Can you rewire your brain in two weeks? The answer appears to be — at least partially — yes.
The following is a guest post by Shane Snow, frequent contributor to Wired and Fast Company and author of the new book SMARTCUTS: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success. Last year, he wrote about his two-week Soylent experiment, which went viral and racked up 500+ comments. He knows how to stir up controversy.
In this post, Shane tests the “brain-sensing headband” called Muse.
It’s received a lot of PR love, but does it stand up to the hype? Can it make you a calmer, more effective person in two weeks? This post tackles these questions and much more.
As many of your know, I’m a long-time experimenter with “smart drugs,” which I think are both more valuable and more dangerous that most people realize. This includes homemade brain stim (tDCS) devices (I wouldn’t recommend without supervision) and other cutting-edge tools. If you’d like to read more on these topics, please let me know in the comments.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Shane’s experimentation!…
Enter Shane Snow
The electrodes needed to be adjusted to fit my sweaty head, which was apparently the largest size the product could accommodate.
I was sitting on a porch in palpable D.C. humidity, on a midsummer’s morning at Bolling Air Force Base, trying to get a quartet of EEG sensors to connect my brain to my Samsung Galaxy. The purple box on my screen kept blinking in and out of sync.
Inside the house, my friend’s two-year-old was jumping violently on the sofa—the same sofa that the shedding 15-pound cat named Endai and I had shared for the past week. The house was in shambles; movers were busily trucking everything away to my friend’s soon-to-be new home in New Mexico. Hence the porch.
I had been sleeping on said couch due to the abrupt ending of an 8-year relationship, which had left me stunned and homeless for the preceding three weeks. As luck would have it, the anti-anxiety pills my shrink had prescribed for me to take “as needed” were back in New York in my friend Simon’s living room. Crap. My calendar had just alerted me that I’d missed the Skype call start time for my company board meeting, right before the movers unplugged the Internet. Meanwhile, a platoon of military helicopters had decided to play what appeared to be a game of “who can hover the longest over the neighborhood”. Chuk, chuk, chuk, chuk, chuk. CHUCK. CHUCK.
My stress levels were high.
Seemed like as good a time as any to try out my new gadget: a brainwave-sensing headband called the Muse, and its companion app, Calm.
I placed the band’s centimeter-wide contact strip of electrodes against my forehead and rested the plastic against the top of my ears, fiddling with the fit until my phone finally registered a solid connection for each of the sensors, two on my temples, two behind my ears. I donned my white Audio-Technica DJ headphones and fired up the app, which in a soothing voice instructed me to sit up straight, and breeeeeeeathe.
Calm is a simple meditation exercise: Count your breaths. Don’t try to force them. Your body knows how to breathe. Simply pay attention, the female voice in my headphones told me. After Muse calibrated to my brain’s “active” state—by making me brainstorm items in a series of topics—I was given five minutes of nature sounds to breathe to. When calm and focused, I enjoyed the sound of lapping waves and birds tweeting; when my mind wandered, sturdy winds picked up and the birds flew away.
At the end of five minutes, the app confirmed: I am not very calm.
Thus began my two week experiment in brain therapy. I’d been planning on acquiring a Muse after having caught wind of its development nearly two years before, but who knew it would finally be released during the most anxious time of my adult life? Two weeks was plenty of time, Muse inventor Ariel Garten told me, for the Muse focus training exercises “to reduce perception of pain, improve memory, improve affect, reduce anxiety, and also improve emotional intelligence.”
Seemed a little good to be true, but I was willing to test it.
Electroencephalography (EEG—the recording of electrical activity emitted from the brain) has come a long way in the last 100 years, since doctors drilled holes in monkeys heads to attach sensors, and eventually glued contacts with cathode ray tubes to intact human skulls to map brain activity. They discovered that the brain emits oscillating signals of variable frequency, and the frequency of the oscillations indicates what’s happening—at a high level—in one’s mind. These “waves” are generally delineated into categories based on frequency ranges:
- Delta waves: indicate deep sleep. (1-3 Hz)
- Theta waves: indicate deep relaxation or meditation. (4-8 Hz)
- Alpha waves: indicate a relaxed brain state, what Garten calls “an open state of mind.” (9-13 Hz)
- Beta waves: indicate alert consciousness and fire up when you’re actively thinking. (14-30 Hz)
- Gamma waves: indicate high alertness and are often associated with learning. (30-100 Hz)
The original purpose of EEG was the study of epilepsy. Over the decades, however, as computers improved, neuroscientists’ increasing capability to process the enormous amount of data the brain throws off allowed them to experiment with EEG for other uses, such as attention therapy.
In his 2007 book, The Brain That Changes Itself, neuroscientist Norman Doidge made mainstream the then recent (and surprising) finding that “the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity.” Our intelligence and tendencies are not locked in once we’re no longer children, as popular belief once held. Once our brain was wired, it could still be rewired. Doidge called it, “the most important alteration in our view of the brain since we first sketched out its basic anatomy and the workings of its basic component, the neuron.”
This adaptability factor of the brain is called “neuroplasticity.” You may have seen dubious advertisements for “brain-enhancing games” and other gimmicks that drop the term neuroplasticity in impressive-sounding (but often meaningless) marketing speak. Despite this misuse, the plasticity of our neurons is, in fact, fact. Our brains use it to wire themselves naturally, but in the past several years scientists have developed a simple procedure to “hack” them.
Neurofeedback training, or NFT as the scientists call it, is a conditioning method wherein a patient is hooked up to an EEG and shown how active her brain is, thus allowing her to concentrate on exercises that exploit neuroplasticity to build mental muscles that allow her to consciously affect her resting brain activity. Clinical studies have shown that NFT helps the majority of patients to improve their cognitive control and have also helped ADHD sufferers significantly improve their ability to focus. NFT has even been shown to have a positive effect on depression.
The two prerequisites to being able to pull off NFT are EEG sensors and a computer processor that can turn an EEG scan into real-time feedback. The electricity coming off the brain is orders of magnitude weaker than a standard AA battery, which means sensors must be powerful, delicate, and well-attached to pick anything up. Doctors have found that the skull reduces the signal significantly and thus would prefer if we didn’t have skulls (for examination purposes, that is), but have mostly settled on using wet sensors—electrodes affixed to the scalp or forehead using conductive gel.
The breakthrough that enabled a more practical, portable EEG device like the Muse claims to be, was the advent of dry sensors, or metal contacts that can use the skin’s own moisture or sweat to attain the necessary conductivity.
“Brain waves are very, very, very quiet. They’ve had to make their way all the way through your thick, thick skull,” Garten says. But sensor technology is improving at a rate that indicates we’re two to three years away from non-contact sensors, she predicts.
And in 2014, processing power is no longer a problem. “Ten years ago we were using fiber optic cable to make sure that you got this extraordinary data into what was like an egg carton and an ancient Commodore computer so that they could do all the processing,” Garten says. “Now, we can just use a phone and Bluetooth.”
When I’d first laid hands on the Muse a year and a half before, it was a chunky slab of plastic and metal. Garten and I met up at a design gallery in Manhattan for a demo of the prototype headband she’d been working on for the better part of the last decade. A Canadian fashion designer turned neuroscientist, she spoke earnestly about the potential applications for measuring one’s brainstate to ameliorate stress and perhaps one day cure ADHD and anxiety.
Garten’s prototype Muse measured the activity of these waves and output them to an iPad like a seismograph. After I donned the plastic headband, I watched in real time as slowing my breathing or concentrating on something or simply talking affected the different wave forms.
“The long term vision is this tool is going to be a regular part of our daily lives,” Garten told me. “You know, like pedometers that help people manage and understand their physical exercise. Brain health is going to be something that is on everybody’s mind. Up until now, there has been no way to, basically, like put a stethoscope up to your brain and say, ‘How is it doing?’”
Ten years ago, a NFT system with Muse-like capabilities (often found in a chiropractor’s office) would cost 5 figures and a closet-worth of space. Now the processing power lives on a standard smartphone, and Muse sensors cost $299.
Eventually, Garten predicted, doctors would actively use it to treat the mentally ill. Programmers would build brainwave-control apps for gaming and smart homes and surfing the Internet on top of Muse’s technology.
But for now it just gives you tweety birds.
My porch session resulted in precisely zero of them:
This session, for which I got a score of “31% calm,” would be the first of many mental workouts in my DYI NFT experiment. Would regular usage of the Muse headband actually change my brain and help fix my anxious life? Or would it turn out to be another wearable that’s more hype than help?
The hypothesis (aka sales pitch) was that by using Muse, I’d improve my ability to focus and maintain my cool during my stressful day-to-day.
So for fifteen days, I performed a five-minute Muse Calm session each morning within an hour of waking up and shaking off sleep. I’d sit in a similar setting (straight-back chair in a room alone), in similar clothing (comfortable, shorts and t-shirt, no shoes), with no distractions (accomplished via Bose noise-canceling earbuds) every time.
Additionally, I performed a series of sessions in various random non-comfortable settings, to test whether different mental exercises produced different results, or whether I could remain calm while being assaulted by various outside forces—which is the real goal of NFT, rather than simply getting better at a “game” in quiet isolation.
