Coded gray, although it starts green.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Screemshot anime Seto no Hanayome

Pic of the day: Awakening with electricity! It can be more pleasant than this, though. Technology to the rescue! Of your soul! Perhaps...

Binaural adventures

Strange as it may sound, I have an account with, a New Age web site. I set up a blog there back when it was called Zaadz, and was somewhat more spiritual, idealistic and new and fresh. After they sold out to Gaia, a number of the most interesting people have lost interest in it. And rightly so, I fear, for it is growing steadily more commercial and less spiritual. On the inspiration vs spam scale it is now roughly comparable to in my view, although others may disagree (in one direction or the other). In other words, I still read everything they send me, but I scan it quickly and forget most of it. But I won't easily forget this.

They sent me another of their mails, this time alerting me to a free sample of Holosync from Centerpointe. This is itself a strange hybrid of science and New Age. They sell a way to adjust your brain waves to a set of chosen frequencies. This is not quackery either, brain entrainment has been known to the scientific community since the 1970es. The claims they make about it is a different matter, though.

There are actually several ways to make the brain waves change to a certain frequency (within its natural range, of course). You can look at pulsing lights of that frequency, which is a pretty effective way if you are not prone to seizures. You can listen to a beat of that same frequency, which is not the most effective way but will do after a while. The most popular technique however is "binaural beats". Here you listen to two sound channels (in a headphone), one to each ear. Their frequency is slightly different. The brain subtracts them and aligns with the difference. So if you have a 500 Hz tone in one ear and a 508 Hz tone in the other, the brain will process a 8 Hz wave, even though the human ear can not hear sounds lower than around 20 Hz. Sneaky! And reasonably effective, although it takes a few minutes for the average test person to be aligned ("entrained") to the frequency, or "beat" as it is frequently called.

There are several suppliers selling CDs (and in the past, cassette tapes) with binaural beats. These are typically designed to take the listener into frequency ranges that are similar to those found in sleep or deep meditation. Unsurprisingly, if you play this when you are tired, you are likely to fall asleep. This is not always a bad thing, since some people have trouble falling asleep. I don't see earphones as a natural bed accessory, but whatever floats your boat. More interesting may be the ability to experience brain waves that are radically different from normal waking thoughts, while one is still conscious.

Centerpointe (and its competitors, which it makes sure not to mention) aim at the New Age market, where people have very high expectations to meditation. Not only will it drastically improve their health in this life, but also free their spirit. Personal growth and transformation! And I don't say it won't happen. I do however say that personal growth and transformation is likely to happen to anyone who sets aside an hour each day to perform a monotonous task with noble intent. Whether it is meditation, ritual prayer, chanting or knitting - perhaps even running on a threadmill - the dedication, the discipline and the investment of time is sure to create change in their life. The exact nature of that change will likely depend on the method and especially on the intent. But change is pretty much guaranteed.

"The lazy man's way to meditate" as Centerpointe says does still require you to set aside the time each day. And they still encourage a noble intention, with boss Bill Harris encouraging people to overcome the conditioning of their childhood and expand their freedom of choice, not only for their own material benefit but for the welfare of their soul and the entire planet. I agree with him in that, although I don't agree with the extreme commercialization of what should essentially be a gift to all mankind. Seriously, if ordinary meditation is hard work, "ur doin it wrong" as the lolcats say these days.

You can meditate without technical assistance, simply by finding a safe spot and sit or lie down, close your eyes and roll them lightly upward, then if needed count slowly to 10 (or even just to 4, if you find that easier) over and over. The religiously inclined may instead fix their mid on an icon or prayer or a saying of their god, but this is not necessary for the meditative experience itself. The trick is to not get excited when your thoughts run off, which thoughts usually do. Just start to count again, without anger or remorse or surprise. When you have that attitude, it is amazingly easy and pleasant. (Unless the voices in your head scare you, which is an unrelated problem.)

Why don't we all meditate for hours a day like the famous saints and mystics? Well, basically we have only so many hours in the day and we have other interests. Like computer games. Or children! There is a reason why monks are, you know, monks. But even when we have free time, the natural mind will automatically create mental tasks for us that are adequate to our level. It could be planning the future, remembering the past in detail, constructing imaginary scenarios, or even a combination of these. Like thinking out alternative outcomes of past events if things had been slightly different. "If she had said that, I would have said that, and then she would have said that, and then we would fight / make love / still be friends." All kinds of such mental tasks are available without end. You could live for a million years in idle luxury and your mind would easily keep you occupied all the time, so you never found time to grow your awareness.

If Holosync can lure people into abandoning that mental hamster wheel and experiment with raising their awareness, good for them! Even though it may cost around $200 for each of their courses, of which there are 13, and which takes from 4-6 month upward each. Unless you are poor, you won't suffer much from spending around $500 a year. And you get phone support during office hours, as well as various supporting material and becoming part of an international movement. You also get brainwashed, but at least it is not a suicide cult. From what I can gather, they are fairly idealistic, only a bit more attached to your money than enlightened people are supposed to. That is hardly unique these days, I fear. Oh, and they lean toward Asian religions rather than the Abramic ones, although I have not studied exactly how much.

Armed with Google, I soon learned that the demo CD actually consists of a long sales pitch rather than a realistic sample. I am not surprised, having already seen their web site. I also learned all that stuff about binaural beats. And I downloaded Gnaural, a free program for making your own binaural beats. You can tweak them in many ways and write them to an MP3 file or play them right from the program. Of course, this presupposes that you like to hack your brainwaves alone in your computer room without qualified advice or assistance. The program hasn't exactly taken the world by storm so far.

Also, thanks to Pirate Bay, I have both listened to the looong sales pitch and tested their first actual entry-level binaural piece, a mix of rain sounds and gentle chimes. It is definitely not worth $200, but then again nobody said it was. What they are really selling is the support, the framework and the encouragement. I honestly don't know the ratio of idealism to greed in that corporation, so I could judge them on that. Seeing their website and their exaggerated claims show me that it is not entirely driven by the Spirit of Truth, but on the other hand years of experience with human nature tells me that their support may be essential to make people stick with setting aside time each day even when no great white light show up and no angel wings are heard. And no matter what techniques you use, those days will come, and they will be hard to stick through.

For the purely scientifically curious, however, Gnaural may be a better place to start. Also, it is freeee! And it runs under Windows, Linux and supposedly even MacOS. (I don't have Mac myself. Perhaps when I lose another tooth.)

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One year ago: No entry
Two years ago: Fast forward
Three years ago: Snowchild
Four years ago: Interest rates
Five years ago: More fading fads
Six years ago: Years ago
Seven years ago: Fictional mistresses
Eight years ago: Waiting for the broadband
Nine years ago: Chocolate porn
Ten years ago: Gabification

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