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Visualising the Meditating Mind: The Aesthetics of Brainwawe Data


Abstract and Figures

Meditation is an ancient Eastern practice, which is receiving renewed popularity as a secular approach to health and well-being. Recent advances in commercial EEG sensor technology provide opportunities for visualising biological brainwave data by artists and designers, outside the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry. We chart the creative development of an aesthetic visualisation, Narcissus Brainwave that aims to provide insight into the shifting states of mind during the practice of meditation, informed by a series of user studies with meditators and non-meditators. Interestingly, assumptions we made from the interpretation of brainwave sensor data about when a meditative state was achieved did not always resonate with how meditators understood the quality of their inner meditation experience. This may be due in part to the limitations of a single electrode EEG device. Issues also arose related to personal preferences and cultural conventions for interpreting the meaning of the Buddhist-inspired visual symbols representing our model of meditation. Our study has revealed some of the challenges of visualising the meditating mind and creating meaningful aesthetic visualisations with commercial devices.
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Bio-creation & data: Papers
Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA2017 Manizales
16th International Image Festival
Visualising the Meditating Mind: The Aesthetics of Brainwawe Data
Lian Loke, Caitilin de Bérigny, Youngdong Kim, Claudia Núñez Pacheco, Karen Cochrane
Design Lab, University of Sydney
Sydney, Australia
lian.loke, caitilin.deberigny, claudia.nunezpacheco,,
Meditation is an ancient Eastern practice, which is receiving renewed
popularity as a secular approach to health and well-being. Recent
advances in commercial EEG sensor technology provide opportunities
for visualising biological brainwave data by artists and designers,
outside the elds of neuroscience and psychiatry. We chart the creative
development of an aesthetic visualisation, Narcissus Brainwave that
aims to provide insight into the shifting states of mind during the practice
of meditation, informed by a series of user studies with meditators
and non-meditators. Interestingly, assumptions we made from the
interpretation of brainwave sensor data about when a meditative state
was achieved did not always resonate with how meditators understood
the quality of their inner meditation experience. This may be due in part
to the limitations of a single electrode EEG device. Issues also arose
related to personal preferences and cultural conventions for interpreting
the meaning of the Buddhist-inspired visual symbols representing our
model of meditation. Our study has revealed some of the challenges
of visualising the meditating mind and creating meaningful aesthetic
visualisations with commercial devices.
Biological Data, Brainwaves, EEG, Meditation,
Meditation is an ancient Eastern practice, now
recognised as leading to benets in health and wellbeing
(Kabat-Zinn 1998, Keng 2011, Greenberg 2012).
Despite the rising popularity of secular meditation
in the West, novice and experienced meditators can
struggle to maintain a regular practice. One of the
issues facing meditators is that they may not know
whether they have successfully entered into a state of
meditation during their practice. In order to address
this difculty, this research aims to provide tools to
visualise the participants’ biological brainwave data
during meditation to help them practice. It is based on
the assumption that when the mind enters a meditative
state it has specic patterns of brainwave data that can
be visualised as unique patterns. Scientic studies of the
brainwave activity of experienced meditators suggest
that this is the case (e.g., Fell et al., 2010).
This project aspires to go beyond traditional graphical
presentations of biological brainwave data common in
the sciences to the application of aesthetic approaches
to data visualisation. Artists and designers are beginning
to create visual works depicting the activity of the
brain, with new opportunities arising from the recent
introduction of commercial electroencephalogram
(EEG devices. We created a custom- built software
program, entitled Narcissus Brainwave that uses
symbols from Buddhist mandalas to visualise different
brainwave states in meditation, and brainwave data from
the Neurosky Mindwave device.
The focus of this paper is not on the technical
development of Narcissus Brainwave; instead we explore
the challenges in designing aesthetic visualisations
using biological data captured from commercial
brainwave sensors. Our objectives were to reect the
qualities of the inner experience of meditation, and to
evoke similar qualities in the viewer. Towards that end,
we developed dynamically changing visual designs that
aimed to depict the meditating mind and to resonate
with meditators’ interpretations of their inner meditation
experience. However, as we will see in this paper, this is
not as straightforward as it seems.
In this paper, we rst briey describe the historical
background of meditation and mindfulness. Then the use
of EEGs for visualising brainwave activity to capture
data is discussed through reference to key scientic
and artistic studies. We illustrate and explain the
visual design and interactive behavior of the aesthetic
visualisation tool, Narcissus Brainwave, followed by a
description of the underlying model of meditation. The
Bio-creation & data: Papers
Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA2017 Manizales
16th International Image Festival
development of the software program that generates the
visualisation is described in terms of the series of user
studies conducted to understand the nature of visualising
biological brainwave data in meditation and how the
data from the studies informed design choices for the
tool. Finally, our paper concludes with a discussion of
the key challenges we encountered in aesthetic visual
design for representing the meditating mind and creating
meaningful aesthetic visualisations with commercial
Literature Review
Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation has been an integral part of pan-Buddhist
Asian cultures for the past 2,500 years (Otani, 2003,
p. 97). It is utilised by various religious and spiritual
groups throughout the world, in particular by Buddhist
monks for spiritual training. Meditation is thought to
be a useful skill to learn and use to discipline and heal
the mind and spirit. Buddhist meditation encompasses
a variety of meditation techniques that aim to develop
concentration, tranquillity, and insight (Fernando
2010). More generally, meditation is considered a
form of mental training. The word meditate stems
from Latin meditatum; to ponder. Meditation promotes
concentration and relaxation, to help manage emotional
states through focussed attention.
