12 Oct The Plastic Brain, the Holographic Mind and Neurofeedback
What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind.
— Thomas Hewitt Key
The human brain is considered to be the most complex organ in nature. It contains billions of neurons i.e. brain cells (although the exact amount is uncertain) each of which has 100s to 1000s of connections with other neurons. It consumes approximately 20% of the heart’s total output despite comprising only about 1.5-3% of the mass of an average adult. Many scientists claim that we are our brains and that the body is merely a means of keeping our brains alive. Others insist that our brains are nothing more than highly sophisticated computers a byproduct of which is subjective experience also known as consciousness. However, clinical, physical and computational evidence increasingly indicates that there is more to conscious self- awareness than just brain cells generating electricity in the form of action potentials.
Chronic Brain Disorders-Impact
Skeptics and believers are all alike. At this moment scientists and skeptics are the leading dogmatists. Advance in detail is admitted: fundamental novelty is barred. This dogmatic common sense is the death of philosophical adventure. The universe is vast.
—Alfred North Whitehead
Chronic brain disorders including congenital/developmental, mental, traumatic and degenerative represent an enormous emotional, social and economic burden worldwide. For example, according to the CDC, approximately 17% of children from birth to 19 years of age suffer from chronic brain disorders most of which result from developmental, genetic, environmental or traumatic injuries. A parental survey from 2006-2008 published in Pediatrics in 2011 indicates that approximately 15% of children ages 3-17 suffer from neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD, learning disabilities, intellectual disability, epilepsy, disorders of speech and significant hearing and/or visual impairment. ADHD and learning disabilities constituted the majority of these cases. A CDC report from 2012 estimates that approximately 1 in 88 children in the United States have autism or ASD. The United Kingdom Health Service estimates the prevalence of Autism Spectrum disorders among adults to be approximately 1%. A 2011 study from South Korea calculated the prevalence of ASD among 7 to 12-year-olds based on the Autism Spectrum Screening Questionnaire to be nearly 3%. Most of these were undiagnosed.
Perhaps more alarming is the fact that epidemiologic studies indicate that the incidences of these conditions is increasing. Harvard researcher Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D who has extensively studied such trends predicts that half of all children in this
country will be affected by ASD by 2025. Surveys conducted among physicians and educators indicate that these disorders have an increasing incidence. This is also the conclusion of population based studies. Thus, the demand for effective and accessible therapies for chronic brain disorders will grow.
The economic cost of chronic brain disorders, amounting to billions of dollars annually, does not begin to reflect the burden on affected individuals, their families and communities. In 2003, the World Health Organization estimated that chronic brain diseases represented 35% of the total of disability adjusted life years in Europe. Anlin-Sobicki et al. calculated cost of chronic brain disorders in Europe to be 386B Euros in 2004. By 2010 Olesen of the University of Copenhagen put the price of mental and neurologic disorders at 798B Euros of which only 37% represented direct health care costs.
The foregoing clearly indicates the breadth and depth of the impact of chronic neurological disorders on society at large to say nothing of the highly personal burden these diseases have on millions of persons in their daily lives. Importantly, currently available mainstream treatments fall short of providing these individuals improvement of a sufficient degree to lessen the social, psychological and economic impact let alone allowing them to function normally. Much of the lack of effective therapies may result from a limited view of the nature of the brain itself, specifically a reductionist philosophy that asserts that the material brain produces immaterial consciousness.
Sadly, this view informs almost all publicly funded research in neuroscience.
Alternative therapies, particularly energy based ones, for brain disorders have been available for decades, but have not attracted serious consideration from mainstream medicine. One of these therapies, neurofeedback has demonstrated significant benefit for a wide variety of brain disorders such as ADHD, ASD, migraines and PTSD to name a few. The following will attempt to provide another view of the brain, its capacity for change and its relationship to consciousness or the mind which I believe animates the former. It will explain why the current model of the way the brain works is unable to account for exceptional cases of recovery following serious injury or the near-death experience. Finally, it will discuss neurofeedback and its role in the treatment of chronic brain disorders which may better be understood as states of dysregulation.
Brain Functioning and Consciousness
So far, we can locate no single region in which the neural activity corresponds exactly to the vivid picture of the world we see in front of our eyes.
