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15 Thrilling Facts About Basic Instinct

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Twenty-five years ago—on March 20, 1992—Sharon Stone introduced moviegoers to Catherine Tramell, a novelist and suspected serial killer who stabs her victims with an ice pick while engaged in acrobatic sex acts. Michael Douglas—who starred in another erotic thriller, Fatal Attraction—played her love interest, a San Francisco detective named Nick Curran. Directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas (who would team up again for 1995’s Showgirls), Basic Instinct grossed $352,927,224 worldwide against a $49 million budget, making it the ninth highest-grossing domestic film of 1992. (The much-delayed 2006 sequel, on the other hand, bombed at the box office.)

The controversial movie angered the LGBTQ community (particularly in San Francisco, where filming was protested) because of the psychopathic nature of Stone’s bisexual character, though Stone saw her more as a “party girl,” and Eszterhas thought of her as being omnisexual. Here are 15 not-so-basic facts about the revolutionary thriller.

1. THE SCRIPT SOLD FOR A RECORD $3 MILLION.

Back in the day, spec scripts could sell for millions of dollars. Joe Eszterhas joined that club when he sold Basic Instinct—a script that took him just 13 days to write—for $3 million in 1990. Eszterhas told The A.V. Club that the media liked to focus on a writer’s failures, which occurred when Eszterhas’ Showgirls tanked at the box office. “CBS Evening News came with a helicopter crew and found me on a beach in Florida and interviewed me about the money I got for Basic Instinct,” Eszterhas said. “The other thing that I don’t think was quite fair was that after that whole period, where scripts—mine and Shane Black's and half a dozen other writers’ scripts—went for a lot of money, the media zeroed in on the box office for some of those scripts, and they always zeroed in on the failures … When Basic Instinct went on to earn $400 million worldwide, there were no stories that said, ‘[Executive producer] Mario Kassar paid three million bucks for this.’”

2. CATHERINE AND NICK WERE BASED ON REAL PEOPLE.

Before he became a multimillionaire screenwriter, Eszterhas was a police reporter for Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. “I met a cop who just liked the action too much,” Eszterhas told Nerve. “He was always in the middle of shootings. He was a great cop on one level, but on another, you suspected he liked it too much. That’s what Nick Curran does in Basic Instinct. As Catherine says in the movie, he got too close to the flame. He loved the flame.”

Tramell also comes from a person Eszterhas knew in Ohio, this time a go-go dancer in Dayton. One night he picked the stranger up and they went back to his hotel room to have some fun. “She reached into her purse, and she pulled out a .22 and pointed it at me,” he told Nerve. “She said, ‘Give me one reason why I shouldn’t pull this trigger.’ I said, ‘I didn’t do anything to hurt you. You wanted to come here, and as far as I know, you enjoyed what we just did.’ And she said, ‘But this is all guys have ever wanted to do with me, and I’m tired of it.’ We had a lengthy discussion before she put that gun down. Those two random characters are where those parts of Basic Instinct come from.”

3. MICHAEL DOUGLAS AND PAUL VERHOEVEN APPROACHED THE MOVIE AS IF IT WERE A DETECTIVE NOVEL.

Verhoeven wanted to make a modern version of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller—except with a lot more sex. “In traditional films, the killer lurks in a house and the victim walks into the kitchen, turns on the radio, makes coffee, opens a book, gets comfortable—and then the killer strikes,” he told The New York Times. “In this film, the killer hides—but on the bed. The situation is the same, but the two people are facing each other in bed, not the kitchen.”

Douglas agreed with the film noir aspect of the movie. “Fatal Attraction was a picture close to home for a lot of people because you could identify with those characters,” he also told the Times. “It was a reality tale, while Basic Instinct is like a detective novel that people like to read in the privacy of their homes. It’s almost Gothic. It’s certainly more dramatic. And the real question here is: Is anybody really worthy of redemption?”

4. THE ICE PICK SCENE GAVE SHARON STONE NIGHTMARES.

In a 1992 interview with Playboy, Stone revealed that she didn’t mind the sex scenes but did mind the violence. “I made my best friend lie by the bed while I did the scene—just lie there by the camera telling me jokes,” she said. “God! They had a paramedic with an oxygen mask there because I’d start to feel like I was going to pass out.”

By the time she had to loop some of her sequences in post-production, Stone “had seen the film and recognized that Catherine was like a carnivorous cat on the kill,” she said. “That’s how I understood the energy of it. Once I got that—once I understood the roar of the kill—I told them I didn’t want to loop it one bit at a time like they usually do. I wanted to do it all at once. I wanted all the lights in the room turned off. I wanted to just do it. When they turned the lights back on, you could have knocked Paul off his chair with a feather.”

