My First Ever Sensory Deprivation Float – I’m Sold


Warning – Longish Blog, but if you want to know what the first time floating experience is like, you will find it interesting IMHO.

As promised in my previous blog, I am going to post a series of blogs about some of my experiences in float tanks.

September 1987

I was badly in need of relaxation and decided that the time was right. I had heard about floating previously and found a brochure at the Tourist Information Centre in Auckland’s Aotea Square.

I was very tense, there were some suspect things going on at my work (it looked like the company was being embezzled) and I was suffering from heartburn and chronic indigestion and had been constipated for three days. I feared I was becoming a candidate for an ulcer.

For some reason I felt very positive about the concept and that it could be good for me. My confidence was boosted by the fact that major sporting organizations including the Dallas Cowboys and AFL Teams owned their own tanks, for rehab of their elite athletes,  recognizing the benefits of sensory deprivation. The Cowboys apparently had TV screens in some of their tanks where players could relax on watch strategic videos.

On entering the Belleview Clinic in Eden Terrace, I was welcomed by a quietly spoken man who took one look at me and said “You haven’t floated before have you?” My disposition was obvious.

FC5He gave me a leaflet containing initial instructions. These were essentially:

  • Empty your bladder and bowels
  • Take a hot shower paying particular attention to your face so that you have no itches while you are in the tank. You don’t want to get salt water in your eyes, while scratching your face.
  • Put Vaseline (provided) on your private or sensitive parts to protect against the salt
  • Fit the supplied earplugs
  • Open the hatch in the tank, get in and close the rolling door.

Five minutes before the float ends, the underwater stereo system will pipe in quiet relaxing music. When the music ends, sit up whilst leaning your head back to avoid getting salt in your eyes, then exit and shower again to rinse of the residue Epsom Salts.

FC9Next I got a guided tour. The tank itself (a bit less modern than this one at Float Culture today) is an 8 foot by 6 foot by 4 foot fibreglass enclosure resembling a ship’s liferaft container before it is dropped in the water and opened up. It featured a rolling door through which you enter the inner spaceship which had 10-12 inches of water almost saturated with a solution of Epsom Salts.

So I had my shower, inserted the earplugs, applied the vaseline and climbed in.

The water felt warm, thick and sort of silky, almost sensuous. I closed the hatch and was suddenly in almost total darkness. I slid the hatch open again so that I wouldn’t forget where the knob was if I needed it…..

I tried to partially close the hatch but that didn’t work, so I closed it again and lay down. Then I sat up again, opened the hatch a little and closed it again just to reassure and orient myself.

Finally I lay down and tried to relax. I had been warned that my shoulder and neck muscles might start to hurt a little as they start to unknot and release their tension. The man told me to either breathe with the pain or rest my hands behind my head, flexing the muscles a little.

I tried both, but decided that a hands down version of the yoga nidra corpse position offered the most relaxing attitude for my body.

FC6So I relaxed. As my eyes adjusted there was a little light in the tank through the little indent patterns in the fibreglass.

My mind found it hard to cope with the fact that I was totally safe from external influences which might disturb the water or distract me. I kept slipping to one side as though I was balancing on a beam and for 3-4 minutes I found it hard to maintain my balance.

Eventually I achieved a level of equilibrium. I tried to keep my eyes open but found that I was easily distracted by light, sound and even nonexistent stimuli. I closed my eyes again achieving better results, however for the next 5-10 minutes I opened and closed my eyes a number of times, just to reassure myself.

Then I started to relax physically, but my mind was racing, very much the same as when I would go to sleep at night. When you are not experienced in relaxing, you can try too hard.

I felt a spinning sensation. I was hardly moving more than a cm per second and only for a tiny distance and then I’d stop by gently touching the wall with a foot or hand, but it felt like I had turned 90 degrees. This continued on and off for about 20 minutes. My sense of time was distorted.

Yes indeed, my shoulders were getting heavy and tired. Good, it seemed I was doing something right.

Now I moved into a conscious REM State. It was exactly like the first stages of sleep in which dreams that actually take  microseconds appear to take much longer. Yet I was conscious and could feel my eyeballs darting all over the place under my eyelids. It was an interesting feeling but the more I tried to analyse it, the more my consciousness started to return.

