the-penn-dragon  asked:

So a bit back you said something about affects of solitary confinement and how victims often had issues recognizing everyday objects. Could you talk a bit more about that? How could that aspect be portrayed well in writing? Thanks for the help!

 Ah, no, sorry but I think you’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick.

Sensory deprivation can cause victims to lose the ability to recognise everyday objects (I Cobain calls this ‘severe prosopagnosia’ but this usually refers to inability to recognise faces, which the victims also suffered from).

Solitary confinement can not.

They’re both extreme but they’re different. Sensory deprivation requires a special set up that restricts or masks at least four senses. Solitary confinement just requires a room.

With prolonged solitary confinement and/or victims with pre-existing mental health problems, solitary can cause hallucinations and psychosis. However these are not the most common symptoms. You can find a full list of symptoms, both physical and psychological, here.

Sensory deprivation…well it’s something I advise writers to avoid for a few reasons.

It’s incredibly, almost uniquely, damaging. A realistic and respectful depiction of victims would, I think, be extremely difficult to write. Not impossible by any means, but very very difficult. 

Fiction generally does a pretty poor job of respectfully depicting disability. The kind of multiple disabilities sensory deprivation causes- well essentially I’ve never seen a good portrayal of mental health problems that severe.

A character who’d survived this for the extreme length of time we’re talking about would be incapable of doing a great many ordinary things. They’d need a carer and would probably be in some sort of institution. That makes it difficult to produce a plot which focuses on the victim. I personally don’t like the idea of torture victims being relegated to the side lines; I think this often risks stepping into rather unfortunate tropes.

I am not saying that writing a plot focusing on such a character would be impossible. But I think it would be difficult and most of the asks I get about sensory deprivation seem to want the victim to come out of their ordeal capable of functioning in society with some independence. In which case sensory deprivation is not a realistic technique to use.

The technique itself has rarely been used in real life. The real victims were a small number of American mental health patients involved in unethical, unconsensual experiments. There have been no cases that meet the legal definition torture using sensory deprivation.

Over-use of such a rare form of abuse in fiction teaches the public that this is what torture is like. That in turn makes it more difficult for victims to share their stories and gain support.

I prefer to encourage readers to write about torture techniques that were/are in regular use in their setting. In fantasy and sci fi I try to connect the setting to real world times and places and suggest torture techniques that were used then.

Sensory deprivation, in my opinion, feeds into stereotypes about torture being ‘high tech’ or ‘scientific’, when the vast majority of torture is about as high tech as being hit with a wooden plank.

And the final big problem with using sensory deprivation is that because it’s so rare we don’t have good information on it.

A lot of data is essentially the research notes of Dr E Cameron, the man who subjected several mental health patients in his care to sensory deprivation in the hope of ‘re-writing’ their personalities. The research was extremely poorly conducted. There are (so far as I know) no patient interviews.

There was some work done by Dr Baldwin (who used people who did not consent in his experiments) and ethical experiments using volunteers conducted by Drs Lily and Hebb.

The work done by Lily and Hebb is actually very very good, but it doesn’t by its nature talk about the more extreme lengths of time and extreme symptoms sensory deprivation can cause. Most people in Lily’s ‘tank’ stayed inside for 4 hours. No one stayed in Hebb’s ‘box’ longer than six days.

Cameron kept a woman known as ‘Mary C’ in a similar box for 35 days. Most people can only voluntarily stay in one of these devices for 24 hours or less.

The result is that while I can list symptoms for the more extreme time periods (ie a week or more in box-like structures), such as the memory loss most of these people suffered and losing the ability to recognise faces and ordinary objects which affected at least two of them*, I can’t say for certain how these symptoms manifested or affected Cameron’s victims in their daily lives.

I know that they spent the rest of their lives in care homes. Several years later other researchers published a further paper on them, which essentially said that none of them had recovered and the damage Cameron caused seemed more extensive than previously thought.

The patients themselves are anonymous.

