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Out of LSD? Just 15 Minutes of Sensory Deprivation Triggers Hallucinations (wired.com)
46 points by mshafrir on Oct 22, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 21 comments

I find these results surprising. For what it's worth, I've been in a sensory deprivation tank around five times (for an hour the first time, and for an hour and a half all subsequent times), known a handful of other people who've tried it too, talked to the two women who ran the place I went to, and leafed through The Deep Self by John Lilly, which includes many descriptions of people's time in the tank. All of these things led me to believe that hallucinations after just 15 minutes were quite rare. Granted, half the participants were picked because they tested as prone to hallucinations, and maybe there's something about the room they used that makes it different from the tank, but I'm still quite surprised.

If anyone's interested in reading about my experience the first time I went, which was less dramatic, I described what I could remember here: http://divia.posterous.com/my-first-hour-in-the-flotation-ta....

I'm not sure, but I think an anechoic chamber is a different, more deprived, experience. I've been in the one at NPS in Monterey, and it's a very strange experience. No echos, no external sounds, no vibrations, still body temp air, and no light. In a water tank, you still hear the water, feel the edges of the tank, feel the water move when you move your body, etc, right?

I was also in an anechoic chamber a few times years ago. I remember once, I had been working on a robot for the FIRST competition for about 10 hours straight. I was exhausted, so I thought, 'I'll take a nap in the anechoic chamber'. It was probably the only quiet, dark place around.

I couldn't sleep, and lasted only about 20 minutes in the chamber. I didn't have hallucinations, but I did start feeling paranoid and the lack of sensation was (for lack of a better word) intense. I couldn't stand it. Perhaps I would have started hallucinating if I had stayed longer. Sensory deprivation is a truly bizarre experience.

Interesting. That makes me want to try an anechoic chamber :-). However, the flotation tank also has body temp air and water, no light, good soundproofing (I've also always gone in wearing earplugs). It's true that if I were splash inside, I'd probably hear it some, and that if I floated to the side, I'd feel the edge. But when I went floated, I always lay as still as I could for the whole time, which was pretty still. So I don't really see what would make it all that different, other than maybe the fact that you're lying down instead of sitting.

I've been in an isolation tank, too. The most noteworthy aspect was how, after a time* , my sense of balance / spatial orientation had gotten enough repetitive input that it checked out. At the same time, my body had gotten used to being supported fully by the water, and I could feel muscles in my back, shoulders, etc. relaxing that I didn't know I had. (Sometimes the same thing happens when I do zazen, though that usually focuses more on letting my mind give up on its chattering.)

A flotation tank is a bit different than what's described in the article - if you move, you feel waves in the water, hear splashes echo, etc.

All of this focusing on hallucinations seems kind of odd. People hallucinate all the time, they just rationalize it as misreading signs and whatnot. Big deal.

* I'm guessing half an hour, but the isolation unsurprisingly made it seem far longer. Isolation without control would be terrifying.

Maybe the standards are different. I wonder how many of the tank people had used hallucinogens, and were only reporting really noticeable hallucinations?

> Among the nine participants who scored high on the first survey, five reported having hallucinations of faces during the sensory deprivation, and six reported seeing other objects or shapes that weren’t there. Four also noted an unusually heightened sense of smell, and two sensed an “evil presence” in the room. Almost all reported that they had “experienced something very special or important” during the experiment.

(A heightened sense of smell, really?)

I remember reading an account in Omni magazine from Dr. John Lily of one of his experiences with LSD and a deprivation tank. He became a point of light, racing at ever higher speed through the cosmos. He reaches the edge of the universe, and two other points of light accost him and announce that they are the "Intergalactic Thought Police" and that he's not allowed to proceed further.

Dr. Lily inspired the movies "Altered States" and "The Day of the Dolphin."

I'll jokingly point out that any 4 year old that's scared of the the monster under the bed, the scary man in the corner of the room (coatrack), or the noises that those monsters make (creaking floor/ceiling, etc.) is well aware of this discovery.

Somebody please correct me if I'm wrong here, but I believe the title should say "Out of Salvia/Iboga/Ketamine/...?" because it's dissociative hallucinogens that induce hallucinations through sensory deprivation. LSD does the exact opposite; it increases sensory stimulation.

You are right nimbix, the focus seems to be on LSD consistently. The meme on 'teh interwebs' and here on HN seems to be that

  LSD == Hallucinations
  Hallucinations == Good
  .: LSD == Good
And the meme also says that somehow if you are stuck in plain old reality, your life sucks in lots of ways you'll never know about, because hey, you just aren't cool enough if you don't hallucinate on LSD.

Now of course I've taken a lot of LSD and all the other stuff I could lay my hands on: But I reject the notion that hallucinating is better than real life. After each hallucination, real life is what you return to, and must deal with.

I wonder if there's a correlation between this and dreaming?

James Turrell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Turrell) is an interesting artist who plays with these effects and how they can go from subtle to almost overpowering.

Here's a really good interview with him: http://conversations.org/story.php?sid=32

I've seen this guy in Flagstaff; I had no idea he was so cool!

I wonder if the participants would still experience the hallucinations if they didn't know they were part of an experiment.

They were expecting something out of the ordinary therefore they got it.

I think that language deprivation is more useful. Try not speaking, listening to human speech, or reading anything for an entire weekend. (72 hours. Think about this for a moment and look around your home. This isn't as easy to arrange as you might think.)

Doing this, one will often achieve a feeling of elation and altered consciousness.

I wonder how many people in prison for taking hallucinogenic drugs are put into solitary confinement and are forced to experience said hallucinations.

You can rent a sensory deprivation take for an hour in NYC. It's less than a hundred bucks. I thought about it for a while, but then decided against it after thinking about all those Gitmo prisoners who ended up with permanent brain damage.

One thing about renting a tank for an hour that makes it quite different from what's done at Gitmo is that you're free to get out of the tank at any time. If you're curious, I'd recommend doing it.

Right I realize doing it voluntarily for an hour is a lot different than being left in there for six days against your will after being beaten and injected with god knows what.

Then again, the guy who invented these tanks thought that dolphins were talking to him.

Heh, sorry to state the obvious. I had such a good time in the tank that I tend to be a bit of an evangelist. If you trust them at all, it's also been studied by the National Institute of Mental Health and they think it's safe.

Cool, can you email me, I'd like to ask you more about it but your email isn't in your profile.

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