Increasingly, around the world non -Buddhists
are adopting Buddhist meditation techniques; these
techniques are progressively used by psychologists
and psychiatrists to help alleviate a variety of health
conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety and depression,
sleep apnea and stress management (Gotink, Chu et
al. 2015). Currently, the most widely researched is
the secular form: mindfulness meditation (Kabat-Zinn
1998, Hofmann 2010).
Measuring Brainwave Data in Meditation
EEGs capture biological data from, and record, the
electrical activity of the brain. An EEG measures the
way brain cells communicate by producing electrical
signals. In 1924 Hans Berger recorded the rst human
brain activity with an EEG (Collura 1993). The EEG
was adopted by clinicians and scientists to observe brain
wave patterns. Human brainwaves have been classied
into ve types: Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta.
The change of consciousness through meditation
is recognisable by its brainwave status. Brainwave
readings taken during a normal day and during normal
activities show the beta brainwave status to be dominant
(Teplan, 2002, p. 3). Alpha brainwave activity is
induced by closing the eyes and by relaxation. It is
diminished by eye opening or by mental activity such
as thinking or calculating. When people close their
eyes, their brainwave pattern signicantly changes from
beta into alpha waves (Teplan 2002, p. 3). The most
dominant effect in the majority of studies on meditation
is a state-related slowing of the alpha brainwave rhythm
in combination with an increase in the alpha brainwave
amplitude (Fell et al., 2010, p. 220).
Researchers have found that low amplitude alpha
brainwaves may reect stressed states. Unpleasant
acoustic stimuli reduced the amplitude of low alpha
brainwaves by approximately 20% (Nishifuji et
al., 2010). A similar observation was made in our
preliminary study, where decreased amplitudes of alpha
brainwaves took place at times of external distraction
such as an unpleasant sound.
The key scientic ndings we applied in the design
of our visualisation tool were the increase in alpha
brainwaves during relaxation and meditation, both
in terms of a slowing down or decrease in frequency,
and an increase in amplitude. In a study of mindfulness
meditation, alpha brainwaves have been linked to an
increase in internal attention and an increase in theta
brainwaves to relaxation (Haupt and Fell 2007. We
used this distinction between relaxation and meditation
as a key parameter in our model of meditation, by
employing the ratio between alpha and theta brainwaves
as a threshold indicator between calculated states of
relaxation and meditation.
Artistic Visualisation of Brainwave Data
Although historically, EEG devices were used in
psychiatry and neuroscience, these devices are now
being employed by artists and designers to visualise
brainwave data. Currently, there are only a few examples
of artistic visualisations of brainwave activity related to
meditation. We discuss three projects that use bespoke
software programs and commercial EEG headsets to
visualise brainwave data in meditation, and focus on the
aesthetic aspects of the artistic works.
Andreas Borg’s Alhambra Mandalas (2012) is an
artistic visualization developed using Islamic patterns
found in the Alhambra castle in Granada, Spain.
Similar to Narcissus Brainwave, the work was inspired
Bio-creation & data: Papers
Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA2017 Manizales
16th International Image Festival
by the idea of mandala patterns, which are created
when the user achieves a specic state of mindfulness
meditation. Users can interact with the artwork by
wearing a Neurosky Mindwave headset. The result is a
continuously evolving tapestry varying according to the
values of brainwave data. The parameters used are raw
signals of brainwaves and attention and meditation values
provided by the Neurosky device. It creates symmetrical
patterns depending on the values of brainwave status.
Whilst the artwork is visually sophisticated, it does
not include any user evaluation nor provide users with
insight into their meditation practice.
Visualise Your Mind (2015) created by Zhepeng
Rui is an example of a visualisation that represents
participants’ brainwaves in meditation using the
Neurosky Mindwave headset. It has a Mind Painting
feature, which creates unique abstract paintings in real-
time based on brainwave data. The colours of the seven
chakra centres were used to convey different states of
meditation. Whilst the coloured lines are aesthetically
pleasing and convey some level of abstract information
about the nature of brainwave activity recorded by the
Neurosky headset, they fall short of providing more
precise and insightful information about the nature and
quality of meditation. More details of this work can be
found at de Bérigny et al. (2016).
George Khut’s Behind Your Eyes, Between Your Ears
(2015) is an example of the use of visual and sonic
representation of brainwaves in meditation. This artistic
work invites a participant to sit down, put on a wireless
Muse EEG sensor and relax in meditation. Changes
in the amplitude of alpha brainwave activity recorded
from four electrodes along the front and side of the
participant’s head, are used to modulate sound textures
and layers of graphics. The work aims to help the user to
enter into a meditative state, and to explore and reect on
their ability to sense and then move voluntarily between
these two states. Participants interact with the work
with their eyes closed in meditation, whilst observers
can watch a video of the participant overlaid with the
graphics being modulated by their alpha brainwave
activity. The visual material references “photographic
idioms from sci-, to 70’s aura-photography and 19th
Century spiritualist imaging” (Khut, 2015) and provides
observers with some indication of the meditator’s state
of mind, but in a non-didactic, evocative manner.
