The Floatation Stimulation Platform

I’m currently working my way through a Masters of Innovation and Commercialisation at Victoria University of Wellington. I’ve also managed to land a place at a local social enterprise accelerator. The body of work that I’m currently immersed in, is to do with floatation tanks and virtual, augmented, and mixed realities. I wrote an article earlier this year covering background on such a concept, check it out if you want a touch more depth. The essence of my current thesis and accelerator work is the concept of a floatation stimulation platform (FSP). I have a firm belief that the FSP is a technology limited only by imagination, and the point of this article is to convey this.

Firstly lets consider the floatation tank itself, an environment that gives our senses some much needed rest in an age of growing connectivity. It was developed as a means to investigate human consciousness through reduction in variability of stimulus, this is a process seen primarily in sciences like physics and biology. A brief run through of the tank is that it is a chamber of water with enough epsom salts to keep anyone afloat, this chamber is often experienced with no light or sound, complete isolation in darkness. Research has found a breadth of physiological and psychological benefits from the act of floatation. One will likely experience reductions in stress, anxiety, blood pressure, and pain. Floating has also been found to increase creativity, sleep quality, physical performance, and general wellbeing. For a list of research on floatation, check this out.

So we have the float tank, some call it the womb, a means to disengage and reconnect with one self, and we have the concept of the FSP, a means to deliver high fidelity content into such an environment. Now the first question to answer is why would you do such a thing? Isn’t the point of the float tank removal of all stimulus? To answer this I’ll run through a key hypothesis being put forward in the thesis.

The hypothesis draws on two theories, the first is put forward by floatation research veteran Peter Suedfeld. Seudfeld proposes a two component theory that suggests when floating one experiences an increase in susceptibility to information presented. The first component of this theory is that we experience a stimulus hunger within the tank, this hypothesis is put forward by the inventor of the floatation tank, Dr. John C. Lilly. In other words, we are used to being in total immersion in stimulation most of our waking lives, removing such stimulation leaves the mind hungry. The second component is the disorganisation hypothesis from Seudfeld himself, this suggests that floatation reduces ones levels of complexity in thought through reduction in stimulus engagement, as a result it is harder to actively discern information that we are given.

The essence of Seudfelds multicomponent hypothesis is that the process of sensory reduction though floatation, promotes desire for stimulation. This lack of sensory stimulation also leads to disassociation with established perspectives and reactions of mind. From this, when one is presented stimuli within the float tank, whether this be audio or audiovisual, the level of attention and engagement is enhanced. There are studies that suggest this may be the case.

The second theory to consider is that of the flow state. Coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Me-high, chick-sent-me-high), the flow state came to fruition through one of the larger studies on human happiness in recent history (here is a ted talk). Csikszentmihalyi describes the flow state as “being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” In his recent book “The Rise of Superman” Steven Kotler digs into the nature of the flow state, he identifies 10 key components that influence whether or not one experiences a flow like sensation:

Clear goals, concentration, loss of self-consciousness, distorted sense of time, direct and immediate feedback, balance between ability level and challenge, a sense of control over the situation, intrinsic reward, a lack of bodily awareness and absorption.

If we consider an excerpt from the Book of Floating there is a great deal of overlap between the floatation experience and that of the flow state:

“The essential qualities of flow — a sense of discovery, exploration, problem solution, novelty, challenge, merging of action and awareness, timelessness, a sense of control emerging from a perfect matching of difficulty with ability, and above all the feeling of great pleasure that results from the combination of these elements — are also the essential qualities of floating”

Piecing this together it is possible to see that the use of the FSP inside of a floatation tank may be highly conducive to engagement and sustainment of the flow state.

If this hypothesis is found to hold any merit, then the potential of the FSP is broad, consider these possible uses:

In essence, the FSP is a way of mainlining serendipitous information to the depths of your mind, no two experiences have to be the same and each experience can both answer and provoke new questions. As a tool its potential is immense, its effects are to be decided through how we choose to use it.

I’ll be working on a new article discussing what becomes possible with the implementation of bio-feedback technology and the FSP, in the meantime consider this from Jason Silva: