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Brain Waves: A Quick Guide

Brain Waves

All thinking in the brain is the result of electrical signals that can be observed with an EEG (electroencephalograph). These signals appear as waves, and they vary in frequency depending on what our brains are doing.

There are five different types of brain wave and each wave serves a different purpose and helps us in various situations. It’s important to note that there is no “best” brainwave as too much or too little of any wave can be harmful. All five waves occur simultaneously, but in certain situations, one particular wave is more dominant. When trying to learn a new concept, for example, it’s better when Alpha waves are more influential.

The five types of brainwave (from highest to lowest frequency) are:

  • Gamma
  • Beta
  • Alpha
  • Theta
  • Delta

Gamma Waves

The fastest (40Hz – 100Hz) waves are gamma waves, and they are most dominant when we’re processing information. They help us to perceive the world around us and also to form memories. Gamma waves are good at sensory-binding and can link information throughout the entire brain.

People with high levels of gamma waves tend to be better at problem solving, but also more anxious and with increased stress levels. A low amount of gamma waves can point to ADHD, depression or the learning difficulties.

Neuroscientist Sean O’Nuallain (2004) hooked Tibetan Monks up to EEG machines and found that the more experienced meditators showed significantly more gamma waves than novices.

Beta Waves

Beta waves (12Hz – 40Hz) are mostly present during deliberate thinking. They help us to build focus and complete tasks more easily. Beta waves are associated with states of alertness, concentration and focus. They are the dominant wave for most people throughout the day.

People who are quick-witted or rapid thinkers tend to have brains that produce extra beta waves. Smart drugs (nootropics) all increase beta waves and elevated levels of beta waves result in enhanced performance.

As with gamma waves, high beta waves can cause to anxiety and higher levels of stress.

Beta waves are increased by energy drinks, coffee and other stimulants.

Alpha Waves

Alpha waves (8Hz – 12Hz) are critical for creative pursuits as they help to bridge the gap between our conscious and subconscious minds. Alpha waves are dominant while we are daydreaming and during relaxation. They are linked to relaxation, drowsiness and improved moods. Knowing this, it’s not surprising to learn that alcohol, marijuana and antidepressants can increase the dominance of alpha waves.

Alpha waves bridge the gap between our sleeping and waking states.

Theta Waves

Theta waves (4Hz – 8Hz) are linked to subconscious processing and experiencing emotions. Very few adults show theta activity while they are aware, they generally only show up during sleep. However, children tend to have much higher levels of theta activity than adults.

It’s suggested by some researchers that theta waves help to solidify our understanding of concepts and improve our learning. Break times and recess for children is so incredibly important as it allows the brain to process the information that it’s just learned. Unfortunately, particularly in the UK, any time not utilised by learning is seen as wasted time. This practice of giving homework for every subject every night is dangerous as it can actually harm learning if the child doesn’t have the time to relax.

Theta waves are associated with low levels of arousal and can contribute toward feelings of depression.

Delta Waves

Delta waves (0Hz – 4Hz) are the lowest frequency and are strongly associated with deep relaxation and sleep. Delta waves are responsible for helping up rejuvenate properly while resting and give us restorative and satisfying sleep.

They are produced in the deep stages of sleep and play a role in regulating unconscious bodily processes.

While we sleep our brains repeat our experiences of the day, including any learning, so that they are more deeply ingrained in our heads. For this reason a good night’s sleep is incredibly important if you want to learn.

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Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Rhetorical Fallacies: On the Offensive

On the Offensive

When we disagree with someone, often it’s easier to try and discredit the person or to manipulate their argument in order to make it weaker and easier to attack. Generally, this occurs by attacking the person themselves, rather than attacking the content of the argument.

The below are common approaches that this can take:

Ad Hominem

Ignoring the argument itself and attacking the person making the claim.

Example: “Anyone who wants to leave the EU is just a racist.”

Circumstance Ad Hominem

Saying that a claim has no credibility because of the person’s own interest in the claim.

Example: “This study on the cancer-beating properties of cannabis was funded by the pharmaceutical companies and so can’t be trusted..”

