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Observations placeholder

Green, Drs Elmer and Alyce – Experiments - Using EEG, biofeedback and visualisation



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Beyond Biofeedback – Drs Elmer and Alyce Green

For training purposes we used Autogenic Training exercises to achieve relaxation of the body and a quiet, inward-turned state of mind. To this we added the practice of certain breath-control-techniques: hyperventilation to activate the nervous system, followed by other types of breathing to still body functions and concentrate or focus attention. For lab training sessions, we used alpha and theta feedback from the left occiput with the left ear as reference.

The subjects came to the laboratory for alpha-theta practice and testing approximately once a month, for a total of seven sessions. They were wired up and taken to the experimental room-a quiet, dimly lit, and safely comfortable place. The first session was devoted to familiarization with the laboratory and the procedures used, the second session to learning the relaxation and breath-control techniques. In the next five sessions the subjects received alpha-theta biofeedback training.

During these sessions, after a preliminary period of relaxation and breathing exercises, the subjects lay down on a couch, the brain-wave feedback equipment was turned on, and they began a thirty-minute period of biofeedback practice, listening for the tones that would tell them when the desired brain rhythm was present. After the first two sessions, only theta feedback was given, because the subjects had little difficulty in increasing their percentage of alpha and we were particularly interested in investigating theta.

Each subject's task was to report what was happening subjectively when the theta tone sounded (specifically, any imagery, visual, auditory, or somatic), unless, or until, the tone sounded so often that it was too disturbing to report each time. In the latter case the subject was asked to report occasionally any imagery or internal happening that seemed especially interesting or important. Often more complete and meaningful imagery would be reported after a series of theta tones. If, however, the subject failed to report for a long period of time during which theta was intermittently present, the experimenter watching the polygraph record assumed that the subject might have drifted too deeply into reverie to hear the tones and signaled over the intercom, asking quietly, "What is happening now?" Some subjects answered, "I wasn't aware of anything." Some said, "I know something was happening. There were images, but I can't remember them." Occasionally a subject said he did not want to be disturbed but would report later, and did so during the interview at the end of the session.

Home practice consisted of the use of the Autogenic Training and breathing techniques discussed above, without feedback, ten days out of each month. Home practice seemed to be important. We think it may have been responsible for the production of a goodly amount of theta (ranging from 10 percent to 7S percent over ten-second epochs) in some subjects who had formerly not been theta producers (they had essentially zero percent theta in the occipital EEG lead).

Results of this pilot research indicated that for almost all subjects the production of theta brain waves increased. Since theta waves are usually associated with unconscious or near-unconscious processes, it was particularly encouraging to find an increase in both the ability to be aware of images when in the theta state and the ability to hold them long enough to report on them. This increase in awareness of images and in the ability to remember them was important, because a major problem in studying hypnagogic states is that the material experienced is generally rapidly forgotten.

The ESP-like events that occurred might not have been noticed except for the fact that subjects were told to make spontaneous reports if an image seemed interesting, and also were asked, over the intercom, to report whenever their brain waves showed a long-lasting theta state. I was involved in the three events we did notice. In the first, a young woman was the subject. While she was lying on the couch in the experimental room (fifteen feet from the control room and separated from it by a hallway), a research assistant came to the control room and said that I was wanted upstairs for a long-distance telephone call. I left the lab (in the basement of the research building) and went upstairs to my office, on the other side of the building. There I found that Swami Rama was calling about a research plan. When I returned to the control room a few moments later, I heard the subject saying that she had thought of Swami Rama and suddenly had an image of him in the experimental room. He did not say anything, just smiled and stood there for a couple of minutes, and then disappeared. Was her thinking of Swami Rama a simple coincidence? Possibly.

The next ESP-like event occurred when Dale Walters was the subject. In the middle of the session a loud crash and thump from the floor above sent me upstairs to ask for quiet during the experiment. When I reached the first floor I found that three workmen had just brought in some large plants in heavy pots for an interior garden they were constructing in the building. One of the plants was intended for a trellis, but at the moment its bright green leaves and supple branches were lying across and trailing over a low fieldstone wall. I told the workers that we were running an experiment, and they said they were through for the day anyway.

When I returned to the lab, Alyce asked me what had caused the thump. When I told her about the plants, both she and our research assistant laughed. Dale had just said, before I entered the room, that he had the image of a plant, and that suddenly he was the plant, "a very green plant," that was lying on or falling over a low rock wall. The third ESP-like event happened to me while I was a subject. I had reported a series of images in which Marolyn Moore, our research assistant, was continuously arranging and rearranging some blocks of colored paper on the wall. When I reported these images I mentioned that the blocks seemed somehow to represent time, and that Marolyn was compressing and stretching them in a variety of ways to make them fit in a given place.

When I went into the control room to see my brain-wave record, Alyce told me that after I had reported on Marolyn's arranging of paper blocks, Marolyn had said that during the entire run she had been preoccupied in trying to figure out a sequence of dates and events in connection with her wedding. That morning a letter had arrived from her fianc6, who had formerly worked for us but now was in the Navy. He had explained that their dates would have to be changed because his leave time had been rescheduled. When I reported the blocks related to time, Marolyn was juggling various dates, announcements, showers, visits from relatives, and the wedding date in her head, trying to fit them into a schedule.


In addition to its potential for facilitating creativity, the significance of the study of hypnagogic imagery through theta training lies in what might be learned from the images. Hypnagogic imagery has an autonomous character, seeming to follow its own course independently of the experiencer's will. In fact, attempts to observe it too closely or control it voluntarily usually make it disappear. One must learn to stand back and be a witness.

Some psychiatrists and neurologists have thought theta to be associated only with psychopathology, but this may be because they have observed it mainly in patients. Our studies focused on normal, healthy subjects, and used biofeedback methods to explore the relation between specific internal states, or states of consciousness, and specific brainwave patterns. We found theta to be associated with a deeply internalized state and with a quieting of the body, emotions, and thoughts, thus allowing usually "unheard or unseen things" to come to consciousness in the form of hypnagogic imagery.

The source of the experience

Green, Dr Elmer and Alyce

Concepts, symbols and science items


Activities and commonsteps