Playing with Razors… Looking at Kastrup
Modern science is largely comprised of interpreting data that has been generated via the development of instruments/machines that in essence act as extensions of the human sensory systems (sight, auditory, etc.). An example of this might be the microscope which was developed to see objects too small to be seen by the naked eye. Similarly (in an inverse manner), the telescope was developed to magnify distant objects.
When it comes to instruments that are utilized to measure brain activity, there are multiple types that generate very different data points. The most commonly used devices in field of neurology/neuroscience are the electroencephalogram (EEG), magnetoencephalogram (MEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), computed tomography (CT), positron emission photography (PET), and the near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).
EEG is a non-invasive device that utilizes electrodes placed on the scalp to measure electrical activity of the brain. Voltage fluctuations result from changes in ionic current within the neurons. One of the key benefits of the EEG device is that it is able to detect electrical changes in the brain at a very high temporal resolution (millisecond-range). Fluctuations in brain activity produced by electrical pulses generate neural oscillations (“brain waves”) that have come to be associated with different activities and levels of awareness.
MEG is also a non-invasive machine but instead of recording electrical activity, it records magnetic fields generated by the electrical currents occurring in the brain. The MEG utilizes multiple magnetometers called SQUIDS (superconducting quantum interference devices) placed around the head (but not touching) in order to measure the changes in the brain’s magnetic field. Much like the EEG, this device also has very high temporal resolution.
FMRI is a form of magnetic resonance imaging that registers blood flow to functioning areas of the brain. Because hemoglobin (which carries oxygen in the blood) has different magnetic properties when it is oxygen rich than when it is oxygen poor, the fMRI is able to identify specific brain areas that are using more or less oxygen at any one time. One of the benefits of the fMRI machine is that it has extensive spatial resolution allowing researchers to observe activity taking place at deeper layers of the brain in comparison to EEG which measures surface activity. However, being that it measures blood flow rather than electricity, it is considered a proxy measurement of brain activity.
CT is a noninvasive imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce images of the body. Different materials within the body absorb X-rays at different rates which allows for the generation of the image. Generally speaking, CT scans reveal the gross features of the brain but does not provide detailed structure very well. This device isn’t meant to study the brain from a temporal basis.
A PET scan uses trace amounts of short-lived radioactive material injected into the bloodstream (or inhaled) to map functional processes in the brain. When the material undergoes radioactive decay a positron is emitted, which can be picked up be the detector. Areas of high radioactivity are associated with brain activity also associated with alterations in blood flow.
NIRS is an optical technique for measuring blood oxygenation in the brain. It works by shining light in the near infrared part of the spectrum (700-900nm) through the skull and detecting how much the remerging light is attenuated. How much the light is attenuated depends on blood oxygenation and thus NIRS can provide an indirect measure of brain activity.
So… now what?
We have six devices that utilize different methodologies to analyze brain activity. EEG measures electricity, MEG measures magnetic flux, fMRI/PET measure blood flow, NIRS measures blood oxygenation, and CT measures gross structures. Which of these devices would be considered as being the most accurate in terms of generating “useful data” regarding brain activity coinciding with specific experiences/state of consciousness?
We suppose it depends on the perspective.
“In both science and philosophy one must extract conclusions not from local and partial pieces of the data, but from a careful consideration of the data as a whole. One must look for broad patterns, because it is from these broad patterns that reliable conclusions can be extracted. While particular reports of transpersonal experiences could possibly be explained away, the broad pattern that associates peak transpersonal experiences with reductions of brain activity clearly points to a robust and consistent phenomenon.” - Dr. Bernardo Kastrup
This quote is extremely interesting being that we whole-heartedly agree with Dr. Kastrup regarding the consideration of data as a whole and acknowledging broad patterns to generate reliable conclusions. The part we are not so sure about is the interpretation that there is a pattern associating peak transpersonal experiences with reductions of brain activity. We believe that there might be more to the story than simply “reductions” taking place.
We’re specifically addressing the September 3, 2018 article written by Kastrup & Dr. Edward F. Kelly in Scientific American titled, “Misreporting and Confirmation Bias in Psychedelic Research”. In this piece, Kastrup/Kelly consistently cite “reduced brain activity” as coinciding with the psychedelic experience. In the first paragraph of their piece, they link to 5 studies which purportedly support their argument (PNAS-2012, The Journal of Neuroscience -2013, PLOS-2015, PNAS-2016, Neuroimage-2017). These studies included the effects of the hallucinogens psilocybin, LSD, and Ayahuasca on the brain (not in combination) utilizing either fMRI, MEG, or PET scan equipment.
