According to the Wikipedia entry “(i)n acoustics a beat is an interference pattern between two sounds of slightly different frequencies, perceived as a periodic variation in volume whose rate is the difference of the two frequencies.” Further, a binaural beat is “… an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, with less than a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented to a listener dichotically (one through each ear)”. If the two frequencies are, say, 5 Hz apart as in 500 and 505 Hz, then a third tone at 5 Hz will be heard in addition to the two pure tones. What this technique allows for is the creation of an apparent auditory signal that can be perceived and that is at a predictable frequency. In this way, relatively low frequencies can be generated that can be easily perceived and that can correspond to the common brainwave frequency bands. These are often categorized as delta (0.5 – 4 Hz), theta (4 – 7 Hz), alpha (8 – 12 Hz), and beta (13 – 16 Hz). You may find somewhat different ranges and bands other than these listed depending on the source you consult. It is also possible to produce flashes of light that can be administered within these frequency bands but there is some risk of inducing seizures in susceptible individuals. While the most common frequency range for inducing seizures is 15 – 25 Hz, unfortunately, the possible range is 1 – 65 Hz, which covers essentially the whole range of standard EEG frequency bands. This makes use of sound stimulation safer than visual or combined audio/visual stimulation.
Recently developed entrainment software has been designed to correct specific imbalances in hemispheric activity associated with undesirable mind-states. For example, people suffering with depression often have more activity in the right hemisphere, and specially designed brainwave music decreases this activity while increasing activity in the left hemisphere, reducing depression.
Do note the pre-sets slightly below to the right. Remember: Delta is for deep sleep. Theta is associated with dreaminess. Alpha is a blank or relaxed state of mind and Beta is when you’re active. Try to clear your mind of any thoughts and expectations, and set the volume to an acceptable level. You can play around, but try to give a minute or two for your state of choice. At first glance, you’d think this sounds like an alien spaceship, if not a microwave or a washing machine. Whatever it sounds like to you, if you give it an open mind you will notice there is something weird about this after all. Hopefully, your chosen frequency will have guided you towards the intended effect!
Your brainwave activity during sleep is largely distinct from your brain activity when you’re awake. (REM sleep is one exception to this—during REM, your brain is active in ways very much like when you’re awake.) During non-REM sleep, the slower, lower frequency theta and delta waves dominate, compared to the alpha and beta waves that are prominent when you’re alert and active.
In the average person, the activity of one brain hemisphere is dominant over the other, called brain lateralization. This hemispheric imbalance leads us to experience the world in a black and white way, perceiving separation over connectedness. When brainwave entrainment is used to synchronize brainwave activity in both hemispheres simultaneously, a person can more easily integrate information from all parts of the brain and solve problems with greater intelligence and sensitivity.
In Theta, you are in a waking dream, receptivity is heightened and you are able to access knowledge and information that normally lies beyond your conscious awareness. As flashes of vivid imagery dance before your mind's eye, you may feel a "floating" sensation as your mind expands beyond the boundaries of your body. In this deeply relaxed state don't be surprised to receive sudden insights, inspiration or a sense of knowing.
Today we're going to put on our headphones, kick back in the beanbag, and get mellow to the soothing sounds of the latest digital drug: binaural beats. These computer generated sound files are said to massage your brain and produce all sorts of effects, everything from psychedelic experiences to behavior modification. Let's point our skeptical eye at the science of binaural beats, and especially at some of the claims made for them.