All three examples discussed above illustrate the
variety of approaches to using brainwave data to
generate artistic visualisations. They reveal to various
degrees through
Figure 1 The visual patterns related to each stage of the meditation model
abstract patterns, the ever-changing mental activity
of the mind, and offer new ways of understanding
and inuencing states of consciousness through the
application of aesthetic strategies. Now we turn to
the development of our aesthetic visualization tool,
Narcissus Brainwave, where we explore some of the
challenges of visualising the meditating mind.
Developing Narcissus Brainwave
Narcissus Brainwave is an aesthetic visualisation,
allowing users to observe their brainwave data in
different states. It is composed of a custom-built software
program, implemented in Processing (
that takes EEG data and creates a dynamically changing
visualisation. We used the Neurosky Mindwave
Bio-creation & data: Papers
Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA2017 Manizales
16th International Image Festival
headset, a commercially available non-invasive type of
brainwave sensor that is attached to the forehead and ear
of the user and wirelessly transmits raw EEG data to a
In this section, we rst present and explain the visual
design based on the Buddhist Mandala symbology. The
underlying model of meditation is then introduced.
This is followed by the key phases of development of
the visualisation tool through a series of user studies,
including how the model of meditation was modied as a
result of the ndings from the user studies. The technical
description of the visualisation tool and development
process is limited to providing sufcient information in
order to comprehend the model of meditation and the
design of the visualisation tool.
The Buddhist Mandala Symbology
Symbols derived from Buddhist mandalas were chosen
as the primary visual metaphor to visualise dynamic
changes in brainwave activity during meditation. The
third author who was responsible for the technical
development of this tool has a Korean cultural
background, where Buddhism is the primary spiritual
practice. The word Mandala in Sanskrit means circle.
Mandalas and circles symbolise the cycle of life (Laine
2009). Even though not all mandalas are circular, they
are traditionally symmetrical, and believed to inform the
wisdom behind sacred geometry. Traditionally, Mandalas
are circular diagrams enclosing a square, which are used
to ‘support of an act of spiritual concentration’ (Stutley
and Stutley 1977). The circle represents unity and the
square the essence of Buddha. Mandalas are also used
as images for reection in meditation. Mandalas in
Eastern traditions are believed to represent the cosmos,
the universe, and people, in which bodily, psychological
and spiritual aspects are represented. This signies the
journey of the individual toward wholeness (O’Nuallain
Tibetan monks spend approximately two weeks
creating sand Mandalas from grains of coloured sand,
whilst the act of destroying the mandalas takes only a
few minutes. Monks divide the Mandala circle into eight
parts and sweep the grains of the Mandala toward the
centre. The coloured sands is swept away and destroyed.
The process of creation and destruction of the Mandala
ceremony illustrates that all form is impermanent, by
highlighting the Buddhist concepts of non-attachment.
This ritual symbolic practice underlies the visual design
and dynamic behavior of Narcissus Brainwave.
The Visual Design of Narcissus Brainwave
The model of meditation was translated into a specic
visual design, incorporating the visual metaphor of
the Buddhist mandala. The key stages and rules of the
visualisation are illustrated and explained below, with
reference to Figure 1.
Normal Status During normal status (non-meditation-
like status), as complex brainwave activity was observed,
this was illustrated in the design by circles moving in a
spiral towards the centre at a fast pace (see Figure 1 (i)).
The amplitudes of each type of brainwave are displayed
as a distance from the centre. Each colour represents
each brainwave (blue: theta, red: low alpha, green: high
alpha, purple: low beta, dark purple: high beta, yellow:
low gamma (see Figure 1 (ii)). This visual appears when
the EEG sensor receives over the threshold amplitude of
theta brainwave.
Meditation Status As the user gets into a continuous
meditation state, shapes begin to appear. Fast orbiting
patterns morph into a slower paced mandala pattern (see
Figure 1 (iii)). The rotational speed of all elements slows
down to reect the calm state of the mind in meditation.
When the outer circles are red, they represent a low
alpha brainwave. When the alpha brainwave frequency
increases to high alpha range, the red circles change into
green circles. The size of the pattern is determined by
the ratio between alpha brainwave and theta brainwave.
If the alpha amplitude is registered higher than the
theta, the mandala patterns are larger than if the inverse
occurs. The brainwave signals (excluding alpha and
theta) are visualized as circles inside the large square.
The smaller circles’ size and colour are dependent on the
amplitude of brainwave data. Another square was added
that rotates at a different speed from the rst square to
develop more dynamic visuals.
Deep Meditation Status There is a signicant
parameter, sustainability. When meditation status is
sustained without any distraction, the sustainability
value will be increased. If the sustainability value
exceeds a certain level, the lotus appears in the centre
(see Figure 1 (iv)). This lotus state expresses a deep
meditation status. The size of the lotus changes in
proportion to the time in which this deeper status is
maintained. The colour of the lotus changes, depending
on the amplitude of brainwaves in each frame (low
beta, high beta, low gamma and mid gamma). The lotus
Bio-creation & data: Papers
Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA2017 Manizales
16th International Image Festival
colour appears followed by a gradient colour from the
highest brainwave to the lowest. Eight circles between
the outer red (low alpha) or green (high alpha) circles
were added to create a more circular image.