If you really do want to write about them, or a fictional character who undergoes something similar then I think the level of research you’d need in order to portray them realistically and respectfully would be something like a doctoral thesis. I think you’d need to track down the doctors who had contact with them and if possible the patients themselves and their families.

I think, essentially, a project like that would be something akin to ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’.

It would take years.

Because at the moment I’m just not sure that a good nonfiction source which covers all the relevant information and focuses on the victims exists. And I think that to capture that experience the most important and useful thing is to listen to what the victims themselves have to say. Without their voices it’s very easy to misrepresent them. 

Unfortunately we’re talking about a group of people who are voiceless. For me respecting the victims means remembering what they say when I write. If I can’t find a simple resource then my instinct is to read around the topic and create my own library, my own resource. 

If that’s a project you want to take on, for your writing or out of interest, then these are the best sources on sensory deprivation I know of. And I sincerely wish you the best of luck.

The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, J Marks, Norton Co 1991

The Mind Manipulators, A Scheflin E Opton, 1978 (I haven’t read either of these books yet, so far as I can tell from sources that cite them they cover sensory deprivation in a general way but do not focus on the victims)

A Textbook of Psychology, D Hebb 1966, 2nd ed

Effects of Decreased Variation in the Sensory Environment’ W H Bexton, W Heron, T H Scott, Canadian Journal of Psychology 1954, 70-76

Production of Differential Amnesia as a Factor in the Treatment of Schizophrenia’ D E Cameron, Comprehensive Psychiatry 1960

‘Effects of Repetition of Verbal Signals upon the Behaviour of Chronic Psychoneurotic Patients’ D E Cameron, L Levy, L Rubenstein, Journal of Mental Science 1960

*Some of the patients sued the CIA and Canadian government over these experiments but that does not necessarily indicate that more victims didn’t experience these symptoms.

Edit: In response to comment, yes I think prosopagonsia does generally refer to being unable to recognise faces. I took the term from I Cobain (Cruel Britannia) in his summary of case Cameron’s victims raised against the Canadian government and CIA. The victims were unable to recognise everyday objects and faces, something Rejali confirms. Cobain’s use of prosopagonsia might wlel be incorrect though, so thank you for pulling that up, I’ll edit the main text to reflect that.


Sensory Deprivation

There’s a lot of confusion in the press, fiction and occasionally research about sensory deprivation. So as with solitary confinement I’ll start off with some definitions.

Sensory deprivation set ups reduce or mask at least the following senses: sight, hearing, smell and touch.

Additionally some equipment reduces the sensation of gravity.

I try to avoid describing tortures as ‘extreme’. I feel this can imply that some tortures are ‘less damaging’ or ‘safer’ and this is not true.

However the way that sensory deprivation damages human beings demands the term.

This is extreme.

It is almost uniquely damaging and the speed and extent of the damage inflicted is frankly terrifying.

Thankfully sensory deprivation has never ‘caught on’ as a torture.

I accept that as writers we often depict things that aren’t true to life. My advice regarding sensory deprivation is usually to avoid it. It has only been used to torture in isolated cases (a small number of mental health facilities in America) and the damage to characters is so severe that functioning in a basic way is unlikely.

I’m going to cover methods of sensory deprivation and then go on to the effects seen in volunteers and victims. So if you do decide to use it in your story you can do it as accurately as possible.

Baldwin’s Box

Confusingly not developed by Baldwin (it was developed by Donald Hebb who used it in ethical experiments), ‘Baldwin’s box’ is actually a small room. It’s padded and equipped with a ventilation system that masks smells from outside.

It is sometimes soundproof and sometimes the occupants wear ear muffs to mask sounds. It can be dark or under a constant, low lighting level. The interior is uniform and undecorated.

Occupants occasionally wear oven gloves, dark glasses or padded clothing to further mask their senses.

Baldwin’s box has been used in ethical and consensual experiments but it has also been used on unconsenting mental health patients and members of the American armed forces.

This is a structure that has to be specially built and quite sizeable. That means it both costs money and is relatively easy to detect. This is something that you’d need planning permission for.

