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If a human being was put into a stasis, where they experience time significantly faster, how long would it be until they go completely insane?

  • In the stasis, everything is pitch black, and there is nothing to see, hear, touch, smell, taste or feel except for themselves
  • The person is very intelligent and strong willed
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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    May 18, 2021 at 6:30

4 Answers 4

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I cannot give you a definite answer since there is very little experimental research on this topic. Most of the available data come from the mid-20th century (voluntary confinement and isolation, experiments often end prematurely due to experimentees developing psychotic symptoms) or studies of prisoners and solitary confinement (no full sensory deprivation and a lot of pre-existing issues). There are almost no studies of the long-term effects of solitary confinement or sensory deprivation. A significant part of contemporary understanding of the long-lasting harm of isolation is based on studies of people who are not fully isolated, confined, or sensory deprived, for example, isolated elderly.

Your question also includes 'completely insane' (or 'stark raving nuts' in the comments), which is not how psychiatric disorders are conceptualised or diagnosed. For the purposes of this answer, I will assume that you are talking about chronic mental disorders with psychotic symptoms. In other words, I will assume that you are talking about permanent damage to one's psyche that manifests as behaviours or thoughts that lead to abnormal personal functioning and at the same time cause a person to experience loss of (or difficulty in) contact with reality (aka not knowing what is real and what is not).

Willpower and intelligence are less important than:

  1. reasons for being in the stasis (voluntary or as a punishment),
  2. genetic predisposition for psychopathology,
  3. history of psychological trauma, and
  4. psychological training for isolation and sensory deprivation.

Involuntary or forced stasis will lead to a faster appearance of symptoms of sensory deprivation (hallucinations, anxiety, distorted thoughts, etc.) and increase their lasting effects.

Genetic predisposition is studied, but so far it is not entirely clear how it works and what triggers specific disorders. Still, genetic predisposition is an important factor when it comes to chronic mental illness and combined with the trauma of your stasis will most likely aggravate the symptoms and speed up the development of psychopathologies.

People with a history of psychological traumas that were not resolved and/or left their personalities vulnerable are at higher risk of developing abnormal mental conditions. In other words, these people break faster and often louder.

Psychological training for isolation and sensory deprivation increases resilience to these conditions. Any person who has received such training will manifest pathological symptoms later. This training may also provide some protection against long-term detrimental effects. However, no training can give absolute protection. Every person has a limit.

Going back to 'completely insane', I would estimate that it will take at most 6 months of 'brain time' (see note) in stasis to inflict permanent damage that will result in a mental illness with psychotic symptoms. Please note that the majority of people will not last that long. I think 3 months will be the average time needed to achieve your goal.

This estimate is based on the following considerations.

In the 1951 experiment (solitary confinement + limited sensory deprivation) at McGill University subjects started to exhibit pathological symptoms within 7 days. Not even one person lasted more than that. Near-total sensory deprivation can cause psychosis-like symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, and alike) in just 15 min.

Long-term solitary confinement (22.5+ hours a day, little to no contact with other human beings, lasting for several months or years) causes permanent damage resulting in a variety of mental disorders, including the ones of the psychotic spectrum. I mostly read court testimonies made by clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, so I am not totally sure how fast one should be released from confinement to experience no long-lasting effects. For my calculations, I used 10 years as 'guaranteed to produce permanent damage'.

Experiments on mice showed that over 1 month of sensory deprivation leads to detrimental structural changes in the neural system. These changes are consistent with changes in brain tissues observed in inmates who spent a long time in solitary confinement.


P.S. Trioxidane makes a good point about structural changes in the brain necessary for long-term damage to one's psyche. However, I tend to agree with AlexP's comment that it is impossible to have mental activity without a functioning body. I can reluctantly imagine that your technology can somehow slow down the metabolism of the body while keeping the brain working. But I cannot find a feasible explanation for mental activity without the brain being active. And if the brain is active it will be restructuring itself. Therefore, I do not see Trioxidane's reasoning that there will be no lasting damage as realistic.

It is up to you to decide what your technology can and cannot do.


Note on 'brain time'

This answer relies on our modern understanding of psychology and neuropsychology and seeks to minimise handwaving. One of the most important assumptions is that any permanent psychological damage can be accomplished only via changes in brain structure and function. My time estimate implies physical detrimental changes to the person's brain.

Since the body is in stasis (whatever it is and however it works) and the metabolism is altered, the time required for physical changes in the brain may vary greatly depending on the specifics of the stasis. I use 'brain time' as a workaround for this. 'Brain time' is subjective time. One month of 'brain time' equals one month of unaltered, normal metabolism.