I knew that I was reaping rewards physically but mentally, because I was constantly analysing the experience, I wondered if I was wasting the opportunity.

Next thing I knew, time had passed and I was being gently roused by music from the underwater speakers which reminded me of the whale sounds on Pink Floyd’s Meddle album. It was soft and repetitious but relaxing. It only seemed to last about 20 seconds but it was actually 5 minutes.

I leaned my head back, protecting my eyes from the salt and opened the sliding door, then eased my way out and onto a wooden platform.

My shoulders and neck felt heavy and I was a little light headed but otherwise I felt normal enough.

I busied myself in the shower, washed and shampooed my hair (yes I still had hair then), making sure that all the Epsom Salts were rinsed off. Having dried myself off, I dressed and went into the pastel colored lounge, which had comfy chairs, a booktable and a selection of drinks including many herbal teas.

Floating Book

The current edition available from Amazon

Although I only felt slightly light headed, things seemed to take an awfully long time. My time sense was distorted. I sat down, which felt better and picked up a book entitled “The Book of Floating” by Michael Hutchison.

I then decided that I should have a drink to replace lost fluid and selected a Peruvian Lemon Tea which sounded refreshing.

I tried to fill the jug, which was not only full, it had a ‘cup number indicator’ on the side which said it was full. I emptied a bit out again and looked down at the floor. The opiate-like action of my natural endorphins induced an unusual effect. I was getting two independant impressions.

The left hemisphere was telling me that it was about five feet from my eyes to the ground. The right hemisphere said “I know it is only about 5 feet to the ground, but my perception tells me it is nearer to 10 feet.” Talk about a well balanced split personality!

I enjoyed a mild dose of euphoria, enhanced by the monochrome pastel room. I finished my tea and had a chat with the owner who said he could see by my eyes that the float had been beneficial.

I went to pay and found that they did not accept credit cards. I got the impression that this was a bit of a tacit protest against new technology. I found it hard to accept that they took me on trust for the cost of the float and the book which I had decided to buy.

Driving away I felt very relaxed and couldn’t stop my face from smiling. I felt a time distortion at traffic lights, it seemed they had stayed on red for too long.

That night I felt I had to waste some of the beneficial effects as I had to attend a business dinner. This was Wednesday night.

Yet, when I wrote these notes on a plane from Wellington to Auckland 2 nights later, I still felt better than I should after a very tiring day. I looked forward to greater effects from passive floating more often in the short term, and experimenting with Super Learning (now used by Navy SEALS) which I read about in the book, and other possibilities in the future.

In short, I was sold!

The floating experience is different for each person, but this should give you a bit of an idea of what to expect first time. Please remember I wrote this 31 years ago and the technology has improved dramatically although the principal’s are the same.

Of Asimov, Robots, Artificial Intelligence and What is a Human Anyway


You might say I have too much time on my hands. I would answer that I never have enough time, but my back injury continues and I have had time to think in a few directions.

Whether it is HAL 9000, remember “I’m sorry but I can’t do that Dave” as an answer to “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” from 2001 A Space Odyssey?

If you haven’t tried it, ask Alexa, Siri, Cortana or whatever your speech interface is to the internet, those famous words. “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” If only Arthur C Clarke was around to experience that.

Damn, I just remembered that they had a 4K restoration of the movie at Imax last month for the 50th anniversary of the movie. I was hoping to find someone to go with and then totally forgot about it. That would have been amazing.

AsimovI collect books and in recent years have given away many books that I was never going to read again, but decided to extend my collections of specific writers and starting at the beginning of the alphabet, I looked at what was missing from my Isaac Asimov collection and amongst others bought a copy of The Bicentennial Man.

Asimov is of course famous for the 3 Laws of Robotics. Ironically a lot of people debunked his laws and said they were flawed and used that to criticise him as being unrealistic or perhaps idealistic, which is a trait of many SciFi authors of the 70’s. However, he knew that himself. In many of his stories, robots disobeyed the laws.

There is a great story in this book called That Thou Art Mindful of Him, in which is a play on Psalm 8:4-6, he also infers in some of the stories that he was Jewish through some of the characters and had a keen sense of humor.

