What Are You Afraid Of? Floating Myths & Facts from ‘Altered States’ to ‘Stranger Things’

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | October 12th, 2016

Hollywood has a fascination with floating. Without research to back up health claims until recently, for years it was considered a niche hobby for the hippy crowd…and ripe material for the sci-fi set.

Floating’s most famous movie adaptation came in the 1980 horror hit Altered States. The film’s star, a professor of abnormal psychology, utilizes flotation to enhance his use of a natural psychedelic drug. The combination of the drug trip and float tank result in a distorted reality that becomes more and more permanent, ultimately threatening to transform the professor into an amorphous mass of conscious, primordial matter.

The 2016 Netflix hit Stanger Things took note, offering a nod to Altered States’ retro roots by introducing a float tank monster of its own. Here’s the gist: After a series of mysterious research studies involving psychedelic drugs, a young girl develops telekinetic and psychic abilities. To test the limits of her skills, scientists utilize a sensory deprivation tank, where the girl accidentally opens a portal to a ghastly realm. The only way to fix the damage? She and a band of misfit science nerds have to build their own float tank.

This picture of flotation therapy is common among those who have never experienced it, but how much is myth versus fact?

Early floaters entered total submersion tanks: FACT

The first float tank involved full-body submersion in an upright position and required a breathing mask, much like the tanks we see in the Stranger Things and Altered States labs. Not only were users uncomfortable in the tanks – fear of drowning was a common concern – but the use of heavy equipment and tight clothing prevented a true sensory deprivation experience. Continued improvements lead to the development of the first modern-day float tank in the 1970s. Today, the options for first-time floaters are limitless, with spas offering spacious pods and total user control of everything from light and sound, to easy-access doors.

Floating can transport clients to strange or scary placed, like the distant past or a portal to another world: MYTH

Sci-fi screenwriters may have you believe that flotation is a gateway to another dimension, but float therapy is just an opportunity to reconnect with oneself. Research has shown that the brain enters a meditative state while floating, allowing a deep sense of physical and mental calm. While some floating regulars have described seeing lights or shapes, most float-goers report simply losing track of time while their brains and bodies reset, allowing them to return to the best versions of themselves.

Stranger Things’ Dr. Martin Brenner is modeled after John C. Lilly: FACT…Turned Urban Legend

The Stranger Things writing crew took more than a few liberties with John C. Lilly’s research history when they created Dr. Martin Brenner, a mad scientist with an interest in LSD, mind control, and unethical research practices. The founding father of flotation, Lilly’s research focused on natural states of consciousness, with a goal of understanding how the brain functions without any interference – meaning no sensory input and no psychotropic drugs. Though Lilly famously experimented with LSD during his own floating sessions later on, he concluded that a drug-free float is best to relax and open the mind. While conspiracy theories have always swirled about government research with psychedelic drugs during that era, John C. Lilly looked more like your local float guru than Dr. Brenner and his squad of science goons.

John C Lilly’s goal was to explore alternate realities – MYTH…Derived From FACT

Altered States’ Lilly-esque character, Edward Jessup, begins exploring sensory deprivation and psychedelic drugs because he believes that there are, “other states of consciousness as real as our waking states.” Just like the Stranger Things team, the writers of Altered States embellished history in the name of Hollywood drama. Dr. Lilly’s initial research never describes a belief in alternate realities, but instead, his original goal was to discover whether ANY reality existed without external sensory input. Once that question was answered, Dr. Lilly shifted focus toward interspecies communication, preferring to commune with dolphins rather than explore new worlds. While his research may have veered off into some eccentric theories, all were grounded in our shared reality.

You can build your own float tank with materials just laying around the house (or school gym): MYTH-ish

Do a quick online search and you’ll find thousands of ways to build your own float tank…but none of them recommend using a plastic swimming pool and the expertise of the middle school science club, à la Stranger Things. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to build and maintain float tanks, but even the at-home variety look similar to what you’ll find at your local float center.

With Halloween approaching, True REST wants to know: What Are You Afraid Of? From myth-busting to floating facts, call your local True REST location to find out more and float with ease.

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