Tag Archives: telepathy

103 – Floating Into Altered States: Exploring Consciousness Through Sensory Deprivation

Here’s an episode chock full of paranormal goodness. First, I tell Wendy and Allison about the time that I worked for Miss Cleo (because sadly, the actress who portrayed her, Youree Dell Harris, passed away last week.) Second, Allison and I were recording on location from [Milwaukee’s haunted Hilton Garden Inn](hilton garden inn milwaukee haunted). We decided to make it a paranormal siblings’ adventure day and not only stayed at the haunted hotel, but also did our first float in a sensory deprivation tank.

Wait… what? Okay, a sensory deprivation tank is a pod filled with body temperature water and about 500 pounds of epsom salt, so that when you get in it, you immediately float. They were invented in 1954 by neuropsychiatrist John C. Lilly. There was a theory floating (see what I did there?) around at the time that the brain depended on external stimuli to work and th

john c. lilly father of floating
John C. Lilly – looking conspicuously like Hunter S. Thompson

at without any stimulus, it would just fall asleep. These tanks were designed to test that theory.

olivia dunham fringe floating
Olivia from Fringe taking a dip

Sensory deprivation tanks were featured in Fringe where in the first episode, FBI Agent Olivia Dunham goes in the tank with a wide variety of hallucinogens to try and speak with the mind of her deceased partner and lover. Dr. Walter Bishop, the mad scientist featured on Fringe would often go in the tank under the influence of LSD as well.  In the recent Netflix show, Stranger Things, a tank is featured as a way to facilitate psychic communication.

william hurt altered states floating tank
When are the jets supposed to turn on?

Most famously, though, is the film Altered States where William Hurt portrays a scientist exploring the origin of consciousness inside the sensory deprivation tank. In the tank he devolves to a primitive human state and even a non-physical conscious entity. The author of the novel and screenplay, Paddy Chayefsky, was one of the most important writers during the Golden Age of Television and his work was heavily influenced by John C. Lilly’s research. In fact, in an interview with Omni in 1983, Lilly talked about how much he liked the film

The scene in which the scientist becomes cosmic energy and his wife grabs him and brings him back to human form is straight out of my Dyadic Cyclone (1976)…As for the scientist’s regression into an ape-like being, the late Dr. Craig Enright, who started me on K (ketamine) while taking a trip with me here by the isolation tank, suddenly “became” a chimp, jumping up and down and hollering for twenty-five minutes. Watching him, I was frightened. I asked him later, “Where the hell were you?” He said, “I became a pre-hominid, and I was in a tree. A leopard was trying to get me. So I was trying to scare him away.” The manuscript of The Scientist (1978) was in the hands of Bantam, the publishers. The head of Bantam called and said, “Paddy Chayefsky would like to read your manuscript. Will you give him your permission?” I said, “Only if he calls me and asks permission.” He didn’t call. But he probably read the manuscript.

Allison sprung for gift certificates from Float Milwaukee for Christmas presents this year and that’s where we did our float. I’ll walk you through what happens…

float milwaukee
Just a nice and inconspicuous place in Walkers Point…

So, once you walk in the door, you take off your street shoes and put on shower shoes, which I haven’t seen anyone use since I was in the college dormitory. So, different shoes, it’s like bowling!

IMG_4388

Then you sign in at the front desk. This was Allison, who has been at Float Milwaukee since it opened and she spent time explaining the floating process to us and endured our litany of questions about what to expect, experiences that she’s had, and if anyone there has had paranormal encounters while in the floatation tank.

She also asks you to sign the legal waiver in case anything does happen in the floatation tank. Anytime things involve laying around  in water, I suppose there’s going to be some liability issues.

Float Milwaukee Allison
Just sign the waiver and I’ll keep smiling…

From there you go into the back where everyone gets their own little room with a floatation tank. This part feels more like a doctor’s office than some New Age-y hippity dippity thing.

Float Milwaukee
BEHOLD THE HALLWAY OF CONSCIOUSNESS

And here it is, the sensory deprivation tank with its science fiction-y blue light. It looks like a big Pac Man that’s coming to eat you!

Float Milwaukee
Feed me, Seymour!

So, I wore a swimsuit and a beach outfit, but nope, this is a full naked experience – like a tanning bed without the cancer! You take a quick shower before you get in. A calm female voice tells you when it’s time to get in.

