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Sensory Overload

Daron Larson of Learning to Stay Updated: Dec 18th 2009

I’m an open-minded meditator. I enjoy exploring the perspectives of a variety of teachers and strategies. Developing the skills of attention requires the same kind of consistency necessary for staying physically active over time. Some people stick with one thing such as running to stay physically healthy or paying attention to the breath to develop concentration. I need to have options. To stay fit I like to run, lift weights, practice yoga, take walks, and sometimes swim. In my meditation, I work with strategies that explore different aspects of ordinary sensory awareness. I’m also interested in how scientific research validates the subjective experiences related to meditation as well as exploring ways of generating meditative responses in the brain by some technological means.  

So I was eager to explore the Trip Glasses, a device invented by Mitch Altman, the creator of TV-B-Gone. It looks like one of those devices that simulates a big-screen movie experience from an MP3 player. The marketing for the Trip Glasses echoes the style of ads from the back of comic books which I learned at a very young age made promises that were just too good to be true. The seizure warning on the glasses themselves didn’t provide much comfort.

This is a meditation experience as imagined by James Cameron. It makes me wonder why tickets to Avatar aren’t required to have a seizure warning. The effect was surprising, considering that it is all generated by red lights flashing against my closed eyes. The entire visual field was filled with vivid colors, intricate patterns, and a mesmerizing flow of activity. This is a strategy of overloading the visual cortex with so much rich material that it leaves little space for thinking in images such as remembering, planning, and daydreaming. At the same time, sounds are piped in through the headphones which are synced with the flashing lights. This gives the auditory cortex plenty to do which limits the real estate we tend to fill with incessant internal chatter. These are interesting sensory aspects to explore.

However, the 14-minute experience turned out to be more stimulating than calming, more like an amusement park ride than staring out across the surface of the sea. I could feel a little jolt of adrenaline, which might not be a problem, but might be disconcerting for some. And like a ride, it left me feeling a bit jostled and queasy. For a few minutes, ordinary sounds seemed to flutter a bit.

In the end, the Trip Glasses aren’t likely to advance the science of meditation, but they would make a fun novelty gift for the experimental meditator on your list.

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