Neuroscience can curate music based on your brainwaves, not your music taste

The frequency at which your brain resonates defines your state of mind.

Need to chill out? Try alpha activity.

Want a pre-workout pep-up? Pop on some beta waves.

Our brains are sophisticated electrical factories, powered by more than 100 billion nerve cells. By synchronizing our biological rhythm to environmental cues like music, you will be able to plug in your headphones, lean back in your chair, and relax to a playlist so synchronized with your brain’s chemistry that it increases your focus, sleep quality, and even fights anxiety.

Companies and composers have begun using software to make music customized to your brainwaves.

“Eduardo Miranda is a musician and composer who is best known for his liberal use of the electroencephalogram (EEG) machine to create complex string arrangements. For his next act, he is using brainwave-imaging software to change how he creates his music. Specialists have long used EEGs to diagnose and study epilepsy, sleep disorders, and other medical issues, but Miranda is using the technology to measure how rhythm affects brain activity.”

In one recent experiment, Miranda studied three groups of subjects with the EEG’s small metal disks and electrodes attached to their scalps.

  • Group A, Miranda tried to inspire happiness and energy by having subjects listen to fast-paced music 
  • Group B, he tried to divine sadness with slower tempo, gloomy tunes
  • Group C, a control group, listeners heard neutral music intended to sustain their current mood.

The EEG recordings showed their brainwaves all became synchronized around the auditory rhythm they were listening to. They also reported a change in mood after listening to each composition.

“By connecting how the brain synchronizes its electrical frequencies with the rhythm of music, Miranda posits that certain beats coerce alpha and beta waves—two of the six types of brain waves—into a desired state. He says that soon, with a few alterations, companies could use his research to create a product that empowers consumers to take greater control over their emotional state. “I’m very optimistic in about five or six years time we will have this thing working mainstream,” Miranda says.”

Other companies are trying a different tact entirely. On website, listeners plug in their headphones and listen to songs that activate their alpha and beta waves in order to relax, focus, meditate, nap, or sleep. Launched in 2016, users review’s options, click on their desired mood, and then sit back and listen to tracks designed to produce that state.

Each track is timed to the millisecond to the rhythms required to stimulate and coerce brainwaves into the desired state. Songs are composed by thousands of bots each assigned a character—from a raindrop to a cymbal clash—that arrange themselves to create a stanza. When patterns emerge in the first several dozen measures, the bots arrange themselves to mimic those stanzas, which produces a complex composition. Each track is timed to the millisecond to the rhythms required to stimulate and coerce brainwaves into the desired state.”

“After several minutes, asks listeners to rate its effectiveness. Since brainwave frequency varies slightly from one person to the next, the algorithm continues to modify the tracks played until the user rates their experience as “very effective.”

“Recently, producers have reached out to to learn how to create music more biologically in key with their target audience. Artists are looking for ways to sync their songs to user brainwaves, says founder Junaid Kalmadi.”

How to Speak to Someone About an Unspeakable Loss

It’s not about saying the right things. It’s about doing the right things.

Most of us have been in a situation where a tragedy or something painful has happened to a friend or relative. Often we say nothing, out of fear of saying the wrong thing, feeling helpless or overwhelmed ourselves.

This kind of experience can repeat itself in many different forms: a friend is divorced, a colleague is given notice at a job held for two decades, a cherished pet dies, or a loved one receives the dreaded news that she has inoperable cancer.

What can you say?

While it’s not an easy question to answer, one thing is certain: It’s worse to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. Here are five ways to respond helpfully to people who have suffered an enormous loss.

1. Manage your own feelings first.

When we learn that disaster has befallen a loved one, we sometimes initially feel shock. Our heart rate increases, our thoughts either speed up or slow down, and we may experience a fight, flight or freeze response.

The anxiety we feel is real and personal. Our instinct often, is to ignore it, find ways to numb it or minimize it. That’s a mistake.

If we address our own feelings first, we’ll be in a much stronger position to respond well to the person most directly affected. Do the things you know how to do to manage your own stress: Walk, meditate, journal, or talk to a trusted friend.

Make sure your own body and emotions are regulated before you turn to the person in grief.

The isolation felt is almost as (or more) painful as the shock and the sadness of the loss itself. If you avoid them because you don’t know what to say, this avoidance serves only your needs.

Some people need immediate contact with others, while some people need to have time and space.  Ask them what they need and respect what they say.

“Would it be helpful if I took you to lunch?  “Do you prefer to have some space and phone calls to let you know I’m here when you’re ready” . . . 

