“Is it a fact – or have I dreamt it – that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time?”
— Nathaniel Hawthorne
We partnered with Synctuition to offer all HighExistence readers an exclusive free trial of their personalized binaural beats program. More on this at the end of the post.
I sat still, legs crossed in my own uniquely uncoordinated and inflexible way. The walls buzzed around me as I tried my best to lean back and pay no mind to the humming that was droning through my ears. Just minutes before I had grabbed an old pair of headphones, changed the batteries out, and plugged them into the aux jack on my phone. I opened YouTube and only got through B-i-n before it auto-populated the term binaural beats.
I’d heard about these supposedly mind-altering soundtracks for years now, but kept myself blissfully ignorant, not wanting to be “that guy.” Dare I say the white guy with dreadlocks? Regardless, the first three results totaled about 15 million views and displayed some preposterous titles including the phrases ‘Reach PSYCHIC ABILITIES’ and ‘Third Eye Opening’. With my desire quickly dwindling I thought about healing crystals, patchouli, and some Third Eye Blind classics. Growing up in the 90s won’t allow me to read the words Third Eye without bringing up childhood memories of yesteryear.
With “Semi-Charmed Life” now smoothly lacing my mental background music, I reminded myself of the legitimate science behind the little-known experience of binaural beats. In fact, I knew binaural beats have been found to improve memory capacity, help you relax after workouts, and even treat chronic pain. New programs, like Synctuition, have come to the forefront, providing research highlighting the ability to increase your intuition, state of being, and quality of mood/focus. A fascinating quote elaborates on this premise:
“On the face of it intuition may seem magical, but it is actually a set of complex neural processes involving the whole brain, from basic sensory inputs and low level reflex actions to high level cognitive processes. Intuition is the brain’s ability to solve very difficult or seemingly impossible problems as very complex logical inferences, where the sensory inputs in conjunction with existing memories are working as premises and the intuitive thoughts are the results of these logical inferences.
While every problem-solving task the brain tackles needs “computational” capability, intuition needs remarkably more, despite the fact that it seems to happen automatically, with no conscious effort.”
So as my brow furrowed into my nose, I clicked on the first generic track with lucid dreaming in the title because, well, that’s what I came to do.
Different pulsating sounds trembled through my ears as some light foreground chimes faded in and out, keeping the unkempt rhythm from being too overpowering. As I sat there with eyelids closed I watched my thoughts slowly begin to fade. Or was I just not paying attention to them as much? I sat in the moment as my mind cleared. The humming settled into deep patterns that began breathing life into everything around me until I was catapulted into a space that I can only assume was somewhere near Transcendental Ecstasy Boulevard smack dab in the middle of Lucid Dream Land.
I found myself void of time, watching different parts of my character project and assemble themselves into a hallucinated mass. When the structure had completely formed, I stared at it in astonishment. A nightmarishly beautiful form of me like something straight out of a Vladimir Kush painting was now staring back at me… and I felt compelled to crawl inside.
Still in my dream state, I tucked my foot up and stretched it out until I worked up the courage to approach the being of my thoughts and reach my hand out toward it. It immediately grabbed me by the wrist and engulfed my body just in time for me to snap out of it and notice I was back. I was in my body again and I could feel the vibrations reverberating deep in my cochlea as all my inner ear hairs stood alert like well-trained soldiers. I closed my eyes again and continued sitting there, grasping on to any fleeting concept as to how I’d make sense of what the fuck just happened.
I opened my eyes and looked down at my phone. Thirty-three minutes had passed and it had felt like three. I like to think any EEG would only confirm what I had just gone through, but until I can get my hands on an in-home brain wave device, I can only tell you my anecdote and try to give you some of the science behind the strange world of binaural beats.
Consciousness Is Electricity – How Your Brain Works
That squishy, pale pink image you have of your brain is actually an elaborately constructed organ made of about 86-100 billion neurons. These interconnected cells transmit information through an electrical gradient, producing action potentials that generate nerve impulses. The pulses running across your noggin are measured in varying waves as you move through different versions of consciousness. So when you sleep tonight, you’ll be emitting a different frequency pattern than when you’re currently engaged in reading this article.
