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Workshop - I've Changed My Mind
Автор: Alex   
26.08.2009 00:19
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13. Plugins (Biofeedback and similar techniques)

The hardest things to control of all are biological responses. If the ground shook and you heard a loud explosive crack close by you right now, your body would probably do exactly what this spider on my desk just did when I banged down a cup beside it...you would freeze for an instant and your blood pressure would go up, then you would go into fight/flight mode and hasten to escape the area of the explosion. Biology acts without conscious thinking to protect itself, having had to do so for all the years prior to the evolution of sufficient intelligence to protect it in more sophisticated ways. Even when we are consciously aware of our safety we react to biology's prompting; if you doubt this, try sticking your forehead up against a window with a vexed snake behind it and seeing if you can keep your face against the glass when the snake strikes, or try not to blink when someone else's hand rapidly approaches your eye.

Because biological responses are some of the hardest things to control, we're not going to attack them all at once. But we need to understand the biological basis of attention and association control, because this underlies all learning, so what we are going to do here is speed up the learning process and make it more efficient by incorporating this biological basis into the learning cycle (as was intended) by using conditioning. Instead of acting against our biology, we can interact with it and use it to further our purpose. Biofeedback is a very useful tool for this. Using it, automatic systems (like your heartbeat and blood pressure) can be brought under conscious control, and controlling your own biology is one very powerful way of controlling input from within. That makes a huge difference to your speed of progress, because it is the difference between having to be constantly vigilant about what you are surrounded by all the time, and the noble art of being able to completely ignore it without even having to try very hard. It means there will be no distractions; that regardless of what is going on around you, you can remain serene and unaffected by it for as long as you want to.

Biofeedback systems have a great deal to offer to a neurohacker. Ideally, your system should have: multiple input processing and multiple output possibilities (sound, light, display on screen, TMS link etc.) I'll talk about TMS in another chapter, because it's best to get the hang of all the rest first.

But this is the outskirts of Cyborg City; this is wires stuck all over you and electrodes and sensors and things connecting you to computers and all that jazz. Where you get all those cool cyberpunk phrases drifting past from the stranger groups you wish you were either in or at least not so embarrassed to be in, like, "jack your head into the deck, dude." No problemo. Hasta la vista. Allrighty then.

So, let's keep this simple. You're a machine. Live with it.

You should be using multi-color light I/O that is controllable and reducible to red/green or monochrome. You should have good encoding/decoding processors for each different kind of input.

You should have a source of 'mental games' or 'tutorials' for learning to use mind/computer interface. You should have a method of storing a lot of sessions in non-volatile memory. You need SP, Pressure and Contact electrodes of different kinds for each input. The system should be capable of using mains or battery power (excluding TMS). And you should have the capacity to play with 'binaural beats'.R35

You should set the whole lot up as you intend to use it and make yourself a workspace. Spend at least half an hour being paranoid about the safety of your power supply, including the phone line, if it's connected to a modem, which is connected to...ultimately, your head. Right. Keep a good eye out for lightning storms and use an emergency cutoff system.

Practice with each individual kind of biofeedback on its own. Get the hang of how input is translated into various outputs. Arrange gear around you; you'll need to see screens, LED readouts and meters and read them with familiarity, so that you know what's going on.

A good one to start with is the classic 'BP control' biofeedback cycle using only skin-surface pressure electrodes (some people prefer a temperature sensor) and a GSR processor. It's gentle, easy to learn, and has no side effects apart from possibly inducing sleep if you needed it anyway.

A simple GSR machine will give you an LED display of a color spectrum, or a graph on your PC screen correlating with its readings of your GSR. The best units also use sound, as a rising or falling tone. The aim is to lower your blood pressure, as you relax and move in the right direction to achieve that, you're given feedback of your progress and a signal when you get it right. The 'game' is simply to get the lights to turn green or the tone to fall, or whatever. It's fun, easy, and you really get the hang of how your mind affects your body and vice versa. You recognize the changes as you start to make them happen. When you can do it easily, you reduce the machine's sensitivity and train yourself up. Next you can try the same technique with other forms of input; try wiring up to an EEG and deliberately changing your brainwave pattern; slowing it down, for a start. You'll notice how similar it seems to the technique that lowered your blood pressure...now try this wired to both GSR and EEG. You'll notice your blood pressure falls as your brainwave pattern slows down, and vice versa. Keep doing it. Until you can run up and down the brainwave-spectrum with the adeptness of a turbo lift, keep doing it. This is your mind, taking control of your brain.

By changing your blood pressure (which you can already do) you can shift your brainwave pattern or push it in the direction of such a shift by setting up the circumstances conducive to one.

Explore how far you can change those factors and keep a written record of your progress.

