iStock
iStock

4 Bizarre Experiments That Should Never Be Repeated

iStock
iStock

by Megan Wilde

1. The Real World: Mental Hospital Edition

This is the true story of three schizophrenics, who all believed they were Jesus Christ. It wasn’t long before they stopped being polite and started getting real crazy. In 1959, social psychologist Milton Rokeach wanted to test the strength of self-delusion. So, he gathered three patients, all of whom identified themselves as Jesus Christ, and made them live together in the same mental hospital in Michigan for two years.

Rokeach hoped the Christs would give up their delusional identities after confronting others who claimed to be the same person. But that’s not what happened. At first, the three men quarreled constantly over who was holier. According to Rokeach, one Christ yelled, “You oughta worship me!” To which another responded, “I will not worship you! You’re a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts!”

Unable to turn the other cheek, the three Christs often argued until punches were thrown. Eventually, however, they each explained away their conflicting identities. One believed, correctly, that the other two were mental patients. Another rationalized the presence of his companions by claiming that they were dead and being operated by machines.

But the behavior of the schizophrenics isn’t even the most bizarre part. Far stranger was the way Rokeach tried to manipulate his subjects.

As part of the experiment, the psychologist wanted to see just how entrenched each man’s delusions were. For example, one of the Christs, Leon, believed he was married to a person he called Madame Yeti Woman, a 7-ft.-tall, 200-lb. descendant of an Indian and a jerboa rat. So, Rokeach wrote love letters to Leon from Madame Yeti Woman. They contained instructions, requesting that Leon sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” during group meetings and smoke a certain brand of cigarettes. Leon was so touched by the attention from his make-believe wife that he broke into tears upon receiving the letters. But when the Yeti Woman asked him to change his name, Leon felt as though his identity was being challenged. He was on the verge of divorcing his fantasy spouse when Rokeach finally dropped that part of the experiment.

At the end of their two-year stay, each man still believed he was the one and only son of God. In fact, Rokeach concluded that their Jesus identities may have become more embedded after being confronted with other Christs. Twenty years later, he renounced his methods, writing, “I really had no right, even in the name of science, to play God and interfere around the clock with their daily lives.”

2. Raging Bull

In 1963, Dr. Jose Delgado stepped into a bullring in Cordova, Spain, with a 550-lb. charging bull named Lucero. The Yale University neurophysiologist was no bullfighter, but he had a plan: to control the bull’s mind.

Delgado was among a small group of researchers developing a new type of electroshock therapy. Here’s how it worked: First, the researchers would implant tiny wires and electrodes into the skull. Then, they’d send electrical surges to different parts of the brain, sparking emotions and triggering movements in the body. The goal was to change the patient’s mental state, perking up the depressed and calming the agitated. But Delgado took this science to a new level when he developed the “stimoceiver.” The chip, which was about the size of a quarter, could be inserted inside a patient’s head and operated by remote control. Delgado envisioned the technology eventually leading to a “psychocivilized society,” in which everyone could temper their self-destructive tendencies at the press of a button.

For several years, Delgado experimented on monkeys and cats, making them yawn, fight, play, mate, and sleep—all by remote control. He was particularly interested in managing anger. In one experiment, he implanted a stimoceiver into a hostile monkey. Delgado gave the remote control to the monkey’s cage mate, who quickly figured out that pressing the button calmed down his hotheaded friend.

Delgado’s next challenge was to experiment with bulls in Spain. He began by implanting stimoceivers into several bulls and testing the equipment by making them lift their legs, turn their heads, walk in circles, and moo 100 times in a row. Then came the moment of truth. In 1965, Delgado entered the ring with a fighting bull named Lucero—a ferocious animal famous for his temper. When Lucero barreled towards him, Delgado tapped his remote control and brought the animal to a screeching halt. He tapped his remote control again, and the bull started wandering in circles.