Though the app would tell me if my brain was getting better at calming itself during the exercise, the less easy-to-quantify result would be to see whether my level of general anxiety would decrease as I got better at the Calm app. (I.e. am I forming these alleged neural pathways?) Garten and Calm each told me that once I completed enough sessions (5,000 points’ worth), the app would unlock insights about how my brain was doing, which could shed some light on my meta-state. But I also tracked my overall emotional and mental state by keeping regular journal entries throughout the two weeks.
For a control—and as a basic BS test—I performed a session while reading a book instead of doing the breathing exercise. I read three pages of Murakami’s new one, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and my brain was all sorts of active. Mr. Murakami, your work is stimulating. Science hath proven it:
Most of my morning sessions took place between 8 and 11 a.m. I keep a somewhat irregular sleep schedule (a source of anxiety, or symptom?), but aim for 7 hours a night. The important part for this experiment was to make sure that I did my Muse session within an hour of waking, but after I had stopped being groggy. In other words: before my morning exercise, after my morning pee.
I kept the morning schedule up with a few exceptions: on August 18, the Muse Calm app caused the headband to think my brainwaves had completely flatlined. I contacted the Muse team, and they confirmed that this was indeed a bug that they were working on fixing that day. On August 20, 22, 24, and 26 I skipped my morning session due to extenuating circumstances. (The 24th, for example, was my birthday, and I stayed out until 8 a.m.. My first session that day was at 4 p.m. and resulted in a hangover-level 31%.) But throughout my 15-day experiment, I never went a day without doing one or more sessions, and I never went two days without doing a standardized morning session.
In all, I completed 24 sessions. Here’s how my morning sessions went over the course of the two weeks:
You’ll notice that I did pretty poorly for the first several sessions, then experienced a jump in improvement on August 17. What this chart doesn’t show is that though it was that August 17 was actually the seventh session I’d done in total. So I was getting better, but I’m not entirely sure why such a dramatic jump. You’ll also notice a slight dip on the 25th and 27th. On these days, I was having a couple of particularly anxious mornings (due to personal issues); however, on these days I still maintained double the calm as my first few sessions—which were less emotionally fraught than these days.
My final morning session of the experiment, on August 28, was a serene 89%—my best yet, and just one spike of brain activity away from monk-like zen:
More importantly, I attracted a fucking flock of tweety birds:
Here’s how I performed on my random sessions in less-controlled environments:
Clearly, it was harder for me to focus and remain calm when I was tired or emotionally compromised.
Trains made it easier to focus (likely due to the lack of noise and abundance of leg room). Airplanes tend to give me claustrophobia, but it’s also likely that the vibrations of the plane itself caused my muscles to move (generating louder electrical signals than your brain emits) and made my results so poor during the flight. There certainly was a lot of shaking going on during my flight.
Interestingly, listening to calming music (I tend to put Blackmill’s “Miracle” album on repeat when I want to relax or single-task) outperformed no sound (simply trying to calm myself without an aid). On August 27, my regular session with the app’s wind and waves, resulted in 12% less calm than my music experiment immediately after.
As far as the meta, “how am I doing” portion of the experiment went, I eagerly awaited when I could unlock the “Insights About You” page of the app, after racking up enough “calm points”. Disappointingly, though Garten and Muse Calm both promised me these “additional features and special insights into my brain”, once I unlocked the screen, I got simply a blank, broken page:
When asked, the Muse publicist confirmed that the feature “actually hasn’t been developed yet” and relayed the (in my opinion) unlikely explanation that “there was a miscommunication between the product and dev teams.”
My journal entries indicated a general decrease in agitation and worry by the end of the experiment. My ability to focus on tasks (primarily writing) seemed to improve. I have a tendency to get distracted when I’m writing, and in the same way that the waves-and-wind exercise in the app teaches you to power through distractions and focus on your breath, I felt that I already was improving my ability to notice a distraction but keep it in the background instead of indulging it.
Furthermore, as I walked down busy streets or lay in bed—times when I normally would ruminate—I found myself subconsciously slowing breaths and counting them as a means of shoving out bad thoughts and calming down.
“Many smart people who use their brains a lot are ‘high beta,’” explained my therapist (whose name I’ll omit to maintain a shred of personal privacy) when I asked her about this. An award-winning Manhattan psychologist and author, she has used NFT herself. A few years ago, she used a professional-grade version of Muse to teach her own active brain to be silent. “I couldn’t go to sleep without the TV on,” she said. “The minute it was quiet, my brain would explode with activity.”
With measurement and some mental situps, she calmed her own rumination—as apparently thousands of people have done at clinics that use EEG therapy. That “neuroplasticity” thing that people throw around, it turns out, is real. And it works as fast as one can form a bad habit.
“The brain can be retrained,” she said. “People think it can’t, but it can.”
One of the main limitations of the Muse Calm app—or at least questions that I had from the beginning—was the validity of the wind-and-waves feedback sound system itself, as well as the “count your breaths” mediation exercise. My assistant, Erin, who’s a yoga instructor and meditation expert by night, was skeptical that the Muse Calm exercise was the most effective method the app could have chosen. Why would you have the distracting sounds get worse when you were most compromised? she said. Doesn’t that create a self-defeating cycle?
Garten responded: “We did a bunch of experimentation on positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement and we ultimately built an application with a mix of both. The negative reinforcements of the wind can definitely be distracting, but what you learn over time is also this lesson in not being judgmental when things don’t work.”
A 2010 study by scientists from the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown found positive links between “mindfulness training”—the popular meditation practice of calmly noticing, but not changing what’s happening to you—has a positive effect on working memory. The Muse Calm’s “notice and count your breaths” exercise is a form of mindfulness training, and appears to hold up under scientific scrutiny, but the wind-and-waves feedback loop (NFT) throws a bit of a wrench into true “mindfulness”, since the act of being mindful ends up affecting your environment, whereas the point of mindfulness meditation is to notice but not affect.
Could a “pure” mindfulness exercise without the instant and self-reinforcing feedback outperform Calm’s NFT/mindfulness hybrid? Beats me, but it’s a question I’d want to test in future experiments.
Other limitations or potential variables that could affect the science behind my two-week experiment include the following:
- Factors such as the exact time I awoke and what kind of bed I slept in changed slightly from day to day, as I was traveling and couch-hopping. While the course of my experiment showed an upward trend in calm, I wasn’t able to duplicate the time and setting of each of my morning sessions precisely, which could affect the results to some degree.
- Since I was dealing with the fresh personal trauma, perhaps I was naturally recovering psychologically during the two weeks of my experiment (i.e. regression to the mean). My therapist insists that the relationship wound was too fresh and two weeks is not enough time to work through anything, but it still could be a factor.
- This experiment was only two weeks, which I was told would be a sufficient minimum for results. More time could certainly help verify the trends I observed in my short experiment. (And I plan to keep using Muse over the next few months to track just that.)
- And of course, my observations about how I was feeling were, by nature, subjective. (However, if my psychological improvement is all in my head, that’s okay by me—it was in my head to begin with! And actually, I’ve interviewed one scientist who’s studying how placebos actually form neural pathways that can physically cure psychological issues. Very interesting stuff happening in this field.)
The electrodes had no problem beaming the signal from my sweaty head to my Android this time.
I was sitting on a set of red bleachers in disgusting New York humidity in the middle of Times Square, Manhattan. The familiar female voice in my headphones instructed me to close my eyes, as she had two dozen times before.
Around me, a trillion stressed-out tourists were busily taking selfies and worrying about pick pockets. A troupe of Chinese activists had just accosted me with pamphlets and signs concerning some “Jesuit Father discrimination” something-or-other, meanwhile a quartet of feather-headressed ladies performed a synchronized dance on the steps below me. A bumblefoot pigeon had taken up residence on my step and didn’t seem to want to leave me alone. My entire body was sweating.
I’d just walked through my old neighborhood, a surprisingly painful reminiscence. Unexpectedly, one of my ex’s favorite songs had begun playing on shuffle as I made my way through the crowd, further dampening my mood. In the back of my head were the several overdue stories for editors of various publications in line with my book launch, and the approximately 200 priority emails stacked up in my inbox. I was lugging my entire life in an overstuffed backpack and had just spilled protein drink all over my shorts—which I just now realized were my only available leggings, because I’d left the remaining two pairs of jeans I owned back in my friend Simon’s freezer (here’s why). I was pensive and hot and frustrated and dripping.
Once again, I donned my brainwave headband, which once again told me to breeaaathe.
About halfway through my five-minute session—the twenty-fifth I’d undertaken since meeting Muse—some nearby tourists began singing “Happy Birthday” so loudly that I could hear them through my noise-canceling headphones. A fire engine blared its siren in place for a full minute, stuck one block away in Times Square traffic. My butt burned on the red steps, in the August heat. My posture was killing me.
At the end of five minutes, Muse confirmed: I was pretty damn calm.
The two spikes in active brain activity in this chart were the fire truck and the birthday party, each of which I recovered from almost instantly. Aside from that, my brain state was either neutral or calm the entire time:
Plus I attracted 15 tweety birds:
Despite the chaos in my life, there was no doubt that this little device had made me a calmer person in just two weeks. I could play through the mental and physical pain with twice the composure as just fifteen days before.
