Imagine - EMusician

Imagine

Few who were alive on September 11, 2001, will forget the date. For many it was a call to arms, but others are concerned that waging war will only perpetuate
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Few who were alive on September 11, 2001, will forget the date. For many it was a call to arms, but others are concerned that waging war will only perpetuate the cycle of violence, leading to more terrorist attacks, followed by further retaliation, and so on until civilization crumbles into dust.

Among those concerned is Dr. Spanky N. R. Ganglia of Callosum Corp. U.S. As recounted in this column two years ago, Ganglia has been working on an ingenious invention called the Mindophone (see “Tech Page: Music on the Brain,” in the April 2000 issue). The device includes a headpiece embedded with sensitive electromagnetic detectors that monitor brain activity associated with musical thoughts and send those impulses to a computer, which converts them into audio signals that can be played through any sound system.

After watching the plane bombs explode on TV that terrible Tuesday, Ganglia wanted to find a way to inhibit the hate that impels people to brutalize each other — not only al-Qaeda terrorists and Americans but also Arabs and Israelis, Irish Catholics and Protestants, goth teens and their parents, and countless others. He figured that violent tendencies could be replaced by harmonious ones, and the vicious thoughts might dissipate as a result. The drive to annihilate in anger would be reduced or eliminated, thus breaking the seemingly endless cycle that grips the world.

Simply playing music won't work, even if it could be reliably received by everyone involved. But the events of 9/11 turned many beliefs upside down, leading Ganglia to a creative breakthrough: his Mindophone might become a potent tool against terrorism and violence if it could be applied in reverse. Drawing on the latest brain and mind research and the old adage, “Music soothes the savage beast,” he decided to try broadcasting radio signals not in the audio range but in the brain-activity range to stimulate the sensation of hearing music.

Ganglia started by recording a musical selection into the computer, which he programmed with an inverse algorithm to convert the signal into impulses analogous to the brain activity associated with hearing or thinking about that music. Then, he broadcast the impulses from a specialized radio antenna (see Fig. 1), inducing the corresponding electrical activity in nearby brains. As a result, those within range appear to hear the music “in their head.”

Initial experiments involved volunteers with adversaries who agreed to participate, hoping to resolve their differences peacefully. Bickering couples, hostile neighbors, and Real World roommates were gathered together within range of the antenna, which broadcast brain-wave impulses derived from selections such as “Give Peace a Chance,” “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and, of course, “Imagine.” In addition, Ganglia mixed in more layers of subliminal pacifism than Enya has reverb, including sacred chants and hypnotic trance loops that help synchronize the brain's electrical activity.

The results were astounding. Instead of fighting, the subjects calmed down as the music penetrated deep into their psyches. Perhaps for the first time, they actually heard the messages of the songs that had been selected. One participant, a musician, was particularly moved by these lines from Malvina Reynolds's “Singing Jesus”: “Beat your swords into plowshares/and your guns into steel guitars.”

The next step is broadcasting the impulses over a large area from satellites. (To prevent messages of hate from being transmitted, Ganglia uses an artificial-intelligence algorithm that analyzes lyrics and encodes only songs of peace and love.) If it's successful, perhaps John Lennon's vision might finally become a reality: “Imagine all the people/living life in peace.”