Electronic Soma
January 15, 2011 8:19 AM   Subscribe

What would be the best way to propagate alpha waves in an arcology?

Consider the humble arcology: Kowloon Walled City, Arcosanti, or Urban Monad 116. In brief, a whole bunch of people in a small space. Given human nature, the sole real-world application (the Walled City) became squalid and rife with crime.

I am developing a short story set in such an environment and would like to come up with a practical means of keeping the population more or less tranquil and law-abiding. This could be done in part by only letting certain kinds of people in, or by doping the water supply with something like Aldous Huxley's "soma" from Brave New World; but I'd like to do it via alpha wave transmission.

How might this work, in a "building" housing up to 300,000 people?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could transmit waves at this frequency via any method, but the real problem is how to make sure the cattle... er people are suggestible to the frequency and easily sync up. I would go with a drug bracelet or genetically altering the inhabitants so that they become suggestible.
posted by Brent Parker at 8:34 AM on January 15, 2011

Small broadcast units in most areas? It could be broadcast over some sort of PA system, or something similar. If it's part of the infrastructure, it could easily reach everywhere without worrying about a large central transmitter having the penetration to reach everyone.

Of course, if people disable it in certain areas...
posted by Gneisskate at 8:37 AM on January 15, 2011

It's very difficult to induce brain waves of any sort in people. Radio waves or electrical signal in the air won't do it-- radio doesn't induce electrical signal, and things like EM radiation from a transformer die out at the square of distance from source.

I do EEG testing, which of course only reads these sorts of signals (and yes, I see a ton of alpha in my bored participants). Of course, I pick things like EM interference up on the EEG, but that's a whole different story.

There are a few current methods to actively change the electrophysiology of the brain in modern research and medical science. I recommend doing some sort of riff on current technologies to keep it both realistic and plausible. Check out tDCS, TMS, DBS, and other forms of neurostimulation, like functional mapping before resective surgery.
posted by supercres at 8:48 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about something that's administered electrically through water, so that they're addicted to what is publicly explained as a relaxing therapeutic bath treatment, or maybe there's a daily quasi-religious baptism ritual. Your hero can be a guy who refuses to bathe, a hero to nerds everywhere.
posted by XMLicious at 8:49 AM on January 15, 2011

Of course, that ignores using visual or auditory signals that in turn induce certain neural oscillations. Certain tones or modulation of tones, or lights flashing at just the right frequency could plausibly do it. Really, what you're looking for is a series of ERPs that imitate alpha activity. With any stimulus, however, neural systems tend to have some sort of attenuation to that signal over time-- they "get used to it".
posted by supercres at 8:52 AM on January 15, 2011

Gah, sorry. I keep thinking of things. What a fascinating question!

To keep it consistent with modern technology, your best bet might be a deep-brain stimulator implanted on the sheeple. It's totally realistic-- DBS is used to treat depression and Parkinson's to great effect. All you would have to do to make people docile is implant the electrodes in brain areas responsible for aggression/planning/whatever and modulate the pulse frequency to inhibit the structure in question. (DBS can also stimulate the structure electrodes are implanted into. It all depends on the frequency.)
posted by supercres at 8:58 AM on January 15, 2011

Just make something up. Giant generators in the "basement" vibrating the whole structure imperceptibly. Satellites. The building itself is an antenna. Some kind of phase cancellation device that listens for negative waves and cancels the bad moods out before they can infect other people.
posted by gjc at 9:03 AM on January 15, 2011

I want to place the system, whatever it is, in a self-developing "arco-tree" growing out of a nutrient lake. So the lake could contain chemicals that are laced into the building's water supply. I suppose a combination of methods would be the way to go. To prevent attenuation -- periodic formula "upgrades"? All genetically tailored...
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:04 AM on January 15, 2011

Larry Niven did a bunch with DBS as a drug in his Known Space series. The addicts were called "wireheads".
posted by XMLicious at 9:05 AM on January 15, 2011

A more interesting thing to explore in your story would be the meaning of crime itself. Who defines crime and why, who commits crime and why.

Perhaps some sort of sex-wave generator is established where everyone feels orgasmic all the time. Maybe the water supply is laced with MDMA.

The law of unintended consequences would also be cool to talk about.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:07 AM on January 15, 2011

Good ideas, all -- keep 'em coming. Alls I am doing here is getting the setting up and running. I have a story thread, KokuRyu, but your idea is interesting, I agree. The story is meant to be the kick-off for a novel, as it happens.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:21 AM on January 15, 2011

Modulate the mains, very slightly, at the alpha wave frequency, so that it's transmitted by all artificial light sources (except I dunno if that works so well for fluorescent lighting, oh well). But you could still have everything electronic strobing slightly at the right frequency: not so much that you'd notice, but enough to have some sort of entrainment effect. Make sure any machinery that would generate rumbles off in the distance does so at the right frequency as well, or slowly induces binaural beats in the building.

(I don't think that any of this would actually work, but I'd be happy enough to suspend disbelief for a bit..)
posted by doop at 10:08 AM on January 15, 2011

As actual research, this is still very tentative after years of work, but it may be possible to induce a frequency-following response in the human brain by very simple means: binaural beats, isochronic tones, light pulses, and so on. See here on Wikipedia.
posted by Nomyte at 11:31 AM on January 15, 2011

L-theanine is what you're looking for. It's an alpha-inducing chemical only found in tea & certain mushrooms. Put in the food or water supply through some GE organism & you're good to go.
posted by scalefree at 12:29 PM on January 15, 2011

Fluorescent lighting flickers at the frequency of the mains power, so any modulations would show up. The reason normal light bulbs don't flicker is that the filament is white hot and doesn't cool down enough during the flicker to noticeably change.

To prevent attenuation: ramp it up in the evening, everyone feels great. Shut it down overnight (somehow) and everyone wakes up "needy" and the fix happens if they do good things.
posted by gjc at 7:32 PM on January 15, 2011

L-theanine. Should've linked it the first time but I was lazy.
posted by scalefree at 7:40 PM on January 15, 2011

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