On the Neurology of Gamma Brainwaves and the Psychology of Peak Experiences
Among humans, there are five levels of consciousness, and these mental states correlate to brainwave activity. Of course, correlation does not equal causation. This is important to understand, particularly when it comes to physiological versus psychological phenomena.
Regardless, the point is that brainwaves, or neural oscillations, are rhythmic or repetitive patterns of neural activity in the central nervous system. As part of this, millions of different neurons in the brain and central nervous system synchronize for various lengths of time generating energy that can be detected as fleeting patterns of electricity with electrodes on the scalp using a technique called electroencephalography, or EEG.
As part of this, different regions of the brain are more commonly linked with certain waves. For instance, alpha waves are usually strongest at the back of the brain in the occipital lobe, which handles vision.
Thus, your brain is abuzz with all different frequencies of waves, but certain ones are more dominant at any given moment, depending on what you’re doing and how you’re feeling.
So, there are lots of different electrical patterns, defined by their frequency, and measured in cycles, or the number of times the neurons are firing, per second. Brainwaves also vary in amplitude, with lower amplitudes as they speed up.
In general, the higher the frequency of the waves, the more alert and awake you are. So, right now as you read this your brain is abuzz with activity, likely functioning in the beta range of neural activity at around 20 Hertz. To put some perspective on this, rapid-eye-movement (REM) dreams are 10 Hz phenomena, while mystical visions are more on the order of 50 Hz.
(I) DELTA BRAINWAVES
At the deepest level of the subconscious mind, delta waves appear on an EEG as high amplitude brainwaves with a frequency of oscillation between 0.5–4.5 Hz. These are usually associated with the deep stage 3 of non-rapid eye movement (NREM), during slow-wave sleep (SWS).
(II) THETA BRAINWAVES
In humans, the theta brainwave frequency is in the 4.5–7.5 Hz range, regardless of their neurological source. As part of this, cortical theta is often experienced by children. Whereas, in adults, theta waves tend to appear during certain kinds of meditation, hypnosis, drowsiness, and/or sleep.
(III) ALPHA BRAINWAVES
Alpha waves are neural oscillations in the frequency range of 7.5–12.5 Hz. This happens during wakeful relaxation with closed eyes, often while in a state of meditation, rumination, and/or contemplation. Much of this alpha brainwave activity occurs in the occipital lobe.
(IV) BETA BRAINWAVES
A beta wave is a neural oscillation in the frequency range of 12.5–25.5 Hz. This can be further subdivided into low beta waves (12.5–16.5 Hz), beta waves (16.5–20.5 Hz), and high beta waves (20.5–25.5 Hz). These are the experiential states associated with the normal everyday waking consciousness in most people.
(V) GAMMA BRAINWAVES
A gamma wave is a pattern of neural oscillation with a frequency between about 25 to 100 Hz, with 40 being typical. This is the result of entering transcendental mental states that generate gamma brainwave activity. This level of consciousness often takes years to achieve, but can eventually become permanent with enough practice.
A gamma wave results from the state of consciousness that exists above the everyday waking state of beta brainwaves. One way to think about this is that the delta state is when you are the most asleep, whereas a gamma state is when you are the most awake. In this way, gamma is what it means to be “awake” in the Buddhist sense.
Technically speaking, gamma brainwaves are the most optimum with the fastest frequency and smallest amplitude. Subjectively this corresponds to the highest level of cognitive function attainable by a given individual, which would register as anything greater than 25 Hz on an EEG.
Typically speaking, the average person only experiences a gamma wave state for a very brief period of time during a “eureka” moment while having an epiphany as Archimedes did all those years ago. In contrast to this, a well-disciplined Buddhist monk or nun might experience a full-blown theophany all day every day.
This is because properly meditating for tens of thousands of hours can produce a persistent peace of mind. Either way, the result is the same. A peak experience is a moment accompanied by a euphoric mental state often achieved by self-actualizing individuals. As such, an individual in a peak experience will perceive some or all of the following things simultaneously:
- a physical feeling of warmth, along with a sensation of pleasant vibrations emanating from the chest outward into the limbs
- complete mindfulness of the present moment without the influence of past or expected future experiences
- spontaneity, expressiveness, and naturally flowing behavior that is not constrained by conformity
- the feeling of using all capacities and capabilities at their highest potential
- the sense of being one whole and harmonious self, free of inner turmoil
- a free mind that is flexible and open to creative thoughts and ideas
- functioning effortlessly and easily without strain or struggle
- feeling completely responsible for perceptions and behavior
- being without inhibition, fear, doubt, and self-criticism
- loss of judgment to time and space
Essentially, self-actualization is characterized by one becoming all they can be, by fully maximizing their potential. A common phenomenon that many self-actualized people experience is called flow.
This has been described as a state of mind when one is using their full potential, completely immersed in their current activity, and are therefore not conscious of anything else. They are totally in the zone.
Thus, due to the nature and characteristics of self-actualized individuals, peak experiences often occur in their lives with the ability to perceive, accept, understand, and enjoy life. This brings about physiological, psychological, and theological well-being.
Along with this, it’s also interesting to note that gamma waves stimulate immune cells in the brain to reduce the amount of beta-amyloid and remove plaque proteins from neural tissue which prevents Alzheimer’s disease.
So, brainwaves can literally alter the biology of the brain. As such, the list of useful applications for peak experiences just goes on and on. The way it looks, the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of gamma brainwave states are seemingly endless.
With that being said, I think we would all do well to achieve the highest level of consciousness as often as possible. We all owe it to ourselves and each other to raise our awareness, and thereby strengthen the noosphere, as best as possible. Together we can usher in a lasting era of enlightenment and thereby change the world forever…