Food for Thought

"If I float at night I can't sleep," says Zeiger. "Which is interesting since you come out feeling like you could go right to sleep."

His tank is actually a spacious, soundproof, light-tight float "room" with over 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts dissolved in 10 inches of body-temperature water. Structurally, it is a far cry from the eerie chambers designed by counterculture psychoanalyst Lilly or the capsule-like tank in Altered States, the movie inspired by Lilly's research. But the promises are still grand: reduced stress, lowered blood pressure, accelerated healing, enhanced learning, whole-brain integration, heightened creativity.

Zeiger closes off his living quarters, and I slip into the float room, slowly lowering myself into heavy, aquamarine water before switching off the light. I blink. Nothing but the sound of my eyelids blinking. Click, click. I hear my heart. More strangely, I feel it beating, in my back not in my chest. I hear blood pumping at my temples. I blink again. Click, click. I listen to the saliva sliding down my throat. It tinkles like crushed ice. I try to relax, to allow the salt to hold my head above the waterline, and I wait. Neuroscientists speak of sensory filler, phantom noises, lights, touches. During the Dark Dining Project, I experienced a blur of movement out of the corner of one eye, but when I moved my arm in the same place, I could see nothing at all. Here, the first sensations arrive as sounds: distant laughter, a muffled television, the acceleration of a car, the scribbling of pencil on paper. After the sounds cycle through once, there is nothing. I watch the blackness, listen to my breath, and wait for my brain. Soon, I feel pressure and warmth on my arm. I think I might be touching the wall, so I spread out my fingers, into nothing. Complete blackness. I start to lose perspective of the size of the tank. It seems massive. Moving my fingers makes me feel like I'm rotating slowly. Then I begin to see swirling shapes, like a kaleidoscope of geometric shadows. No color. Only swirling, refracting shades of gray. When the music starts up to let me know that my hour is over, I feel like I have been sleeping, but there is no waking-up moment. I only know that I want to stay for at least another hour.

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