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Electric Brain

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Electric Brain

How the New Science of Brainwaves Reads Minds, Tells Us How We Learn, and Helps Us Change for the Better


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Brainwaves are the next tech breakthrough.

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Are brainwaves how the brain thinks, or an artifact of thinking? Neuroscientist R. Douglas Fields investigates this question and illuminates the history of brainwave discovery. He explores whether changing brainwave patterns can change the brain, and the potential applications and dangers when brainwaves are harnessed by technology.


Hans Berger devised the first electroencephalogram (EEG) to record brainwaves in 1924, and showed how changes in state or attention affected them.

Early neuroscientists worked to map brain functions, matching them to particular brain regions. Many functions require activation of broad neural networks in different areas of the brain. Researchers developed more sensitive instruments to pick up the brain’s electric signals. Adolf Beck, for example, showed that the brain at rest has “rhythmic electrical activity,” and that this decreases with sensory stimulation. 

The brain and the nervous system generate electricity and power the body. Researchers applying electric charges to dead bodies pinpointed which nerves controlled which body parts. Electrodes for modern-day electroencephalograms (EEG) record neurons that fire together and identify the area of the brain where activity occurs. This corresponds with “fluctuations in the surrounding electric field” – brainwaves.

Electric shock therapy proved that physical intervention can treat some mental illnesses.

Physician Ladislas von Meduna noticed that patients suffering depression and schizophrenia...

About the Author

Internationally recognized neuroscientist R. Douglas Fields, PhD, is an expert on nervous system development and plasticity at the National Institutes of Health.

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