Landmark Brain Research Gives New Insights into Human Potential

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For over a decade, Dr. Fred Travis, Director of the EEG Lab at Maharishi University of Management and a member of the Institute’s Brain Research Institute, has been studying brainwave patterns associated with the experience of “transcendental consciousness”— a “ground state” of human cognitive function that many ancient traditions say is the basis for culturing “enlightenment,” the highest state of human potential.

Dr. Travis’s research has led to many important new discoveries about the nature of human development and the total potential of human brain functioning. His findings indicate that enlightenment, which in the West has often been considered to be an abstract goal outside the scope of systematic scientific investigation, can now be shown to be a natural, attainable human condition that confers many practical benefits in daily life.

Last month, Dr. Travis presented his most recent research at a scientific conference entitled “Science of Consciousness” in Tucson, Arizona. His findings indicate that, during the performance of challenging tasks, subjects who have reported integration of transcendental consciousness with waking and sleeping states exhibit distinct brainwave patterns—specifically, higher frontal EEG coherence, higher global EEG alpha power, and more efficient performance on complex cognitive activities.

“These findings are highly significant,” Dr. Travis said, “because they offer empirical verification of the practical benefits of living enlightenment—greater efficiency in action—and suggest neural mechanisms that may underlie these benefits.”

According to Dr. Travis’s research, the continuous experience of transcendental consciousness—the Self—across the 24 hours of each day is associated with increased coherent functioning of the frontal cortex and with increased global alpha power. Brain researchers consider the frontal cortex to be critical in the control of cognitive activities and especially in the development and maintenance of one’s sense of self. The finding of higher frontal brainwave coherence thus gives empirical support to the description of “enlightenment” as a state of self-realization—a fuller sense of who we really are.

In addition, the increased global alpha power found in these subjects during performance of waking tasks has also been found during deep sleep in other subjects who reported inner wakefulness during the night (see research published by Dr. Lynne Mason in Sleep 20(2): 102-110, 1997). Since global alpha is seen both during experiences of transcendental consciousness alone and during the integration of the transcendental state with waking and deep sleep, this brain activity may represent a fundamental mode by which transcendental consciousness becomes self-sustaining across waking, dreaming, and sleeping states of consciousness.

On the basis of this research, Dr. Travis created an Integration Scale, a new brain-based measure of physiological integration that charts the transformation in cortical functioning corresponding to increased integration of transcendental experiences and waking-state activity (see graph). Dr. Travis combined three cortical measures—EEG coherence, amplitude, and the style of task performance—into a single, composite value for each subject. These values are plotted in the graph, with individuals on the left side of the scale reporting rare or no transcendental experiences and individuals on the right side reporting continuous integration of transcendental and waking experiences. Note in the graph that the upward-sloping line reflects a general trend for individuals who report higher degrees of integrated experience to display higher frontal EEG coherence, higher global EEG alpha power, and more efficient performance on complex cognitive activities. 

"Conference participants from all over the world greatly appreciated the research behind the Integration Scale, as well as the large body of published research on the Transcendental Meditation® technique that supports the growth of coherent brain processes,” Dr. Travis said. “We feel this Scale could be used to explore the contribution of integrative experiences to success in business, arts, and sciences."

"This landmark research presents the first ever empirical evidence for higher states of consciousness,” said Dr. Alarik Arenander, co-author of the research study and Director of the Brain Research Institute. “Dr. Travis is to be congratulated for guiding this work. The prefrontal cortex is in a position to exert nearly total control over brain function. Development of high levels of prefrontal EEG coherence through TM® practice could result in long-term, beneficial changes in neural functional interconnectedness, which in turn could help establish coexisting brain mechanisms supporting the simultaneous experience of silence and dynamism—total brain functioning or ‘enlightenment.’"