So if you decide to use Baldwin’s Box sensory deprivation in your story consider how the structure was built or adjusted and how it might be disguised. Does your villain have the resources to build it from scratch? Do they have the space for this kind of structure? If they build it themselves where do they get the materials and are the materials flimsy enough that the occupant could break out (something that happened in at least one real life case).

Lilly’s Tank

Lilly’s tank is a sealed structure that’s significantly smaller than Baldwin’s box but significantly larger than a coffin. They might be around the size of a double bed (although Lilly’s original was significantly larger).

The tanks either has an air regulation system that masks smells from outside or a breathing mask that goes over the occupant’s head. It’s sound proof and it closes over the occupant cutting out light sources. Then tank is filled with a saline solution, kept at body temperature. This masks the sense of touch generally and also reduces the ability to feel temperature and creates a feeling of weightlessness.

Lilly’s tank affects more senses than Baldwin’s box. It’s significantly more complicated to make but smaller and commercially available. They’re currently used in some spas as a relaxation treatment, usually for an hour at a time.

Lilly, to his very great credit, halted his research and left his institution shortly after receiving questions on the use of his tank against ‘involuntary subjects’. His tank was never used on anyone unwilling and the vast majority of his research was done by experimenting on himself.

They’re expensive, the spa varieties are somewhere between $3,500-6,500 (via Rejali). They’re also cumbersome, difficult to maintain and full of water. This means that an unconsenting occupant would have ample opportunity to drown themselves, making their use as a torture device extremely unlikely.

Time frames for sensory deprivation experiments

As with solitary confinement the amount of time a volunteer will stay in one of these devices is a really important measurement.

During Hebb’s work using ‘Baldwin’s Box’ half of his volunteers left at around 24 hours. The extreme outlier in the group stayed in the ‘box’ for six days. Most of the others had left after two days.

In contrast the longest a volunteer has stayed in Lilly’s tank is 10 hours with the average duration a little under 4 hours.

Effects of Sensory Deprivation

Sensory deprivation produces extreme disorientation, insomnia, confusion, loss of ‘disciplinary control over the thinking process’ and hallucinations in willing volunteers.

Let me give you an example of what that means.

Hebb’s volunteers were so disorientated that they sometimes got lost inside the bathroom they went to for breaks and couldn’t leave it without assistance. One of them started hallucinating after 20 minutes. Hallucinations in Lilly’s tank occur in under three hours.

So far as I can tell willing volunteers who were confined for short periods (24 hours or less) didn’t suffer any lasting effects.

Beyond that the situation begins to get somewhat murky due to unclear records and poor research practices.

Baldwin, after whom the box is named, locked a US Army ‘volunteer’ in a sensory deprivation chamber for 40 hours during which Baldwin’s notes describe the man breaking down, crying and begging to be released. The ordeal ended when the man kicked his way out of the box.

Ewen Cameron subjected around 100 patients to sensory deprivation along with forced ECT keeping one woman ‘Mary C’ confined for 35 days.

A follow up study of 79 of Cameron’s patients ten years later noted unspecified ‘physical complications’ in 23% of the group. 85% were either hospitalised or ‘maintain psychiatric contact’.

60% had lost large chunks of their memory surrounding their time as a research subject, lost memories ranged from six months to ten years. 75% were judged as ‘unsatisfactory or impoverished’ when it came to interacting with other people and forming social bonds. Of the patients who had been working before they went into Cameron’s hospital around half could no longer work full time.

All of these people had received treatment in the intervening time.

In 1980, around thirty years after the experiments, a group of Cameron’s former subjects sued the CIA and Canadian government. Two of these people were unable, thirty years later, to recognise faces or everyday objects.

Some of the sources I’ve read recently that followed up Cameron’s patients suggest that a small number of them were able to leave hospital, find employment and live a relatively normal life. Which goes against my previous statements that all of them were permanently hospitalised or otherwise in care.

It’s not clear whether these victims were subjected to shorter periods of sensory deprivation.