Float Milwaukee
I totally should have worked out more before taking this picture…

And that’s it, then you’re in the tank. And you float very easily, your whole back of your head does dunk in and so your ears will be underwater, so get ready for that feeling. But other than that, it feels nice and easy. There’s enough space above your head so you don’t feel claustrophobic, it’s not like a coffin.

You can choose to keep the light on and some meditative music playing if you want or you can keep it totally dark and silent with nothing but the beating of your heart. I kept the light on for a little while because I liked feeling like I was in the future, but eventually I went to total darkness and silence.

And then you relax or you think or you meditate or you heal, basically you do whatever you want in your head. It’s forced relaxation for an hour with no interruptions, no mobile notifications, no anything… it’s called sensory deprivation for a reason because you’re eliminating all external stimuli and it’s wonderful. We did a little telepathy experiment where my brother-in-law tried to send a one-word message that my sister and I tried to receive, so I was paying attention to the words that popped into my head as well.

After the hour is up, you hear the same calm female voice letting you know it’s time to get out. You jump in the shower again to wash the salt off and can head to the post-float dressing room to dry and style your hair and reapply your makeup.

IMG_4394

After that, it’s a trip(!) to the decompression room where they have some nice teas (the Equilibrium was my personal favorite) and you can journal about your experience as well as see what others have had to say about theirs.
IMG_4401And here I am in the post-float afterglow enjoying that Equilibrium tea. While I didn’t get the one-word psychic message right nor did I experience any hallucinogenic effects or devolution, it was a wonderful meditative and relaxing experience.

float milwaukee
That’s my fake smile when I’m wishing there was alcohol in my cup!

Overall, floating was pretty awesome and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. They even have overnight floats in case you want to spend a nice long time exploring your consciousness. We don’t get any referrals or kickback from Float Milwaukee, but I would very much recommend them . The staff (Glenn and Allison) were friendly and knowledgeable and the whole place was very clean and safe.

For the Sunspot song this week, we picked the first song of our very first album, Radio Free Earth. Part of the fun of floating is the feeling of weightlessness. Too many things in our lives weigh us down, we build up too much and let go too little. That’s what this song is about, here is “Artificial Gravity”.



Put on old St. Christopher,
And strap up on my pack,
Because I think that it’s time for me to go.
There’s no use in loving somebody,
Who doesn’t love you back,
And I think that it’s time for me to go.

And I think I lost my heart in artificial gravity,
I was living in a hologram of only you and me.
If the world was right, you would be
famous and trendy.
And if the world was just,
you’d be a star.
Like the way I feel you are.

Shine on…
I know I have to go but don’t forget me when I’m gone.
Shine on…
One thousand miles into the night, you’ll be the brightest star in my sky.

History repeats itself,
This time I’ll make things right,
but I think that it’s time for me to go.
We’ll figure it out, I tell myself,
so I can make it through the night.
But I think that it’s time for me to go.

And I think I lost my heart in artificial gravity,
I was living in a hologram of only you and me.
If the world was right, you would be
famous and trendy.
And if the world was just,
you’d be a star.
Like the way I feel you are.

Shine on…
I know I have to go but don’t forget me when I’m gone.
Shine on…
One thousand miles into the night, you’ll be the brightest star in my sky.

74 – Science of the Supernatural: An Interview with Dr. Nancy Zingrone

Ever since seeing Bill Murray use the Zener Deck in an experiment in the beginning of Ghostbusters, I wanted to become a parapsychologist. After all, what could be cooler than investigating psychic phenomena? There’s a “science of the supernatural”? People get paid to do research into ESP? You can have that as a job? Sign me up!

Zener Deck
The symbols of the Zener Deck

I even made my own Zener Deck in fifth grade and did an experiment  with the other kids in the class. Sunspot’s guitarist, Ben and I got 21 out of 25 cards correct when we did it. And spookily enough when I did a Ganzfeld procedure (that’s a sensory deprivation experiment) in college, Ben and I got a 100% hit rate when it was our turn the experiment, so I guess we don’t have an excuse when we mess up onstage anymore!

ganzfeld procedure
I can’t believe that ping pong ball eyeglass invention hasn’t taken off yet!

