I’ve been a huge proponent of brainwave entrainment (BWE) for years, using audio tracks like binaural beats and isochronic tones to help relieve stress, improve focus, and enhance creativity. (I’ve wrote about this topic ad nauseum which you can find here: The Ultimate Guide to Brainwave Entrainment and interviewed a number of BWE experts on Warrior Radio).
Yet it wasn’t until I discovered audio visual entrainment (AVE) where I truly understood its potential, as it nearly tripled the type of results I was seeing. These ‘mind machines’ as they are sometimes called, allowed me to dive into even more powerful meditations, have much greater feelings of relaxation and focus, and sometimes lead to out of body experiences (OBE’s). It was as if I had been riding a bicycle for years, and someone handed me the keys to a sports car.
What are mind machines? There are a wide range of these devices on the market, but most of them share the same characteristics. They typically include goggles containing a set of mini lights encircling each lense, flashing at a particular target frequency. The goggles are connected to a console which allow you to set the intensity of the light, choose a particular session, and connect a pair of headphones that deliver binaural beats or isochronic tones in sync with the flashing lights.
I was first introduced to mind machines a few years ago through a company called MindPlace. Their team were awesome enough to send me one of their popular devices called The Procyon.
I remember my first session. I laid in bed, fitted the goggles over my eyes, and hit the play button on the console. Within seconds, a symphony of pulsing light and sound engulfed my senses. My body began to loosen, thoughts naturally quieted down, and I felt an incredible sense of peace.
As the session continued, I dove deeper and deeper into a powerful meditation. Geometric shapes began forming in fractal-like patterns, the walls between myself and my surroundings began to dissolve, and childhood memories I hadn’t remembered in years started to arise. It was amazing first experience with audio visual entrainment.
Coming out of the session, I was baffled more people hadn’t tried this out before. You’ll regularly hear about the benefits of binaural beats and audio brainwave entrainment with companies like Holosync and Hemi Sync popularizing the technology online, but adding the visual element was a complete game changer.
In this article, I’m going to give you a better idea behind mind machines, shedding light on their benefits, their science, and how you can ultimately use them to increase your IQ, hack sleep, and tap into meditations akin to that of veteran meditators.
I’m also going to introduce a Virtual Reality app called Waves.fm I’ve developed whose aim is to make this technology accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a VR device. Let’s get started.
The History Of Sound and Light Technology
Mind machines may sound like cutting edge technology, but the use of sound and light to alter the mind has been used for thousands of years throughout countless cultures in history. In his book Mega Brain, Michael Hutchinson writes:
“…humans have always been intrigued by the possibilities for influencing mental functioning that emerge from combining rhythmic sound and rhythmic light stimulation. Ancient rituals for entering trance states often involved both rhythmic sounds in the form of drum beats, clapping, or chanting and flickering lights produced by candles, torches, bonfires, or long lines of human bodies passing before the fire and chopping the light into mesmerizing rhythmic flashes. From Greek plays to Western opera, our most popular entertainment forms have made use of combinations of lights and sounds. Some composers, such as the visionary Scriabin, actually created music intended to be experienced in combination with rhythmic light displays.”
Around 200 AD, the famous Greek writer, mathematician, and astronomer Ptolemy noticed that when he spun a spoked wheel between him and the sun, the flashes of sunlight caused him to see unique patterns of color and light, and have feelings of euphoria.
In the 19th century, the famous psychologist Pierre Janet noticed that when his patients were presented with flickering lights, they had significant reduction in hysteria, depression, and anxiety.
In 1956, the famous neuroscientist W. Gray Walter published the results of studying thousands of test subjects using photic stimulation, showing their change in mental and emotional states. He also learned that photic stimulation not only altered brainwaves, but that these changes were occurring in areas of the brain outside of vision. In Walter’s words:
“The rhythmic series of flashes appear to be breaking down some of the physiologic barriers between different regions of the brain. This means the stimulus of flicker received by the visual projection area of the cortex was breaking bounds— its ripples were overflowing into other areas.”
