Philosopher Lisa Guenther recently wrote a fascinating piece in the New York Times where she comments on the impact of living in solitary confinement, drawing on her research in Phenomenology :
The problem with solitary confinement is not just that it deprives the inmate of her freedom. This harm is already inflicted by our prison system, and depending on how you feel about justice and punishment, depriving people of freedom may be justifiable. But prolonged isolation inflicts another kind of harm, one that can never be justified. This harm is ontological; it violates the very structure of our relational being. Think about it: Every time I hear a sound and see another person look toward the origin of that sound, I receive an implicit confirmation that what I heard was something real, that it was not just my imagination playing tricks on me. Every time someone walks around the table rather than through it, I receive an unspoken, usually unremarkable, confirmation that the table exists, and that my own way of relating to tables is shared by others. When I don’t receive these implicit confirmations, I can usually ask someone — but for the most part, we don’t need to ask because our experience is already interwoven with the experience of many other living, thinking, perceiving beings who relate to the same world from their own unique perspective. This multiplicity of perspectives is like an invisible net that supports the coherence of my own experience, even (or especially) when others challenge my interpretation of “the facts.” These facts are up for discussion in the first place because we inhabit a shared world with others who agree, at the very least, that there is something to disagree about.
If we are to take this at face value, it clearly points to the fact that we are indeed creatures built for fellowship. We are our best when we are in fellowship with others - and when we withdraw from such fellowship or build societies that encourage isolation we do great damage to ourselves.