Further factors to keep in mind

Sensory deprivation is, by definition, also solitary confinement. So victims subjected to sensory deprivation will also be suffering from the negative effects of solitary confinement and the effects of solitary confinement are likely to be exacerbated by the effects of sensory deprivation.

A lot of the asks I’ve had referring to sensory deprivation seem particularly interested in the effect this would have on children. Thankfully no one has ever done that experiment. My best guess is that the effects would be much much worse and would affect the child’s development and ability to interact with others profoundly.

The confusion and disorientation caused by sensory deprivation is also extreme enough that a character confined in this way might not be able to reliably eat, drink or take medication they’re provided with. Remember the long term is one day.

This is not as detailed as I’d like it to be; I’m struggling to find better sources. Hopefully this helps put sensory deprivation in perspective and clears up some of the questions people have had.


For clarity I’m breaking these into the ones I’ve actually read in full (which come first) and the original source or research material with some further reading.

Torture and Democracy by D Rejali, Princeton University Press, 2007

Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture by I Cobain, Portobelo 2012

Effects of Decreased Variation in the Sensory Environment’ by W H Bexton, W Heron, T H Scott, Canadian Journal of Psychology 1954, 70-76

Production of Differential Amnesia as a Factor in the Treatment of Schizophrenia’ by D E Cameron, Comprehensive Psychiatry 1960

Intensive Electroconvulsive Therapy: A follow-up study by A E Schwartzman, P E Termansen, Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal 1967


The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, by J Marks, Norton Co 1991

The Mind Manipulators, by A Scheflin E Opton, 1978

A Textbook of Psychology, by D Hebb 1966, 2nd ed

‘Effects of Repetition of Verbal Signals upon the Behaviour of Chronic Psychoneurotic Patients’ by D E Cameron, L Levy, L Rubenstein, Journal of Mental Science 1960

Edit: Spending a short amount of time in one of Lilly’s tanks on a consensual basis does not make you better able to describe the hallucinations, terror and psychotic breaks they can cause when someone is locked in one for a prolonged period (over an hour) against their will. 


Bobby Hebb

This is my day’s post.

‘Sunny’ by Bobby Hebb,

Recorded in 1963, right after President Kennedy’s assassination and the night the singer’s brother was killed in Memphis.

The song was eventually released in 1966, reached #2 in the charts, and is no. 25 on BMI top 100 songs ever.

This is for all my friends, family, and all the people in the whole world who smiles at me, eases my pain and makes me smile all the time.

magicmoon65  asked:

I read the solitary confinement post and that's helpful, but mine's a little different: he's put in a White Room, and he's 10 years old. He's there for 4/5 days. What mental effects would that have on him whole he's there and afterwards?

The solitary confinement sources I have are mostly from prisons or cases of serious neglect. So the victims are either a lot older or considerably younger than your character (toddlers and babies). The prison sources are much better and they generally only go down to age 15-17 for children.

I imagine that the effects on a younger child would be different.

The White Room scenario (I’m assuming this means sensory deprivation, a blank room with sound proofing and no outside stimulation-) is different again. The sources I have for that are unethical experiments conducted on adults.

Most adults would not be able to tolerate that sort of environment for a day. So 4 or 5 days (am I reading that correctly or is it 4/5 of a day?) is a considerable period of time.

I think the best I can do is tell you what an adult would probably go through and add that studies of juvenile prisoners suggest the effects on children are much worse.

If the lights are dim or out (they usually are in sensory deprivation environments/experiments) the first thing people tend to do is sleep. Usually for a few hours. Once they’re rested and they wake up things start to go down hill.

They very quickly start to panic. In the most extreme sensory deprivation environments (no light, no sound, little movement/tactic sensation) people quickly start to hallucinate. Usually within hours. Hallucinations can be auditory, visual, tactile or a combination.

I think he’d probably panic faster, but if there’s some lighting it would take longer than the experimental studies before he started to hallucinate. That’s because of light level, not his age.

Over longer periods (over 24 hours sometimes sooner), driven by panic, people tend to both self harm and attack the walls. They can become intensely violent.