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    $\begingroup$ I assumed some magical thinking. There is no reason why a stasis would decrease the body and metabolism, while increasing the speed of one of the most power hungry organs in the body. But now I reread it I see I misread the original question. Going to edit it a little bit. Still, slow metabolism means slow changes, so it would wholly depend on the speed those changes would occur. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    May 17, 2021 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane Please do not take my words as a personal attack. I think you made a very good point. I also agree that if the OP uses some kind of magic your answer would be the most plausible. As for the brain, when I read the OP's 'a stasis, where they experience time significantly faster' I start to suspect that the brain will be sped up instead of slowed down if my understanding of the relationship between brain and mental activity is correct. So, it is possible that my time estimate is over-conservative. But my speciality is psychology, not neuroscience. I hope someone can clarify this. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    May 17, 2021 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't see it as a personal attack. You have some good points which are mostly in line with my thinking. That is why I have upvoted. But after your answer I reread the question, and I think the person isn't thinking faster. They are experiencing more time, as they are nearly frozen and looking out to the world speeding by. The neurons take quite a lot of energy, so they are incredibly dependent on the speed of the body. Also it might actually disrupt the whole system, as the timings of the electricity is likely off, unless it's equally affected by the stasis. (...) $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    May 17, 2021 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ If the electricity wouldn't be affected, action potentials would arrive at high speeds. The synapse might not have enough time to react to the electricity and would be under stimulated, releasing less chemicals into the synaptic gap. That would mean all communication, including the brain, would be affected, resulting in nearly no brain function. This can't be the case, as things like the heart heavily depends on these signals to come through correctly. Otherwise cardiac arrest, among other things, would be killing the person the moment stasis is activated, nor can the person have experience. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    May 17, 2021 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Praearcturus try to express it as time flow for body and mind as it seen by external obserer, like body time 1/1 mind time faster 10/1 or slower 1/10, define some metric and use it. Was thknking about some shadow concessnes by some nanogue, but seem not the case, sad, lol $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    May 17, 2021 at 12:42
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Sensory deprivation tanks

Short answer: we don't know, but it heavily depends on the person. With stasis likely irrelevant.

Long answer: the closest thing to your idea is a sensory deprivation tank, with the flotation version nring the most close. Here everything can be "turned off". Smell, proprioception, feeling of gravity, everything*. In these tanks people often feel relaxed and are able to meditate. Short term this is about an hour. However, when it endures some people can experience extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, temporary senselessness, and depression. None of this is permanent and with the difficulties of keeping people fed and the tank clean over time it probably hasn't been used for extensive periods of time. This makes it very difficult to judge when someone could go full blown crazy.

What was already hinted at is individual differences. The thing is that an intelligent strong willed person can be hit with crazy just the same. Intelligence means they can focus more on unpleasant things, among others. Intelligent people vs low intelligent people in identical social situations tend to have less happy intelligent people. Anyone can go crazy. In the tanks you could already get hallucinations in the hour regsrdless of Intelligence and strong will. Permanence of crazy is difficult, as again we don't really know and individual differences apply. A day could be enough, or a week.

The difference here is the stasis. This is important, because going crazy requires a structural change in the brain and hormones. Craziness and trauma need change to get results! However unpleasant the experience is and however bad the person feels, if there is no change in the brain it can't be remembered or be extensively focused upon. The difference between a day and a month would be (near) impossible to notice. So if there's stasis but somehow the brain is still thinking, the whole brain could be "tripping balls" for years with little to no effect.

In your case it seems the metabolism has slowed a lot, so they experience time significantly faster. That means it is wholly dependent on how fast the body is working during stasis. If an hour body time happens in several decades, centuries or even thousands of years, the person can just feel like she/he was in a sensory deprivation tank. The years in stasis don't matter, it would matter how much time the body has experienced. If the body experiences extended time periods, like a day or a week, there might be trauma/psychological damage that is easily treatable, or someone could get so hung up on it that they will be half crazy and getting crazier even after being out.

So it really depends on the strength of the stasis and the psychological strength of the person. The only thing is that he/she should still get some sustenance if the body is experiencing a week of activity during the time in stasis, but you might have that covered.

*individual differences apply.

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  • $\begingroup$ These tanks would also likely be the practicing tool of choice. Potential stasis candidates start at an hour (which afaik is the regular irl session length), and then add up to maybe 24 hrs. (with a hydration tube or so) as a test $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    May 17, 2021 at 10:53
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There is no general answer.

Time (subjective in your case) mentiont in Otkin's answer is realistic, so as suggestion to not rely on strong will that much.

