Exploring Altered States of Consciousness with the Brain Machine

I’ll take “Devices that I’ve built that I’m too afraid to use” for 200 please, Alex.

This is the Brain Machine. It’s a device created by inventor Mitch Altman that can induce altered states of consciousness through pulsing LEDs and binaural tones synchronized with different brain wave frequencies.

This was made available as a kit by Adafruit starting back in 2013 (now discontinued), but you can still build by scratch following this guide by Make magazine.

Is it an enigmatic device? Well, I’ve always been interested in consciousness studies and research on how meditation influences psi effects. This seemed like a great fit for future experimentation.

The device is reminiscent of earlier Ganzfeld telepathy experiments where participants were placed in a state of mild sensory deprivation by having a red light shown on them while listening to white noise.

The Brain Machine also involves red light and audio, but the difference is that LEDs flash and the audio tones change based on a set sequence that is meant to bring you to different mental states through brainwave entrainment.

What is it like wearing the device? An experience I can only describe as intense. I was truly surprised how strong the effect was.

My primary concern before wearing and while operating was the possibility of inducing a seizure. For about 3% of people with epilepsy, exposure to flashing lights between 5-30 Hz (which this device does), can trigger one. I do not have epilepsy, but my mother did, so I’m very aware of the danger of these types of triggers.

I started to hallucinate almost immediately after wearing it. It’s amazing how the mind can spontaneously create images and patterns based on a simple repeating stimulus. The two LEDs are just one color (red), but depending on the tone and flashing frequency I saw a spectrum of colors including yellow, blue, green, and purple.

I also saw intricate geometric patterns. Cross hatched and intersecting black lines along with repeating geometric shapes. Every time the frequency changed, so did the colors and patterns that I experienced.

The images on the right are the closest I could find to what I experienced. For the first one imagine a pairing of colors instead of black and white. For the second, imagine this type of pattern in the center of your vision field surrounded by colors on the periphery.

Particularly unnerving was when I turned off the device and the patterns and shapes continued to linger for a few moments.

Brain Machine
Brain Machine Circuit
The inventor, Mitch Altman explaining the Brain Machine
Ganzfeld subject. Image from Wikipedia
Geometric lines

Ultimately, I think I would think twice about using it on a regular basis. However, hacking the code could be useful for future projects (perhaps my own version of a Ganzfeld experiment.)

Drop me a line if you decide to build one of these. It would be great to know if your experiences were the same as mine!