The general sentiment of the article is that Kastrup/Kelly propose a bias in psychedelic/neuroscience research regarding the perception that the brain generates the “mind”. Based on this perception, the duo believe that psychedelic researchers and science writers misinterpret data attempting to integrate it with the perception of the brain driving consciousness rather than letting the data “rewrite” the story.
One of the main sticking points of Kastrup/Kelly is presented as follows: “The problem is that modern brain imaging techniques do detect clear spikes in raw brain activity when sleeping subjects dream even of dull things such as staring at a statue or clenching a hand. So why are only decreases in brain activity conclusively seen when subjects undergo psychedelic experiences, instead of dreams? Given how difficult it is to find one biological basis for consciousness, how plausible is it that two fundamentally different mechanisms underlie conscious experience in the otherwise analogous psychedelic and dreaming states?”
The duo appear to present the data as being completely different in terms of the measurable brain activity when dreaming compared to that of a psychedelic experience. The one discrepancy we must point to is the actual 2013 sleep study (published in Science) which Kastrup/Kelly cited as detecting “clear spikes in raw brain activity during dreaming”. This particular study utilized EEG equipment as well as fMRI. Kastrup/Kelly didn’t specifically cite the data point(s) within the study that purportedly show these “spikes in raw brain activity” but if they are using the EEG fluctuations that coincide with sleep stages and dreaming… we might have a slight issue.
(An example of the different brain waves measured via EEG and the type of awareness associated with them.)
In the chart above it describes the different brain waves that coincide with different states of alertness/awareness when utilizing EEG as the brain capture device. The slowest brain waves (delta = 0.2 to 3 Hz) coincide with sleep stages 1 to 4, slightly faster waves (theta = 3 to 8 Hz) coincide with sedation, the next bandwidth of waves (alpha = 8 to 12 Hz) correlate with wakeful rest, faster waves (beta = 12 to 27 Hz) associate with focused/normal waking consciousness, and the fastest waves (gamma = 27 to 150 Hz) are linked to high performance.
In 2009, a study was published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science titled “The Aha! Moment, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight”. This study was based on measuring neural correlates during sudden comprehension in problem solving moments which are deemed as an insight or an “Aha!” moment. EEG equipment and (fMRI) functional magnetic resonance imaging were utilized to study the frequency (Hz) and areas of the brain which became activated during these moments. The study concluded that insight solutions or “Aha!” moments are positively correlated with bursts of gamma waves.
Here is an excerpt from Brain World Magazine regarding the 2009 study:
“In the volunteers that experienced insight, Kounios and Beeman found a distinctive spark of high gamma activity that would spike one-third of a second before volunteers consciously arrived at an answer. Additionally, the flash of gamma waves stemmed from the brain’s right hemisphere—an area involved in handling associations and assembling parts of a problem. Gamma activity indicates a constellation of neurons binding together for the first time in the brain to create a new neural network pathway. This is the creation of a new idea. Immediately following that gamma spike, the new idea pops into our consciousness, which we identify as the Aha! Moment.“
In 2008, a study was published in the Public Library of Science titled “Deconstructing Insight: EEG Correlates of Insightful Problem Solving” citing very similar results. The results of the study were as follows, “we found strong gamma band (40-48 Hz) responses at parieto-occipital regions which we interpreted as (i) an adjustment of selective attention (leading to a mental impasse or to a correct solution depending on the gamma band power level) and (ii) encoding and retrieval processes for the emergence of spontaneous new solutions.”
The big conundrum at hand is as follows… gamma waves have been observed to coincide with enhanced problem solving and neuronal binding. This would seem to be an important correlation in terms of interpreting brain wave data generated by EEG. Faster oscillatory activity appears to coincide with increased processing potential.
During predominant dream sleep (REM), there are multiple EEG studies that indicate a combination of theta and gamma wave activity (PNAS - 1993, Neuroscience - 1999, Clinical Neurophysiology - 2001, The Journal of Neuroscience - 2008, PLOS One - 2011 (mouse study)). We speculate that "spikes in raw brain activity” being referenced by Kastrup/Kelly from the sleep study have to do with the changes in EEG that correlate with the dream state and particularly the gamma waves. Being that fMRI provides much less temporal resolution than EEG, we presume that fMRI data would not be the source of these references to “spikes”.