Trioxidane's answer is another basis vector, when mind is significantly disconnected from the body processes.

As the result you can handwave whatever and still be in realm of possible.

Not sure if it is good to recomend, but there is guy on youtube telling all sorts of grim stories, mrBallen, and some times people can be as fragile as dandelion, some times they can be tough as rock, some times they go insane at snap of a fingers, sometimes they bounce back after 2 years of insanity.

  • (Stories are definetly not for everyone, and absolytley nobody wish to be a character of those, nobody, but if you can bear that, there are lessons to learn, so as to see that people are more complex than one typically think they are. But you absolutley can live without that knowledge, do not recomend.)

Brain regions structure and functions also plays a significant role, be able to cut out weeks and years of expirience and memories(sort of, not how it works). And there, so far, no way to tell all those things beforehand.

In essence one can or can't, does or dosen't. Strong will can carry a lot, but it isn't a magic but part of processes of neurobiological activity, and when senses are cut it is a significant distubance in signal field of those processe, so boat can rock over no matter how strong the will is in typical conditions. Brain activity is dynamic process, which relays, or shaped in the way to expect external simulation for proper work.

Brain regions are in some ways cages cups and rails, Rube Goldberg machine, typically it helps for the processes going, when external stimulae pour signal in parts of that contraption.

With atypical situation, it may be unexpectedly though, in some cases it unexpectedly weak, as everyone has different configurations of that signal field and biological skeleton of the brains(in some vague sense) there is no way to tell what will happen.

  • for now there is no way to tell, in the future it can be a different story, and some selection process can be quite realistic, for your situation, so as some adjusting training and other things.

So the answer is - it can be whatever, and it can be okay as long as you do not dive too deep in to details, exposing lack of knowledge, same as I did.

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So, unfettered by a functional body, the consciousness of your character returns to tween-time mode, the non-heavenly existence which we each experience between our organic incarnations. But in this case, the consciousness is still fettered to a body which has the potential of eventual recitation, so it is not allowed to re-enter normal-mode time as a newly incarnated memory-nullified biological entity. It just has to sit in that reflective time mode, reviewing the life that it has just lived and figuring out how to do it better next time. No new stimulation, no new reality and no escape from the tween-life rest center where spirits are supposed to at best catch their breath before jumping back into their next sprint in the multiple-corporeal incarnation marathon.

Leave it to humans to muck up a perfectly functional system, trying to extend a lifespan which was supposed to be disposable. This is one of the reasons that the human portion of the existential decathlon is considered the most dangerous leg of the race.

How long till they go insane? ??? ???... !!! That is a very human question to ask. Sanity is relative. Is a moth insane when it incinerates itself in the flame or is it exhalent, becoming one with the light. Is a virus insane to infect a human even though that human's prodigy will someday create medicines which will wipe out the virus's whole species. No, there is no insanity. There is just unexpected consequence. The moth will come back as a slightly less photo-ecstatic organism and the virus will come back as a politician, with enough wisdom to keep its host alive after infection/election.

Anyway, it doesn't really matter if the frozen consciousness gets a little disoriented during its extended stay in tween space. The memory wipe at the beginning of every incarnation handles that kind of previous-life damage. The spirit will just hang out in tween-space for however long it takes for the other humans to revive them, or until the power supply on their cryo-sleep equipment fails. In either of those cases, the spirit will recorporealize in a less than healthy state and given the low tolerance which most humans have for homicidal killing sprees, the spirit will soon be eligible for reincarnation and free of the long suffering and resultant bloodshed of their past. The system works if you let it. And even if, like humans, you try to mess with the machinery, the system still work... eventually.

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    $\begingroup$ Though I understand what you’re saying, OP asked how long it takes for someone to go insane in that situation, which you kind of hand waved by saying that insanity is relative. Though that’s true, to a degree, I think OP is referring to the clinical definition of insane. $\endgroup$
    – Mrpenguin
    May 17, 2021 at 3:55
  • $\begingroup$ Probably not directly relevant, but +1 for chutzpah. $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    May 17, 2021 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ Quite a chunk, eh, lol. Dao is strong in this one, or how u bald donkes call it, whatever, lol $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    May 17, 2021 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ For downvoters, the guy says basically the same shtuff as in Trioxidane answer, just differently expressed. And considering fictional properties of op's stasis his stuck may be even better because of that, hard to tell $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    May 17, 2021 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg the properties of the stasis is irrelevant to the question. I'm basically asking about the psychological effects of extremely long term sensory deprivation. $\endgroup$ May 17, 2021 at 16:19

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