Mind Machine "Frequently Asked Questions"

NOTE: Many of the links no longer work, and some of the information is out of date. This was originally compiled by J. Brad Hicks, (know to many of us in the mind technology community as simply "J. Brad Hicks") way back in 1991. This update was done in February of 1999, and is the last revision to the FAQ.

Although J. Brad Hicks (whom I will refer to hereafter as "J") maintained a healthy skepticism concerning many of the more extraordinary claims made by mind technology researchers, developers, and users, this did not prevent him from achieving cult status among mind tech users worldwide. Fans of his U.S. Shamanics & Mechanical Zen were said to follow his converted motor home from pagan festivals, Sci-Fi conventions, and alternative health shows, where he sold and rented mind machines, in a mass migration surpassed only by the fans of the Grateful Dead. Ultimately, tending his flock demanded his every conscious moment, and U.S. Shamanics & Mechanical Zen scaled back greatly.

At the dawn of the new millennium, in a gesture of good will toward Zen, and to free Baba J from his worldly obligations,  I purchased his cult for an undisclosed sum of money, or more precisely, a small satchel of bearer bonds. I had not realized the depth of the foundations of his teachings, especially those prohibiting sexual relations between master and cult members, regardless of marital status, and the ban of accepting gifts of any denomination. Shortly thereafter, I disbanded the Cult of J and sold their personal information to AOL and Capital One, not for the considerable remuneration provided, but because I realized that they would need Internet access and credit to start their new lives. I am truly richer, from having known J.

J attained the Great Awakening and ultimately joined the ascended masters, living freely, traveling between his homes in the Great Ruby Palace at center of the earth, and the high Himalayas, and tending to the prayers of the devoted.

Scott Miller, November 2003

Location: http://www.wizardsgate.com/mmfaq.htm
This FAQ was compiled primarily for the use of the Mind Machine Digest mailing list, or MIND-L. MIND-L is hosted by Yahoogroups.com.

To subscribe to MIND-L, go here: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/mind-l/join.


  1. What are "mind machines?"
  2. Various technologies defined.
    1. Binaural beat.
    2. Multi-voice hypnosis.
    3. Light & sound.
    4. Electrical stimulation.
    5. Lucid dreaming.
    6. Biofeedback.
    7. Sensory deprivation.
    8. Radionics, etc.
  3. Why use these things?
  4. What's this talk about altering brainwaves?
  5. Do they work?
  6. Will I get smarter?
  7. Can I use __________ to treat __________?
  8. Are they safe?
  9. Are they legal?
  10. Which machine is best?
  11. Why don't I see colors?
  12. Who makes this stuff?
  13. Where can I buy this stuff?

What Are "Mind Machines?"

The phrase "mind machines" covers a whole range of technologies that may work directly or indirectly on your mind or consciousness. In broad categories, this includes binaural beat and multi-source hypnosis tapes, light and sound mind machines, TENS and CES electrical stimulation hardware, lucid dreaming machinery, neurophones, biofeedback, and of course the old classic sensory deprivation tanks.

For the purposes of this revised FAQ, I am mostly ignoring biocircuits, orgone devices, and radionics, as this compiler remains unconvinced that any of these things do anything at all, let alone anything effective.

Nootropic herbs, nutrients, and drugs are left out of this FAQ as well, not so much because they aren't effective mind-altering technologies, but because there is an excellent FAQ already available, Samu Mielonen's "A Short Introduction to Smart Drugs" at http://www.uta.fi/~samu/SMARTS2.html. See also the web page for the Cognitive Enhancement Research Institute at http://www.ceri.com/.

Various Technologies Defined:

Why Use These Things?

There are a variety of possible reasons:

  1. Because they're cool, cutting edge, novel, interesting, and fun. Remember, rats who spend their time in a more stimulating environment grow up to be smarter than rats who have nothing to play with.

  2. Because you think that it's your brain, that you have a right to play with your own brain, and that it's fun to play with your own brain.

  3. As an aid to meditation or reaching meditative states.

  4. Because you like to have the latest toys before anybody else does.

  5. Because you want to see what all the fuss is about.

  6. Because you believe Michael Hutchison and a few other people when they tell you that these technologies make you smarter or whatever.

