How The pRoshi Works
I will attempt to explain the general workings of the pRoshi, as God and Chuck may be my witness. I hope that such a description will encourage interest in the pRoshi, a very powerful and general purpose tool. There is evidence that the pRoshi has a strong impact on the re-normalization of EEG power relations, as well as undesirable coherence relationships.
As I understand it from a discussion with Chuck, a big part of the inspiration behind the development of the pRoshi was Tom Budzynski’s “Brain Brightener” project, which began in the early 1990s, if I am not mistaken. It is not an accident that the original name of the pRoshi was the “brain brightener”, and it fact that name appears on the pRoshi case itself to this day. As Tom described in my interview with him in the Spring, 2005 issue of the ISNR Newsletter, the fundamental premise that drove the brain brightener project was that regardless of the type of stimulation and/or feedback you offer the brain, brains habituate, sooner or later.
Stated more positively, when you present novel stimulation to the brain, several things happen; brain blood flow and metabolism rates increase, as does the production of low beta waves. The reason why this was of interest to Tom was he was seeking a way to help the brains of both the elderly and “aging boomers” to resist degradation of cognitive function due to “normal aging”. Normal aging effects on the brain were thought to involve a gradual constriction of brain blood flow and a diminution of metabolism, along with a tendency of the brain to habituate to novelty faster, with serious consequences to cognitive performance. After all, if there is no maintenance of optimal arousal via low beta waves, the brain’s ability to encode new information or properly retrieve and apply old information suffers. As an aside, this last problem is not unrelated to the problems faced by ADD/ADHD and many LD brains, but that is another thread.
Budzynski’s solution to the problem as stated above was to present the brain with novel stimuli in the form of light stimulation from a programmable sound and light machine. To keep the stimuli “novel”, he would (1) have the frequencies that the light stim visited change every few seconds (2) utilize informal random number look-up tables to select the next frequency visited. Since Tom wanted to encourage alertness and cognitive performance, he chose to focus on the EEG spectrum range most commonly associated at the time with cognitive function, approximately 12-20 hz, as I recall.
Chuck had the good sense to pick up on this powerful idea and implementation, but Chuck is the consummate “tweeker” and sought to improve on the design. One improvement was to extend the range of frequencies visited to 1-40 hz. Also, Chuck opted not to use Tom’s pseudo random number tables. The other specific improvements are held as proprietary at this time.
I had the good fortune of using the second pRoshi ever made at Victoria Ibric’s clinic in July, 2003. I could tell many of my own stories of the impact of the pRoshi, I could talk about Bill Hudspeth’s astonishment when he saw the nearly instantaneous impact of the pRoshi on the coherence/connectivity patterns he had just observed on an acquintance of mine via his QEEG software. The stories and the data collected is a thread in itself. There are already many immortalized on the pRoshi list, but yes, controlled research is needed, and some is on the way as we speak.
As for the question of why this approach works as well as it does, there are a number of ways of thinking about this;
(1)The light stimulation is presenting novel stimulation to the brain for a long enough period of time that the brain in self regulation/self organization mode eliminates many of the functional disconnects and over-connections, as Hudspeth, Ibric and more recently Rob Coben have been finding.
(2) By constantly forcing the brain to visit frequencies it rarely visits, normal connectivies are effected as the brain’s overcontrolled “ruts” are superseded.
(3) The constant and unstoppable novelty presented to the brain is constantly triggering the orienting response in the brain’s attention control circuits, rehabilitating the brains flexible control of attention instead of the traumatic fight/flight/freeze mechanisms which force the brain into restrictive patterns of hypervigalence, perceptual/cognitive “shutdown”, and attendant patterns of over and under arousal that the Othmers, Budzynski and many others have been seeing the human EEG for a long time.
The Personal Roshi
Siegfried Othmer, PhD
The pace of change is increasing in our field, rather than leveling off. How exciting, except of course for those who are connected with the Efficacy Document, who got left behind in the last century.
Now Chuck Davis is challenging us to change our thinking once again. What excited me about the Magnetic Stimulation capability in the previous ROSHI is that it involves the use of an EEG tracking capability. This allows us to stimulate the brain whenever a certain threshold in EEG amplitude is exceeded, irrespective of the frequency at which this occurs. This represents a kind of limit to which the standard inhibit strategy can be taken. It is like Reuters having a search routine that always finds its way automatically to what should be generating headlines at a particular moment.