–Francis H. Crick 1962 Nobel Laureate for describing the structure of DNA
Today, the overwhelmingly prevalent opinion among neuroscientists remains that the brain somehow creates consciousness. As we shall see, this concept probably began in the 19th century coincident with the elucidation of the microscopic anatomy of the brain and spinal cord. Recently Jeffrey Saver, M.D. a neurologist and founder of the stroke unit at UCLA, and John Rabin M.D. a psychiatrist, have asserted “Religious experience is brain-based. This should be taken as an unexceptional claim. All human experience is brain-based, including scientific reasoning, mathematical deduction, moral judgment, and artistic creation, as well as religious states of mind.” This axiom is an unquestioned a priori given at the academy despite lack of objective evidence that it is true.
Despite the claims of Drs. Saver and Rabin, the nature and genesis of consciousness, arguably the most fundamental aspect of our being, continues to elude neuroscientists. How is it that the material brain can produce nonmaterial thoughts, feelings and memory? Conversely, can thoughts or recollections be explained by changes in electrical and magnetic energy, blood flow or sugar metabolism demonstrable with such things as EEG, MEG, fMRI and PET scans? Do such manifestations represent epiphenomena which are created by that which at present cannot be demonstrated, let alone explained, scientifically? What evidence supports mainstream neuroscience positing that our consciousness must be a byproduct of the complexity of the human brain and its trillions of connections? According to the current state of neuroscience, once the nervous system became sufficiently ‘evolved’, self-awareness became manifest in the form of thoughts, emotions and memories. However, there has been no experiment which has allowed a calculation of the minimum number of nerve cells necessary to produce self- awareness. Numerous clinical studies demonstrating reproducible correlations between mindfulness and various aspects of brain activity in no way prove that brain activity is the source of our thoughts, feelings or memories. It is also quite possible that our thoughts create the brain activity which is demonstrated with instruments such as EEG and fMRI. Thus, no experimental paradigm has ever demonstrated a human though in objective, reproducible terms making it far more likely that the brain is a mediator rather than a generator of consciousness.
Measuring Consciousness-Einstein’s Mind
No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.
Albert Einstein understood that any theory was only as good as the data that supported it. More importantly he knew that a single ‘anomaly’ could completely undermine even a zealously protected and widely accepted idea. The history of human scientific endeavor is littered with numerous such examples.
As stated previously, many researchers in neuroscience regard the body as something of a habitat which exists to serve and preserve the brain. During my neurology residency at LA County Hospital in the 1980s, I was taught the afore mentioned scientific truth that without the brain there could be no consciousness. This was true inasmuch as there was no officially accepted or acknowledged evidence of consciousness existing apart from a functional brain. In this model, we were taught that self- awareness required that certain essential structures of the brain be functionally intact and interconnected. Consciousness was thought to begin in regions of the brainstem called the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) which provided important stimulating input to the cerebral cortex via subcortical structures especially the hypothalamus and the diencephalon. Disruption of any of these or their connections could result in impairment or abolition of consciousness. [image] I have observed many apparent such examples of this in more than 30 years of clinical practice.
During severe injuries such as stroke, trauma, shock or anesthesia these areas become at least temporarily dysfunctional and/or disconnected. This is also true during certain stages of sleep. Indeed, this teaching comported with my quotidian experience with persons with brain injuries of all types.
Moreover, the brain, particularly in adults, is thought to have a very limited capacity for recovery following injury. Therapies for many neurologic and psychiatric conditions frequently have only marginal benefit which may account for a prevailing sense of pessimism which often attends these subspecialties. A recent survey of neurologists by the American Academy of Neurology found that more than 50% of neurologists surveyed exhibited at least one symptom of burnout. High rates of burnout have also been reported among psychiatrists.
On the other hand, if what persons who report having an NDE along with multiple reports of other clinical neurological anomalies are true, then the brain cannot be the source of consciousness and it must also have a great capacity for plasticity. Therapies which could take advantage of this plasticity may result in functional improvement in a variety of neurologic and psychiatric disorders.
Let’s examine the concept of neuroplasticity as it is currently understood, why it is thought to be important for developing a better understanding of how the brain works and why it absolutely cannot explain multiple well-described neurological and psychological phenomena.
