Taming the Beast Within

Taming the inner monster The Brain from Planet Arous  1957

Taming the inner monster
The Brain from Planet Arous 1957

Inside each of us dwells a chaotic, unpredictable monster — a beast that leads us into no end of trouble. For ages, humans have been blaming the devil, or evil spirits, for their own capricious and destructive choices. But thanks to the miracle of modern neuroscience, we now know that it is we — ourselves — that we have to blame. Specifically, it is our restless and untamed beastly brains that lead us rampaging and stampeding down those precarious canyon trails, littered with bones, blood, and broken dreams.

Now that we are grown, raised, and educated — the damage already having been done — how can we learn to tame our dark, beastly, willful minds, that lead us oft astray?

The first step might be to look inside our brains, to see what is actually happening. Thanks to neuroscience, we can look inward using fMRI, MEG, PET, SPECT, HEG, and — most readily — EEG. In fact, even toys and video games can contain EEG sensors that can be hacked to provide a window into the brain. The easier solution is to buy a ready-made EEG headband.

Once you can see what your brain is doing with EEG, you can learn to train your EEG — and your brain — using neurofeedback.

Melon had developed a headband to gauge people’s focus by performing an electroencephalogram, which measures a brain’s electrical activity… [The technology will] eventually monitor a user’s heart rate, skin temperature, stress level and fatigue… Companies could monitor their workers’ health, potentially improving workplace safety. __ Internal Monitors You Wear

The advanced monitor described above would measure not only EEG, but also heart rate, skin temperature, fatigue levels, and stress. But you can discover a great deal about your inner thought processes from monitoring your EEG alone.

Commercial EEG headbands:

Melon, featured above
Brain wave detectors in toys that can be hacked
Open EEG — Open sourcing EEG “for the rest of us”

Remember, once you can monitor what your brain is doing in real time, you can learn to train your own brain waves to do more of what you want them to do. You will need to learn more about the different parts of your brain, and what different brain wave frequencies can tell you — depending upon where in the brain the waves are originating. But once you learn to tame the savage beast within — little by little — you may achieve a sense of mastery and competence that will allow you to move beyond your present level.

Brain Stimulation

Another approach to taming the brain, is the use of various forms of stimulation — including electrical and magnetic. The history of electrical brain stimulation goes back thousands of years. But to save time, we will look back only about 235 years, to an accidental discovery by a Dutch scientist:

In 1783, Jan Ingenhousz, a Dutch scientist, accidentally picked up a charged Leyden jar, causing an explosion that made him temporarily lose his memory, judgment, and ability to read and write. Having found his way home with great difficulty, he went to sleep. He woke to find that his mental faculties had not only returned but had sharpened: “I saw much clearer the difficulties of every thing,” he wrote in a letter to Benjamin Franklin. “What did formerly seem to me difficult to comprehend, was now become of an easy solution.”

… Electrotherapy on living people gained popularity in the nineteenth century. By 1850, European and American asylums used galvanization to treat hysteria, menstrual pain, depression, and psychosis. Machines for electrotherapy were sold in London department stores and leased at seaside resorts. An 1871 electrotherapy textbook outlines treatments for hundreds of conditions, such as alcoholism, paralysis, dyspepsia, mutism, and “neurasthenia”…

The resurgence of interest in electrical brain stimulation began in 2000, after scientists in Göttingen proved that low-current “galvanization,” the procedure now known as tDCS, could change brain function. This discovery coincided with a wave of interest in neuroplasticity—the brain’s capacity for change—and with the rise of increasingly sophisticated imaging tools, like fMRI. The number of tDCS studies has risen steadily since 2000, with more than four hundred studies published last year. __ Electrified

Direct Current stimulation of the brain appears to alter nerve potentials in the brain, making nerves either more or less likely to discharge, depending upon whether the anode or the cathode is positioned over them.

Before you dive into tDCS experimentation for yourself, I recommend doing a bit of reading for yourself first. As in EEG, one can either buy a ready-made tDCS headband, or learn to make one for himself.

tDCS Clinical Trials Database

Do it yourself tDCS

tDCS News

foc.us Off the shelf product

TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation utilises pulsing magnetic fields, rather than the constant low amperage DC current in tDCS, to temporarily modify brain potentials. TMS is thought to be a more potent form of brain stimulation, suggesting that more caution be used before experimenting on oneself with magnetic pulses.

Magnetic zap strengthens memory

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Industrial Strength (and priced) TMS system

There are many ways of training our brains to be more stable, predictable, and productive-on-demand. Today, we have briefly looked at a few technology-assisted approaches to taming the mature brain. Here is one more: fMRI neurofeedback training for emotional regulation. Thought-provoking, but most people can’t afford a home fMRI machine.

In the past, we have discussed why “everything you think you know, just ain’t so.” We have also looked at how unconscious trance processes can take over our thoughts and actions in erratic and unpredictable ways.

In the future, we will look more in depth at a few more esoteric — non-technological — approaches.

Of course, over at The Dangerous Child blog, we are just beginning to explain how young minds can be gently and playfully trained to become their best and most optimally functioning selves, from the beginning. It is a time-consuming process, but doing so frees the child’s mind immensely to focus on more important matters than dealing with phobias and other self-defeating trances.

Waiting until you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or even later, to begin taming the wild beast within, will not save you any time.

It is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood. And never too early.

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