Muse has a way to go before the guy with the electric headband on in Times Square doesn’t just look like an idiot. And the Calm app could definitely use work. (Different meditation exercises, please?) However, the science behind what the Muse team is doing is real, the technology promising, and a bevy of independent programmers are already building fascinating applications on top of Muse.
With the development of cheap and portable EEG monitors like Muse, are we a few lines of code away from controlling light switches and video games with our brains? It’ll take a while.
But I, at least, am a step closer to mind over matter.
Question of the day: What do you think are the next frontiers of self-experimentation and self-tracking? What would you like me to test for you? Please let me know in the comments by clicking here.
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153 Replies to “Can You Rewire Your Brain In Two Weeks? One Man's Attempt…”
Pulsed microwave radiation ie Wi Fi and bluetooth etc is the most hazardous invention in history. Yeahyeahits all around but thats no excuse. Proximity to signal strength is the issue-eliminate close up exposure like not having it in the house and you’l improve lightyears in health and consciousness. Now, not only did these genius neuroscientists (??!!) attach bluetooth pulsed microwaves to the frontal lobes, the product is designed to make us EVEN more vulnerable to them – by meditating! Sleep and meditation are when we are MOST vulnerable to WiFi !!so turn that modem off at night ! Iwouldnt go anywhere near this product
Thanks for commenting. Are there any journal articles you could point to about the brain-related danger of wifi/bluetooth pulsed microwaves? I’m skeptical, but just haven’t seen anything on it. I did find this study about how 2 hour sessions of direct electrophoresis using microwaves break single-strand DNA in rat brains—but there’s a lot different going on in this experiment than in WiFi: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bem.2250160309/abstract
Seems unlikely that our meditative state itself could make us more vulnerable to external physical waves, but perhaps I haven’t seen the science.
Neither has rachel.
I think as long as you stop listening to Blackmill while you meditate you will be fine. I find music with lyrics and beats and clapping are not very helpful 🙂
Tim mentioned in The 4-Hour Body his anecdotal report that avoiding holding his smartphone in his pants pocket for a few months improved his sperm quality. For a year or two after reading that book, I’d been meaning to spend some time looking at if there were real studies and evidence as to the effects of cellular radiation on sperm characteristics.
Turns out there have been quite a few studies in recent years. If we peruse the top hits on Google (search for “Cellular radiation sperm quality”), we get the overview (the scholarly articles are worth looking at, especially the meta-analysis here: http://f1000research.com/articles/2-40/v1 ).
The summary is that cellular radiation from a cell phone in a typical pants pocket does NOT decrease certain macro-level attributes such as total semen volume, pH, and viscosity. Cellular radiation also didn’t produce any tissue-level deformities in rats (or maybe it was mice), like cancer or tissue malformations. Unfortunately, however, cellular phone use DOES decrease the micro-level attributes of sperm such as: concentration, morphology, motility, viability, and proportions/types of sperm. Feel free to look up the effects of Wi-Fi radiation just the same; the “name” we call the particular band of wireless radiation doesn’t matter, only the frequency/power/duration.
So while scientific the literature seems to agree that cellular telephones do NOT cause brain cancer, per se, that same literature also clearly confirms detrimental cellular effects from wireless radiation. Granted, the antennae on this device (or in a smartphone) are much closer to important tissue (brain) than when at rest (a phone in a pocket near the testicles, for instance), although skull is rather dense…
Still, whenever you’re dealing with radiation, duration (time) is as important as intensity (power) and frequency. We’re talking just a few minutes here! Yes, the bluetooth/WiFi in the headband probably cause some cellular problems localized to the points of transmission with the smartphone or other device, starting with skin tissue, bone, and *maybe* affecting brain tissue itself.
But 3-5 minutes of low-dosage exposure compared to the benefits of serious meditation — NFT-type meditation, at that!? For vast, vast majority of people, the benefits will far outweigh any small potential cellular costs.
I started meditating seriously two years ago and don’t ever expect to go back to a life without practicing it daily. Thus, I hope their device is a massive success, and if it is, I’ll be very interested in the second or third versions they release.
care to back that up with a little science? Where can I find information about what you are saying?
Wifi emits a radio frequency 2.4 Ghz, not microwave range frequency.
Mobile phones emit Microwave range GSM 824 to 960 MHz and 1710 to 1990 MHz and 4G 2.5 to 2.6 GHz.
But UWB was tested in Sweden in the past with interesting results.
There are much more important health issues ahead of this one, which is very minor.
If a kid became addicted to cell phone use, it would probably have a more negative psych affect than the “athermal” radiation ever would (that’s different than say gamma radiation and is non-accumulative). Of course a quick trip to wikipedia would answered this for poor hippy rachel…
I’m pretty sure 2.4GHz is in fact microwave frequency. In fact, many microwave ovens operate at 2.45GHz
It uses Bluetooth not wifi, it’s proven to be safer than other data transfer methods which are already safe. There are wifi and phone signals everywhere so I don’t know why you would worry about it now, there is natural background radiation on the planet which humans need to survive. Typical attitude of people fearing that which they do not understand and passing on their conjecture as fact.
Dan from Muse here. My apologies for being extremely late to the discussion, but I wanted to provide some information about Muse.
In order to make the device wireless, data is transmitted via Bluetooth, which is no different from other portable Bluetooth devices such as wireless headphones. Cell phones actually emit far greater electromagnetic radiation than Bluetooth.
Muse currently uses Bluetooth 4 Low Energy (BTLE) and complies with FCC, IC and ETSI regulations for RF transmitters in close proximity to the body. The output is far less than the emissions of a standard cell phone signal.
For more information please find the below link to Muse’s Technical Specifications:
If you have any further questions please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
Have a great day!
This looks like an approach that may have benefits for plenty of people who don’t have a lot of exposure to mindfulness processes or meditation. I can’t see how it can provide genuine awareness of many of the myriad distinctions about the mind, and especially the relationship between the “witness” and the “ego” (I prefer the word “mind”). Such deeper awareness can only come from quality time spent observing the mind. Having a “master” or teacher of some kind can be very helpful too (although there are possible problems with that as well).
In the end I doubt there are shortcuts. It takes a genuine and deep commitment to develop the wisdom that equanimity brings. I suspect that Muse could be a useful beginning for many – but only a beginning.
Developing the capacity to be calm and present is nonetheless a vital life skill, and it may be as far as many people want to go. Indeed, many people do not even possess this simple life skill in the age of digital distraction. For such people this technology may be able to provide genuine benefit.
I’d reckon this is a device that can help you be more relaxed and able to direct your attention… Not a course in becoming a Buddhist 😉
While I appreciate and to a limited degree am exploring the quantitative self, the Muse – at least in its current beta form – seems more a distraction than a helpful tool. My first impression is – why not just commit to regular guided meditation measuring and recording the results qualitatively?
That’s like saying “why not commit to regular strength training” or “why not commit to giving up junk food?”
Some people will do that. I started mindfulness/meditation regularly, and I doubt muse would be of any use to me.
But I also try to get others to meditate, and the adoption rate is pitiful. A device like this could help those who lack the internal motivation to meditate on their own.
I walk more because I wear a fitbit. It’s crazy I know, but the day before I had it, I sat at my desk sending emails to people 50 feet away on the other side of the wall. The day I put it on, I walked to people’s desks. When the battery runs out, I think – well, I’m not getting credit for the steps, may as well binge on Netflix. I suspect there are many other people like me who need a reason to do it, even it that reason is a silly little tracker. I won’t sit and mediate, that’s a waste of time, I may sit and mediated if I’ve got a band on my head tracking I’ve done it. It’s illogical I know and I wish I had the internal motivation but it is what it is.
I’m curious to know if this product can help migraine sufferers? Also, did you try any of the memory improvement? Lastly, when will the “insights” part of the app be fixed, if at all?
There are a ton of studies using EEG technology (the same brain wave recording tech that Muse is using) to assess migraines. The results are not entirely conclusive, but there have been many findings. Depending on what is bringing on an individual’s migraine, this product may be very useful in detecting the onset of a migraine.
But the sufferer would then have to experiment with how to change their brain waves to then prevent the attack. Using Muse as it’s meant to be used, to learn to calm yourself while monitoring your brain waves, would be an interesting self experiment to prevent the oncoming migraine.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19705061 (particularly interesting study)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2055554 (review of many studies)
Pulsed microwave radiation aka Wi Fi, Bluetooth and mobile phone and ‘smart meter’ emissions, cause all manner of serious, cumulative degenerative diseases including psychiatric ones. There are countless peer reviewed papers on this topic, a ton of youtube videos and tens of thousands of scientists have spoken out against the anti-life properties of pulsed microwves. The national library of Paris is just ONE of many,many institutions having banned Wi Fi for these reasons. The user of Muse is getting a direct injection of radiation into their brain so forget any potenial for concsiousness or health enhancedment. Yes most of us live in a wi -fi fog but proximity to the Pulsed Microwave signal strength is the main issue – it drops off rapidly. Your neighbours modem is not going to be causing you as much harm owing to distance and walls etc.The primary thing is to disable wi fi and bluetooth in your own home and on laptop and all devices, use your phone for texting only, use hardwired internet connection only – and certainly don’t be wearing a frontal lobe cooker! And for gods sake keep all Wi Fi away from your children!!
