The following article was over three years in preparation and included dozens of interviews with doctors, scientists, corporations and families familiar with the work of the Alphalearning Institute and attendance on two of the Institute’s training courses. Variations on the article have been published in many magazines, journals and newspapers worldwide.
Mr. Marshall first saw a demonstration of Brainwave I in June 1992 at an international conference on New Edge technology and completed this article in September 1995 after interviewing dozens of executives, scientists and families around Europe and participating in the courses with Kris and the Van Es family.
Text by Jules Marshall, Photography by Floris Leeuwenberg
Copyright 1995: Jules Marshall / TCS All rights reserved
"The computer is the new guru," declares the inventor of the latest generation of brain machine. His new device is claimed to alleviate and even cure a range of brain disorders -
In the Alphalearning Institute something very special is going on. Special, incredible, revolutionary -
Kris is ten minutes into her first 12-
"Bang on time!" whoops the Alphaarnin instructor when she eventually relaxes. "I told you the reaction would come when she hit the green line."
All seven of us in the training room look at one another, then at Kris, then back at each other. The Brainwave 1 is an optical-
Here we have a technology that’s claimed to increase IQ by 10-
If even half the Institute’s claims are true, the Brainwave I system, coupled with the techniques of "Alphalearning," amounts to at least a revolution in education and medicine, offering relief and empowerment to millions.
At best, it offers far more. As a species, we’re paddling out of the shallows and into the full Tsunami of an information explosion. In our personal and professional lives, as individuals and as a society, we are expected to know more, about more -
As information is generated and distributed with increasing speed, the limiting factor has become our own brains. By any measure, the world can use being a little wiser, a little less stressed out. We are approaching an evolutionary bottleneck through which the Alphalearning system would appear to offer safe passage -
But are half the claims true? Or all? Or none? And how can we decide? The search for answers involves a journey to "somewhere on the fringe between lunacy, philosophy, alternative medicine and science-
Young Kris provides our first opportunity to stick our fingers in the wound. When she arrived at the Alphalearning office just an hour before, she was drooling, her head swaying uncontrollably as her eyes wandered unfocused in their sockets. All these symptoms have abated after the one session.
The change is permanent and cumulative, assures the Alphalearning Institute. "With regular practice with the Lotus, she’ll continue to improve. We’ll have her using a computer herself in a few months."
As for how a seven-
Humans have been experimenting with what we now call trance technology for at least 65,000 years. That’s the date of the earliest remains indicating that people danced around the flames of a fire, creating a primitive stroboscope for observers. Bashing a log with a rock added sound, and there you have enough to alter consciousness. Witch doctors and shamans have used such knowledge ever since.
By 5,500 years ago, Tibetan Buddhist monks had refined the system into a spinning prayer wheel through which a candle flame flickered whilst a monk spoke into the user’s ear and another beat a drum. It was clear even then that lower frequencies of flashing light and drums caused people to sit calmer and learn better.
But no one knew what exactly was happening until around 100 years ago, when the British biologist Richard Caton discovered that the brain emitted electrical impulses. Around 1938, German doctor Hans Berger actually isolated a brainwave, the so-
Like Cade, he had to stick needles into his subjects heads to get a reading. Unlike Cade, Berger had an unlimited number of "white rats" to which no one cared what happened -
The next advance in trance technology came in the 1970s, when the
Why alpha? Because it’s the state of relaxed concentration or "lucid awareness". Typically, it’s a wave of around 7 Hz -
Unfortunately, it can take hundreds of hours or thousands of dollars to learn how to get to the point where you can duplicate the alpha wave. In fact usually the price was "everything"; that’s what gurus charge to dole out secrets one by one over the years. "Now, the computer is the guru," they say.