  7. As a legal, non-addictive alternative to getting stoned.

  8. Because they're part of the cyberpunk lifestyle.

  9. As an experimental treatment for some disease.

What's This Talk About Altering Brainwaves?

While only the most science-ignorant fool thinks that the entire brain pulses in time to one frequency, EEGs show that at any given time, the electrical patterns that your brain produces are made up from distinct wave forms ranging from 0.5 Hz (pronounced Hertz, or cycle per second) up to 30 or more Hz. Researchers divide these frequencies into the following four groupings:

Beta 14 - 30 Hz
Alpha 8 - 13 Hz
Theta 4 - 7 Hz
Delta 0.5 - 3 Hz

When we say that you are "in beta state" (which you normally are), what we're saying is that that's the dominant set of frequencies, the ones with the highest amplitudes. Beta is associated with alertness, with the highest frequencies in that range often described as "fight/flight" mode. Alpha frequencies have long been associated with meditation and relaxation. Theta waves are considered by some to be associated with a dreamy, creative states. Delta waves are generally strongest when you're asleep.

The electrical frequencies given off by your brain vary from spot to spot. When the whole brain is dominated by one frequency, and especially when the two halves of your brain are in synch, this is called hemispheric synchronization.

In some studies, meditation, drumming, swimming with dolphins, binaural beats, photic stimulation, and in some cases EMG and EEG biofeedback have been shown to alter the distribution of these frequencies, and sometimes to encourage hemispheric synchronization. This process is known as entrainment. How they do it is subject to debate, but this alteration is usually attributed to something called the Frequency Following Effect.

Whether or not altering your brainwaves has any effect on your mind, body, or mood is subject to even more debate. On one side are the people who insist that stimulating appropriate brainwaves is "instant Zen," as Zygon advertised. There are others who insist that brainwaves are just a scalar wave, noise given off by the brain's mental and biological processes. Most people on MIND-L fall somewhere between the two camps.

One particular frequency, the Schumann Resonance, corresponds to the frequency of certain standing waves of electrical activity in the upper atmosphere. Although this phenonemon varies everywhere from 7 Hz to 50 Hz or more, the number is usually given as 7.83 Hz. Some mystics who are also users of mind machines insist that attuning your brain so that the dominant frequency is 7.83 Hz puts you in mystical communion with the planet. As we say on the net, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV).

Do They Work?

Will I Get Smarter?

Some very little evidence says maybe yes, and that's as far as I'll go. See "Are These Things Legal?", below.

Can I Use __________ to Treat __________?

Cranial Electrical Stimulation, particularly the Alpha-Stim 100, has been shown to be an effective treatment for some conditions, particularly chronic pain.

Otherwise, there are studies that say that some of these technologies may have medical uses, but no clear consensus.

If you have, or think you might have, any illness or medical condition, seek medical advice. Really. If there is a scientifically proven medical treatment for your condition, and you agree with your doctor, then use that. If you want to use any of the above technologies in addition to an approved medical treatment, and your physician agrees, then cool, do that.

In particular, the MIND-L mailing list gets a steady stream of requests for advice on using L&S or CES to treat depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. There are experiments going on to see if brainwave altering technologies are effective treatments for these diseases, but there is no final word.

Mind machine advocates are routinely accused of hypocrisy, but let me make myself painfully clear here. With the possible exception of CES for a small number of conditions, none of these technologies has been proven to be effective in the treatment of any disease or medical condition.They may be in the future. There is certainly research going on. Your doctor may be willing to prescribe or approve experimental technologies, but that is between you and your physician.

Are They Safe?

Within certain broad limits, yes.

For the most part, nobody but the Parent's Music Research Center thinks that listening to any audio tape will hurt you. On the other hand, if you are particularly suggestible and you have doubts about using a hypnosis tape, don't do it.

You should avoid all of these technologies if you are prone to seizures, or suspect you may have any kind of seizure disorder. But here's a perfectly good rule of thumb: if you can stand in front of a strobe light without discomfort, you probably won't have a problem.

