Solitary Confinement And The Naked Ape

A few weeks ago I came across this post on io9 which went into some detail about the practice of solitary confinement and claimed it is the worst kind of psychological torture. I agree with most of the things in the post; however, the details w/r/t the why I felt was lacking. Why does it affect human beings as much as it does, as compared to other forms of punishment or torture? It reminded me of a book I’d read a decade or so ago, an influential but easy to read book called The Naked Ape by Zoologist Dr. Desmond Morris. In it, he introduces several ideas and concepts, some widely accepted by the scientific community, others not so much, and yet others that have strong support and opposition. Also, in the book Games People Play by Dr. Eric Berne, is introduced the concept of ‘strokes’ in transactional analysis (a theory of the psychological health of individuals and their behaviors and attitudes towards others and self). I posted the heretofore mentioned link to Facebook, with a little commentary, which–unedited: I wrote it at 0130h., so excuse any grammatical faults–commentary can be read below:

Why solitary confinement works is easy to see. If one observes primates, our closest simian ancestors like the apes, one finds them indulging often in an activity that involves ‘stroking’ the fur of the other to remove lice etc. What scientists noticed (and I’m pulling all this from memory now) is that the activity continued even when the simian’s fur was clean, and there were distinct hierarchies to who got their fur picked the most and who did the most picking. Now extrapolate the ‘stroke’ to humans. Our stroking involves speech as well as physical touch. Because we lack body hair, and because it’d be quite awkward to mount someone’s back and try to pick their hair for lice (although this is something I’ve personally observed), we have resorted to speech and elaborate forms of touch to get our dosage of strokes. Making it slightly complex, on a gaussian distribution, there are people like film stars who fall on the long tail of such a distribution, requiring hundreds of strokes a day to keep their spines healthy (literally, if you don’t get your requisite daily strokes, your spine will shrivel up – Berne), and other psychopathic individuals also part of the long tail (although some may argue that film stars and people who actively seek the limelight are themselves psychopathic) require few to no strokes a day and still survive and thrive. For most of the population who fall in the middle of the distribution, or on the bell curve, they require a minimum of strokes a day to be kept healthy. Take strokes completely away, and all sorts of negative effects begin to manifest in the individual, including a higher rate of contraction of diseases, depression, increased rate of suicide, etc.

I think interactions on social sites count towards daily strokes, and the issue of social networks making people less inclined to go out and actually meet people probably boils down to the fact that if I can get my 10 strokes a day from having 10 people like/comment on my status, my quota is done, my system feels the kick, and now I don’t need to actually see people, because that’d be like overkill.

Just my thoughts.