Can Mind Machines Build Up Our Brains?
by Caroline Hall Otis
Nautilus, Universal, Nordic Track -- machines that strengthen
and delineate our pecs and glutes have passed beyond mere fad to
become a way of life. But how irksome it is to have a Ferrari of a
body topped by a Pinto of a brain. Time for the next twist in
workout equipment: exercise machines designed to pump power into
our cerebral muscles.
Welcome to the brave new era -- and burgeoning new market --
of mind machines. A generation ahead of the biofeedback devices of
the 1960s, these machines use a combination of light, sound, and
other stimuli to reduce stress, induce meditative states, launch
spiritual explorations, improve intellectual capacity, enhance
creativity -- and yield such physical benefits as lower blood
pressure, fewer headaches, and improved circulation. They are even
credited with helping to grow hair, not to mention fresh new brain
The machines can be experienced on an hourly basis at "mind
gyms" across the country -- places with names like Altered States,
Tranquility Center, and SpaceTime Tanks, most of which got their
start in the floatation tank biz. Or you can check into an upscale
spa like the Canyon Ranch in Tucson, which added a week-long
MindFitness program to its menu of dawn treks and herbal wraps
last year. Psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, educators,
and chiropractors are jumping on the brain-machine bandwagon, too.
With good reason, it seems. Research reported by NEW AGE
JOURNAL (July/August 1987) reveals new findings about the brain
that contradict long-held beliefs. To wit: Aging does not
necessarily go hand in hand with loss of brain cells; in fact,
parts of the brain can continue to grow -- and intelligence
increase -- well into the geriatric years. Also, we aren't issued
our full quota of brain cells at infancy. Under the right
conditions, neurons can regenerate. Indeed, scientists quoted by
NEW AGE assert that every mental state is the product of a
specific pattern of electrical and chemical activity in the brain
that can be replicated through controlled stimulation.
To boost our brainpower, the mind machines use combinations
of the following elements, reports Jay Cornell in REALITY HACKERS
(Issue #5). Flashing lights, the most common feature of mechanical
brain-builders, produce patterns, images, and a variety of mental
states. Electrical pulses, often timed to harmonize with the
resonant frequency of Earth's magnetic field, are purported to
have strong healing effects. Sounds -- simulated ocean waves,
heartbeats, white noise, or tinkly New Age music -- help make the
brain resonate. Spoken words, delivered in ultra-soothing tones,
can help bring on beneficial alpha and theta waves. Motion --
swinging, dancing, rotating, bobbing -- stimulates the
semicircular canal and cilia of the inner ear to transmit signals
to the cerebellum while it gives body fluids a beneficial
sloshing. Ultrasound waves sent directly into the brain are
emerging as another potentially powerful stimulation technique.
The best and most expensive brain machines include the
Synchro-Energizer (about $7,000) and the Graham Potentializer
(kits start at $3,500; assembled machines at $7,000). The
Synchro-Energizer uses goggles with flashing lights and headphones
playing synthesized sounds for state-of-the-art stimulation. The
Graham Potentializer uses motion and magnetic fields to cool your
stress jets and build brain function. For the budget conscious,
there's the MC^2, a hand-held keypad hooked up to a pair of shades
and a set of headphones -- all designed to help you pump alpha for
just $350. And the list goes on.
The new mind machines have their detractors, of course. For
instance, the MindFitness program at Canyon Ranch claims to help
participants generate the alpha brain waves that enhance
creativity, imagination, and so on. But TUCSON WEEKLY (June 1,
1988) reports that researchers say alpha waves are "dirt common"
-- and very easy to produce by simply shutting your eyes.