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Green, Dr Elmer and Alyce

Category: Scientist

 
 

Dr Elmer E. Green (October 10, 1917 to March 5, 2017) and his wife and colleague, Alyce Green M.A. (June 14, 1907 to August 6, 1994) devoted their lives to the idea that people can develop voluntary control over internal physiologic functions that are normally involuntary.  In other words, supposedly autonomic functions are no longer autonomic, they are directed.

Beginning in 1964 in the Research Department of the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, the Greens demonstrated that ordinary people, much like yogis, can learn to voluntarily control physiologic functions that are normally involuntary. These included brainwaves, muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature and blood flow in the skin.

 

Whilst her husband developed and constructed the research experiments, Alyce Green pioneered the use of biofeedback, as a means of helping people develop their skills.   She co-directed the Voluntary Controls Program of biofeedback research at the Menninger Foundation with Elmer and was instrumental in evolving biofeedback in the 1970s from a subject of research to a clinical tool, thus creating the field of clinical biofeedback

Alyce was instrumental also in founding the field of transpersonal psychology.  She was the first president of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology in 1972, bringing together her deep interest in both human potential and spirituality.  She also co-founded the Council Grove Conference on the Voluntary Control of Internal States in 1969.

In the same year, Dr. Green co-founded the Biofeedback Research Society, now known as the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. He also co-founded the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM) in 1990.

It is worth adding that both Elmer and Alyce had a number of spiritual experiences themselves and were thus not working from lack of understanding

Elmer Green:  There never was a time I wasn't aware that there was a collective unconscious. I knew about this from the time I was about three years old. Since I knew about it, I took it for granted.

Research and teaching

The Greens were the first to apply biofeedback to a range of medical disorders, thus becoming the originators of clinical biofeedback.  It was they who discovered that hand warming through skin temperature feedback effectively treats migraine headaches.  They also developed a highly effective biofeedback protocol for hypertension.

They understood biofeedback from a much wider perspective than that of physiology alone.  Long before they undertook biofeedback research, they knew that voluntary control of physiology occurs through regulating the mind, and that quieting the mind opens the door to transpersonal growth.  This was effectively why they combined clinical and spiritual development, the two work together.

In the first place, by this process people have healing abilities within their own control and of course vice versa.  In the second place, and by the same process, they can also develop their skills in developing various states of consciousness and progressing spiritual development.

For 20 years  the Greens lectured and conducted workshops on “The Theory and Practice of Biofeedback Training for Psychophysiologic Self-Regulation” in the United States, Australia, Canada, India, Great Britain, Holland, the Philippines, and the Soviet Union.

Education and Early Work

Elmer Green

Dr. Green earned a B.Physics degree at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1942.

Beyond Biofeedback – Drs Elmer and Alyce Green

Parapsychological problems were marvellously intriguing, and I began skipping classes, spending my time reading the literature of the psychical research societies of Europe and America. What might have happened if I had continued that way I cannot say. What did happen was that I met Alyce in 1939 and had to face the fact that no employer would pay me to think about psychophysical energies. If we were to get married (which we did in 1941), I would need a job to support a family, so I turned toward more practical studies, and in 1942 graduated with a degree in physics.

I immediately took a job at Minneapolis-Honeywell, where I worked in instrument development and later as a technical representative with the Air Force during World War II. After the war I enrolled as a graduate student in physics at UCLA. On the side I began a study of the retina as a biological energy converter, still thinking, though, of methods for direct detection of psychophysical energies. Money was in short supply, for Alyce and I were raising four children by this time, Pat and Doug from her previous marriage and our own two, Sandra and Judy, so I left UCLA and took a job as a physicist with the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) at China Lake, California. Our business was research and development of guided missiles and rockets.