If he’s there four days I would expect him to be hallucinating and to have self-harmed (scratching and biting, as well as tearing off chunks of flesh are possibilities) by the time he comes out. He might have had a complete mental breakdown and be suffering from some kind of psychosis and/or dissociative disorder.

Even in a shorter time frame this would be an intensely traumatic experience for a child. He’s going to need a lot of concerted help over a period of years to recover, if he does at all.

He’s likely to spend a lot of time after he comes out terrified. He might be full on paranoid. He will probably be afraid of ending up in the room again and might not want to be left alone. He might also find it difficult to interact positively with people, be afraid of people or be aggressive towards them.

Those things can happen at the same time.

He might continue to hallucinate after he’s out of the room. This doesn’t always happen but in some cases it continues for the rest of a person’s life.

Self mutilation at least usually stops immediately on release.

He might find normal sensory stimulation difficult to bear. Lights might be too bright, noises too loud. He might want to do ‘normal’ things but find they overwhelm him, making him anxious, afraid and possibly violent.

Basically- this kid is going to have a lot of long term problems.

You might want to consult ScriptShrink’s blog and look through some tags on treating childhood abuse/neglect to get a better idea of how to handle the aftermath with this character.

(The people to look up for sensory deprivation experiments are John Lilly and the notorious Donald Hebb.)


Where do you draw the line?

ska-ana brought up a really interesting point in a reblog I think deserves it’s entire own thread.

An interesting concept, but there has been something on my mind recently regarding anthropomorphizing animals, and that is: where do you draw the line?

Complex mammals like whales, dolphins, primates, elephants, etc. have been known to ‘grieve’ and express emotional distress, form alliances (friendships?), among other behaviors that might only be interpreted through our own human lens. It’s especially prominent with these mammals, as we begin to see so much of ourselves in them, and so much of the animalian side in ourselves. Some mammals are right up there with us (maybe surpassing us) in terms of mental capability, which again begs the question: with anthropomorphizing, where do we draw the line?

As far as I can tell, this is a question that various fields of animal science argue over constantly. Wikipedia summarizes the question of considering animal sentience pretty well:

Beginning around 1960, a “cognitive revolution” in research on humans[16]gradually spurred a similar transformation of research with animals. Inference to processes not directly observable became acceptable and then commonplace. An important proponent of this shift in thinking was Donald O. Hebb, who argued that “mind” is simply a name for processes in the head that control complex behavior, and that it is both necessary and possible to infer those processes from behavior.[17] Animals came to be seen as “goal seeking agents that acquire, store, retrieve, and internally process information at many levels of cognitive complexity.”.[18] However, it is interesting to note that many cognitive experiments with animals made, and still make, ingenious use of conditioning methods pioneered by Thorndike and Pavlov.[19]

The scientific status of “consciousness” in animals continues to be hotly debated. Serious consideration of conscious thought in animals has been advocated by some (e.g., Donald Griffin),[20] but the larger research community has been notably cool to such suggestions.[21]

Personally, I feel like how much anthropomorphism is okay really depends on the situation and the context. When talking about your pet dog, whom you have observed for a long time and whose body language and behavior you’re familiar with, it’s probably okay. When doing education in a zoo or aquarium, probably not (because it communicates incorrect information) except in carefully constructed metaphors that aim to enhance the learning outcomes of the interaction. When talking colloquially about animal science or writing a media piece, I would honestly say just no because of how easily misinformation travels. When doing research? Never.

Ska-ana brings up a really good point that many of the more complex mammals exhibit behaviors that appear analogous to human grief as well as other emotional states, and that those are hard to not interpret from human lens. As far as research is concerned, that’s currently one of the big debates about how to interpret. I had professor explain it to me thusly: we know from various studies that many animals are capable of experiencing physical states that appear chemically analogous to human experiences: e.g., stress, fear, and pleasure. What we don’t know is if, when they appear to be experiencing more complex emotional states such as grief, they’re experiencing it in the same way that humans do. That would likely need to be tested on a physiological level as well as a behavioral one to be able to safely hazard that they’re analogous states. Until that sort of research exists, the best thing we can do to accurately describe the experiences of these animals is to say that they ‘appear to be experiencing a state similar to the human experience of x’ and not that they’re ‘doing x’ - because it’s very unlikely that a whale or an elephant has any similar internal state to a human due to evolutionary and individual history, and immediately assuming an anthropocentric approach to their internal state is likely to lead us to completely misunderstand their actual experience.