Brain Memory and Plasticity
The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.
—Sir William Lawrence Bragg
Conjecture regarding brain plasticity which continues to shape the discussion of neuropsychiatric health and disease probably began in the late 19th century with researchers primarily in the United States and Europe. One of the earliest speculative models of neuroplasticity was proposed by William James, an American physician and philosopher. He posited that recurrent electrical activity in parts of the brain over time resulted in physical changes in its connections before the concept of a synapse had ever been described. In his book Principles of Psychology published in 1890, he anticipated many current tenets of neurophysiology including long term potentiation (LTP) a phenomenon that is thought to underpin memory function at a fundamental level. Others such as Ramon y Cajal, Mosso and Lugaro echoed James’s premises based on their own investigations of microscopic neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. However, despite claims regarding the brain as the provenance of consciousness, even Ramon y Cajal himself expressed doubt about this thesis and in 1894 puzzled:
What is the purpose of the maintenance in such a high degree of plastic powers of development by cerebral pyramidal cells in the perfection of the apparatus for psychical processes?
Exactly. What conscious purpose is driving this plastic brain? More than 100 years on, neuroscience still has no answer to his question.
Empiric evidence that the brain itself did not store memory was presented in the early 20th century by psychologist Karl Lashley. In the 1920s in both rats and monkeys he removed most of the visual cortex or sectioned the connections between the motor cortex and the visual cortex after the animals were taught complex activities such as opening a latched box or solving a maze. After recovery from the surgery, the animals performed the tasks as well as intact animals. He also found that the animals could learn as well after the surgery as non-operated ones. A PDF of Lashley’s work may be found here.
Researcher O.C. Ingebritsen demonstrated in 933 that sectioning one half of the cervical spinal cord at two different levels in rats in no way prevented them from retaining the ability to navigate a maze that was previously learned. Such sections would have severed all long fibers from the body to the brain and from the brain to the body yet the rats performed flawlessly. In the 1970s, physician Bernard Brucker would produce unprecedented results in spinal cord injured patients using EMG driven biofeedback which allowed many patients to regain functional abilities. His bio may be found here.
Inspired by Lashley’s work, neurosurgeon Karl Pribram removed roughly 90% of the visual cortex or 98% of the optic nerve from cats which were still able to perform complex visual tasks. Based on these results he posited that the brain’s capacity for information storage was holographic and dependent on its associated electromagnetic field.
Mnestic function (memory) is one of the cardinal manifestations of consciousness, but how it occurs remains shrouded in mystery. The actual number of neurons in an adult brain is unknown, but a recent extrapolated estimate puts the number at 86B. The working assumption of 100B brain cells evidently had no scientific foundation, but was widely accepted as an accurate number. The following computational assessment of how brain memory could happen is based on a brain of 100B neurons. Assuming the brain has 10^15 synapses each containing one bit of information, this would be less than the memory of a 64bit processor which can store 2^64 or 1.8X10^19 values. This is obviously grossly insufficient to account for the 10^24 operations per second the brain is thought to carry out. Computer scientist Simon Berkovich and neurobiologist Herms Romijn have both concluded that storage of all memories in the brain is physically impossible.
On the other hand, the electromagnetic field, EMF, associated with the brain could easily store far more than this. I need to digress to explain briefly what is thought to be the source of EMFs and the fact that they are associated with all known matter. Any movement of a charged particle is associated with an electromagnetic field which exists independently of its generating source. Further, the physical properties of an EMF are quite distinct from the its source. A common example of a generating source is the flow of electrons also known as electricity. The EMF of the brain (and heart for that matter) is generated by the electrical charges which travel along the billions and billions of axons and dendrites of neurons. This EMF demonstrates a self-organizing behavior i.e. it is characterized by spontaneous order, not unlike a whirlwind or a whirlpool. Self-organizing systems are not dependent on external influences to act. They also have inherent stability. The brain also is self- organizing or self-regulating in this sense. For example, neurons work in groups of interconnected subsystems or networks which function as a whole whether undertaking a mundane task such as walking or composing music. When was the last time you thought about your walking in a conceptual sense with respect to the billions of calculations needed to move your muscles, sense where your limbs were in space, your body position with respect to the ground and the millisecond to millisecond changes in this information constantly flowing into the brain and upon which similar updates in brain output was adjusted? This would make the act of walking impossible at a so-called conscious level. The vast majority of brain ‘activity’ occurs sub-consciously.