The demonstration was hailed as a success on the front page of The New York Times, but some neuroscientists were skeptical. They suggested that, rather than quelling Lucero’s aggression, Delgado had simply confused the bull by shocking his brain and prompting him to give up his attack. Meanwhile, total strangers began accusing Delgado of secretly implanting stimoceivers into their brains and controlling their thoughts. As public fear of mind-control technology increased during the 1970s, Delgado decided to return to Spain and conduct less-controversial research. But his work on electrical brain stimulation was groundbreaking. It paved the way for present-day neural implants, which help patients manage conditions ranging from Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy to depression and chronic pain.

3. Alone in the Dark

For some people, solitary confinement is a punishment; for others, it’s a pathway to scientific discovery. In the 1960s, at the peak of the Space Race, scientists were curious how humans would handle traveling in space and living in fallout shelters. Could people cope with extreme isolation in a confined space? Without the Sun, what would our sleep cycles be like? Michel Siffre, a 23-year-old French geologist, decided to answer these Cold War questions by conducting an experiment on himself. For two months in 1962, Siffre lived in total isolation, buried 375 feet inside a subterranean glacier in the French-Italian Maritime Alps, with no clocks or daylight to mark time.

Inside the cave, temperatures were below freezing, with 98 percent humidity. Constantly cold and wet, Siffre suffered from hypothermia, as massive chunks of ice regularly crashed down around his tent. But during his 63 days underground, he only dabbled in madness once. One day, Siffre started singing at the top of his lungs and dancing the twist in his black silk tights. Other than that, he behaved relatively normally.

When Siffre emerged on September 14, he thought it was August 20. His mind had lost track of time, but, oddly enough, his body had not. While in the cave, Siffre telephoned his research assistants every time he woke up, ate, and went to sleep. As it turns out, he’d unintentionally kept regular cycles of sleeping and waking. An average day for Siffre lasted a little more than 24 hours. Humans beings, Siffre discovered, have internal clocks.

The experiment’s success made Siffre eager to conduct more research. Ten years later, he descended into a cave near Del Rio, Texas, for a six-month, NASA-sponsored experiment. Compared to his previous isolation experience, the cave in Texas was warm and luxurious. His biggest source of discomfort were the electrodes attached to his head, which were meant to monitor his heart, brain, and muscle activity. But he got used to them, and the first two months in the cave were easy for Siffre. He ran experiments, listened to records, explored the cavern, and caught up on his Plato.

On day 79, however, his sanity started to crack. He became extremely depressed, especially after his record player broke and mildew began ruining his magazines, books, and scientific equipment. Soon, he was pondering suicide. For a while, he found solace in the companionship of a mouse that occasionally rummaged through his supplies. But when Siffre tried to trap the mouse with a casserole dish to make it his pet, he accidentally crushed and killed it. He wrote in his journal, “Desolation overwhelms me.”

Just when the experiment was nearing its end, a lightning storm sent a shock of electricity through the electrodes on his head. Although the pain was excruciating, depression had so dulled his mind that he was shocked three more times before he thought to disconnect the wires.

Yet again, the Texas cave experiment yielded interesting results. For the first month, Siffre had fallen into regular sleep-wake cycles that were slightly longer than 24 hours. But after that, his cycles began varying randomly, ranging from 18 to 52 hours. It was an important finding that fueled interest in ways to induce longer sleep-wake cycles in humans—something that could potentially benefit soldiers, submariners, and astronauts.

4. For the Love of Dolphins

Perhaps the most troubling experiment in recent history is the dolphin-intelligence study conducted by neuroscientist John C. Lilly in 1958. While working at the Communication Research Institute, a state-of-the-art laboratory in the Virgin Islands, Lilly wanted to find out if dolphins could talk to people. At the time, the dominant theory of human language development posited that children learn to talk through constant, close contact with their mothers. So, Lilly tried to apply the same idea to dolphins.

