Thursday, August 25th, 2016...10:00 am

Stranger things…indeed

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This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.


Sometimes it is uncanny how we find materials in the collection that relate to popular culture right now, this week in fact.  I recently watched the new Netflix series Stranger Things, a nostalgic 1980s show which features isolation tanks and the idea of exploring and focusing the self-awareness of the mind to do amazing things.  It all sounds very sci-fi, but imagine my surprise when I came into work and discovered that this basic idea is grounded in research that was conducted by John C. Lilly and features in his book The Deep Self.Img0033

Lilly was a notable scientist whose research interests spanned medical physics, biophysics, psychoanalysis, and neurology.  In 1954 he invented something called the Isolation Tank Method which was to research “isolation therapy” in order to understand and experience new degrees of self-awareness and personal harmony, in other words to explore the nature of consciousness.  In the 1960s with the introduction of LSD and ketamine he began to include psychedelics with the isolation tank often using himself as a subject, which is chronicled in Programming and metaprogramming in the human biocomputer : theory and experiments and The center of the cyclone; an autobiography of inner space both of which are part of the Santo Domingo Collection.  In 1973 there was an opportunity to expand the tank isolation work in Malibu, California with a house that could house five tanks.  Volunteers used the tanks and reported their experiences in these “tank logs.”

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The volunteer would climb into the tank and float on a solution of Epsom salts and water with no light and almost no sound.  Here are two experiences from the tank logs:

Lois Bateson, female, 44 yrs “Roamed and sauntered through a kind of cosmic park, full of density but infinite boundaries.  People’s images occasionally came in and out of this but nothing stuck around important to focus on.  Then as wondered on this, sudden enlightenment-there is no such thing as separate consciousness.  My roaming were a kind of total consciousness….”

Paul Brenner, male, 40 yrs

  1. Shouldn’t have shaved-salt is an irritant to the skin.
  2. How do they get O2 into this thing?
  3. I hope it works!- O2 that is.
  4. This must be the closest thing to death.
  5. Nothing’s happening-I’ll try hypnosis…

Two vastly different experiences to say the least.  The Deep Self also outlines standards and guidelines for building and maintaining your own isolation tank in case you want to try it out for yourself.

The deep self : profound relaxation and the tank isolation technique / John C. Lilly. New York : Simon and Schuster, c1977, can be found in Widener’s collection.

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager for contributing this post.


  • Hopefully the use of psychedelics can at some point in the future be looked upon as not so taboo. I think that there is plenty of evidence that suggests they could have so many valid medicinal uses and should be allowed to be studied.

    It’s a shame that drugs with so much potential are deemed illegal and we are not allowed the freedom to experiment and explore the full potential of these illicit compounds.

  • Great write-up! I love this show… can’t wait for season 2 🙂