1.5 The Roots of Brain Wave Research

The roots of brain wave research and the ability to understand and scientifically document various states of conscious awareness lie in a discovery made in 1908 by Hans Berger, an Austrian psychiatrist. He discovered oscillating electrical waves in the brain, and he called them alpha waves because they were the first electrical activity to be discovered in the brain. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, like our ‘a,’ and is often used to mean the first or the beginning. He kept his discovery secret for 10 years while he researched what he thought was based on ESP (extrasensory perception).

Berger had had an ESP experience when he was in one of the European wars that took him outside of his native Austria. He fell off his horse and was badly hurt, and his sister, who was some hundreds of miles away in Austria, knew about it instantly and in detail. When Berger discovered his sister’s awareness of his misfortune, he went looking for the source of this ESP. And he went looking in the brain. He found with his primitive amplifiers and ballistic galvanometers electrical activity in the brain, which he called ‘Alpha Waves.’ He wondered if these alpha waves he had discovered could be the basis of ESP. We know now that they are involved in that process, but with his primitive equipment, Berger wasn’t able to prove it. He kept this amazing discovery a secret for 10 years while researching it on his own.

Published findings brain wave:

He finally published his findings in 1918 after a great deal of background work, and from that point, interest in electrical waves in the brain spread rapidly around the world. This news created a sensation among the cognoscenti, and excited scientists and educated laypeople were astonished and excited.

Early scientists who rushed in to follow up on Berger’s breakthrough discovery then mapped out the different brain waves (alpha, beta, delta, and theta) and began to do psychophysical studies on the ‘natural reactivity’ of these brain waves to sensory stimulation. With the early equipment using ink-writing polygraphs with wiggling pens or styluses, which could not adequately record oscillations faster than about 30 cycles per second, not much attention was paid to gamma are faster than beta waves. None of these early investigators (pre-Kamiya in 1962) ever imagined that people could learn voluntary control of their own brain waves. Brain waves were thought to be exclusively an autonomic function and thus incapable of any voluntary

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