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Ever heard of neurofeedback, non-linear dynamics or a "bottom-up" approach towards better health? Have you ever heard of a tool that can help with optimization of the brain's automatic or unconscious behaviour? Join us on this episode of the Health and Wellness Show as we interview Dr. Valdeane W. Brown, co-creator of NeurOptimal, and learn about our favorite brain-training tool at

Dr. Valdeane W. Brown is an internationally recognized "trainer of neurofeedback trainers", who has taught and consulted widely on personal and organizational transformation. With a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a background in math, physics, computer programming, philosophy, yoga, meditation and martial arts, Dr. Brown brings a presence and precision to his work. This is further informed by a profound sense of compassion, a facility with energy dynamics and a deep commitment to revealing the elegant simplicity inherent in learning and transformation.

Developer of the Five Phase Model and co-creator with his wife Dr. Sue Brown of the Period 3 Approach to Clinical Neurofeedback, Dr. Brown has realized his vision of a truly comprehensive training system in NeurOptimal. His vision in bringing NeurOptimal to the world is to make personal transformation effortless and available to all.

This is a unique opportunity to hear us pick the brain of one of the most interesting, forward-thinking minds of our time as he illuminates some of the latest information about the brain and the most cutting edge neurofeedback system available. Don't miss it!

Running Time: 01:51:38

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript of the show:

Gaby: Hello and welcome to the health and wellness show on the SoTT radio network. I'm your host Gaby, with me today is Doug, and today we have a very special guest: Dr. Valdeane Brown, who is co-creator of our favorite brain training tool here at, NeurOptimal.

Dr. Val Brown is an internationally recognized trainer of neurofeedback trainers who has taught and consulted widely on personal and organizational transformation. With a PhD in clinical psychology and a background in mathematics, physics, computer programming, philosophy, yoga, meditation and martial arts, Dr. Brown brings presence and precision to his work. Developer of the 5 phase model and co-creator with his wife, Dr. Sue Brown, of the period 3 approach to clinical neurofeedback, Dr. Brown has realized his vision of a truly comprehensive training system in NeurOptimal. His vision in bringing NeurOptimal to the world is to make personal transformation effortless and available to all. Welcome to our show Dr. Val, we're so happy to have you here today!

Dr. Brown: Well, I'm glad to be here. I enjoy these kinds of interviews and the ability to respond to the kinds of questions and items that you all want to discuss, particularly because you are so involved in the work with NeurOptimal.

Gaby: Yes we are. That's what I wanted to tell the listeners. I think we estimated the other day that some 150 of us are doing NeurOptimal since last January. We are very, very impressed because we have tried a lot of things. I will not say pretty much everything out there but we are very open-minded, we do our work thoroughly and we have had so many good results with NeurOptimal that we should definitely discuss this.

Dr. Brown: Well, I'm glad it's working so well for you because the core mission for Zengar Institute and myself and my wife is relieving suffering. The more widely this is available the more that mission can go forward. So it's a great honor to know that it's having that kind of effect for you.

Gaby: Yeah!

Doug: Yeah. It really is!

Gaby: Well, maybe before talking more about your background and what inspired you to create NeurOptimal, maybe we should hear a little description of what exactly neurofeedback is.

Dr. Brown: Well there are broadly two differing approaches to neurofeedback. Essentially, neurofeedback involves monitoring the electrical activity of the brain on the scalp and then processing it in some computer program in order to provide real-time feedback to the connected individual, the individual who has the sensors on their on their scalp and on ears or wherever.

The process falls into these two differing approaches. There's linear neurofeedback, which is probably what most people get a first introduction to. Linear neurofeedback is based very heavily on assessment and diagnosis, and choosing a particular protocol or approach with a limited number of training targets in order to achieve some specific outcome of correcting what the assessments believe shows to be incorrect or inadequate functioning or bring out more of something that is not functioning at a high enough level. That was sort of the original approach but what we do with our dynamical neurofeedback is totally different. It's diagnostically agnostic, as I like to say, because what it does is dynamically adjust moment-to-moment with what response the individual is having in terms of the electrical activity in their brain to the process of training right then and there. So it's responding to the response of that brain as that brain is responding to the feedback process.

So it really doesn't make sense to try to take a static snapshot or picture or assessment of where somebody starts because the brain is always changing. It really makes no sense even to talk about brain states because the brain is never in a unitary, singular state. It's always in a whirling dance of processes that interact. It's a very complex nonlinear self-organizing system. In fact, probably the most complex that's known.

Gaby: Would it be fair to say that the way that linear neurofeedback is conducted is in a sense backwards? It could be considered to have an approach of a flat earth instead of a spherical earth?

Dr. Brown: [chuckles] Well yeah, that's true! That's how I would say it. The challenge is that linear neurofeedback is based on a very false premise, which is that it's important to train specific sensor sites on the surface of the skull in order to directly train or influence the region or portion of the brain that is essentially below where the sensor is placed, the active sensor. The reason that approach has arisen and the reason I think for its popularity, if you will, is that there's still a belief that the brain is best understood as a collection of discrete parts that talk to one another. It's very clear that that's not the most useful way to think about it.

The work that I've done really follows in the pioneering efforts of Dr. Karl Pribram, who was a neuro psychiatrist and he developed in the late 60s and into the 70s, the holonomic theory of the brain and of memory perception and consciousness. He knew that what was going on in perception and memory had to be what physicists would refer to as 'interference phenomenon'. It was not site-specific retrieval of stored patterns or stored information, and actually it was much more like a holographic representation in which any one portion can reproduce the entire image or the entire event or the entire memory in that case.

When he called what he was working on with a very specific mathematics, the mathematics of holography, he was able to exactly understand what was going on and essentially that's what we're doing in the software. It's using mathematics of holography in a dynamical fashion to model that process in the central nervous system because the truth is the central nervous system is vastly interconnected. It's been estimated that at the present time, the entire World Wide Web has a close affinity with the brain organization of a two or three-year-old. And if you think about what that means, the idea that somehow you're dealing mostly with axonal transmission or dendritic processes in the central nervous system itself, just doesn't make any sense. That's like pretending that, where the CPU is located in your computer makes a difference as to whether it can connect and use the internet.

Gaby: So, for example, if I understand correctly, neuroanatomy or neuroscience tell us the retina, the back of the eyeball works like a classical camera. The lens focuses on the scene and we have a two-dimensional image but this Dr. Karl Pribram is saying, "No, it's not exactly like that. It's more like another process that makes us really produce a three-dimensional holographic image."

Dr. Brown: That's exactly right. The metaphor of the eye being a camera is useful in some contexts. For instance, I just had last year the lenses in both of my eyes replaced with artificial lenses. From that perspective, when you're going in structurally to the actual physical structures and doing surgery or something like that, well yes, then you can say okay, we can take the lens out and replace it. That part can get replaced and that makes perfect sense. But as you start looking at the retina itself and how the retina itself is organized and how that is organized in terms of the optic nerve and all of that, that image falls completely flat. It does not fit the observed data. Some of that work was done by Friedman more recently. That would have been in the 90s, something like that, maybe a little bit later. It's very clear that that whole organizational idea of it being just a camera does not fit the reality.

So it's very interesting to see how these ideas from Pribram that really kind of started developing in his original work. even with [Karl] Lashley, who was a very early neurologist. In fact, Karl Pribram is the one who developed or coined the term neuropsychology. It's interesting. Most don't know that kind of history, let alone the work of someone who, in the 70s, really had it nailed. I mean it's fascinating.

