I have been involved in biofeedback since 1977 and neurofeedback since 1993. During this time I have seen giant leaps in the use of faster and faster computers to aid in the brain’s ability to see and understand its own electrical energy states.
In general people have used neurofeedback instruments to measure changes in the brain while neurofeedback as a field spans the spectrum from treatment using cause and effect models to simple training to enhance flexibility.
My interest is in allowing the brain to receive feedback on its own state and to seek greater synchronicity and coherence. I use the software and hardware developed by Val Brown, who is the developer of the Zengar software, www.zengar.com
Early History of Neurofeedback
Luigi Galvani in 1791 gave us evidence of the electrical nature of the nervous system. His research was done on the leg nerves of frogs. From his work we found that skin conductivity could be measured.
The GSR, named after Galvani, is used to measure the reactivity of the skin when exposed to various stimuli.
Carl Jung was the first to recognize that this instrument could be used to measures subjects response to emotionally loaded words in his famous word association experiments.
The measurement of the electrical energy in the brain had to wait until 1924 when Hans Buerger named the first brain waves he measured as ALPHA (8-12).The next range he discovered was beta. (12-42 Hz) Later he showed that delta 0-4 was associated with deep trauma and sleep.
And then theta (4-8 Hz) was associated with emotional recall and or hypnotic trance states.
In 1943 Gibbs and Knott studied the growth and development of EEG through the life cycle showing how each stage differed in function.
In the 1960s researchers showed that brain wave states are correlated with states of consciousness. Joe Kamaya showed that subjects could identify brain wave states, and then in the late 1960’ Basmajian discovered that people could learn to control neuron firing without knowing how they did it.
Barbara Brown spelled this out in her book Stress and the Art of Biofeedback.
During this time Elmer and Alyce Green at the Menninger Institute, found that people could enter theta states and recover childhood memories, or have deep spiritual or creative experiences. They noted the corresponding improvements in the immune system.
In 1969 Karl Pigram s wrote an article for Scientific American that demonstrated that the storage of memory was not restricted to specific localities but that the brain was “holographic.”
The holographic brain theory, originated by psychologist Karl Pribram and initially developed in collaboration with physicist David Bohm, is a model for human cognition that is drastically different from conventionally accepted ideas: Pribram and Bohm posit a model of cognitive function as being guided by a matrix of neurological wave interference patterns situated temporally between holographic Gestalt perception and discrete, affective, quantum vectors derived from reward anticipation potentials.Pribram was originally struck by the similarity of the hologram idea and Bohm’s idea of the implicate order in physics, and contacted him for collaboration. In particular, the fact that information about an image point is distributed throughout the hologram, such that each piece of the hologram contains some information about the entire image, seemed suggestive to Pribram about how the brain could encode memories. (Pribram, 1987). Pribram was encouraged in this line of speculation by the fact that DeValois and DeValois (1980) had found that “the spatial frequency encoding displayed by cells of the visual cortex was best described as a Fourier transform of the input pattern.” (Pribram, 1987) This holographic idea leads to the coining of the term “holonomic” to describe the idea in wider contexts than just holograms. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holonomic_brain_theory Thomas Budzynski, using the technique of Joseph Wolphe, found ways to decondition phobias and anxiety problems. He and John Picchiottino developed the first alpha training tool. He went on to develop Twilight learning tools enabling people to accept positive ideas during theta states. http://www.hypnopage.com/theta/happier.html
The first research went in the direction of “unconscious states” or the lower brain waves ranges.
Next, was the research into the higher range that are used in mental alertness and problem solving.
One of the originators of the field Barry Sternum, Val Brown notes, should have been awarded a Nobel Prize for his original contribution noting that increasing the sensory motor rhythm (SMR-15 hertz) would inhibit seizures.