Distraction Status Distraction causes the Mandala
pattern to move back to the normal brainwave status.
The mandala breaks into eight divisions indicated
by blue lines emerging from the centre (see Figure 1
(vi)). The whole pattern shrinks down to the centre and
expands outward with a blue hue (see Figure 1 (v)) - this
symbolises the dissolution of the Tibetan sand Mandala
at completion.
Figure 2: Model of Meditation State Diagram
Relaxed Status This status is the Door of Meditation.
It can be interpreted as a shallow meditative status or a
relaxed status without any distraction. The noise effect
of the wavy circular lines will appear as the brainwave
pattern eases closer to the meditation status and it slowly
changes into the Mandala pattern (see Figure 1 (vii)).
In this status, there is no distraction, but attention level
is equal or higher than the meditation level. The outer
circles in the mandala pattern would morph into a circle
with noise. As the meditation level increased, noise in
the outer circle would settle down into solid round lines
(see Figure 1 (viii)).
The Model of Meditation
A model of meditation underlying the visualisation tool
for Narcissus Brainwave is presented below. It emerged
through a process of iterative technical prototyping and
a series of two user studies. The state diagram in Figure
2 illustrates the key stages of the model of meditation.
Each stage (or status is dened in Table 1. The attention
and meditation levels are designed as key parameters
to deter-mine the timing of transitions, the size of the
pattern and elements within it, and the stage of the
model. The relative levels of alpha and theta brainwaves
play a critical role too. See Table 1 for details of how
these parameters are used to dene, and transition
between, the stages of the model.
Stage Status Interpretation Attention and
mediation level
Normal State of intellectual
activity, quite
sensitive to external
stimuli, and the
opposite state of
Attention >
Theta brainwave
> 32uV
Normal -
Attention Occurring in normal
status, it is caused
by concentration.
Over 150000
ASIC EEG power
units of theta
Occurring in
meditation status, it
is caused by internal
or external stimuli.
Over 150000
ASIC EEG power
units of theta
(Door of
Attempting to
meditate, relaxed,
not particularly
in anything.
Intermediate state
between normal
and meditation
status, low level
of alpha and theta
Attention >=
Theta brainwave
< 32uV
State of freedom
from thoughts,
alpha brainwave
status, low level of
theta brainwave.
Meditation >
Theta brainwave
< 32uV
A deeper level of
meditation indicat-
ed by stable alpha
brainwave activity,
for a sustained
period of time.
Meditation >
Ability to not get
Table 1. Stages in the model of meditation
Developing the Model of Meditation
For the user studies, trained meditators and non-
meditators were recruited to explore the nature of
brainwave activity during stages of meditation, and to
inform the model of meditation and corresponding rules
for the visualisation tool.
Bio-creation & data: Papers
Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA2017 Manizales
16th International Image Festival
Understanding Brainwave Data
In the rst study, brainwave data was gathered from six
meditators and six non-meditators. Participants were
asked to perform two activities: i) Read a book, and ii)
meditate for 10 minutes using their usual technique, or if a
non-meditator, to perform the Zen technique of counting
from 1 to 10 and back on each breath. Participants were
asked to ll in a questionnaire so we could understand
what was happening during their meditative experience
for interpretation of the brainwave data.
Analysis of the brainwave patterns identied
differences between the two groups (meditators vs.
non-meditators), and was used as the basis to formulate
a preliminary set of rules for the visualisation tool.
The key ndings are summarised here, with a view to
informing the model and rules. It should be noted that
our interpretation of the different types of EEG data
may not correspond to those of scientic studies, as it
is shaped by the limitations of the Neurosky Mindwave
headset (see Discussion).
We can see from the graphs in Figure 3 that during
the activity of reading a book, participants’ brainwaves
were seen to be more active than during the meditation
activity. The most dominant brainwave recorded each
second when not meditating was mostly the theta
brainwave. The amplitude of theta (blue) brainwaves
reduced when participants were meditating. During
the meditation activity, red (low alpha) and green (high
alpha) are the most dominant brainwaves, as expected
from scientic studies.
When external distraction (especially noise occurred,
an increase of theta (blue) brainwaves was observed (the
spikes in the graph). On examining the graph in Figure
3 (ii) we can see that the participant with no meditation
experience was distracted several times, however
this participant’s brainwave was fairly constant in
meditation status as indicated by the levels of high alpha
(green) brainwaves. In Figure 3 (iv) the participant’s
(5 years experience) most dominant brainwave is
high alpha (green) brainwave, which was relatively
stable despite the occurrence of distractions. In Figure
3 (vi) the participant’s (13 years experience) most
dominant brainwave is low alpha brainwave (red). More
distraction stimuli (loud sound) occurred for the 13
years experienced meditator, however that person never
got fully distracted, and the alpha brainwave amplitudes
were very high and constant. After the meditation session
was completed, the participant of 13 years experience
was asked about the distraction and answered that it had
been felt as a vibration, but did not affect the participant
because the Mantra practice created a buffering barrier
in the mind deecting the distraction. It can be observed
Figure 3: Graphed brainwave data of participants of varying meditation
experience, either reading a book (i, iii, v) or practicing a meditation
technique (ii, iv, vi)
therefore that the more experienced meditator’s
brainwaves were more stable than those less experienced.