I had the great fortune when I was younger to not only know those mathematicises back in high school, but then when I went to college at Georgetown University, I was able to hear Dr. Pribram at that time as he had articulated this whole approach. Knowing those mathematics I had a discussion with him at the end of his presentation. Now the funny part about that is about 25 years later, I was presenting at a neurofeedback conference about the work that I was doing to develop what's become NeurOptimal and Dr. Pribram was there and during one of the breaks at the conference he came over to me and he said, "You know what you're doing has really summed up the last 25 years of my professional life." I said, "Well, thank you very much. You probably don't remember this, but I heard you at Georgetown." And he looked at me, tilted his head and he said, "Were you that long-haired kid in the back of the room asking about the mathematics?" And I said, "Yeah, that was me," and he and I struck up a collegial relationship.

For the next several years we did joint presentations because he really did understand what I was doing, what my wife and I were developing and was a huge proponent of it. So we had a lot of fun together. He was a very interesting guy with just amazing depth of knowledge. Part of what made it so much fun for me was, as a neuropsychiatrist, what he was really interested in was what he used to call "the go of it." By that he meant what was actually happening in the tissue. How were these things occurring? You know, like what was involved in this area of the brain and what was involved in this kind of cooperative task amongst all the brain, etcetera, etcetera, and I said, "I'm really glad you're interested in that stuff, because I am totally uninterested in that."


Dr. Brown: I want to develop a system that can essentially use that, whatever's going on, but can ignore all the specificity because I see what I'm doing is much more like software and what you're doing is the computer hardware.

Doug: Right.

Dr. Brown: So it's a great pair. [Chuckles]

Gaby: It is.

Doug: So it sounds kind of like then that these linear neurofeedback systems are working on an old model of the brain.

Dr. Brown: Oh, very definitely. Very definitely. And, an old model of digital signal processing. If you think about it, the idea that we have 'brain waves' does not really make sense because minimally, they're not waves. Minimally, if you do the extraction for features, you'll find out that the signals are actually mathematically phasors. Now you may never have heard of that except in the context of Star Trek, where it's a phas-er, not a phas-or but if you've ever opened a bottle of wine, you know what a corkscrew looks like and basically a phasor is a kind of corkscrew. Now, if you look at that corkscrew that you're going to use to open your bottle of wine, and you turn it sideways so you look not along it, but you look directly at it from 90 degrees off, it looks like a wave because you take the spherical nature of it away. That's just how you look at it. So part of the reason for the illusion that there are 'waves' is because Hans Berger, in his work, realized that there was electrical activity. It was making a needle twitch. So he thought, oh, well let me replace the needle with a pen and I'll draw a piece of paper under it and then I can see what it's actually writing. Well when you reduce a four dimensional object down to two dimensions essentially, guess what? It's gonna look like it's a wave, but it's not really.

Gaby: That's fascinating.

Dr. Brown: So, all of the approaches that are linear, or oriented that way, essentially think that they're extracting sinusoids or simple sine waves, or complex combinations of them. But the one thing that's absolutely true about human EEG, it is not a sinusoid or a collection of them. That's just a way of analyzing the flow of the electricity. When you record on the surface of the scalp, what you get are voltage changes, nothing more. The rest is how you do the accounting or the mathematics of that. If you think it's sine waves, then you have a lot of problems with things in your environment that are massively powerful sine waves like line noise. Where you guys are it's 50 Hertz 220 [volts] or 240 [volts], depending. Here where I am it's 60 Hertz. Well, 50 times a second where you are, 60 times a second where I am, there is a pretty close to perfect sine wave being produced. Human EEG isn't like that at all. It's an intrinsically chaotic sinusoid. So, if you use the right mathematics you can ignore the simple sine waves and that's part of what we do with NeurOptimal.

Gaby: That is fascinating! It blew me away and I was actually goning to ask you precisely what you just responded. I read the work of an anesthesiologist, he wrote a book called Consciousness: Anatomy of the Soul and he was saying that we have this idea that since we see brain waves in a graph, we think that that's all of it. But they made some graphs that could model a complexity in brain waves that implied three-dimensional, four-dimensional and they have fractals. When people were coming off from anesthesia they have graphs that look like fractals. It's like, wow!

Dr Brown: Absolutely, yeah. It's interesting to see how that process has occurred. Part of it is because most of the people in the field of neurofeedback do not have the comprehensive background that I have. They may be neuropsychologists, for instance, but they don't really understand signal processing. Or they may understand signal processing because they're a software engineer, but they don't understand anything about neuropsychology. When the early developers of systems approached software engineers and said "Well, we want to filter out this range of activity because that's what we're interested in," they went, "Oh yeah. We know how to do that," and just pulled very simple filtering techniques off the shelf which were nonlinear in their response; which sounds like it should be good, but actually that means they go out of phase with themselves regularly. So it was very easy then, to create side effects with that kind of equipment. It's sort of like the steering in your car would suddenly switch which way was left and right, and you had not a way of knowing until you started to turn the car.

Gaby: Yeah, I tried linear neurofeedback and I had a very strong, what I call a boomerang effect. After an expansion phase I would crawl into a little corner in my room.


Dr. Brown: Now that having been said, many people find benefit from linear neurofeedback, you know? It's requires an enormous amount of expertise and skill and knowledge and facility with the particular equipment in order to have a good response, in order to use it effectively. But our system is organized totally differently because it's not trying to push or pull the brain towards anything or away from anything in particular. It's basically just mirroring what the brain just did and that's sufficient for the brain to extract that information and then essentially choose what it wants to do.

It's very similar to the way we all learned how to walk. Nobody taught us how to walk. We experimented and our central nervous system and the neuromuscular insertions and all of that, learned to integrate. In fact, it's kind of fun if you watch children as they start learning to walk and see how they 'experiment', if you will. My eldest daughter, when she was learning to walk, the thing she loved to do in the beginning was she would stand up - we had a big thick carpet in the living room in the house we lived in at that time. She would stand up and then pick up her feet and fall on her bottom. Then she would stand up again, pick up her feet and fall on her bottom. She would do that for 10-15 minutes, just having fun and laughing, giggling. She was playing. And in that play learned how to really balance herself and how to then transition.

I couldn't teach her that. Nobody could. That she had to discover herself. It's that kind of a process that we base NeurOptimal in because it's all in there. We don't have to tell the brain what we think it should or shouldn't do. It's wonderfully designed to detect difference and minimize its discomfort. So as we show it what it's doing moment to moment it goes, "Oh, okay! I can let go of that now. I don't have to worry like that," or whatever. So it's a much more straightforward process, but because of that it's also everybody's journey is unique.

Gaby: Maybe we can go a little bit into that and maybe I'll introduce the concept of what in psychology they call system one, system two; the conscious part of our processes versus the unconscious part. We understand that the great deal of what is going on is unconscious or subconscious. It's like a giant elephant. And then the conscious mind is like a small handler trying to control the elephant but no, the elephant is in charge and we just create narratives to justify what the elephant wants to do, that kind of thing.

Dr. Brown: Yes.

Gaby: In the context of NeurOptimal, how do we know if the brain is choosing correctly or, is that even a wrong concept?

Dr. Brown: Well you can only judge something as correct from a certain perspective. So if on the outside I'm saying, "Oh yes, that's correct," that's probably what I believe is correct. It doesn't mean that it actually is for that individual at that time. Back when I was literally practicing as a conventional psychologist and therefore doing individual group and family psychotherapy with people -- frequently you'd have someone come in and they'd say, "Well, I'm angry a lot and I want to get rid of that. I want to change that." What was very useful for them to come to understand is you can't do an 'angerectomy'. You can't just remove the anger and you really wouldn't want to because the question is: when are you getting angry? What's going on? Because sometimes being angry and using that energy is the most appropriate thing to do. The most useful. So, nothing is inherently a problem. In some contexts it's also a solution.

