From The Age of Spiritual Machines
A Book by Ray Kurzweil
published by Viking Penguin Press

Spiritual Experience Through Brain Generated Music

There is already one technology that appears to generate at least one aspect of a spiritual experience. This experimental technology is called Brain Generated Music (BGM), pioneered by NeuroSonics, a small company in Baltimore, Maryland, of which I am a director. BGM is a brain-wave biofeedback system capable of evoking an experience called the Relaxation Response, which is associated with deep relaxation. The bgm user attaches three disposal leads to her head. A personal computer then monitors the user’s brain waves to determine her unique alpha wavelength. Alpha waves, which are in the range of eight to thirteen cycles per second (cps) are associated with a deep meditative state, as compared to beta waves (frequency in the range of thirteen to twenty-eight cps), which are associated with routine conscious thought. Music is then generated by the computer, according to an algorithm that transforms the user’s own brain-wave signal.

The BGM algorithm is designed to encourage the generation of alpha waves by producing pleasurable harmonic combinations upon detection of alpha waves, and less pleasant sounds and sound combinations when alpha detection is low. In addition, the fact that the sounds are synchronized to the user’s own alpha wavelength to create a resonance with the user’s own alpha rhythm also encourages alpha production.

Dr. Herbert Benson, formally the director of the hypertension section of Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital and now at New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, and other researchers at the Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel, discovered the neurological-physiological mechanism of the Relaxation Response, which is described as the opposite of the "fight or flight," or stress response. The relaxation response is associated with reduced levels of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), blood pressure, blood sugar, breathing, and heart rates. Regular elicitation of this response is reportedly able to produce permanently lowered blood-pressure levels (to the extent that hypertension is caused by stress factors) and other health benefits. Benson and his colleagues have catalogued a number of techniques that can elicit the Relaxation Response, including yoga and a number of forms of meditation.

I have had experience with meditation, and in my own experience with BGM, and in observing others, BGM does appear to evoke the relaxation response. The music itself feels like it is being generated from inside your mind. Interestingly, if you listen to a tape recording of your own brain-generated music when you are not hooked up to the computer, you do not experience the same sense of transcendence. Although the recorded BGM is based on your personal alpha wavelength, the recorded music was synchronized to the brain waves that were produced by your brain when the music was first generated, not to the brain waves that are produced while listening to the recording. You need to listen to "live" BGM to achieve the resonance effect.

Conventional music is generally passive experience. Although a performer may be influenced in subtle ways by her audience, the music we listen to generally does not reflect our response. Brain Generated Music represents a new modality of music that enables the music to evolve continually based on the interaction between it and our own mental responses to it.

Is BGM producing a spiritual experience? It’s hard to say. The feelings produced while listening to "live" BGM are similar to the deep transcendent feelings I can sometimes achieve with meditation, but they appear to be more reliably produced by BGM.

from The Age of Spiritual Machines
by Ray Kurzweil
Viking Penguin Press 1998


Copyright © 2001-2012 by NeuroSonics, Inc.