Guilt By Association

Ignoring or discrediting a claim or an idea by associating it with an undesirable group.

Example: “So if you think that The Patriot Act is inhumane, does that mean you support terrorism?”

Genetic Fallacy

Attacking a claim’s cause or origin rather than it’s content.

Example: “Are you surprised that the rich don’t complain that tax havens are unfair?”

Straw Man

Exaggerating, distorting or overly simplifying a claim and then arguing against the manipulated claim.

Example: “You think that Syrians shouldn’t escape to the EU, so you’re saying that Syrians don’t deserve to live in the EU, that they’re lesser than you?”

Burden of Proof

Rather than trying to prove your claim, you expect the other person to prove your claim to be false.

Example: “God exists, if you can’t prove me wrong, then  am right.”

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Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Rhetorical Fallacies: Appeals to Emotion

Appeals to the Heart

Appeals to emotion are deliberate manipulations and selective word choice in order to provoke an emotional reaction and to bypass rational thought.

Appeal to Flattery

Using a compliment to disarm and distract in order to slip in an unfounded claim which is accepted alongside the compliment. The compliments/flattery are a form of Trojan horse.

Example: “My intelligent followers will recognise that leaving the European Union is the only reasonable option.”

Appeal to Wishful Thinking

Stating that a claim is true or false simply because you hope that it is.

Example: “There must be life after death, otherwise it’s just emptiness.”

Appeal to Nature

Drawing parallels with nature to imply that your claim is correct.

Example: “Homosexuality is a sin, otherwise why don’t you see homosexual animals?” – this argument is wrong both rhetorically and factually.

Appeal to Fear

A claim which is made stronger by creating a sense of fear and terror.

Example: “If we don’t build a wall, soon Mexicans will steal the jobs of hardworking Americans.”

Appeal to Consequences

Similar to wishful thinking, this is where you argue that a belief is true or false mostly because you don’t want to believe the implications of the opposing belief.

Example: “The reports on weapons of mass destruction must be true, otherwise that would mean that we went to war with Iraq illegally.”

Appeal to Pity

This is quite common on TV talent shows. A person tries to use pity to influence or sway a person’s opinion.

Example: “He lost his wife 6 months ago, rejecting him would be wrong.”

Appeal to Ridicule

Manipulating, exaggerating or presenting an opponent’s argument to make it look ridiculous.

Example: “Beliving in God is just like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.”

Appeal to Spite

Ignoring or dismissing a potentially valid argument due to a personal bias against the claimant.

Example: “Sally’s idea just won’t work, she’s too impractical.”

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Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Rhetorical Fallacies: Appeals to the Mind

Appeals to the Mind

This is part 1 of a 6-part blog series exploring the errors in our thinking. Being humans, we all suffer from logical fallacies from time to time. Logical fallacies occur when your argument doesn’t hold true if you follow the principles of logical reasoning.

Since they are often so convincing, we all fall prey to these fallacies. In fact, because they’re so easy to take advantage of, we often do it on purpose, especially seasoned debaters.

Politicians, for example, are skilled at using our logical fallacies to their advantage, relying on the public ignorance and mass acceptance of the flaws in their logic. We’ll explore deliberate manipulations of rhetoric which aim to mislead or influence the opinions of others. The first post focuses on appeals to the mind.

Appeal to Anonymous Authority

Using evidence from experts or studies which are unnamed to claim that something is true or more likely. Usually, the claim is fabricated, but an anonymous authority is quoted to give more credence to the idea. I admit that I am often guilty of this, though it’s usually when I can’t remember the source for some information or fact.

Example: “They say that…” or “Studies have shown that…”

Appeal to Authority

Especially common at universities, this is when we claim that something is true purely because an expert, qualified or not, says that it’s true.

Example: “50 different doctors say that vaccinations cause autism.”

Appeal to Common Practice

Claiming that something is true or the best approach simply because it is commonly practiced. This argument could be used in the 18th century to justify slavery.

Example: “Every restaurant in this city handles tips in this way.”

