Using an early model of the Mind Mirror EEG machine, Ken Wilber shows the different types of brainwave patterns that correlate to various states of awareness and meditation. Both the demonstration and voiceover narration are done by Ken Wilber,
Hello, everybody. This is a small portable EEG, electroencephalograph. What it shows is brainwave activity, basically. It’s very simple but fairly accurate machine, it’s an early Mind Mirror machine. The panel itself is divided into your left and right hand panels. The left-hand panel basically measures electrical activity in the left hemisphere of the brain and the right hand panel measure electrical activity in the right hemisphere.
What you’re seeing from the top to the bottom is beta activity, then alpha activity, then theta activity, and the bottom two bars represent delta activity. So what this is showing is activity in the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere through a whole range of beta to alpha to theta to delta waves–brainwaves.
You can see that in the left-hand panel representing the left hemisphere, which should be analytic thinking, logic and abstract thinking, there’s a lot of activity, particularly in the beta and alpha–that’s the upper reaches of the panel—because I’ve basically been assembling this unit. In the right-hand panel, there’s less because the activity I’ve been engaged in is much more linear, abstract, logical and so on.
Waking Alert State, With Delta State of Witnessing
Traditionally what we see in waking state is a lot of beta activity if there’s thinking, and alpha activity is more relaxed, alert state. Theta waves, which begin halfway down the panel here, and which is very little theta showing right here because theta waves usually appear only in states of sleep, with dreaming, and occasionally states of certain types of meditation and states of certain types of creativity and reverie. The bottom two bars here represent delta. You usually see delta waves only in deep, dreamless sleep.
Now there’s a lot of delta activity. Traditionally you show delta wave patterns in the waking state only if you have a brain tumor, or only with certain types of eye movement, neither of which are happening in this case. So delta is probably indicative of some other activities, including a constant state of witnessing, which we’ll talk about that in a moment.
So what I’m going to do is basically go into a series of meditative states here, and the first state that I’m going to try to enter is a type of nirvikalpa samadhi. It’s not a classic nirvikalpa but I’m going to try to basically suspend all mental activity, with the exception of that witnessing delta state. So you should see if this works is virtually all those lights should go to zero.
Pure Witnessing – Only Delta Activity (Eyes Closed)
I’ll pause it here for a moment. So what we see here is obviously no activity in the left or right hemisphere. Beta, alpha, theta states are all zero. You can see that the delta states, however, have still a great deal of activity, maximum activity actually, in the two lower bars representing delta. Again you normally see delta only in deep, dreamless sleep which the traditions maintain is a state of pure witnessing. There’s a state of constant witnessing that does accompany this.
We don’t necessarily see, because we’re in the early stage of research in these areas, it’s not necessarily the case, I don’t believe, that all states of witnessing are accompanied by delta. As a matter of fact, in a lot of meditation research certain types of witnessing states have theta activity with alpha activity. That’s also very common with other types of deep meditative states, we see theta and alpha.
Here, of course, it’s neither theta nor alpha nor beta states—they’ve all gone to zero. The subjective experience here is one of simply no mental activity whatsoever but pure, vast, open awareness or witnessing.
What I’m going to try to do in the next frame that you’ll see is reproduce this state with my eyes open which is, needless to say, considerably harder. I want basically mental activity to be as close to zero as possible while maintaining a certain kind of witnessing.
Witnessing – Only Delta Activity (Eyes Open)
Pause it here for a second. Again what we see now is zero activity in the upper reaches. Again going from the top to the bottom it would be beta activity, alpha, theta and delta. And each of those represent about a fourth of the screen. In other words, the top fourth or so is beta activity, then the next fourth of the lights would be alpha, then the next fourth theta, and the bottom 2 or 3 bars represent delta. There’s again delta activity here and no other kinds of brain activity.
I want to repeat again that I don’t think this is typical of witnessing. It’s a very specific kind of meditation that I’m doing. It’s a very rare type of meditation frankly. The most common types of meditative states we see today tend to be either alpha by itself which is relaxed awareness while awake, or theta with alpha activity.