These observations would indicate that in the
context of this study - the theta brainwave is connected
to attention and distraction levels. When the attention
level increased in normal status or distraction happened
in meditation status, then the theta brainwave amplitude
also increased over a threshold (150000 ASIC EEG
power units, about 32.9 micro volts). Typical amplitude
of the basic human theta brainwave is higher than 30
microvolts (Saabun, 2014. Also the ratio between the
peak level of alpha brainwave and the peak level of theta
brainwave recorded each second, differs according to the
level of experience. The more experienced meditator’s
ratio between alpha and theta waves was larger, inferring
that meditation status could be calculated by the ratio of
alpha to theta – this became an important parameter in
our model.
This rst user study informed the rst version of
the model of meditation. The rules of the model were
focused on representing ‘sustainability’ of a meditative
state of mind, and ‘distraction’. Participants were
sensitive to external stimuli such as noise if it occurred
during meditation. This was applied to the ‘distraction’
effect and it was interpreted as a negative moment and
not in the meditative state. For the purposes of creating
a working model of meditation for the visualization tool,
we mapped theta brainwaves to attention. In the non-
meditation state, attention is interpreted as a positive
factor in this research. However, attention is interpreted
Bio-creation & data: Papers
Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA2017 Manizales
16th International Image Festival
as a negative factor and called ‘distraction’ in the
meditation state.
In psychology and cognitive neuroscience, ‘attention’
is a polar opposite concept to distraction’. Both elds
use the denition of attention, which was rst dened
by William James in the late 19th century (James 2007.
Attention is dened as focusing on one thing whilst
ignoring other things happening at the same time. In our
model of meditation, we decided to work with levels
of attention and distraction as represented by theta
brainwaves. The choice of theta waves was related to
how the Neurosky Mindwave measured brainwave
activity via the single electrode attached to the forehead.
It is possible that other headsets or higher-resolution
devices may produce different readings, leading to a
different mapping between types of brainwaves and
categories of mental activity.
User Evaluation of Visualisation Tool
In the second study, 11 participants were asked to evaluate
recorded sets of brainwave visualisation patterns,
generated by the initial version of the visualisation tool
using the data from the rst study. The aim of this study
was to nd out how well the visualisations enabled the
viewers to differentiate between trained meditators and
non-meditators. The majority of participants (7 out of
11) were able to discern the differences in the patterns
of data from meditators and non-meditators. They
perceived scale, colour and the rate of change as the most
important variables to differentiate visualised patterns
representing the different stages in the meditation model.
Regarding scale, most participants found expansion
of the shapes to indicate a deeper level of meditation.
In the design, expansion represents a deeper meditation
status and lower level of attention, which is considered
as a positive status in terms of meditation. Contraction
means opposite to expansion. As a variable, both
expansion and contraction are the same criteria used to
describe two opposite statuses.
In the mandala patterns, there are colour changes
between red circles, and in certain frames several circles
were blue. Participants interpreted the blue colour
as distractions because of the breaking apart effect it
caused in the manda-la pattern. The colour code has
been changed to eliminate the blue (in RGB colour code
to avoid this misinterpretation, blue value goes from 0 to
125 and never exceeds red or green values).
Some participants encountered difculties in
discerning between the stage of meditation and the
stage of deeper meditation, because the difference was
only indicated by the size of the whole pattern. This
confusion led to changes in the model and visualisation
rules to enable clearer differentiation between the two
Adding the Door of Meditation The participants
were also asked to contribute their brainwave
recordings, obtained in the same way as the rst study,
in order to increase the sample size for data analysis.
One important observation led to a major change in the
model of meditation.
When participants opened their eyes after meditation,
in the rst version the mandala pattern would typically
break into particles, symbolising a level of distraction.
Surprisingly, several participants did not break the
mandala patterns; even when they opened their eyes
they appeared to remain in a state of meditation. Their
status remained relaxed and they did not have any high
values of attention or distraction. Even if there was no
distraction, the outer mandala circles shrank down to
minimum size. This was interpreted as the meditation
level decreasing to less than the attention level (size is
determined by the ratio between meditation level and
attention level). As a result, one more variable was
added in the code to measure how relaxed people are.
Through the observation of the brainwaves becoming
calm in the state where there was no distraction right
after the meditation, this was considered as a relaxed
state, which is not actually in the meditation state itself.
This state was described as the ‘Door of meditation’ and
it was added to the model; to signify the door to enter a
state of meditation. Previously participants could create
the mandala patterns if they stayed calm and relaxed
with low amplitude of brainwaves. After the Door of
Meditation was added to the model, it was not as easy
to create mandala patterns as before. This may not be an
entirely accurate representation of the meditating mind,
but it is a rst approximation to a working model of
meditation for visual design exploration.
