As a word smith, I very much enjoyed the book “Blink.” It is written by a man who does not believe in the human spirit, but who wrote an entire book about it. Wild, huh?!
He brings together a remarkable number of other people’s research projects, showing beyond a question of a shadow of a doubt, that there is a whole lot of stuff going on in your brain that is not going on in the brain itself. This, of course, is the human spirit that he does not believe in!
It amuses me to watch the effort he went to in describing the reality of the spirit, while dodging any mention of the word at all.
I am finding the same confabulation in the scientific discussions of alpha waves in the brain. The authors report the reality of what actually goes on, while gently avoiding the fact that there are internal contradictions to what they say.
However, when you take the contradictory dynamics of the alpha waves, and plug in the existence of the human spirit, a lot of things suddenly make sense and are not contradictions at all.
Let’s build out the basic concept as presented in the standard science papers on the subject. Our brain waves vary in speed. They are arbitrarily categorized by different Greek letters based on how many waves occur in a second.
For starters, we have Beta and Alpha waves. The divisions are a bit arbitrary so will vary from writer to writer, but Alpha waves are generally in the range of 8 to 12 waves (or cycles) per second. Beta waves are faster at 13 waves per second and up. The precise high end varies a lot depending on the writer’s opinion.
With that framework, let’s switch now to a basic EEG using the International 10-20 protocol. After we wire someone up, we do two standard exercises designed to test for basic brain function. As I facetious tell our clients, these are designed to see if you have a brain and brought it with you today.
During the first four minute test, I have them think gentle, pleasant thoughts with their eyes closed. The objective is for them to relax from the hustle and bustle of getting wired up with all the attendant physical and emotional stimulation. We want them awake, but calm. Thinking, but not problem solving. In a good mood, but not excited about wonderful stuff.
In this framework of peace and pleasure, the normal brain will default to generating Alpha waves in the occipital region (roughly at the base of the skull). Alpha waves are categorized as brain activity when you are awake (different waves when you are asleep) but not so awake you are working at any level.
Then we make one minor change in the exercise and ask the volunteer to do another four minutes of approximately the same thoughts, but with their eyes open this time. And the predicted result of that small change is that they will shift from Alpha waves to having a high percentage of the faster Beta waves generated by your brain.
It makes sense. Even if you are not TRYING to problem solve, just having a visual field, even something as boring as looking at an office wall, causes your brain to ramp up, run a little faster, in preparation for interpreting and acting on any salient data that happens to float by, even though you were told NOT to problem solve.
Think of the parallel to your computer. The hard drive is drifting along at a mellow speed while you write an e-mail, but as soon as you open a video clip you hear the hard drive rev up as it is having to work harder to process a much more intense batch of data than the simple e-mail you were working on.
Same thing with the brain. Simple thoughts, no problem solving, no big emotion — Alpha waves. When you add the visual field or start thinking purposefully in a specific direction, the center of activity moves from the base of the skull to higher up in the brain, and you switch to Beta waves that are faster, as you prepare to crunch the data.
No problem, right? Clean, simple, logical. Two gears in your transmission (I know, we will add more later, but let’s keep it simple for now). Your engine can idle in Alpha or move down the road in Beta.
Now that it is nice, neat and simple, let’s throw in a joker and mess things up.
Around the world, and across the centuries, people have instinctively closed their eyes when praying. This is not unique to a particular church or secular culture.
But wait. Prayer is a pretty intentional process. We are thinking. Solving a problem. We are deliberately crafting thoughts toward an objective, whether the objective is worship or intercession, most of our thoughts in prayer are not an engine idling.
So . . . why do we instinctively shift away from the standard higher energy Beta waves when we pray, by closing our eyes? Is it possible that it has something to do with the spirit? I don’t know, but I find it an interesting anomaly.
Here is another problem. Various research associates extreme accuracy in controlled sports with the athlete’s brain getting to Alpha wave state. So if you are competing in marksmanship, for example, the best shooters are those who can dial back from the Beta waves (problem solving speed) and get to the Alpha wave state. In this non-problem solving mode, they solve the problem of accurate shooting.
Is there any chance that this has something to do with the human spirit? Is it possible that the soul/brain/Beta wave combination is not as sophisticated as the human spirit, so it has to be gotten out of the way? Can it be that this athlete is actually hitting the bulls eye, because his spirit made the final calculations not his soul?
Here is another. This researcher obviously failed charm school, but if you can get past his three categories of people, he makes an interesting assertion.
“Creativity is another activity for which Alpha brain waves are helpful. Scientists have shown that highly creative people have different brain waves from normal and non-creative people. In order to have a creative inspiration, your brain needs to be able to generate a big burst of Alpha brain waves, mostly on the left side of the brain. The brains of creative people can generate these big Alpha brain wave bursts, and do so when they are faced with problems to solve.
“Normal and non-creative people do not produce Alpha brainwave increases when they are faced with problems, and so they can not come up with creative ideas and solutions. Any time you have an insight or an inspiration, you know your brain just produced more Alpha waves than usual. Increased creativity is helpful for everyone. One way to increase creativity is to increase Alpha brain waves.”
This excerpt is from http://www.biocybernaut.com/about/brainwaves/alpha.htm. His credibility is dimmed by the lack of evidence for his assertions, and by the fact that he is selling a doodad that will help you improve your life by being able to generate Alpha waves on demand, but suppose there is something to what he says.
Suppose creativity is linked to Alpha waves? Isn’t that paradoxical? Alpha waves are our default when we are mellow, not thinking about problems. They are reduced or diminished in volume as soon as the eyes open and we shift to Beta waves to solve life’s problems.
But to solve the really big problems that require highly creative thinking we slow down instead of speeding up? Really? Isn’t that counter-intuitive?
Yes, it is, unless perhaps the objective of the Alpha waves is to reduce the chatter coming from the soul/brain partnership, so that the spirit can step to the front and do the heavy lifting instead.
I clearly don’t know that for sure. My questions stem from my interpretation of other people’s interpretation of yet another person’s granular research.
All I am saying is that a paradigm without the human spirit creates some problematic interpretation. When you redesign the boundaries of your paradigm to include the human spirit, some of the data fits much better.
And, as I work through the EEGs we have, I will be following the trail of Alpha wave/spirit activity closely. We just might possibly end up with some hard data to support this half baked potato!
Check back in a few days for a couple follow up articles on the messy mysteries of those not-so-boring Alpha waves.
Copyright January 2013 by Arthur Burk