Your biofeedback system should give you several options. If you are writing your own software, bear these in mind; they are important and necessary tools. You should have the option of recording all the data from your inputs, together or in any combination, and of replaying that data at any time, alone or together with current input. I'll explain that a bit more. You should be able to record as much as possible about your neuro/physiological state, and play that back to yourself either by itself or with the biofeedback from your current state.

This opens up several possibilities. You can record yourself having a particular experience, for example, then use the recording to help induce the same experience at any desired time. It is a 'memory', in a very real sense. It is a memory, which triggers other memories.

You can hack the midbrain, specifically, so well with this technique that you can reproduce the effects of drugs without the drugs. You can use recorded sessions as triggers for emotions or memories of experiences; like, would you record your brainwave patterns on your wedding night?1

Another option you should have is that of writing programs for the enhancement of various states. Example: You take your EEG recording on a graph, let's say its beta rhythm. You plot a graph of the classic alpha rhythm and you get the computer to construct a sliding scale of graphs in-between. You feed the result to yourself slowly from where you are at now all the way to alpha rhythm. If you get the rate of increase sussed, your brain will actually follow the program and shift with it into alpha. In just the same way, if you record a drum beat at the same rate as your pulse and slowly speed it up, your pulse will rise with it to follow suit. If you're a musician, you could write a 'symphony for the brain' that pulled you about all over the place, by finding which chords and which sounds shifted your brainwave pattern and where.

A third thing you should be able to do is control various parameters of feedback during 'mental games' or 'tutorials'. These are great fun, and there's lots of software available, one example is a skiing game where you control your direction by altering your brainwave pattern. You can find programs for almost anything, controllable by biofeedback and/or neurofeedback, including ones that let you type2

You should be able to plug straight in to your computer from the biofeedback units, which should plug straight into you. Building it all into one machine or making it wearable is a good idea especially if you want it to be mobile. The first interface machine I put together was (is!) housed in an old stereo tuner. It monitors GSR, MCG and EEG and sends the signals to the computer where the software deals with it according to which program I want to run. More recently I built a small, light mobile unit which I can use with the wearable, or connect to any PC with Internet access and enough processing power to do the business3

Any good sound/light system will have precise control of pulse rate (at least 0.20 to 50hz), plus control of light intensity and audio pitch. This is important because everyone is slightly different and you can fine-tune your system for your own personal optimal use.

One of the nicest things biofeedback can do is give you a decent night's sleep without drugs. You can fall asleep to a program of yourself falling asleep, or a written program that will take you all the way down into deep sleep and then turn itself off. You'll get used to the habit of a healthy sleep pattern after a while and your brain will be able to do it all by itself, quite the opposite of sleeping tablets. You can also use the system to boost certain areas of the brain by triggering the relevant optimal hormone cycles, for example, before an exam, before physical hard work, before sex, or when you need to relax.

Other techniques

Next, you'll want to integrate biofeedback with NMT.

A long time ago, (and I don't know if this is still possible), you could do the following: If you couldn't play (for example) tennis and you wanted to play tennis and you couldn't be bothered to spend weeks out there being crap at tennis whilst learning it, and you had lots of money, you bought a 'Tennis VR' package. I saw my first one in 1980. What you got in this package was: a video of someone demonstrating all the basic tennis moves, in slow motion and then at full speed, then finally a series of games with all the moves in them. You also got a cassette tape of white noise, and an instruction manual which told you to play the tape through headphones whilst watching the video in dim light, with no distractions. You were told to concentrate on the player and imagine it was you, making those moves.

What does this achieve? If you video someone doing this, covertly, or wire them up to MCG, you can (with the aid of a computer) detect their making muscular micromovements as they watch.R16 If you have a look at what their brains are doing you'll see that these movements are causing neurons to fire along pathways in the same networks as are used when actually playing tennis. If you do it enough, when you get out onto the court you will pick up the game a lot faster than an ordinary beginner.

Every time we think or imagine, we make these movements, from before birth until the day we die. These movements are a clue to the way the brain patterns in information from that sensory motor map, through the mid brain to the frontal cortex. Every memory has a corresponding micromuscular pattern, replayed every time we recall it; a code of impulses flying through the brain as 'full-body-knowing'; together with all the information from our sensory organs, the nervous system itself as a sensory organ is bringing in as much as the eyes via the whole body, with every thought, every image, and especially any sound, including the sound of our own 'inner dialogue'.

By producing an audio input of white sound, the Neuro Muscular Training (NMT) system makes the video input and imagination the sole triggers for that patterning. By imagining making the movements ourselves we are firing off neurons in the same areas they would fire if we were actually playing tennis, only to a much smaller extent. This pattern in the brain will be used later to direct the muscles and limbs. The brain is able to construct, in VR, a map of the movements necessary to play tennis. It applies the map to reality when we walk onto the court, and imagination plus world equals hyperreality...we find we already have part of the necessary network built into our brains, and the rest comes easily.