I once had a professor say that the scientific study of animal cognition cannot be approached through philosophic arguments about sentience or sapience, because philosophy is inherently anthropocentric. Once you attempt to interpret an animal’s experience through the human umvelt, you’ve immediately removed all scientific validity because you’re studying a non-human animal with a non-human umvelt.

Followers, what do you think about anthropomorphism and where the line is drawn?

anonymous asked:

I was learning a bit of sensory deprivation. If someone were to only deprive them of their vision for a couple of years, would their vision be very sensitive to light? Also could you go more in depth about sensory deprivation?

There was a case of a woman, Odette Hallowes, who spied against the Nazis in France who was kept in a dark room for several months. It didn’t demoralise her the way the Nazi’s hoped. She’d been temporarily blind as a child for several months and the experience meant that this torture didn’t affect her as much as it might have otherwise. Her story is actually super interesting and once I find some books specifically on her I’m thinking of making a Masterpost about her experience.

Generally speaking yes I believe that people who are deprived of sight for a long period are sensitive to light afterwards. But my understanding is that usually fades with time, vanishing within a year.

It’s also worth stressing that sensory deprivation usually refers to something that affects more than one sense.

There are two basic experimental set ups that were used Baldwin’s box (confusingly not designed by Baldwin) and Lilly’s tank. Lilly’s tank has never to my knowledge been used to torture and his experiments were conducted on himself or other consenting volunteers.

Baldwin’s box is a small, padded, sound proof room with no or low light. Sometimes the occupant wore padded clothing and mittens to further reduce the sense of touch. The box basically works not so much by depriving sensation as blocking it. The person inside is cut off from sight, sound, most tactile sensation and smell.

Most of the experiments on sensory deprivation, both ethical and unethical, used a variant of Baldwin’s box.

Lilly’s tank is actually closer to ‘true’ deprivation of the senses. It’s a small capsule filled with salt water that’s kept at body-temperature. The occupant floats in the water wearing a mask that cuts off sight and sound. This means they can’t see, hear or smell anything as in Baldwin’s box but they’re additionally cut off from sense of temperature and gravity.

People given the opportunity to stay in Lilly’s tank as long as they can usually last about four hours although one outlier made it to ten.

Lilly was very clear that he didn’t want his research used to harm. It’s been touted as a helpful meditative device and is now most often used in expensive retreats. Apparently for very short periods it can be incredibly relaxing. Two hours is also sufficient for the occupant to start hallucinating.

Baldwin….was not a particularly nice guy. He used people who didn’t consent to his experiments essentially to see what would happen. As with most torture the result is particularly poor science and a lot of injured people.

But it was Ewen Cameron who was responsible for most of the horror stories we associate with sensory deprivation.

He tried to use the box to ‘re-program’ psychiatric patients. He thought that he could ‘break down’ their personalities in this way and ‘build up’ a new personality of his choosing.

To quote Rejali’s summary ‘Cameron was able to destroy minds, but not rebuild them.’ The people subjected the Cameron’s ‘experiments’ (again this was incredibly poor science with no control group and little consistency) lost large chunks of their recent memory, between six months and ten years of the time before the experiments.

Voluntary experiments by Donald Hebb using Baldwin’s box found that half of people can’t stand the box for over 24 hours. The highest outlier was six days. Volunteers were so disorientated that when they left the box to go to the bathroom during the experiment they’d become lost inside the bathroom and need help getting out.

Cameron kept one woman in the box for 35 days. Two of his victims were harmed to the point that they could no longer recognise faces of everyday objects. A follow up study by a separate group of people found 60% of Cameron’s subjects had persistent amnesia (for the long periods I described) and 23% had ‘serious physical complications’.

