Philosopher Jeremy Bentham's Mummified Head Is Back on Display

J. Posselwhite/Getty Images
J. Posselwhite/Getty Images

Jeremy Bentham had a problem. He may have been dead, but that wasn't it—the iconoclastic philosopher left strict instructions about what to do with his body after his demise in 1832, and they didn't turn out as planned. After a public dissection by his friend Thomas Southwood Smith, and the transformation of his corpse into a skeleton, Bentham's head was supposed to be dried out with an air pump and some sulfuric acid "in the style of the New Zealanders." Sadly, the sulfuric acid worked a little too well, and with the philosopher's head looking like a theatrical prop, Smith chose to replace it with a life-like wax replica featuring some of Bentham's own hair.

Bentham's body, which he called his "auto-icon," spent several years on display in Smith's office before going to the University College London (UCL), of which the philosopher was an early supporter. While his real head once rested inside the cabinet, it was moved into storage following World War II. (Rumors that students at a rival school once stole it for soccer practice are unfounded.) Now, according to The Telegraph, for the first time in decades, Bentham's head is back on display at UCL, as part of an exhibit on how "science mediates the dilemma of death."

A black-and-white photograph of Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon, with his mummified head
Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon, with his mummified head between his feet, circa 1950
Hulton Archive/Getty

"What Does It Mean To Be Human? Curating Heads at UCL" includes several drafts of Bentham's will, showing how his views about the disposal of his own body changed over time, as well as a draft version of important legislation meant to address the lack of corpses then available for medical dissection in Britain (part of what motivated Bentham's own public dissection) and other materials. The exhibit also includes the head of archaeologist Flinders Petrie, who also left his remains to science.

According to The Telegraph, scientists have recently taken DNA samples from Bentham's head that will be used to study whether the philosopher might be posthumously diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a theory first put forward by researchers Philip Lucas and Anne Sheeran in 2006 [PDF]. Diagnosing famous figures from the past, particularly with psychological ailments, is fraught with practical and ethical difficulties—although few would debate that Bentham was, by the standards of his own age and ours, remarkable. Aside from leaving explicit instructions about turning his own skeleton into a piece of educational art, Bentham was known for championing ideas (like women's rights and the legalization of homosexuality) that were well ahead of his time. He also, as The Telegraph notes, "called his walking stick Dapple, his teapot Dickey, and kept an elderly cat named The Reverend Sir John Langbourne."

"What Does It Mean to be Human?" runs at the Octagon Gallery in the Wilkins Building of UCL until February 28, 2018. Stateside Bentham fans will be thrilled to know that his auto-icon will then travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it will be part of an exhibition on the human body.

[h/t The Telegraph]

How Often Should You Poop?

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iStock

When it comes to No. 2, plenty of people aren’t really sure what’s normal. Are you supposed to go every day? What if you go 10 times a day? Is that a sign that you’re dying? What about once every three days? Short of asking everyone you know for their personal poop statistics, how do you know how often you’re supposed to hit the head?

Everyone’s system is a little different, and according to experts, regularity is more important than how often you do the deed. Though some lucky people might think of having a bowel movement as an integral part of their morning routine, most people don’t poop every day, as Lifehacker informs us. In fact, if you go anywhere between three times a day and three times a week, you’re within the normal range.

It’s when things change that you need to pay attention. If you typically go twice a day and you suddenly find yourself becoming a once-every-three-days person, something is wrong. The same thing goes if you normally go once every few days but suddenly start running to the toilet every day.

There are a number of factors that can influence how often you go, including your travel schedule, your medications, your exercise routine, your coffee habit, your stress levels, your hangover, and, of course, your diet. (You should be eating at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, a goal that most Americans fall significantly short of.)

If you do experience a sudden change in how often you take a seat on the porcelain throne, you should probably see a doctor. It could be something serious, like celiac disease, cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease. Or perhaps you just need to eat a lot more kale. Only a doctor can tell you.

However, if you do have trouble going, please, don’t spend your whole day sitting on the toilet. It’s terrible for your butt. You shouldn’t spend more than 10 to 15 minutes on the toilet, as one expert told Men’s Health, or you’ll probably give yourself hemorrhoids.

But if you have a steady routine of pooping three times a day, by all means, keep doing what you’re doing. Just maybe get yourself a bidet.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Jazz Icon Charles Mingus Wrote a Manual for Toilet Training Your Cat

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iStock

Imagine it's the 1950s and you're in a basement jazz club in New York City. A haze of smoke lingers in a dusky room, glasses clink as waiters drop off martinis and Manhattans, and people bop their heads to the sounds of Charles Mingus, the hottest jazz bassist around. After the performance, Mingus pulls up to the bar and cradles a stiff drink. You approach him, but before you can say anything, the musician turns to you and asks an important question: Hey, man. Where does your cat poop?

This isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Besides being one of the most revolutionary jazz artists of his day, Mingus was also a passionate advocate for teaching people how to toilet train their cats. So passionate, in fact, that he wrote instructions for a cat toilet training program (he called it the "CAT-alog"), which he routinely tried to sell at his gigs. He even placed print ads so that interested clients could buy his pamphlets via mail order.

The CAT-alog is a reflection of the man as a musician: blunt, concise, and demanding in its details. (You can read the instructions in their entirety here.) He swore by the program's effectiveness, claiming it took three or four weeks for his cat, Nightlife, to transition from the litter box to the porcelain throne.

Here's a breakdown of Mingus's process:

First, teach your cat to use a homemade cardboard litter box. ("Be sure to use torn up newspaper, not kitty litter. Stop using kitty litter. [When the time comes you cannot put sand in a toilet.]") Gradually, begin inching the box toward the bathroom. ("He has to learn how to follow it.") Once you've reached the bathroom, place the box on the toilet. ("Don't bug the cat now, don't rush him, because you might throw him off.") Then cut a small hole in the bottom of the cardboard ("Less than an apple—about the size of a plum."), and gradually cut down the sides of the box until it becomes a flat sheet. ("Put the flat cardboard, which is left, under the lid of the toilet seat, and pray.") Then, one day, remove the cardboard entirely.

Mingus insisted that, with patience, his methods would work. In fact, he advised: "Don't be surprised if you hear the toilet flush in the middle of the night. A cat can learn how to do it, spurred on by his instinct to cover up." In 2014, however, Studio 360 at WNYC put Mingus's instructions to the test … and failed.

Some cats, Mingus admits, just aren't "as smart as Nightlife was." But he'd likely agree that cats, like jazz musicians, really aren't the types to be bossed around.

For more, please listen to actor Reg E. Cathey read a silky smooth excerpt of Mingus's CAT-alog here. Trust us: You'll be glad you did.

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