Evaluation by Meditators of Their Own Data
In the third study, 10 participants were invited to
meditate for 10 minutes whilst having their brainwave
activity recorded with the visualisation tool. The aim of
this study was to evaluate how well the visualisations
reected the personal inner experience of the meditation
session, by the meditators themselves. After the
Bio-creation & data: Papers
Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA2017 Manizales
16th International Image Festival
meditation session, the participants watched four
minutes of the visualisations they created with their own
brainwaves and then lled in a questionnaire related to
describing the quality of their current body/mind state
and sense-making of the visualisations. The nal task
was a video-cued recall in which they were asked to
interpret and match the displayed imagery with their just
experienced meditation session.
The participants were able to easily differentiate
between the four stages of the meditation model, however
they found it difcult to distinguish the meaning of the
different stages. Most of the participants had no prior
knowledge of the rules for the visualisation. Personal
preference of the colours and visuals was the major
factor when interpreting the meaning of the stages. P2
and P8 correctly interpreted stage 1 as a distracted state
and felt that the red and green colours of the circles and
squares in stages 2 – 4 represented a calm meditative
state. In contrast, P4 and P5 described the blue ash in
stage 1 as a calming presence, which represented in their
opinion a meditative moment or state. This is contrary
to the intent of the visual design for the blue symbol to
represent distraction.
The shapes in stages 2 – 4 were also interpreted
differently. P4, P5, and P7 thought that the squares
represented thoughts and conict, while achieving a
state of meditation was represented with the circular
shapes. For example, P7 depicted the squares as work,
circles as life and the blue pulse as his children, while
others such as P5 interpreted the squares as thoughts and
the round objects as representing his meditative states.
Generally, participants found it difcult to align their
personal meditative experience to the visualisations,
with only P8 and P9 stating that the visualisations
represented their inner meditative process very
accurately, and only P4 felt that watching the recorded
visualisation was somehow like meditating again. When
watching the visualisations, 3 out of the 10 participants
found their curiosity increased when they focused on the
mandala patterns.
The expansion and contraction of the mandala patterns
were obvious for almost all of the participants and they
understood that the adjustment in size was a change in
state. However, similar to the colour and shape opinions,
participants had contradicting ideas about the meanings
of the change in size. Some of the participants, such
as P2, expressed that the smaller mandala patterns
represented a need to concentrate, while P3, P4, and P6
thought the smaller pattern represented concentration
and calmness.
Visualising the Meditating Mind: Challenges
Now we discuss the challenges revealed through
our studies in creating aesthetic visual designs for
representing the meditating mind. Of particular interest
are the ndings from the third user study, where we
probed participants about their interpretations of the
visualisations and whether the choice of pattern designs
reected their personal inner experience of meditation.
As described in the previous section, there were
conicting interpretations of what the symbols, shapes
and colours were supposed to represent. The major issue
revealed through this third study is the tension between
users’ personal interpretations of the quality of their
meditation and how it should be depicted through the
visualisation, and what the brainwave sensor data is
telling us about the meditating mind.
Although many participants in the second study could
logically infer the meaning of the visualisation and link
the visual parameters to concepts of meditation such
as slowing of speed representing a tranquil mind, and
expanding circles as representing going deeper into
meditation, most participants in the third study found
little connection between their own experience of
meditation and the interpretation of the visualisation.
Two aspects of the visual design stand out as contentious.
The rst aspect is the use of the Buddhist mandala
symbol, and the associated shapes and colours. Central
to the mandala symbol is the combination of the circle
and the square, representing unity and the essence of
the Buddha, respectively. These shapes and the various
colours found in Buddhist mandalas were incorporated
in the visual design. For those participants not familiar
with the cultural and spiritual meaning of these symbols,
they found the geometry of the square jarring with their
idea of how the qualities of meditation should be visually
represented. The colours of bright red and green often
appear in mandala illustrations, and thus were mapped
to low and high alpha brainwave signals. However,
some people disliked the use of these two bright colours
and interpreted them according to Western convention
as red meaning danger/heat. Thus, some participants
found it confusing when red appeared in the stage of the
visualisation representing a state of meditation.
This lack of consensus on what the patterns represent
means the visualisation tool can be incorrectly
Bio-creation & data: Papers
Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA2017 Manizales
16th International Image Festival
interpreted by participants. Therefore, it might be useful
to note that either the participants should be aware of the
mandala patterns’ meanings or the participants should
be able to customize the visualisations to their own
The second aspect is the meaning of the blue ash
as depicting a level of distraction. The observation that
some participants interpreted the blue ash as a moment
of meditation, instead of distraction, runs contrary
to the assumptions we held in interpreting the sensor
data. Interestingly, what this reveals about the personal
experience of meditation, is that many meditators
evaluate their own experience during the practice of
meditation as having only eeting moments of what
they deem to be ‘in a meditative state’. In contrast, from
the rst and second study, we could see relatively stable
brainwave signals indicating the presence of alpha
brainwaves, especially for experienced meditators. For
most participants, a loud noise acted as a distraction,
which registered as a spike in the theta brainwave signal,
often accompanied by a decrease in alpha brainwaves.
The relative interplay between calculated values of
distraction, attention and meditation based on the sensor
data were fundamental to the model of meditation we
developed and the associated visualisation rules.
