First Experience with Sensory Deprivation

What better way to ring out the old year than to immerse oneself in a tank of body-temperature saline solution, suspended in near-perfect darkness and near-perfect quiet for an hour-plus, drifting and floating in mind and body, meditating out the old to ring in the new?

A friend and I spent New Year’s Eve floating in a pair of sensory deprivation tanks at Oakland Floats. This was my first experience with sensory deprivation and I truly didn’t know what to expect – would it be a simple relaxation session, a hallucinatory dream, a life-changing return to the womb, or …  something else?

In the end, the experience was more like my occasional experiments with meditation: A few transcendental glimmers, but mostly the ever-slippery mind weaving back and forth between calmness and thoughts of the day, as when falling asleep. At one point, I became water and the water had a softly breathing throat, breathing into the universe, which itself was represented by a slowly twirling dodecahedron of blue light. But most of the time was spent thinking about the bowl of Pho I intended to consume afterwards, the conversations I’d had with family over the break, my impending return to work, etc. Non-concentration is a hard thing to hold onto.

The tanks themselves were not fancy: Fiberglass construction, with a push-out entrance/exit flap at a 45-degree angle. Inside, I did not find perfect darkness as I had expected — for safety, a gentle purple light glimmered underwater so one could at least re-orient if claustrophobia set in,  or if one had a need to remember which way was up.

Your life experiences in water have been marked by strong temperature differentials between moisture and the surrounding air, but not here. In a sensory deprivation tank, both air and water are precisely at body temperature. That got me wondering: With almost infinite variations in the human body amongst individuals, how amazing is it that we all share almost exactly the same body temperature? In the tank, temperature is so precisely controlled that your arm feels a bit chilly when you wave it in the air. But if you remain perfectly still, you cannot “feel” the air at all.

For the first few minutes, as I transitioned into the experience, I found myself looking for a hot tub experience. Where are the bubbles? Can I turn up the heat? But this is not a hot tub – it’s something different. Once my mind quieted down and stopped looking for stimulus, the edges of my body seemed to disappear into the air and water, until I could no longer figure out where my body ended and the air/water began. This undifferentiated feeling helped me to lose myself in the experience. This experience of total support is the one that manufacturers of memory foam mattresses are trying to emulate – total support from all angles, so that the effects of gravity seem to disappear. Weightlessness, like what I feel when scuba diving, but without all of the sensory stimulus that comes with diving,

The buoyancy provided by the strong saline mixture is such that half your body is in water, while half of it is out. When I flipped over face-down for some breath-holding meditation, my butt was 100% out of water, which would never happen in the bathtub. Every now and then, as my body slowly drifted in the tank, some bit of it would touch the sides, which was a gentle but jarring reminder of where I was and what I was doing.

A “halo” of light foam is provided to rest your head in, but I realized after a bit that I didn’t need it – the buoyancy is so effective that one’s head is actually supported by the water without assistance.

After a while, I realized that I had no clear sense of how much time had passed. Had I been in for 15 minutes or an hour? With no external stimulation, I found that my time-sensing radar had become completely unplugged, which was both a disorienting and a welcome experience.

The saline solution is strong enough to sting if you have any cuts or wounds on your body — wish I’d thought in advance to cover mine with NuSkin or Vaseline. After my face-down experiment, my eyes stung a bit, even though I’d kept them closed. A squirt bottle filled with clean water is provided to flush them out if this happens, but I didn’t use it.

So what exactly is this sensory deprivation experience? A form of meditation? A salve for tired muscles? Simple relaxation? It’s anything you want or need it to be. Like anything, you get out of it what you put into it. I can’t exactly say that I emerged a different person, but I’m glad I experienced it, and would be happy to do it again. It was certainly a perfect way to say goodbye to 2018, far removed from the fireworks of the world. Yum.

New Collage for Amy’s 50th

Back in my late teens and well into twenties, before the interwebs, I spent countless evenings creating paper collages (sometimes with friends) – for framing, for calendars, for cards, for laughs. But it had literally been decades since I last pulled out an exacto blade and glue stick until this afternoon, when I decided to make one for my wife’s upcoming birthday. Kind of had trouble getting things to “click” aesthetically, and this one feels a bit clunky, but it felt great to re-connect.

Collage Amy 50th birthday

Pale Blue Dot

This three-minute speech – Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” – was the finale to the original Cosmos series, and stands in my mind as one of the most moving short speeches I’ve ever heard. Voyager 2’s last glimpse back at the earth as it became the first human craft to exit our solar system provided the backdrop and the inspiration for Sagan’s soliloquy. Seeing it in 1980 marked a dawning of cosmic awareness for me as a young teen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p86BPM1GV8M

Tonight we watched the finale of Neil de Grasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” reboot. Tastefully, the series finished with Sagan’s original Pale Blue Dot audio, set to new (and far more gorgeous) visuals.

Every week for 13 weeks we’ve gotten together with another family and hung on every word, absorbed as much as we could, and tried to help our children appreciate as much as possible of these incredible perspectives on life, the universe and everything.

It is impossible to summarize the hugeness of the undertaking in producing the new Cosmos, or of the impact it has had on us. It has truly been the TV event of the decade for us, and I hope the seeds it has planted will continue to grow in Miles’ heart for the rest of his life.

Maker Faire 2014

Another year at the Bay Area’s greatest assemblage of welders, hackers, crocheters and other makers – haven’t missed a Maker Faire yet! Crowds actually weren’t as bad as anticipated, though the overall danger level does seem to go down a bit year after year (or maybe our perceptions are changing?)

Loved this jet engine transformed into a musical instrument:

And the Inflatable Forest:

And the Canjos:

Biggest disappointment for us is that the Cyclecide collection seems to get smaller every year. Only one bike-powered carnival ride, and none of the usual freak bikes available for the public to ride – we look forward to those more than just about anything. They did bring back the Spanking Bike though! Here’s M enduring some self-inflicted anguish:

Still, got to witness the great El Pulpo Mecanicco, doing its Busby Berkeley meets Burning Man thing. The heat radiating off its tentacles was almost too much to be near.

Here Miles plays Ode to Joy on eight well-connected zucchinis, jacked into a Makey-Makey board, connected to laptop via USB. Scratch app process changes in electrical resistances into musical notes.

Not to mention the return of Arc Attack – 50,000 volt tesla coils jamming with a live band, as kids dance safely in Faraday cage.

Never gets old! So much creativity on display, endlessly inspiring.

Flickr set:

Can Science Ever Be “Settled”?

Over the years, I’ve been engaged in many discussions wherein people suggested that because scientific understandings change over time, that science is therefore no more trustworthy than any other means of understanding the universe. This article does a fantastic job of explaining what it means for the science in some realm to be “settled.” A must read!

Can Science Ever Be “Settled”?

inflation

h/t Mike Knapp

Tilden Loop – GoPro

Wonderful three-mile loop through the heart of Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills. Up Meadows Canyon, down on Curran Trail, then back along the Gorge trail. Mountain biked with a helmet-mount GoPro.

The actual ride was around 20 minutes. The first two minutes of this are edited down from the uphill – I left the downhill mostly intact.

The complexity of the foliage and the fast motion make the video codecs really struggle – wish I could show you the uncompressed original.