Well, as the years passed and I started getting more and more into music and entertainment, my dreams of becoming a research scientist faded into the background for the glamorous life of being an independent musician (ha!) But I always told people (with my tongue only half in my cheek) that being a parapsychologist was my Plan B. Now, with the podcast and haunted history tours I get the best of both worlds, but a part of me still yearns to do research of a more scientific kind into the unknown. That’s why it was such a delight to have Dr. Nancy Zingrone on the show to talk about her parapsychological journey. She’s a parapsychologist and professor originally from the Chicago area who has been conducting research in the field for over three decades.

We start this episode with a quick aside about Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead, who passed away shortly after Christmas. In his last interview, he must have known that the end was coming because he talked a lot about death as well as if he ever came back to haunt other musicians, it would be Tears for Fears! We always loved a little Motörhead in the Sunspot van while traveling, where Lemmy would sometimes make his presence known by one of us singing “It’s time to play the game!” at random times.

Interviewing Nancy was especially exciting because she worked as a Visiting Scholar at the Rhine Research Center at Duke University for over a decade. Just a little background, J.B. Rhine and his wife Dr. Louisa Rhine were scientists who viewed psi phenomena as a branch of abnormal psychology and they worked to professionalize the field in the United States in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  They developed a research center at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina where they studied phenomena like ESP, poltergeists, ghosts, and telekinesis.

In the interview, Nancy tells us how she got interested in the field, how she found love in psychic research (her husband Dr. Carlos Alvarado is a formidable researcher and teacher in his own right) and some her favorite experiments. She also discusses the challenges that a budding scientist faces in a field that’s often considered outside of the scientific mainstream. In fact, many of the research centers that are set up (like the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh) only exist because of a monetary donation from someone rich that’s fascinated with the topic. Like in Scotland, the research unit exists because an author named Arthur Koestler donated his entire estate to a university that would research the paranormal. Oxford and Cambridge declined, Edinburgh University didn’t.

Nancy has some excellent advice, though, for people who are looking to get into the field:

  1. Follow your passion
    If you’re interested in history, physics, psychology, etc… then get trained in it. You are encouraged to start on the conventional academic path and develop your science-y skills (even J.B. Rhine started out as a botanist!)
  2. Get collateral education in parapsychology
    There are lots of courses that you can take online from real scientists so that you can get introduced to the methodology. Nancy and Carlos have a Massively Open Online Course that starts this month and is FREE, so you can see lectures and discuss these topics with top experts in the field. Really, you should sign up for this right away if you’re interested!
  3. Find a professor that will let you write your papers on parapsychological themes
    When I was an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin, I had the chance to write some of my reports on parapsychological topics in my psychology courses. That was in the 90s, but there should even be more opportunities now. After all, universities are the cultural center for independent thought, right?
  4. Check out the schools that take on graduate and doctorate students in parapsychology and go there!
    Sure, you might have to go to Germany or Brazil, but travel is good for you! Here’s an awesome list of resources of universities and colleges that offer courses in parapsychology.

You can find more about Nancy and her husband’s teaching and research at The AZIRE website (The Alvarado Zingrone Institute for Research and Education) where they have lots of information about their online courses (they’re even in Second Life, which sounds like a lot of fun!) and you can even read their published papers.

And make sure to check out their Facebook community for Parapsychology Online, it’s a great place to talk more about research, experiences, and advances in the field of easily the coolest science!

This week’s Sunspot song is all about reading minds, just like that “Zener Deck” experiment.

Can you read my mind?
do you know what I mean?
Can you tell what I’m thinking?
Because there’s nothing clean.
You’re inside my head,
it’s just a bottleneck,
these words don’t need to be said,
like a Zener Deck.
I felt you on the edges, taking a peek inside,
Seeing a couple stick figures making wavy lines.
You don’t need to be psychic to unlock,

my intentions are as clear as circle, a cross, a star, and a box

Can you read my mind?
do you know what I mean?
Can you tell what I’m thinking?
Because there’s nothing clean.
You’re inside my head,
it’s just a bottleneck,
these words don’t need to be said,
like a Zener Deck.
What do you think you’re going to find out?
I don’t know what you think you know.
A brain on the lookout for a freakout.
I don’t know what you think you know.
Can you read my mind?
do you know what I mean?
Can you tell what I’m thinking?
Because there’s nothing clean.
You’re inside my head,
it’s just a bottleneck,
these words don’t need to be said,
like a Zener Deck.
I can read you like a Zener Deck.
I can read you like a Zener Deck.
I can read you like a Zener Deck.
I can read you like a Zener Deck.