Way back in the 1970s there was an EEG device called the Mind Mirror, which was a spectral display of the brain activity of the two sides of the user’s brain. This was in a world without desktop computers and smartphones, no DSP, and used analogue electronics to get the display of 14 frequency sub-bands in rows of 16 LEDs. Designed by Geoff Blundell in association with Max Cade, this was used to look at the brainwaves of people in meditative states.
If you’re a materialist rationalist, you may as well stop reading now because there’s a fair amount of woo-woo in this. I personally like the combination of tech and woo-woo, but each to their own 🙂 The area of biofeedback has a lot of fantastic claims, but ranges from the sinple use of relaxation tapes through all sorts of werd and wonderful ideas of changing consciousness by feeding back signals from the body.
Although the development of the Mind Mirror was largely empirical, the studies leading to it’s development did at least use many subjects and try and control many of the variables.
In the 1970s Max Cade was studying biofeedback using skin resistance, then in 1973 using a single channel EEG, with a single channel display where the filters were switchable to present a choice of frequency bands, one at a time. He ran this with a bunch of people chosen for experience with meditation, the long-form description is in the book “The Awakened Mind” by Nona Coxhead. Basically they observed similarities in the mix of brain activity between different people in similar states of consciousness.
The trouble with using an EEG is that it’s like trying to get information about a crowd by recording the amplitude of the sound picked up a distance away, but since there’s no mind-jack in the side of people’s heads it’s the best to be had. Nowadays you can get spatial detail of what’s going on in the brain using fMRI but this is still a macro observation, in that case of changes in blood flow as a result of brain activity. The EEG is picking up the electrical signals from the brain, but averaged over many neurons.
There was also a more specific book on the Mind Mirror called The Meaning of EEG by Geoff Blundell which I gather was the instruction manual, but there’s not much on that to be found, apart from a cover picture.
But at the end of the day, it’s all just sensor data. We are taking the faint signals averaged across a load of wetware and insulating material and displaying them on the screen. Woo-hoo, but so what? It’s all just numbers on a screen, there is no meaning to it. What Cade and Blundell did was actually trial their machine on real people –
Maxwell Cade and Geoff Blundell calibrated the first prototype Mind Mirrors on people with known advanced training in mind states and were able to bridge the gap between internal descriptions and measurable EEG states on the brain.
The limitations of their hardware led them to focus on two channels, near the occipital lobe, and they experimented to try and get some reproducibility and correlation with different states of consciousness/relaxation/meditation. It’s this part of the puzzle that’s missing from the geeky big data stuff out there, and without that it’s just data, not information. As lifehacker says
Of course, self-awareness is a big part of both therapy and philosophy. It’s also the basis of the quantified self movement , which assumes that if you collect data about yourself you can make improvements based on that data.
The trouble with quantification is that data is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom. Where Cade and Blundell scored versus a lot of quantified self data is they looked at the quantified data across many people, trying to correlate it with characteristics of self-awareness, or at least chilled-outness.
The advantages of the Mind Mirror is partly due to the simplicity of the rig, picking up signals from two channels and displaying them. It meant that the machine was portable, but it also makes correlation of the display with other people’s states of mind a lot easier than trying to parse the welter of data from, say, a 16 channel EEG display. The value of the Mind Mirror to my eyes is the combination of work of Cade and his successors with this particular methodology and filter bank, and the fact that it isn’t limited to a particular place.
Reverse engineering the Mind Mirror
There’s a lot of good information about the machine on Mind Mirror EEG.
I converted these to a staggered tuned second order bandpass filter and simulated this.
And you can immediately see that they adjusted the centre frequencies unevenly, presumably to get more resolution in the alpha and beta wave regions. This is a log frequency display, and the obvious way is to spread the channels evenly keeping a constant fractional bandwidth.
Now the obvious way to do this nowadays is with a PC and a FFT, and you can buy a Mind Mirror from Vilistius that’s probably how the latest incarnation of this works. But it is £1.5k, and it uses a computer for the display, which is not a thing of beauty.
I don’t find computers and smartphones conducive to relaxation and meditation. They are good at what they do, but relaxation not one of them. Whereas the original Mind Mirror was self-contained and used LEDs for a display.
In the next part I will look at what can be gleaned about the Mind Mirror hardware.