So, we've developed the system so that we have no judgments about what someone should or should not do. We have no judgment about how many sessions someone should or should not have. It's one of the most direct and profound ways to really respect the individual and the healing resource that is intrinsic to everyone. So I don't know if that responded in the way that you were thinking of the response. [Laughs]

Gaby: That was certainly interesting! Perhaps we could talk a little bit about the 'office' experience of NeurOptimal so a person can have an idea what a person goes through when they first enter the office of a trainer.

Dr. Brown. Okay, sure. Well, first off we do have a professional version of the software. We also have a personal trainer version. It is something that families or individuals or schools or a number of settings get and use without a specific trainer being present to run the system. The NeurOptimal 3 which we released just fairly recently in March is actually even simpler than 2.0, which is the version that many people used for a number of years and really anybody can use the system. All you need to do is watch the video to see how to put the sensors on and hit the right button in the software, which is pretty obvious right where it is, and Bob's your uncle. It just works.

So what classically or traditionally had been done is you would go to a physical office someplace which of course, a lot of our trainers use. They use that kind of a setup. You would go in and you'd sit in a comfortable chair. Many people use recliners. That way once you're in the session, you can just really relax and even close your eyes - doesn't matter if your eyes are open or closed, whatever. You listen to music through earbuds or a headset or the system speakers and in the music there will be little interruptions. Those little interruptions are actually the feedback event and the interruptions help you to reorient back to what's going on presently.

If you think about say, fear responses or trauma responses in situations, what is really occurring is someone is not probably in the present any longer, if they're remembering the event. So they literally recreate the psychophysiology of the time when that prior trauma occurred and essentially re-traumatize themselves. Now you may think, "Well gee, that's not very helpful," but the truth is, making the shift from being a victim of trauma to being a trauma survivor is huge because if that trauma response had not worked effectively, you probably wouldn't be here to talk about it. So again, it's easy to look at things like anxiety or fear or sadness, depression, trauma response, as problems. We want to get rid of them. Well, yes and no. Those are resources and they're built into the human system for survival. It's not that we somehow want to remove that any more than we want to remove anger. What happens in NeurOptimal is that the system does not require and it doesn't ask for, and it really doesn't even support re-experiencing things from the past because that's probably not really useful unless it's a very pleasant memory. Even then, that takes away from what's happening right now.

So one way of thinking what happens in response to the interrupts in the music - and we have music that we've created, but it can be any music you want. It can also be a movie. There are all kinds of things that can be used, but the interrupts are kind of like what happens if you're walking in the woods by yourself and then you hear that twig snap. As soon as that happens your body orients to that because it's, "Okay, what's going on? What's happening? How come there's a twig snap? I'm here alone," right? Now, that can be a startle response, it can be completely benign, but your body, your central nervous system, orients to it to see what's actually happening. That's what happens with the interrupts. It's like the little strips along the sides of the highway that remind you you're crossing over. If you want to stay on the road, that's a good reminder to come back and return the car into the lane. But if you're wanting to pull off to the side, it's a good reminder that you're actually doing that right now. It's not that it tries to make you do one thing or the other. It's information.

Gaby: And are the interruptions based on specific filters?

Dr. Brown. No. It's a much more complex process than just that. We do have 20 targets now in the third version. We had 16 before and they are bilaterally symmetric because we looked at both sides of the central nervous system. It's a two-channel training system. We're looking really for the fluttering edges of those targets, not for specific changes in the targets. The linear and neural feedback systems are generally oriented to looking for very specific changes: an increase in intensity or a decrease in intensity in a particular filter band, or an increase in power in terms of connectivity measures. Whatever the metric is, it tends to be very specific.

Some approaches use quantified, normative databases that have averages and standard deviations and z-scores and the thought there is the more you approach a normative z-score, the more normal the brain will be. Well, I mean who wants to be normal? If you're in a committed love relationship, do you ever find yourself going up to your partner and saying, "You know, I just want an average kiss, just a normal?" It's kind of silly! So, human life is not really organized around averages. You talk about normal, but it really is more typical than normal. Anyway, it's a very pleasant experience folks, and you can have your eyes open or closed, you can sit up, you can lie down. We've had folks who to take it on airplanes and use the system while they're flying or on the train. It's really a lot of fun to see how the system has been used in so many different settings.

Gaby: Would it be correct to say that it is like presenting a mirror to the unconscious brain? Or the part that is unaware?

Dr. Brown: That's actually the most appropriate way to think about it. Conscious thought is actually the slowest part of the system. The neurologic and neuropsychological studies have shown quite conclusively that you've already made the decision before you're aware of making the decision. That's just how the process works. It takes time to form the conscious appreciation of what your body is already doing and if you don't realize that, if you think the opposite, just try driving your car consciously trying to influence the exact muscle amount that you tense your forearms or that you turn the wheel. Just try driving like that. You're, probably going to have a crash really quickly.

Doug: You can't even walk like that.

Dr. Brown: That's right, you can't! That's exactly right. You can't and one of the reasons you can't is because walking is a relatively complex process that involves your foot, your ankle, your knee, your entire leg, your hips, actually your entire body, responding to the contours of the ground as you go. So what happens in the context of Parkinson's when you start to see the shuffle in later stages, is that those movements have become stereotypical. They're no longer adaptive and responsive to the environment and that's because the resources are not there to respond in such a comprehensive adaptive fashion.

Gaby: NeurOptimal has helped people with Parkinson's disease.

Dr. Brown: Well we don't talk about conditions. I'm just bringing that up to illustrate what stereotypical movement is as opposed to resilient and flexible movement and activity. But we do have a user survey where a lot of our users have reported their experience and the experience of many of their clients. It's referencing over 5 million training hours in the last one we did so it's a pretty comprehensive report on user experience. But we're not a medical treatment. We're not a treatment of any kind. It's a form of training and like aerobic exercise; it has a lot of effects. So if you really wanted to think about what's the most effective treatment for many forms of depression, its aerobic exercise. That's been very clear. But how many people know that? Most don't. They think it's time to get a medication, and many times it can be too, I don't want to be misunderstood. It's very easy for all of us to forget that it's frequently lifestyle that's the big driver of problems. So what you do in your life as opposed to the specifics of what genes you're born with, or that kind of side of things, is really important; especially as issues start to develop. Most things are made worse by how you handle stress. Same thing with sleep. If you're not getting effective sleep for you, whatever that is for you, then things are not going to work real well.

Doug: Is it possible for you to mention some of the things that people have been saying in this survey? I know you're not a medical device and it's not meant to treat anything but I'm just curious about what sorts of things people are reporting.

Dr. Brown: Well, it's interesting. One of our longtime users has kind of coined a phrase that he likes to use quite often and when people say, "Who can benefit from this? Who is this good for?" he says, "Anyone with a brain. It's good for every brain." Now I frequently add the joke, "Well, I don't know, there might be some politicians you exclude from that."


Doug: I'm sure!

Dr. Brown: But it's true. Again, it's like you go into the elevator and there's a real reason that many elevators have mirrors in them and it's to keep you preoccupied. You're not thinking the elevator is slow because of course as soon as you see the mirror, you look into it to see what you look like. As soon as you see what you look like, you may think, 'ooh gotta fix the hair' or 'straighten the tie' or whatever, right? So it serves both purposes. Well that's kind of what NeurOptimal is doing. You don't have to have a different kind of mirror to figure out that your tie isn't tied straight. You don't have to have a 'belt mirror' to be able to see how your belt is in what you're wearing, right? So it's the same thing. Any brain can benefit.

Gaby: It is interesting from our experience with 52 pages of testimonials in the forum. At least from my experience I always had chronic, persistent anxiety. Never took medication for it because that's the way it was raised up. You just deal with it and that's it.

