Sensory deprivation and hallucinations
Type of Spiritual Experience
Dr Jack Vernon undertook a series of controlled experiments in a specially made ‘dark room’. A large soft king sized bed was provided to minimise the sensation of touch. Clearly this was one sense not eliminated, but as this sensation did not change throughout the experiment as most subjects tended to lie fairly still, there was in a sense no stimulus, as generally our nerves measure change of stimulus, rather than the continual monitoring of a uniform stimulus.
The dark room was completely sound proofed and completely dark, however, the research subjects knew that there was a toilet they could go to in the room. Taste sensation was not eliminated as the subjects were provided with a cold box with food [mostly sandwiches and soup]. There was also a ‘panic button’ provided, so that if they felt they could endure no more they could ask to be removed, although the door was not locked and in fact they could walk out at any time. The research subjects were nearly all male and post graduate students at the university [Princeton].
“Our subjects were volunteers who could leave the chamber at will. They underwent no physical hardships, the period of confinement was short and the experience not fear arousing”
In effect, the experiments measured benign partial sensory deprivation.
In these experiments, the subject was given a 'viewing box', a box they could look into if they chose. The objective of the experiment was to see just how often a person might revert to this box, even though it contained virtually nothing of interest, and never changed. Some 'saw'changes, some of which appear to be hallucinations some a form of improved perception.
A description of the experience
Inside the Black Room – Dr Jack Vernon
One final comment about our subjects and the viewing box is of interest. Every now and again one of them reported seeing colours in the viewing box-yellow, orange, and red-though the drawings were black and white. These reports represent visual misinterpretations that are hard to explain, and at present we do not know the solution. It may be the beginning of a more serious phase of visual deterioration; it may indicate an overly imaginative attention by the viewer. In any case it is an item that deserves additional study.
Drs. Freedman, Grunebaum, and Grunblatt, of Harvard Medical School, have noted a related finding.
Using confinement conditions very similar to those of the McGill studies, they found that subjects gave distorted descriptions of various kinds of figures after eight hours of confinement. The figures were:
- a straight line (all eight subjects saw it distorted),
- a triangle (two saw it distorted),
- a cross (two saw it distorted), and
- three arrowheads (seven saw them distorted).
The distortions were in the form of movement and in changes in shape and size. None of these aberrations lasted longer than one hour after release from confinement.
Many of the S.D. studies report vivid visual effects occurring during confinement.