The electrical waves travel through your brain and across your nervous system, conducting a brilliant neuro-symphony under the guise of a tenured maestro. Electricity runs through your body, passing along information to an ebb and flow that even Beethoven would marvel at.
Neurons don’t just pass along information though, they simultaneously secrete cocktails of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol into the synapses linking them together. Any slight changes in our electrochemical system can either impede or enhance a myriad of cognitive and physiological processes. Our consciousness relies on these brainwaves, and our perception is altered as different frequencies rise and fall throughout the day.
As sodium and potassium ions swim alongside our neurons, tiny channels — known as sodium potassium pumps — sit along the neurons’ membranes, opening and closing. When the charge inside the neuron becomes too positive, a strong enough signal is produced and its electrical gradient passes the information along to the next nerve in the chain.
Believe it or not, this is how we perceive the world around us. We rely on these discrete processes to produce our consciousness and we rarely think about it.
With binaural beats, the Synctuition team offers a brilliant summary of the base functioning of these mystifying effects:
“Binaural beats, or binaural tones, are auditory processing artifacts, or apparent sounds, caused by specific physical stimuli. A binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, with a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented separately in each ear. The effect on the brainwaves depends on the difference in frequencies of each tone: for example, if 300 Hz was played in one ear and 310 in the other, then the binaural beat would have a frequency of 10 Hz.”
When we see, taste, smell, feel, or hear something, our cells interact with our brain through electricity. Our brains then take the incoming information and construct a mental map of sorts to help us walk, talk, live, and love. Our lives depend on this mind-blowing neuronal infrastructure hard at work underneath our multi-colored flesh facades. Totally unaware of the billions of wizards behind our skin’s “curtains,” we pay no mind to how our consciousness is derived, but fully reap the pains and pleasures it provides.
From Gamma to Delta, Know Your Greek
As your neurons’ sodium-potassium pumps push out differing ions, they press on neighboring cells, which in-turn, nudge their neighbors. This process produces waves of electrical current flowing through your brain, and lucky for us, science has figured out a neat way to measure these patterns through what’s known as electroencephalography (EEG). When scalp electrodes are properly placed around someone’s head, the metal in the electrodes gets pushed or pulled according to the electrical activity being produced by the clusters of neurons at work beneath them. When this activity is measured over time, we begin to see patterns that are known as brainwaves.
Said another way, we have a beautiful summary of EEG and binaural beats taken from the abstract of a study completed by A.-K Becher et al (Becher et al. 2015):
“Human electroencephalography (EEG) activity can be entrained by rhythmic sensory stimulation. In the auditory domain, such so-called steady-state responses can be induced by using repetitive click stimuli. In addition, amplitude-modulated tones or sounds can be employed for steady-state stimulation. Thereby, the steady-state response occurs at the frequency of the amplitude modulation, and not at the carrier frequency. Stimulus-related responses were observed at modulation rates up to 200 Hz, with the largest responses being recorded at approximately 40 Hz.”
As different electrical impulses fire through your brain, you experience a wide array of awareness. Your conscious self can often be found amid a spectrum ranging from a killer flow state as you make a game-winning shot, to a deep dream state where you feel dissociated from your body as you watch unrealistic events happen around you, completely unfazed. Either way, your brain is changing its electrical activity and providing you with different states of cognition. Below is a breakdown of different waves, their frequencies, and a better glimpse at how you may feel when your brain’s emitting each.
So what do all these different brainwaves have to do with binaural beats?
The goal we’re looking to achieve when we strap our headphones on is to entrain our brains in a way that they start emitting the same frequency that they’re perceiving. Each binaural track starts with a different set of tones pinpointed to specific frequencies. When we introduce these new tones to our ears, our brains attempt to synchronize our cognitive systems with them, and in time, our brains’ electrical output can actually become closer to the perceived vibrating stimuli playing in our ears. In theory, this allows us to induce whatever wave of consciousness we desire, effectively hacking our state of being without worrying about being incarcerated.
The video I first chose on lucid dreaming started with tones in the alpha and theta frequency range and slowly transitioned to just theta tones as it looked to really entice that lucid state out and into the open. By listening to the oscillating tones dichotically (a different frequency through each ear), my brain produced a mental response that left me dissociated deep in a theta dream fantasy.
