My brainwaves during the final episode of Breaking Bad

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This is a follow-up to the first self-quantizing post here, my heart rate during the latest episode of the Game of Thrones.  See also Graphs of recognized faces per second in House of Cards episodes. This time I thought it’d be fun to measure my brainwaves while watching a critical episode of another TV show.

Breaking Bad is a great TV show, I really recommend it. Even Anthony Hopkins wrote a much publicized fan letter to the crew and the main actor. I watched it avidly until the episode with the fly. Then I took a pause that somehow extended itself up until the finale.

After that all the information has come from the media and from my girlfriend, who still watched it on a regular basis. So these measurements were taken by a person who isn’t biased enough in sense of any emotional involvement with the onscreen characters.

What do brainwaves measure, and what do the levels mean? Here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

  • delta: adult slow-wave sleep, in babies, has been found during some continuous-attention tasks.
  • theta: young children, drowsiness or arousal in older children and adults, idling, associated with inhibition of elicited responses (has been found to spike in situations where a person is actively trying to repress a response or action).
  • alpha: relaxed/reflecting, closing the eyes, also associated with inhibition control, seemingly with the purpose of timing inhibitory activity in different locations across the brain.
  • beta: alert, active, busy, or anxious thinking, active concentration.
  • gamma: displays during cross-modal sensory processing (perception that combines two different senses, such as sound and sight), also is shown during short-term memory matching of recognized objects, sounds, or tactile sensations.

There’s also mu, but the Mindwave doesn’t measure it.

Here’s the EEG graph overlaid on the frames. The EEG values have been averaged per shown frame.

The colors are:

  • red: low alpha
  • orange: high alpha,
  • pink: low beta,
  • light blue: high beta,
  • green: Attention (synthetic NeuroSky value).

Breaking BAd final episode EEG chart

To measure the brainwaves, I used the NeuroSky Mindwave. It’s a convenient and portable personal EEG. It’s a little limited, and one has to learn how to use it properly, but it has a professional quality DSP chip that it uses to calculate two levels the company calls “Attention” and “Meditation”. It also outputs standard alpha, beta, gamma, theta and delta waves.

It looks like this:

Neurosky Mindwave
Neurosky Mindwave

By “limited” I mean that it’s sampling brainwave data only twice a second. So whatever it’s happening in your brain now, you can measure after half second in the worst case.

This is the “attention” chart during the episode:

Breaking Bad final episode EEG chart (attention)
Breaking Bad final episode EEG chart (attention)

Here is the video with onscreen readings. It’s just another way of presenting the same as in the picture above, except there’s more brainwave frequencies shown.

Breaking bad final episode fast forward with EEG readings from Marko O’Hara on Vimeo.

I hope I’m not in copyright violation for that video. It’s essentially unwatchable story-wise.

I’m not totally satisfied with the images and video produced here, but I’m not watching the episode again. I must also admit that I can’t really interpret the charts and video. Attention is self-explanatory, and elevated beta levels also mean increased attention, but do high alpha values mean that I was falling asleep? I was pretty alert while watching.

There’s also possibility of interference. The EEG is essentially a very sensitive voltmeter that measures minute potential changes. Twitching facial muscles, blinking, yawning, … etc., all interfere with the readings. I did look at my second monitor quite a few times to check if the data was being written to a file, maybe some spikes come from that. All in all, I don’t think there are any spoilers here.

Here are some more charts:



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