Chapter 9: We Sing The Mind Electric,

After my first experience with the TENS, as I plied Light with questions about his little black box, he had shrugged. "Really," he'd said, "this thing is nothing much. Anyone who knows a bit of electronics could put it together with about nineteen dollars worth of parts from radio shack. If you want to try something powerful, check out the Alpha Stim. It's something really new, a quantum leap beyond these TENS devices." That in itself was a fairly startling thought. I'd said I was interested, and Light had provided me with a heap of scientific studies from bioelectric journals as well as some descriptive materials about the Alpha Stim. And so a few weeks later, brain awash with tidbits of bioelectric lore, I sat down before the Alpha Stim machine--a device about the size of a typewriter and covered with dials, wires, gauges, and flashing lights--clipped soft electrodes to each of my earlobes, and waited for the technician to turn on the juice.

I knew that it would be a tiny amount of juice, since that was said by bioelectric experts to be one of the most revolutionary aspects of the device. While conventional TENS units delivered current at an intensity in the milliampere range (a milliampere is one -thousandth of an ampere), the Alpha Stim's current was in the microampere range (a microampere is one one-millionth of an ampere; a common 60 watt light bulb draws approximately a half ampere, or 500,0000 microamperes). In other words, the current emitted by the Alpha Stim is hundreds of times less than is emitted by most TENS units. According to recent bioelectric research, this current is much closer to the natural current produced by the body's cells than is produced by the more powerful TENS units, and is thus able to stimulate the cells in a more natural way.

Also different from most TENS-unit current is the waveform--it is a square wave, which experts claim allows the current to be delivered more effectively and naturally to the cells. And unlike most TENS units, which deliver their current at comparatively high frequencies (from the slow 7.83 Hz range of Joseph Light's device up into the hundreds and thousands of Hz), the Alpha Stim operates at extremely low frequencies (generally ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 Hz).

Like TENS units, the Alpha Stim is most widely used for pain relief--when the area of pain is electrically stimulated at appropriate frequencies and amplitudes, the body responds with a flood of endorphins, alleviating even severe and chronic pain for hours or days. according to numerous reports, including controlled studies and case histories, conducted in three years since the machine was invented by California neurobiologist Dr. Daniel Kirsch, the alpha Stim is, by order of the FDA, available to laymen only by prescription from a doctor, dentist, psychiatrist, osteopath, or other health professional.

However, pain relief is hardly the only use for the Alpha Stim. Increasing numbers of psychiatrists and others have discovered that one of the operational modes of the device, known as transcranial electrotherapy (TCET), in which the electrodes are attached to the ears or temples and the electric current sent directly into the brain, rapidly produces a state known as electronarcosis characterized by deep relaxation, heightened awareness, and a sense of well being or euphoria. In fact, many use the device exclusively for TCET, and much of the current research being done with the unit is exploring the potential of TCET. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have found the TCET is remarkably effective in reducing anxiety and generalized stress. For example, Mitch Lewis, athletic trainer and conditioning coach for the Olympics men's rowing and judo teams, initially used the Alpha Stim for pain reduction, but soon found that the TCET mode was even more useful. Says Lewis, "I have used the transcranial electrostimulation as a relaxation/restorative modality with great results. The athletes report a good night's rest before an important competition. They also report that they have a more relaxed attitude towards the stress of competition..

In a controlled study of cocaine addicts, Los Angeles psychiatrist Dr. Alan Brovar found that those given TCET completed detoxification and rehabilitation programs more successfully than controls, had fewer relapses, and were less likely to seek readmission. Brovar speculated that by releasing endorphins, the TCET reduced the characteristic dysphoria, or lack of ability to feel pleasure, that addicts experience when undergoing withdrawal. "It may also produce hemispheric synchronization in the brain," said Brovar, "making addicts more willing to accept recovery-oriented concepts." The TCET had a sedative effect, he said, inducing a state of relaxed alertness that decreases physical craving for the drug."

Studies have also shown that the deep relaxation and calm alertness produced by the TCET increases suggestibility and hypnotizability, and many psychologists and dentists now use the Alpha Stim to assist in hypnotic induction. Some psychiatrists use TCET prior to or during treatment sessions to relax the patient and induce a state of openness and heightened awareness, allowing new ideas, memories, and other subconscious material to come to the surface. Many regular users claim TCET enhances their creativity and sharpens their perceptions and sensitivities.

Boosting The Brain To a Higher Order of Coherence

The idea that electrical stimulation might boost creativity and other high-level mental functions became plausible when we understand how the electricity is interacting with the neurons in the brain. This interaction is explained by Dr. William Bauer of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Chief of Otolaryngology, VA Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio:

