Where do genius, novel ideas come from? What can an eccentric, 19th century inventor teach us about unleashing our creativity? And what does any of this have to do with floating?
Thomas Edison, one of history's most prolific inventors, leveraged Alpha and Theta brainwaves. What's more, used these 'magic' brain states many decades before science discovered them.
I want to share one of my favourite examples of his mastery of surfing between these states. It involves ball bearings, brass plates, and a fireplace.
Edison would seat himself in his armchair in front of the fireplace. Once comfortable, he would cradle bearings in both hands with brass plates on the floor below. Then he would drift off to sleep. When he loosened his grip on the bearings, they would fall and strike the plate, which jolted him awake. He would then reset and repeat the process.
As his brain made new connections, Edison avoided falling asleep. In that state he chewed on ideas while semi-alert to the white noise swirling through his mind's eye.
With this practice, Edison 'rode' the slowing brainwaves into Alpha and Theta states. We know now that these states are associated with creativity and higher learning. While we know there is benefit to hard work and effort, we also know that these states aren't best for creativity.
Edison's strategy for problem solving relied on relaxation and surrender rather than stress. In addition to his fireside routine, he took frequent naps when he wasn't tinkering or consuming information. This balance between information consumption, action, and digestion were key to his genius.
Today, we've developed new ways to reach the brain states that Edison pursued. Floating, for example, provides the same neurological benefits Edison chased. If he were alive today, Edison would be a user of sensory deprivation tanks.
The Skinny on Brain Waves & Creativity
Our brains’ millions of neurons fire rhythmic, electrochemical signals inside the brain. In doing so, they create a collective cyclical pulse. We can measure the speed of this pulse with an electroencephalogram (EEG machine).
Neuroscientists have identified a spectrum of activity with 4 main categories. Beta is the fastest state, slowing into Alpha, then Theta, and finally Delta.
These brain wave states change as we do. We may be in any of the four depending on environment, activity, stress level, etc.
When we’re awake, our brains primarily produce Beta waves. When resting, our nervous system calms and our brain produces Alpha waves. We reach the same state while doing things like walking and stretching. Counter-intuitively, flow state-inducing athletics like surfing or snowboarding can also put us in Alpha.
Alpha waves bring about a heightened capacity for creative thinking and data absorption. This is why some people use floating for learning languages and autohypnosis.
The Alpha brain wave phenomenon also explains an age-old tradition. Creatives have their greatest ideas while walking, bathing, or listening to music. This is true whether scientist, writer, or mathematician.
Theta waves, meanwhile, aid memory consolidation and neuroplasticity. During this phase, our brains rewire of synapses in the neural network. Theta occurs in deeper states of rest such as prolonged meditation, sleep, or floating.
It's (normally) almost impossible to reach states slower than Alpha when not asleep. But the float tank is anything but normal. The tank environment strips away environmental stimulus and even the feeling of gravity. This is key, because these stimuli arouse the nervous system and push the brain into Beta. The lack of these stimuli promotes the rare waking Theta state.
Floating to Boost Your Creative Powers
In relation to creativity, the beauty of the float tank is three-fold:
1. It fosters automatic entry into the Theta state without requiring years of practice.
2. Float practitioners remain suspended in these states for long periods of time.
3. Floating primes your system to generate Alpha states after leaving the tank.
Floating is like hopping into a high-level 'think tank' for 90 minutes. But, it also adds more fluid cognition and creativity to your post-float, waking hours.
It's rare to be conscious of your mental and emotional activity while the brain is in the Theta, 'defrag' mode. This is the process Edison hacked.
In the tank, it's possible to witness internal shifts in real time. If we choose, this process can help us provide subtle direction to our mental process, too. We can leverage the boosted computing power during these slower brain states.
Employing the Subconscious Mind
“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” – Thomas A. Edison
It's also well documented that Edison trusted (and engaged) his subconscious mind. He credited mysterious forces of intelligence beyond himself for his world-changing ideas. This paradigm is widespread amongst the greatest minds.
Along with his work ethic, Edison's use of the subconscious explains his landmark success. Edison dialogued with his own mind and listened for the answers. There is no better place to do this than in a float tank, free of external stimuli.
Here's the thing: you can practice the same thing. Going into his fireside meditations, Edison would ask himself for a new idea, or the solution to a problem. He stated his intention, posed himself a question, or made a request to his subconscious. You can do this too during your float sessions to apply some mental pressure.
Then: let go.
It’s in this release that subconscious mechanisms kick into gear to process your enquiry.
Napoleon Hill used this same principle while titling his best-selling book Think & Grow Rich. After weeks of kicking around ideas with his publisher, nothing felt right. One night, he claims to have given his subconscious mind a ‘thrashing.’ He demanded that it make good with a winning idea.
That night he awoke, called his publisher and shouted the name into the receiver. An excited voice crackled through the earpiece, “Well by George, he’s got it! A million-dollar title.”
Tell me, what million-dollar ideas are waiting for you in Theta state?
Written by Chris Sol