We are setting up a live streaming/video channel to do things like reviews of books, interviews, and then eventually we will do staff meetings as well.(1)

But while it was once limited to something like Facebook live, with Restream we can go out to YouTube Live, Mixer, and Twitch, all at once.(2) 

You never want to have a dud, because we are a nonprofit and we are wasting donor money if we create a dud, so I used those services for a few weeks to try and get the feel for how successful channels are managed. Aside from big personalities like Ninja, Mixer also highlights various "streamers" to get them exposure on their main page and one time they had a blonde lady who seemed to be doing nothing but whispering into a microphone. Then she changed what I assumed was a "pop" filter (called such to reduce the impact of consonants like "p" and "b" which come across as explosive when recording) to something else.

She wasn't changing the pop filter because she was worried about recording, she was changing the cover to give listeners a different "feel." It was streaming ASMR.


ASMR is an acronym for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. I've probably known about it since 2012 or so but hadn't known the name and I basically ignored it because it seemed made up. I already debunk food nonsense, chemophobia hype, and supplement claims, there is no reason to go after apparently pleasant women who think they are helping others relax.(3)

And they are almost all women, which is strange. But are they helping, or is this also a placebo? And does it matter?

Just like supplements or organic food or supernatural claims of the u-shaped curve of endocrine disrupting chemical cocktails, ASMR proceeds from a kernel of truth. Do you like the sound of a gentle flowing stream? Okay, sure. That doesn't mean you will like living next to raging rapids. And to some people the world around them is often a raging river so they want a sensory way to feel like they near a babbling brook. ASMR has some foundation even if how it is implemented seems silly; the same way science knows the microbiome is important, but not how or why it works so buying into expensive yogurt or Dove soap marketing is stupid.

Read also:  Some People Get 'Brain Tingles' From These Slime Videos. What's Behind The Feeling? by Emily Kwong (@emilykwong1234) on NPR

Yet if something is popular, someone in a social science will do a survey about it, so unfortunately that is all we have for ASMR data. Surveys and anecdotes, the same things that allow some to claim that "science" proves astronomy is real. And if you do that, you can find someone to do a frequency MRI (fMRI) to create pretty pictures and pretend to interpret them by claiming Y or Z "lights up" during X event. 

So from a science and health point of view, it may be pointless, but that may not be a bad thing.

Being pointless or even absurd can be beneficial

On the evening I began researching this, I went outside with a projector and a screen and watched a movie despite it being far less hassle to watch a movie in my temperature controlled living room. In that sense, my behavior was pointless, and yet I paid for a projector, a screen, and a movie to do so, with multiple opportunities along the way to realize it was easier to watch a movie in my house. Just like some people watch pointless advertisements so people get paid to make videos of them folding towels.

Absurd might be also watching someone talk for 10 minutes about blank videocassettes they have no interest in, and yet that is what Rhodri Marsden liked. ASMR was a realization that finally gave him an answer why he liked watching shopping channels but not buying anything; "The more gentle and redundant their explanations are, the more pleasure I get." 

Absurd is often the case when people simply don't share your interest. Someone might find it absurd that I stayed up until 2:30 AM to beat the "Frostpunk" video game on a weekday when I could have paused it at any time but I rationalized it that I wanted to write a review. However, game reviews are not an official program of Science 2.0, the way agriculture and medicine are, making that a suspect argument. I didn't even get the game for free.

I am more likely to fall asleep during a NASCAR race (the drone of the engines) than I am watching Bob Ross paint, yet he's wildly popular decades after he died for the same reasons many ASMR proponents claim it works for them. He is soothing.

I do wake up for the crashes during NASCAR races. A lot of NASCAR fans have told me the same thing. It's anecdote but over time I assume fans have trained themselves to fall asleep during NASCAR races, and so they swear by them.

Is it real, or is ASMR a way to "medicalize" something simple for legitimacy?

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response itself is just a jumble of words that have an air of truthiness but don't really mean anything. Sure, we can map other words to it if we try but if I say brain cancer, you know what brain and cancer are. Meridian is instead Traditional Chinese Medicine mumbo-jumbo, just like chakra or ch'i or whatever other mystical nonsense tries to sound quasi-biological. 

Some people in America do love to believe that peasants in the Far East know something magical about health, so they will buy into Meridians and then dangerous and adulterated supplements to "optimize' this made-up system while hucksters laugh all the way to the bank.

Just because a chart with a human body can be created does not make it science or medicine.

By KVDP - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8989443

This does make it seem like a whole lot of Americans who have no real issues to worry about are medicalizing "life".  Practitioners have to pretend believe ASMR is some kind of automatic response to a made-up part of our bodies that is impacted by these sounds. 

And many people, maybe Americans are worse about this than other cultures, love to legitimize their interests. There are people whose families have been in America for a hundred years who say they are Italian, there are more people in New York claiming to be Irish than there are actual people in Ireland. And we love to medicalize everything, we take more medication than any country in the world by far. We also have the highest adult science literacy, so obviously we love science and medicine and know a lot compared to places like Europe. Even the most overt anti-vaccine or anti-GMO zealot knows just enough science to be wrong; they know it because they want to validate their beliefs against science, so they do real work to accomplish it.

