The Force may be Found in all of Us
As a parent of two young boys—and as someone that’s never fully grown up—I look forward to the holiday season. It’s that time of year we get all kinds of cool new toys. One of my favorite past times is to leaf through those huge toy ads. The other day I was flipping through the Toys-R-Us Great Big Christmas Book. At first, page 27 brought a smile to my face. Right there, across the top of the page is the heading, “25% Off Amazing Science Fun!”
Science toys on sale! How can you go wrong? There are Do & Discover Science Kits, a CSI DNA Laboratory, microscopes, and my favorite, telescopes. As a bonus, there’s even a selection of Star Wars toys that incorporate scientific principles. But wait. Read carefully the caption to the Star Wars Science: The Force Trainer:
“Move an object with your mind! Features a wireless headset that reads your brainwaves.” I had to do a double-take when I read this. The same product at Amazon.com has a product description from the manufacture:
May the Force be with you. The Force Trainer by Uncle Milton actually allows you to control a Jedi Training Remote with your mind, by tapping into cutting-edge brainwave technology. Utilizing dry EEG sensor technology, the headset reads and interprets your brainwaves. The deeper your concentration and mental focus, the greater your ability to move the Training Remote up or down the Training Tower. Progress from Padawan to Jedi Master as you master the use of “The Force” through 15 levels of training. Increasingly challenging sequences are aided by training cues and instruction from the master of all Jedi Masters himself, Yoda. Additional STAR WARS sound effects confirm accomplishment and provide encouragement throughout your training. Advancement and current level of your training is displayed on the Training Tower control panel.
Or if you’re not one for words check out this video of a kid playing with the toy. Yes, it would be uber-cool if The Force really existed but coolness is not a required condition for existence. Besides, can a kid’s toy actually measure brainwaves? At this point my skeptical senses started tingling so I did a little internet reading.
It appears that there are devices called electroencephalographs that use multiple electrodes attached directly to a patient’s scalp. The electrodes are used in tandem to measure electrical potential differences. As a physicist, this I can understand. From the potential differences neurologists can directly monitor brain activity. Electroencephalograms (EEGs) are used to diagnose seizer disorders, along with dementia, narcolepsy, and other brain afflictions. I learned something new because of this toy.
But can a toy company package an electroencephalograph and sell it for $99.99, or better yet, at the sale price of $74.99? Again, my skeptical senses are ringing off the hook. From KidsHealth.com I found out that before performing an EEG neurologists recommend that patients stop taking certain medications, have a clean head, and to layoff caffeine up to eight hours prior to the test. Yeah, good luck with telling your kid they can’t have caffeine eight hours before playing with their Force Trainer. It gets worst. During the EEG patients are asked to lie still for about an hour, or longer if the EEG is performed while sleeping. If you can get your kids to sit still for an hour please let the rest of the world know how. Given these conditions I’m very skeptical of this toy’s abilities.
Let’s imagine for a moment that this toy does work—and according to a lot of the comments found on Amazon.com it does—does that mean each and everyone of us possesses The Force? Not quite. By poking around the Uncle Milton Star Wars Science site it looks like the way this toy works is that it converts beta waves into a signal that’s transmitted to a standard levitating tube. (These can easily be made by blowing air straight up around a ping-pong ball.) The ball levitates higher with more concentration and falls with distractions. Beta waves are associated with active concentration and are most active during moments when a person sits still. With just the right concentration you’re suppose to be able to levitate the ball at a specified height.
It’s an interesting idea, but given the conditions normally needed for an EEG, I’m very skeptical of my Force abilities. But as a good scientist, I should perform some experiments before making a ny final judgements. Since I won’t spend $74.99 on this toy, if anybody wants to buy me one I’ll report back on my findings.