In order for science to advance, somebody has to step up and perform experiments that might seem downright crazy to others. Here are ten of them, in no particular order.
José Delgado and the Remote Control Bull
José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado was a Yale University professor whose area of expertise dealt with the electrical nature of our brain. He invented a device called a stimoceiver through which he could control the behavior and emotions of test subjects, with the help of electrodes implanted in the brain.
His experiments were so successful, he briefly became a matador just to prove it. On one occasion, he stepped into an arena with an implanted bull, armed with nothing but a remote control. He was able to stop the charging animal by stimulating its motor cortex.
He implanted stimoceivers on monkeys and even humans. Before judging him, keep in mind that all of the human subjects volunteered for the procedure. He also invented an early version of the pacemaker and his research was a leap forward in understanding how the brain works.
The Stanford Prison Experiment
This experiment proved that human beings will abuse power if given the chance. It was set up in 1971 by a team of researchers at the Stanford University.
Twenty-four students were randomly selected and assigned the roles of guards and prisoners at a mock prison in the basement of one of the University buildings. The experiment was scheduled to last for one or two weeks but had to be shut down after only six days. Why?
The students played their part well. Too well. The guards quickly became abusive, subjecting the prisoners to various forms of psychological torture.
The highly-criticized experiment was immortalized in various forms of media.
Weight of the Soul
In 1901, Dr. Duncan MacDougall wanted to see if the human soul carried any weight. In order to find out, he performed a series of experiments aimed at measuring its weight.
MacDougall placed six terminally ill patients suffering from tuberculosis on industrial scales. He would then carefully measure if any change in weight had occurred at the patients’ time of death.
According to MacDougall, the patients registered a weight change of precisely 21 grams, a difference he claimed was consistent throughout the group. Fifteen dogs were subjected to a similar experiment, as a control group but no significant weight change was registered.
It was later revealed that his experiment was flawed and only one patient had lost 21 grams after death.
The Science of Horny Turkeys
Male turkeys aren’t particularly picky when it comes to ladies. Naturally, this behavior sparked the interest of two researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who wondered how gullible turkeys really were.
In order to get a scientific angle on this issue, Martin Schein and Edgar Hale started removing parts from a turkey model one by one. The male turkey showed interest even when the girl of his dreams was nothing but a head on a stick.
The turkey responded well when a freshly cut female head was impaled on a stick. As it turns out, even turkeys can’t quit cold turkey. It didn’t even have to be a real head as the male proved by attempting to mate with a fake one made of balsa wood.
Interestingly enough, the turkey showed no interest towards a decapitated body.
A similar experiment was performed using White Leghorn cocks and the results of the study were published in an article called “Effects of morphological variations of chicken models on sexual responses of cocks.”
Elephants on LSD
Three researchers from the University of Oklahoma wanted to see what happened if you gave an elephant LSD. To be accurate, they were curious if dropping acid would make a male elephant go into musth, a highly aggressive state through which bull elephants go each year.
Tusko, a male Indian elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo was chosen for this experiment and subsequently injected with 297 milligrams of lysergic acid diethylamide. For comparison, the typical recreational dose for humans is about 60 micrograms and it’s intended for oral use. Tusko was shot in the buttock with a dart containing enough acid for 5,000 humans to trip on.
Five minutes later, he collapsed and began convulsing. One hour and forty minutes after being injected, Tusko died.
Some speculate that it wasn’t the LSD that killed him but rather the drugs the researchers used in an attempt to revive him.
Later experiments performed with significantly smaller doses showed that when on LSD, elephants tend to make strange noises. Who doesn’t?
Skip this one if you’re sensitive to the desecration of human bodies with the help of electricity.
In 1780 Luigi Galvani discovered that electricity caused the limbs of dead frogs to twitch. His experiment was soon repeated by men of science all over Europe. It would only be a matter of time until frogs became boring and people would turn their attention to something more interesting: people.
