Illuminating our world and our eyes, the human mind is the perfect audience for light & sound. From dark and creepy to bright and majestic, our mood is very much affected the moment these elements come into play. To understand the realm of light & sound a bit more, we're going to examine the truth behind "brainwave entrainment," to determine whether they can effect our psyche in a truly impactful way.
Let There Be Light
It arrived in a box typical of your everyday retail gadget, the Procyon Mind Machine. One of few brainwave entrainment devices available for purchase on the internet, the Procyon came highly reviewed and recommended. With previous experience in meditation, this "mind machine" intrigued me with its supposed 255 shades of color. Helping with a variety of mental states, the device supposedly assists with sleep, relaxation and learning. There are some pitfalls to reading the labels however, since there is very little research or knowledge about these machines and high-expectations can sometimes cloud the results.
On the machine there are numerous programs to choose from which feature different mixes of binaural beats and isochronic tones. Selecting a "sleep" program will induce the brain into a calmer, sedative state, while choosing learning programs increases focus and alertness.
According to whichever program is selected, the machine plays the beats through headphones connected to the device. Also connected are dark-shade sunglasses with integrated LEDs attached inside and directed towards the eyes. The system works by using a set frequency of beats and LED flashes designed to "synchronize" our brain into various mental states. There are five frequencies our brains are known to enter, Alpha (deep relaxation), Beta (waking consciousness), Theta (light meditation/sleeping), Delta (deep sleep), and Gamma (insight).
Users are instructed to close their eyes while operating a mind machine, since looking directly into an LED can cause damage to the eyes after extended viewing. As the eyes are closed, waves of colors sweep over as binaural music puts the user into a deep trance and which allows them to enter different states of consciousness.
I wasn't sure what to expect much from a device that flashed lights on your eyelids and played strange music. The real question you may be wondering is whether this gadget truly works the way brainwave entrainment is supposed to. All I really say to that is...perhaps.
Having logged over 100 real-time hours on the machine, it's effectiveness is without question. Originally purchased for its help with meditation, I practiced using different programs daily and definitely didn't "mind" putting on this machine. Every session was like being at a rock concert with lights and audio overloading your senses. However, like all fun things, they do end eventually.
With sleep programs I would completely pass out after just a few moments, a definite sign of its effectiveness. Using multi-color shades of blue for sleep, the Procyon had an uncanny ability to induce the mind into coma-like states. Known for its relaxing properties, blue light is also a common shade for mood lighting to promote calmness & relaxation. It's when the machine is set to higher states of awareness that we start to run into problems. With lights flashing and tones beating away, getting to a different mindset was definitely reachable, but felt slightly artificial at times.
The first few months with the gadget provided only minor benefits in clarity and learning. As soon as I stopped expecting to reach deeper states of meditation, that's when the Procyon had some fantastic surprises.
During sessions where my mind was able to really synchronize with the program, strange patterns would also flash in accordance with the lights. Similar to the imprint flash photography leaves on the eyes long after a picture is taken, the flashing LEDs were moving so fast they eventually formed illusions of shapes and patterns which the mind falsely interprets.
The sweeping multi-colored lights seemed to imitate computer visuals mixed through movement and textures. My body also seemed to feel lighter during certain programs and the calming after-effects of sessions would linger noticeably.
Friends With Benefits
Falling asleep with this machine was a breeze of course, it's when people try to put expectations on its brain enhancements that we run into problems. The very nature of this device is limited by the software programmed into each entrainment device and its user.
Since all mind machines usually operate in very similar methods, the "nothingness" and clarity one would receive during normal methods of meditation are potentially overpowered by the binaural beats and flashing stimuli. The Procyon constantly changes frequency according to the set number it is programmed to, so the opportunities for deep thought are "muffled" at times. Some programs also had a strange side-effect in which they increased anxiety instead of reducing it at times.
Long story short, using a mind machine is like entering an automatic door into consciousness, except you don't really know how it works or where the sensor is to trigger and focus on. Every program is pretty much automatic and takes you to a pre-determined state of mind according to the rules and patterns the software is set to, given enough time. Opening a door manually through traditional meditation however, allows for a more dynamic level of consciousness to expand since you can choose at what pace you want the door to open and you know exactly which knob to focus on and turn.
Traditional meditation felt more diverse and natural than being limited to the length and nature of each mechanically-produced beat. Like hearing the same song everyday and trying to get a completely different meaning every-time, programs start to lose their impact after repetitive sessions. Apart from these light issues, the mind machine was impressive aid for sleep and I still use it every so often. Brain entrainment devices will only continue to improve in the future, but until that day, modern-day mind machines are a mostly fun leap into the inner psyche.
For more about the Procyon, click here
Written By: Nick Long