Once the detection threshold is exceeded, the resulting stimulus just slightly nudges the brain with optical or very low-level magnetic stimulation, sufficient to trigger the brain to mount a response. That response draws on whatever resources the brain has available at that moment and at that point in frequency space. If the brain is at all capable of reorganizing its affairs, then there will be a trend set in place toward the diminution of the disregulated brain rhythms. The EEG will move from lesser to greater complexity, and hence to greater stability. It will move toward better internal regulation, which will allow it to function more efficiently. There will be internal quieting. The brain can be thought of as moving toward its own internal “Relaxation Response.” Only in brain terms the relaxation state is not one of passivity or inactivity but rather one of optimum regulation, a translation into brain terms of the concept in physics of “Least Action.”
As a means of giving explicit information to the brain to effect renormalization of function, one might say that the traditional ROSHI does about as well as one can. In the interest of completeness, I must say that the LENS unit fits this picture also, and adds the dimension of explicit brain-mapping so that the targeted training can be conducted systematically and tracked rigorously. The LENS also differs significantly in terms of strategy, in that it starts the renormalization process by working the most stable regions of the brain first, and approaches the least well-regulated regions last. Yet it may well be true that when actual training times are considered, no system yields a faster response than the LENS. We have also learned from the LENS system that it is of secondary importance what frequency offset is used in the stimulation. A small or a large frequency offset works comparably well, insofar as we know. And finally, we have learned from the LENS about the sensitivity of vulnerable brains to the effects of over-dosing with whatever we do in terms of brain challenges with fixed reinforcement parameters.
So let’s assess where we are. We already know that conventional Light-Sound instrumentation (or AVE) is capable of replicating the results of neurofeedback with fixed-frequency training, i.e. with techniques that are entirely agnostic with respect to what is happening with the EEG underneath. We get quick results in terms of functional normalization with a ROSHI that targets the most deviant EEG frequencies, as well as with a LENS that targets the best-organized regions of cortex first.
Now let’s look at the negatives. The down-side of the AVE approach is that one is subject to negative side effects traceable to narrow targeting of specific frequencies. The downside of the ROSHI is simply that one is dependent on the EEG signal to guide the training, and dependent on complementary instrumentation for any conventional neurofeedback that one may wish to do. The downside of the LENS is that it is dependent on a lot of data acquisition to organize and monitor and adapt the training.
If we put together what we know from each of these systems, features that one might have thought essential from one perspective become merely optional from another. And perhaps inappropriate from a third. First, one does not have to track the EEG to stimulate the brain effectively. Second, one does not have to narrowly prescribe the stimulus frequency, according to work with the LENS. Third, one does not have to find the “right frequency” to train, as in conventional neurofeedback. On the other hand, we have lots of experience that as one persists in a particular brain challenge, negative consequences increasingly become a concern.
So if one puts all of these ideas together, one gets the personal ROSHI: The brain is stimulated either optically or magnetically in a frequency-agile fashion, all over the EEG spectrum. The brain is stimulated with a signal that mimics aspects of the EEG over a sufficient length of time that a reaction is provoked, but not so long that negative effects can creep into the picture. Every stimulus at an EEG frequency provokes the brain into momentary entrainment and disentrainment, a phenomenon in which the brain yields to the stimulus in first instance (entrainment), but one that the brain then also resists and counteracts (the disentrainment). The brain will strive to maintain the integrity of its own operations. Once a disturbance in its self-organization becomes apparent, it will react to counter it. Then, before a steady-state entrainment/disentrainment response can even set in, the stimulus moves to another frequency to initiate another challenge.
One analogy that comes to mind is the stimulators that exercise particular muscle groups while the body passively rests. Effortless exercise. In the present instance the brain is provoked into an ineluctable response while the person is otherwise passive, and need have no conscious engagement with the process. It also helps me to think of the elderly who have trouble maintaining their balance. If one would nudge them slightly in different directions non-stop as they stood, the “error-detection” circuitry would be challenged toward greater sensitivity. A recent invention stimulates the soles of the feet to accomplish the same thing. The stimulation is at such a low level that the person is hardly aware of it.