By the sixties, this technology was showing interest outside the medical community. The famous writer and Beat Generation figurehead, William S Burroughs and British artists put together a simple visual device called the Dreammachine, in which a pierced cylinder rotated around a light source to produce flickering effects. One of the first consumer-grade photic stimulation devices was born.
By the 70’s and 80’s and beyond a flurry of research was done on brainwave entrainment and photic stimulation. Here are some of the major findings:
The Benefits Of Mind Machines
- Alleviating Stress & Anxiety – Flickering lights which entrain the mind into alpha or theta brainwaves has shown to alleviate anxiety or acute stress.1
- Improving Mood – A study found that audio-visual entrainment was effective for treating low mood such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).2
- Improving IQ Scores – Studies have found that using photic stimulation to a group of learning disabled children increased verbal IQ stores. 3 A number of studies have also shown photic stimulation is also effective at helping improve academic performance. 4 5
- Alleviating Physical Pain – Photic stimulation (in the alpha and theta range) have shown to reduce discomfort from both short and long-term pain.6 A number of studies has shown visual entrainment effective in treating headaches and migraines. 7 8 9 The Anesthesiologist M.S. Sadove began using photic stimulation to reduce the amount of anesthesia required during surgery.
- Greater Brain Coherence – Studies have shown that photic stimulation causes the visual centers of brain enter a state of synchronization in which both left and right hemispheres operate in unison. 10
- Improving Focus – Audio visual entrainment has been shown effective in treating those who suffer from attention deficit disorder. 11
- Improving Sleep – Audio visual entrainment programs have been shown to help those suffering from insomnia (especially due to stress). 12
Recently there has been new research on the possibility of using pulsing sound and light to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as parkinsons and alzheimers.
The Mind Machine Consumer Boom
In 1971 successful broadcasting executive Robert Monroe published his groundbreaking book Journeys Out of the Body, which chronicled his out-of-body experiences using audio brainwave entrainment. He later founded The Monroe Institute and began developing the widely popular Hemi Sync audio technology, spreading binaural beats to the public.
As we mentioned earlier, that was a wave of research done on the use of flashing lights to entrain the brain. Eventually, researchers began experimenting with the idea of combining both sound and light to enhance the effects of brainwave entrainment. Michael Hutchinson talks about this trend in Mega Brain:
“It was obvious that these separate developments, when considered together, had some fascinating implications. Since both flickering light and pulsating sound could, by themselves, entrain brain-wave activity and increase hemispheric synchronization, then perhaps, the thought occurred to a number of independent researchers almost simultaneously, by combining both sound and light stimulation at the same frequency the entrainment effects—and the resulting hemispheric synchronization—would be even more pronounced. Intrigued by these possibilities, these independent inventor-explorers set out to investigate the effects of combined sound and light stimulation, and to create new devices that would enable individuals to bombard their brains simultaneously with sound and light.” 13
Throughout the eighties, advancements in microelectronics made it possible for engineers to create these devices for the consumer market. Niche magazines such as Tools For Exploration began selling thousands of these devices to laymen outside the medical and research communities.
The Drawback Of Mind Machines
After my first experience with The Procyon, and realizing how much more powerful the effects were compared to audio brainwave entrainment, I was hooked. I started experimenting with as many of these devices as I could find. Throughout my research, I started to find a number of flaws in the technology.
For one, they were expensive. Many of the popular devices on the market today cost hundreds of dollars on the low end. Newer machines like the Ajna Light or Lucia Light devices (which claim to produce DMT in the brain) cost tens of thousands of dollars. If the aim is to get this consciousness hacking technology into the hands of as many people around the world, then the cost is a massive barrier to entry.
Secondly, these devices are bulky. As of this writing, I’ve been traveling around Southeast Asia for years. It’s been a massive pain lugging around all the wires, cables, console, and goggles wherever I went. I wanted to be able to access this technology, without having the bulk device weigh me down. These devices were popularized in the eighties, and since then the technology hadn’t really had a serious update. All this was especially frustrating, knowing I had an iPhone in my pocket which had the capabilities of a modern day computer.