Appeal to Popular Belief (Argumentum ad populum)

Similar to common practice, this is when we claim that something is true purely because the majority of people believe it to be true – common among religious debaters.

Example: “The jury believe that the defendant is guilty, therefore she must be.”

Appeal to Tradition

Very common in offices and other bureaucratic environments ist the claim that something is true because it’s always been that way.

Example: “We’ve always done it this way and it’s never failed us before.

Argument from Ignorance

Again, found regularly in religion – a claim must be true, simply because it’s not been proven to be false or vice versa. This shifts the burden of proof from the claimant to the opposition and is quite a lazy and defensive approach.

Example: “God must exist because you can’t prove otherwise.” or “God doesn’t exist because you can’t prove that he/she/it does”.

Appeal to Incredulity

If a claim sounds unbelievable, then it’s not possible for it to be true.

Example: “The human body is so complex that it couldn’t possibly exist by chance, we must have been designed by aliens.”

Appeal to Probability

The assumption that just because something is probable, that it is inevitable.

Example: “There are billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars and each with orbiting planets – given those numbers, aliens must exist.”

Appeal to Money

The assumption that a product/service that is more expensive is better or that wealthy people are more “right” than their poorer counterparts.

Example: “If Apple products weren’t the best, they wouldn’t be so expensive.”

The next article will cover appeals to emotion and the ways we try to use emotion or our own thoughts are influenced by emotion.

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Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

But, It’s Just a Theory!

But It's Just a Theory

I have a love of learning and exploration, especially when it comes to ideas. The biggest ideas of all are religions and in my pursuit to learn about religion I’ve read the Bible, Quaran, Book of Mormon, texts by the Dalai Lama and also books on Hare Krishna movement. I’ve also explored Greek, Roman, Celtic, Native American and Norse religions to a point.

However, to get a full balanced view, I’ve also read books with opposing ideas such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I don’t identify with any religion but neither am I an athiest. However, out of all the books I’ve read, The God Delusion is the one that makes the most sense. Why? Because it’s backed up by rigorously tested theories.

But what IS a theory?

The word theory is often misunderstood, especially in my experience by strongly religious people, to mean “something that is unproven and is just an idea” for example the commonly heard “but evolution is just a theory”.

However, when the scientific community uses the word theory, they are talking about something different entirely. A theory is a an explanation of a phenomenon that is based on observation and experimentation. Experimentation produces observable facts and these facts are connected together to create a theory.

A fact is a simple, undeniable (except to philosophers) observation about the world around us. For the purposes of this post, a single fact is represented by an orange dot and will be treated as a piece of evidence.

A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for different observations. Hypotheses are formed by combining multiple known facts and serves as a basis for further exploration. These hypotheses are tested under different conditions. During the testing process, new evidence is added to our understanding allowing us to form a better idea of what is happening. However, these pieces of evidence can be interpreted in a number of ways (e.g. string theory vs. loop quantum gravity).


3 -Multiple Theories


These hypotheses are tested rigours under different conditions.

During the testing process, new facts are added to our understanding allowing us to form a better idea of what is happening. This new evidence is then used to disprove theories that contradict the evidence and can provide support for theories which include and help explain it.


5 - Discounted Theories


After the initial process of elimination, there may still be multiple legitimate combinations and interpretations of the facts. However, the combination which makes the fewest assumptions is deemed to be more likely.

6 - Remove Assumptions


When enough evidence is gathered to support an idea, a scientific theory is proposed.

The theory explains all existing pieces of evidence, and while it gives us a much better idea of what is actually happening, there’s often still quite a way to go until full understanding.


7 - Theory vs Reality


In summary, when a scientist explains that there is a theory, what they actually mean is “we’ve gathered a large body of evidence and through repeated experimentation and a rigorous process of elimination we’ve developed an explanation of this phenomenon which is supported by all the evidence that is available on this phenomenon.”

So next time you hear “it’s only a theory”, whether related to religion or motivation theories, feel free to point this out.

P.s. This post was influenced by an image I saw on Imgur by .

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