It’s intensely damaging.

But it’s actually rarely used in torture.

Baldwin’s box was possibly used in some places (outside Baldwin and Cameron’s so-called-experiments) but it fell out of favour very very quickly.

It probably failed for the same reasons most torturers don’t use high tech equipment. It’s expensive, unfamiliar and can be difficult to use.

Rejali suggests that international monitoring, the concerted effort to eliminate torture globally, also played a part. You can’t really disguise of justify the presence of Baldwin’s box or Lilly’s tank in a police station, but car batteries, hose pipes and handcuffs have legitimate uses.

I hope that helps.

(Edited the first paragraph after a comment on correctly referring to blind vs sighted people. Thanks for catching that)


anti-chase  asked:

Okay, I'm /pretty/ sure you're the right blog to ask. Looking at a scifi fic, alien character, assuming a human brain. I have a character being punished in a way reserved for a lower class. I can handwave some things, but I'm interested in the effects of being conscious but immobile for an extreme period of time, solitary with brief, impersonal interaction, blindfolded, with the mental equivalent of a shock collar going off every time he struggles. (1/2)

(2/2) Assuming that his captors are invested in keeping him alive (feeding tube, bare minimum medical care) What sort of state am I looking at on a rescue after two years of this? Would prefer to avoid first-hand sources, if possible, and I’m mostly interested in the psycological effects.

Honestly? I would expect him to have died in the first week from kidney failure.

If that somehow didn’t happen I’d expect him to get bedsores in the first month which would become horribly infected and kill him.

If somehow neither of these things happened then the combination of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation would have caused mental breakdown within the first two weeks. If he was released after two years I think he’d be completely incapable of human interaction and possibly speech.

I think he would be (I do not use these words lightly) incurably and untreatably insane.

Your time frame isn’t just extreme it is completely outside physical possibility for anything remotely mammalian.

After long periods (hours to days) stuck in a cramped position such as you describe muscles begin to break down. The destruction of muscle cells leads to a build up of large proteins in the blood. The kidneys can not handle the build up of undigested protein and fail.

This is how stress positions can kill a person without leaving a mark on their body.

And that’s not something that can be easily hand waved away with advances in medical technology. If he has some kind of functioning kidney replacement this does not get away from the fact that his major muscles are breaking down.

I want to help. I really really do. But this is not survivable. At all.

The longest I am aware of anyone being left in a sensory deprived, solitary environment is 35 days. The subjects in these experiments commonly did not remember long periods of their lives before the treatment, the amount of time lost varied between six months and ten years.

And in these experiments people could move, they could sleep easily, they had meals and bathroom breaks. They were not in constant physical pain.

The experimental conditions were much milder than your scenario and they resulted in permanent brain damage. The researchers involved had no doubt that these sensory deprivation rooms could be lethal.

The longest voluntary confinement in one was six days.

I’m going to quote one of the relevant passages from Rejali’s book; this is on the sensory deprivation research of Maitland Baldwin.

Baldwin put an army volunteer in the box and refused to let him out. This persisted for forty hours. Finally “after an hour of crying loudly and sobbing in a heartrending fashion” to use Baldwin’s words the soldier kicked his way out of the box.’

I like to hope he punched Baldwin.

If you want to read about the devastating psychological effects of these devices then the researchers you want to look up are Donald Hebb (who conducted consensual experiments), Maitland Baldwin (who did not) and Ewen Cameron (who tried to give people new personalities and succeeded only in making their mental health much worse and ruining their lives).

The relevant papers are all from the 50s and 60s. They are mostly behind pay walls. Hebb wrote A Textbook of Psychology, Cameron’s accounts can be found in Comprehensive Psychiatry (1960, 26, 27) or Journal of Mental Science (1960, 742-54).

If you want this to be realistic you need to give the victim room to move and you need to cut the time down drastically or pick another torture entirely. 

Otherwise they are so far from human you may as well be asking me about the mental and emotional state of an octopus.