These are the types of nuances in brain activity studies that complicate the discussion of an already inherently complicated topic. An emotional reaction to being shown a disturbingly violent image for a split second would generate the type of brain activity that would be quite discernible via EEG while an fMRI would need more prolonged exposure to the same stimulus in order to generate any meaningful and possibly measurable data. This is based on the different layer of physiology that the devices effectively measure… electricity vs. blood flow. The issue we have with the Kastrup/Kelly argument is that they appear to be presenting decreased cerebral blood flow (CBF) as “generically” equating to decreased brain activity in general. We must remain cognizant that blood & blood flow is not the only fluid in the cranial cavity that affects neurological processes. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is up to 300% greater in volume within the cranial cavity than blood at any moment in time. This is particularly important for two reasons… CSF has greater electrical conductivity potential than blood based on it’s composition (15% greater chloride levels than blood) and significantly greater levels of the endogenous hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine (DMT aka “The Spirit Molecule”) have been measured in the CSF when compared to blood, urine, saliva, feces, and tissue levels. The conductivity aspect of CSF would seem key when analyzing the EEG data as one might presume that measurably different electrical activity takes place when the CSF ratio to cerebral blood volume is altered.
(Dr. Mauro Zappaterra has interesting perspectives regarding CSF and the mystical experience.)
In a past 2014 article, Kastrup wrote the following: “In Chapter 2 of Why Materialism Is Baloney, I illustrate a broad pattern associating procedures that reduce brain activity with expanded consciousness. These include hyperventilation, meditation, ordeals, gravity-induced loss of consciousness, strangulation, cardiac arrest, brain damage, and even psychedelics. Indeed, a 2012 paper by Carhart-Harris et al. has showed that psychedelics only reduce neural activity, with no increases anywhere in the brain.”
From a fMRI perspective, we found that hyperventilation, meditation, cardiac arrest, traumatic brain injury, and psychedelics all reduced cerebral blood flow (CBF). However, from an EEG perspective we also found that hyperventilation/respiratory rhythm, meditation, cardiac arrest, and traumatic brain injury all induced increases in gamma wave activity. Not to delve too deep into the mechanics of CSF generation but its been observed that naturally speaking CSF production and movement are intimately dependent on respiration (more specifically inspiration). As greater strength/frequency of inspiration takes place, a greater amount of CSF is produced and transported into the cranial cavity simultaneously coinciding with cerebral arterial vasoconstriction coinciding with reduced CBF. By contrast, breath retention/hypercapnia induces vasodilation and increases CBF (not necessarily equating to any distinct changes in a person’s subjective experience).
At this point you might be asking… what’s the point of all this?
Since Kastrup mentions “broad patterns” as being key in terms of generating a reliable conclusion… we must point out that an increase in gamma waves have been associated with virtually all the states Kastrup points to as being an example of “decreases of brain activity”.
There are three EEG Ayahuasca studies that showcase increases in gamma waves (Phytomedicine - 1998, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs - 2005, PLOS One - 2015). The issue with a few other Ayahuasca studies that have utilized EEG is that they failed to measure for any changes in activity of the brain at greater than 30 Hz. This would in essence make any increases in gamma wave amplitude to be non-existent… not because of a lack of an increase but merely due to a failure to simply look (Examples: British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology - 2002 and Neuropsychobiology - 2004).
There are two psilocybin studies that showcase increases in gamma waves (Psychopharmacology - 2015, International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology - 2016). There is one LSD study that similarly showcases increases in gamma waves (Psychopharmacology - 2013). A 2016 LSD study published in PNAS attempted to measure gamma waves but the researchers were incapable of differentiating residual muscle artifact from gamma wave activity. This doesn’t inherently equate to a lack of gamma wave increase from LSD but more so an ongoing challenge for many researchers who do not have substantial experience effectively applying and editing EEG data across many different types of environments.
One of the most interesting results from Q4LT’s perspective is the EEG data from a 2015 study published in The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy. This study was based on administering dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and 5-methoxy-dimethyltryptamine (5-MEO-DMT) at separate times to subjects and measuring the subsequent effects. The results found a significant increase in gamma waves from both DMT and 5-MEO with a simultaneous decrease in the slower waves. The significance of this study is based on the fact that virtually all non-drug induced methods of facilitating expanded consciousness (meditation, hyperventilation, hypnosis, near death experiences, lucid dreaming, Out of Body Experiences, Déjà vu, electrically induced lucid dreams, “The God Helmet” Experiences, hypnagogia/sleep paralysis, sound) have been observed to create a surge in gamma waves and both DMT/5-MEO-DMT are produced endogenously within every mammal tested thus far. This leads to further speculation that these transcendental moments experienced by humans correlates with an up regulation of the endogenous DMT(s) as well as a host of other “interesting” biochemicals we’ve come to coin the “Endohuasca Soup”.