My work involved optics, photography, electronics, computing, design of instruments, management of an optical-research group of about eight physicists, and management of a data-reduction group. When I left NOTS I was head of the assessments division, supervising the work of sixty-five mathematicians, physicists, electronics engineers, and statistics aides in evaluating optical and electronic data obtained in weapons tests. During those years Alyce and I read continuously in the fields of metaphysics, parapsychology, and theosophy, searching for and constructing a framework of ideas that would correspond with our own experiences and at the same time be reasonable in terms of a possible science in which mind and matter were not forever separate. I took it for granted that I would return to UCLA for further graduate work in physics, but as time passed and information on sensory systems came to my attention (such as the excellent book by Frank A. Geldard titled The Human Senses, 1953) it began to seem that for the study of psycho-physics I would need much more physiological and psychological information. Possibly I could get a Ph.D. in psychology while gathering the information. That would be especially useful, Alyce and I decided, in finding a position where we could conduct research of our choosing. Freedom is not easily obtained, even with a Ph.D., but we were more fortunate than most research couples in finding a good situation in which to work.

In 1958 we enrolled at the University of Chicago, Alyce as an undergraduate student in psychology and I as a graduate student in bio-psychology. One of our reasons for choosing the University of Chicago was that Carl Rogers was there, and we looked forward to contact with him. He had developed a system called "client-centered therapy," in which the therapist is essentially a psychological mirror in which the client can confront himself; one might say that the therapist provides "psychofeedback," in contrast to biofeedback. But when we arrived at the university, Rogers had departed. Behaviorist experimental psychology and a positivist philosophy held sway. Having a philosophy of our own, we were able to take what was useful from these paradigms without being disturbed by their anti-humanistic orientation. The same could not be said for many of the students, however. Some were disturbed because of the conflict with their belief systems, and some, we felt, were depressed because of the conflict without knowing the cause. It is not easy to be a graduate student, and it is especially difficult in psychology if you feel that there is something wrong with the interpretation of humans that you are obliged to espouse in order to get a degree. The return to college was a challenge of the first magnitude. Although I was familiar with the elements of perception, it was necessary to fulfill academic requirements in biology, zoology, neuroanatomy, and especially in the neural basis of sensory discrimination. Going to school was also expensive. Not only were Alyce and I in college, but our youngest children were high-school students in the Laboratory School of the University of Chicago. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a pre-doctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health, which helped our finances.

I spent the first two years in the electrophysiology laboratory of Professor Dewey Neff, helping his graduate students trace audio signals through cat brains. These years of study and practice taught that electrophysiology was a useful technique for mapping sensory-projection areas (such as brain areas that respond to visual and auditory information) but shed almost no light on the problems of mind and volition I wanted to explore. As Alyce and I continued our own studies of metaphysical systems it became clear that for us the primary problem was not the classical mind-body problem (Is there a mind that has nonphysical characteristics?) but that of will (Is there a force called "volition" that operates in the domain of mind?).

Volition, we have come to believe, is the key problem of our day, because control of the individual by society and by the, state has taken away some of our own responsibility for our health, out education, and our activities. When Dr. Neff left the university, I was fortunate enough to obtain the sponsorship of the late Ward C. Halstead. His Laboratory of Medical Psychology in Billings Hospital at the university was justly famous for scientific innovation. He was a pioneer in studying the relationship between brain damage and associated psychological deficits in humans. My area of specialization, biopsychology, included the detailed study of the brain and nervous system, neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, and perception and behavior in humans and animals. My doctoral dissertation (1962a)-on pain perception in humans under conditions of sensory barrage, including vibration, noise, and flashing lights-clearly demonstrated that an important factor in the perception of pain is the focus of attention.

When attention is directed away from pain, pain is not felt.

Many people had experienced this, of course, but I was able to measure changes in pain threshold and relate these changes to measured amounts of distracting stimuli, with subjects' reports on their locus of attention as an independent variable. Attention per se cannot be defined operationally, but as one professor remarked long after the oral examination in which I defended my thesis, "We certainly know when we've got it."

About once a year while attending graduate school I thought about research on mind-body processes and wondered how best to begin a study of yogic-type skills without arousing opposition before the research had had a chance to prove itself. Then, in 1962, a fellow graduate student in the department told us about a book he had come across called Autogenic Training (Schultz and Luthe, 1959). The book was about a system of therapy especially applicable to psychosomatic (mind-body) disorders. Curious, the student had tried some of the techniques for relaxation and for warming the hands. The results had upset him: The techniques worked! His hand got so warm and swollen that he couldn't remove his ring for several minutes. That was impressive enough, for none of his previous studies had so much as hinted that a person could control the temperature of his hand at will, but what truly startled him was a sudden and profound change in sensations from his body when he used a relaxation exercise for inducing a feeling of heaviness.

