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This is part of the background information by Sylvia Engdahl for her science fiction novel Stewards of the Flame. If you don't see a menu on the left, please click here and then on "Neurofeedback."

Neurofeedback Technology Is Rapidly Improving

When I started writing Stewards of the Flame some years ago, primitive EEG biofeedback was popular, and I based my idea of the mind training in the story on an expanded conception of it. When I returned to the book in 2005, I discovered the term "neurofeedback" had become current, so I changed to that word. I didn't change anything in my treatment of the process, which I envisioned as involving more advanced technology than mere EEG input and more sophisticated software than exists today. But I'm fascinated to see that we're already a good deal further along in the use of neurofeedback than I guessed we'd be in this era, largely because of the combination of feedback with computer graphics.

Neurofeedback is an extremely promising form of therapy, now commonly used with children who have ADHD or autism and with adults for such problems as epilepsy and migraine headaches. It is also used to enhance concentration, and thus performance, by people in many fields, from athletes and business executives to NASA pilots. The Web has many sites maintained by clinics or individual psychologists who are promoting their services; Googling "neurofeedback" brings up over 500,000 hits.

So far, neurofeedback has used only EEG (brain wave) input. But a few companies are beginning to experiment with the use of functional MRI brain scanning. For more information about this, see the "Mental Control of Pain" heading. Pain control is not the only potential use of fMRI, however. According to the New York Times, "Omneuron is also researching treatments for addiction, depression and other psychological illnesses.... The company has contemplated 'several dozen applications,' including the treatment of stroke and epilepsy. Brain scanning could even be used to improve athletic performance." Several other companies are planning to use it for lie detection.

Video: Sue and Siegfried Othmer, What Is Neurofeedback?

Video: Ken Wilbur, showing altered states of consciousness by EEG

Here are some links:

Brain and Health, information about neurofeedback by a practicing psychologist.

Wired for Miracles?, Psychology Today, May/June 1998. Detailed article about the history and uses of neurofeedback by Jim Robbins, author of the book A Symphony in the Brain (listed below).

Train Your Brain, Scientific American Mind, February 2006. In addition to therapies, could neurofeedback improve cognition in healthy brains?"

MindMods, The latest news on biofeedback, consciousness, neuroscience & neurotechnology.

International Society for Neurofeedback and Research, a professional association with information for practitioners and patients.

Don't Even Think About Lying, Wired, January, 2006. How brain scans are reinventing the science of lie detection.

"Mind Over Matter, With a Machine's Help, New York Times, August 26, 2007. "If Dr. deCharms and Omneuron are successful, and can teach us to train our brains to manage neurological and psychological conditions, they will have given us something that has challenged philosophers, psychologists and yogis alike: gaining some reliable control over our own thoughts."

And a few books:

A Symphony in the Brain: The Evolution of the New Brain Wave Biofeedback, Jim Robbins, Grove Press, 2000, 0802138195

Getting Started with Neurofeedback, John R. Demos, Norton, 2004, 0393704505.


Until very recently, neuroscientists believed that the adult brain, aside from the areas associated with memory formation, could not change -- that chemical and electrical activity in the brain produces mental experiences, and never the other way around. In the 1990s this view began to be modified when it was discovered that damaged brains, such as those of stroke victims, can and do undergo changes during the process of recovery. Now neuroplasticity -- the ability of the brain to "rewire" itself -- has become one of the hottest areas of neuroscience. It has received considerable attention this year since the publication of Sharon Begley's book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, which reports on experiments conducted with the cooperation of the Dalai Lama that proved the brains of Buddhist monks actually change after years of experience in meditation.

The implications of research in neuroplasticity are enormous, and are just beginning to be recognized. If brain damage can be partially overcome, and if mediators can become more capable of altruism and compassion through alteration of their own brains, then many other things can also be accomplished by mind training. Very probably neurofeedback -- which is not specifically involved in neuroplasticity research -- also has permanent effects on the brain; it seems obvious that it must, considering that its effects are lasting. In any case, scientists' recognition of the power of mind training to alter the brain provides strong support for the concept of such training expressed in Stewards of the Flame.

Links to articles about neuroplasticity:

How Thinking Can Change the Brain, Sharon Begley, Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2007 (posted Jan. 20 at the site of the Dalai Lama). "Evidence that mental training can create an enduring brain trait." An excerpt from Begley's book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, listed below.

Rewiring the Brain (book reviews), Discover, March 29, 2007. "By recognizing neuroplasticity as a real and powerful force, we can tilt our theories of mind back into a realm where choice and free will are meaningful concepts, and where radical improvement to the human condition is possible using the right, scientifically proven techniques."

The Brain: Malleable, Capable, Vulnerable (book review), New York Times, May 29, 2007. "The age-old distinction between the brain and the mind is crumbling fast as the power of positive thinking finally gains scientific credibility.... It is the virtual made real, a solid quantification of the power of thought."

Books about neuroplasticity:

Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, Sharon Begley, Ballantine Books, 2007, 1400063906.

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, Norman Doidge, Viking, 2007, 067003830X.

The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity , Norman Doidge, Penguin, 2016, 014312837X.

The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley, Harper Perennial, 2003, 0060988479.

Last updated in 2007