You can learn anything you want in Alphabet-Google’s video labyrinth, YouTube. You can get tips on making Word, Excel, or Powerpoint work better for you, or you can dive into C++ or Java programming. You can learn anything from basic arithmetic to quantum mechanics. You can study office etiquette or political activism.
But YouTube can also teach you when it doesn’t know it’s teaching. Throughout our lives, in fact, the most enduring lessons are unintended.
The ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response videos began to appear in my YouTube recommendations years ago, when I sought out some white or brown noise to cover the nocturnal street sounds outside my apartment and help me get a good night’s sleep. They began to multiply and become more topically diverse, until I noticed a remarkable theme among them: they seemed to encompass the range of human desire. To illustrate this point, here’s a list of the ones I typically see among my current recommendations:
All right: most men, I suppose, wouldn’t mind having more meat on their boner. And in 2020, who wouldn’t want to “manifest” a miracle or two? And while the notion of attracting a lover may ordinarily seem natural, I’d point out that it wouldn’t hurt to have a sonic frequency that makes us happy to be celibate for a while (it’s another 2020 thing). As for “getting your ex back” — I’d suggest that falls into the category of “be careful what you wish for…”
As much fun as all that may be (though remember, people are making money with this sonic snake oil; P.T. Barnum would say, “I told you so”) — let’s set the silliness aside for a few minutes and ask some questions.
So…WTF is ASMR? It’s a genuine and somewhat well-studied neurophysiological response to repetitive movement or sound — a “tingle-down-the-spine” feeling that some people experience from stimuli as varied as shaving to watching the flights of birds to hearing certain music or sounds. Commercial ASMR videos like the ones above are based on a vague theory about certain frequencies of sound that are said to be capable of evoking the ASMR response.
Another popular feature you’ll see and hear promoted in those videos is the phenomenon of “binaural beats,” or two nearly-matched pitches that appear to produce a third pitch. The pitchmen (pun intended) of these videos want you to believe that the binaural beat has healing or relaxing properties; and that binaural beats of a specific frequency (which is the difference between the two resonant pitches given) deliver varying benefits according to the value of a given pitch, as measured in Hertz or Hz. A search on YouTube with the string “binaural beats” will typically return something like the following.
So aren’t we right back where we started? Attracting a lover, making a miracle, getting lucky…same snake oil, slightly different branding, right?
Probably — and certainly as to specific claims, whether it’s about opening the third eye in your head or making a man’s third eye reach a little farther when it’s about to squirt. It’s just moronic but monetized goofiness.
So why allow that it’s the least bit genuine, this ASMR response? Because it happens to many people, and because there is some modest scientific evidence of something real happening in ASMR.
As you can see from Dr. Wu’s piece in the link, changes in skin conductance, heart rate, and even structural brain imaging findings have been found among ASMR research subjects. Yet, as Dr. Wu also points out, the existing research on this topic hasn’t accorded to the more rigorous protocols of scientific testing, such as the use of control groups and recurrent testing to establish the reliability of original findings.
The Law of Attraction
So while science continues to sort out the details on the validity of the ASMR response, allow me to take up another popular thread found among ASMR videos on YouTube: the Law of Attraction. Let’s see what happens in YouTube when we use that phrase as our search string:
At a glance, it seems like the same shit as before. This time, there’s a pedagogic element: this Law must be taught, explained; because it’s highly esoteric, occult, secret. But there’s a “cheat code,” which once known, enables the cheater to “create anything you want.”
Let’s try a different perspective that doesn’t pretend to invite you into some insider’s secret club. Consider this commentary to Hexagram 8, “Holding Together,” from I Ching: The Oracle of the Cosmic Way, by Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog:
The Centrality of Body
Now I’m sure you’re familiar with this thing: it’s the famous Taoist symbol representing the interpenetration of attracting elements, exactly as described by Anthony and Moog. We call it the “yin-yang symbol,” but its proper name is the taijitu. It has all kinds of cosmological meaning, which is not to be ignored. But I’d like us to focus for a moment on it as a simple representation of the body — your body.
No matter what spiritual beliefs we may hold, the body is where everything happens for us in this world. It is the equal partner, not the servant of, mind, spirit, soul, or psyche. As Anthony and Moog describe it, body is “compressed cosmic consciousness.” Body is the dark that contains and expresses light; just as cosmic consciousness is the light that contains and surpasses dark. This is one meaning of the small complementary-colored circles within each of the fish-shapes within the great circle.
So in terms of the attraction referenced in Hexagram 8, where does such an understanding lead us? For one thing, we’re being asked to feel within ourselves that the matter of body and its energy are not two, not divided, not separate. Those of you familiar with your Einstein will recognize that this is the foundation of relativity theory and that famous equation that demonstrated the equivalence of mass and energy.
Then it’s not merely a mathematical equivalence but an experiential one. This is one reason why Anthony and Moog talk about feeling as the guiding principle of body and life. You can’t think yourself into an experience of your own physical unity.
So the “Law of Attraction” starts within you. It must be active there before it can successfully work between you and others, between you and anything else you’d like to attract (money, luck, creativity, etc.). This is the part that the snake oil salesmen, the TV psychologists, and the false gurus often skip over. The very foundation of all attraction is that which occurs within you.
Since your body’s energy and its matter are functionally and qualitatively equal, it stands to reason that they should be balanced and treated as complementary streams that flow into the same river. “Opposites attract” is a weak, half-truth bromide at best; and is more likely a hot steaming pile of bullshit. Opposition is not a feature of attraction. Opposition is, in fact, an illusion.
All right, a compelling illusion: it seems to exist everywhere and in everyone. We’re trained in it, from our earliest days of childhood. Could we now, as adults with a presumably more developed critical thinking capacity, consciously reject opposition? I’m suggesting that if we can, the energy of that Law of Attraction may actually enter and enrich our lives.
For one of the problems with the mind of opposition — perhaps the main problem — is that it distorts the nature of both attraction and desire. Attraction becomes a game of furious pursuit of a distant and maddeningly separate and elusive desire. Desire becomes strange, unnatural, even suspicious or evil. Many religions have thus made desire an enemy — of enlightenment, realization, salvation, and of course, God.
That sense of estrangement, distance, divorce — even enmity toward desire — is precisely what drives people to fall for the snake oil schemes of those videos. Or else it leads to the delusions of most religions, in which you are put into the ridiculous position that Alan Watts used to laugh about — the desire to get rid of desire.
So it seems a better foundation to try and make peace with our bodies. When we are at peace with body, we are at peace with ourselves, and finally with our natural desires. And probably, as a result, at peace with God, or Buddha, or Yahweh, or the Cosmos. Because, after all, as Watts also used to say, “You’re It!”
I obviously don’t have any answers as to what if any ASMR channel or video collection actually does any good. But I like what is available at The Nature Sound. It features singing bowls and light bells that take me back to my days of studying Zen. It’s intelligently produced material with quality sound, and makes fairly modest claims about specific benefits.