In this story (and I’m sorry for the spoiler) a series of robots are produced and given the capability to become self aware, in effect sentient. They redefine what it is to be human and declare themselves as such.

I played with the thought of Singularity and imagined if autonomous cars could pass the Turing Test 

I also looked at what might happen if they didn’t and what hackers might be able to do.

What I keep coming back to and writers like Philip K Dick, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and many others foresaw 50 and more years ago and similar to where the TV series Humans is heading, is that humans are dangerous to the planet.

Now I like being human and I hope that my descendants will have safe and healthy planet for thousands of years from now and many of my little stories are in jest.

BUT, if climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution, brinkmanship politics, drought, famine, and war are the result of how great and committed we humans fancy ourselves to be, would it not be realistic if an Artificial Intelligence was developed to the point of Singularity and able to continue to learn with or without programmed biases, would their logic determine that the human race should either be limited or allowed to exterminate ourselves?

Kurzweil looked at it a different way and said that Singularity would occur around 2045 and potentially be a synthesis between human and machine, in effect human 2.0. He would be about 98 at that point in time, so it will be interesting to see if he is still around and if he is right.

Maybe Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and many futuristic projects should have the last word. He’s pretty successful and walks the talk. DARPA, Rex Bionics and hundreds of companies, universities and other innovators are developing systems that will be able to think for themselves. Yes, for specific purposes, but they are being created.

It’s interesting that in this clip, they say that Science Fiction is usually about 50 years ahead of its time. So back to Asimov, reading him today, especially a book like The Bicentennial Man, where like Stephen King and others, he talks about his stories, was he in fact prophetic?

Yes, maybe I’ve had too much time to think, but do you think we should be thinking about this. Just imagined if a machine, say a Robocop decided that using facial recognition or perhaps racial recognition, that you were, could be, or could become a criminal and then think about biases that go into programming, often of necessity.

What conclusions could an AI start taking when given some information and some bias and then left to learn on the basis of that starting point? Oh and I didn’t even mention George Orwell. He wrote Animal Farm in 1945. Remember “All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others”? Shutting up now……..

 

Why Don’t Grownups Understand?


When you are a child, everyone around you is a potential friend. Someone to play with, have fun with. Language, color, gender, disability, don’t matter. You see them in the playground, looking for someone based roughly on age and height, they make eye contact, they do a sort of ‘I’m open for contact’ dance, getting closer together and then just start playing together. Often they won’t even introduce themselves. Next thing you know they are laughing and playing and bringing more kids into their circle. In many cases the parents stay at a protective distance, but appreciate and encourage this interaction.

I used to love watching kids TV programs like Art Linkletter and Cosby Kids. I think one of the famous ones was used in the What The World Needs Now John F Kennedy assassination tribute, where they asked a kid what racism is and he said “I think it’s when you’re sick.” They asked “what is bigotry, and the answer was “I don’t know what biggory is.”

When WWII, ‘the war to end all wars’ was over, there were famous speeches, saying “this must never happen again”. Today it appears we have learned nothing. It may to some degree be propaganda when we see children carried, walked or driven away from bombing sites. The fact is, they are children and they are victims of man’s inhumanity to man. It continues daily in many parts of the world.

I don’t need to show it, you don’t need to be reminded of the actual scenes. It will be on CNN, BBC, Fox or your other favorite news TV station in the next 30 minutes, day after day.

So here’s my question? How do we go from kids, who understand that differences make us interesting, to adults who think we should all be the same and that to be different is a threat? How do we go from sharing our resources to wanting to take them from each other?

At some point we decide children should think along certain lines. We teach them prejudice, we teach them fear and hatred. We teach them on the street, in our homes, we teach them in our schools and we teach them in our places of worship.

I watched the kids in Gaza on TV last night. I saw the looks in the faces as their bodies and lives were wrenched apart, the confusion, the terror, the blank gazes of minds dazed beyond comprehension They were just playing. They don’t understand. They’re just kids. But I’m an adult and I still don’t understand. Does that mean I haven’t grown up?

One of the real ironies to me is that we all have kids. We have all been kids. We have all been taught prejudices by our parents and those around us.

So here’s a thought. Why don’t we change the curriculum?