Dr. Brown: You deal with it, yeah.

Gaby: I also felt like I was chained to a big rock and I was carrying that around all the time so everything took a lot more effort than it required. I have the sensation now that I have more free will, I can have perspective without being crippled with anxiety. It's like I have more cognitive resources, everything doesn't require so much effort like it did before.

Dr. Brown: Right, and of course we continue to be living tissue so what happens around us can have a large impact on that. You suddenly get fired and one of your relatives becomes critically and mortally ill, and-and-and-and, well that's going to have an impact on you but you have more resource available the more you do the training. It becomes easier, like you're saying, to move through things instead of just reacting, instead of being overwhelmed by whatever feelings and inactivity. Worry is a great example. Sue frequently talks about dredging and mulling.

Doug: Yes.

Dr. Brown: So you dredge up things from the past and you mull them over and 98% of the time that you do that, these are all thoughts you've already had, millions of times. When do you know you've worried enough, right? I mean there's no test, so it's always easy to worry because the best time to worry is when there's nothing to worry about because now you get to worry that you missed it. Something is really wrong. But it doesn't help. It doesn't do anything except waste energy. Worry is not preparation.

Doug: Yeah. I think that's very true. One thing that I've noticed after doing a number of sessions with NeurOptimal is that situations I was in that previously would bring up a lot of stress and anxiety and put me into panic mode and just scrambling around, I seem to have more resources there now to not be in that mode. I'm not as reactive I guess is a good way of saying it.

Dr. Brown: Yes. And that is a fairly consistent report from most users and their clients. It's interesting because it usually does come as "I'm not as reactive" and each person's kind of reactivity is different perhaps. But it's that overall increase in what you're calling, Gaby, 'free will' I think of it as 'choice options'. You have more choices available and you see the choices more easily than you could before. So it's likely that you're going to make more effective choices.

Doug: Right.

Gaby: And that also goes back to the nonlinear dynamics of the everything, of how this works.

Dr. Brown: Yes, yes exactly! It's been interesting noticing over the last, oh gosh what, 40 years, that this idea of what nonlinear dynamical systems are, has gradually started to be more and more introduced. Up until the late sixties and into the seventies, most everyone assumed that the majority of the world operated in linear fashions. If you think about it, well, yeah it kind of does, you know? You hit something harder and you probably make a bigger dent. In that sense it makes some sense. Put in more effort maybe more will happen. Put in less, then probably less will happen, right?

The problem is, it looks that way because we operate in fairly limited ways frequently. If you really look at the processes involved, virtually every real system is actually not linear. It's just that it's constrained in the range of operations. So, if you think to something like bipolar affective disorder, rapid cycling, just the sort of classic idea that people have about that sort of rapid shift from the manic excitement to the deep depression; if you use the medications and they work, they don't really take that away. They just minimize the range and maximize the time between the cycling.

So it's putting constraints on this nonlinear dynamical system, just like what you do when you tie up your boat at a dock. It's still going to move. That's why you have to put bumper fenders between it and the dock and potentially for other boats coming along because it's going to move. You can't just make it stationary completely, right? So everything really, that's real, is nonlinear. But we get to pretend most of the time that the world is Newtonian. Newtonian physics kind of work in, on earth. Get out in space and things are a little different.

Gaby: So I could say for example, that a problem with anxiety is like a constraint in myself.

Dr. Brown: Sure. To say, "I'm an anxious person," is already to put certain definitions on yourself as opposed to noticing, "Oh, I'm feeling a little anxious right now, that's interesting." That's totally different. What happens is people frequently identify with whatever's going on. "I'm a trauma victim." Well yes, you were victimized, but you've survived also and the important part is you've survived. So now let's talk about how to help you thrive.

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who was in the concentration camps, the Nazi concentration camps. Man's Search For Meaning and all that. He said something really interesting that most people overlook when they talk about his work. He said there were people in the camps - first off, most of the deaths occurred randomly. You just happen to be the third person in line and they were counting down by threes that day or whatever it was. Most of it was random. But for those where that didn't happen, and there were other processes going on, he said there was a minority, a group that came through not showing what we would later call 'trauma response' from that horrific experience.

That's partly what he saw as the basis for understanding that it's the meaning of things, not so much the things themselves that count. The folks who came through without any particular signs of trauma response were those who lived a thoroughgoing spiritual orientation in which everything was part of living. Everything was part of their journey spiritually. It's fascinating to me how many of these things just don't get noticed in literature. Same thing with Kübler-Ross, it was never five steps. It was never a 'step program'. It was five points that people bounce around until they get to acceptance. She's always said and there are a lot of people who just are in acceptance from the very beginning. Interestingly enough, it's the same thing. It's those who have a thoroughgoing spiritual orientation in which, "Okay, so I'm going to die. I get it. Of course I am. No one here gets out alive. Just now I know closer when that's going to be and what it's going to be like."

Gaby: I think it's a fascinating approach because mainstream psychology and medicine, I suppose, it relies so much on diagnosis that most people require, for example: is this type of neurofeedback treatment or not? Why am I not being diagnosed? Or, do you have training? It's very difficult for them to understand, "No, you don't need a diagnosis," you can just get hooked up to the NeurOptimal system and get going.

Dr. Brown: Right, right. Yeah, it's a very different approach in every regard and it not only does not require conscious effort to try to do something. We actually say just forget about all that, get out of your way because the unconscious learns much more rapidly and much more completely. The more you try to do it, the more you're just going to get in your way. Actually, if you think about it, that's a big part of what goes on when you're dealing with things like anxiety. You're feeling anxious and you're trying to figure out what to do so you don't feel anxious. Well, that's kind of interesting because you didn't notice anything like thinking about making yourself anxious.

Doug: Right.

Dr. Brown: It is kind of interesting how these processes occur. If you got anxious in the past in certain situations because something occurred that you didn't like or you didn't enjoy, like maybe getting an injection when you went for vaccinations or something like that or because you needed an antibiotic and it needed to be injected, well yeah. You go into that environment, you might go, "Oh, I don't know if I really like this, I'm a little uncertain about what it's going to be like." No, you're actually pretty certain what it's going to be like. Everybody talks about, 'I'm afraid of flying,' the folks who identify with that. Well, no one is afraid of flying. They're afraid of crashing.


Dr. Brown: And what they do when they're on the plane is they show themselves these horrific movies of the plane they're on right now crashing and they're seeing that movie as if they're right in it, instead of just watching it on the screen. Well yeah, your body's going to, "You know I don't like this! What can I do?" So it's fascinating. As you start to look at it as a computer programmer and someone who understands computer science. We always look for what I like to think as, 'production rules'. How does something get produced? What do you have to do for the thing to occur? A lot of what gets done 'unawarefully' for many people is the production rule that is placed to create stuff they don't enjoy, that they don't like.

So concretely, the kind of idea of when you're trying to help someone with addictive behavior, particularly substance abuse, one of the things you'll raise with them, bring up with them is the idea of finding new places to go instead of going back to the old places, where you have your old acquaintances and where it's much more likely for you to engage in the older behavior. So there are production rules in place. There are production sequences is another way to think about it, so the less likely you are to engage in those behaviors if you're not in that environment, particularly not one where you used to be.

Same thing with smoking. If you want to stop your cigarette smoking hold the cigarettes backwards, on your other hand. Do a different pattern than what you're used to and actually experience that first drag. You know, the lungs, no matter how long you've done it, the lungs are not going to go, "Oh god, that's really great! Thank you." Instead, it's like an itch that you scratch. It's like, you're going to get another one! You're not going to get rid of the itches because you scratched that one that one time. So it's a lot about pattern interrupting and that's also what the interrupts do in our neurofeedback. They're basically interrupting the production patterns that we produce, unuseful psychophysiological processes and that's decided by the person themselves. We don't tell them what we happen to think is unuseful. To me, that's just not respecting the other person.

Doug: I have a question related to what you were talking about. There do seem to be a certain people who say that despite the fact that they've been doing NeurOptimal they don't notice anything. I'm not necessarily convinced that there's actually nothing happening. I think that's probably unlikely. Is there any kind of insight on that? Do you know why maybe certain people wouldn't really necessarily notice anything?

Dr. Brown: Well, I think there are a lot of reasons and it's actually part of the reason why we focus so much on the progress tracking tools and also on helping folks notice what we call the 'DIFS'. D - I - F - S, the duration, intensity, frequency and shifts in what they experience. Most people when they say, "Well nothing's happening," what they mean is "I have condition X and I still have condition X. It seems exactly the same to me." Now, it's fascinating when that occurs, when someone says that. If you haven't done the DIFS, if you haven't looked for, "Okay, but how long does it last now? How often is it occurring? How strongly does it occur when it's occurring? Is there any change of any sort in that experience?" Because any change begins the process of change. Although many of us believe that it's very difficult to change, actually, it's impossible to stay the same unless you work really hard at it. And if you don't believe that just go talk to Cher.


Dr. Brown: It's impossible to keep a nonlinear dynamical system doing exactly the same thing unless you severely constrain it. When people say, "Well nothing's changed," it's like, "How do you do that? How do you know? I mean seriously, nothing has changed?" Well, what they really mean is nothing I care about. Now, frequently people will come in the context of a significant other. It might be the husband who comes and the wife is in the background, or vice versa or both are coming. We used to have the experience quite a lot, Sue and I, when we had active clinical practices back in the early days, where the husband might come in and he'd go, "You know, I don't think this is doing anything," and then the wife comes and goes, "I don't know what you doing, but keep doing it because he's totally different now!" A lot of people are so focused on the identity of what they believe is wrong, that it's very difficult for them to let that go because frequently that is actually embedded in a much larger context of belief.

There's that saying about "Life is tough and then you die" - it's usually used a little more colloquially, but I don't want to use that word here, you know? Life's difficult and then you die. Well, if you've heard that enough growing up that then becomes part of your unconscious self that you don't even think about. What happens then, when it suddenly gets easy? What do you think is about to happen? "I'm going to die!" Because life's tough, then you die, right? It's really interesting because you'll have people who come in and they'll say things like, "Oh, I know something really terrible is about to happen."

You say, "Well, how do you know that?"

"Because it's been so good for so long it can't stay this way, something bad has to happen."

You will never hear those people come in and say, "You know, something wonderful is about to happen!"

I say, "Well, how do you know that?"

"Because it's been so awful for so long you can't stay like this."


Now, you know, it's funny when I put it that way but if you think about it, the central nervous system; the psychophysiologic unity that we are, all of it, is organized around survival. It's not organized around thriving. It's not for no reason that we have road rage. Rage was a very useful thing back in the early days of being humans because you really did have to worry about all the predators. It's not for no reason that we look at things and frequently see faces. If it's a face, if it's got eyes, it's got a mouth and it might eat us. Very few people look at trees and go, "Oh god, that's scary." The tree probably isn't going to move and it probably isn't going to do anything unless it falls over, right? So if you think about the kinds of responses that we have that are fear-based trying to protect us, trying to make sure we get through whether it feels good or not, it makes perfect sense. It's survival oriented. That's why we have so many more negative affects than we do positive.

Gaby: I wanted to go back for a moment to interruptions. There is a person who wants to know if there are clicks that are not audible, or interruptions that are not audible during NeurOptimal.

Dr. Brown: Yeah. Again, conscious processing is the slowest part of the thing. So when you're hearing things, it's already happened essentially. I mean, there's a timeliness in things. It is the ones that you don't consciously detect that actually can be the most powerful and that's very clear from a lot of contexts. If you look at subliminal processing and some subliminal embedded messages, the research is very clear. One of the reasons they're illegal is because you can embed subliminal messages and they will not be seen, like in movies or whatever, but they will have an effect. And so it's not for no reason that companies embed their product in street scenes or whatever. They really want to make sure that you see it but you're not paying direct attention to it. That way it's like, "Oh, I think I'll have a whatever", because it was just in the movie that you saw and you didn't even notice.

Gaby: So we can fall asleep while doing NeurOptimal?

Dr. Brown: Of course you can! First off, one thing is most everyone in Western culture certainly, is chronically overstressed and chronically under-slept. That your body goes to sleep when it can, and it knows it's safe, that's a pretty good idea. And if you're in a neurofeedback office, you know probably it's pretty safe there, right? So that's probably a good place to just doze off. And what you'll find is that frequently in sessions for folks, the amount of sleeping that they do changes over time in the session as their sleep renormalizes for them outside of the sessions. It's a pretty common thing.

We had someone who was one of our users, still is, and he ran a sleep lab and sleep treatment program. He introduced NeurOptimal into this inpatient sleep program and reduced the time needed by 50%. That doesn't mean that it's a treatment for sleep disorder, that's not what I'm trying to say. I'm trying to say that the way we organize our lives in Western culture, actually sleep-deprives us most of the time. As soon as we give the brain information about that and a safe comfortable environment, it will go to sleep. That's what it should do, right? And of course, you're always hearing things. That's one of the reasons why my wife sleeps with earplugs in. I really don't like to do that because I want to hear what's going on, you know? If a window gets shattered I want to know. It's just the way I am.

So your brain is active. In fact, this is one of the things about sleep in particular. Everybody thinks, "Well, I'm asleep" as if it's this singular unitary state and the whole brain is asleep. Well, no, in fact different aspects of functioning are shifting all the time and recent studies have confirmed that it does not make sense to think about a singular sleep state. It's a variety of processes, like the waves on the ocean as they interact with the shore. Oh yeah, there's some predictability to it, but it's always shifting. It depends on how deep the water is, depends on the wind, depends on all kinds of things interacting. It's nonlinear in other words.

Gaby: So there are inaudible clicks. I think one of the IT guys wanted to know what was the percentage of them?

Dr. Brown: We don't look at percentages.

Gaby: Like in terms of feedback being given, in terms of the number of interruptions - well, that's not even a right approach; we're talking in a linear system!

Dr. Brown: That's linearizing it by the way.

Gaby: Yeah, that's very interesting because as I was reading for this show I said, "I think, all the difficulties in understanding this process and all the questions are because we think in linear terms." That's so embedded.

Dr. Brown: You're, absolutely right. In fact, that's one of the hardest things for people, particularly those coming from a linear neurofeedback perspective, to understand. There aren't targets like they have. We're not looking at a percent time above threshold, or a percent time below threshold, or percent of movement within a frequency range. None of that is what's relevant and without those kinds of metrics, they don't have any conceptual framework where they can say, "Well, okay, if it's not that what is it? Help me understand." I remember when I would present and a number of the others in the field would say, "You know, I really don't understand how you're doing what you do," and I say, "Thank you for confirming it is actually unique. I get that. I get it, you don't understand it. I understand that."

"Well explain it to me."

"I can explain it to you in general, but if you don't understand the mathematics, it won't make any sense and I'm not going to give you the specifics of the mathematics so...."

Gaby: I was just going to ask, in terms of what we know about how the human ear works - and it's still very linear I think - would a deaf person be able to use NeurOptimal?

Dr. Brown: Yes. First off, there are degrees of deafness and types of deafness so the question is, is it total deafness? Were they congenitally born deaf? Is it bone conduction issues? I mean there are just so many different variables. But many times what can work is people respond to the vibrations. So, if they're using speakers, you can put speakers right next to their skin and they'll feel changes in the music, including the interrupts. So that has been done. It's the process that the interrupts, because they're discrepant from what goes on in music which is usually continuing, there's usually some overall flow and very few pure silences, so the interrupts stand out as vibration even.