For 10 weeks in 1965, Lilly’s young, female research associate, Margaret Howe, lived with a dolphin named Peter. The two shared a partially flooded, two-room house. The water was just shallow enough for Margaret to wade through the rooms and just deep enough for Peter to swim. Margaret and Peter were constantly interacting with each other, eating, sleeping, working, and playing together. Margaret slept on a bed soaked in saltwater and worked on a floating desk, so that her dolphin roommate could interrupt her whenever he wanted. She also spent hours playing ball with Peter, encouraging his more “humanoid” noises and trying to teach him simple words.

As time passed, it became clear that Peter didn’t want a mom; he wanted a girlfriend. The dolphin became uninterested in his lessons, and he started wooing Margaret by nibbling at her feet and legs. When his advances weren’t reciprocated, Peter got violent. He started using his nose and flippers to hit Margaret’s shins, which quickly became bruised. For a while, she wore rubber boots and carried a broom to fight off Peter’s advances. When that didn’t work, she started sending him out for conjugal visits with other dolphins. But the research team grew worried that if Peter spent too much time with his kind, he’d forget what he’d learned about being human.

Before long, Peter was back in the house with Margaret, still attempting to woo her. But this time, he changed his tactics. Instead of biting his lady friend, he started courting her by gently rubbing his teeth up and down her leg and showing off his genitals. Shockingly, this final strategy worked, and Margaret began rubbing the dolphin’s erection. Unsurprisingly, he became a lot more cooperative with his language lessons.

Discovering that a human could satisfy a dolphin’s sexual needs was the experiment’s biggest interspecies breakthrough. Dr. Lilly still believed that dolphins could learn to talk if given enough time, and he hoped to conduct a year-long study with Margaret and another dolphin. When the plans turned out to be too expensive, Lilly tried to get the dolphins to talk another way—by giving them LSD. And although Lilly reported that they all had “very good trips,” the scientist’s reputation in the academic community deteriorated. Before long, he’d lost federal funding for his research.

This story originally appeared in a 2010 issue of mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here and our iPad edition here.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
10 Facts About Aspirin
iStock
iStock

Aspirin may be one of the world's best-known wonder drugs, able to do everything from cure a headache to reduce a fever, but its powers stretch beyond your medicine cabinet.

1. It's not the same as acetaminophen (used in Tylenol), ibuprofen (used in Advil and Motrin), or naproxen (used in Aleve).

2. There’s more than one way to take an aspirin. Americans swallow their tablets whole. The British dissolve theirs in water. And the French prefer theirs as suppositories.

3. The ancient Egyptians took their painkillers in the form of tree bark. Egyptian doctors used to give their patients willow bark to relieve pain because it contains salicin—the raw ingredient in aspirin.

4. Aspirin broke into the European market in 1763, after British clergyman Edward Stone chewed on some willow bark and felt a renewed vigor. He shared the stuff with his parishioners and relieved 50 cases of rheumatic fever in the process. After Stone reported his discovery to the Royal Society of London, the race was on to package the miracle cure.

5. A century later, French chemist Charles Gerhardt published an article on how to synthesize salicin in the lab, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Nobody paid attention.

6. Forty years after that, in 1897, German scientist Felix Hoffman followed Gerhardt’s process and took credit for inventing aspirin. Hoffman worked for Bayer Industries, which introduced the medicine in 1899 as the first mass-marketed drug.

7. In the mid-1940s, aspirin became a huge hit in Argentina thanks to radio jingles sung by future First Lady Eva Perón. Her country became the biggest per-capita consumer of aspirin in the world.

8. The wonder drug doesn’t just cure headaches; it can also revive a dead car battery. Just drop two tablets into the battery, let the salicylic acid combine with the battery’s sulfuric acid, and you’ve got an instant jump! Just make sure you don’t have any salt on your hands. Adding sodium to the aspirin-and-car-battery combo can cause an explosion.

9. So how does aspirin work? No one knew for sure until the 1970s, when British scientist John Vane discovered that aspirin reduces the body’s production of prostaglandins—fatty acids that cause swelling and pain.

10. Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: When the body gets a healthy dose of the benzoic acid in those foods, it makes its own salicylic acid, or aspirin.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
How Kiss's Alive! Saved Their Record Label—And Changed the Music Industry
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images

It was late 1974, and Neil Bogart, CEO of Casablanca Records, was falling apart. His wife of nine years had divorced him. Warner Bros., Casablanca’s onetime parent company, had cut the fledgling label loose, saddling Bogart with crippling overhead and advertising costs. The company’s headquarters—a two-story house off the Sunset Strip that Bogart (no relation to Humphrey) decorated to resemble Rick’s Café from the film Casablanca—had devolved into a hedonistic playground awash in cocaine and Quaaludes. A few years earlier, he’d made stars of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack for Super Fly had been an instant hit. Now, at 31, he was watching his career crumble.

But Bogart had a plan. As part of the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca inherited a promising project: a double LP of audio highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It seemed like a sure thing. In 1974, The Tonight Show drew 14 million viewers a night. The year before, as the CEO of Buddah Records, Bogart had sold more than a million copies of a similar compilation titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll. Bogart was so confident in The Tonight Show project that he envisioned the album as the first of four highlight records, stretching back decades.

Before SoundScan existed to track album sales, the recording industry conferred “gold” status to any album that shipped more than 500,000 copies. Bogart shipped 750,000 copies of Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From the Tonight Show. As it turned out, no one wanted to listen to audio clips of a late-night talk show. The album was such a flop that distributors even mailed back their free promotional copies. Industry insiders joked that it had been shipped gold and “returned platinum.” Or as Casablanca cofounder Larry Harris put it, “It hit the floor with a lifeless, echoing thud.”

By the end of 1974, Casablanca was broke. To make payroll, Bogart cashed in his line of credit at a Las Vegas casino. The label seemed doomed. It needed a cheap hit just to survive.

One of the bands on Casablanca’s roster was in similarly rough shape. Kiss, a flamboyant heavy metal outfit from New York City, had released three albums by the spring of 1975. The band had a cult following in the Rust Belt. But the moment Kiss stepped into the studio, they deflated, unable to replicate the raucous energy of their live concerts.

This may have been an impossible task. Since their first gig in 1973, the foursome had performed only in Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes, and towering platform shoes. Onstage, Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born bassist with a 7-inch tongue, spat fire and fake blood at the audience. Blasts of smoke and pyrotechnics punctuated hard-driving songs like “Strutter,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.” At the end of each set, drummer Peter Criss rose 10 feet above the stage atop a hydraulic drum riser. This intimidating stagecraft belied Kiss’s sound: more pop than metal, closer to David Bowie than Black Sabbath on the ’70s rock spectrum. Kiss’s stage show was so over the top that Bogart pitched the band as a headline act before the foursome had a legitimate hit. Queen, Genesis, and Aerosmith all canceled bookings with Kiss because no one wanted to play after the band.

But if Kiss was a circus act, Bogart was its P.T. Barnum. At pitch meetings, he’d unleash fireballs from his hand using magician’s flash paper, declaring “Kiss is magic!” Bogart hounded DJs, TV hosts, critics, and music magazines, pushing the Kiss brand. He even convinced Kiss to record a cover of “Kissin’ Time”—a single by ’60s teen idol Bobby Rydell—as a promotional tie-in for a nationwide kissing contest called “The Great Kiss-Off.”

None of it worked. And Kiss was fed up. The band received a meager $15,000 advance for its first three albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill— and despite Bogart’s fiery efforts, it had yet to see royalties. He’d even produced Dressed to Kill himself because he was unable to afford a professional producer.

Then Bogart had an idea. What if Kiss put out a live album? It’d be less expensive than a studio recording and might preserve some of the band’s incendiary live show. At the time, live records weren’t considered a legitimate product; bands released them mainly to fulfill contracts. But Bogart didn’t care. He knew this was his last chance.

