MUSE FOUNDING STORY
In less than a decade, how did MUSE’s three founders – Ariel Garten, Chris Aimone and Trevor Coleman – go from dreaming in the lab about the power of people’s brain waves, to actually harnessing those waves to help the world calm itself down?
Ariel’s fascination with the interconnections between science, neuroscience, emotion and design, stems from her unique background in psychotherapy, neuroscience, design and fashion.
As an artist’s daughter, Ariel would watch with wonder as her mother, renowned artist Vivian Reiss, created huge, vibrant canvasses sprung from her unencumbered imagination. Ariel learned that how we perceive the world could be transformed and expanded in amazingly beautiful ways through the labors of invention like painting. It bestowed an invaluable lesson for us all: that if we’re free of limitation and fear, we can create and thus transform our experience of the world.
Ariel’s studies in both psychotherapy and neuroscience drove her to understand more deeply how the brain and our thoughts create our experiences. Her work with pioneering computer engineer, University of Toronto Professor Dr. Steve Mann (the first inventor of wearable computers), led to a life changing meeting with one of his grad students, Chris Aimone. Together, they started experimenting with alpha brain waves picked up on an EEG, to do some very ground breaking things. For instance, using a single electrode attached to the back of the head, Chris and the early development team figured out how to translate, through computer software, the brain waves of people into a musical concert in real time. As people controlled their emotions and ‘relaxed’, the detected brain wave changed, and as it did so, the software transformed the changes into sound outputs that comprised a musical score. In 2002 and 2003, these brain wave concerts and the the “buzz” around them, caught the attention of innovation experts and governments looking for the next “big thing”; the early team won awards, and continued experimenting with installations of thought controlled creations.
As a leading “experience designer” in Toronto, it was inevitable that these pre-MUSE experiments would catch Trevor Coleman’s attention. With a background in cognitive science and artist promotion, Trevor saw the huge potential in creating really novel collective human experiences. His passion for the technology’s potential led the trio to brain storm ways of making the technology more broadly accessible beyond the lab into the wider world where people could be profoundly moved by its utility.
Improbably, this lead to the team winning a coveted space in Ontario House at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where 7,000 visitors could hook up the EEG and control their own brain waves to light buildings up across Canada – from the Olympics’ iconic “O” ring to the lights of Niagara Falls and Toronto’s CN Tower. The experiments and applications kept pouring out of them and a core team of developers: they used brain waves to levitate chairs, turn on toasters and beer taps, devise thought controlled games among other applications.
While all of this was undoubtedly cutting edge, it wasn’t going to move the needle on humanity, per se. The team kept pushing for a deeper, more singular way of using the technology to change peoples lives. What do people really need right now, they asked? How could it make a lasting impact for the greatest good in the world?
Trevor was practicing meditation, and Ariel’s own work as a psychotherapist put the founders in touch with people who were successfully using meditation to help get beyond self-limiting beliefs and thoughts that were feeding their anxiety and depression. Chris hit on the idea of a meditation tool, and MUSE was born. They knew it was the right to excite the expanding population of people the world over in search of richer, calmer lives. Using the MUSE app and headband, people could be taught to to not only track their own thoughts but to shift them from a state of distraction and stress, to a state of clarity and calm.
To make the extraordinary happen in the creation of MUSE, successive rounds of development were intense. Along the way, the team tapped into experts, scientists, and leaders in meditation practice, neuroscience and psychotherapy, in order to build international networks of advisors and research collaborators. These networks helped the founders and their developers to tailor MUSE in ways that could harness brain waves in the most elegant and efficient means possible for potential (M)USErs.
Since 2012, and from a core pool of 300 novice tester-users of MUSE, InteraXon has now documented over 5 million sessions of meditation with MUSE. At launch, the reviews and testimonials brought the team to tears. People were documenting real changes in their lives with how they coped and built resilience using MUSE, in the face of the most challenging life experiences.
The dream to have a positive impact on humanity was coming true. As of 2018, MUSE is in over 200 research institutes around the world, including MIT, Harvard, The Mayo Clinic, Walter Reed Hospital (helping returning soldiers with PTSD). It’s being used with seniors to improve cognitive function and somatic symptoms. It’s helping devastated cancer patients awaiting surgery. It’s s become a vital aid for those struggling to manage chronic pain, and it’s helping thousands of clinicians and psychologists with their patients as they journey to overcome stressful life challenges and emotions.
The perfect marriage of art, science, technology, and outreach savvy has created something where the technology itself disappears when you use it. MUSE really is all about ‘you’: When you’re able to sit with yourself and your own mind, this small, light, portable object can open the door to your own self, helping you discover how to control the power of what you think. And when you can do that, you are well on the the way to freeing yourself up with greater clarity to think limitless possibilities for yourself, now and into the future.