Gaby: I understand.

Doug: I was just going to ask, are the positive changes people are noticing permanent?

Dr. Brown: Well, you're living tissue. So, what in your life is really permanent if you think about it? I'm now 63, just turned that recently. You know, it's amazing, like hair isn't permanent, right? [Laughs] It migrates. I mean, how come it's not where I want it to be, but it's places where I don't want it to be? What is continuing in your life ever? Now, that having been said, that's just to contextualize. It's like learning to ride a bicycle. If you haven't ridden a bike for a decade, it may take you a little while to get back comfortable, but it's not going to take you as long as it took to originally learn how to ride the bike. It's in there somewhere. You may fall a couple of times or whatever, but you'll get it. Does that make sense?

Doug: Yeah, it absolutely does. I guess a related question is, is NeurOptimal something that people do for a limited period of time? Then they kind of get what they can get out of it and then don't go back to it? Or is it the kind of thing that you would re-visit again in the future?

Dr. Brown: I think that depends on availability, depends on what your motivation was to begin or what you've noticed after. There are two trainers I'm thinking of right now who are in the Netherlands, just wonderful ladies and both have been using the system since 2003, something like that. They still use it a lot for themselves and obviously for clients as well. They and many other trainers also have collections of rental equipment, like a rental fleet. They will rent systems out to families or to others, and particularly when they're at a large distance away. One of our representatives, and instructors down in Australia, that's a large part of what he does. The distances are just so huge that if he didn't do that, there are a lot of people who wouldn't be able to get any of the service. What happens is sometimes people will rent a system or buy a system or go to a trainer and they may be seeing that person for a couple of months. Or they may come and just see for a certain number of sessions or until they go, "Okay, I think I'm in good Nick here, I think I'm okay." Then later on, something comes up in their life and they say, "You know I think it'd be good, maybe I'll go back and have some more sessions." Or maybe they're really interested in facilitating their creativity, ongoingly, and so they just get a system and they use it a lot.

We have no particular commitment to saying, "Well here's how many sessions..." That would be like trying to tell the brain what to do. We'll say, "If you want a session, if it seems that way, then have one. If it's useful, go for it." But a lot of people think, 'well if one session is good then a million would have to be better' and they want to train all day long for several weeks. It's like that old Zen story about the guy who goes to the Zen monastery and he approaches the abbot and he says, "Look, if I trained all the time, if I just worked really hard, how long will it take me to become enlightened?" The master looks at him and says, "Ten years." He says, "Okay look. I'll skip meals, I'll cut down on my sleep, I'll work even harder." "Twenty years." It's kind of the same thing. In the East that's known as 'gaining mind'. If you come into it with 'gaining mind' then you're kind of missing the point. If you're trying to speed it up, well everybody's journey is everybody's journey. It's their individual process. Like when my eldest daughter was learning to walk, I'm not going to say to her, "No no no don't do that. Stand up. Just stand up." Well, no. That's her process. I'm going to respect that because then it also lets her know that I trust that process for her. I don't have to step in for that. Other times, of course you do. They're going to fall and hit the edge of a table. Well, of course you're going to step in and take care of that. But most of the time where we step in and think we're helping we're actually making it worse.

There's a Chinese proverb about the monkey thinking himself kindly and wise safely tucked the fish back up the tree. You pull the fish out of the river to save it by putting it up in the tree where the monkey feels safe. You think you know what they need and what's good for him and you end up killing him. So, people vary quite a bit but we find that over time the longer folks make use of the system, whatever that schedule that they choose to use - they may do once a week, they may do once every other week. They may do haphazardly in terms of time between. Three times a month, or eight times a month, or whatever. The longer somebody does that, the longer the effects will persist between sessions. So the typical thing is people will come and they'll do a set, to use that term. They'll just do a number of sessions kind of closer together. What they'll find is that they can start to space out the time between the ending sessions as the number comes to the end of the sequence they're going to do or end up doing. They find they don't need the booster effect as much and soon it'll be a week between sessions. Then it'd be two weeks, then it would be a month, then it might be three or four months. Then it might be a year assuming that no major stressors happen in their life.

Gaby: Some people have had a little bit of troubleshooting. There is some speculation about what could be going on. For example: some sleep less or they have a mild headache here and there. What could be happening here?

Dr. Brown: Well, you need to remember; first off it's not a treatment so it is not a linear, predictable process. But what we have found is that whatever emerges is not new for that person. It's something that has occurred in the past and usually it indicates that the system is kind of renormalizing itself. So it's like as you walk you're adjusting to this new terrain. You can walk very quickly in a carpeted hall. Try to do that up the side of a mountain and things could go sideways pretty quickly.

It's easy to say well, both of those are ways of moving, so how come one is more difficult? It's a different terrain and you have to adapt to that. As people do the training - remember, I said we're based on Karl Pribram's holographic model of the brain and how it works and that involves perception and memory as well as consciousness - your perceptions will change too and your perceptions of what's possible will change. So sometimes people say, "Well you know, I'm feeling more...," whatever. And as we talk about it, what's actually happening is they're noticing just how much it really had been going on but they have numbed themselves to how much it was going on. So, is there actually more? No. There's actually the same, or it could even be less but they're noticing it more now because they're more sensitive to it. Well okay, there's a change. That's the beginning of the change process. The more you notice it the more you can take action.

It's easier to clean up small messes than big messes. The sooner you see the mess, the easier it is to deal with it, right? That's the perception and then your sense of who you are in the world starts to change. One of our trainers coined the phrase "it's transformation through the rearview mirror" because you kind of have to look back and go, "Oh yeah, that's... wow! That's where I was before. I'm not there anymore, it's different."

I had this one woman who was probably the most extreme example of this, I'll call her Mary, but she was extremely bridge phobic. The only way she could go across a high-level suspension bridge was she had to be in the backseat of the car with a blindfold on and earplugs in and have somebody else drive her because she was just terrified. Now at that time Sue and I lived in Long Island and if you weren't on Long Island that meant you had to come across a bridge or you had to take the ferry or something. Anyway, she came for that. That was the identified purpose of coming. And so the way we had the office set up then, we had a little reception area and then Sue had an office on one side of the house, we had it in our house, and I kind of had the other side of the house set up as an office. Anyway, I would walk into the waiting room and I'd see Mary there and I'd see her husband. So it was at the fifth session that instead of really going out there that much I just opened the door and peeked and it looked like her husband wasn't there. I said, "Mary where's your husband?" and she said, "Oh, he didn't come here again today."

"What? Didn't come again? What do you mean?"

"Oh, I drove myself the last two times."

Doug: Wow.

Dr. Brown: [Laughs] I kind of looked at her and I said, "Do you remember why you came originally?" and she went, "Oh my god that's right! I had completely forgotten because it's so different. God, that's hard to believe."

Gaby: That's amazing!

Dr. Brown: And that's in the extreme but that's not unusual. Sue had a very similar experience in the very beginning when we were first together. I was kind of already an expert in the field and presenting. This was back in the five phase days and she is a migrainer. Back in the day she had to take massive amounts of medications, serious meds, each and every day just as a standard thing and still she was in pain most of the time. Then there was of course the additional ones that she would take. At one point about six weeks later she stopped and she said, "You know, I just noticed I'm not even carrying the emergency meds with me anymore. I don't even think - I'm not taking the morning stuff either. I hadn't even noticed because it just faded away." It's like yeah, that's kind of what happens.