Surprising body-image changes often accompany deep relaxation; for example, many people experience sensations of floating just before falling asleep. We talked about the perceptual distortions that occurred, and I told him about some of the relevant things I had read about yogis, such as their ability to control heart rate, metabolic rate, peristaltic action (movement of the intestines), and awareness of pain.

Dr Green earned his Ph.D. in biopsychology at the University of Chicago in 1962.

Receiving guidance in the 1980s that it was time to take a further step toward the mental relay, Dr. Green developed at the Menninger Foundation a research program of psychophysics and psychophysiology known as the Copper Wall Project.  This research showed that recognized healers could induce, from a distance of several feet, large voltage changes in a wall-sized electrode made of copper.  Subjects without healing abilities were unable to induce significant voltage changes.

A variety of influences led Dr. Green to do research to validate that voluntary control is possible of physiologic processes including electrical activity in and around the body.  Among these influences were his ability to voluntarily control his own physiology, his awareness of yoga and Autogenic Training, and guidance from vision dreams since childhood.

Alyce Green

Prior to joining the Menninger Foundation in 1964, Alyce raised a family, engaged in civic activities, and sailed a yacht across the Atlantic with Elmer.  In her graduate studies at the University of Chicago she focused on the roots of creativity, an aspect of human potential that fascinated her.  From her study of creative people and their spontaneous insights in dreams or waking reverie states, Alyce hypothesized that the creative process could be enhanced by learning how to enter the reverie state at will.  This hypothesis stimulated innovative research and clinical work at Menninger in theta brainwave feedback training for creativity and self-awareness.

In her professional career Alyce combined research, counseling, and teaching through professional societies, workshops and seminars.  In her personal life, she was “at one” with nature and had a gift for healing injured creatures.   She found a spiritual path in the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Tibetan, often reading for hours at a time, making notes as she read.  Alyce was dedicated to a path that, for her, integrated spiritual growth, healing work, and professional creativity.  Speaking at the Council Grove Conference in 1981 she said,

“Some time ago I decided it was time, in my life, to read more, to think, to meditate, to clarify my life.  I believe each one of us is on a path, a path of growth, a path toward greater enlightenment—a path of transformation.  I believe that treading the path is inevitable, it is a law, a truth.”

References

Observations

 

In the early 1970s, the Greens studied the Indian yogi Swami Rama and the Dutch adept Jack Schwarz in their lab to investigate the skills of voluntary physiologic control that they had.  The Greens subsequently led a team to India in 1974 to document the physiologic skills of yogis, using a portable psychophysiology lab that Dr. Green designed.  The 1975 film Biofeedback: The Yoga of the West (Hartley Films) documents this work, as well as providing an overview of biofeedback.

The observations relating to their work with the Swami Rama and Jack Schwarz can be found with the biographies for these two men.  All the other observations are to be found here.

Websites

  • The Science of Consciousness website -  is an access point for many of the works of the Greens.  The website includes both spiritual and scientific material.  It has an  archive of teaching papers and audio recordings by Dr. Elmer Green on spirituality.  It also has an archive of the Greens’ published scientific papers about biofeedback research, voluntary control of internal states, and states of consciousness; and a series of Occasional Papers documenting the Copper Wall Project. ["The Copper Wall," project explored possible electromagnetic correlates of the human energy field.]     In addition it provides a ‘filmography’ of their films and videos about both biofeedback and energy healing.

Books

  • Beyond Biofeedback - Together the Greens wrote Beyond Biofeedback, from which we have taken many observations, an excellent and highly recommended book on the principles and applications of biofeedback training.

Beyond Biofeedback – Drs Elmer and Alyce Green

Sooner or later, it seems, almost everyone who seriously trains with biofeedback equipment comes to an existential awareness (in contra-distinction to a simple cognitive awareness) of mind-body unity. Such people experience a degree of self-possession, which may irritate their colleagues who have not shared in this kind of awareness. The best cure for that is merely to try it. It does not take long for a hypothesis of self-regulation to become a certainty. The beneficial effects on one's self-image are tremendous.

 

Observations

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