If you have any kind of depressive, manic, bipolar, schizo-affective, or attention disorder, then you should probably only use these technologies under a physician's care and with your physician's informed approval. We don't yet know for sure what the effect of tinkering with anybody's brainwaves will be. Nobody in this field wants to take blame for what happens to yours.

There are conflicting studies on whether or not people with chronic migraines should use these technologies, especially photic stimulation. There are many doctors who believe that flickering lights can trigger a migraine. There are, on the other hand, studies that claim that photic stimulation can cure migraines. Talk it over with your physician, and make an informed decision.

And I hope that it's obvious to even the most idiotic observer that you should not use any of these technologies while operating a motor vehicle or any other heavy equipment. At the very least, they're distracting.

Are They Legal?

I am not a lawyer, and the following is not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice. If you need to know for sure, hire a real lawyer.

As far as I can tell, right now, yes, mind machines are legal in the United States.

Before you understand the legal status of mind machines, you need to understand the prejudices of the United States' Food & Drug Administration. The FDA takes the following principles for granted, and will not consider any evidence that contradicts them:

  1. Anything that alters body or brain function is a medical treatment.
  2. Medical treatments can and should only be used to cure disease.
  3. Only medical treatments which have been clinically proven and widely accepted to be both safe and reliably effective in curing disease should be used.
  4. Being normal is not a disease. Anything that promises to enhance normal human function is at best making a fraudulent medical claim, and at worst promoting drug abuse.

It is the opinion of this author that all four of those statements are false and incorrect. Nevertheless, these are the prejudices of the top several levels of the FDA and much of Congress, and much of what has happened in mind machines, vitamins, dietary supplements, and alternative medicine can only be understood once you understand these prejudices.

So why is all this stuff legal? Simple. Section 510 of the Pure Food & Drug Act, the law that created the FDA, specifically says that they can't ban anything that was already in use prior to 1976. And in one primitive form or another, practically all of these technologies existed prior to 1976.

This means that, with the one exception of a few approved uses for CES, none of this stuff is certified or approved by the US FDA. If that bothers you, go away. If you care about FDA approval, don't play with or use mind machines, because the rest of us don't want to hear you complaining about lack of FDA approval later.

So Whatever Happened To __________?

Ah. Well.

First of all, if you fill in that blank, nobody in the industry who is in their right mind will comment in public or for the record. They'd be committing career suicide, because the FDA doesn't like having their settlements with various companies discussed.

That being said, yes, it is true that AlphaLabs, InnerQuest, and Zygon have all dropped out of the mind machine business, and Synetics has severely curtailed their operations in the US.

The FDA has authority to go after and shut down any company that is advertising unwarranted medical claims. This means that any mind machine company that is making any medical claims, or anything that the FDA thinks they can convince a judge is a medical claim, is courting disaster. A few manufacturers and retailers have spoken with me off the record, and if they're right, it would blow your mind to hear some of the things that the FDA considers a medical claim. Let one example suffice: if I say, "relax, sit down" then I am practicing medicine without a license: prescribing a chair as a relaxation device.

The Federal Trade Commission has the authority to go after anyone whose advertising is false and misleading. If the FDA can convince the FTC that a manufacturer's or a retailer's ad is false or misleading, then the FTC will shut them down. That includes any claim that, according to the FDA, hasn't been proven.

This is why everything you see that relates to mind machines has one or more huge disclaimers on it, saying that none of these technologies are medical devices or intended to treat any illness, nor do the manufacturers or the retailers intend by their representations to prescribe or treat any medical condition or illness.

Those disclaimers don't amount to squat if anything else in the advertising or other displays contradicts it.

And frankly, there are a lot of users and a lot of companies that are very interested in the alternative medicine applications of mind machines. Which means that those users, retailers, and manufacturers are lying through their teeth when they write those disclaimers, just to stay alive. Sometimes the FDA or the FTC catches them at it.

Which is a shame, because this author actually does believe in that disclaimer. Other than CES, none of this technology has been proven medically effective, yet. It's all experimental, at best.

But in summary, other than severe restrictions on how it can be labelled, advertised, marketed, or sold, yes, so far, all of this stuff is legal in the United States.

