Falling Into a Pool of Alpha
It was in the summer when I rode my motorcycle out to San Francisco from Pittsburgh, PA. Although I had spent two summers in a row there, this time, I had a special agenda: visit Dr. Joe Kamiya. I had met Dr. Joe Kamiya on my campus at Carnegie Mellon University, where I was a Physics undergraduate student. One afternoon as I left the student union, a big colorful sign drew my attention where every letter was a different color. It proclaimed to the student body that Dr. Joe Kamiya was talking on brain waves and consciousness in just ten minutes at a nearby building. I went over with some interest to check it out.
Dr. Kamiya was in town to visit a woman who was a painting and design instructor at Carnegie-Mellon, and her students were responsible for the colorful sign that had caught my attention. They had been placed all around the campus in the hopes of attracting an audience for Joe’s talk. Her students were there, but very few other people showed up. Unfortunately, those fine arts students didn’t really understand what Joe was talking about. At the end of the talk, they were asking questions about Alpha rays, so they had not understood that Joe was talking about Alpha waves.
After the talk, I waited past the initial crush of students that had gathered around Joe. When I had his attention, I told him I was in the habit of coming to San Francisco every summer, and I asked him if I could come and see him at his lab. He said, ‘Oh, sure, please come.’
About Alpha waves:
Kamiya had discovered in 1962 that brain waves were voluntarily controllable. In his early research days, he would recruit volunteers he would wire up with electrodes and have them lie on the couch and try to take a nap. He would sit there and watch the EEG polygraph tracings and notice the alpha bursts coming and going. He noticed that if he would comment, ‘Well, there’s an alpha wave!’ it seemed that more of them would start to show up. He then took to ringing a bell when an Alpha wave happened, which seemed to cause more alpha to happen. This was the crude and accidental beginning of brain wave neurofeedback training.
Later Joe automated the process, making the feedback more immediate and accurate. Conventional wisdom in medicine, physiology, and neurology was that all brain waves were autonomic functions incapable of voluntary control. So this idea that feedback could increase the abundance of alpha waves was totally radical. It completely upset revered and conventional wisdom in those disciplines.