These networks have inherent stability. They are also connected through a phenomenon known as coherence, but also display differential capabilities. For example, certain areas of the brain are important for mediating specific functions such as speaking or moving specific limbs. In any case the brain’s associated EMF is in constant flux which is another way of saying that it is constantly, by the millisecond, generating information. Yet this constant EMF fluctuation is not dependent on the number of neurons involved or the electrical pattern of individual neurons. What matters is that the EMF exists. Electromagnetic fields have a near infinite capacity for storing information in the form of wave/frequency interactions in a manner that has nothing to do with the way a computer stores information. This so-called holographic memory is a source of great research in computer science, but has thus far eluded commercialization. So much for brain/computer analogies. NF appears to enable the brain to enhance its innate self-organizing or self-regulatory capabilities.
Apart from the problem explaining how the physical brain could store long term memories over a lifetime there is also the phenomenon of brain plasticity which has been described for more than a century. Recovery of brain function following injury, especially of eloquent activities such as speech or highly developed and refined skills, was thought to be possible in children, but exceptional in adults. A remarkable example of plasticity in children was described by physicians at Johns Hopkins hospital and reported in the Lancet in 2002. A 3-year- old girl had half of her brain removed to treat intractable epilepsy due to a rare form of encephalitis. A year after the operation the girl had nearly no symptoms including the right- sided paralysis that was all but gone. She was also speaking and thinking normally. In fact, she was fluent in two languages. This type of surgery has been performed on many children with similar results. However, more than 90% of adult patients with severe speech impairment following a stroke remain disabled indefinitely. Yet the brain has a substantial capacity for change even after injury. Said plasticity refers not only to changes in the connections of extant brain cells (neurons) but also to the fact that there are stem cells in the temporal lobes which continuously generate new brain cells. This is thought to have important implications in the formation of the continuity of memory and the modulation of human emotions.
Why adult brains are generally thought to be far less plastic than those of children is not completely clear. It should be pointed out, however, that there are equally remarkable examples of such plasticity. For example, John Lorber, M.D. a professor of neurology at the University of Sheffield examined an honors student who had virtually no cerebral cortex-1-2 mm only. Further, he was socially normal. The man’s head was almost entirely filled with cerebrospinal fluid, CSF. He was an honors student in mathematics and had a calculated IQ of 126. He gathered data about several hundred similar and normally functioning persons. I saw a similar such case as a resident in neurology at USC/LAC Medical Center.
Further still, there are cases such as that of Jason Padgett, a college dropout, who acquired extra-ordinary mathematical skills following a severe head injury which occurred as the result of an assault. He now can see and reproduce images of complex geometric figure known as fractals in everything he sees. His story can be found here. Then there is Derek Amato who suddenly acquired the skill of a piano virtuoso following a severe concussion despite never having played any instrument previously. His story and those of other such individuals may be found here. These acquired extraordinary talents are very similar to those described in persons following an NDE like orthopedic surgeon Anthony Cicoria who taught himself to play classical piano and compose music after dying from being struck by lightning.
The Near-Death Experience (NDE)
Our ideas about death define how we live our lives.
If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black…it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white.
As I alluded to earlier, it takes but one example of an exception to a theory to make said theory collapse. If the afore mentioned ‘anomalies’ are proof of multiple white crows, then the NDE literature is a flock of them. Sadly, the reductionist view of the universe had led the profession of medicine to all but ignore the phenomenon of the NDE. The near-death experience may be defined as an enhanced conscious or subjective experience which is precipitated by actual physical death, imminent death or even psychological or emotional death. The elements of a NDE are remarkably consistent across age, gender, culture, religion and language. There are descriptions which resemble those of NDEs in almost all cultures. Religious texts such as the Bible, the Upanishads of ancient India and the Tibetan Book of the Dead contain references to many things described by people who have had an NDE. One of the oldest explicit accounts of a NDE in Western culture is Plato’s description in the tenth book of the Republic of Er, a soldier who awakened on his funeral pyre and who later recounts what he experienced while he was dead. He said that, among many other experiences, his soul went forth from his body along with a great company to a mysterious region where he saw an indescribable light, where people were judged and rewarded or punished accordingly.