I am also reminded of the saying of Frank Lloyd Wright, “Anything said either for or against the truth ultimately serves the truth.” In other words, one does not have to exercise brain function in exactly the right place, and under exactly the right conditions, or even in the intended direction, in order to obtain improved self-regulation. There is no such thing as bad exercise when it comes to the brain, so long as the provocation is sufficiently modest. Whereas the original ROSHI worked explicitly in an error-correction mode by targeting the worst deviations, the same strategy can also be applied agnostically across the board to good effect. That is to say, no decision is required as to which frequency range most deserves attention, nor must we even prescribe the right direction (in this case the phase) in which to apply the stimulus. By covering the entire range of EEG frequencies up to 40 Hz, and the entire range in terms of phase, “no tone is left un-Sterned,” as the saying goes.
The worst that one can say about this is that some of these stimulations may be less effective than others in guiding the brain toward better function. At worst, we may be casting some seed upon stone. First of all, we don’t even know that this is the case, given the work with LENS using a broad range of frequency offsets. We already have evidence that training at any EEG frequency can elicit an effect. And with respect to phase of the applied stimulation, it is initially random with respect to the phase of the EEG at that frequency. Hence, there will almost always be a phase offset initially in the natural course of events. That comes with the territory.
But secondly, what if some of the targeting here were to be less efficacious than another? Is that really a concern? At worst this approach might be costing us some training efficiency, but we shall have gotten in trade a considerable liberation in terms of instrumental complexity. Since this kind of training does not require any specific targeting, or mid-course correction, or much of a concern about sudden negative side effects, it can be readily transitioned into remote use. Under such circumstances, efficiency is really no longer paramount, since the training is not done on the meter. We don’t tell people to “hurry up and meditate” either. There is also the consideration that a multiplicity of brain challenges is probably more wholesome, and more comprehensive in its effects, than a narrowly focused targeting strategy.
One can therefore envision a division of labor in which the clinician gravitates toward those techniques that call upon specialized knowledge, critical discernment, assessment skills, and the ability to apportion client needs into the psychodynamic and physiological domains. The client meanwhile utilizes those technologies at home that can be benignly deployed there. The personal ROSHI is among the latter.
Now I don’t know how Chuck gets to these places, but I have had to get comfortable with these ideas in my own way. I have reconstructed some of my own thought process above. But I can only imagine that Chuck had one more thing in mind, and that is to deflate the stool sitters and chest beaters in this field who insist that things can only be done in a particular way—or not at all, as in the case of the writers of the Efficacy Document. I am happy to share in this fashion in his little triumph, particularly since the Efficacy Document tries to draw a narrow curtain of propriety around this nascent field.
The history of this field has been one of a progressive shedding of constraints on our thinking, starting with a narrow interpretation of what was involved with training of the sensorimotor rhythm. We found that we did not have to just train the right frequency at the right place for the right condition. The opposite was more nearly the case. The brain can be cued toward improved self-regulation at any frequency, at any location on the scalp, and for any condition in which the central nervous system plays a role. The personal ROSHI represents one end of the continuum of clinical options: it imposes no constraints, no preconditions, no rules on the enterprise of enhanced self-regulation. It is the ultimate counter to the hegemonists threatening to define this field. It could not have come along at a better time.
Nature is ultimately simple in its principles, though it may be multi-fold and complex in execution. The personal ROSHI represents perhaps the most straight-forward implementation of what we may mischievously call “Newton’s Third Law of Brain Function:” Any action that modestly interferes with brain function elicits a reaction by the brain. As long as that action is not sufficient in and of itself to destabilize the brain, then the consequence of that action-reaction dynamic will be to leave the brain with a greater capacity for self-regulation over time. That’s almost all that needs to be said. You train the brain, and you watch to see that you are not making things worse. If you are not making things worse, then you are probably on the path to making them better.
The personal ROSHI is an important development in the thrust toward “agnostic” protocols, namely those that do not depend upon explicit steering. And there is nothing more salutary in response to the growing fundamentalist threat to this field than a healthy dose of agnosticism. The personal ROSHI also fits the category of the “Blind Watchmaker,” an essentially autonomous, non-judgmental, non-prescriptive strategy to train the brain toward improved performance. It will set a standard against which all specific claims will need to prove themselves.