(In the video below, Dr. Steven Barker discusses data from the unpublished dissertation by Dr. Robert Harrison of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He describes an experiment in which LSD was administered to rats which subsequently increased their endogenous levels of 5-MEO-DMT by 1000% and DMT by 400%. Barker then hypothesizes that many hallucinogens might not be true hallucinogens but rather agonists to the endogenous hallucinogen neuronal system.)
At this point it might seem that the argument for materialism pertaining to “altered states” might be quite robust being that it’s been proven that the human body produces DMT aka “The Spirit Molecule”, 5-MEO-DMT aka “The God Molecule”, bufotenin (5-HO-DMT), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (Tribulin, Pinoline, Neurocatin, Harman, Tryptoline), Morphine, Dynorphin, gamma-Hydroxybutric acid (GHB), Diazepam Binding Inhibitor (DBI), Oxytocin, Anandamide, Adrenochrome, and the obscure Alpha-Endopsychosin. We’ve identified that increases in dominant brainwave speed (gamma waves) appears to coincide with transcendental states. We’ve also described the changes in fluid dynamics of the brain during these states with distinct decreases in cerebral blood flow coinciding with an altered ratio of CSF to CBV during these moments. In essence, the classical materialist could take the stance that increases in cerebrospinal fluid/cerebral blood volume ratio, increased gamma wave activity, and increased levels of endogenous hallucinatory compounds all lead to the occurrence of the experience itself.
Q4LT’s perspective is that everything that is currently measurable is material. Some layers of the body just happen to be more “material” than others being that some can be analyzed with the naked eye while others need finely tuned instruments to interpret. There lies the possibility that additional layers of physiology and the environment have yet to be fully deciphered (in mainstream science) leading to future ones being discovered subsequently leading to the development of new technology to monitor those layers.
Just to be clear… Q4LT does not have a materialistic perspective of reality or the metaphysical.
We find the perspective of the majority of materialist scientists to be largely and substantially… underwhelming. However, we don’t particularly enjoy taking the stance that “consciousness is everything so the details of physicality are all secondary noises that aren’t all that interesting or important”. We believe that materialism can only be discarded in the future by utilizing the widest data sets, identifying the broadest patterns, and going deeper into the mechanics of a “mystical” phenomenon while merging biochemical and bioelectrical properties in a synchronous fashion.
“Consciousness” is a tricky topic but our perception of it is that the closest physically measurable layer to better understand the complexity of consciousness has to do with electricity and magnetism. This is why we weren’t completely in agreement with the Kastrup/Kelly stance that blood flow changes via fMRI provided definitive proof of a counter argument against materialism. We propose that during altered states of consciousness, the electromagnetic changes of the brain and body are robust coinciding synchronously with the biochemical release that coincides with the changes in perception. This doesn’t inherently explain the said phenomena but more so applies measurable correlates to the experience. There will always be cases of experiences that don’t appear to correlate with the activity of the physical body such as the NDE of Dr. Eben Alexander. However, that doesn’t automatically equate to all or even the majority of mystical experiences as having no correlation with measurable changes in the brain/body.
(High level meditators exude very high levels of gamma waves)
(Add-on: It’s been observed that in certain cases cerebral blood flow continues in the face of measurable clinical brain death. We believe this adds additional complexity to the discussion of cerebral blood flow correlating with brain activity.)
The fun really begins when adventurous “mystics” start to develop protocols that challenge the materialistic viewpoint based on pushing the boundaries of what is deemed possible and impossible. 26 Guinness World Record Holder Wim “The Iceman” Hof is one of the figures leading the charge as he has developed a breathing and cold exposure system that quickly allows average humans to accomplish “supernormal” feats. Author of the books “Becoming Supernatural” and “You Are the Placebo”, Dr. Joe Dispenza is utilizing a combination of breathwork, trance inducers, and virtual reality to consistently induce spontaneous healings during his workshops.
We believe that one of the greatest scientific literary works of the past 100 years is summarized in the book, “The Body Electric” by Dr. Robert O. Becker. In this book, Dr. Becker describes the changes in electrical current direction and strength in the body that coincides with changes in consciousness. He extensively studied the regenerative abilities of salamanders and subsequently shed light on one of the greatest mysteries of natural physiology (in our not so humble opinion). An important point to make is that Becker utilized direct current (DC) measurements to measure changes in the brain rather than EEG. He believed that the signal contained less artifacts and provided a more functional perspective of what was taking place.
