News Notes

Zip Dobyns

Over the years, I have periodically described some of the biofeedback research being conducted in Topeka, KS at the Menninger Foundation, and, more recently, at the Life Sciences Institute. Using instruments which inform the subjects of their current brain waves frequencies, the subjects can learn to alter their own brain activity. They can produce more of the helpful frequencies and less of the ones which are associated with problems: physical, emotional, and/or mental.

For example, chronic hospitalized alcoholics were found to be unable to function easily in the alpha level with brain frequencies of around 9 to 12 cycles per second (cps). Alpha is associated with being relaxed, letting the mind just wander without being focused on anything in particular, feeling comfortable and at ease. When the alcoholics learned to produce more alpha, they no longer needed alcohol to help them to relax. No one really knows how the brain manages to change its usual frequencies, but when the subject is given the information of what the brain is doing, either by a sound or a light when the brain is in the desired frequency level, it learns to do more of it. The basic requirements are the motivation (desire) and the information provided by the biofeedback machine of what the brain is currently doing.

Brain-damaged individuals had a different problem. They would suddenly “space-out” in the middle of a conversation or while working on a task which required focused attention, both of which require beta level frequencies which are 13 cps or higher. The biofeedback machine showed that their brains were interrupting the beta focus with theta spikes. Their brains would briefly drop down to 5 to 7 cps, the range which is present when we are just sliding into sleep or just waking up. The sleep range called delta is 4 cps or lower. The subjects would be disoriented by this interruption of their normal thinking processes and would lose track of what was happening. These subjects learned to inhibit the theta range, to remain in the beta level.

Epileptics have been similarly helped. They often have a brief signal when an epileptic attack is imminent, and some were able to learn to abort the attack. The Life Sciences Institute in Topeka has more recently broadened their work with alcoholics to include drug addicts, including young delinquents, and they are having good success with them.

During my last visit to Los Angeles, I learned of a therapist in that area who is doing much the same type of work, with similar findings and results. Margaret Ayers has been researching biofeedback for 20 years, and reports some amazing success. She brought five patients out of Level-Two coma using her neurofeedback device which displays the shape and electrical strength of a patient’s brain waves on a computer screen. Level-Two coma means the patient is unable to respond to sound, verbal commands, light, touch, or pressure. A 21 year old patient named Peter who had been in a coma for 3 months following 8 brain surgeries to remove a baseball-sized tumor was given a 60-minute session that trained his brain to make small responses to electrical stimulation. He then snapped out of his coma, opened his eyes, and kissed his wife. After 4 more one-hour sessions, spaced one month apart, Peter was able to speak, eat, and move one side of his body. A 21 year old patient who had been in a coma for two years following a motorcycle accident came out of his coma after 2 one-hour treatments.

Ayers says that once the brain learns how to change its beat, the new wave patterns are permanent. Mastering neurofeedback is like learning to ride a bicycle. Once we develop the skill, we don’t forget it. Benefits include improvements in short-term memory, concentration, speech, motor skills, energy level, sleep regularity, and emotional balance. Ayers sees it as helpful for serious brain disorders and injuries including migraine, cluster headaches, oxygen deprivation, attention deficit disorders, epileptic seizures, dyslexia, depression, closed head injury, stroke, and coma. I was especially impressed by the fact that the extensive work by Ayers verified the Topeka finding that the theta level of 5 to 7 cps was so often the source of problems, including motor control in epilepsy, insomnia, attention deficits, stroke, and head injury. Many therapies have brought some relief but not directly dealt with the actual results of post-concussion syndrome such as the phasic spikes, petit mal variant activity, headaches, vertigo, memory loss, reductions in concentration, and depression. The biofeedback training helped to correct the central nervous system damage and inhibit the abnormal (theta) activity associated with headaches, sensitivity to sound and light, loss of concentration, personality change, learning difficulties, seizures, etc.

Ayers has published many research reports about her work in scientific journals. From what I have read so far, she stays within the paradigm of materialistic science which equates the brain with the mind. Her work can even be acceptable to Skinnerian Operant Conditioning if one ignores the open question of how the brain learns new habits when provided with information and motivation. For those who accept the possibility that the mind is more than the physical brain, and that at the subconscious level, minds are connected, open to each other, there is another potential explanation for the problems associated with the theta level of brain waves. Rather than being a simple slowing of the brain functions, the theta level has been associated with psychic openness. It seems possible that psychic input from the sea of consciousness in which we are immersed could be a source of confusion, anxiety, etc. to individuals whose control has been threatened. Finding they can learn to voluntarily change their physical, emotional, and mental functioning brings increased self-confidence, countering the depression that stems from feelings of vulnerability and helplessness. If some individuals are also being confused or distracted by psychic input coming in at the theta range, learning to shut this off when it is not wanted would also be helpful.

