In more than one of his couch-quivering rants, Tom Cruise has expressed distrust and disdain for the science of psychiatry. Perhaps he believes Xenu and his intergalactic pals can do more for the struggling mind than can a branch of human medicine. I don’t agree – and I count that as a big win for my own sense of logic and reason. The science isn’t perfect but it’s progressing, and while the humans who administer its teachings are fallible, there’s still actual science there.
Psychologist and Stanford professor David Rosenhan also found the whole thing suspicious. It was the early 1970’s and psychiatric patients were treated somewhat differently than they are today, as anyone who read Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest will know. Doc Rosenhan wasn’t convinced that patients were being properly diagnosed, and he wasn’t sold on the standard treatment procedure either. He came up with a devious plan.
What if someone perfectly sane were to talk their way into a psychiatric hospital, only to have their symptoms disappear once inside? What ensued was a damning criticism of psychiatry and psychiatric diagnosis, one which still resonates to this day. But was Doc Rosenhan’s experiment a genuine scalpel-slice through the pristine flesh of the science of mental health, or was it pseudoscience? His results were shocking, but in fact they need to be scrutinized beyond the knee-jerk swoop of an accusatory finger.
Dr. Rosenhan was also suspicious of the science of hair restoration.
Doc Rosenhan drafted eight ‘pseudo-patients’ for his experiment, which included himself, a grad student, two other psychologists, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a painter and a housewife. The eight of them were to show up at ten different psychiatric hospitals around the country. Underfunded rural hospitals were targeted, as were revered urban university hospitals and one pricey private hospital. Everyone held true to their biographical details, apart from their names (which were changed to protect them) and in the case of those who were actually in the medical field, their occupations. Doc Rosenhan didn’t want any special treatment for anyone. Read more…
Over the last 894 days I have had the opportunity to gain a sparkly new appreciation for medical science, and for how far we have progressed over the last 150 years or so. Back then, doctors didn’t even wash their damn hands, and now we’re allegedly on the threshold of swapping brains with one another. That’s quite the leap. But where science gets weird, my fingers get a-tapping, and it doesn’t get much weirder than the work of José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado.
Dr. Delgado also worked with the human brain, though his concern was less with its relocation and more with what it does. Specifically, what he could make it do, using radio waves and cranial implants. Dr. Delgado was into some spooky shit.
Where the realm of mind-control has been traditionally left to voodoo practitioners, nightclub hypnotists and goofy faith-healers, Dr. Delgado believed that it could (and should) occur at the chemical/electrical level. He wasn’t looking to control minds as a parlor trick; he actually foresaw a practical and beneficial application for his work. I wonder if he was also aware how many people felt skeeved out by it.
Dr. Delgado had wanted to follow in the footsteps of his eye-doctor father, but once he stumbled upon the work of Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the Nobel laureate who is considered to be the grand-pappy of neuroscience, he changed his mind. The eye is a goopy glob of curiosity, but the brain is a vast network of mysteries, with so much shadowy terrain left to uncover. This was where José’s passion was jolted to life. Read more…
In honor of our species’ unending quest to concoct our own mythical creatures from the depths of our creativity and our most depraved scientific know-how, I give you the head transplant. I’m not referring to the overplayed movie trope in which Jamie Lee Curtis swaps minds with Lindsay Lohan in an effort to see if one another’s bodies could handle their respective addictions to poop-inducing yogurt and cocaine, but rather the physical exchange of crania.
It has happened. Not with humans – you didn’t miss out on some freakish sci-fi tale of weirdness in the news, but our able-handed doctors have performed some rather cunning re-assignments among the brain enclosures of the animal kingdom. Some believe it’s only a matter of time before we get around to a human swap.
We have the technology. Sort of. There isn’t a doctor alive who can reattach a severed spinal cord; full and complete functionality is not at play here. But some variant of this could happen within our lifetime. We just need the right alignment of desperate patients, extreme circumstance and a doctor who has nothing to lose. Sounds like a movie treatment if nothing else.
American physiologist Charles Claude Guthrie’s work on vascular surgery with the Frenchman Alexis Carrel should have earned the guy a Nobel Prize. But Carrel won the prize by himself, likely because the weird experiments Guthrie was into probably freaked out the Prize committee. In 1908, Guthrie became the first to graft one dog’s head onto the neck of another, creating a two-headed beast. Unfortunately, too much time had occurred between the decapitation of the second dog and the restoration of circulation. It wasn’t a lively second head, but it was technically alive. Read more…
A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece about unethical human experimentation in the United States. Due to the overwhelming response (which consisted mainly of my bulldog-in-chief, Rufus, wagging his tail when I’d talk to him about it), I thought I’d delve into the subject a little deeper. I’ve found two specific experiments which are infamous enough to warrant a deeper look. Both are dripping with ethical questions, none of which do I plan on resolving here.
Hey, it’s a thousand words in a day. I can only offer so many grand solutions to the universe’s ethereal catechisms with this kind of deadline.
In one case, strangers were invited to torture one another. In the other, researchers tortured children. But all in the name of science, of course. How beneficial these cases were is up for debate, which really adds an extra air of stink to the whole affair. At least if these experiments had led to a cure for something, the psychological sacrifice wouldn’t leave such a rancid taste.