Although there isn’t a right thing to say, there are some things to never say. They include the “Everything happens for a reason,” or “I know just how you feel.”  How do you know there’s a reason, and what difference would it make to a grieving person, anyway? And you don’t know how they feel—only they do.

3. Admit that you don’t know what to say.

That’s a good start. Try something simple that breaks the ice and starts a conversation, or at least sends a message to the other person that they’re not alone.

Im so sorry you’re going through this. I wish I could say the perfect thing, but I know there’s nothing to fix it. I just wanted you to know I care and am here with you.”

“This is everyone’s worst nightmare. I am so, so sorry this has happened.”

“I have are no words of comfort, just know I’m here to listen or simply be with you.”

or simply put your arms around them and say nothing.

4. Listen.

If the person is willing to talk, listen. It’s the single most vital thing you can do.

Listen to their story without interrupting. Don’t turn the conversation back to you with statements like, “I know what you’re going through—my dog died last year.”

Don’t tell them what they will, or should, feel. Simply acknowledge their pain and listen to what it’s like for them.

We all have different styles of managing shock and distress. Some people are angry, others seem numb, some turn to humor. Your job is not to correct them but to give them space to be the way they need to be.

Simply acknowledge their pain and listen to what it’s like for them.

5. Rather than saying, ”Let me know if I can do anything,” offer to do something practical and specific.

Taking on an ordinary task is often most helpful. Offer to shop for groceries, run errands, drive the kids somewhere, or to cook a meal or two. Ask if you can call tomorrow, or if they want to be left alone for a few days. You might say “I would like to (insert task such as bring you dinner tomorrow), is that OK?”

When Survey Monkey’s CEO Dave Goldberg died suddenly, his wife, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote the following:

“When I am asked, “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, “My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?” When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.”

Taking on an ordinary task is often most helpful.

Don’t try to “fix it” or try to make sense of what happened. You don’t have to try to comfort 

“You can’t fix what happened, but you can sit with someone, side by side, so they don’t feel quite so alone. That requires only intention, a willingness to feel awkward, and an open, listening heart. It’s the one gift that can make a difference.”

Your presence, not the words, is the most important thing.


Moo Cows, hay and the drug some of you may be taking

“NPR – A deadly bleeding disease in cows led to the development of the most popular blood thinner on the market: Warfarin. In “Invention Stories” we explore the unexpected paths to discovery.”

When Pain feels like Pleasure

“His opponent had been known to cause seizures, heart attacks, and even death. But Jason McNabb looked remarkably calm as he entered the arena. The whistle blew. Assault came thick and fast – a chaotic rush of watering eyes, swollen lips and perspiration.”

This was no ordinary competition. McNabb held a world record for eating the most Bhut Jolokia peppers in two minutes. “It felt like I had a mouthful of hornets stinging me all at one time. Candidly, it was like pure hell”, he says.

“The Bhut Jolokia, or ‘ghost pepper’ can measure more than a million Scoville units – in other words, it is 200 to 400 times spicier than a jalapeno. It’s one of the hottest in the world, and anyone who takes so much as a nibble is likely to suffer excruciating pain. A reasonable question to ask is: why would anyone do this to themselves?”

(Credit: Guinness World Records)

Jason McNabb is a champion chilli-eater and describes it as “pure hell” (Credit: Guinness World Records)


“For McNabb, the pain from the peppers produces a rush that is similar to that produced by food, drugs or sex. “The pain subsided pretty quickly and then it was just the high of the adrenaline and euphoria from the peppers,” Jason explains.”

Why exactly do some people enjoy eye-wateringly hot curries, extreme workouts or sadomasochistic sex?

“Common sense tells us that people seek pleasure and avoid pain. But that’s not always the case – various activities involve pain, including running, hot massages, tattoos, piercings and even BDSM (an abbreviation for bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism).”

“The link between pleasure and pain is deeply rooted in our biology. For a start, all pain causes the central nervous system to release endorphins – proteins which act to block pain and work in a similar way to opiates such as morphine to induce feelings of euphoria.”

“The relationship will come as no surprise to those who run. Bursts of intense exertion release lactic acid, a by-product of the breakdown of glucose when oxygen is in short supply. The acid irritates pain receptors in the muscles, and these communicate their plight to the brain through electrical messages, sent through the spinal cord. The signals are interpreted as a burning sensation in the legs, usually causing the runner to slow down or stop.”