Basically, absorption of electromagnetic energy increases the kinetic
energy of molecular constituents of the absorption medium. There is
much evidence that the molecular organization in biological systems
needed to sense stimuli, whether thermal, chemical, or electromagnetic,
may reside in joint functions of molecular assemblies or subsets of
these assemblies. these assemblies form complex flow patterns that can
undergo sudden transitions to new self-maintaining arrangements that
will be relatively stable over time. Transformation of complex flow
patterns into larger hierarchical patterns is salutary...Because these
patterns are initiated and sustained by continuing inputs of energy, they
are classified as "dissipative processes." For this reason, they occur
far from equilibrium, meaning there is an organizing and building process....
In summary, the mechanism of tissue interactions with electromagnetic
fields may be as follows: an electromagnetic field of the correct magnitude
and frequency causes a "perturbation" or repositioning of the molecular
plasma membrane enzyme systems by favorably altering stereoscoping
configurations of molecules in much the same manner as a chemical catalyst
holds molecules in the correct orientation for chemical reactions. The
best known cell-membrane enzyme is adenelyate cyclase which converts ATP
(adenosine triphosphate) to cycliclase (adenosine monophosphate) which
then acts as a second messenger intra-cellularly. In other words, an
electromagnetic field may act in the same way as a hormone upon the cell

That is, electromagnetic fields, provided they are of the correct magnitude and frequency, can act on the brain cells in the same way as many brain chemicals do, causing them to alter and grow in size and dendritic length (the process of converting ATP to cyclic-AMP Bauer mentions above is the key to cellular growth). Which is to say, according to Bauer, that electromagnetic fields of the correct magnitude and frequency act as an energy influx upon a dissipative structure--setting up fluctuations that cause the brain to reorganize at a higher level of complexity and coherence, to grow, to escape to a higher order.
If this was the effect of TCET, then it sounded like something both interesting and desirable to me, which was why I was sitting there beside the Alpha Stim with those electrodes clamped to my earlobes. I recalled Marian Diamond's response when asked, regarding her experiments showing that animals raised in enriched environments became more intelligent, what exactly constituted an enriched environment. "The main factor is stimulation, " she said. "the nerve cells are designed to receive stimulation." The Alpha Stim sounded like the most direct sort of stimulation available.

The machine was turned on, and I felt a tingling sensation of tiny pinpricks in my earlobes, as a few microamps of biphasic square waves at a frequency of 0.5 Hz passed into my brain. The tingling was not strong enough to be unpleasant,. Unlike the sensations caused by the TENS device which had crept upon me without my noticing them, the shift in consciousness was quick and unmistakable. My body immediately felt heavier, as if I were sinking down into myself. I realized I was becoming extremely relaxed, and all of a sudden, there I was. It was that feeling you get when all at once you blink your eyes and realize that you're awake. Not that you had literally been sleeping, but you hadn't been paying attention to things as carefully as you might, you had been sleepwalking through your day, and now you're awake and things are very, very clear. It was not a feeling of being in some strange stoned or otherworldly state, but rather a feeling of being exactly as you should be--a feeling that your brain was operating correctly, efficiently, clearly.

I was intensely aware of everything that was going on around me--the noisy office of a busy biofeedback instrument company, jangling phones, a variety of conversations--and simultaneously intensely aware of everything going on inside my head. My body was no longer heavy but very light, full of energy. the feeling was one of openness, clarity, as though I had been wearing sunglasses for weeks and had suddenly taken them off. It was no big thing. Nothing special, really, except I couldn't help but feel that this is the way we're supposed to be all the time.


In the short time since the publication of the hardcover edition of Megabrain there have been a number of important developments. among notable advances in the use of the devices mentioned in the book, the most gratifying tome involved the linking of two mind-empowering tools. It was described to me by Dr. Charles Stroebel, developer of the CAP Scan. "There has been a really exciting and significant development," he told me recently, "and its a direct result of Megabrain. just by coincidence you put the picture of CAP Scan on the same page with the Alpha Stim. I became interested in the possibilities you explore, in your suggestion of combining or linking of various of the mind machines could have a potentiating effect and decided to couple the Alpha Stim and the CAP Scan. The effects have been very dramatic: I use the TCET mode of the Alpha Stim while the people are hooked up to the CAP Scan and it quickly alters and normalizes their brainwave activity.

"I now think that this coupling will allow us to work successfully with severely depressed people. Many of my clients are severely depressed. the abnormal EEG patterns show up very clearly on the CAP Scan." however, as Stroebel explained it, for the traditional biofeedback to work, the subject must be self-motivated, must have a feeling that the effort will ultimately pay off--i.e. that sitting there attempting to alter the colored patterns of brainwave of activity showing on the CAP Scan monitor will make them feel better in the long run. Unfortunately, severe depressives are often so bogged down in feelings of despair, helplessness, and fatigue, that they lack the necessary self-motivation, or the ability to look at things "in the long run," to try to alter their brainwave patterns.

"But now," says Stroebel, "when I hook these depressives up to the Alpha Stim while they're watching their brainwave activity on the CAP Scan, they can actually see how their EEG normalizes and can feel the difference it makes. I think this could be a breakthrough in the treatment of depression. It's tremendously exciting, and it's a direct result of Megabrain."

Toward the end of chapter 9 I suggest that the proper type of electrical stimulation of the brain could "activate your brain's learning pathways and enhance your ability to think," which would mean that certain electrical stimulation devices "could be used as practical tools to increase learning." Several experts in bioelectricity and electromedicine, having read this chapter, decided to perform such experiments, and as this is being written, a number of studies are already underway. One such study has already been completed: Richard Madden of the School of Electromedical sciences of the City University of Los Angeles has found that subjects attached to an advanced electrical stimulation device using the transcranial mode (TCET) showed "improved learning" of various motor-mental skills compared to a control group that received no electrical stimulation