It should be noted that our model of meditation is
contingent upon the reliability of the data provided
by the Neurosky sensor. The error of the device is too
high for clinical use (Roesler, Bader et al., 2014). Some
important differences must be highlighted between the
data from the single electrode of the Neurosky and
scientic studies with full head coverage by multiple
electrodes. Due to the positioning of the electrode on the
forehead, the EEG data is limited to the frontal lobe of
the brain – this will impact on the kind of data measured
and how we can interpret the data. Scientic studies have
shown that the alpha amplitude of the occipital region of
the brain is bigger than that of the frontal lobe. However,
when we recorded normal status and meditation status
with the Neurosky, the biggest difference between the
two was the theta amplitude. This led to the decision to
interpret the level of theta brainwave amplitude as an
indicator of distraction, in combination with the levels
of alpha brainwaves.
Commercial exible sensors like the Neurosky or
another EEG headbands do not have as many sensors
as clinical devices. We are aware of this potential
issue, but do not see it as an obstacle to a rst step in
design exploration of appropriate aesthetic visualisation
patterns to represent dynamically changing brain states
in meditation. The knowledge gained through this
design exploration process can be applied to future
improvements, and adapted to the type of data provided
by different brainwave sensors.
Conclusion and Future Work
Our paper explored the design of a visualisation tool
by examining the aesthetics of brainwave data in the
creative process. We presented the results and ndings
of the development of the visualisation tool that
aesthetically represents brainwave data of meditators
using a commercial EEG sensor. Despite positive results
in the second user study regarding the ability of viewers
to discern between meditators and non-meditators,
a third user evaluation study revealed some issues
regarding how well the visual design aligned with the
inner experience of the meditators.
More investigation is required into the effect on
brainwave data of longer (than 10 minutes) durations
of meditation, which could lead to a revision of the
meditation model. Future development of Narcissus
Brainwave will include a fourth user evaluation to
determine if changes in the visualisation can better assist
participants to understand the states more clearly, and
more authentically reect the complexities of the inner
experience of the meditating mind.
We thank the participants in our study for granting us
use of their brainwave data.
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Authors’ Biographies
Lian Loke is an interaction design researcher exploring
the design and human experience of body-focused
interactive systems for creativity, health and well-being.
Caitilin de Bérigny is a researcher in interaction
design, health and wellbeing. She is leader of the Health
and Creativity Node at the Charles Perkins Centre.
Her creative practice has been exhibited and published
widely internationally.
Youngdong Kim is an interaction design researcher
at the Electronics and Telecommunication Research
Institute in Korea.
Claudia Núñez-Pacheco is a design researcher and
PhD candidate investigating how bodily self-awareness
can be used as a tool for human self-discovery.
Karen Cochrane is a PhD candidate, researching the
design and use of technologies to support mindfulness
for reducing stress.
Conference Paper
With the rise of mindfulness in contemporary western society as a positive way to cope with stress and improve health and wellbeing, researchers are investigating the application of interactive soundscapes to enrich and support the experience of mindfulness meditation. Instead of using commonly applied corrective feedback models, containing sounds with negative connotations, our interaction concept adopted a strategy of gently guiding and supporting the user's in-the-moment experience of practising meditation through a nature soundscape responsive to their brainwave activity recorded with a Muse EEG headset. In this paper we describe the detailed design of our prototype. We explain how we refined the interaction concept, and discuss some of the key design decisions and modifications that took place during an iterative design process, informed by user evaluations with novice meditators.
Full-text available
p>This paper explores interactive applications that encourage mindfulness through sensors and novel input technology. Research in psychology and neuroscience demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness is initiating a new movement in interactive design. As cutting edge technologies become more accessible they are being employed to research and explore the practice of mindfulness. We examine three interactive installation artworks that promote mindfulness. In order to contextualize the interactive artworks discussed we first examine the historical background of the Electroencephalogram (EEG). We then discuss the physiological processes of meditation and the history behind the clinical practice of mindfulness. We show how artists and designers employ EEG sensors, to record the electrical activity of the brain to visualize mindfulness meditation practices. Lastly, we conclude the paper by discussing the future of the three artworks.</p
Full-text available
Electroencephalography (EEG) is commonly used in a variety scientific fields. Unfortunately, commercial devices are generally very expensive, costing thousands of dollars. In recent years, devices costing under $200 have been made available. The MindWave MW001, developed by Neurosky Inc., is currently the least expensive commercial EEG device, costing less than $100. The paper presents how to record and process the raw EEG signal from the MindWave MW001 in the MATLAB environment. This paper then show how Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) is used to find the frequency components in a time domain signal. Based on a sample signal and spectral analysis, the basic EEG waves are presented.