But wait, was this for real?
How We Entrain Our Brains – What is a Binaural Beat?
Entrainment happens when two or more independent systems synchronize to run rhythmically with one another. The next time you’re around new people, try to notice how you change your speech patterns or breath rate to be more in tune with theirs. In some form or another, you’re entraining some aspect of yourself with them. So when your left ear gets filled with a 500 Hz tone and your right is flooded with a 600 Hz tone at the same time, an illusory third tone is created for your brain to entrain with. This is actually what’s known as a binaural beat and what the brain uses for the entrainment.
Because of this, a good set of headphones is necessary for the entrainment to work. When you have individual speakers wrapping around each ear, this created third tone rears its head and helps stimulate the neuronal synchronization.
Binaural beats induce what’s known as neural entrainment as our brains begin reacting to the sustained auditory frequency in a manner as to start producing a similar electrical wave pattern. When binaural beats play through your ears for about 20 minutes or so, your brain can actually change its output to match the input.
The binaural beats vibrate clusters of neurons in your brain until they harmonize their activity to the frequency of the perceived tone. Your neurons repeatedly encode the binaural auditory frequency until the rhythm spills over, mimicking itself in the electrical current running through the cells.
When your brain entrains itself, it effectively alters your state of consciousness. As your brain syncs to these different tones, your perception is skewed and you can begin to experience whatever you were looking for.
My experiences with the beats showed me that this often required a good environment and an unwavering focus on the task at hand. When you begin to feel the shift, enjoy it and ride the waves of electrical bliss as they curl through your cognizance. If you want to be in a lucid dream, you can get there, and if you want to end up finishing your final paper before the semester ends, grab a pair of headphones and strap ‘em on to kill that procrastination.
Entrainment, otherwise known as rhythmic entrainment, has been demonstrated to be radically effective at assisting in the body’s learning mechanism, and when taken in the context of binaural beats’ effect on the body and mind, can be an Archimedean lever to unconsciously train the mind and body. More taken from Synctution’s research:
“The effect of temporal entrainment on motor function through rhythmic auditory stimuli has been well established in motor learning and therapeutic rehabilitation. Temporally structured learning templates (as inherent in most music) may enhance learning and may involve different plastic processes in the brain. Rhythm and music have been associated with providing temporal structure for information encoding. Music rehearsal has been shown to be more effective than verbal rehearsal in learning nonmusical materials.”
Brain Hacking Your Way Through The Week
So what exactly were you looking to do when you started reading this? Were you looking to enhance your focus? Maybe you were like me and figured you’d try to change your meditation up for a week or so. You may have been a skeptic, you may still be. Science continues to come out on the subject, so this article is not without caveat. There isn’t a ton of current research into the subject, so trepidation naturally abounds.
Whatever your opinions are, the only way to know your subjective truth is to try it. But don’t just try it once; stick with it to get a better idea of how these tracks can aid you. Don’t give up after 20 minutes if you don’t feel changes; remember our minds often lie to us, preventing change and/or personal growth.
Over the past week, I’ve introduced different binaural beats to my ears at different times, and it hasn’t always yielded amazing results. Again, they didn’t transfer well to any environment without headphones because the binaural beat can’t truly take effect and begin the entrainment. Even listening to them in the sensory deprivation tank yielded very un-profound results, and left me craving silence until I eventually turned them off altogether.
However, every time I sat down to do something productive I’d have little trouble getting in the zone when the beats were steady vibrating my eardrums.
Whether I fell deep into my inner self and introspectively watched my thoughts assemble in front of me, or settled down to arrange my thoughts on a subject, I tried doing it accompanied to binaural beats. I noticed the effects in the same way a lot of mental strategies show results: subjectively.
So I urge you to try something new in your search to achieve the ever-fleeting state of happiness and a better understanding of the world. When you’re done listening, let me know what your experience was in the comments below!
Synctuition Free Trial
We have a special one for you this time. The team at Synctution have given us an exclusive free trial for all HighExistence readers! Customized specifically to you through your individual voice and tone, experience the serene bliss of binaural beats and 3D soundscapes. Follow the link to take advantage of this; we’ve been using it for a few weeks now and love it!