Flotation Tanks: Background information when reading What Becomes

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

What Becomes

Stories

by A.L. Kennedy

What Becomes by A.L. Kennedy
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2010, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 224 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Flotation Tanks

Print Review

"My head will keep on racing throughout this, I have no doubt," declares the speaker at the beginning of "Saturday Teatime" as she embarks on her first experience in the device known as a flotation tank, sensory deprivation tank, or isolation tank. And as she predicts, her thoughts do indeed surge in multiple directions, dredging up painful memories as she lies in salted water within an encapsulated space that she compares to a cupboard. Sealed inside this womb-like, completely dark container, she tries to reassure herself that "this must seem only snug and homely, buoyant: no overtones of drowning, suggestions of creatures that rise from unlikely depths, hints of noise underneath the silence, eager."

The neuropsychiatrist John C. Lilly created the first flotation tank in 1954 to test the hypothesis that the brain could not only function without external stimuli but would also enter a relaxed state conducive to meditation and enhanced creativity. After using the tank himself, he found this to be the case, but flotation only entered the public consciousness on a larger scale in the late 1970s, when two scientists expanded on Lilly's ideas to create Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST). Such sessions in the tank usually last an hour, the last 20 minutes of which are marked by a shift in brainwave patterns. The beta waves that mark the typical waking mental state change to theta waves, indicative of deep relaxation. Many tank users find the experience extremely refreshing albeit initially frightening, and REST claims to treat many physiological and psychological conditions, including anxiety, depression, pain, insomnia, and even jet lag.

Flotation tanks perhaps enjoyed their biggest boost with the 1980 release of the film "Altered States," based on a novel by Paddy Chayevsky. Starring William Hurt as a zealous psychological researcher, the film opens with a shot of Hurt floating in a tank, electrodes attached to his head. In one particularly dramatic scene, he regresses to a primitive state after ingesting hallucinogenic substances in the tank, then breaks out of the lab to feast on a sheep in a nearby zoo. Although this scene is clearly science-fiction, it is based on a real experience that Lilly had while floating, when one of his colleagues outside the tank began having an intense drug reaction and commenced screaming and jumping up and down. When Lilly later asked him what had happened, the scientist replied that he had "become" a pre-hominid man trapped in a tree by a leopard!

The flotation tank is very much a product of its time: in the 1950s and '60s, scientists increasingly began exploring altered states of consciousness, often by implementing the hallucinogens that were still legal in the United States (LSD and psilocybin were outlawed in 1968, mescaline in 1970). Lilly himself claimed to have had powerful, life-altering experiences while taking LSD in the tank. However, flotation therapy today has repositioned itself as an "alternative" practice most commonly found in spas rather than in murky laboratory basements. While some people become claustrophobic in the tank, many relish the opportunity to block the constant flow of external stimuli that bombards them and to enjoy their own altered state, floating as weightlessly as an astronaut in space.

Article by Marnie Colton

This article was originally published in April 2010, and has been updated for the April 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Goodbye Days
    Goodbye Days
    by Jeff Zentner
    Guilt can be a heavy burden for anyone to manage, but it's especially difficult for teenagers. ...
  • Book Jacket: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    by Hannah Tinti
    Hannah Tinti follows her spectacular 2008 debut, The Good Thief, with a novel of uncommon ...
  • Book Jacket: Music of the Ghosts
    Music of the Ghosts
    by Vaddey Ratner
    Music of the Ghosts is about healing and forgiveness, but it is also about identity and the revival ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Stars Are Fire
    by Anita Shreve

    An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Manderley Forever
    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

I write to add to the beauty that now belongs to me

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -