Free Thinking

Fringe and floating

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There are no boundaries to where an isolation tank will take you in the world of “Fringe.”

FBI agent Olivia Dunham, the lead character on the TV series, uses floating – combined with psychedelic drugs and electrodes placed on her body – to enter the consciousness of a comatose former lover.

Floating is a major plot device during the during the first season of the show, which ran from 2008 to 2013. Olivia, played by Anna Torv, uses the float tank to enter the mind of her boyfriend John Scott, played by Mark Valley. John is in a coma after an accident in the debut episode.

Olivia uses psychedelic drugs to aid her journey into a different state of consciousness. Electrodes hooked to her brain and linked to John’s brain allow them to enter a shared dream state together.

After her initial session in the tank, Olivia finds part of John’s consciousness has crossed over to her mind. She begins to have hallucinations and waking dreams as her mind tries to purge itself of John’s memories. When he dies, Olivia continues to use the tank to access John’s memories that are trapped in her subconscious. Those memories contain vital information pertaining to a vast conspiracy involving a parallel world.

Eventually a session in the tank allows Olivia to not just access John’s memories, but finally connect with his consciousness as though he was still alive. This is only a temporary connection before John is finally completely purged from her mind.

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Many of the feats accomplished on “Fringe” through using an isolation tank are purely fiction. One thing that “Fringe” does get right is that isolation tanks can be used to access memories, just maybe not those of your dead boyfriend.

Isolation tanks are the perfect way to explore the subconscious. Floating opens the door to meditate, problem solve, and even work out your next big idea. Olivia uses the tank to explore memories trapped in her subconscious, but real life floating can also help you visit your subconscious. Floating lets you relax and purge your stressful thoughts of the day, so that more pleasant thoughts or memories may take their place. Floating is a perfect way to visualize a creative thought or revisit childhood memories.

Floating is designed to learn from the past, enjoy the present and embrace the future. As long as your session doesn’t involve a mad scientist and electrodes linking you to a comatose person, it should be an experience in complete bliss. 

Does floating equal brainwashing?

Floating and brainwashing have some unusual historical connections.

Will floating open the door to brainwashing?

Seems like a crazy concept at first thought. Brainwashing conjures up all sorts of negative imagery. The concept of brainwashing is associated with spies, assassination plots and other sorts of intrigue you would find in a good political thriller. Is it that true to life?

Early uses of flotation tanks did include brainwashing experiments. Fears spread during the Korean War that North Korean and Soviet communist leaders engaged in brainwashing captured American soldiers to embrace communist propaganda. This sparked an interest in the U.S. Government finding ways to control a person’s brain to counteract such brainwashing attempts.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) first used isolation tanks forbrainwashing experiments in 1954. People participating in these experiments were submerged in sensory deprivation tanks for extended periods of time. The results were startling.


Participants reported experiencing everything from vivid hallucinations to blank periods where they were unable to form cognitive thoughts after less than two hours in the tank. Depriving them of senses for longer periods boosted their cravings for any form of sensory stimulation. These desires made them more willing to mold their behavior to get what they wanted.

NIMH researchers concluded a person who underwent extensive sensory deprivation could be influenced into making profound changes in their values and behavior. Essentially, an isolation tank could be used to strip a person of free will for a short time.

It sounds scary. The good news is that such forced changes were temporary. A person changed back to their normal personality and behavior once returning to their normal environment. This made the idea of using isolation tanks for long-term brainwashing impractical and the concept was abandoned.


There is nothing sinister about floating these days. Regular sessions in an isolation tank can be quite therapeutic. Floating can help people find solutions to many problems affecting their lives. It has been used by people who are looking for ways to treat anxiety, depression, stress and even curb addictions to drugs or alcohol.

Brainwashing isn’t an appropriate concept to associate with floating. Nothing about floating is predicated on a loss of free will. The brain can be changed through doing it, but the changes are through a conscious choice made by the floater.

Joe Rogan takes on floating

Rogan uses floating to unlock incredible mental journeys. 

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Joe Rogan knows floating. There’s no celebrity who has devoted more time to unlocking the secrets of what an isolation tank can do for the human mind.

Rogan made a career out of pushing ordinary people to their limits on the popular NBC series “Fear Factor.” Each episode featured contestants facing their deepest fears through completing physically or mentally challenging stunts. They learned more about themselves through facing and conquering the fears represented in those stunts.

Rogan has applied the principle of testing limits to his own life. He has given many interviews in recent years chronicling the metaphysical journeys he has undertaken while experimenting with floating in an isolation tank.

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For Rogan, time spent in an isolation tank is time devoted to evolving one’s mind. He described it in one video interview as “the most bizarre physical experience I have had in my life.”

During each floating session, Rogan spends 20 minutes experiencing a life review. This gives Rogan a chance to see what issues he needs to resolve in his life and which of his choices are correct. From there, he lets go of his thoughts and enters into a state of pure relaxation.

“Your body gives you amazing energy,” Rogan says. “The tension release you have in your body from a couple of hours in the tank is incredible. You feel lighter. You feel like more oxygen is in your body. You feel more vibrant. And it’s because somehow you have calmed the tension.”

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What happens next to Rogan feels like it could be ripped from the realm of science fiction. He describes losing his feeling of boundaries. The feeling of the water, the air and his skin all vanish and evaporate like a mist.

Rogan eventually reaches a point where he passes through all physical boundaries and feels like he has become a being of pure energy. He is truly at one with the universe.

Rogan equates the mental effects of floating in an isolation tank with an onion. Each session peels back a new layer in his mind.

“Everybody should do the tank,” Rogan says. “You will learn more about yourself than any other way.”

That’s advice no one should be afraid to follow.

Entering the Floating Zone

You’re in an isolation tank – completely removed from the outside world and detached from external stimuli. If you have ever frequented an isolation tank, you know that your journey is all a state of mind. The experience for any two people is never exactly the same.

Some people enjoy a state of extreme meditation and relaxation. Others see images, hear sounds and experience tastes and smells that feel as real as the water supporting their body. What you experience really does depend on you.

You control how much you shut out the outside world. You alone are in charge of how you prepare yourself to reach the degree of isolation you desire.

As the song says, free your mind and the rest will follow. Such a sentiment rings true in an isolation tank much more so than outside one.

Your focus should turn to finding that sweet spot of meditation and relaxation. Those thoughts can keep you from getting there if you are trying to hard to force it. Many people find it helpful to stop focusing on meditating and let it happen naturally. When you allow your body and mind to relax at it’s own pace, peace and serenity are just on the other side of the door.

Breathe it in. Let your mind wander. Don’t try to control the situation. It can feel so liberating and productive once you invite free thinking and free feeling. That is the whole purpose behind floating. Trying to control what you see, what you hear and what you feel is foreign to what floating is designed to do for you.