So I think sometimes when people say, "Well nothing's changing," there's some of that going on. It's like that things are different but they're different in a way that the person can't yet recognize. It can also be that they're engaging in behaviors or they're in situations where they're still having that abiding stress; where they're still abusing their bodies in some way with substances or whatever. Of course as we get older you have to be much more creative in how you abuse yourself! [Laughs]

Gaby: I think that's pretty fascinating and to be quite honest, I think the people that have reported nothing, it seems that other people have noticed something.

Dr. Brown: Well I think that's true. I have yet to see a situation where someone had significant others around and they all agreed that absolutely nothing changed. Now, the other place where you can see that is frequently with families who bring children. They see the child as the 'identified patient', as the phrase goes, they see the child as having 'the problem'. If 'the problem' doesn't change the way the parent thinks it should they can say, "Well this isn't working." What they'll find out is that, "Well he's arguing with me more."

"Oh, okay. So he's standing up to you, I get it."

"Well he shouldn't do that."

"Oh. Well that's a whole different thing..."


"I understand but.." It's like, this is change and change happens. So it does get interesting at times and what we recommend and what a lot of our trainers recommend is that the entire family trains because the more the parents and the other family members are feeling more capable, more resilient, more flexible; the less reactive they will be and the less reactive that the quote 'identified patient' will become also.

Gaby: We do have a trainer participating in our forum. It seems that he has been in NeurOptimal since pretty much the early days. His username is Choepel and he was telling us that you guys over there were doing NeurOptimal in groups and doing group experience. Can you share a little bit about that?

Dr. Brown: Oh yes. Well one of the things that happened over time as we were developing what became NeurOptimal is we would go to conferences. Unlike the rest of our colleagues, we would do basically blind sessions on people who came up to us. No assessment, no nothing, just go ahead run the software because even in the early days it was incredibly safe and gentle and all of that. It struck our colleagues as, "How can you do that? You have to assess the person." "No, I don't. I don't, you see it right here." In fact, many of our colleagues' competitors came and secretly said, "Look, I've got a headache let me sit down and do a session, ok?"


It was kind of cute! Anyway, as we did that it started to become clear that a lot of our trainers and the emerging community of users were very interested in having additional experiences like group experiences and all of that. So Sue and I started a series of events that we referred to as the 'immersives'. What we would do, we rented basically a hotel that was here where we were in Victoria and we kind of took the place over for a week. People would fly in and it was a week-long thing. It started out with a trainer and a client training all at the same time and so you had two sessions in the morning: one where you were a trainer, one where you were client. Then you had two sessions in the afternoon, same kind of idea: one where you were a trainer one where you were a client.

We had people shift around so it wasn't just the same pair switching seats. Everybody got basically a chance to train more or less with everybody. As the group got huge that was tougher. We had little debriefing sessions in between them and where we kind of talked about like what happened or what did you notice, whatever. What became very clear was that frequently somebody, whichever side of the equation they were in the experience, they'd say, "You know, it was really weird but I had this image in my head," and somebody from across the room would go, "Yeah! I did too!" and another person is like, "Well yeah, I had the same thing!" and it's like, "I was the client," and the other one goes, "Uuuh I don't even remember, was I the client or the trainer?"

And so it was very clear that there was a group interaction that was happening. Everybody was getting their own separate feedback. As we did that, two sort of interesting things occurred historically. One of the very first immersives that we did Jeff Bova came to. Jeff, at that immersive he came up to me on the first day and he said, "Look, this is amazing. Would you mind if I composed some music to go along with this, to express what my experience is?" Now, Jeff is a multi-platinum, multi-Grammy musician, producer, all of that. He has worked with everybody. At one point he was in Herbie Hancock's band at the time of "Rockit", you know, all kinds of thing. Anyway, it's like, "Would I mind? Are you kidding me?! Amazing!" The music that we use and that we used once he created the first one, is the default music. So we have a whole new music which is actually composed of six separate tracks and one of the real joys of my life was he and I had discussed at that same first meeting that at some point here's what we'd both like the music to become. This is really the music that we had always kind of wanted. I actually got to work with him in his studio dealing with and adding to several of the tracks. It was so amazing. It really was. That's one thing that happened.

The other thing that happened, I started thinking, you know this is really interesting. So there are these group interactions going. As we started, I would walk around and see what was going on in the screens. I noticed that there was a synchronicity occurring frequently with what you see on the screen. I thought, okay I'm going to try an experiment here. What I came up with was what we called the 'star hookup' because of kind of what it looked like when it was done. Essentially what happened was we had one channel from one system connected on one side of a person and the person next to them had that same system's other channel connected to one of their sites. We went across connecting like that all the way around the circle of people who were getting trained and we called it the 'star hookup'. It was true interpersonal feedback because whose brain was actually triggering the interrupts that were heard, if you think about it. The really fascinating thing was it worked.

Gaby: Wow.

Dr: Brown: So it became a thing that was kind of the center point for quite a while of the immersive, for the ones that we did. Ultimately it got to the place where everybody could train at the same time because it was simple enough to run that way. You didn't need to have a separate trainer outside. It was twice than the amount of hookups and training time and all of that. We discontinued those after several years, I don't remember exactly how long. Several of our trainers have continued them in various locations so there have been versions of it done in the Netherlands, there have been versions of it done in the US in various locations, there have been versions of it done in Japan, just a number of locations.

So very interesting stuff and pointing to the fact that what's really underlying what occurs, in our form of neurofeedback anyways, is one of the nonlinear dynamical control processes known as 'synchronization through chaos'. That is the real explanation for what everyone thinks of as the clocks synchronizing on the wall. You take two nonlinear dynamical systems and you put them in connection with each other so they can share information. You do that with the clocks on a wall and the wall vibrates a bit, right? What will happen is the two pendulums of the clocks, if they're pendulum clocks, will synchronize but to a different rhythm then either of them had separately.

Now if you think about it, when you go to a traditional talk therapist that's actually what happens. You guys start talking in the same way. Either the client synchronizes more to the therapist or the therapist synchronizes more to the client or it's 50/50, whatever. They develop a shared language and if you follow them psychophysiologically when they're together, they're starting to have very similar psychophysiologies over time. We think it's the content that's the important part. I don't think that's really the case. I think it's the synchronization through chaos and you just hang out a while together. To go back to that committed relationship situation, you synchronize together in some way. Wednesday night the guy may go out and play poker and Wednesday night she has her girlfriends over and they play bridge or whatever. You do stuff at kind of the same time or you don't stay together.

Gaby: That is fascinating! We're going to try that.


Dr. Brown: Well whenever I would do couples therapy everybody always would want to come in and talk about the problems, right, whatever they were and I said, "Yeah, yeah we'll get to that but what I want to know is how'd you guys decide to get together? At some point you looked at each other and you said 'hey let's hang.'" And they'll start talking about the first times that they went on a date or the place they used to go to. As they do that they will start to really synchronize to that. If they don't then it's probably too far gone for things to really get salvaged because of whatever's happened. At the end of some of those discussions I would say, "Okay but when you first got together you used to go to this little roadside place and you'd go hang out and you'd have your coffee and you would get the Danish and you would get the bagel. What do you think would happen if you started doing it again?"

And they're like, "Oh my god we haven't done that for years."

"Okay, why don't you try it and see what happens?" As you do things together that created the relationship it's highly likely that you're going to recreate the relationship. So it's very similar. We did group stuff. Some of our trainers use one system on a mother and her daughter at the same time, so one channel apiece. Some use two systems at the same time. Some do the cross hook up when it's two systems and two people or three people and three systems, whatever. So that has persisted in a lot of situations. But yeah, group experiences.