Right around this time I started to get intrigued by virtual reality. Google had recently released their Google Cardboard, giving practically everyone around the world access to a virtual reality device. It dawned on me that by combining a smart phone with an inexpensive Google Cardboard like device, you’d have the same capabilities as a mind machine device, yet at a fraction of the cost.
Introducing Waves.fm – Bringing Audio Visual Entrainment to Virtual Reality
Over the past year, I have worked with an incredibly talented VR developer/artist to bring this vision into an iPhone/Android app which I call Waves.fm.
Waves.fm is a neuroscience-based, virtual reality experience, that delivers flashing light and sound at target frequencies linked to relaxation, focus, and sleep. With a smartphone, inexpensive VR headset, and the Waves app, you’ll step inside immersive environments which syncs your brainwaves to peak mental states.
Not only does Waves.fm deliver flashing lights, but does so in a way that’s visually engaging. You’ll step inside the center of a kaleidoscope, where shapes and colors will morph around you, flashing at a specific frequencies. Here’s what one of those environments looks like (minus the flashing lights to prevent triggering folks who suffer from photic-induced seizures):
I’ve also recruited an amazing musician to create lush soundscapes embedded with tibetan singing bowls and isochronic tones to further entrain the brain.
Just open the Waves.fm app, choose your ideal session, load your phone into a snap-in VR device (like a Google Cardboard), and enjoy the experience. We tried to make the app as accessible as possible. If you have an iPhone or Android that’s Google Cardboard compatible, you’re good to go.
Waves.fm is available now. Check it out and let me know what you think.
- Ossebaard, Hans C. “Stress reduction by technology? An experimental study into the effects of brainmachines on burnout and state anxiety.” Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback 25.2 (2000): 93-101.
- Berg, Kathy, and Dave Siever. “A controlled comparison of audio-visual entrainment for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder.” Journal of Neurotherapy 13.3 (2009): 166-175.
- Carter, John L., and Harold L. Russell. “A pilot investigation of auditory and visual entrainment of brain wave activity in learning disabled boys.” Texas Researcher 4.1 (1993): 65-75.
- Budzynski, T., Jordy, J., Budzynski, H., Tang, H. and Claypoole, K., 1999. “Academic Performance Enhancement with Photic Stimulation and EDR Feedback. Journal of Neurotherapy.” 3, 11-21.
- Budzynski, Thomas, et al. “Academic performance enhancement with photic stimulation and EDR feedback.” Journal of Neurotherapy 3.3-4 (1999): 11-21.
- Boersma, F., Gagnon, C. (1992). “The Use of Repetitive Audiovisual Entrainment in the Management of Chronic Pain.” Medical Hypnosis Journal, Vol 7, No3: 80-97.
- Solomon, Glen D. “Slow Wave Photic Stimulation in the Treatment of Headache‐a Preliminary Report.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 25.8 (1985): 444-446.
- Noton, David. “Migraine and photic stimulation: report on a survey of migraineurs using flickering light therapy.” Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery 6.3 (2000): 138-142.
- Anderson, D. J. “The Treatment of Migraine with Variable Frequency Photo‐Stimulation.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 29.3 (1989): 154-155.
- Budzynski, Thomas. “The clinical guide to sound and light.” Proceedings of Brainwave Entrainment Symposium. 2006.
- Siever, Dave. “Applying audio-visual entrainment technology for attention and learning.” Biofeedback Mag. 31 (2008): 1-15.
- Collura, Thomas F., and C. E. T. David Siever. “Auditory-visual entrainment in relation to mental health and EEG.” (2009).
- Hutchison, Michael. Mega Brain: New Tools And Techniques For Brain Growth And Mind Expansion (pp. 126-127). Mega Brain World. Kindle Edition.