All of these components separately, stress positions, solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, they all have much more extreme effects than are generally acknowledged. And torture is cumulative. 

Note that I did not even touch the electricity torture which can by itself be lethal. 

Please do not hand wave this. You’re talking about tortures that are regularly excused and legalised. Even though they kill people. And that background cultural torture apologia has persuaded you that a completely unsurvivable scenario is only a little bit extreme. 

I personally believe that you should not perpetrate further immoral and unrealistic misinformation, especially of this magnitude, in your writing

I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help. 


Neuroscientists discover new learning rule for pattern completion

IST Austria Professor Peter Jonas and team identify a new learning rule.

“Fire together, wire together” is the famous abridged version of the Hebbian rule. It states that neurons in the brain adapt during the learning process, a mechanism which is called neuronal plasticity. Hebb’s theory dates back to the 1940s and subsequent research in neuroscience has further corroborated it. Today, we also know that different factors play a critical role, such as timing of firing, order of activity, and functional connectivity, as cutting-edge technologies allow examining subcellular processes with extraordinary precision.

Recently, scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) discovered a new learning rule for a specific type of excitatory synaptic connection in the hippocampus. Their study was now published in the renowned journal Nature Communications on May 13. These synapses are located in the so-called CA3 region of the hippocampus, which plays a critical role for storage and recall of spatial information in the brain. One of its hallmark properties is that memory recall can even be triggered by incomplete cues. This enables the network to complete neuronal activity patterns, a phenomenon termed pattern completion.

Professor Peter Jonas and his team, including postdoc José Guzmán and PhD student Rajiv Mishra, investigated how the strength of connections between neurons is adjusted, taking into account the relative timing of firing neurons. In neuroscience, this is known as spike-timing-dependent plasticity or STDP. According to the STDP rule, neuron A has to fire just before neuron B so that the synaptic connection becomes stronger with time. In the case of a reverse order—neuron B fires before neuron A—the connection between the neurons may become weaker.

Yet in apparent contrast to this rule, the team of Professor Jonas discovered in their experiments that a reverse order also leads to stronger connections between the investigated synapses (CA3–CA3 recurrent excitatory synapses). Surprisingly, a potentiation takes place independent of the order of firing. So if the sequence is not important at these particular synapses, why is this the case?

To address this question, the authors performed various cutting-edge measurements with extremely high precision. These included patch-clamp recordings to control which neurons fire at what time, imaging of calcium molecules, which play a critical role in synaptic plasticity, and subcellular recordings of electrical signals in dendrites. All data resulted in the same symmetric summation curves. Thus, the unusual induction curve of potentiation is generated by the properties of calcium signaling, which is in turn explained by the characteristics of electrical signaling in dendrites.

The scientists subsequently investigated what happens if a huge number of neurons is being connected via excitatory synapses in a network model. To this end, they ran computer simulations after incorporating different plasticity induction rules. They compared the results of simulations with the new symmetric plasticity induction rule with those of a conventional rule. The outcome clearly demonstrated that patterns could be better restored from partial cues when the new symmetric rule was applied. Professor Jonas: “The new plasticity induction rule may explain why learning in vivo occurs robustly under a variety of behavioral conditions. For example, it may explain storage and recall of cell assembly patterns of freely moving animals in open fields, as previously found by the systems neuroscience groups of IST Austria (O’Neill et al., 2008)”.

The new data seem to be in contrast to classical STDP induction rules at other glutamatergic synapses. Do they violate the Hebb rule? Professor Jonas: “If you read the classical Hebb text carefully, it states: ‘If the axon of a cell A is near enough to excite cell B […], A’s efficiency, as one of the cells firing B, is increased’. However, there is no mentioning of depression. So the new data do not violate Hebb’s postulate, but may confirm it in the literal sense”.


The Kessler Twins

The twins Alice and Ellen Kessler perform a Italian version of “Natural Man” during the fifth episode of Teatro 10 in 1972.


Jake Bugg - Bitter Salt for The London Compass show at Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush London on 11/3/15. Filmed by Laura Hebbes