Returning Veterans in noncombat car crashes (Read Time 1:33)


Motor vehicle crashes are part of every day life and I have an interest in what causes them and how to reduce them. I’ve been listening to a podcast by Dave Wallace, the Traffic Safety Guy, called Highway to Safety.

From a Bradley to a Civy Street

From a Bradley to a Civy Street

Something I have heard of previously but isn’t front of mind in New Zealand because we are a small country with a small defense force, is what happens when you take someone who has spent 18 months in a combat zone, where they literally have to make split second decisions, and when they come home they pop into the family car to go out for a drive.

When we learn to drive, we learn to look out for animals, for kids running our from behind a bus or an SUV or for drivers of other vehicles driving their cars in an unusual manner, all of which are common day occurrences.

Now take hardened, combat ready veterans who have seen innocent looking situations turn into death traps, where sub second muscle memory instinctive and instant actions can save lives. That family pet lying on the side of the road at home could be a sleeping pet, but in the combat zone, could be a booby trap.

According to a 2009 Army study, quoted in the podcast, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75% more likely to die in car crashes than the general population. In fact from 1999 through 2012, 4,423 active military personnel died in non combative crashes.

I can’t imagine what it must be like re-integrating between or after terms of duty, but it makes total sense that there is a problem and it is being addressed. A Home Safe, Drive Safe campaign is being adopted by the various sectors of defense in training offered to service people when they return home.

As you will hear in the brief PSA video by Nascar driver Richard Petty, more returned veterans die in their first year back home in motor vehicle crashes than for any other reason.

This is something I have never considered. We hear about all sorts of adjustments people have to make, but next time I hear of a returned soldier who has had a serious accident as a consequence of responding to a situation that would for most of us be a non event, I’ll be wondering if the have had that part of the debrief and are conscious that they are not in a war zone.

So from someone who has never been in that situation, but enjoys living in a free democratic country, I say “Thank you for your service, we want you to stay alive, safe and well.

If you have a story about this topic, I would welcome it if you would like to share an experience or comment.

We Will Remember Them – Our ANZAC Soldiers


We are not a militaristic nation, we Kiwis. However we have a proud fighting tradition, standing up for democracy and human rights all over the world. We lost many men and women in the World Wars and on many other fronts such as Viet Nam and Korea. Once a year on ANZAC Day, we remember them and those who have fallen since, in Afghanistan, East Timor and other fronts. In RSA Clubs around the country the dwindling numbers of vets and their families have a beer, share a yarn, have a dance and a sausage roll and club sandwich and share the ANZAC Prayer.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

Then they play the last post, we stand proud and we remember.

Laying the Kings Wreath 2011

Laying the Kings Wreath 2011

My late father in law was a few months from his final rest after a terrible fight with cancer. He served in the Air Force in Guadal Canal and other locations during World War II and my mother in law was a Wren. You should have seen her march in the parade, as erect as she would have been in her youth. Now we are left with photos and memories, not only of our people, but of their reunions with their fellow service people, remembering the fun times and remembering the fallen and the horror as the nights went on. The things that they could only discuss with those who had shared the experiences. The things we civilians can’t appreciate because we weren’t there. The trenches, the mud, the desert, the beaches, the waiting, the camaraderie, the fear, the relief, the moments of respite, the people in the countries where they served, who looked at them with gratitude and relief, coming home with their cobbers, coming home without their mates.

Today is ANZAC Day and we remember our lost and respect those who remain. I’m proud to be a Kiwi, even though I am an import. In some ways more so because, while I haven’t experienced war first hand, I was born in Holland and the Allies rescued our country from the ravages of 5 years of occupation.

When I was in the USA again last year, I was humbled by the respect shown to all veterans in all places. Everywhere I went, I met and shook hands with people who had served. Everywhere I went, people thanked them for their service. Every concert I went to, we stood and people were thanked for their service. Of course the numbers of people who have served in the USA are so many more on a ratio than in New Zealand. They are more visible as well. While there is a lot of negativity towards US involvement around the world, I have to wonder with a shudder what our world would be like if they weren’t there. I also think about the fact that we are talking about individual people, with partners, children, parents, who are stepping outside of their lives to do the right thing for their country. They all have their own stories.

