New technologies are promising a shortcut to enlightenment

Sigal Samuel in Vox:

It was a Monday morning, which was reason enough to meditate. I was anxious about the day ahead, and so, as I’ve done countless times over the past few years, I settled in on my couch for a short meditation session. But something was different this morning.

Gently squeezing my forehead was a high-tech meditation headset, outfitted with sensors that would read my brain waves to tell me when I was calm and when I was, well, me. Beside me, my phone was running an app that paired over Bluetooth with the headset. It would give me audio feedback on my brain’s performance in real time, then score me with points and awards.

This was the Muse headband, an innovation in mindfulness that picks up on Silicon Valley’s penchant for quantifying every aspect of ourselves through wearable tech — the idea being that the more data you have on your brain waves, heart rate, sleep, and other bodily functions, the more you can optimize the machine that is you. But a thought nagged at me: Isn’t there something self-defeating and contradictory about trying to optimize meditation by making it all about achieving success in a gamified app? The underlying technology is definitely intriguing. Muse is an application of neurofeedback, a tool for training yourself to regulate your brain waves. Neurofeedback began gaining popularity years ago in clinical contexts, as research showed it had the potential to help people struggling with conditions like ADHD and PTSD.

More here.