The ‘runner’s high’ may have enabled our ancestors to endure the pain of a marathon hunt

“That is until the nervous system’s control centre, the hippocampus, kicks in. This seahorse-shaped portion of the brain responds to pain signals by ordering the production of the body’s own narcotics, endorphins. The proteins bind to opioid receptors in the brain and prevent the release of chemicals involved in the transmission of pain signals. This helps block pain, but endorphins go further, stimulating the brain’s limbic and prefrontal regions – the same areas activated by passionate love affairs and music. It’s a post-pain rush similar to the high of morphine or heroin, which also bind to the brain’s opioid receptors.”

Runners get a high after a long workout, but what’s going on in the brain?

“Meanwhile, the pain of intense exercise also causes a spike in another of the body’s painkillers, anandamide. Known as the ‘bliss chemical’, it binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to block pain signals and induce the warm, fuzzy pleasure emulated by marijuana, which binds to the same receptors. Adrenaline, also produced in response to pain, adds to the excitement by raising the athlete’s heart rate.”

“Burning legs are thought to discourage overexertion, while the ‘runner’s high’ may have enabled our ancestors to endure the pain of a marathon hunt. More generally, the pleasurable post-pain rush is thought to have evolved to help people cope in the immediate aftermath of an injury.”

Why are some types of pain enjoyable, and others just plain agonising?

“One theory to explain it is ‘benign masochism’ – seeking out pain while maintaining the awareness that it won’t cause serious damage. It’s something animals aren’t capable of doing.”

Hot chillis can trigger pleasurable responses... eventually (Credit: Thinkstock)

Hot chillis can trigger pleasurable responses… (Credit: Thinkstock)

“One example is chilli. The active ingredient, capsaicin, is harmless. It hurts because it happens to bind to TRPV1, part of a family of temperature-sensitive receptors in our tongues which alert the body to potentially damaging heat or cold. Activating TRPV1 sends the brain the same signals as if the tongue was actually on fire.”

“Most young children are averse to chilli, but they learn to enjoy it through repeated exposure as they learn to disassociate the fruit with real physical harm. Yet chilli addicts’ tongues are just as sensitive to capsaicin as everyone else’s.”

“We rats are culinarily cunning”

“Pain is a uniquely human indulgence. Scientists have tried, and failed, to induce a preference for chilli in rats. Animals have been trained to self-harm, but only by ‘positive reinforcement’, in which animals are taught to associate pain with a reward. “Generally, when an animal experiences something negative, it avoids it,” explains Paul Rozin, from the University of Pennsylvania.”

“Benign masochism is something that those who engage in BDSM won’t find surprising. Mistress Alexandra, a professional sadist based in London, explains: “We make a difference between good pain and bad pain. Bad pain indicates that something is not right, something we have to pay instant attention to. Then there’s good pain which is enjoyable. For example, when the shoulder starts pulling during bondage, that’s potentially unsafe so we release it.”

“The theory is also thought to explain why we seek out and enjoy other intrinsically unpleasant experiences, such as fear-inducing roller-coasters or sad movies. “If an animal took a roller=coaster it would be scared, and it would never go again.” says Rozin.”

The link between sex and pain is not confined to the world of BDSM.

“One study, in which researchers used fMRI to visualise the brains of women as they stimulated themselves to climax, found that more than 30 areas of the brain were active, including those involved in pain. Another found that cancer survivors, who had nerves in their spinal cord cut to relieve chronic abdominal pain, lost the ability to have orgasms. If their pain returned, so did the orgasms.”‘

“Barry Komisaruk from Rutgers University, who authored the imaging study, thinks there’s a fundamental link between pain and orgasm pathways. “Another observation is that the facial expressions during orgasm are often indistinguishable from those in pain,” he says.”

“Along these lines, a study into how paracetamol affects emotions found that the painkilling drug not only relieves emotional pain, but also blunts feelings of pleasure. In the study, students were given either paracetamol or a placebo, and asked to rate the intensity of their emotions towards a series of provocative photographs. The drug leveled off highs as well as lows – an indicator that it operates on shared biological pathways.”

For human beings, then, it appears that pain and pleasure have always been intertwined.  Pass the chili’s . . .

Learning to Learn: You, Too, Can Rewire Your Brain – 4 Techniques to Help You Learn

A lesson from the Coursera course “Learning How to Learn.”


1.  FOCUS and then DON’T

“The brain has two modes of thinking that Dr. Oakley simplifies as “focused,” in which learners concentrate on the material, and “diffuse,” a neural resting state in which consolidation occurs — that is, the new information can settle into the brain. (Cognitive scientists talk about task-positive networks and default-mode networks, respectively, in describing the two states.) In diffuse mode, connections between bits of information, and unexpected insights, can occur. That’s why it’s helpful to take a brief break after a burst of focused work.”