That’s what motivated me, after 6 months of research, to write the song Another Stretch in Iraq, my Christmas song for 2007. I remember performing it in a ‘biker friendly’ bar in Florida, seeing a couple of 6 foot something men coming to the stage and thinking “I’m going to get beaten to a pulp” as the came towards me with tears in their eyes. But no, they came to thank me and welcome me into the arms of their Desert Storm ‘family’, saying that I had taken them straight back to their Bradleys and MRE‘s.

Yet, as I sit here in my lounge and watch the ANZAC commemorations in New Zealand, I am reminded that we, at the bottom of the planet, far removed from all the fronts and global politics, do serve. We tend to be in peacekeeping forces these days rather than at the front lines, but you will find Kiwis in most countries where there is freedom to be preserved. We fight for human rights. We take global responsibility as we can and we care fiercely about freedom and democracy. To a large degree we do that because of those who lead by example, who took arms and piled onto planes and ships and those who didn’t come back.

We will remember them. We do remember them. Even if our eyes aren’t wet every day as they are this morning. We remember them and we honor them by trying to do the right thing for the future of our children.

Brain Controlled Prosthetics


As you do, conversation at the dinner table last night went to prosthetics. It started with her school planning assignments on innovation and her plan to get her class thinking about how people could cope without the use of their hands.

She mentioned the story of Mariatu Kamara who had both her hands hacked off in Sierra Leone, which is the subject of her book Bite of the Mango. She decided that she would get her kids to spend a day not being able to use their hands and then get them to think about how they could cope with this. The next step would be how to use innovation to come up with a solution to this problem.

I told her about the Kiwi company Rex Bionics who are helping people who are wheelchair bound and thought they would never walk again, to get on their feet with an exoskeleton. This is a topic I have covered on a number of occasions including my recent blog on Singularity.

Anyway, this is an area that is being well researched and just to prove that learning to control a prosthesis via the brain, check out this video where a University of Pittsburgh team trained a monkey to feed itself using a prosthetic arm controlled via a brain implant.

Now I do have to warn you not to try this at home folks. Implants produce scarring and scarring inhibits conductivity. Now of course the problem is how to produce this technology at a price that is affordable. Probably decades away, but pretty exciting, don’t you think?

On Human Singularity, IQ and EQ


Barton Kunstler wrote an enlightening article in The Futurist entitled The Singularity’s Impact on Business Leaders: A Scenario, where amongst other insightful information, he pondered the question of how technologically enhanced people in a workplace environment would interact with ‘normal individuals’. It gave me a number of EUREKA moments that I may or may not get into in this blog.

In the latest copy of IT Brief a publication of Action Media, the editorial by Clare Coulson talked about IQ and EQ and how they often don’t come together. This is very true, but there is a tension that Barton Kunstler picked up on wasn’t so much the problem for people with high IQ, but with their ‘peers’ acceptance or intimidation, intolerance by people who might feel threatened by their enhanced capabilities.

He postulated that management in a traditional environment, which evolved as an “efficient survival and social-enhancement mechanism. He suggested that human beings who  had enhanced mental, perceptual and physiological capability would totally disrupt the status quo.

My take from this was that the lack of EQ in the average manager would consider these people known as ESI’s or enhanced singular individuals as a threat, which from an instinctive perspective, in the evolved human brain could be perceived as a threat to the status quo and the ‘superior’ position of today’s ‘Manager’, which could be in fact any person in an authority position.

This could be a fatal flaw and will be a major problem faced in all areas where people are bred or enhanced to have a higher intellect. This could be simply a greater ability to use their natural intelligence, or a connection to external intelligence such as a computer. I don’t want to go into the feasibility of this in this blog, because I have already covered this to some degree in my previous blog, Singularity and ESI’s, which talked about people who have lost limbs and can control prosthesis’ with their brains, which is already relatively common place.

So if we assume this is possible and perhaps already taking place in the labs at DARPA and other well financed institutions, then how can we deal with this problem? The first aspect of this is defining the problem. Is the problem that people with high IQ’s, don’t have high EQ, or is it that the people who don’t have a high IQ don’t have high EQ either?

A progressive manager in today’s world, will employ best of breed staff on the basis that the better the people in his employ, the more successful the business will be and the more that will reflect on him or her. The traditional manager will not want people smarter than they are and will feel threatened by them. I believe the latter is more prevalent, certainly from my personal experience.