5. VERHOEVEN GOT AWAY WITH LONG SEX SCENES BECAUSE IT WAS A THRILLER.

Basic Instinct was slapped with an NC-17 rating, and Verhoeven, whose contract required a R-rating, had to go back to the MPAA eight times before they’d lower the rating to a R. “Because it was a thriller, the idea that Sharon Stone could kill him during sex was always an element of protection,” the director told Rolling Stone. “So we could show sex and nudity much longer than normal, because there was another element there—the element of threat.”

Mike Medavoy, the head of the movie’s distributor, TriStar, talked Verhoeven into the lesser rating. “If we make Basic Instinct as an NC-17, it could make $50 million or $250 million—I have no idea,” Medavoy told Verhoeven. “But if we make it as an R, it will certainly make $150 million. So let's do that.” “And it made sense, at least from a business point of view, so I had to adapt to that,” Verhoeven said. “But going back and forth between the studio or the editing room and the MPAA, having to go back and change more and more frames ... it was very unpleasant. Strangely enough, the shot of Sharon Stone spreading her legs was never a problem.”

Verhoeven ended up cutting about 40 seconds of material, which showed up in the European version. “Actually, I didn’t have to cut many things, but I replaced things from different angles, made it a little more elliptical, a bit less direct,” Verhoeven explained to The New York Times.

6. THE LEG-CROSSING SCENE WAS NOT IN THE SCRIPT.

Basic Instinct's most famous scene is undoubtedly the interrogation scene, where Stone notoriously crosses and uncrosses her legs. But Eszterhas didn't write it. The scene has been parodied many times throughout the past 20-plus years, including a 2015 bit with Douglas on James Corden. “Paul Verhoeven decided that scene would be more fun if Sharon didn’t wear any underwear that day,” Eszterhas wrote in his 2005 memoir, Hollywood Animal. “In other words, the most famous moment of any of my films was Paul Verhoeven’s. I am a militant and militantly insufferable screenwriter who insists that the screenwriter is as important as the director, who insists the director serves the screenwriter’s vision, and whose most famous and most memorable screen moment was created by the director, Paul Verhoeven.”

During a Story Expo Q&A, Eszterhas again talked about that famous scene. “I think it was brilliant for Paul to do it that way,” Eszterhas said. “I deny that’s the reason why the movie was a hit … In some ways I’m really sorry I didn’t write the damn scene.”

7. STONE PLAYED THE INTERROGATION SCENE AS IF SHE WERE PLAYING A GAME.

Instead of allowing the male law enforcement to intimidate her character, Stone played the role with confidence. “The ruse they use—‘We have the power, we’re going to show you’—didn’t cut the mustard with [Catherine],” Stone told Playboy. “Her attitude was, ‘You're so powerful. Aren’t you cute!’ And, of course, she had all the power. These men put her in a position where she was alone in a chair in the center of an empty room—surrounded. That would be a very intimidating position to be in unless she disarmed them, which she did. At the police station she could have been stricken and scared. But instead she thought, ‘This is going to be fun. Oh, so you want me to sit in the middle of the room here? Oh, charming. Why is that? You want to make sure you can look up my dress? OK, you can look up my dress.’ It was a game.”

8. ESZTERHAS REGRETS “GLAMORZING SMOKING” IN THE MOVIE.

In 2001, Eszterhas was diagnosed with throat cancer, and he lost a significant amount of his larynx. He wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in 2002 about the hazards of smoking, especially in the movies. “Sharon Stone’s character smokes; Michael Douglas’s is trying to quit,” he wrote. “She seduces him with literal and figurative smoke that she blows into his face. In the movie’s most famous and controversial scene, she even has a cigarette in her hand.” He said Big Tobacco loved the movie so much that they launched a Basic brand of cigarettes. “I think smoking should be as illegal as heroin … So I say to my colleagues in Hollywood: What we are doing by showing larger-than-life movie stars smoking onscreen is glamorizing smoking. What we are doing by glamorizing smoking is unconscionable. A cigarette in the hands of a Hollywood star onscreen is a gun aimed at a 12- or 14-year-old.”

9. STONE DIDN’T FEEL COMFORTABLE AROUND DOUGLAS.

Stone told Playboy she didn’t think he felt at ease around her either, but it worked for the movie. “I think that kind of discomfort lends itself to this kind of movie,” she said. “Tension is good. I basically didn’t get to know Michael. There was something about the mystery of not knowing each other that lent itself to this situation. It’s odd, because now I have this very intimate bond with a stranger.” Despite that, Stone described working with him as “primal.” “It was all about watching him, observing his movements, provoking him. If one were to believe in karma, I would say there is some karmic circle yet unfulfilled between the two of us. Our energy together was strong. It still isn't comfortable for me, but I think it works very well for our work together.”

10. VERHOEVEN DIDN’T THINK THE MOVIE WAS JUST ABOUT SEX.

“I always thought the movie was about evil,” Verhoeven told The New York Times. “I always thought that with an economy falling down, with the dangers of life all around you—the danger of AIDS, the danger of crime—people are more aware of the fact that evil is an existing, everyday factor in your life. But this is my intuition. I don’t want to push it. As an artist, as a director, it’s sometimes better not to be too clear with yourself about what you’re doing. Otherwise you might be pushing too hard.”