Like the youngsters I mentioned in an earlier chapter who could ride horses because they'd seen it done so often in the movies, this is how the brain loves to learn. Computer gamers must have noticed a sharpness of reaction they gain after a session; the visual cortex network improves, and the change is carried over from the game into reality. Obviously the teaching value of simulations is well known. Simulations on their own are a bit limited, but with biofeedback added in they are extremely useful.

Biofeedback is when the cyborg thing can really get you. I started wearing a biofeedback system permanently and noticed when I took it off, it was like losing an extra sense. Using biofeedback all the time is only useful if it helps train us to be more aware of the subtle signs of our physiological changes, because these are what we are trying to learn. If we learn to do it without the machine, the machine then becomes a real short-cutter for making things easy. If we don't, we'll get less sensitive as time goes by, which is not what we want at all.

But it is a hell of a thing, to be in the middle of a situation and know exactly what your brain is doing, so cut yourself a little slack and be prepared to indulge yourself here.

There are games you can get which you play via a biofeedback system.R36 You don't need to use your hands, but your brain, to move things about or achieve your aims. These are very addictive at first but pale quickly because they are quite slow, and the novelty wears off.

The first best use of biofeedback after you've got the basics is weighting adjustment (you can amplify an effect, or devalue it). Controlling emotional/imaginative weighting is largely at first still a matter of controlling input. Until you can learn the noble art of ignoring things, you must still control your input very carefully. (That means input from your own brain and body as well as from 'out there'.)

When you were wiping erroneous programming you were repairing damage and removing stuff that shouldn't be there. To do this you had to use the basics of memory adjustment, you had to learn how to do a diagnostic on your own mind and you had to learn some ways to block dodgy input. Those skills will continue to be necessary, but now that you've used them with one system you can do it with others. Now you need to get up to the bridge of your own starship and take control.

And the first step toward that is maintaining a completely clear picture of how much control you currently have, and how much you do not have. Being aware of what your own brain is doing. Continuing the analogy of a starship, most people's minds are being run from the wrong part of the ship. You can run the ship from other departments, in an emergency, or if the main bridge is damaged, but if you are going to run the ship optimally you need to transfer control of everything that can be transferred, section by section, to that main bridge, which, when working properly, has access to all parts of the ship and all it's systems, and we can then use those systems correctly to our greatest advantage. The locus of your consciousness should live on the bridge; access to everywhere granted.

Being stuck in M4, for example, is a little bit like running a ship from engineering with access to only half the sensors. All the data you perceive are being processed through a system designed to process only one kind of information; in this case the semantic kind. Some things it can't even tell are there, for example the pheromones flying up your nostrils, the subconscious effects of light and sound frequencies on your mind, the internal chemical cycles you go through daily, nightly, monthly. Subliminal signals, body language, midbrain language and eidetic imagery. Your biology's awareness of its own chemical changes and responses to that. Information from all these areas is relevant in the full picture of reality, and trying to 'run the ship' from the left hemisphere's point of view is not what we were designed to do, biologically. Biofeedback can make us a lot more aware of what we might be consciously missing, but is still going on. You can get to know yourself, in depth.

An awareness of the full spectrum of reality is vital for control. Control means real-time adjustment in the present, as opposed to messing with past memories. Sentiment control has to begin with blocking, then moving on to catching it before it starts and preventing the actual response, but the technique is not the same with emotion or imagination.

The reason we concentrate on control of emotion and imagination so much may not be obvious; the point is they are affecting every bit of input we perceive. That means if we change the emotion, we change the experience. It is an extension of the control of input; that is all. Taking charge of your own programming by deliberately weighting information with biofeedback instead of allowing yourself to be conditioned is a skill you can use throughout. You can award or deny relevance to events chemically according to how relevant they are in reality, as opposed to judging them from an artificial system of arbitrary values. You are slowly starting to build up a database of 'life according to reality'. You may be surprised, shocked or dismayed by the distance between your perspective and that of others, or you may, if you are one of those rare individuals who is not afraid of truth, be feeling absolutely marvelous.

1 Yes. Would you play it back to your wife?

2 It's very slow, and beware of seriously mad typos when sneezing.

3 A word about wearable computers: Don't try to plug into the back of public computers in cybercafes and libraries from the back of your neck or your chest, you will get banned for attempted hacking. Who knows what they think you're doing, exactly, but it also causes the Uncanny Valley effect; i.e., they think you are a weirdo.

Обновлено 26.08.2009 00:20