The following is a summary of a patient who experienced an NDE in 1969 described in the introduction to “Consciousness Beyond Life” by Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel, M.D. The EKG of a man who had recently had a heart attack (myocardial infarction) suddenly went flat line, meaning that his heart had stopped beating. This is often referred to as sudden-death. Nurses rush to attend to him, one of them beginning CPR while another administers oxygen. Another nurse brings the crash cart which contains medications and an electrical defibrillator used to resuscitate stricken patients. The device is charged and the medical staff stand clear of the patient who receives an electrical shock directly to the chest. His body heaves, but the heart remains in a stand still. CPR is resumed. Meantime, an IV had been started and medications give according to instructions from the attending physician, Dr. van Lommel. A second shock is administered which successfully re-starts the heart beating spontaneously. After a period of unconsciousness lasting about four minutes the patient awakens to the great relief of the attending staff.
Everyone is pleased with the results it seems except for the patient! Even though his life had been saved, he was extremely disappointed. He described to the staff being in a tunnel, seeing a light, a beautiful landscape and hearing beautiful music. The experience left him quite emotional. Like me, Dr. van Lommel had been taught during his medical training that such things were not possible. His repeated experience with this phenomenon and a book “Return from Tomorrow” by physician George Ritchie led him and fellow researchers to undertake a prospective study published in the Lancet in 2001. In this study, he and his co-researchers attempted to establish the cause of NDE and analyze factors associated with its frequency, depth and content. He describes the outcome of 344 consecutive patients who were successfully resuscitated following sudden death comparing the medical, demographic, pharmacological and psychological data of those who experienced NDE with those who did not. A pdf of his study may be found in the Lancet here. Similar studies have been published in the UK and US.
Common features of a NDE described by psychiatrist Raymond Moody include:
1. The ineffability of the experience
2. A feeling of utter peace; absence of pain
3. The awareness of being dead
4. An out of body experience in which patients are witnessing their resuscitation or surgery
5. Sometimes a dark or frightening experience about 15% of persons
6. The awareness of an unworldly place that surpasses normal comprehension or quotidian human experience
7. Seeing and communicating with deceased persons usually relatives
8. Seeing a brilliant light, also other worldly and experiencing a feeling of complete and unconditional love and acceptance; gaining access to universal knowledge and deep wisdom
9. A panoramic life review in which all details of one’s life are relived in a timeless instantaneous manner. Afterwards people are able to discuss for days what happened in a matter of no more than a few minutes.
10. A preview of things to come in their life
11. The perception of a distinct border beyond which there is no return to the body
12. The return to the physical body that is accompanied by severe disappointment.
Following a NDE most people are reluctant to discuss what happened for fear of being told they are crazy. Most completely lose the fear of death. Material things are no longer important. Some develop paranormal abilities such as hyper acute hearing and vision or, for example, the ability to hear the thoughts of others and feel what they are feeling. Most also develop a much more spiritual view of life and the world finding that their priorities are much different following a NDE.
The case of Pamela Reynolds, a singer/song writer is exemplary in many ways. She experienced a NDE during an extraordinary surgery during which her body was cooled to about 50 degrees, her heart was stopped and all the blood drained from her head to treat a cerebral aneurysm. Because there was no blood in her head she was by definition clinically brain dead! You may listen to interviews of Pamela on Youtube. Her experience was also the subject of a BBC documentary. She described popping out of her body through the head, described the surgical instruments, conversations the surgeons had while she was under anesthesia and seeing some of her deceased relatives among other things. Afterward, she was able to sense others’ feelings and hear their thoughts. A nice account of her experience may be found here.
What do the above ‘anomalies’ and the evidence from NDE literature say about the nature of brain function? One ineluctable conclusion is that the brain is not the source of consciousness. In other words, our current working theory of how the brain works is not just incomplete, but very likely upside down. Instead of being the provenance of consciousness, the brain may be viewed as the transducer or mediator of consciousness much as a TV, radio, phone or computer converts electrical energy i.e. information into a form that may be consciously perceived i.e. auditory, visual and tactile vibrations of specific frequencies. Thus, brain dysfunction no more precludes the phenomenon of consciousness any more than turning off the TV results in the termination of the show being broadcast. Put another way, these devices transform electricity into visual, auditory and even tactile information that we perceive through our sense organs.