There’s one other kind of brainwave pattern we see, however, and that’s long term meditators, usually of twenty years or longer, start to achieve constant consciousness around the clock. In other words, there’s a witnessing that occurs during waking, dream and deep sleep states. That’s often accompanied by delta pattern while the person is sleeping in deep dreamless sleep, they show the standard delta. Then they also show theta and alphs activity while in the dream state. In a moment I will try to reproduce that pattern while awake.
What we see here is an attempt to stop the delta waves, and this is that specific type of meditation I was talking about. So it’s very difficult to describe, even the sense of witnessing is going to disappear. That’s what I’m going to try to do subjectively and what you’re going to see here is virtually all patterns, including delta, come to zero.
Pure Awareness – Zero Brainwave Activity
Let me pause that for a moment. And that’s basically what we see here. There’s a very, very minimum amount of brainwave activity of any variety—alpha, beta, theta or delta—and the subjective state is one of… there’s simply awareness but it’s not confined in any sense to the individual body-mind. Needless to say it’s very difficult to describe but those who have, I think long-term meditators and those who have a sense of sahaj or nondual awareness realize that awareness is not really generated in the brain or even in the body-mind. This is I believe a type of correlate that we’re going to see in the upper right quadrant when these states are, they’re not really being realized because they’re ever-present, but they’re being the individual body-mind is being aligned with those states.
Again, needless to say, a lot of research needs to be done on this. This is a preliminary attempt to correlate some of these upper right quadrant brainwave patterns with certain subjective states of consciousness.
Go ahead and start it up again. What I’m going to show I think in the next sequence here is a much more standard pattern of meditation.
Typical Meditation Brainwave Pattern
Basically what we see here, and let’s pause. So right around here, what we’re seeing is in the upper part much more typical pattern for meditation. What I’m doing here is a kind of mantra meditation, so we expect to see much more typical conventional type of meditative pattern which is, you can see, a large bump In the alpha region. So there’s little beta activity but a large amount of alpha and there’s some theta activity as well. Of course there’s still a large amount of delta.
Here what’s happening basically is there’s delta, theta, and alpha. Now typically we see this in long-term meditators while they’re sleeping. So the delta pattern represents deep sleep state, and the small amounts of theta and large amounts of alpha are classically meditative states. Seeing the three of those together generally happens in deep dreamless sleep when people that are lucidly aware in deep dreamless sleep, and this type of pattern is being reproduced here with somebody who’s awake. Again I think that’s from years of meditation when the body-mind itself is adapting to this type of sahaj or ever-present awareness.
I believe that’s the last and, to say a few closing remarks. One is that this is indeed very preliminary stuff on a very simple EEG machine. I think what is indicative though is whether these patterns actually are typical of the conscious states that we will see. The fact that changing subjective states of consciousness can so immediately show up in changes of brainwave patterns is indicative and telling, to put it mildly. This is the beginning of types of research that I think is going to continue. Indeed there has been a fair amount of research done correlating brainwave states, particularly by the TM people. Some of the research that they’ve done is a little bit wobbly but some of it is very, very sound and has indeed been correlated with a great number of subjective states. I think this kind of research is certainly the kind of stuff we’d like to see continue, and this is a little preliminary investigation on my own part on states of consciousness correlated with brainwave patterns. I hope you enjoyed the show. Thanks.
About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is regarded as one of the most important philosophers in the world today. He is the most widely translated academic writer in America, with 25 books translated into some 30 foreign languages. Ken Wilber currently lives in Denver, Colorado, and is still active as a philosopher, author, and teacher, with all of his major publications still in print.
What makes Ken Wilber especially relevant in today’s world is that he is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”. As Wilber himself puts it: “I’d like to think of it as one of the first believable world philosophies…” Incorporating cultural studies, anthropology, systems theory, developmental psychology, biology, and spirituality, it has been applied in fields as diverse as ecology, sustainability, psychotherapy, psychiatry, education, business, medicine, politics, sports, and art. You can learn more about Wilber’s work by visiting Integral Life.