Wake Up Your Mind the Scientific Way

| July/August 1998

The scientific basis of genius, even more elusive than anecdotal observations and behavioral theories, is nevertheless an area ripe for exploration. Some have traipsed in this territory, including the late Maxwell Cade, a British psychobiologist and biophysicist. He and electronics expert Geoffrey Blumdell developed a special electroencephalograph (EEG), dubbed the Mind Mirror, to measure different frequencies in each brain hemisphere and thus map various states of mind. Cade was particularly struck by a pattern he called 'awakened mind.'

Anna Wise, author of The High-Performance Mind (Tarcher/Putnam, 1997), continued Cade's investigations in the United States. She found that the awakened-mind pattern was 'produced at the moment of creative inspiration, regardless of a person's spiritual dogma, belief, or tradition. The musician composing, the choreographer creating a dance, and the artist painting all produced this combination at times of peak creativity.' So too did scientists performing experiments and mathematicians solving difficult equations.

In her book, Wise describes four types of brain waves and the kinds of activities that might produce them. At the top of the pattern are beta waves, associated with logical thinking, concrete problem-solving, and focus on the outside world. In a waking state, most people produce splayed beta waves, indicating an overabundance of mental activity: planning, judging, making lists. Too much beta can mean anxiety, tension, and panic -- or what we may refer to as the stress of everyday life.

Next down in the pattern are alpha waves, associated with daydreaming, fantasizing, and visualization. They are the bridge between the conscious and the subconscious mind. Most of us don't produce enough alpha. The initial biofeedback research in the late '50s and '60s involved discovering how to amplify alpha waves, which, researchers found, can be done by relaxing, closing your eyes, and following guided imagery exercises.

Below the alphas are theta waves, also linked to meditative states. Theta is the subconscious, the seat of memories, sensations, and emotions. Active during dreaming sleep and deep meditation, these waves are also the repository of suppressed creativity and inspiration.

Delta waves form the base of the pattern; they are the unconscious mind. Intuition and empathy exist here, as a sort of personal radar active during deep sleep, yet also present in waking states.

Within each brain-wave category is a range of frequencies, which provide each of us with a 'signature pattern.' But the awakened-mind pattern is distinctive: It's characterized by strong alpha waves and creates the exhilarating, inspired, transcendent feeling of 'knowing that you know.' To produce this pattern, one must first clear out all the beta waves, practice meditations that induce both alpha and theta, then add the beta back in to achieve the conscious content necessary for creative endeavors. The last step is not so simple: You need the right frequencies and quantities of beta to accomplish your purpose.