Full-text available
Two experiments examined the relation between mindfulness practice and cognitive rigidity by using a variation of the Einstellung water jar task. Participants were required to use three hypothetical jars to obtain a specific amount of water. Initial problems were solvable by the same complex formula, but in later problems ("critical" or "trap" problems) solving was possible by an additional much simpler formula. A rigidity score was compiled through perseverance of the complex formula. In Experiment 1, experienced mindfulness meditators received significantly lower rigidity scores than non-meditators who had registered for their first meditation retreat. Similar results were obtained in randomized controlled Experiment 2 comparing non-meditators who underwent an eight meeting mindfulness program with a waiting list group. The authors conclude that mindfulness meditation reduces cognitive rigidity via the tendency to be "blinded" by experience. Results are discussed in light of the benefits of mindfulness practice regarding a reduced tendency to overlook novel and adaptive ways of responding due to past experience, both in and out of the clinical setting.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The paper examined response of brain wave to mental task and acoustic stimuli in order to evaluate stress effects of mental work and acoustic environment on brain electrical activity. The amplitude of the alpha wave (8-13 Hz), which is the representative component of awake brain wave, was decreased by approximately 15~20 % during performing the mental task (mental arithmetic and memorization) alone and listening to acoustic stimuli (5 KHz tone as unpleasant sound and a classical music, Pachelbel's Canon as a pleasant sound) alone in comparing to the amplitude of the spontaneous alpha wave at rest. Such amplitude suppression corresponds to increase of temporal phase fluctuation of the alpha wave by 15~30%. In particular, the reduction rate of the amplitude of the alpha wave in the low-frequency range was up to 25 % under the combined stresses, namely, the mental arithmetic and unpleasant 5 KHz tone. On the other hand, the amplitude of the beta and gamma waves showed no significant change under most of stress conditions including combined stresses. The observation obtained indicates that the combination of acoustic and mental stresses considerably affects the stabilization of the alpha wave in the low frequency range which may be a crucial key to measure the mental stress using the brain waves.
Full-text available
Although mindfulness-based therapy has become a popular treatment, little is known about its efficacy. Therefore, our objective was to conduct an effect size analysis of this popular intervention for anxiety and mood symptoms in clinical samples. We conducted a literature search using PubMed, PsycINFO, the Cochrane Library, and manual searches. Our meta-analysis was based on 39 studies totaling 1,140 participants receiving mindfulness-based therapy for a range of conditions, including cancer, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and other psychiatric or medical conditions. Effect size estimates suggest that mindfulness-based therapy was moderately effective for improving anxiety (Hedges's g = 0.63) and mood symptoms (Hedges's g = 0.59) from pre- to posttreatment in the overall sample. In patients with anxiety and mood disorders, this intervention was associated with effect sizes (Hedges's g) of 0.97 and 0.95 for improving anxiety and mood symptoms, respectively. These effect sizes were robust, were unrelated to publication year or number of treatment sessions, and were maintained over follow-up. These results suggest that mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations.
This paper attempts to reconstrue the art and science of meditation in the context of an overall theory of cognition, and with reference to evidence from simulated and real data analysed in a neurodynamical framework. First, we discuss the phenomenology of meditation and its relation to the known evidence. It is argued that meditation is on a continuum with the types of conscious mental activity characterized by gamma waves, particularly synchronized gamma. Specifically, it is suggested that gamma synchrony in meditation allows the normally prominent background noise of the brain momentarily to subside in like synchrony. Secondly, a set of experiments using both simulated and real data and interpreted in a neurodynamical context that bear on the issue of meditation is described. The isomorphism between the similar and real data is established before a set of ECOG data involving a single brain in epileptic seizure, resting and performing a task is adduced. It is argued that seizure, above all, reveals the desirability of intervals of "zero power". Thirdly, the theoretical and experimental frameworks are brought together into a brief sketch of an overall perspective that impacts on cognition as on applied experientialism
Meditation practice is difficult to access because of its countless forms of appearances originating from the complexity of cultures it has to serve. This makes a suitable categorization for scientific use almost impossible. However, empirical data suggest that different forms of meditation show similar steps of development in terms of their neurophysiological correlates. Some electrophysiological alterations can be observed on the beginner/student level, which are closely related to non-meditative processes. Others seem to correspond to an advanced/expert level, and seem to be unique for meditation-related states of consciousness. Meditation is one possibility to specialize brain/mind functions using the brain's immanent neural plasticity. This plasticity is probably recruited by certain EEG patterns observed during or as a result of meditation, for instance, synchronized gamma oscillations. While meditation formerly has been understood to comprise mainly passive relaxation states, recent EEG findings suggest that meditation is associated with active states which involve cognitive restructuring and learning.
In this article major ancient Buddhist meditation techniques, samatha, vipassana, Zen, and ton-len, will be described in reference to contemporary clinical hypnosis. In so doing, the Eastern healing framework out of which these techniques emerged is examined in comparison with and in contrast to its Western counterpart. A growing body of empirical literature shows that meditation and hypnosis have many resemblances despite the distinct differences in underlying philosophy and technical methodologies. Although not all meditation techniques "fit" the Western culture, each has much to offer to clinicians who are familiar with hypnosis.
The alhambra mandala project Retrieved from History and evolution of electroencephalographic
  • A Borg
Borg, A. (2012). The alhambra mandala project. Retrieved from Collura, T. (1993). History and evolution of electroencephalographic. Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology, 10(4), 476-504.
Characterizing the welltrained mind: Neural correlates of meditation induced states of consciousness New developments in consciousness research
  • S Haupt
Haupt, S., J. Fell (20077. Characterizing the welltrained mind: Neural correlates of meditation induced states of consciousness. In V. W. Fallio (Ed.). New developments in consciousness research (pp.149-174). NY: Nova Science Publishing.