SMR/beta biofeedback developed from operant conditioning of cats’ EEG. Barry Sterman of UCLA serendipitously discovered that when cats were exposed to toxic chemicals that usually induce epileptic seizures, those who had been trained in the middle to high frequency range (12-20 Hz) from a previous unrelated experiment had greater latency to seizure onset, and a higher threshold for seizure onset, than untrained cats. These results were replicated in monkeys and humans. The results with humans were subsequently replicated in some twelve research centers, comprising some twenty studies. http://www.eegspectrum.com/HealthProfFAQ/
A student of Barry Sternum was Margaret Ayers. In 1976 she founded the first clinic specializing in EEG biofeedback. She developed her won technology and had extraordinary results for patients with closed head injury. Her focus was on lowering theta and increasing SMR. (12-15 Hz) http://www.neuropathways.com/publications/eegneuro.html Siegfried and Susan Othmer (read Jim Robinsons A Symphony in the Brain) found that beta training at C3, the central part of the left hemisphere had a positive effect on mental energy and concentration. http://www.brianothmerfoundation.org/siegfriedcv.htm Joel Lubar and others presented very convincing evidence on how to modulate learning disorders by enhancing SMR. There is a great deal of research on ADD and ADHD by Lubar.
Then, Gene Peneston, in 1988 presented his work on using an alpha theta protocol to enable end of the line alcoholic veterans, to recover brain functioning and kick the habit. A majority of these alcoholics were able give up abusing alcohol after one month of training. The mainstream press mostly ignored these research efforts.
Additional methods have been reasonably successful with many disorders besides ADD and other attention issues. But it still takes about 40 sessions for most people to get the brain to shift over and function at a more attentive level, using the models now available to treat ADDS
Please see The Healing Power of Neurofeedback by Stephen Larsen, PhD. for more details.
The Five-Phase Model
The new system (NCP), which Val Brown developed, combined the best of the protocols into his five-phase model. The advantage was to move beyond individual diagnosis and turn more towards a fault tolerant system that could be used more as information for the central nervous system.
Training is the descriptive world. It is not treatment for mental or physical health. Optimal states can be discovered without falling back on the medical model. We have seen a slow shift away from specific usage for specific problems to more generalized use by coaches and teachers for optimal functioning using the NCP training systems.
Now we have the evidence that the brain and the central nervous system work together to produce stability.
Earlier as a student, Val learned about non-linear control dynamics, and the work of Karl Pribram and Dennis Gabor.
My interpretation of Val’s work is that information in the brain is time sensitive, and goes through phase transitions. The question was how to highlight the firing of those parts of the brain that have transformative potential.
The brain is a self-referencing and self-organizing system that operates through chaos.
The goal of the central nervous system is to detect differences and to minimize discomfort.
This kind of renormalizing of the brain can be done if information is presented to the CNS in a form that the brain finds both effective and pleasing. If the brain can understand this information about the state of the brain, then the brain can renormalize.
The goal of NCP as I hear Val Brown’s viewpoint, is to simply increase resilience and flexibility.
Here is a useful explanation from Val Brown in 2007Other systems and approaches rely on training
the client’s CNS to move to or away from some particular pattern(s) of brainwave activity.
Whether the guiding principle concerns “too much” alpha, “too little” alpha, “too much”
coherence, “too little” coherence or whatever, the fundamental organizing principle is that
there is some “optimal” state and various “non-optimal” or “pathological” states and that
the training needs to target the later so as to achieve the former.We don’t do that or anything like that. I do not find that it is really useful in the end to try
to shove, push, lead, nudge or provoke the CNS to go to — or away from — any particular
profile or pattern. Actually it’s all far, far simpler.
The brain is a self-organizing, non-linear, dynamical system. It has its own intrinsic
healthy chaos. What we choose to call “disorder” etc is best understood as being some
form of constraint on the intrinsic self-organizing capabilities of the CNS. If we simply
interrupt it — when it is perturbing itself — then it will release back into the present and,
in doing so, will release that process of perturbing and unbalancing itself.
The “waves” in the brain settle by themselves when not perturbed just like the surface of
the lake settles when it’s not perturbed by the wind or things being thrown into it.
Now it’s really not optimal to think of brain activity as coming in “waves”. What others call “brain waves” are really brain phasors and so sine waves and simple sinusoids are not the best model for their actual way of working, but that’s a different matter for a different
email. The fundamental idea here is really that the overall process of neurofeedback can
be really simple — if you use NeuroCARE and if you use it in our default recommended
way of working.
If you would like to read more on the history please click over to