It is no surprise a scientifically literate culture would want to medicalize a way to de-stress before going to sleep that is basically free. And it is no surprise people feel like they are cliinically stressed, when almost everyone else is claiming some kind of condition. Though celiac patients are a tiny fraction of the public, the gluten-free fad became a $5 billion industry because a bunch of people who wanted to feel like they had something important claimed it made them feel better, even if physiological effects never show up on tests.

It is a condition if you say it is, and you'll get the Internet cancel culture after you if you say otherwise. 

ASMR doesn't seem to have all that medical legitimacy desperation, it is just people who want to sleep better.

Is ASMR actually just sexual pretending to be about stress?

ASMR proponents and participants say it is not sexual but when ASMR proponents talk about tingling all over their bodies or having a "brain orgasm" that lends itself to a certain sexuality. 

And participants can pretend they have no idea it might be sexual but, ummm...

When participants dress up as a flight attendant and stroke tea bags, it's also easy to draw a link. 

This constant yammering would actually make me crazy on a plane. I want flight attendants to not be seen after five minutes into an overnight flight and I bet they feel the same way about me, so what is this if not fantasy? What is next, a nurse? Sure, anything you want, really.

So it at least pretends not to be sexual. 

But I am not the target market, most especially because I am not part of the following demographic.

Is this for rich white people who want therapy more than an hour a week?

If you want to find a demographic constantly flitting from fad to fad, look to rich white people who need to occupy themselves.

When you see pictures of people exposing their naked rectums to Sol - sorry, we have to use medical terms for idiocy to legitimize them so let's call it perineum sunning - it's going to be a white person with money to burn.

In the ASMR video below both "organic" and "cacao" are featured prominently, and the author says Happy Earth Day, which may be an indicator of the demographic that are most "helped" by this - wealthy white people. What does organic have to do with anything in sensory perception?(5) Even highly paid organic industry economist Chuck Benbrook never tried to claim organic beans sounded better than conventional, and a lot of his methodologies look like they were created on a dare.

Is America really that stressful or are we so rich we need to invent new pathologies?

Giant swaths of culture are racing to note how awful their lives are. On one fringe we have a "special snowflake" problem, who like to claim victim status, and on another people who see themselves as saviors. We can talk about the poor but being poor is relative. In America, poor people can afford to be fat. Tell someone in a developing country you are poor and fat and they will laugh at you. A poor family in America lives in more square footage than the same size middle class family in France.

I grew up poor, we were poor in a rural community where 30 percent of the public lived below poverty, I do not recommend it, but growing up that way means I have perspective people with existential dread about life may lack. They are searching for answers, and think the answers may be found in sunning their buttholes or listening to someone crinkle teabags on the Internet or buying Non-GMO Project water.

If people throwing around words like "gestalt" and "zeitgeist" for effect were the end of it, fine, but along with Snowflakes, we have Saviors, so we can't just be limited to arguments about whether or nor an emotional support dog gets to sit next to us in a restaurant, the Savior side will hit us with talk of trigger warnings and calls for social authoritarian control of speech if we dare to object.

In ASMR's defense, I have not seen any of them call for any of those things. No one claims if it isn't covered by health insurance, they are oppressed, no one seems to feel like they need us to legitimize it the way vegans get so preachy.

That attack mentality is why organic food shoppers are so annoying, and ASMR simply avoids that cloying posture. They feel like if it works, there is no downside because no one is penalized. And that is better than supplements or environmental groups who manufacture problems they can claim to solve.

So ASMR is not as weird as you might think, unless it is, because what it is must remain entirely subjective. There is no forced ASMR video filming industry, nor are proponents claiming you will get cancer or ruin the environment if you don't participate. It may not be scientific, but so what? When the weather warms and I head outside to watch a movie I am not doing anything any less pointless than someone watching a YouTube video or NASCAR race to help them sleep is doing.

The benefit to being the apex predator, running the world, is we have it so good we can do pointless things. 


(1) I've done them in the past because I think it's valuable for the public to be able to see how scientists and writers talk about topics, especially given persistent claims by activists that Science Is A Vast Corporate Conspiracy.

Anyone who has watched any of my meetings know that is not true. We argue, we joke, sometimes we're boring, sometimes we have great ideas, but no one controls what scientists think. It's more like herding butterflies than the secret manipulation environmental groups, organic food trade groups, and chemophobes (often the same) try to portray to raise money.

"Science is a corporate conspiracy" sells and they don't want to spoil that. We have to refute it so often we now just wear it on t-shirts.

(2) Literally the only one missing now is Facebook Live, because while they won't let me use a social media tool like Hootsuite to post to my personal page, they will only let me broadcast video to my personal page. We can't have live streaming on Science 2.0 or Scienceblogs or Science 2.0 Europe unless we do them individually, despite those being far more traffic than Twitter or video sites.

(3) Maybe chiropractors, since in Maine they provide 33 percent of the funding behind the anti-vaccine movement there, much as they did in California in 2015.  And though they have never let an employee attend one of their special conferences where they talk about cracking the spines of infants and worshiping discredited former MD Andrew Wakefield, I will continue to try.

(4) Just like a gurgling stream and raging rapids, I wouldn't be able to sleep at an actual NASCAR race.

(5) Earth Day was created to celebrate the 100th birthday of Lenin and the biggest supporters of it today are staunchly opposed to feeding poor people in other countries, yet these are cacaco beans grown in other the same countries white environmentalists in America are all Malthusian about not helping.