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The psychological issues of living inside a Bernal Sphere May 7, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.



I’m a real sucker for 70s space art. Some of you will remember Gerard K. O’Neill’s The High Frontier – an appeal for orbital space habitats. The concepts were good, but extravagantly ambitious given the state then (and now) of space technologies. A number of ideas were posited. Those familiar with Babylon 5 will recognise the long cylindrical design, now dubbed an O’Neill cylinder. But predating them were smaller Bernal Sphere’s which would have an enclosed environment.

Clarke County, Space by Allen Steele, written in the 1990s is set on one of those, and it’s a most entertaining outline of what life might be like on such an artificial habitant a mere thirty four years from now.

Nor do we have to restrict ourselves to fully artificial constructs. Hollow out an asteroid and spin it up (gently now, don’t want it to break apart) and you’d have a similar effect.

I’ve got to admit, I wonder what the psychological effects of living in a confined sphere, or a cylinder, where the land arced up around and over one to meet above, would be. Would one tend to perceive oneself as being in a space where the sky was threatening to fall on ones head, or trapped inside a cylinder and Or perhaps gravity itself would counter that, that the sense of down from gravity would be sufficient to outweigh the visual senses.

And speaking of which, this piece notes that:

The size of these habitats provides several quirks – for one, they would require a relatively slow rotation to maintain near-Earth gravity (only about 40 per hour). This would be slow enough to avoid causing motion sickness in almost everyone living aboard – although citizens would be able to detect spin by turning their heads quickly, or by watching the arcs of items dropped or thrown[4].

Hmmm… I wonder what the effects of that might be.

I can’t seem to find anything on potential psychological issues. Anyone know of any literature in the area?


1. 6to5against - May 7, 2016

There are two variables, as I understand it: the speed of rotation and the radius. These contribute together to the total force felt by the inhabitant. But more important than the psychology would be the variations in that force. I don’t think we could adapt to a situation where our feet were essentially experiencing 10% stronger gravity than our heads.
To avoid that, the radius would have to be very large – I would think at least several hundred metres. That would leave a cylinder a few kilometres in length. I think we could psychologically adapt to living somewhere of that size?


WorldbyStorm - May 7, 2016

There is all of that, indeed. But I’m kind of wondering what would it be like to live in that cylinder looking up and seeing, as it were, houses and buildings, rivers, hills, etc upside down directly above albeit a thousand or two thousand metres above one. Would that look like it was about to fall down? Inception actually had something of that with Paris inverting around and above the people in it.


2. baalthor - May 8, 2016

In Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix novel, the inhabitants of these places had an extreme terror of fire breaking out – I think “fire” even became a taboo word. There was also the issue of fungal growth covering large parts of the vegetated areas – these were known as “the sours” in the book.
( the spellchecker changed “sours” to “Spurs” 🙂 )


WorldbyStorm - May 8, 2016

It’s odd, I’ve read some of Sterlings short stories but never a full novel (bar the Difference Engine with William Gibson which I kind of liked). I must check that out. Thanks baalthor.


3. Psychological issue which is investigate – divyanshspacetech - September 19, 2016

[…] via The psychological issues of living inside a Bernal Sphere — The Cedar Lounge Revolution […]


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