Adam Hewett, founder of Brain.fm, visited The Garage last Thursday to help the audience use music to hack their brains. The service, he said, combines a selection of songs that will help someone achieve a desired goal, whether it be combating insomnia or anxiety, or just wanting to get work done.
According to Hewett, the service is based on the truth that all humans are born with an innate musical ability. In fact, infants are able to distinguish between 12 different forms of music, he said – something that not even the most advanced computers can do. Hewett cited a study in which subjects can pick out different instruments playing in a song, while a computer cannot.
“Music is so much more powerful than people realize,” he said.
Speaking to a group of people ranging from a software programmer to a curious Evanston citizen, Hewett said our understanding of music is unique because music has always been unique to our species.
“Humans are the only species that has both the ability to recognize tone intervals and rhythm,” Hewett said. “No other species has this.”
While no other animals can detect rhythm, it is so embedded in humans that it even affects the way we walk.
“Rhythmic interpretation is so fixed in humans that one would have to destroy the entire brain in order to get rid of rhythm,” Hewett said.
In that sense, tapping our feet to the beat is almost a human instinct. We are not reacting to the rhythm that we hear, he said, but rather predicting the next sound to come.
Successfully capturing the attention of the audience, Hewett went into depth about the effect music has on our brains. He used war as an example:
“There is a reason that armies march, there is a reason that we have battle songs and battle fury,” Hewett said. “Think about the French national anthem. I mean, that’s going to get you going. You get into a trance very easily with music.”
Hewett said that when people fall into such a trance they often have spiritual experiences while listening to Brain.fm. This is because the auditory cortex is near a small area of the brain that is responsible for temporal lobe epilepsy, which can cause us to smell, see or remember something that’s not actually there.
“This sometimes causes people to have an out of body experience,” Hewett said. “Sometimes they feel a presence in the room.”
Hewett said that because music is so effortless, humans don’t appreciate it or understand its full power. Brain.fm, however, studies the effect music has on the brain, and optimizes the brain’s response in order to maximize focus or induce sleep.
“Whenever an auditory event happens and interacts with the brain, there is an evoked response,” Hewett said, “and if you do those enough… it starts to resemble brain wave patterns already there.”
According to Hewett, if you listen to sound of a particular wavelength long enough, the brain will start to synchronize to it and adjust its phase to match that of the music you are listening to.
You can see this process take place with an EEG, a test that picks up the electrical activity of the brain, Hewett said. Electrodes placed on your head will detect small electrical signals and amplify them before sending it to a computer. Hewett uses this method on many subjects to see if their brain waves synch to those introduced through ear.
For what it’s worth, Brain.fm seems to work – this article was written listening to a 30-minute focus music session.