Kiss liked the concept. Within days, Bogart had arranged to record a multicity tour, with stops in Detroit; Wildwood, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Wyoming. Since Bogart couldn’t finance the tour himself, Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s long-suffering manager, put $300,000 of his own money into costumes, expenses, and effects. To oversee the recordings, Bogart roped in Eddie Kramer, a star audio engineer who’d produced albums for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

On May 16, 1975, 12,000 people packed into Detroit’s Cobo Hall—the largest venue in a city many considered the capital of rock ’n’ roll. Bogart and Aucoin went all out on production. To fire up the crowd, a cameraman followed the band from the dressing room to the stage, projecting the shot onto a giant screen overhead. During the song “100,000 Years,” flamethrowers wrapped the band in a curtain of fire. And this time Criss’s drum kit rose to twice its usual height.

The concerts were a massive success, yet the recordings were still mediocre. The energy was there, but the band’s musicianship suffered in its frenzied live performance. In the end, sound engineers recorded over much of the material. Nevertheless, certain core elements remain, including Criss’s drum tracks, lead singer Paul Stanley’s stage banter, and the propulsive fury of early singles “Deuce” and “Strutter,” in which the band’s energy soars in response to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The physical record was an accomplishment of its own. A double album with a gatefold sleeve, it featured handwritten notes from the band, a glossy eight-page booklet, and a centerfold collage of in-concert photos.

Alive! was released on September 10, 1975. Five days later, Aucoin sent Bogart a letter of termination: Kiss was leaving the label. In desperation, Bogart, who’d recently mortgaged his house, cut Aucoin and the band a check for $2 million to retain them. Then everyone sat back and watched the Billboard chart.

The result was unprecedented. Alive! peaked at No. 9 and remained on the charts for the next 110 weeks, becoming the band’s first record to sell more than a million copies. By the end of 1975, major rock bands from Blue Öyster Cult to REO Speedwagon suddenly found themselves opening for Kiss. Today, Alive! has sold more than 9 million copies, making it the biggest selling Kiss album of all time.

Alive! rescued both Kiss and Casablanca from oblivion. The band’s next three albums—Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977)—were all certified platinum. In 1977, Kiss topped a Gallup poll as the most popular act among American teens. The late ’70s saw a superstorm of Kiss merchandise, including Kiss makeup kits, pinball machines, Marvel comic books, and even a made-for-TV movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

But Alive! also changed the music industry. “Shortly after it hit, just about every hard rock band issued live albums,” says Greg Prato, a writer for Rolling Stone and the author of The Eric Carr Story, about Kiss’s short-lived drummer Eric Carr. “Some of those albums were the best live rock recordings of all time: Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, the Ramones’s It’s Alive, Queen’s Live Killers, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Cheap Trick, At Budokan.”

What makes Alive! a masterpiece, though, is how it captures the essence of Kiss—a hard rock band that was meant to be seen, or at least heard, live. “The emphasis on a live album is the experience itself, specifically how close the record translates and interprets the experience of actually attending the show,” says author and Kiss fan Chuck Klosterman. “[Alive!] jumps out of the speakers. It feels like a bootleg of the highest quality.”

Ultimately, Bogart’s excessive spending habits, along with his prodigious cocaine use at Casablanca HQ, led to his ouster from the label in 1980. By that point, he’d become the reigning king of disco, breaking such acts as the Village People and Donna Summer. He died of cancer two years later at age 39, having just created Boardwalk Records and signed the then-unknown rock goddess Joan Jett. In the decades after his death, the iconic metal band he’d helped bring to the top continues to tour, even making an appearance on American Idol in 2009. For 40 years, Kiss has been sending drum kits aloft (albeit with a different drummer), performing in fully painted faces, setting stages on fire, all in an effort to recapture an impossible sound. With Alive!, Bogart had created a chimera. It was a record that could never exist in real life: part raucous energy, part polished studio overdubs, a “live” masterpiece better than the best live act in rock history.

This piece originally ran in Mental Floss magazine.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios