Solitary confinement is Hell?

Save me! I beg you! Save me!

A damned soul in Hell? Or someone in solitary confinement? The difference may be less than we believe. (Not recommended bedtime reading, I guess.)

I read something weird from Mouravieff again, and it made me think of a number of other things, as I tend to do. He wrote that people who are not born again die their second death 40 days after the first, at which point their astral bodies die as well. Even though that seems at odds with the religion he claims to represent (the Orthodox Church), I can totally see what he means. And yes, this bears directly on the torture of solitary confinement.

What struck me was the similarity to the 40 days and nights Moses spent on the mountain and Jesus spent in the wilderness, alone with God. What if I were alone with God – would I survive 40 days? Even without the fasting those two did, I am not entirely certain. I like to think so for my part, but I am not sure. I have never been anywhere near that situation. And I am extremely solitary for a human.


Dolphins, being even more social than humans, will simply stop breathing after a few hours without company by their own species or, failing that, humans. (Dolphins have evidently always been aware that we are sentient creatures, whereas we have found out only recently that they are not big fish.)

Humans are somewhat more resistant to death by loneliness, but solitary confinement is still considered “cruel and unusual” by all civilized countries. When I was young, I read as a fact that primitive tribes would condemn people to death by ignoring them. I am not sure whether that is actually possible without the tacit accept of the condemned. People are really good at making themselves noticeable. But the very fact that this idea has taken root shows how important it is for a human to be in contact with other humans.

Solitary confinement is an old, proven method to make people confess to crimes regardless of whether they have actually committed them. After a few weeks, the person has no idea what crimes he may have committed or really even who he is, apart from his name and some such basics. Memories dissolve, sleep and other biological functions become erratic, self-damaging behavior may occur.

Normal solitary confinement in contemporary prisons is not absolute: The prisoner is in some contact with guards and may have access to various forms of media. When solitary confinement is used as torture, the isolation is absolute and the victim not even allowed to read or write. Please bear in mind that human contact – in a similar way to money, actually – has value on a logarithmic scale: A small amount will keep you alive, while it takes much more to make you feel comfortable. So there is a big difference between hearing people talk to you and only hearing footsteps, for instance; or seeing other people versus just knowing that they can see you, but may or may not actually be doing so right now.

Total isolation tends to cause breakdown and outright madness, and it usually happens in a matter of weeks. Normal people will start showing abnormal behavior in as little as one week.


So if we first assume that an “astral body” or “ghost body” survives the physical death, as described by many survivors of heart stop, then it stands to reason that they would suffer tremendously if unable to return to the spirit world and commune with God, angels or saints. Drifting around ignored by everyone, they would be in the ultimate solitary confinement, forever unable to communicate with anyone. It stands to reason that their psyche would unravel over the course of 40 days, and if the astral body is some kind of construct of the mind, it would basically dissolve like a snail trying to cross the road on a sunny day. A hellish fate!

I don’t see any mention of such a fate in the holy scripture of the world’s great religions. I would not be surprised if most damned souls would prefer demons with pitchforks rather than roaming a deserted world until dissolving in utter madness, alone in the void. (Incidentally, no demons with pitchforks in the scriptures either. People have an amazing imagination.)


As you may expect, the thought has visited me: Could I spend 40 days alone with God even while alive? Never mind the fasting. I happen to have seven weeks or so of vacation on book… If I stocked up on dry food, paid my bills, turned off all telephones and computers and refrained from touching any paper, I could presumably do this experiment this fall. If I started on November 1 when I usually start NaNoWriMo, I would finish two days before my doctor appointment on December 12.

There is a tiny part of me that is fascinated by the thought. But it is quite tiny. Chances are I am going to spend my “solitary” month the same way as earlier years, alone but writing furiously and hanging out with my Sims. I don’t know about you, but I can definitely live a month without touching or smelling humans, as long as I can communicate with your minds. I think this already sets me apart from neurotypical humans, yes. But I don’t seriously consider me in the same league as Moses or Jesus. Although who knows what I would think after 40 days in solitary confinement. Perhaps I would discover that I was actually a god from outer space…

Or perhaps I would stop breathing, like the dolphins.

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