Notes Hug machine
`What is that?' I asked.
Oliver Sacks: An Anthropologist on Mars
Picador, 1995, ISBN 0-330-34167-7,
`That's my squeeze machine,' Temple replied. `Some people
call it my hug machine.'
The device had two heavy, slanting wooden sides, perhaps four
by three feet each, pleasantly upholstered with a thick, soft
padding. The were joined by hinges to a long, narrow bottom board
to create a V-shaped, body-sized trough. There was a complex
control box at one end, with heavy-duty tubes leading off
to another device, in a closet. Temple showed me this as well.
`It's an industrial compressor,' she said, `the kind they use
for filling tyres.'
`And what does this do?'
`It exerts a firm but comfortable pressure on the body,
from the shoulders to the knees,' Temple said. `Either a
steady pressure or a variable one or a pulsating one, as you wish,'
she added. `You crawl into it - I'll show you - and turn the compressor
on, and you have all the controls in your hand, here, right in front
When I asked her why one should seek to submit oneself
to such pressure, she told me. When she was hugged, especially
by a favourite (but vast) aunt, she felt overwhelmed, overcome
by sensation; she had a sense of peacefulness and pleasure, but
also of terror and engulfment. She started to have daydreams -
she was just five at the time - of a agic machine that could
squeeze her powerfully but gently, in a huglike way, and in
a way entirely commanded and controlled by her. Years later,
as an adolescent, she had seen a picture of a squeeze chute designed
to hold or restrain calves and realized that that was it: a little
modification to make it suitable for human use, and it could
be her magic machine. She had considered other devices -
inflatable suits, which could excert an even pressure all over
the body - but the squeeze chute, in its simplicity, was quite
Being of a practical turn of mind, she soon made her
fantasy come true. The early models were crude, with some snags
and glitches, but she eventually evolved a totally comfortabe,
predictable system, capable of administering a `hug' with
whatever parameters she desired. Her squeeze machine had worked
exactly as she hoped, yielding the very sense of calmness and pleasure
she had dreamed of since childhood. She could not have gone through
the stormy days of college without her squeeze machine, she said.
She could not turn to human beings for solace and comfort, but she
could always turn to it. The machine, which she neither
exhibited nor concealed but kept openly in her room at college,
excited derision and suspicion and was seen by
psychiatrists as a `regression' or `fixation' - something that
needed to be psychoanalysed and resolved. With her characteristic
stubbornness, tenacity, single-mindedness, and bravery - along with
complete absence of inhibition or hesitation - Temple ignored
these comments and reactions and determined to find
a `validation' of her feelings.
Both before and after writing her doctoral thesis, she
made a systematic investigation of the effects of deep pressure in
autistic people, college students, and animals, and recently a paper
of hers on this was published in the Journal of Child
and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Today, her squeeze
machine, veriously modified, is receiving extensive clinical
trials. She has also become the world's foremost designer of
squeeze chutes for cattle and has published,
in the meat-industry and veterinary literature, many
articles on the theory and practice of humane restraint and
While telling me this, Temple knelt down, then eased
herself, facedown and at full length, into the `V', turned on
the compressor (it took a minute for the master cylinder to fill), and
twisted the controls. The side converged, clasping her firmly,
and then, as she made a small adjustment, relaxed their grip
slightly. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen, and yet,
for all its oddness, it was moving and simple. Certainly there
was no doubt of its effect. Temple's voice, often loud and hard,
became softer and gentler as she lay in her machine. `I concentrate
on how gently I can do it,' she said, and then spoke of the necssity
of `totally giving in to it . . . I'm getting real relaxed now,'
she added quetly. `I guess others get this through relaxation
with other people.'
It's not just pleasore or relaxation that Temple gets
from the machine, but, she maintains, a feeling for others. As she
lies in her machine, she says, her thoughts often turn to her
mother, her favourite aunt, her teachers. She feels their love
for her, and hers for them. She feels that the machine opens
a door into an otherwise closed emotional world and allows her,
almost teaches her, to feel empathy for others.
After twenty minutes or so, she emerged, visibly calmer,
emotionally less rigid (she says that a cat can easily sense this
difference inher at these times), and asked me if I would
care to try the machine.
Indeed, I was curious and scrambled into it, feeling
a little foolish and self-conscious - but less so than
I might have been, because Temple herself was so wholly
lacking in self-consciousness. She turned the compressor on
again and filled the master cylinder, and I experimented gingerly
with the controls. It was indeed a sweet, calming feeling -
one that reminded me of my deep-diving days long ago, when I felt
the pressure of the water on my diving suit as a whole-body