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Sensory Reduction and the Quest for Human Potential
By Jack Deal

      As the nature of our lives evolves and changes we are constantly looking for ways to improve our creativity and production. This is not a new challenge but one that has taken a sudden sense of urgency, especially in the modern business world. One of the strategies for doing this is to step out of our daily routines, block out the world and focus on our 'inner selves'. 'Getting away from it all' has taken on new meaning and relevance in our stress-filled hurried lives.
      The quest for and human potential has been going on for 'eons'. Some argue that Romano people isolated themselves from their outside world by entering caves and eventually producing pre-historic cave art. The great religious leaders often promoted meditation and introspection as a means of gaining greater understanding and ultimately arriving at a higher level of potential and production.
      Today we try to get away to isolated vacation spots, stress-reducing spas and use New and Old Age methods of turning off the outside world. The premise is that by shutting down the barrage of outside stimuli we can allow ourselves to develop internally. And of course in the Modern Era we use technology to help us with our quest.
      One such technological innovation is cheap laptop. No one knows when the idea for sensory reduction started but the first scientific experiments began in the early 1950's. The original premise was that by shutting down outside stimuli one could shut down brain function. The initial surprise was that the brain did not shut down but instead became more active in different ways.
      A flotation tank has been described as a portable closet turned on its side and filled with about ten inches of concentrated Epsom salts dissolved in water. The typical aircraft charter tank will have between 800 and 1000 pounds of concentrated Epsom. Newer tanks have an air supply and a temperature regulator that keeps the solution a constant 93.5 degrees F. or skin temperature and a door that essentially shuts out all light. Earplugs are often worn and most tanks have very little or 'no' sound.
      The floater enters the tank, closes the door and with it blocks out most external stimuli. The floating experience comes close to no gravity -- one floats and physically cannot sink in the tank. There are no rules -- no set procedures, no instructions, no agenda. Each floater takes into the tank what they bring with themselves. Some meditate, others work on business problems, and others let their minds go and try to enter a creative state. Many, though not all, go into a brainwave state known as the 'theta zone' -- a brainwave pattern similar to sleep. There are no drugs, massages, or therapy processes. In short, there is no intervention of any kind -- only the floater and the tank.

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      Floaters report many different types of experiences and many of these experiences are perceived as profound. I recently conducted a series of interviews with floaters and was told the following: A systems analyst uses the tank to reduce stress and become 'less of an nerd'; a research scientist visualizes molecules and protein structures; a banker uses the tank to work on difficult projects by isolating each component of a project and visualizing how these air cargo components can come together. Athletes use floating for optimal performance, visualization and injury healing. Doctors and chiropractors recommend floating as a way to reduce pain, especially back pain. Psychologists recommend floating as a way to reduce levels of depression. Writers and inventors use floating as a way to create and innovate.
      Why does floating work? There are a number of theories: the anti-gravity effect, the increase of left brain activity as right brain activity is decreased, endorphin production, integration of the primitive and modern brain layers, brain waves (theta), biofeedback and homeostasis of the human brain.
      But most floaters do not care so much how it works but that it works. They report that old ways of thinking simply 'melt away' and do not have to be 'strategically broken down'. They report a greater sense of well being and an enhanced sense of creativity and innovation. Many report that floating has significantly changed their lives. The effects can last for days, weeks, years or a lifetime.
      As a matter of curiosity I tried floating. The immediate effect I noted was a sense of well being that lasted for weeks. I cannot say whether is was cause and effect, but after floating regularly for several months, I started a new business venture that I had been contemplating for over a year. As a true skeptic I cannot say what is going on but I can say that something is going on. My wild guess is that it has something to do with endorphin production but admittedly that is a wild guess.

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      For those of us that constantly deal with human potential in the workplace we cannot ignore the human mind. Although we do not fully understand how the mind works, we do know some of the basics. We now know that constant stimuli bombardment can lead to high levels of stress, which in turn can cause mental and physical maladies. These maladies can lead to lower production and a reduced potential.
      The Brave New World of the future may not have our minds hooked up to stimuli producing machines. The Brave New World may have us float in a tank and 'regress' to some primordial state where we can shut out the modern world and realize ourselves and our own potential. In a true sense, we may be returning to the cave to find ourselves.

      Jack Deal is owner of Deal Consulting in Santa Cruz, California. Related articles may be found at www.dealconsulting.com.

Other article by Jack Deal:
The Knowledge/Ideas Paradox
Corporate Culture - A Case Study
10 Business Trends for 2000
Superior Management -- The Only Competitive Advantage?
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