An overview of TCDS would be fascinating. Muse seems like a neat device.
Nothing more than the biofeedback craze of the 1970’s. Been there, done that— what’s new?
What a crappy sales pitch is this. Frist be very cautious about rewiring the brain and all the claims. The books that are in the articles are mainly philosophical more than proof based. All the scans that have been made are to low in numbers or inconclusive in nature to have any relevant scientific conclusions. The new rebranding of bio feedback crap that was mainly proved inefficient in the 80s is only a pitch to sell you crap. Brain stimulation is voodoo and no evidence have been strong enough to prove it. be very careful about the hack and the validity. Some website are also talking about brain stim with a sponge and 9 volts battery. This is madness. Keep your dollar and be very careful about the sales pitch.
Seriously eh, this provides nothing but an expensive version of meaningless info that goes totally against the purpose of mindfulness… Oh well may as well try and commercialise everything. What would be useful is trying to make learning the ethos of mindfulness more accessible… Unfortunately though if people need something like “Muse” to get them to meditate then they probably don’t want to go through process of spending some time observing, being and breathing without distraction. This kind of pseudoscience stuff grinds me and cheapens the concept of concious living
Could definitely go for more posts like this.
As for EEG, the next step is to determine whether those binaural audio CDs out there on the market actually work. I’m actually rather surprised the creators of Muse don’t include that tech in their app.
Hey Tim, thanks for the great post.. Question have you ever tried any of the Brain Entraiment Technology that supposedly gets you into a meditative state equal to a monk with 20 years experience in just 20-30 minutes a day? Does it work?? thanks
Chip, I’ve included links to three of the best sites where you can get free BWE downloads. So why do you give it a try and see what you think? http://bebrainfit.com/lifestyle/stress/brainwave-entrainment-benefits-of-meditation-on-demand/
In response to Tim’s opening – I’d love to hear more about your experience and any experiments you’ve done in regards to Nootropics. Any information about smart drugs you’ve taken in isolation or stacked along with any measurable results you’ve observed would be awesome.
This would be of interest to me as well, in particular I was wondering if Tim has tested Dave Aspreys new “Unfair Advantage” supplement.
Let me echo Zach and Marvsleezy. What’s your experience with nootropics and entrainment?
I am very interested as well!
Love the gameification of meditation happening here. Does this work with your own choice of guided meditations? I would love to import the ones I use from WalksWithin into something like this. She has a bunch of free ones and I would love to test how they affect my brain too (I mean, I think they are great but a EEG result would be proof, right?). I definitely would want a broader spectrum of choices in this app. I read recently that meditation is likely to become as mainstream for self care and maintenence as brushing your teeth. What do you think?
From my experience, creating significant brain changes takes longer than 2 weeks. My son is enrolled at Eaton Arrowsmith on the West Coast, using the program developed by Barbara Arrowsmith. He is also in the brain imaging study underway currently at UBC. I think the discussion about neuroplasticity is an extremely important one, particularly in the realm of education. Unfortunately, not all conversations, products, services, ideas, etc are contributing as much to the common good as they should. In the case of this product, it may be over simplifying a complex issue and trying to reduce it down to a quick fix. Not to dispute the level of calm and comfort a product like “Muse” may bring some people, it probably is wrongly titled as re-wiring the brain.
I found your response very interesting. My son has been diagnosed with a mild case of Asperger’s. He just turned 5. I am curious about programs, schools or studies that you may know of that could be of use to us.
Ann – here are some links:
I’m not sure where you live, so the physical location may be an issue. There is a wealth of new information out there, but not all psychologists are fully understanding, they would rather defer to tried and true treatments involving drugs. Teachers fall back on classroom amendments. Until a broader scope of testing can be completed, (like the UBC study mentioned above), the treatment options will continue to be limited. For us, the EAS route is proving to be extremely effective, when everything else we tried was not.
How precise is that device? 🙂
As a cognitive neuroscientist who specializes in EEG research, I can tell you that consumer-grade EEG devices such as the Muse, especially those with “dry” electrodes, are recording more muscle and eye artfiacts and environmental electrical noise than brain activity. It takes lots of EEG electrodes plus special algorithms to reliably isolate the brain activity from the noise. Engineers and biophysicists have been struggling with this problem for decades, and if the consumer EEG industry has suddenly come up with a cheap, easy solution to this problem, then they should prove it by making their data and algorithms publicly available and by publishing a demonstration in a reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal. Because I know how all this works, I can’t recommend that anyone spend their money on such devices, at least at their current state of development. Also, I cannot recommend that anyone take seriously data or results obtained from such devices, at least not until they are independently verified and published in a scientific journal. As for tDCS, this absolutely should not be done anywhere but in a hospital or research-university setting and supervised by an expert. Furthermore, just because tDCS electrodes are placed on certain parts of the head doesn’t mean that you are stimulating the parts of the brain just below the electrodes. One has to perform mathematical modeling of the current flow to know where the current is going, and this can depend on a the shape and size of a person’s brain and head.
The “calm” exercise would seem to be focused on training for lower frequency wave forms (e.g. alpha)… in that context, wouldn’t muscle movements be actively trained against? Basically, perhaps the early stages of the “calm” exercise is an exercise in training yourself to remove muscle artifact by, well, reducing tension in your forehead. After this point, since the artifact is removed, wouldn’t the brain waveforms be left over and actually be accurate?
Reducing tension (in the muscles of the face) as a first step doesn’t seem entirely counter to the goals in the first place. Maybe this device is perfectly fine for meditative/relaxation training, but poorly suited for others: gamma synchrony, beta, etc.
I’m genuinely curious your insight. What’s your thoughts on that?
Thanks for your reply. Muscle and eye movements are low frequency (i.e., theta and lower). Electromygraphic (EMG) muscle activity is strongest at high frequencies (e.g., greater than 70 Hz), but can reach all the way down to alpha. Even eye blinks contribute to alpha-band EEG power. As for lowering alpha, that wouldn’t necessarily necessarily lower muscle activity. It depends on the part of the head at which the alpha is measured. Alpha is not a global property of the brain. It reflect the inhibition of separate brain areas, so alpha can be big in one place and low somewhere else. As for measuring alpha on the forehead, that’s not where motor cortex is, so this won’t automatically relax the muscles.
Thank you for the reply, John!
I appreciate this comment, John. Especially after the fascinating RadioLab 9volt segment, it was hard for me, ever curious, to not run to an electronics store and set up my own home lab. But we get only one brain to play with, plasticity aside, and I’d rather proceed with caution, knowing the intensive safety protocols involved with most peer-reviewable research.
Hi John, are you familiar with this study?
Just thought I would share it if you don’t already know it..
Tim, it would be great if you could do an in-depth review of tDCS. I heard a RadioLab podcast titled 9 Volt Nirvana on the subject and it seemed too good to be true. I went straight to this blog since it seemed like something you would explore – but didn’t find anything. Glad you are asking. Please do your usual thorough review and let us readers know what you really think.
I do tDCS research and I can tell you that it’s not to be messed with. tDCS is still poorly understood. Given the current state of knowledge, stimulating your own brain with tDCS makes as much as sense as performing brain surgery on yourself.
The difference between you and Tim is you want to understand everything before putting the research into practice (impossible) whereas Tim finds up as much as useful about the subject and devises and carries on an experiment with a very favorable risk/reward ratio.
I can tell you that taking supplements or simply adjusting your diet (in any way) is very dangerous and I’m not wrong. Nevertheless, I still do it.
With all due respect, I disagree with your characterization. The scientific method is designed to find the truth. I don’t mind self-experimentation when it’s done appropriately. However, my goal is to know that my investment of time and money is producing something real and that it won’t risk my (or anyone else’s) neck. Self-experimentation can be very good if one designs it in such a way as to circumvent the problems that (a) there is no standard control condition and that (b) one’s personal results may not generalize to other people (unless they do the experiment on themselves). There are ways to do this, all within the protections of the scientific method. But I think that everyone, including Tim, would agree that one’s mind should not be so open that everything falls out.
I was surprised to read how similar the Muse project is similar to something called HeartMath, which has been out there for a number of years. They recently came out with a hardware bit that hooks into the iPhone/iPad. It has a “rewards” system and counts the heart rate variation. I have been using it for a month and intend to give it “90 days” to see if I can walk on water at the end of that time. But so far, it is a very interesting project and resonates with Muse.
I was looking if somebody had started posting about HearMath. It also uses ‘gamefication’ (of sorts) to motivate (though a flock of birds IS very cool) and works by looking at heart-variability as measurement of stress or coherence. These folks already have lots of research behind this technology; worth looking into.
HeartMath just released Science of the Heart, Volume 2, a summary of 25 years of research. It’s a free PDF at https://www.heartmath.org/research/science-of-the-heart/
Thanks for the great post. I’d like to read more about smart-drugs and tDCS devices 🙂
Intresting post, I do agree that the brain kan be retrained. I think that Nutrigenomics is something that will have a huge impact in the future e.g how we respond differently on different types of foods read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutrigenomics Cool if Tim gave it a shot, I think that he already did a DNA test to show what type of excersise would give him the best result in 4HB.