An argument that many people put forward is that people with high IQ’s don’t have high EQ (required for rational human type problem solving). In some cases that is true. There are many case studies of people who were encouraged at an early age to study hard, be it music, maths, linguistics, what they studied doesn’t really matter, it was their inherent ability to study and I suspect that those people would have been good at what ever discipline they chose. So we see students going to university at the age of 13 or 14.

Many of these kids have degrees before their age group peers finish high school. In many cases they are poorly tolerated by their fellow university students, who can’t relate to them and drift into a lonely life. The relating makes sense, the social life of an average aged university student is very different to a pubescent teenager. They are barely emotionally compatible and some parents do their best to ensure that young gifted children in this situation still get to play sport and enjoy their childhood, which in some cases is very successful, but those children often find that they are intellectually so far ahead of the others, that they find the chatter childish and can no longer relate, so they are left in limbo.

Most public education systems lack support for gifted children and a common thread is that gifted children suffer from asynchronous development and that they need to stay within their own age group in order to develop social behaviors, physical coordination and dexterity and emotional maturity. They may lift them a level above their age group, but little more is done for them. Many gifted children are home schooled where they come from parents who were also intellectually gifted and learned from the lack of support they grew up with.

A serious problem I see for the future is intolerance of gifted people, or holding them back, limiting their independence and controlling what they can and can’t do.

For example, in the military, they are looking at developing combat personnel with extreme strength, fast reactions and reasoning. But what traditional military leader who has worked their way up the ranks is going to accept a junior ESI telling them what to do? This is highly unlikely and will cause all sorts of stress.

I can see more success in the fields of science, but if and when ESI’s are developed, however that takes place, there is going to be a serious ‘Us and Them’ situation taking place and this will lead to workforce and community problems between the enhanced humans and as Kunstler calls them, the ‘Norms’.

Living in New Zealand, we have an endemic Tall Poppy Syndrome attitude towards people who appear to be brighter than others, or more likely to over achieve. It is interesting that Wikipedia singles out the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand as being countries that particularly single out overachievers, unless it is in the area of sport.

Kiwis will celebrate intelligence after the event, but often it takes a little help along the way. Ernest Rutherford was credited with having a gifted teacher, who helped him on his way to splitting the atom.

Other Kiwi children with high intelligence have had different experiences. For example a child who was exhaustively tested for 2 weeks by the Psychology Department of Auckland University and told he had an IQ of in excess of 165, was frequently bullied by a teacher who was incensed with being corrected by a child of 11. According to one web site, Einstein’s IQ was 160 as was Bill Gates. Charles Darwin apparently ranked 165. This student, as a result of school zoning was sent to a school with a brilliant history of rugby success, but a very poor academic record and certainly no support for a child who was reading and understanding Kafka and cosmic string theory.

Another common experience in New Zealand colleges is where children have been  threatened by their lesser performing peers that they will be beaten up if their exam results are significantly higher. In many Kiwi schools, getting on the 1st 15 in rugby is a far more highly praised achievement, yet those with intellectual prowess could well be the ones to combine Kiwi ingenuity with intelligence to build the country up as a knowledge society.

I want to ponder this some more, because ESI’s are being ‘created’ as I write this and the problem is, as Kunstler identified: How can ESI’s and Norms coexist? It doesn’t take a super brain to known that human’s are damaging our planet. Humans are a wonder of nature and their ascendancy to governing and damaging the planet is perhaps a result of their poor EQ. Logic might suggest that humans are bad for the longevity of life on earth. An ESI might decide that the best way to deal with this situation is to control the norms or eliminate them.

Note to self, read Vernor Vinge and see what he has to say, because the common thread that comes to me so often is Science Fiction becoming reality.

Perhaps what we need is another disruption to deal with the disruption. In effect take away the threat of human singularity, while embracing it’s ability to do good, rather than making better combat warriors.

The last word today goes to the many New Zealand Members of Parliament who abused their privileges and ministerial credit cards in droves. It appears that they have been rorting the system for years, but over the last year, have been getting caught out on everything from $1,000 lunches to buying themselves things like a new set of golf clubs. Add that to listening to them on radio or watching them on Parliament TV, you would have to wonder if EQ is on their qualification set.