Compelling evidence for this comes from the world of quantum physics which has come to the conclusion that consciousness is not just a primary constituent of the fabric of the universe, but probably the main one. In quantum reality (quantum space), time and distance are irrelevant. Further, what affects one part of quantum space affects all parts simultaneously. In other words, things may act instantaneously a distance (nonlocal effect), something thought impossible according to usual physics. A real-world example of quantum nonlocal effects is a bee colony which is also a nice example of a self-organizing system. It is well-known that the queen of a hive may be isolated from the colony and placed some distance away, yet the colony will function normally so long as she lives. But should the queen be killed, the colony will soon collapse. This cannot be explained by physical absence of the queen, but must be due to some of other unknown effect. The movements of a flock of birds or a school of fish are similar phenomena. These nonlocal effects have been described in humans as well.
Furthermore, quantum physicists have conclusively determined that the act of observation, i.e. consciousness, itself affects the outcome of an experimental paradigm. The quantum realm is one of infinite nonmaterial possibilities that may be viewed as the complement of our material world. It seems likely that the familiar daily waking consciousness each of us experiences is but a part of the whole of consciousness comprehended by that of the quantum realm. There is probably constant interaction between quantum consciousness and physical consciousness each affecting the other. The brain is the transformer or mediator between what we view as consciousness of physical reality on the one hand and an expanded and enhanced consciousness of another realm based on evidence from NDE, neurologic ‘anomalies’ and data from quantum experiments.
It seems clear from the foregoing that the brain rather than being the source of consciousness is its mediator or transceiver. It manifests electrical activity that has an associated EMF which is likely the result of quantum consciousness. As mentioned, this EMF is probably the interface between nonlocal consciousness and what we experience as consciousness while awake. Exactly how this interface of consciousness from the non-material quantum or phase space to the physical consciousness of brain activity occurs is unknown. Further, based on the experiences of NDE, quantum consciousness encompasses vastly more information than our brain usually manifests. It also seems likely that focusing on understanding the effects of the EMF of the brain on its structure and functioning may provide, as yet, unrealized insight into improving brain activity in both healthy persons and those with chronic brain disorders. The therapeutic bias up to the present has lain in the manipulation of brain ‘chemistry’ through patented pharmaceuticals. There has by comparison been scant attention given to the development of energetic or energy based therapeutics. Neurofeedback is one of multiple non-pharmaceutical, energy-based treatment options which can improve or optimize brain functioning in a wide range of disorders such as trauma, attention deficits and cognitive functioning. This technique takes advantage of the brain’s electrical activity to produce reliable changes in functionality. Hanno Kirk, Ph.D. has edited an excellent book, “Restoring the Brain” on neurofeedback in the context of an integrative approach to health.
The story of neurofeedback begins in the late 1960s with neuroscientist Barry Sterman researching the effects of operant conditioning on learned suppression of a previously rewarded behavior in cats. During this learned suppression a specific EEG pattern with peak activity of 12-14 Hz, later called the sensorimotor rhythm, SMR, was noted over the sensorimotor area of the cats’ brains. Naïve cats were later trained to produce this rhythm through operant conditioning i.e. when the cats made this EEG pattern, they received a food reward. It is likely that this rhythm in cats is the EEG correlate of focused attention. The cats learned to produce SMR easily.
Serendipitously, Dr. Sterman’s laboratory was chosen to study the behavioral effects of methyl hydrazine, a component in rocket fuel. Sterman found to his astonishment that the cats who had undergone SMR training were resistant to the epileptogenic effects of n-methyl hydrazine. Follow up research confirmed these findings. This is incontrovertible evidence that neurofeedback produces functional changes in the brain, in this case by making cats unusually resistant to the toxic epileptogenic effects of exposure to rocket fuel. The cats otherwise had similar responses to the methyl hydrazine as untrained cats. The trained cats were also calmer and sleep better than their untreated counterparts. A critical fact in the SMR training of the cats is that the effect had nothing to do with volition on their part. This must mean that a subconscious mechanism mediates the functional and anatomical effects that have been documented with NF. The acquisition of resistance to chemically induced epilepsy by SMR training was also demonstrated in rhesus monkeys.
