Hacking Meditation with the Arduino

TLDR; Meditation done right changes your physiology. You can monitor these changes to your physiology using off the shelf components and the Arduino.

Learning to meditate sucks, because there’s no way to know whether you’re doing it right.

And if you are, have you sat long enough? Did your mind wander too much? You seem more relaxed, but did anything really change?

A growing number of studies show that meditation allows us to reduce pain and stress, to enhance sensory awareness, ability to focus, and most amazingly, build a sense of well being.

Simply put, science is proving practicing meditation allows us to change and fundamentally rewire the way our brain works for the better.

Up until now, meditation has been very woo woo, even as a growing body of scientific evidence shows the very real benefits.

So how do we take the woo woo out of meditation, and make improving our brains easier?

There have been some incredible breakthroughs in programming, focusing on giving users feedback immediately, coming from Brett Victor and Chris Granger. Their work got me thinking:

Can I build a device to give meditators feedback on changes to their physiology as they practice meditation?

And this lead me to start reading a bunch of medical publications from the past few years on meditation.

The common thread throughout all scientifically proven methods of meditation is that they fundamentally change your physiology.

This means we can measure physically, when changes happen within your meditation practice. So once we’ve established a normal for your heart rate, we can actually measure deviances from normal.

And from these deviances, we can tell as you go a level down in relaxation, or a level down in your stress, using your physiological giveaways.

If only I could build a way to get your physiological readings into the computer, I could provide audio feedback, and let a meditator know when they’d reached a deeper meditative state.

Building a Brain Laboratory at Home

I always wanted to learn how to code for the Arduino, and so this seemed like the perfect project. I ordered a beginners kit from Sparkfun, with the idea of initially building a Galvanic Skin Response reader.

This quickly evolved into building a more robust system, capable of distinguishing between more physiological changes.

So the prototype I’ve built reads three different values. Your Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), Skin Temperature, and Heart Rate.

Using these three values, I can tell as you become more relaxed (skin temperature, heart rate), and graph and watch as your meditation progresses.

So my initial prototype uses electrodes to measure your GSR and skin temperature, and an LED powered pulse sensor. My Arduino board sends the values straight to a Clojure program via USB.

The Clojure program reads data from the USB, and builds a running average of data. As soon as there is a deviance from a certain set percentage (depending on the input type), audio is triggered via an Overtone controller.

In this way, I can get immediate feedback as I enter a deeper meditative state, and my physiology changes.

Building a Platform to Hack the Mind

But I’m not stopping here. Our world is rapidly growing in complexity, and our ability to use more than the prefrontal cortex of our brain effectively is under attack.

Social media and a hundred million pieces of information only an arms length away mean we’ve got to build better ways to defend our minds from distraction, and learn better ways to manipulate and improve our mind’s functioning.

One problem that jumps out to me as a programmer is the 7+/- 2 issue.

We humans can only hold 7+/- 2 variables in our head at a time, without resorting to tricks. (Read Moonwalking With Einstein if you’re interested in the tricks)

The systems we’re building are much more complicated than 7+/- 2 variables. We need to better learn and understand how to manipulate the power of our subconscious brains, which excels at dealing with many more variables at a time, and then sending solutions to the prefrontal cortex.

High functioning creative people already rely on this part of their minds, but it’s not yet a science. It’s the odd occasions in the shower where insight strikes them.

What if we could use our physiology and computers to create insight on demand?

Only the Beginning, Let’s Work Together

As the body of evidence in favor of meditation keeps growing, I only see devices which allow us to better control our minds proliferating in the world.

Because our lives are becoming ever more complex, and the differences between the winners and the losers in modern society rests completely on our abilities to perform mentally.

If you’re interested in building this yourself, would like to see the code, or just want to have a very first version, please enter your email below, or leave a comment. I won’t spam you, I just want to gauge whether or not there’s a demand for a consumer device to provide an environment for hacking your mind.

I’d love to start working with other people to better the process of improving our minds.

Fill out my http://food-ag.mit.edu.

6 thoughts on “Hacking Meditation with the Arduino”

  1. hi k.p.
    i am also very interested in designing tools to improve meditation. i am a long term meditator in the tibetan tradition and also a neurofeedback therapist. the project described in the youtube link above was my first electronic project, right now i am working on different forms of feedback in neurofeedback.
    i like your idea to combine gsr, temperature and hrv to improve meditation.
    my experience is that these devices can somehow prepare the ground for propper meditation. but it is a mistake to think the readings of a sensor display the depth of the meditation experience. meditation is a very complex state and these sensor data only point into the direction of meditation.
    but i find it worthwhile to train with them. you are right when you say that these devices can help you identify you going towards a meditative state.
    did you finish your device and would you like to share your experience?

    greetings from germany,
    michael

  2. I use the Wild Divine system of biofeedback yet have never been satisfied with those
    annoying eastern gurus. I would like to see a biofeedback meditation software that promotes the western esoteric system. The Wild Divine people put out good software, mind you, but people who are Wicca, Thelemic, study Alchemy and other western traditions are never included. Also, I never liked any practice that takes away desire. I want to use the biofeedback for control and have done with all the outdated eastern dogma. I especially dislike Zen where you practice to attach yourself away from an object. So, if you create something like this you might very well do well if you decide on it as an way to the chests of gold, if you know what I mean, honey!

  3. I am also interested in programming an app with HRV input data using the Valencell biometric sensor in the earbud of a custom designed blue tooth headset.

  4. Late 20’s Electrical Engineer, andmeditator, with a long held interest in biofeedback. Found your blog off google by searching “physiology hacks.”

    Love the idea, subscribed.

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