Galvani’s own nephew, Giovanni Aldini toured Europe, delighting audiences with his macabre experiment. On January 17, 1803, Aldini applied 120 volts of electricity to the body of a freshly-executed murderer.
When he placed the electrodes on the mouth and ear, the body displayed a disquieting rictus, opening its left eye and causing most of the female audience to pass out. Aldini culminated his show with hooking a wire to the dead man’s ear and shoving the other in the rectum. The corpse started to violently convulse in what must have certainly been called “a ghastly spectacle” by the attendees.
Shame on you, Luigi Galvani’s nephew!
Bringing Dead Dogs Back to Life
At the age of 18, Robert E. Cornish graduated with honors from the University of California, Berkeley. By the age of 22, he had received his doctorate. Being a prodigy and all, by the age of 29, Cornish was already considering the idea of bringing the dead back to life.
He managed to perfect a method consisting of moving corpses up and down to get the blood flowing while injecting a cocktail of epinephrine (synthetic adrenaline) and anticoagulants. He managed to revive two clinically dead dogs, Lazarus IV and V in 1934 and in 1935.
After successfully bringing the dogs back to life, he wanted to try the same thing, only using humans this time. A Death-row inmate volunteered for the procedure but the authorities denied his petition. If the experiment worked, the revived inmate would have had to be freed under the Double Jeopardy clause, which states that once acquitted, a defendant may not be tried for the same offense.
Kellogg’s Ape and Child
Science and prejudice don’t mix. It’s very likely that Winthrop Kellogg adhered to this creed when he performed his most famous experiment on comparative psychology.
Kellogg wanted to find similarities between humans and other primates so he made a bold move.
In the summer of 1931, he brought Gua, a seven month old female chimpanzee into his family. For the next nine months, Gua and Kellogg’s 10 month old son, Donald would be treated as equals. The two received the same care and attention; they were fed, bathed, dressed and taught in a similar manner.
As expected, Gua outgrew Donald quickly, even learning faster in some aspects.
However, she made no attempts to communicate through human language so the study was interrupted after 9 months. Intriguingly, Donald started imitating Gua, making barking sounds whenever food was presented.
The experiment concluded that “Gua, treated as a human child, behaved like a human child except when the structure of her body and brain prevented her. This being shown, the experiment was discontinued.”
Monkey Business with Monkey Heads
In the end, you can’t turn a chimp into a human. What about monkeys, can you change a monkey’s head? As it turns out, you can. Literally.
Robert J. White was an American neurosurgeon really dedicated to his trade. During his career, he performed over 10,000 surgeries and wrote close to 1,000 publications. Some of those surgical operations involved monkey head transplants.
In 1970, White successfully performed a monkey head transplant. The success lasted for nine days, until the body’s immune system rejected the transplanted head. During this period, the composite monkey was able to hear, smell, taste and eat. It also followed objects with its eyes, which meant it could see as well.
However, the procedure involved severing its spine so the monkey was paralyzed from the neck down.
In the 1990s, White performed similar procedures on corpses at a mortuary. He wanted to perfect his technique and hoped he could do head transplant surgeries on physicist Stephen Hawking and actor Christopher Reeve.
Recently, his work was picked up by Sergio Canavero, an Italian neurosurgeon who said head transplants could become a feasible option as early as 2017. Canavero believes paralysis can be eliminated from the list of pesky ‘side-effects’ by gluing severed neurons with the help of an organic compound called polyethylene glycol.
If you were wondering where White got his inspiration from, we got that covered. His work was influenced by that of Soviet scientist and pioneer in the field of organ transplant, Vladimir Demikhov.
Over the course of his career, Demikhov transplanted twenty puppy heads onto the bodies of adult dogs. Most of them died in less than a week but one subject managed to live for 29 days.
Before labeling him crazy, know that his work was a major influence on the field of transplantology. In fact, he invented the term.
The first successful human heart transplant was performed by a South African cardiac surgeon who gave credit to Demikhov for being his teacher and inspiration.