Neuroshaping can be defined as the use of methods that have demonstrable and lasting impact on the brain (and the nervous system in general) with the purpose of increasing desired experiences, states or skills. These methods include low-tech approaches such as meditation and high-tech approaches such as biofeedback and neurofeedback. The focus in this blog is on technologies that have promise for creating the conditions for optimal attention, improved self-regulation and greater equanimity.
With a non-invasive procedure known as qEEG (quantitative electroencephlagram), your brain can be mapped in terms of the electrical power at numerous sites on your scalp and the connections between them. The results can be compared to norms and, using a symptom questionnaire, it can be determined what needs adjustment. Using computer displays and sound systems, you (more accurately, your brain) can be guided to greater balance and improved functionality.
Check out my new website: neuroshaping.com.
You too can be a neuronaut!
There is the traditional Buddhist concept of the five hindrances: sense desire, anger, restlessness and remorse, sloth and torpor and doubt. Anyone who has meditated has encountered them at some point or another. Overcoming them is thought to be essential for progress in meditation.
What implications might this have for using neuroshaping devices for improving meditation?
Let's assume that there are EEG signatures for meditation states and that the EEGs of advanced practitioners exhibit those signatures whereas beginners don't. One approach to technologically boosting meditation that might readily come to mind is that we should try and reproduce in the beginner those states of the advanced practitioner through neurofeedback. However, this ignores the fact that those advanced practitioners got to those states by overcoming hindrances. If, as many meditation teachers say, we are already enlightened and we have to remove the "dust" that obscures this, then it makes sense to focus on removing these obstacles rather than trying to "force" a state that is already there but obscured.
Perhaps the most ambitious and promising approach to assessing and training the brain is by OpenBCI (openbci.com). They have developed a 3D printed headgear with dry electrodes that they say can be applied in 30 seconds. You can make your own headgear if you own a 3D printer or order one from them. They have 4, 8 and 16 channel systems and software that goes with it. They plan a 61 ultracortex 3D printed headgear.
It is all open source. I am getting the headgear printed and have ordered the unprintable parts. I am going to see if it works with the equipment that I have. Tune in for progress reports.
Scroll down their home page to check out their Kickstarter video that explains their project.
He posits four assumptions to simplify the discussion. Embedded in these assumptions is the idea that there are switches in the brain that can turn off and on or dim the self makes me uneasy. This seems to push the concept of neural correlates for states of mind a tad too far. I would hold, along with many theorists in cognitive science (Clark, O'Reilly, Chalmers, Hutto, Chemero, Varella, Thompson, Noe), that the mind is more than the brain, that it is extended, situated, enacted and embodied and includes language, cultural and social practices, tools and technology. Why is this relevant and not just a quibble? Because working on the brain in abstraction without taking all these extensions into consideration will not likely lead to the kind of results that Shinzen Young foresees.
I appreciate that he sees that the "conceptual content" of practice is one of the necessary components of a technological approach to aiding meditation. I have noticed in my experiences with clinical neurofeedback that people sometimes just want to fix their brains without altering their approach to life and what perpetuates the dysfunction that led them to seek treatment. Similarly, with meditation, it is essential to alter perspectives and attitudes. Traditionally sila (wholesome conduct) is the foundation of the path to liberation. The "techno-boosts" that he talks about are potentially accelerants rather than replacements of meditation practice.
I am not sure that lesions (even reversible ones) are the path to arhatship, and zapping the brain (as opposed to measuring it and getting feedback) does not appeal to me. Whatever technologies we use for aiding meditation should be well-understood and safe. The virtue of biofeedback in general and EEG neurofeedback in particular is that they have been around for a long time, they are non-invasive and, even when unwanted effects occur (and they can), they can be easily reversed or the effects simply fade away with time if they are not reinforced.
Vandrico's CEO, Gonzalo Tudela, did a TedxTalk on wearable technology in 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8tnYt30L-A Interesting: As much as wearable technology is potentially revolutionary, his projection of the adoption of it (50% of the population using wearable technology by February, 2015) appears to be (more than) a bit off.