If you live outside the United States, your law almost certainly varies, and not being even an American lawyer, let alone one in your country, I can't help you.

Which Machine is Best?

I realize that this is the most important question in the world to someone who's thinking about plunking down somewhere between $100 and $6000 for a new tool or toy. But I hope that you realize the following:

  1. There is no machine out there that somebody doesn't love. Yes, even the Zygon machines.

  2. Likewise, there is no machine out there that somebody doesn't hate. Yes, even the Mindwave.

  3. Someone who has spent a lot of money on a product has a strong personal incentive to convince himself that his machine is very cool. If he does, then that's what he'll tell you, too.

  4. Contrariwise, some people just cannot be made happy.

  5. Nobody but a handful of dealers has had experience with all of them. That means that the only people with a broad basis for comparison are people who have a financial incentive to convince you to buy the machines with the highest profit margin.

As with any consciousness-related matter, you should never, ever forget Camden Benares' two laws for choosing a guru, or a system, or whatever (from Zen Without Zen Masters):

  1. First, just because it works for you, doesn't mean that it works for anybody else.

  2. Second, just because you think that it's working for you, doesn't mean that it even works for you.

On a separate web page, http://www.us-shamanics.com/ls-bg.html, the author of this FAQ has compiled a list of features that he thinks are important in a light and sound mind machine. Compare that list of features to the ones advertised for each machine, and decide which one gives you the most features you want for the price you can afford.

Taste in audio tapes and compact disks seems to vary, just as much as tastes in music. They all seem to be converging on the same technologies. Don't buy more than one at a time from a company; that way, if you decide you don't like it, you're not out very much.

There isn't as much competition in CES, dream machines, or biofeedback equipment, so for the most part, you'll end up buying whatever you can afford.

All that being said, there are certain brand names that come up over and over again:

Why Don't I See Colors?

When using light & sound mind machines, different people see different things. Some see just the flashing light. Most see swirling patterns that have been compared to psychedelic light shows or fractals; some in just red and black, but others in full color. And a few report seeing detailed, virtual reality like scenes. So people frequently post to the Mind Machine Digest mailing list asking why they don't get the primo visuals.

First of all, your eyes should be closed when using a light & sound mind machine, as I'm sure you were told in the manual. You did read the manual, didn't you?

Second of all, you might try tinkering with some of the settings. At middle to high frequencies, the light intensity should be a square wave. If your machine allows you to do so, change the pulse width. According to many veterans with these machines, the narrower the pulse width, the better the visuals. You may also need to adjust the brightness. You want it bright enough that it fills your field of vision after filtering through the eyelid, but no brighter.

If your mind machine includes an audio input port, try combining your favorite sessions with your favorite music. That enhances the visuals for most users.

If none of that works, well, you may just be out of luck on the visuals, and I hope you bought your machine for other reasons as well. I've never seen a study on this, but in my experience, roughly 1 out of every 20 users don't see anything except flashing light.

Who Makes This Stuff?

Here are the manufacturers that I could find. Only mind-machine related products are listed. Inclusion in this list does not imply an endorsement by J. Brad Hicks or U.S. Shamanics & Mechanical Zen.

Brain Sync, P.O. Box 9296, Santa Fe, NM 87504-9296, USA. +1 (505) 984 0184 or 1-800-984-TAPE, fax +1 (505) 984 0196. braininfo@brainsync.com http://www.brainsync.com/
  • Brain Sync: Tapes and CDs, MVH, binaural beat, music. MSRP $11.95/tape, $14.95/CD.
  • Brain Sync Subliminal: Tapes. MSRP $9.95.

Comptronic Devices Limited, 2nd floor, 9876A 33 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta T6N 1C6, Canada. +1 (403) 450 3729 or 1-800-661-MIND, fax +1 (403) 461 9551. info@comptronic.com http://www.comptronic.com/
  • DAVID 2001: L&S, 18 sessions, white light goggles, Music Modulation. No external unit, all other electronics built into the headphones. MSRP $295.
  • DAVID Paradise Jr.: L&S, 18 sessions, Tru-Vu OmniScreen white light goggles, audio input. MSRP $395.
  • DAVID Paradise: L&S, 30 sessions, Tru-Vu OmniScreen white light goggles, audio input, programmable, fine tuning controls. MSRP $495.
  • DAVID Paradise XL: As above plus Windows 3.1 and cassette programmable. MSRP $595.
  • OASIS: CES for DAVID. May work with Synetic, Mind Gear, and Photosonix units, but not warranted to do so. MSRP $195.
  • EDA Bioscan: GSR? biofeedback. Can be combined with any DAVID. MSRP $150.