Active reprogramming of brain states requires developing ‘non-verbal’ [Limbic] linguistics. Any word based (even self-talk) engages parts of the brain which makes it exceedingly difficult to enter particular brain states.
Thus need to build personal lexicon of non-word language units. Visualisations are one form but generally these do not operate deeply enough to effectively activate intentional neuroplasticity.
eg. Consider concept of ‘horse’. (or any familiar animal) Beyond the word, ‘horse’, beyond the image of ‘horse’. There is a richness of associated non-verbal thought patterns which coalesce into ‘horse’ness’ including movement patterns, smell, texture, sound, thermal signatures etc etc.
(in part, the relevant patterning depends on your primary modality of perceptions [& 2nd, 3rd for some])
As children, we learn to wrap these patterns into the word, ‘horse’, which becomes a shorthand substitute for aggregation of diverse multi-sensory patterning. Before long, most of our engagements are at the superficial ‘word’ level since that is the main linguistic form of social exchange.
To actively influence the wiring of our own brains, we need to (re)build our Limbic Linguistic Lexicon. From early proto-language constructs to more fulsome expressive linguistic interactions. Takes time & practice. Biofeedback devices like these may help with initial experience of developing non-word based lexicons.
A Terrence McKenna fan in the house 🙂
Had to look up who Terrence was. Not sure if I found the right person. Seemed mostly about psychedelics which I have no experience or knowledge of.
Could be some connection via Aesthetics. Not sure. Still considering the implications. Thanks for the idea though. Learnt something new along the way.
Would love to hear more on topics like this (brain “hacks”, nootropics, new tech in this area), as well as more future posts from Shane! Super interesting. 🙂
Would love to hear more!
I find this to be a very uncritical and rather trivial review of this Muse device.
Can you rewire your brain in two weeks?
I have no idea.
But neither does Shane. The problem is, he doesn’t know it. Much like the Soylent article, there are simply too many statements from MUSE that are not challenged, too many follow up questions missed.
I am not sure if topics like a review of Soylent or Muse is really up your alley. Lots of assumptions, unchallenged statements and missed questions would make you a very famous an successful political journalist.
But I assume this is just clickbait. Or a bold attempt to drum up interest and investors in MUSE.
Much like the article on Soylent.
I was following along great until Garten’s inappropriate use of the term ‘negative reinforcement’. I believe she meant positive punishment, which would introduce a stimulus designed to reduce a behavior. The former is the taking away if a stimulus to keep our increase a behavior.
yeah because our brains are the simple….
Years ago I used to use Glasses and a headset that used brain Entrainment to put me in various states. (red flashing lights and accompanying White noise pulsing at the desire frequencies. But without the feed back element. I wonder how this device could be used to measure the effectiveness. I no longer have mine, it was a home built device that someone borrowed. That said I’m sure you can find some to try out.
I enjoyed reading this article as a Transcendental Meditator – I got to see Dr. Fred Travis hook up somebody to the EEG machine and see the different between meditation and just eyes closed. Love it.
While this article didn’t convince me Muse was any better than regular meditation. But hacking the mind seems cool.
I really need to make more time for meditation and serenity in my life. My particular muse seems to come with a rather twisted sense of humor and is more of a distraction than anything else, but perhaps the term is being used more to identify with a taoist philosophy more than a flaky “writer’s muse” that shows up whenever she feels like it. I have a hard time creating a space that I can center myself from all distractions however, and am considering building an attachment to the house with soundproofing.
>_< WordPress makes me log in then deletes everything I just wrote. To summarize, I have a muse, she's vapid and unfriendly most of the time and shows up when she feels like it. But then, I believe any writers are all too familiar with her. I do need more space and time to dedicate to mediation, to find my center. I like the views and philosophies expressed by Taoism, but in order to get time in my life to reconnect to my soul and the world around me I will have to build an addition to my house.
Interesting how fatigue/tired and your emotional state dramatically effected your results.
In a game called Mindball two players are sitting at opposite ends of a table with headbands recording electrical activities of their brains. Between the players is a metal ball which must be pushed to the opposite side of the table. The more alpha and theta waves produced, the more mental force you exert on the ball, moving it away from you. “You couldn’t wish for a better, more condensed illustration of how difficult it is to try not to try”. From the introduction of a book I read, Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland. This experiment reminded me of it.
Great writeup! I’m surprised Tim hasn’t explored more of the quantified meditation/mindfullness space himself. I’ve had a lot of similar sucess using Heart Rate Variability with HeartMath which relies on a simple ear clip to measure your pulse rather than an EEG. The effects of controlling your parasympathetic nervous system through meditation with feedback can be pretty profound in terms of reduction in anxiety and distractibility, calming recurrent negative thoughts and enhancing focus. I’d encourage everyone to give it a try as a means to ease the meditation learning curve, I imagine this device to do pretty much the same thing. Rachel’s point about Bluetooth/WiFi signals interfeering with brain activity are definitely well founded.
The question here is: Is the biofeedback device even needed? It is well-known to mindfulness practitioners that bringing attention fully onto the body (incl. any part of the body) or onto any external object promotes mindfulness. It brings the person’s attention out of abstract head space – with its focus upon imagined, (often fearful futures) and remembered pasts (often self-limiting stories) – and into the present moment.
One other distinction that is important with self-“calming”, is that there are often differing reasons why we are not calm. With Shane’s relationship breakup, such events often trigger trauma and may touch upon both repressed emotional pain from childhood or other life events, and in turn these may bring to the surface associated self-limiting beliefs. In this sense, simply being calm may not be enough to restore long-term equanimity. In fact, from my experience deep states of presence often bring to the surface painful emotional stuff. That’s one of the reasons why people resist being fully present. Once the mind stops chattering away and we relax into the body, we may find a whole heap of shadows lingering about. So this really requires an even deeper exploration of what lies beneath – but not in an analytical sense, more in coming into a deeper relationship with the emotional body.
This is why I suggest that these bio-feedback devices are really only a first step in self awareness. But I’m not suggesting that everyone will want to take the journey to such unknown countries of the self.
The Emotiv insight… waiting for mine to test and try out… specially during music performances but under any circumstances. Hopefully my GF let’s me experiment during sex. I have a theory on brain activity, since percussionist tend to turn their heads towards one side or the other depending on whether they are performing a solo or maintaining a rhythm. I thought we were just looking; then I saw a blind piano man do it as well which triggered the neuro nerd in me to research further… this machines are truly part of our future…
For those interested in seeing how EEG registers the brainwaves of someone with decades of meditation practice:
Firstly, thank you for your genuinely life changing writing.
Your advice and experiments have helped me in countless ways, most recently with your podcasts featuring Josh Waitzkin and Kevin Kelly in particular.
Secondly, I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on bio feedback – especially on the more expensive devices such as Neuroptimal by the
Also I would be fascinated to hear more about your experiments with various nootropics.
What you use when you need a boost, what you use regularly and also your predictions on what long term use of these substances may implicate.
How readers who perhaps don’t have access to the level of medical professionals (and the in depth detail oriented personality that you clearly possess when reviewing data and research) can experiment with nootropics without getting involved ‘too deep’. Perhaps you could structure it in terms of perceived risk – coffee being a low entry point right up to direct electrical stimulation on the brain…
Just off to experiment with ‘cold exposure’ from the 4HB 🙂
The melon headband and the scanadu medical device are some of the next tech gadgets for monitoring brain and body. You should totally test the melon, I am dying to get one. They’re only $100 last I looked.
YES!! I WANT TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS ON NOOTROPICS. SPECIFICALLY ANIRACETAM AND ALPHA BRAIN. I HAVE HAD SUCCESS WITH BOTH BUT AM NOW HESITANT TO CONTINUE USING IN FEAR OF SIDE EFFECTS (SPECIFICALLY LONG TERM). MUST SAY I HAVE RECENTLY BEEN TUNING INTO YOU AND I DIG IT. MUCH LOVE!!!!
Interesting read, but this is so far from a controlled experiment as to be virtually meaningless. The very fact that there was a recent traumatic event means that you are likely to be in a very uncalm state and so the general trend may well be that you would be moving to a more calm state over this time anyway and have zero to do with the exercises. I wouldn’t wish it on you for a moment, but if you were to have a similar event occur and for you to measure your calmness without the exercises then I might have something to go on, but as it is, this could simply be return to the norm. Either that or take yourself in a normal state and see if you become even calmer.
Great article Shane – thanks. I’m developing a meditation phone app that I would love you to test when it is ready. I’ve been a meditation teacher and a monk for 35 years. Originally from New Zealand, now in California. I use music and mantra as the main modality for meditation (I’m also a professional musician). I’d be really interested to see what kind of experience you get from the app. Even more interesting would be to combine it with EEG sensing, but my device won’t have that capability. Not yet at least. Our iOS version should be ready for testing by December. The Android version will be a bit longer. Please let me know if you’d like to try it.
Rewiring your brain… reminds me of Maneesh Sethi’s upcoming “Pavlok” device, at least in terms of rewiring your brain in order to create good habits and/or get rid of bad habits: http://createhabits.today
GREAT post….would love to hear him on your podcast.
