EXPERIMENT IN LONELINESS (May, 1962)
EXPERIMENT IN LONELINESS
IN an underground “sensory deprivation chamber” at the VA Hospital in Oklahoma City sits an eight-foot-deep tank of water. It is part of a project designed to examine the mental stressesâ€”especially hallucinationsâ€” that may afflict persons in environments of solitude, weightlessness, darkness and silence.
When Sid Ross, a free-lance writer, heard about the tank he contacted project director Dr. Jay T. Shurley and offered his services as a “tank volunteer.” The next thing Ross knew he was donning a pair of shorts as an assistant fitted a soundproof, lightproof mask to his face. Ross entered the water and floated face down. Weightless, deprived of his senses, his fantasies began . . .
Soon a giant frog loomed up. (Ross’s description of itâ€”and all his subsequent monologueâ€”was carried by a communication line connected to his mask to a tape recorder monitored by Dr. Shurley in an outside office.) The frog dissolved into an ocean liner that slowly steamed over the horizon.
Ross felt warm and cozy.
Suddenly a movie electrician aimed a spotlight at him, and Ross heard himself describing a deathbed scene from a grade-B movie. A picket fence marched by; between its slats Ross saw his body hanging from a balloon. Silence. Ross dozed. He was wakened by a train whistle just as the locomotive roared by.
He heard his son calling. He smelled flapjacks; then the acrid odor of chlorine gas. A hideous carved-stone face bore down on him. . .
Ross announced he had had enough. He estimated he had been in the tank about 2-1/2 hours.
“Congratulations,” Dr. Shurley said as Ross relaxed in his office a short time later, “You’ve broken the recordâ€”six hours and 55 minutes.”
“That was fine,” says Ross, “But for days afterward I smelled chlorine gas, and even now I can’t throw off the memory of that hateful stone face.”