IBVA Technologies, Inc., 360 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 364, Norwalk, CT 06854, USA. +1 203 838 4728, fax +1 203 838 4769. IBVATek@aol.com http://www.ibva.com/
  • IBVA 1-channel: EEG biofeedback for Macintosh or SGI, 1 electrode input. MSRP $1,295.
  • IBVA 2-channel: EEG biofeedback for Macintosh or SGI, 2 electrode input. MSRP $2,295.

The Lucidity Institute, 2555 Park Boulevard #2, Palo Alto, CA 94306, USA. +1 (415) 321 9969 or 1-800-GO-LUCID, fax +1 (415) 321 9967. http://www.lucidity.com/
  • DreamLink: Wakes user up when dreaming (REM) occurs. MSRP $175.
  • NovaDreamer: Lucid dreaming machine. MSRP $275.
  • SuperNovaDreamer: Lucid dreaming machine, w/ interface for Windows 95 or Macintosh, $395.
  • DreamLight: Programmable lucid dreaming machine with 10 night memory. MSRP $1200.
  • DreamSpeaker: Padded speaker for under pillow, up to 15 second playback when triggered, designed to supplement any of the above. MSRP $150.

Learning Strategies Corporation, 900 East Wayzata Boulevard, Wayzata, MN 55391-1857, USA. +1 (612) 475 2250 or 1-800-735-TAPE, fax +1 (612) 475 2373. learn@dbns.net http://www.photoreading.com
  • Paraliminal: Tapes. MVH, music. MSRP $9.95 to $34.95.

Microfirm, Inc., 20206 State Road, Cerritos, CA 90703, USA. +1 (562) 865 8582 or 1-800-258-2566, fax +1 (562) 860 2143. mind@photosonix.com http://photosonix.com/
  • Halcyon: L&S, 30 sessions, dual binaural beat, audio input. MSRP $149.
  • Muse#: As above, PC downloadable. MSRP $179.
  • Galaxy Pro: L&S, 50 sessions, dual binaural beat, audio input, programmable. MSRP $279.
  • Nova Pro: As above, PC downloadable. MSRP $349.
  • Nova Pro 100: 100 sessions, dual binaural beat, audio input, programmable, PC editing and downloading software included, supports AudioStrobe. MSRP $399.
  • Pro Tutor: L&S, no built-in sessions, PC downloadable, lockable, monitorable. MSRP $129.
  • Breathwork Explorer: L&S w/ nostril microphone, 12 sessions.

Mind Gear Inc., 9424 Mercantile Drive, Mentor, OH 44060, USA. +1 (216) 354 5159 or 1-800-525-MIND, fax +1 (216) 354 8790. mindgear@aol.com http://www.mind-gear.com/
  • TurboSonix: L&S, but only when connected to a CD player. Comes with 10 sessions on 3 CDs.
  • PR-2X: L&S, 50 sessions, binuaral beat, wide choice of goggles. MSRP $269.95.
  • XCELR8R II: As above, PC programmable.
    • PR-2X Plus, XCELR8R II Plus: Upgrade to TurboSonix CD compatibility. MSRP $99.95.
  • Gateways: TurboSonix CDs and CD sets. MSRP $19.95 to $39.95.

Mindplace Marketing, P.O. Box 85625, Seattle, WA 89145, USA. +1 (208) 547 5579, fax +1 (208) 632 1744. http://www.mindplace.com/
  • AudioMate: Binaural beat generator, 50 sessions. MSRP $49.95?
  • Orion: L&S. 23 sessions, manual controls, amber LED lightframes, AudioStrobe, ColorPulse, MicroPulse, includes 2 AudioStrobe CDs. MSRP $129.95.
  • ThoughtStream: GSR biofeedback. MSRP $149.95?
  • Biolite: L&S, GSR biofeedback, 5 sessions. MSRP $199.95?
  • DreamMate: Lucid dreaming machine. MSRP not available yet?

Noromaa Solutions, Naavakalliontie 2 C, 02120 Espoo, Finland. +358 40 734 8034, fax +358 9 455 2885. mikkon@bwgen.com http://www.bwgen.com
  • BrainWave Generator 2.0: Windows 95/98/NT software that generates binaural beat sounds through the computer's sound card. Shareware, $30 (US) single user license.

ROSHI Corporation, 174 North Almont Drive, Suite 104, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, USA. +1 213 292 2550 or +1 310 276 4907. roshicorp@roshi.corp.earthlink.net http://www.his.com/~emerald7/roshi.cmp/roshi.html
  • Roshi: Amiga with EEG biofeedback. MSRP $4,995.
  • Roshi w/ HemiTrac: Amiga w/ EEG biofeedback and L&S. MSRP $5,495.

S.E.E. Publishing, 1556 Halford Avenue #228, Santa Clara, CA 95051, USA. +1 408 245 5457, fax +1 408 245 5460.
  • Acoustic Brain Research (ABR): Tapes and tape sets. Binaural, music, environmental sounds, subliminals. MSRP $9.95 to $99.95.

Thought Technology Ltd., 2180 Belgrave Avenue, Montreal, Quebec, H4A 2L8, Canada. +1 (514) 489 8251 or 1-800-361-3651. thought@aei.ca http://www.aei.ca/~thought/
  • GSR 2: GSR biofeedback. MSRP $59.95?
  • GSR/TEMP 2: GSR and hand temperature biofeedback. MSRP $139.95?
  • MyoTrac EMG and MyoTrac2 EMG: EMG biofeedback, PC compatible.
  • TracComp, FlexComp, ProComp+/BioGraph: PC hardware/software kits to connect the above.
Note to manufacturers: This is a very old and incomplete list. It is being slowly updated. If you're not on this list, let me know. Email info@wizardsgate.com or mail brochures, pricing information, reviews, sample products, product photos, etc. Scott Miller, ProMedia Services Corp, 114 East Lake Avenue, Auburndale, FL 33823, USA.

Where Can I Buy This Stuff?

Most of this technology can be ordered directly from the manufacturers or distributors above. Or you can get it from the following catalogs. Again, inclusion on this list does not imply an endorsement by J. Brad Hicks or U.S. Shamanics & Mechanical Zen -- except, of course, for my own listing. After all, if I don't endorse that one, who will?

Altered States, New Zealand. http://www.altered-states.co.nz/mainpage.htm

Biofeedback Instrument Corporation, 255 West 98th Street, New York, NY 10025, USA. +1 (212) 222 5665, fax +1 (212) 222 5667. ax@inx.net http://www.biof.com/biofeedback.html

Cerebrex RD 2 5 Franklin Road, Landenberg, PA 19350, USA. +1 (610) 255 0750. cerebrex@cerebrex.com http://www.cerebrex.com/cerebrex.html

Elixa, Ltd., 1805 Kriss NE, Albuquerque, NM 87112, USA. +1 (505) 293 4648 or 1-800-766-4544, fax +1 (505) 293 7569. psafier@elixa.com http://www.elixa.com/mental/mental.htm

Tools and Techniques, 816 Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA. +1 (610) 527 5377 or 1-888-DYNAMIND, fax +1 (610) 527 3474. dynamind@aol.com http://www.dynamind.com/

Tools For Exploration, 47 Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903-2118, USA. +1 (415) 499 9050 or 1-800-74-TOOLS, fax +1 (415) 499 9047. tools4@wenet.net http://www.tools4explore.com/

U.S. Shamanics & Mechanical Zen, 3070 Lakecrest Circle, Suite 400 #116, Lexington, KY 40513-1714, USA. info@us-shamanics.com http://www.us-shamanics.com/


If you would like to be notified when updates are made to this FAQ, please let me know: FAQ@wizardsgate.com