemaker theory of alpha is still tentative, it is not yet received wide recognition within the scientific community. This is a result of a very complex relationship between autonomic nervous system activity, brain metabolism, age, and a host of other pertinent factors.

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Level of Consciousness

One of the most important facets of the EEG is that it is an excellent indicator of levels and states of consciousness. Audio or visual inspection can determine whether a person is alert, relaxed, drowsy, asleep or even dreaming. Specific detail and arbitrary limit-points for various levels of consciousness are now defined by EEG parameters. The field of altered states of consciousness (ASC) and exploration and control of consciousness are all a direct result of this very important tool.

It is often thought the introduction of these new tools that new techniques and discoveries are made. The tremendous advances in electrons made the past decade has advance sophisticated equipment that stimulated psycho-physical and research in new ideas in science. This is especially true in the areas of biofeedback and self-control technologies.

Biofeedback Training

The technique of biofeedback is based on the fundamental process of instrument learning. A situation gives rise to several variable behaviors. One response is in some way rewarded or reinforced. Learning occurs as this response occurs successively more and more quickly and reliably. Essential to this learning process is the receiving of information in a feedback loop, similarly to servo systems. This can be done via visual or auditory stimuli, stating when we have made the correct response or moved closer to our goal.

This is made possible by using electronic feedback loops (such as those provided by an Electroencephalophne or EEP) and a psychological; technique called operand conditioning. The first successful attempts were attributed to Joe Kamiya in the late 1950’s. Essentially, his technique gave a signal when he achieved specific levels of consciousness. Its full potential has yet to be realized.

Behavior has traditionally been divided into two categories:

1. Voluntary control, such as walking, writing, muscular activities.

2. Autonomic control, such as heartbeat, blood pressure, brainwave production, body visceral processes.

We learn to guide behavior by receiving feedback on the results and then making appropriate adjustments. This is the place where the voluntary and involuntary behavior differ. While we can receive feedback in our writing, we do not have such access to those from the visceral activities. If provided with this absent feedback via electronic means, it has been shown conclusively that man can learn to exert a “voluntary” control over inner body functions.

Recent research into control of heart beat, blood pressure, body temperature, brainwave production and pain seems to indicate that a conscious control is possible. Research into control of brainwaves through the use of biofeedback techniques has centered around alpha waves, and more recently, theta. Some of the more well-known researchers are Kamiya, Kasamatsu, Brown, Hart, Peper, Mulhollond, Stoyva, Green, Walters and Green.

In discussing biofeedback research and results, one runs into a problem of semantics. It is the idea of learning to “control” our brainwaves. It must be emphasized that in using these techniques, a person is not learning to directly control the neuronal electrical activity of action potentials and synaptic events (in the cerebral cortex). One learns to control the subjective or mental events, associated with the presence of alpha or theta.

Changes in brainwave patterns, or blood pressure , body temperature and deep muscle tension are “physiological correlates of physiological processes that the subject learns to control.”


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Brain Wave Patterns

The pattern of neuronal activity in the cerebral cortical section of the brain can be recorded electrically. This is done by measuring the electrical potential difference between two points on the scalp. The record is known as the electroencephalogram (EEG). Brain waves manifest themselves as oscillating voltage. They have two main dimensions: the frequency of oscillation and the amplitude.

The frequency predominately determines the amplitude of the brain wave, but there can be fluctuations of amplitude at a given frequency. Brain waves are broken up into four main categories, determined by the frequency of the wave. The borders of these categories are more or less arbitrary. The following table is approximately correct:

Beta: This is a conscious brain wave. It is characterized as a state of being awake, alert, and concentrating. If this stage is maintained for a prolonged period, it becomes associated with feelings of tension, worry, fear, or anxiety. Lower brain states are necessary on an occasional basis to maintain the alert aspect of this state. A visual-identification in one’s minds eye occurs, a state where images are identified with form and specific objects.

Alpha: This is also a conscious state, but identified with the mental experience where images are not identified. It has come to be associated with feelings of pleasure, pleasantness, tranquillity, serenity and relaxation. It can also imply a relaxed concentration. It is also a place of light sleep and several dream states.

Theta: This state is traditionally labeled unconscious by Western medicine. In recent years, however, people trained with autogenics can achieve this state and retain consciousness, similar to Eastern mediators. Theta has come to be associate with such things as hypnogogic imagery, day dreaming, sleep, cognition of problem solving, future planning, remembering, switching thoughts, and creativity. It is also now been shown to be where maximum regeneration of tissue occurs.

Delta: This state is predominately associated with no-dreaming sleep or deep sleep. There are some reports of individuals achieving this set of brain wave patterns and still retain consciousness. If it is achieved while maintaining a conscious state, “out-of-body” (OOBE) experiences are subjectively experienced and reported.