(An image of the DC equipment and measurement utilized by Dr. Becker)
It is our unproven perspective that consciousness is indeed relegated to the brain during an average “stressed” state of being. During these states, brain waves in the Alpha-Beta region are more profoundly expressed. From a DC/AC perspective this equates to weak oscillatory power and the inability for consciousness to expand past the confines of the physical brain/neural networks. However, during the naturally induced altered states mentioned above, there is a coupling of the theta-gamma frequencies coinciding with greater oscillatory power and a subsequent expansion of one’s “field” and consciousness.
(Our interpretation of what is taking place neurologically from an electromagnetic perspective)
Once again… where are we going with this?
According to traditional materialists telepathy is an impossibility based on their understanding of how the brain and the nature of reality works. Therefore it is our viewpoint that materialism can be effectively challenged by essentially providing a proper framework with which telepathy could take place, a protocol to reliably replicate the results, and a method to distribute the protocol to the masses in order for mass adoption and application to take place. Dr. Becker’s research regarding directional electrical changes in the body was absolutely pertinent to assisting us in conceptualizing the model.
(Q4LT’s perspective on how short range telepathic communication emanates. It essentially overlays with WiTricity’s model of inductive (wireless) charging.)
We don’t believe that it is a random occurrence that long-time meditators exude increased gamma wave strength and speed when compared to non-meditators. We also don’t believe that it is a coincidence that many long-term meditators and mystics have been alluded to be able to perform “supernatural” feats such as telepathy. Harmine is a component of the plant (B. Caapi) utilized in Ayahuasca for monoamine oxidase inhibiting (MAOI) properties. Harmine was once called “Telepathine” due to the effects of this compound and perceived telepathic communication following ingestion. We don’t believe that it is a coincidence that Ayahuasca administration has been observed to significantly increase gamma waves coinciding with the visionary and sometimes perceived telepathic experiences. A 2014 study published in Nature Neuroscience observed for the first time that electrical stimulation of the brain which activated gamma wave increases in the 40 Hz band induced self awareness within lucid dreams. We’ve mentioned in the past that creator of the EEG, Hans Berger developed the device to specifically study telepathy in 1924. It is our opinion that Berger was likely on the right path but since digital equipment needed to measure gamma waves didn’t become readily available until the 1990s, he was unfortunately ahead of his time. Having looked at a relatively wide body of data pertaining to psychedelics, altered states, dreams, and much more… we definitely believe that there is a broad pattern taking place in terms of increased oscillatory activity in the gamma range coinciding with these experiences. Once again… it doesn’t “explain” the experience but rather showcases a rather consistent neurological correlate to the experience.
(Unlike the slower brain waves which have relatively well defined ranges, gamma waves above 30 Hz have yet to find a true limit. In the future we might be taking into account speeds up to 500 Hz and higher which affords a lot of exploration between the two limits.)
We titled this piece… “playing with razors” as a compliment to Dr. Bernardo Kastrup who has great ideas and provides a refreshing challenge to the materialist nonsense. However, even razors can need some sharpening and his perspective regarding a consistency conflicted with our perspective of a consistency. We also have two completely different attitudes when it comes to overcoming the dogma of materialism. Kastrup brings up the many flaws of the materialistic mindset while Q4LT points to the consistencies of “mystical” states that will eventually come full circle to induce the eventual abandonment of nonsensical ideas such as materialism once the full human potential has been realized.
These are interesting times ahead as mysticism experiences a modern revival of sorts as people begin to explore different techniques to “stretch out”. Obviously transitions take time especially when we’re referring to societal transitions in terms of comprehending consciousness and the “human experience”. As a spectator it is the most interesting thing to watch… real life.
Added note: One of the main reasons (possibly faulty) we don’t value fMRI studies to a very high degree in terms of measuring brain activity coinciding with a person’s consciousness is based on the multiple documented cases of humans having lived relatively normal lives while missing 70 to 90% of their brains. It’s a bit difficult to fathom the fMRI data points generated from a normal human brain having the same experience as a person missing the majority of their brain. If “we” are claiming to understand precisely the part of the brain that controls specific aspects of our experience, this is a problem when humans missing the majority of their brains can still operate rather functionally. However, we do retain the possibility that EEG/MEG/DC/AC data could be somewhat comparable between a normal human and the person missing the majority of their brains being that we believe consciousness aligns with an underlying electrical force (not necessarily of neuronal origin) in some manner (possibly faulty reasoning as well).
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any comments regarding this piece.
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