In spite of the intense interest in brain machines, after experiments with Zen monks, students and professionals, Maxwell Cade -
The first key advance of the Alphalearning Institute was to stop messing with biofeedback and go right in and implant the desired brainwave. Since the autumn of 1992, the Institute’s equipment and techniques have been capable of diagnosing -
A customised programme of flashing gold light into the eyes and soft stereo sound into the ears brings these into normal ranges in just 12 minutes. Next, "Neuro Linguistic Programming" (NLP) is used to embed this balanced state. NLP, discovered by John Grinder, is when a command or compliment from a perceived authority figure in front of a peer group, accompanied by a physical touch or reaction, creates a permanent mental anchor. You will now behave that way for the rest of your life, or at least until someone changes it.
This insight stemmed from the findings of a group of 40 Harley Street consultants working at Regents Park College in London in the summer of 1989. Looking for a cure for smoking, they proposed that if they could only take a patient into the theta brain state -
Over a three-
The Alphalearning Institute’s six-
All previous studies on brain activity had used brain damaged, autistic or otherwise non-
Using an old InnerQuest brain machine -
"So now we just put them in theta and say ‘Johnny, now you can read to people -
It’s that simple? "Yes, which is why all these companies went, ‘Oh my God, how quick can you train our executives? Can you train them to take notes? Control stress? Be more creative? Stop chewing fingernails?’ Well, it beat the hell out of me, but I said we’d try."
Throughout 1991, Alphalearning Instiute commuted around Europe training 300 executives from a wide range of companies, nationalities and languages, checking and double-
Jan Willem van den Brandhof, director of human resources for ICL contacted the Alphalearning in 1991 after seeing an article about speed reading -
"All the responses were positive, and everyone was impressed by what they learned," says van den Brandhof. "In our business, change is so fast -
"Also, as workloads and required productivity increase, so the level of stress is an increasingly important factor in business. If you can work with simple techniques that improve on that, it’s a very good investment. I believe what the Alphalearning Institute has developed is a unique programme -
What level of employee would benefit from the course in an organisation such as his? "Managers, salespeople and anyone who has to cope with a lot of information and is under stress -
The Institute has also experimented with more than one subject hooked up at the same time, so they can see each other’s brain reactions to interaction. The results have profound implications for teamwork, and indeed on any interpersonal communications. For example, the brain broadcasts as well as receives; a trained brain can influence the brain state of those to whom its owner is talking.
A demonstration of this comes during a special family training week at the Institute. Jos van Es was hit by a car two years ago while cycling. Ever since, his emotional balance has been out of sync. He has lost his senses of taste and smell, and his home and work life are suffering, along with the whole family. The four of them -
And all four can now control their brain state -
But its very differentness is a problem for the alphalearning system. It’s an eclectic mix of hard, soft and parascience, and eastern philosophy. Peter Selkirk, a senior executive at Raychem UK, says, "As the seniority of managers (at Raychem Belgium) taking the course rose, there were increasing concerns about its whole acceptance. How mainstream was it? Just how fringe did Raychem choose to go? "It’s another example of the fear you encounter of going beyond boundaries of science," says Selkirk. "It’s not simple Luddism, but the fact is that it is very hard to distinguish between the charlatan and the innovator." (N.B. Luddite: British political group believing that mechanisation would diminish employment and therefore aggressively opposes technical progress.)
Raychem UK took up the sponsorship reins and Selkirk did a course in early 1994. "I understand how they feel. However, I was keen and thrilled with the course." Twenty people have now done the course in the UK. But it’s not a mainstream course, like sales skills for example. "This is one of Alphalearning’s frustrations, and it’s understandable," says Selkirk. "Glasses and earphones make your brain better? It does take some swallowing."
But Selkirk and his wife Cornelia have had no such doubts -
In the summer of 1992, a 17-
A number of other strange and beneficial "anomalies" occurred, and by word of mouth, parents began to bring their disabled children along. More than 60 have come to date. In February 1994, Harry Selkirk was just two -
"We put him on the Lotus and there was an immediate improvement," says Harry’s mother. A collapsed ankle for which his doctors had suggested remedial boots straightened out instantly. His drooling, which therapists had suggested excising part of his saliva gland, seemed more noticeable, but that too cleared up over the following months. "We needed to get a Lotus ourselves, and Harry now uses it three times a week." Cornelia Selkirk now works with the system herself, with children, on a referral only basis. She is one of some 30 plus practitioners in 12 countries who have already begun working with alphalearning.