I’ll be interested to see how something like the Muse might be integrated with other applications like Sleep Cycle and HRV Sense (Heart Rate Variablity). I would love to have a more complete picture, and be able to control for variables like sleep and Fight/Flight response.
I would definitely like to hear more about this, and about smart drugs, which I’ve also experimented with (although disappointingly there is no such thing as NZT). After trying regimes of sulbutiamine, choline, hordenine, pramiracetam and noopept, I then started taking CO-E1 and found it gave me almost the same effect. So Tim, I would also be interested to hear your thoughts on CO-E1 (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide). I started taking it after reading that it reversed aging in mice, and while I haven’t done any kind of controlled testing, I do feel better for it. It hasn’t made me younger but I think it works as a smart drug.
sorry i don’t have time to read all the posts, but Heart Math has been around for decades. Their devices measure heart rate variability, which is a bit different, but research shows it correlates well with EEG.
And their devices are way ahead of Muse in terms of their effectiveness and the visuals available.
This was so interesting! What a great way to examine the overworking brain, and how to change unconscious behaviors.
Hey Tim. I want to know more about brain stim and smart drugs. Thank you
I don’t think the app has added value. It doesn’t do anything that normal meditation doesn’t do either. Sure, you can see how calm you were, but you can also meditate for 2 to 4 weeks, and feel the same thing. You don’t need to know it minute by minute. Maybe for some, the feature to see it over time will give them some comfort. But I think these people cling too much to technology and not enough to their common sense and intuition.
Another point, for as far as I know, getting positive or negative feedback is actually bad in meditation. One of the key elements in mindfulness is to not cling to anything, and the app Calm clings to an emotional state. Mindfulness tries to teach you to be equanimous (i.e. not to cling to anything) and to be wise (i.e. using your senses without judging things from moment to moment). They are not in this app.
I think this app would have been way better if the focus wasn’t on mindfulness, but purely on neurofeedback. This article shows to me that either the writer or the creators of this product don’t know what mindfulness is. I do like the vision, and I also like that it is possible to use EEG for cheap, so in that sense it’s still revolutionairy. But IMO it’s mostly a case study of poor software development. Even the gamification part! 🙁 It was awesome, but it’s not appropriate to gamify mindfulness in this way.
It could be a gateway app though to more serious practices, because the marketing sounds credible to someone who doesn’t know much about it.
Full disclosure: I meditated for over 400 hours, study psychology (bsc.), computer science (msc.) and game studies (msc.). So I know a thing or two / a little (not being sarcastic).
You make a great point about not clinging, but the Muse “Calm” software does do something important. The one thing that it does do is simply notify you when you’ve wandered. Immediately. Part of developing the skill of awarness in meditation is not so much what to do when thoughts crowd in. All meditation techniques are quite adept at that, although in different ways. The skill that needs development is in actually staying in the “Observer” mode so that you know when your thoughts wander. Then, as you build the mental muscle to deal with the thoughts in whatever way that you’ve chosen, you also build speed in recovering from the distraction. Concentration has been described as “extended attention”, as opposed to fragmented attention. A good analogy that I read once is that of riding a bicycle. Riding a bike or learning to ride a bike is a process of becoming so fast and natural about making tiny corrections that maintain balance that it actually becomes seamless. You start by making “over-compensations” for imbalance too slowly and too forcefully to avoid correcting your corrections. As you learn, you make more and more subtle corrections faster. Once ingrained the corrections no longer require conscious thought. The Muse Calm app gives you a “leg up” by informing you that you need to make an adjustment long before you would have noticed it yourself. At least for the average practitioner, it might be a game changer.
Tim, as mentioned in your opening, I would approve you writing about smart drugs.
I experimented with piracetam, cdp choline and sulbuitamine in my final year of uni. Subjectively I noticed a difference, including increased focus, and improved lateral thinking (making connections) but it’s still hard to make an objective conclusion.
I’m thinking of trying out L-Theanine with coffee, as I’ve heard it improves the caffeine focus & dampens the side effects.
In short write about nootropics my man!
my attention is on wearables generating real time data on oxygenation of blood, heart rate, respiration load(not sure of terminology), all integrated
with a Muse type device. The idea being to use the data to learn how to increase mental control under physical duress for its own performance benefits but also, i’m guessing, as a way to enhance the level of control/calm under ordinary conditions
Too long an article with nothing interesting and I’m still unsure whether this device can rewire the brain. Didn’t enjoy the soylent post nor this one.
Awesome article, Shane! Will be getting the Muse device soon 🙂
The ultimate brain hack for me was tabernanthe iboga. if you don’ know about it you should!
Very interesting and looks promising for disrupting addictions, etc… Here’s a study: Metabolic plasticity and the energy economizing effect of ibogaine, the principal alkaloid of Tabernanthe iboga:
I definitely want to know more about this topic.
Does anyone know if we can do the same test with Neuro Sky Mind Wave?
You definitely can. There are a number of apps that provide you with brainwave data. You can see a number of options at the NeuroSky online store. Look at the “Reduce Stress” Section.
Extremely interesting – thanks for sharing! I have been incorporating mindfulness practices into my daily life for months now, and been meditating on and off to the guided meditations of Headspace (for iOS devices). Without proof, e.g. EGG, I’d say that the effect on me when I do practice regularly and daily is similar to what this Muse experiment is causing, For those of us with super active brains, it’s definitely worth trying anything to get to a state of more calm!
I’d probably wanna see something like “going to sleep on demand”
I’d like to hear more about using EEG to control devices. There is already stuff on the market, such as the star wars force trainer toy, and I’ve seen videos of people that supposedly control RC cars with them.
It’s unlikely that people are controlling those devices with the EEGs in those demos. More likely, the EEG machines are picking up the much larger signals from people’s facial and scalp muscles to control those devices.
John, you have done a lot of work in this area..what do you think of the brain wave entrainment claims that by listening to binaural beats that you can rapidly achieve deeper meditative states?..thanks
Unfortunately, there is virtually no rigorous research in this area. Might be for real, but until the research is done, there is no way to know.
Thanks John that’s what I thought..
Hi, Tim – I have just started reading and enjoying your book “The Four-Hour Chef” not so much for cooking but for the skills to accelerate learning (it was recommended to me by my NLP reacher for modeling). Would you have any tips or recommended book to read (that are aligned with your teachings) to accelerate skills in playing a musical instrument? I am a beginner-to- intermediate adult piano student studying with a classical teacher, hoping to move on to chords and jazz playing. Thanks so much. Need I say that your contribution to education is cutting-edge? Thanks again for all you do.
I can’t imagine a better experiment than Tim diving into smart supplement testing. Yes, definitely want to hear more about this topic. Bring on our brilliant human Guinea Pig!
I’m not really a fan of Shane’s writing. This article spends a lot of time not really saying much. It could have done with some strong editing I felt.
Maybe an article on using mindfulness to mitigate the nutrient deprivation damage caused by soylent..or a study on using soylent to mitigate the side effects of reliance on technology/drugs to improve concsiousness inherent and sovereign in the natural human being 🙂
Hello… I just wanted to reach out to Tim because I’ve watched a few interviews on YouTube where he states that one of the things he fears is watching his parents aging and has worries about brain aging for himself…. I came across a fascinating man with multiple degrees who has been an activist and quite accomplished in defeating the FDA in court (one of the very few !) You may want to check out this and many others…. He talks specifically about things like alzeimer’s being a manufactured disease and speaks of supplementation….. You probably already know about him, but I was thinking if you did, you likely wouldn’t have the fears…. Just thought you’d be interested 🙂 Thank you for being such a fascinating guy yourself !! Take care…. here’s the link.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDRcSQSe2VU
Ok, i don’t understand. For what is this thing? For learning how to relax? If yes. Than I would call it a new toy for boys? 😉
But maybe I overread the sentence.
Do you still use it? Did you recognize some other things, too? Would be interesting, what changes are there more
I am into Joe Dispenza ‘You are the Placebo’ and epigenetics – changing some physical aspect of your body by reprogramming your brain. Having fun trying – meditation based.
Also RNA drops which allegedly perfect cells (RNA copies DNA to create proteins) similar idea to epigenetics but a miracle cure shortcut. Snake oil or the real deal?
Loved your muse review – Joe Dispenza has lots of data in his book mentioned above on brain waves if you are still into that.
Great article but probably just a case of biofeedback,
Tim, would love to read about your tdcs self experiments.
I read the Brain that Changes Itself. I found it fascinating, and this is right up that alley. I wonder though how much the bio-feedback is really contributing to the result. Does it just encourage you to continue using the technology, or are there are specific benefits that can’t be received from just meditation?