Just a few months after the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann began in Jerusalem, Stanley Milgram at Yale University wanted to test whether Eichmann should be considered an accomplice, or whether he was simply following orders. Here’s what he had people doing.
Two volunteers were chosen, one assigned to be the ‘teacher’, the other the ‘learner’. The teacher would be able to verbally communicate with the learner, but they were in separate rooms. The teacher would read off a list of word pairs to the learner, then quiz the learner on the pairs. For every incorrect answer, the teacher was instructed to press a button to give out an electric shock to the learner, with the voltage increasing every time. Read more…
The typical hierarchy of a conspiracy theory is that there are the people with the facts and those who are in on the conspiracy. Those with the facts are eager – some may say ravenously eager – to share them, to bring more of the public “into the know”. Conspiracy theories generally require the dismissal of a considerable amount of evidence to support their cause. I read so much about the 9/11 conspiracy – for and against – that I finally had to shake my head free of the yellow dust and declare that I simply don’t care anymore – it was a tragedy, end of story.
I’m still on the fence about the whole JFK thing though.
Today I’m venturing into the murky chemical mire known as chemtrails. You’ve seen these before; they’re the “deadly” “poisonous” “gases” that spew from the back of commercial airliners as they rocket above our nation, blanketing us all in some government-orchestrated set-up of some kind.
Like manipulating our brains to accept and enjoy the worst possible entertainment.
The first rumblings of this overhead danger emerged in the mid-90’s, when the US Air Force was forced to issue an official statement, claiming the matter was a hoax. In August of 1996, a handful of officers drafted a paper for the Air Force’s Air University, one which posits a number of sci-fi situations in which the United States could control and manipulate the weather in order to achieve atmospheric dominance over their enemies. This includes creating storms over enemy territory, jamming their communication systems, and signing a non-aggression pact with the evil cloud jellyfish.
With no cash prize, with no great inheritance on the line, would you be willing to spend a night in an abandoned insane asylum? This is the sort of question which could open up an episode of American Horror Story (in fact, I think it did). A question which the average person never has the opportunity to answer with action.
Why does the idea strike such a cold quiver of mercury-fear into our hearts? It’s not the notion of the myriad of deaths which no doubt took place on the property. We have an abandoned hospital in my city, and nobody but the kookiest of kooks believes it to be haunted by spirits of the departed. Is it the notion of insanity that frightens us off? Few things are more terrifying than losing dominion over one’s mind whilst one’s body remains intact. No, I think it’s more than this.
I think the scariest thing about an abandoned asylum is the specter of cruelty which clings to the air, thickening it with the suffocating dread of the abuse, the neglect, and the outright vicious degradation which awaited those whose minds were crumbling in these institutions. The ghosts of places like Letchworth Village are not cruel – it is pure cruelty itself which haunts these decomposing walls.
In 1911, the New York State Board of Charities opened up Letchworth Village in the small hamlet of Thiells. It was a state institution designed for the segregation of the epileptic and ‘feeble-minded.’ It was a farming village, and the patients who were physically able were encouraged to tend the farms that would subsequently keep everyone inside fed. Letchworth landed on the medical map in February of 1950, when Hilary Koprowski tested his new polio vaccine on one of the children patients. Nineteen more tests followed, and Letchworth became a crucial step en route to the banishment of the disease from humankind. Read more…
When confronted with a patient exhibiting severe symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, most doctors look to a lengthy, detailed treatment procedure in hopes of finding a way for the patient to remain integrated within society while effectively managing his condition. Other doctors simply look for a way to mess with the guy.
In all fairness, I’m sure Dr. Milton Rokeach didn’t set out to dickishly set up a manipulative and potentially damaging situation, even if that’s actually what happened. Doc Milton worked at the Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan in the early 60’s, a time when weird experiments were peppering psychology journals all the time, with ethical consideration often only showing up as a faint afterthought.
So when Doc Milton saw three Jesuses on the hospital’s roster, he saw an opportunity.
And not just for a killer t-shirt.
Having not read the 1964 book, The Three Christs Of Ypsilanti, I’m not really certain what Doc Milton’s end-game was. I understand – the treatment of delusional patients was a pretty rough and undefined science at that point. And it’s not like he was recommending electro-shock therapy or slicing out goopy chunks of their brain matter. But why the good doctor felt it would be a good idea to take three patients who believed they were Jesus and stick them in a room together, I really don’t know. Maybe he thought one of them would be convincing enough that the other two would give up their claims. Read more…
My parents gave up long ago on ever seeing me come up with any scientific discoveries. Maybe it was the time when I tested the resilience of ants by placing them in the middle of a sewer grate to see if they’d crawl to the edge or fall in. It might have been the time I lit the lawn on fire because… I don’t know, science or something. It just wasn’t meant to be, that’s my point.
I wasn’t the anomaly among my peers, using my homework to prop up my Cheetos bowl as I spent my evening watching Quantum Leap instead of doing anything that might lead anyone to believe I was a child science prodigy. I was no Taylor Wilson.
Seen here, rocking the sweater-vest.
When Taylor Wilson was fourteen years old, he built a working nuclear fusor. When I was fourteen years old, I was playing harmonica along with my Bruce Willis album. Don’t judge me. Read more…