So having looked at various technologies claiming to aid meditation and talking with an expert in the field of mindfulness neuroscience (Thank you Judson Brewer) I have decided to start focusing on EEG Mirrors.
So what is an EEG Mirror? Electroencephalography (EEG) is an electrophysiological monitoring method to record electrical activity of the brain. An EEG Mirror is a system that takes this recorded electrical activity and feeds it back to the user, in a form that will help them understand the activity in their own brain. EEG Mirrors can be used to communicate when a meditator has quietened the part of the their brain called the Posterior Cingulate Cortex, which is associated with anxiety and cravings. When this area quiets right down the meditator has entered ‘flow’, which is a mental state when a person is fully immersed in the present in a feeling of energised focus.
There are a few EEG Mirror type devices already on the market, of caring degrees of accuracy and usability. To have a look at a really accurate one click here.
I have identified two parts of the EEG Mirror which I would be fascinated to bring a design intervention to, firstly the headset which houses the sensors, and secondly the feedback mechanism. Often the feedback mechanism is in a visual form, for example a graph which shows levels of synaptic activity in different parts of the brain.
Meditators can look at it either during or after a session. As I meditate with my eyes closed I find the idea of peeking at a graph very distracting, and whilst viewing it after is a good option, live feedback will give a better moment to moment understanding.
Another often used option for feedback is Audio, this can be a quiet bell or chime, or even a weather soundscape, as in this consumer product, the Muse Headband.
The creators claim that the calmer your mind the calmer the weather audio will sound, a frenzied mind will cause the sound of the storm to rage in your ears.
Both these feedback methods have advantages and disadvantages, but there is another, third option that interests me, tactile feedback. A device that would communicate your mental state to you through a physical sensation, this may be less distracting as well as being inclusive to those with sight or hearing difficulties.
To introduce the concept of EEG Mirrors to my peers at a recent crit I quickly mocked up a silly (totally non-functional and unrealistically small) EEG Headband and Tactile Feedback device in the form of a small felt cushion that expands as you enter deeper into flow state.
I am particularly attracted to the idea of opening and closing air muscles as a communication device, as in both my reading and personal experience of meditation, contraction and expansion are a recurring theme, both metaphysically and tangibly.
Flow state can be thought of as a contraction of ego and an expansion of perception, to many it is a delicous swelling or unfolding sensation. It’s bloody tricky to describe, which is exactly why technology like EEG Mirrors may be so powerful for facilitating meditation, it’s a tool for quantifying and defining an experience which up to this point has been obscure and deeply personal.