One of the hand-outs at the 1997 Council Grove Conference was a set of abstracts from the Journal of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies. The organization (ISSSEEM) was founded in the fall of 1989 and has annual conferences in addition to publishing a journal. Much of the research reported in the abstracts involves biofeedback, but there are also reports on healing at a distance, on parapsychological research, on creativity, and many other areas which are normally ignored or attacked by materialistic science. I had never read the journal or attended one of the conferences, which are costly, so was not familiar with the wide range they covered. I discovered that several research projects were related to astrology but were focused on a search for correlations with physical forces. An article in Volume 1, Number 1 correlated geomagnetic activity and anomalous cognition (psychic experiences). Some but not all studies found increased psi openness on days with lower geomagnetic activity. In Volume 1, Number 2, an article correlated geomagnetic activity and violent behavior. In the latter study, direct indices of geomagnetic activity were not correlated with the incidence of violent crime measured nationwide, but sunspot numbers were found to be significant. Volume 2, Number 3 also reported a study looking at possible correlations between the mind, the body, and local, global, and cosmic environments. Success in psychic experiments was greater on days with less background radiation and lower numbers of sunspots. Volume 5, Number 3 included an article on lunar correlations of normal, abnormal, and anomalous human behavior. Variables showing sudden changes on the day of the full moon included crisis calls, suicide, and psychiatric admission rates. Variables showing significant differences between the waning and waxing moon included homicide and crisis calls. I have only the abstracts, so have not read the complete articles. The last one is the most intriguing since I have read other articles about similar research carried out by skeptical scientists who failed to find any correlations between the moon and human crimes or psychological crises. We do not believe what we see: we see what we believe. Skeptics will choose data samples which confirm their materialistic beliefs and those open to astrology can find data samples which support it. We attract or are attracted to whatever fits our beliefs so we constantly reinforce them. As I wrote in the Dodona update in the Pisces 1997 Mutable Dilemma, the accident research which is being slowly carried out by Mark, Sara Klein, and me, continues to support a worldview with mind as the ultimate reality and cultural variables playing a major role in how people relate to the world. We all tend to find a few facts and theories which fit our preferred worldview, and then universalize them. It will take an enormous amount of truly open-minded research to discover whether there are truly universal principles.

I plan to join ISSSEEM to get their journal in the future. If any other readers are interested, you can reach them at 356 Golden Circle, Golden, CO 80403. (303) 278-2228. E-mail: Website:

One of the psychiatrists who attends the Council Grove Conference regularly has carried out several interesting research projects involving areas ignored by mainline science. Stuart Twemlow sent me a copy of a recent investigation of near-death experiences and UFO abductions. He and others see many similarities between these experiences, and they think that both are largely paranormal (psychic) in nature. Stu outlines a variety of positions on what is referred to as the “mind-body problem.”

I Dualism: two realms exist, 1)matter and 2)spirit in metaphysical terms, or mind in nonmetaphysical terms.

A. Interactionism: bodily actions and consciousness affect each other, as posited by Rene Descartes and in the introspection of William James.

B. Parallelism: brain activity and consciousness are perfectly correlated but do not interact, as posited by Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz.

C. Epiphenomenalism: consciousness is an acausal byproduct of brain functioning, as posited by B.F. Skinner.

II Monism: only one realm exists

A. (Scientific) Materialism: only the objective world exists, as in the behaviorism of John B. Watson.

B. Idealism: only the subjective world exists, as posited by George Berkeley.

C. Identity Hypothesis: body and mind are two inherent aspects of one basic substance or matter, as posited by Herbert Feigl.

D. Structural Identity Hypothesis: body and mind are two apparent aspects of one basic structure, depending on the vantage point of the observer, as in the integrated psychodynamic perspective and Gordon Globus’ hypothesis.

E. Emergent Evolutionism: brain function and consciousness are emergent properties of the complex nature of the human organism, as posited by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

F. Metaphysical Idealism: mind is a sixth sense and creates suffering (dukkha) by mind objects (thoughts), as in the “Mind Only” school of Buddhism, which is very similar to the subjective idealism of George Berkeley.

Stu’s article is too complex for me to do justice to it, but much of it agrees with the theory offered by our church that what we experience is actually our evaluation of our experiences and that previous beliefs and expectations play a major role in the results in our lives. Stu mentions a remarkable experiment by Robert Rosenthal in 1977 in which rats trained by experimenters who believed the rats were bright performed better in mazes than rats they believed were dumb, even though in reality the rats were no different in brightness. Stu also mentions that much learning is “state-dependent,” and we may not remember experiences which occurred in a different mental “state.” This could help explain the memory-loss of events which took place in an “altered” or paranormal state of consciousness which seems to be the case with many “abduction” experiences.

Another important factor is the degree to which an individual has helpful theories which “make sense,” which offer meaningful explanations for experiences. Different paradigms may be useful in different situations. The degree to which an individual is committed to a given paradigm or belief system is also an important part of their ability to deal with new experiences. The clash of paradigms can lead to confusion or religious wars. Most of the reports of near-death experiences have emphasized their positive nature while most reports of UFO abductions have described them as negative experiences, but a wider contact with the literature uncovers a mixture of reactions. The attitudes of the investigators play a major role in the types of abductees they attract, and near-death experiences (NDEs) in other cultures with other religious beliefs were often more threatening than the pleasant ones typical of the U.S.

I suspect that at this level of consciousness, we are not capable of understanding the infinite complexity of the cosmos, but our theories/beliefs play such a major role in creating our lives that we had better become conscious of them In the fall of 1996, I wrote a small, partly humorous article listing a variety of beliefs which have been or are being held by groups of people. With each belief system, I included the responses which would be logical if one believed in those theories about the nature of reality and life. More recently, I added a small postscript. Both follow this article.

Copyright © 1997 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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