Muse 2: a wearable meditation device worthy of the Riddler
I kick against meditation. I don’t know why. I am aware of the benefits for creativity and focus, and the scientific proof behind this. The alpha and theta waves produced in meditative states lead to a feeling of alert relaxation – different to what happens in the brain when you are just, say, chillaxing to Michael Ball. But it is still boring, isn’t it?
Muse 2 could be perfect: it is a brain-sensing wearable device that provides live feedback (via headphones, not supplied) during guided meditations. Sounds extraordinary, looks stupid: a plastic headband with five gold chips stuck on wobbly tape, as if a child has cut up his parent’s credit cards to make a contactless tiara. Except the arms tuck behind the ears like glasses, while the band wraps around the middle of the forehead, reading the wearer’s … thoughts? It is perilously close to something the Riddler would come up with.
Muse 2 bills itself as “a research-grade EEG device”, which is intimidating. The sensors on the band and arms monitor heart rate, movement, ionic currents, er, bitter thoughts and moral goodness. Or maybe I am just being paranoid.
I charge it up. In the linked phone app, I select my region – the closest being Europe (sob), which is marked “50Hz”. This is probably a notch filter, to block the mains frequency, as that is not the electricity being produced in your brain, which is what it is trying to record. (But who chooses the continental standard? When will Brussels leave us to wallow in our self-inflicted hertz?)
I put on the headband and instantly feel extremely self-conscious, mainly because I look like an extra on Xena the Warrior Princess. The side of the box features models of every demographic wearing the head girdle, arranged in the style of Celebrity Squares, like an equal-opps mosaic of cult members.
When I switch it on, a calm Canadian voice tells me: “Muse is now listening to your brain signals.” She explains the introductory meditation: a rainfall soundscape that alters to reflect my brain activity. If I am calm, the rain gets softer and birds begin to sing. If I am distracted or agitated, the rain drums harder, like a monsoon. “Control the weather with your mind,” it instructs me, casually. I feel like Halle Berry in X-Men, or, if we are being honest, like God herself. This may be right-on, but is it healthy?
There are meditations for mind, heart, body and breathing, in which users becalm the weather, settle wind chimes and slow the rhythm of healing drums. Minor movements of the eyes or tongue can contaminate EEG analysis, but it is impossible to know how well the device is adjusting for these. I devise ways to test its sensitivity. During sessions, I hyperventilate or think about Fiona Bruce’s eyebrows, to see if it registers the spikes in heart rate. I am only semi-convinced. Muse 2 is excellent at detecting shifts in body posture. There is more of a lag when it comes to mental stimulus, although the graphs at the end do roughly capture the shape of my experience. Plus, when it comes to judging electrical brain activity, I am hardly infallible myself, despite divine promotion.
It is infuriating in other ways, though. Meditations are interrupted when your phone’s screen locks. It says things such as: “Unfortunately, calibration paused due to a drop in signal quality.” Imagine hearing that on the road to nirvana: you would be livid. The band is light and secure, and it is usually possible to re-establish a dropped connection. A wet finger on the sensors increases their receptivity, but dry skin or hair slows things down. Understandable, but it feels high-maintenance.
I struggle with its gamification. You can rack up streaks, diamond-shaped “Muse points”, recovery rewards and wildlife icons on the app. Completing a certain number of sessions unlocks bird-themed milestones with weirdly twee names, such as “a party of jays”. Is this what happens when Angry Birds get therapy? It’s fun, but should it be?
Perhaps, once the novelty wears off, this could be a useful tool for some. But I suspect the wellness vogue has arisen in response to our constant attachment to devices. It is hard to square the idea that simplicity, breath and the experience of being are best mediated by consumer electronics. Plus, I have been to parties where the jays were really flying around and I have got to say they were far more relaxing, dude.
Highs and lows are sensory peaks to be steered between. Woah, this is my deepest brainwave yet.
Hellness or wellness?
Amusing, not amazing. 2/5
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