11. STONE MANIPULATED THE DIRECTOR TO GET THE PART.

Thirteen actresses besides Stone were considered for Catherine, but only Stone was willing to do it. Just as Catherine manipulates men, Stone manipulated the director to get the role. Back then Stone wasn’t a big name, and didn’t read for the part fearing she’d be disappointed. She finally read the script and knew she was right for the role but didn’t want to call Verhoeven—whom she had worked with on Total Recall—and ask if she could audition for him. “I wouldn’t ask, because I didn’t want him to test me just because he felt obligated,” she told Playboy. One day Verhoeven had her come in to dub lines for an airplane version of Total Recall, so she wore a tight Catherine-esque dress to demonstrate to Verhoeven that she could play the maneater part. “I was being cool. Very cool,” she said. “I didn’t want him to think I was insane, but I did want to give him a general idea that I could transform myself. Men are visually stimulated—and that’s usually enough, at least at first.” The dress worked, and Stone tested with Douglas and won the role.

12. ESZTERHAS QUIT THE PROJECT BUT CAME BACK LATER ON.

Eszterhas felt Verhoeven was compromising his script. “My intention when I wrote the script was that it be a psychological mystery with the love scenes done subtly,” Eszterhas told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. “Every love scene in my script begins with the words: ‘It is dark; we can’t see clearly.’”

He then thought Verhoeven and Douglas ganged up on him. “Michael was leading the fight, feeling that Catherine was one-upping his character all the time, and that there was no redemption, and he wanted the movie to end with him shooting and killing her,” Eszterhas told the London Screenwriters’ Festival. “Paul backed him up. I said, ‘If you want to do this I won’t be involved in killing my own child. It would make it into a bad TV movie.’ In my mind, this was film noir, not a morality tale, and that’s what made it unique and daring. Paul stood up and said, ‘I am the director, you are the writer, you do what I tell you!’ I said, ‘Like f*ck you do!’”

A few months later, Verhoeven called Eszterhas and decided to return to his version of the script. “He said he hadn’t understood the ‘basement’ of my script, as he called it, that it was about good and evil,” Eszterhas said. “He not only went back to my draft, he actually held a press conference and said this. For a director to mumble these words is quite something; for him to hold a press conference is mind-boggling.”

13. IT WAS “BASIC HORROR” FOR STONE TO SEE HERSELF ON THE SCREEN.

Having abandoned herself so completely to the character, when Stone finally saw the film on the big screen she “couldn't believe that it was me. I couldn't remember doing all the things I had done,” she confessed to Playboy.

“Halfway through the movie, it was as if I were impaled. I was just sitting there, mouth open, staring at the screen, listening to my heartbeat and wondering how long it would be before it was over, wondering who I should call first to tell them never to see this movie. It was basic horror. It’s one thing when you take enormous risks and go way out on a limb in life. It’s another thing when someone plays it back for you.” After struggling on the sidelines for so many years, she knew Basic Instinct was the “opportunity of a lifetime.” “I’m either gonna play this part and it’s gonna rock things, or I’m gonna be hanging my head in shame at the supermarket. There was no gray area. It was an all-or-nothing roll of the dice.”

14. KATHLEEN TURNER WAS A MODEL FOR CATHERINE.

For her role as a femme fatale-type character, Stone referenced Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and Kathleen Turner in Body Heat. “Kathleen Turner is a great, great actress whom I have always enjoyed watching,” Stone told Playboy. “You never know what she’s going to do. So, yes, I thought of her when I did my part. I thought, if Kathleen Turner did this, she wouldn't draw a line here, she’d go further. I also thought of Judy Davis. If she did this part, we’d be rocked right out of our seats. I saw Impromptu regularly while I was making the movie, thinking, she has great courage. I want to be like her.”

15. STONE AND ESZTERHAS HAD A ONE-NIGHT STAND.

In Hollywood Animal, Eszterhas recounted the time he slept with Stone after the movie came out. “I’m glad I nailed her, though. Not because nailing her felt all that good (it was okay). But because as a result of Sharon Stone’s presence in my life, I met and married Naomi, my one true love,” he wrote.

He’s referring to the filming of Sliver (Eszterhas wrote the script), when Stone had an affair with producer William McDonald, who left his wife of five months, Naomi Baka, for Stone. The couple got engaged but eventually Stone dumped him. On the plus side, Eszterhas swooped in and hooked up with Naomi; they are still married today.

Eszterhas said neither he nor Stone “attached too much significance to our one-night stand.” “I figured that since I had written the biggest hit of her life for her, she was just saying thank you. And I knew that Sharon thought she was flattering me that night by treating me as if I were the director [she wouldn’t sleep with Verhoeven] and not a screenwriter, but still. Basic Instinct had been the number one box office hit of the year … in the whole world! I felt I deserved her.”

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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17 Things to Know About René Descartes
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The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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