In order to understand brainwave entrainment you first have to understand something about brain waves and electroencephalograms (EEG). Neurons are cells that communicate with each other through electrical conduction. When a neuron fires it creates a small electrical and magnetic field. These fields are far too small to measure by placing electrodes on the scalp, or even on the surface of the brain. The only reason we can detect the electrical fields of the brain is because many neurons are firing together – in synchrony. All brain waves that are measured by an EEG, therefore, represent a large group of neurons firing together.
Cory Allen [b. 1982] is a composer and mastering engineer living in Austin, Texas. His work focuses on the cultivation of human perception with the intent of altering the listener's state of consciousness. Allen's music is deep, patient, meditative, highly-conceptual and often composed by implementing self-organizing structures, rule-based performances, set pitch classes and a wide variety of instruments.
Brainwave Entrainment has been used possibly as far back as 200AD, where Ptolemy of the Ancient Greeks noted the effect of flicking sunlight created by a spinning wheel. The first recorded clinical application was by a French psychologist, who again used a spinning wheel but this time illuminated with a lantern instead of the sun. He noted that his patients appeared calmer when they looked into the flickering light, so he used it as a relaxation technique whenever it was needed.
Many studies on mindfulness meditation, assessed in a review by Cahn and Polich in 2006, have linked lower frequency alpha waves, as well as theta waves, to meditation. Much older studies report more specific findings, such as decreased alpha blocking and increased frontal lobe specific theta activity. Alpha blocking is a phenomenon where the active brain, normally presenting beta wave activity, cannot as easily switch to alpha wave activity often involved in memory recall. These findings would suggest that in a meditative state a person is more relaxed but maintains a sharp awareness. Two large, recent comprehensive review works, however, point to poor control and statistical analyses in these early studies and comment that it can only be said with confidence that increased alpha and theta wave activity exists.
Studies have shown binaural beats may affect levels of dopamine, a hormone that plays a broad role in cognition and a particular role in creative thinking. This has scientists examining the possibility that binaural beats can be used to stimulate creativity. (If you’re looking to be more creative and innovative in your thinking, keep in mind that sleep itself is a powerful tool!)
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.