2.  TAKE A “tomato” BREAK

To accomplish those periods of focused and diffuse-mode thinking, Dr. Oakley recommends what is known as the Pomodoro Technique, developed by one Francesco Cirillo. Set a kitchen timer for a 25-minute stretch of focused work, followed by a brief reward, which includes a break for diffuse reflection. (“Pomodoro” is Italian for tomato — some timers look like tomatoes.) The reward — listening to a song, taking a walk, anything to enter a relaxed state — takes your mind off the task at hand. Precisely because you’re not thinking about the task, the brain can subconsciously consolidate the new knowledge. Dr. Oakley compares this process to “a librarian filing books away on shelves for later retrieval.”

“As a bonus, the ritual of setting the timer can also help overcome procrastination. Dr. Oakley teaches that even thinking about doing things we dislike activates the pain centers of the brain. The Pomodoro Technique, she said, “helps the mind slip into focus and begin work without thinking about the work.”

“Virtually anyone can focus for 25 minutes, and the more you practice, the easier it gets.”

3.  PRACTICE – Chunk it

“Chunking” is the process of creating a neural pattern that can be reactivated when needed. It might be an equation or a phrase in French or a guitar chord. Research shows that having a mental library of well-practiced neural chunks is necessary for developing expertise.”

“Practice brings procedural fluency, says Dr. Oakley, who compares the process to backing up a car. “When you first are learning to back up, your working memory is overwhelmed with input.” In time, “you don’t even need to think more than ‘Hey, back up,’ ” and the mind is free to think about other things.”

“Chunks build on chunks, and, she says, the neural network built upon that knowledge grows bigger. “You remember longer bits of music, for example, or more complex phrases in French.” Mastering low-level math concepts allows tackling more complex mental acrobatics. “You can easily bring them to mind even while your active focus is grappling with newer, more difficult information.”’

4.  KNOW THYSELF – Racer or Hiker?

“Dr. Oakley urges her students to understand that people learn in different ways. Those who have “race car brains” snap up information; those with “hiker brains” take longer to assimilate information but, like a hiker, perceive more details along the way. Recognizing the advantages and disadvantages, she says, is the first step in learning how to approach unfamiliar material.”


About the Oakleys

“Barbara Oakley, a professor at Oakland University in Michigan, in her basement studio where she and her husband created “Learning How to Learn,” the most popular course of all time on Coursera.The studio for what is arguably the world’s most successful online course is tucked into a corner of Barb and Phil Oakley’s basement, a converted TV room . . .”

“This is where they put together “Learning How to Learn,” taken by more than 1.8 million students from 200 countries, the most ever on Coursera. The course provides practical advice on tackling daunting subjects and on beating procrastination, and the lessons engagingly blend neuroscience and common sense.”

“Dr. Oakley, an engineering professor at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., created the class with Terrence Sejnowski, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and with the University of California, San Diego.”

“Dr. Oakley said she believes that just about anyone can train himself to learn. “Students may look at math, for example, and say, ‘I can’t figure this out — it must mean I’m really stupid!’ They don’t know how their brain works.”’

“Her own feelings of inadequacy give her empathy for students who feel hopeless. “I know the hiccups and the troubles people have when they’re trying to learn something.” After all, she was her own lab rat. “I rewired my brain,” she said, “and it wasn’t easy.”’

“As a youngster, she was not a diligent student. “I flunked my way through elementary, middle school and high school math and science,” she said. She joined the Army out of high school to help pay for college and received extensive training in Russian at the Defense Language Institute. Once out, she realized she would have a better career path with a technical degree (specifically, electrical engineering), and set out to tackle math and science, training herself to grind through technical subjects with many of the techniques of practice and repetition that she had used to let Russian vocabulary and declension soak in.”

“Dr. Oakley recounts her journey in both of her best-selling books: “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra)” and, out this past spring, “Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential.” The new book is about learning new skills, with a focus on career switchers.”

“Dr. Oakley is already planning her next book, another guide to learning how to learn but aimed at 10- to 13-year-olds. She wants to tell them, “Even if you are not a superstar learner, here’s how to see the great aspects of what you do have.” She would like to see learning clubs in school to help young people develop the skills they need. “We have chess clubs, we have art clubs,” she said. “We don’t have learning clubs. I just think that teaching kids how to learn is one of the greatest things we can possibly do.”

Pausitively Tuesday: Drum Beats

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Henry David Thoreau