We just had our conference. We just finished it in Montreal; it's actually referenced up on our website. We had 200 people in the room and we had 50 plus with live streaming access around the world and we just had a ball. We've just really had a wonderful time and someone who came who is a motivational speaker, came up to me at the end of the time and he said, "You know, I really have never seen a group that's as passionate and compassionate and connected as you guys are. This is just amazing." That community, that sense of community and group is really important to Sue and I. We think of our company as being family and incidentally there's family relationships amongst just everybody in the company. It was not intended that way it's just what's happened, you know? It's been funny like that. And we think of the community of users as the family. We usually use the word community but we see it much more as a family.

In fact our current director of education, a wonderful woman, Dr. Lise Delong, who I've known over 20-some years - I helped her through her dissertation and all that kind of stuff. Anyway, for years she would to come up to me and to Sue and she'd go, "Can't you guys just adopt me?" She's such a sweetheart, she really is. So she's now our director of education and it's like okay, so now you're part of the family, that's great! Her husband helps with some of the configurations and shipping that we do and it's just that's how it all evolved over time. It's just been organic and Sue and I ride the serendipity that occurs, we don't block it. Yeah so group stuff, yes and families and all kinds of cool stuff.

Gaby: Well I think you both will be pleased to know that several of us own the equipment and we have them in communities and yes, it has brought a lot of us together so we can do NeurOptimal.

Dr. Brown: Well it's also important that users know about each other and have the means to connect with each other. We now have our NeurOptimal 3 pass support group on Facebook so anyone who's a member of the pass support process has instant 24/7 access to basically all the information they're going to need to run the system and deal with things when things seem to go sideways or whatever in terms of the operation of their systems. It's been a very important resource and what I found so wonderful in that particular process is that basically the group is self-supporting now. I go in and I provide answers and our technical staff does and just about everybody from the Zengar team contributes in some way but unlike how resources used to be organized for us it's frequently other users who are giving the direct support to their colleagues around the world.

Gaby: Yeah I'll check those. Since the last week or two, I was quite impressed. There's a lot of activity going on there; a lot of support and also a lot of experience and so many types of clients. Let's not say diagnosis but there's some pretty amazing stuff going on here!

Dr. Brown: [Laughs] Yes, there is. That's part of the fun work for Sue and I. It's really been a difficult, long but also immensely fun and immensely rewarding journey that Sue and I have been through to bring this out the way we have. It's just not what we anticipated when we first started the process at all. We couldn't be happier about how it's gone.

Gaby: Well I'm glad to hear that. I would imagine that there was a lot of troubleshooting at the beginning and resistance from the neurofeedback community.

Dr. Brown: Yeah. I was the bad boy in that group because I challenged everything else and it wasn't that I was trying to be challenging. I think one of the touching moments I had in that community, because there are a lot of really wonderful dedicated folks there, but this one gentleman who I'd known for a very long time and a trainer, has developed particular protocols to do certain things. He and his wife were a partnership and he was a US Marine. So for his wedding it was full dress uniform. Just a really great guy and he asked me to be on a panel. He was on the panel and another sort of prominent figure in the field was on the panel and each of us had different approaches. The gentleman I'm talking about and the other person were much more similar in that they were both linear approaches and limited targeting and that sort of thing. Anyway, when he introduced me he said, "You know, I have to tell you that I don't do what Val does. I don't understand what he does. I have no idea how he gets the results that he gets and how his people do, but you need to listen to him because he does get those results and that means it's working." And it was like, "Wow, thank you very much. That's awesome." So moments like that made a difference and of course, presenting for so long with Karl Pribram, in the end I didn't really care what anybody else thought. He got it. He and I presented together. That's good enough for me.

Gaby: There are several books and papers that he wrote. Do you recommend something specific for people who want to know more about nonlinear dynamics?

Dr. Brown: He will not talk as much about nonlinear dynamics as some others do, but he will talk about the joint time frequency analysis portion of what he was using. It's a version of what we used as well. There are a number of them and it really depends how deep you want to go into his stuff. He put out a last e-book and I don't remember how long ago it was but it's widely available through Amazon and that sort of thing. It's called The Form Within and it kind of encapsulates his entire career. For me as I read it, it is eerily reminiscent of the kinds of discussions that he and I had. Towards the end of his life he and I had planned to get together and do some kind of a guided discussion about things and then unfortunately he died of cancer. It progressed to the point that that just was not possible and that's something that I regret that we weren't able to do. It would have been just wonderful.

The Form Within covers a lot of that and it really does a very good job of helping to move people to the place where they can kind of begin to understand stuff. Of course, there's also the classic Brain and Perception, which was written a long time ago. One of the things that I really liked was one of the books that we actually used back in my under undergraduate psychology program, back in the early 70s, and it was something he wrote with two other people, rather prominent folks in their own right, called Plans and the Structure of Behavior. It's very interesting because of when it was written and some of the ideas and seeing how that has come back and become the basis of a lot of other things going on. I suspect many people don't even know that, don't even know that history. So that's stuff from Karl. And a lot of his papers. I couldn't even tell you how many papers there are. If you look online it's got to be over a hundred. It's just the career that he had and the things he wrote and the presentations he did; it was just a phenomenal amount of material.

Gaby: I might be mistaken but I think he might have written about parapsychology, actually made studies.

Dr. Brown: Yes! He kind of covered the waterfront, yeah.

Doug: Interesting.

Gaby: I think that's something that when the co-founders of our associated website, Arkadiusz Jadzyck told me. I was preparing for this show and I said, "Okay I think Pribram is the keyword here. Pribram, Pribram, right. We didn't think about him, yes."


Well, I know you're very busy, we don't want to steal any more of your time. I mean we could keep going for hours... Doug do you have a question there that maybe I'd left out that is like, "Oh, don't forget that question or anything"?

Doug: Well there was one little question, maybe just a quick answer to it. There was one question about children versus adults and whether since children are apparently kind of more plastic in their brain, the the question was 'is it more effective on children than adults'?

Dr. Brown: If you think about it, when you're asking a 'more' question you're basically linearizing it. Then we've got to come up with a metric for effectiveness, whatever that means, right? So to me it just doesn't make sense to think about it that way. I'm not even sure that I would agree with the overall premise that children's brains are more plastic. If you're talking about neuroplasticity, it was not long ago where neurology and medical science was saying, "No-no-no, after this age no more new neurons, no more new brain tissue. You got it or you don't and you just start losing after that." Not only do we know now, and we have for quite a while, that that's just not true; that's been known for centuries. It's been talked about differently in different cultures but the idea that somehow we're a clock and we just start winding down doesn't really fit what's going on, especially not when it comes to the brain and learning and all of that. So, more or less effective? I don't know how to measure that. And for me as a programmer, as a former neuropsychologist, as a database management person I know if I can't measure it I can't do a lot with it.

Doug: Right.

Dr. Brown: Does that make sense?

Doug: Absolutely, yeah. I'm very open to the idea that we don't lose any of our plasticity as we age... [Chuckles]

Dr. Brown: Well we hope not! Things can happen but we sure hope not.

Gaby: Well that's very good news. So I hope the listeners enjoyed our summer solstice special and if anybody wants to learn more you can go to and see if there's a trainer close to you or more information, articles, links here and there. I think that's the most important resource for people right?

Dr. Brown: Yes, that's a very good resource. From there it will point you in other directions. Lots of resource out there, that's the place to start.

Doug: Great!

Gaby: Sounds good. Thank you very much Dr. Val for being with us.

Doug: Yes, thank you!

Dr. Brown: Well, thank you for having me. I really enjoy these kinds of things so I had fun and hope it was useful.

Doug: Very much so.

Gaby: I'm sure it was. Well, good-bye everybody and see you next week!

Doug: Goodbye!

Dr. Brown: Goodbye!