Harry Selkirk, 1 year after his first Brainwave session -
The response of the medical community was an eye-
Wendy Lees’ second son James was born in Zimbabwe in April 1963. He had been a face presentation, stuck behind his mother’s pelvis and was born with blood oozing from his nose and ears and the side of his head clearly dented. Back in Britain the Wolfson Centre confirmed that the motor section of his brain had been damaged which was causing his physical weakness, high sensitivity and mental difficulties.
James grew up facing the emotional problems associated with the fact that he refused to accept that he was handicapped and was highly embarrassed by his rather lopsided walk, his slurry speech and his lack of ability to improve his motor skills, such as writing. A chance meeting by his mother took James to Maastricht. Mrs. Lees takes up the story in a testimonial later sent to The Alphalearning Institutein grateful thanks.
"We were told that if there was to be an improvement, it would be noticeable within hours. We left the Institute in the early evening and kept looking at James. Later we went to a restaurant with some friends who had come to the Institute with us. Yvonne said that she thought James’ speech was clearer. John and I thought so too and were thrilled that someone else had been the first to point it out.
"However we didn’t have long to wait for conclusive proof as the very next day, en route home, we were at Schiphol Airport approaching a steeply descending escalator and, in our normal way, got ready to catch hold of James to steady him. Without a word he got on without any help, as if he had been doing it all his life -
Why have parents kept such a low profile? Indeed why is the Alphalearning system not more widely known about? Cornelia Selkirk says they kept quiet for fear of putting back the progress of their children. For The Alphalearning Institute, the answer is more complex.
As it became clearer that what had started out as simply a way of teaching executives to read faster was becoming a full-
Alphalearning vowed to try the system on over 500 subjects, with at least 1,000 EEG’s, before saying anything. The 500th subject was tested in the summer of 1995, just before Alphalearning Institute "went public". "Proof’ is a difficult concept -
Professor Rainer Dieterich, psychologist and dean of the education faculty at the German army’s Bundeswehr University in Hamburg, is one of the few academics exploring the Brainwave I (he has 2 units in his laboratory). He finds Alphalearning’s approach promising, not being bound to specific theories and uninfluenced by any ideology -
If you interview scientists, it’s their job to be sceptical. If they see Alphhlearning’s claims, they will try to check whether they are true or false. Could it be falsification? Dieterich concedes that it could, "But I have no indication that this is so. He gives me his data; he has no advantage to make me believe. Do I believe him? Yes, why not? I have observed some of his successes and participated in his 5 day course twice -
Comments Saskia Egeler-
Raychem’s Peter Selkirk points out that there’s a ‘whole universe of claims out there, and it’s almost impossible to tell what is valuable and what is junk -
Selkirk fears the damage that a few ridicule-
"You can say this shouldn’t work, and frankly I have little idea how it does. But you can’t say it doesn’t work -
This data, plus details of the Alphalearning Institute, can now be accessed through an Internet Web site -
It’s important that society takes Alphalearning's claims seriously, simply because, if true, they do indeed represent a new era of medical treatment and education. Many conditions that are currently hard to treat -
And, in an age of increasing stress, violence and ecological destruction, we could all use some wising up!
Jules Marshall (1962) is a freelance writer on technology and culture as well as a multimedia designer based in Amsterdam. An editor of MEDIAMATIC and contributing writer for WIRED magazine, he has also published in ELLE, THE GUARDIAN (UK), SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (Australia), WIENER (Germany) and COURRIER INTERNATIONAL (France).
Keep your reading: "Alphalearning Revolution II" -
Copyright 1995: Jules Marshall / TCS -