The idea of hallucinating is completely alien to most people. When we hear of people who suffer from hallucinations we can’t begin to understand what it is like and how it must feel. However, that assumes that we have never experienced hallucinations ourselves. The truth is if a hallucination is strong enough you won’t know that it is a hallucination at all. However, unless you have experienced some considerable trauma in your life or taken some strong drugs you won’t have had any experience with hallucinations. There is one other common way to induce hallucinations.
The average person has five senses; sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. These senses dictate how we interact with the world around us and have huge implications on how we perform in life. While we often think of intelligence as an internal brain system it relies totally on the information it receives. Those who see further, hear better, smell stronger, taste more or have a more sensitive touch likely have an advantage over other people. They are being fed more information and can use this information to make better decisions. The senses are important.
They are so important that if the body stops receiving information from any sense it starts to panic. Consider your daily life. The sound of traffic, of your computer low humming, of people nearby, the smell of the room you are in, of your clothes, the touch of the computer you are using, your phone, etc. Without even doing anything you are likely receiving information from every one of your senses. If you put a block on all of these things, what would happen? Well, you may hallucinate.
There have been a number of studies on the effect of sensory deprivation. One study put volunteers in a room for 48 hours of total silence. Most of the volunteers reported experiencing hallucinations, paranoia, and were far more suggestible after the event. A second study showed that even 15 minutes of sensory deprivation could lead to the same results and even cause depression. Clearly, the senses, or lack of them, are extremely powerful. Experts believe that we hallucinate in these moments due to something called “faulty source monitoring”. This means that the brain is confused by the lack of information and starts to try and find information from anywhere it can, thereby misinterpreting information as visual or auditory.
In recent years sensory deprivation tanks have grown popular. They are advertised to cause the mind to relax and that some people will experience hallucinations too. To use the tank you lie in a coffin-shaped box floating in water with high salt content, with the temperature the same as your body, in complete darkness. The tanks claim to increase creativity, lower stress levels, and help in many ways of daily life. At a minimum level, they claim to be like a focused form of meditation at an extreme level they claim to be a form of therapy.
Clearly, there are some dangers with these tanks as well. If people in studies came out of a box depressed and anxious after fifteen minutes it is very possible that the same would happen to those who opt for a sensory deprivation tank. Of course, the fact that you are choosing to enter the box and know you can leave at any moment will help to stifle any anxious reactions but the lack of sensory experience in the box could still have an impact.
We highly recommend that everyone try a sensory deprivation tank at least once to see how your experience goes, whether it is positive or negative. The majority of people will feel slightly more relaxed after the session but there are some people who will experience much more.