Adverse Side Effects

This comes up a lot. It comes up a lot with newcomers to AVS. If AVS is working, your head is  likely to report sensations that  you don’t recognise. Neurologists are free to dive in any time, but I see it as being a general increase in blood flow in the brain, due simply to use of bits of the brain with greater intensity than usual. There are also quite a few noise and spacial effects that affect the sense of position or balance. Theta often leads to de ja vu type recollections, and, not infrequently, snippets of the past that have been long-lost or buried – be prepared to face whatever emerges. Irrespective of the intent of the track, if it contains frequencies from the major brain rhythm bands in a manner that correctly stimulates the brain, and if you’re not actively opposing the rhythm, then the prevalent effects of that frequency range will almost certainly happen for you.

Which gets me to an important point… “if you’re not actively opposing the rhythm”.

I’m spending a horrifying amount of time auditioning sessions. Every session I write, I’m seeking to provide a new twist on perception. Most sessions contain a mathematical puzzle to find. Nearly everything in each session does something in a random, complex or periodic manner. Periods of a particular element overlay with other elements to create new beats and sounds. I want every session to make it easy to do the particular thing I might come to AVS for help with.

That’s all very well. What if you’re writing a session that’s structured for maximum problem solving or decision-making? If I let myself go while auditioning a version then I’m going to find a problem to solve. That’s not good for two reasons… first, I have no desire to go looking for problems, and second while I’m doing that I’m not paying attention to the construction of the session itself. How do you objectively form an opinion of a product that is specifically designed to assist the individual in viewing an aspect of life from a different perspective.

And so I realise that if you’re using any session based on anything below 10Hz, and you have a strong awareness of the aesthetics of the session, then you’re opposing the intent of the session. The judge/censor operates in full awake mode and will happily override whatever else is going on – a priority interrupt if you will.

So here I am having to listen to a couple of sessions every day. Some an hour in length. Some more than once when I discover that something I thought worked when I was auditioning fragments didn’t work in the context of the whole.

I spend a lot of time actively opposing the intent of the session. I often end up with sensations around the head that I initially think aren’t good, even ranging into what I call pain. More true is that is that they are sensations I’m not familiar with. To be absolutely true, AVS can, if overdone or used without at least reasonably co-operating with it, cause headaches and sore eyes, and all sorts of mood and emotional responses. It’s not a toy to be used indiscriminately. I strongly suspect a lot of content out there has had its teeth rounded down to minimise surprise reactions. I find myself wondering, if a person uses a self-development tool and they have experiences indicating that the tool is is doing something, what’s with complaints? Anything with the power to do anything at all has the potential do do it pleasantly or unpleasantly on any occasion, with the factors as varied as the individuals themselves. As an aside, this is why homeopathy has such an excellent side-effect profile.

As I’ve whined before, I have one type of headache that seems to be part of something not good. I’ve got special anti-inflammatories for it and I’m booked for an MRI next month. When a new head sensation begins there’s always the anxiety that it’s going to turn into my most unpleasant side-of-head pain. When I’m satisfied that it’s something different I get to take a good look at it and decide whether it’s a new spacial effect that’s doing the fair-ride kind of thing with pieces of the brain, or whether it’s a part of the brain that doesn’t often get flexed getting a workout, or whether I’m just AVSed out for the day. Clocking up AVS time at the rate of dozens of hours a week (isn’t it funny that there’s good sounding words for twelves and twenties, but not for tens?) Never twice is a session quite the same. Sometimes the differences are interpreted as a good thing, sometimes they suck. With some sessions turning on a fan or aircon, or having certain types of music in the background, will introduce infuriating, or at least distracting new beats or artifacts.

AVS, if done properly, is not passive entertainment. If you spend time thinking in the slower modes, you will have new insights and you will find your brain doing unexpected things – that means it’s working. Part of my mind model is that low alpha, theta and delta rates represent the amount of time if takes for deeper associations to be made with more immediate considerations. If a moment can be stretched, a single thought fully attended to, then everything relevant will have time to contribute to the chemical soup that precedes an action potential.

Other uses of sound and light have their own merit, but if their primary purpose is not stimulation, then they are more strictly something that doesn’t have that word in its handle.

This whole matter is incredibly significant to me not only because I do sometimes feel some flavour of crappy after a session, but because my session testers sometimes report that a session makes them feel weird or yuck. These occurrences are few  amongst all manner of glowing testimony, but I have to decide whether an experience is consistent with the intent of the session or whether there is an offending feature that can be removed without impacting the functionality of the session.

I had a lovely email today commenting that after reading me slagging off the aesthetics of my sessions, labouring the point that I write for more for function than form, that he expected “ugly” sessions, but was surprised to find that they are “beautiful”. I don’t know how to express how good such words feel. I replied with an unusually short email today. Usually I would write a novel justifying the few critical points, or over-explaining the cleverness of things observed as good. On this occasion I just wanted to wallow in the warmth of informed appreciation. This particular person has written an AVS software tool that is the absolute answer to one of the most frequent complaints from people wanting to AV their existing music, etc. I think I’m still sworn to secrecy, so I’ll have to go all quiet about it, but do, do, do watch this space for when I can announce a truly cool software toy from someone who acted on an opportunity to provide a unique solution to an authentic need.


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  • Mark  On March 10, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Great post , Craig. I guess it’s important to remember that whatever we feel from an AVS session should be respected in that it is often indication that the brain is actually responding to what we are dishing out to it, and a little discomfort ocassionally could mean we are taking it in to uncharted territory which is neverthless very exciting.

    I must admit to being a bit of whimp with AVS..I tend turn away from stuff that is not aesthetically pleasing to me , and don’t tough out the stuff that may actually have good psychactive properties. But then again I never did like to take my medicine when I was a kid.

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