This led to numerous reports of the benefit of SMR neurofeedback in patients with epilepsy all of which showed consistent improvement in control of epilepsy. Reports of improved behavior in epileptic children with ADHD led to studies in this population. This is the group that has been best studied and in whom consistent improvement in behavioral and academic performance has been demonstrated. Neurofeedback training for children with ADHD has now been done for decades. fMRI studies in children with ADHD have shown that SMR training resulted in reproducible changes in functional connectivity in those who had improved significantly both in behavior and on cognitive testing. Changes in fMRI have been demonstrated after a single episode of 30 minutes of EEG NF. (Ros et al. 2013). How such changes can occur so quickly remain to be elucidated. Moreover, training results in sustained improvement in functioning.
Multiple studies have compared NF training to pharmacotherapy beginning in 1995. All have demonstrated comparable outcomes with both forms of therapy. Children were evaluated with the TOVA (Tests of Variables of Attention) a standard test for ADHD. At least six studies have shown similar results that NF is comparable to stimulant pharmacotherapy. In one study of 100 participants Monastra showed equivalence of NF to stimulant pharmacotherapy in that both groups normalized their TOVA scores. Further, in the NF group only did behavioral scores improve significantly with those on stimulant therapy remaining in the clinical range. Finally, these same subjects were evaluated a year later while off medication for one week. The NF treated cohort held its improvement on TOVA and behavioral criteria while the cohort on medication relapsed to the clinical range on both accounts. (Monastra 2002)
Neurofeedback has been successfully employed in the treatment of learning disabilities resulting in improvement in academic performance. (Lubar 1984) Tansey later reported IQ improvements averaging about 19 points in children with mild neurological impairment after just 27 weekly sessions of therapy. Nowadays, patients typically have at least two sessions per week. (Tansey 1991). In 1992 the Othmers reported substantial increase in IQ in fifteen children with ADD and/or learning disabilities. (Othmer and Othmer 1992) They noted improvement in WISC-R of 23 points. These children also experienced improvements in the Benton Visual Retention Test, the Wide Range Achievement Test and the tapping subtest of the Harris Test of Laterality. Of course, significant improvement in behavior was seen in all children.
NF has also been used successfully in the treatment of addictive disorders especially alcoholism. Before Barry Sterman had reported his results with the cats, Joe Kamiya had successfully trained a person to detect when his brain was making alpha waves. Alpha waves are the dominant waking EEG frequency noted especially in the back of the head with the eyes closed. It was later found to have application in reducing anxiety. For a time in the late 60s alpha training was used by some looking for a safe alternative to LSD. Eugene Peniston was the first to apply what is now known as alpha-theta training to Vietnam era alcoholics at the Fort Lyon VA in Colorado. He studied 10 subjects with 10 matched controls who had only the standard VA treatment. All subjects had had a minimum of four prior treatment failures.
What Peniston reported was nothing short of astounding. Eight of the 10 who had NF therapy became abstinent. Evidently the remaining two concluded that the treatment was so much rubbish, but found that they had lost all taste for alcohol despite themselves. The control subjects all returned to form. The treated patients maintained abstinence during 8 years of follow up. He replicated these findings as did other researchers. This technique has been used in patients with TBI/PTSD, primarily in veterans.
We use the Cygnet ILF system developed by Sue and Siegfried Othmer which involves extremely low frequencies well below anything which has been utilized in clinical medicine. Thousands of practitioners in the Americas and Europe use the same techniques which have provided faster and better results than previous methods. The evidence indicates that NF is more effective than either talk therapy or pharmacotherapy alone. This is supported by the fact that many people come to NF as something of a last resort.
As mentioned, the effects of NF are wrought through some subconscious mechanism that to date is unknown to neuroscience. It is clear that NF enhances the brain’s self- regulatory behavior which results in the alleviation of symptoms associated with dysregulation. I suspect that it is involved with the previously discussed quantum consciousness which can mediate changes in brain functioning through mechanisms other than the neuroplasticity known to mainstream neuroscience.