I already suffer from the fact that I feel like I am not ‘free’: I am not allowed to feel what I want, I have to feel correctly to be productive. I hate when I am “called out on my bullshit” for having the “wrong” look on my face already…now people can demand that I control and show them my brain waves. I think that in a couple of years this will be used for many uncomfortable things. E.g. to determine who is good enough for which job. Psych patients will be FORCED to use it, and it could reveal that they are more defective than anyone knew which could strip them off the rights they had when they were humans. In the future you can test if your date’s or potential fiend’s brain is healthy enough for your standards. Maybe apps will tell us who we are allowed to date. I’ve always been a determinist, and I knew this would come… but I liked the impression that my mind can’t be controlled – at least not much. I like to have a sense of ‘self’. I like the feeling that things are ok, and I don’t have to be better better better all the time. I’ve always liked hopes dream and intense feelings. All of these things are ‘sick’- I know. On the other hand lately I often read how important some dihonesty is for our behaviour. A good quote: “evolution designed us to survive not to find the great deep truth.” Now every defect in every person will be discovered and fought. No one can lie to themselves or others about their own stupidity (or other dysfunctions fo that matter). Also, a stadard human will be created: someone who is always happy, always calm and basically emotionless (according to what I am used to, but is always willing to learn. Or whatever the professionals who make these apps decide is ‘good’. No one gets to create a ‘personal definition of good’. Our lives will be long and boring. the only relationship you need is the one to the app or several apps. They have the potential to replace other humans. everyone is entirely on their own and entirely responsible for doing as this thing tells them to. Normal humans become subhumans. It’ll create a cultral rift…deeper than the one that smartphoes create. It’s not like it’ the only thing that analyzes your data and therefore tells you who you are, who you need to become and where you belong in the world.
I always said if it gets that far- that we have real-time apps that tell us we are feeling and thinking falsely and are worse human beings than we should be, I’ll kill myself. It’s not the world I’m used to. Not the world I want. Maybe it’s the world my future muse-created self will want…even though that is unlikely.
My consequence is I think I’ll ask for euthanasia sooner or later. Yeah no I’m not dramatic. Mentally ill people are euthanized all the time in Belgium, switzerland and the Netherlands. We are all just cell-systems and some are so defective that it’s better to off them. I think the band might say I’m pretty calm then.
I think I’d be able to muster some positive feelings, if this didn’t give you these fucking ‘bonus birds’ or punishments. I imagine smashing my phone when Seeing this. (How very uncalm of me!) IT’d be fine if it only showed the brain activity as a piece of information. Other things that measure my physical functions (at least the ones I have) don’t give me manipulative bonus birds and ribbons either, or tell me that I’m a sucker… I still get to decide that myself. The danger of others ussing it to demand informatio will reain though, and sooner or later they WILL because I am sure it can prevent crimes and unpleasant cicumstances to identify people whoa re too nervous.
Hello everyone. Interesting to see how seriously people discuss effects, advantages and disadvantages of 1 app, and health issues. The fact is, this is a toy, and will be so for a loooong time. So any valuable review would be from a fun factor perspective, not medical or smth else. When you can get insight in a functioning of your brain, gauge and distill different activities and different emotional conditions, this gives you some fun through some understanding. To base review on one app is a bad idea. How many apps are there? How much fun and new info about yourself did you get working with this device? How convenient is the device to wear? Can you wear it at home, while walking on the street, or not? And the most important, from the user perspective, how long does the fun last? Is it smth that you play for a while and forget (and sell on ebay), or is it that good that you want to play with regularly?
out of topic… but do you know Banská Bystrica? what about next small trip :o)
Excellent review. This is something I’ve needed since meditating regularly. It’s a bit expensive though, so I may wait until it dies down in price. Unless of course Muse gives me a free one to review 😛
After 2 years of self taught meditation I picked up a Muse headband about a month ago, curious about what the data would say.
I’ve used it both with and without the audio, in all sorts of different environments, and at various times of the day. Aside from a super-long load time for the app and occasional issues finding the band (usually fixed with a restart) I’ve found it to be an awesome tool. Quantitative results on brainwaves via a personal EEG for a few hundred bucks? Yes please! Obviously future iterations should improve the device and the app still has some kinks, but all in all I’ve been really impressed.
I’m excited to also integrate the data from Muse with data from some of the newer wearables that measure heart rate, respiration rate, etc.
As others have commented, it’s also a great device for introducing meditation to others. I’ve found that it’s really helpful for people to be able to see tangible results and progress displayed on the app.
For those interested, my first session was Dec 26th. Since then I’ve done a total of 47 sessions (typically 12 or 20 minutes, all on “hard”), with 77,981 total points and 1722 bonus birds. My best single session was 93% calm and 105 bonus birds, and single worse session was 7% calm and 0 bonus birds. Previously I was doing a breath focused meditation in the morning and a bionic beats track meditation in the afternoon.
What are your tips for reaching 93% calm? Please share. Thanks!
1. Practice. A lot.
2. Time of day and your current energy really matter. You need to be well rested (or you’ll fall asleep), not super caffeinated (or your brain has a harder time getting “calm”), and in a calm environment (I think it’s important to practice with distractions too, but don’t expect to get a super high %.)
3. Don’t try to be calm. Or to get birds. Try to focus on your breath as best as you possibly can.
Not long ago I wrote a short guide (~60pg) with more info – let me know if you’re interested.
I don’t mean to be critical, but I totally agree with the comment from hamlet423…
Not that I personally know how to rewire my brain in two weeks, but
I believe that the person writing this, doesn’t know neither…
So many questions are not answered. Assuming that it is a guest post, it’s
a fine article, but not enough comprehensive and certainly not complete.
Wow, this post left me a little underwhelmed. However, further research into this http://emotiv.com/ companies tech is pretty incredible.
what includes smart drugs? i would love to discuss my opinion of the matter with you. i have done
Tim, is there such a drug like in the movie limititlesss???
I routinely predict Earthquakes and get a lot of them right. This seems to level anxiety levels with regular readings as the mounting death tolls tend to put my anxiety levels up (I am surrounded by suicidal idiots) anyway JUST BEING ABLE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT LEVELS OFF ANXIETY LEVELS. Yes there is heavy Science with Brown supported by Varotsos it is not simple Astrology and you need to get into Unified Field Theory to understand it but the way I teach it is to construct a table of events versus aspects and simply interpolate. Works well enough.
I got this thing for 3rd days now. Although I have practice meditation daily for several months. My calm score only around 20 to 45%. I tested it on a few friends and my meditation teacher. He was able to score 85% right away.This product work really well and it is very accurate. Very soon company will use these score for hiring decisions. Higher EQ is more important than higher IQ.
Tim, I’d love to hear about your experiences/thoughts on tCDS.
This week I’m developing new meditations for a similar EEG device for chronic pain patients! Thanks for sharing this guy’s journey.
just meditate 10 minutes every day u’ll get far better results. Seems to me from scrolling the article you just changed the time where u were measuring, so it’s clearly not a good measurement, introduces biais. If u want trustable metrics, measure everyday at the same time – and with the same schedule. Seems to me u’re also going for Birds, so just changing the parameters (time of use) to get the rewards…
Try the Muse! I have been hoping for a cheap, personal, NFT device to have at home. Would love to know if you thought it is worth the buy.
I am one of the adamant and curious, who hasn’t quite made it yet. I have realized that when my knowledge base extends to a certain point, becoming social-media savvy is a must to continue growth.
I have systematically studied and adopted a wide range of beneficial habits: An optimism for myself and humanity as methodical and patient as a glacier; an altruistic spontaneity, a pretty well regulated diet (thank you Sisson, Asprey, and many others), an intense passion as a classical guitarist (Thank you Andres Segovia), a growing passion for neuroscience and neurofeedback (Thank you Sam Harris, Andrew Hill), a decent and successful application of nootropics that is always growing, binaural beats, aromatherapy, and the elements of many different disciplines such as Mindfulness Meditation, Jivamukti Yoga, QiGong.
I don’t say all of this to boast. Quite the opposite. I am positive that there are perhaps millions very similar to me. This leads into my question: Is it that the number of people waking up and embracing this type of dynamism is disproportionate to the ranks of the seething ‘unwashed masses’ makes success (in terms of the degree of freedom and financial resources you have) unsustainable to a larger number of people (for a variety of fucked up reasons), or is it that you and people like you are born into wonderful advantage and are just creative enough to do something amazing instead of languish like a Lotus Eater? We are in the midst of the Information Singularity. The only logical thing to do is become a hub for it, to render it coherent, usable, and beneficial. Basically, the only logical thing to do is to become an entrepreneur. I feel that this is probably too austere of a perspective..
I get fired up when I think of the possibility of exploring consciousness in a new way. Naturally, I am very excited to be purchasing a Muse very soon. The title of the article enthralled me. I hearken back to questions and concerns about the conceivable limits of neuroplasticity. The first Neuroscientists insist that it doesn’t happen, going so far as to deny it (Larsen, 2012). The inevitable concession that it happens seems to extend only as it can go on the minimal effort put fourth by the individual who initially completely denied it. This kind of hesitance to even concede that the possibility may exist, and to further deny when it is proven, is not as disturbing as the arrogance that makes one unwilling to try and tackle the profound implications..
The thought that we are hard-wired after we complete the initial spikes in brain development was a terrible mental block that I did eventually overcome, but it was existentially horrifying, depressing, and psychologically crippling as a teenager. I am a dreamer, fueled by possibilities.
Neurofeeback+Nootropics+ (alpha GPC, Piracetam)+Occupational Therapy= Rapid Neuro-synaptogenesis in TBI and stroke patients.. Of course, new protocols would have to be created to knit them together.
Tim, what is your fundamental drive? What is the ultimate bedrock of your life’s vision? I am being utterly sincere and am very curious. As I said, mine is to explore and tamper with all of the fun states of consciousness our brain is capable of facilitating, as an example
Thank you for the post!
Reference: Larsen, Stephen, PH.D. 2012. The Neurofeedback Solution: How to treat Autism, ADHD, Anxiety, Brain Injury, Stroke, PTSD, and More.
I was really frustrated with my Waze headband because when I was nodding off and slept for a little bit, it gave me 103 birds (up from 4 on my 5th session). It says it can differentiate between delta, theta, alpha, and beta, but it shouldn’t have rewarded me for falling out of focus/alpha into theta and delta.
My second frustration is that I got a high “calm” score and more birds when I was actively thinking through challenging puzzles. One was similar to the calibration exercise.
I was beginning to think that it was just faking an improving score regardless of the actual brain waves.
I would like to try my self! How can I do the Brain Retraining?
Was thinking about experimenting with the Muse myself as for some reason, concentration inducing games (such as Mind Flex and Perplexus) have been brought to my attention recently…
Would you say the device has been properly updated and debugged for effectively increasing concentration abilities now?
The mind over matter issue has already been solved many years ago by many scientist like the ones from princeton http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/ and others…dean radin also has some great examples of that.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKuwWBYHQ50
Tim i like your blog, but you should make smth like content table which has direct link to the point, as people like me are not interested to read the whole article, but main points only 🙂 thank you for being so awesome!
Those benzos the doc gave you will alter your brainwaves as well.
Great experiment. For more pronounced results from neurofeedback I would add that if you add a part of the experiment that you are actively going to value calmness when it arises, and practice mindfulness of breath, particularly deep breathing. The mind/body connection is very important because they mirror each other. I notice that people who say “I’m ready to identify as a calm person” shift more quickly from neurofeedback then people who have attachment to their anxiety and it’s benefits for “getting stuff done.”
From your explanation, the device seems to just get one to be a little more conscious of their state of being or mind as the case may be. It’s all a practice in developing awareness and management of one’s mind. Sounds like a great thing with some amazing side-effects… just by using it.
Thanks for the update, Tim. Great stuff!
Finally something I can read, which I much prefer, and have a deaf friend who can’t listen to the podcasts. That was really interesting, and I would definitely be interested in brain stim (tDCS) devices and more on nootropics, etc..
Just finished reading 4HB and unfortunately just broke two hand fingers (fourth and fifth metacarpians). I would like some advice on how to heal faster, if thats possible 🙂
Should I take calcium supplements? Any advice?
By the way, I loved 4HWW and 4HB, my next book is definitely 4HC. I am also loving the Seneca letters podcast.
Wish you the best always and keep on rocking
Ithink this can be used to treat adhd and alcoholism. See nft for these issues. thanks for this great story.
To all that have read this so far,
There are names that you should read up on that have already put forth great effort to help mankind. Some of the technology has been suppressed, some have been released slowly over the years, and some you can get right now because it works but more importantly, the AMA and FDA have signed off on the items/treatments.
Lakhovsky, a Russian electrical engineer who emigrated to France in the 1920s believed that cells are electrical in nature. His published work called The Secret of Life (1935) discusses this concept. Lakhovsky showed how cells manifest the electrical properties of resistance, capacitance, and inductance. He observed this oscillatory nature of healthy cells and the fact that, during an invasion by microbes, the cells entered into a state of oscillatory disequilibrium or disease. Lakhovsky went on to observe that high frequency radio waves could energize malfunctioning cells due to the spiral helix or coil found in each cell (RNA-DNA) that acted as a receiving antenna for the radio waves the MWOs produced. The MWO device generates frequencies which are characteristic of living organisms (from 750 kHz up to 3 MHz and harmonics which extend up to 300 GHz). Once the cell was energized, waste would be expelled and nutrients would be ingested. Lakhovsky’s research demonstrated how the application of an external electrical field (generated by the MWO) was able to do this. In 1925, Lakhovsky began to use argon gas in copper tubes for the antennae of his Multi-Wave Oscillator. He found that certain inert gases, when charged by high frequency currents helped stimulate cellular development by speeding up detoxification.
1969 Dr. Margaret Patterson (MBE, MBChB, FRCS Edinburgh) developed a form of CES called NeuroElectric Therapy (NET™) that controlled and modulated CES output waveforms in such a manner as to rapidly and effectively detoxify human patients from addictive substances, including heroin, cocaine and other illicit substances, methadone, nicotine and alcohol.
Dr. Meg is one of the physician that I have great respect for. Please read up on her, on your own, to see that she has already proven that NET and retraining the brain can be done.
Tim, didn’t you get one of these? If so, please tell us your experience…
I would really like to see a blog from you done on Nu-Tropics. I am currently taking OptiMind and have had good results thus far (two months in).
Already got a EmWave2 which is HRV rather than brain waves, heart waves still. Highly recommended if you are going to USE IT!
I use it. Daily. My 2 year old daughter sits on my lap while we play some of the games.
In 2006 & 2008 I had military deployments (East Timor & Afghan). After I went into mini retirement. Came back to society as a professional Coach (was already in leadership development right). I now use the HeartMaths, NLP, PSYCH-K, mBraining, Mindfulness Technologies to help my clients perform to their best. HRV is Phenomenal technology which I highly recommend. Happy to connect with any elite soldiers, blue/white collar professionals.
This morning I left a comment and a short story about my own experience, it waaaas about 4:?? am. Half awake or half asleep, I dunno. I realize after waking this morning that I didn’t ask for you (Tim Ferriss) to try it out. And so, in all hopes this reaches you, I hope that you might take up your offer to try out and “test it” yourself. Tho I stand with my hat off and applaud you for all your work, endeavors, efforts and intentions, and truly believe that you are on to earth renovating revolution, which is beyond necessity (not that its to much, but that it is very very good), I find that there is (believe it or not) a faster and more effective solution. A solution for all man kind. Believers, atheists, Muslims, love pioneers and murderers alike. And unlike the 2 week period transformation process your option requires, this one I speak of only takes three days for a 100% carnal/temporal transformation to perfection. Be advised, I’m here for ya!
In all sincerity
Cheers Timothy and associates!
To improve my life (and secure those around me) I want to stop taking everything so personally, and mine as well quit all vices, I believe they stimulate my defense mechanism, which comes as offences to the temporal mapping. Nevertheless, I have experienced freedom from temporal affairs twice in the past 5 years. Once for 2 months and again for 2 weeks. Low and behold, there was no way of knowing at those times that the ol’ vices would reconcile into my new sound mind and send me plummeting back down to death valley. I tell you real quick how I succeeded “Death Valley” both times initially. Goes somethin like this: Being an avid Bible reader and researcher, at some point after 3 solid days of being alone in my room, researching, reading, and listening to Bible Scripture, I recall my mind alerting me to take a carbon monoxide break (cigarette), I answered myself as if I wasn’t alone in my own body out loud and I said, “Not NOW!”. Then is when it occurred to me that I had no more craving. A little while later I was called out of my room to help my blind roommate with spicing up dinner. Naturally I didn’t do something right (as usual) and I was scolded. Now I would usually reply with fighting words, but not that time, no. That time I was actually reserved. I apologized and that stunned us both. Did an about face and went back to my room. I realized that I no longer contained psychological matter. No mental matter- no mental mishaps, no cravings, no yearnings, no needs and I was good with everything. I began running without getting tired, and feeling as tho I was really alive! My roommates daughter told my roommate that I was “So beautiful”… Strange for even me because my skin was not doin to good from the use of several carbon suppressants. I was free! No thoughts, nothing. I was free indeed. This is my short story building, and im glad to be on top of it. TIM, WILL YOU TRY IT OUT AS YOU SAID?
I am very interested to hear more about brain changing/training technologies that are more advanced/effective. Muse is pretty simple and I’ve read this post by Shane before. What are the latest studies in micro dose drugs and the stem tech you mentioned, Tim.
I have a Muse and I am a long-time meditator and a neurofeedback practitioner. I only used it a few times as I did not find the feedback matched my internal state. One reason this may happen is that different ways of using attention impact the brain differently. Mindfulness meditations increase theta activity in frontal areas, while focused attention practices increase beta2 and gamma in frontal areas while Zen practices increase slow alpha frontally. For this reason, I think it is probably better to use a full EEG cap with more complex protocols for specific styles of meditation. This way you can specifically target regions of the brain involved in various meditations (not just the frontal lobes). In addition to the EEG feedback, it is important to also have some meditation coaching from someone that understands the state of consciousness desired. [Moderator: link removed]
Thankyou . Nice work.
Please test these if you will:
1.effect of alcohol/ marijuana
2. Afternoon quick nap of 10 mins
3.while chanting ‘om’
4.during rem sleep and dreaming etc
Thanks and may many birds visit you often
Neurons that fire together, wire together. Training your brain in whichever mode you choose is critically important to our well being.
Pick a method and improve the density of the gray matter and amount of neurons in your head.
Who doesn’t want a better brain? Mind-training is for your brain, what exercise is for your body.