Circa 1793, a Mr. Powyss of Lancashire apparently decided to conduct an unusual psychological experiment by paying a man to live in his basement, in complete solitude, for seven years.
Information about this experiment is hard to find. A brief news item appeared about it in 1797:
The Annual Register... for the year 1797
A news story 30 years later reported that the subject of the experiment had emerged after seven years apparently no worse for wear. Or, at least, he had "absolutely accomplished it":
The Casket - Aug 11, 1827
Given the lack of info, I suspect that the entire story might be an urban legend — one of those fake news stories that often made their way into early magazines and newspapers. However, the story has inspired author Alix Nathan to use fiction to fill in the blanks... imagining what might have happened in her recent novel The Warlow Experiment
. As reported by the Guardian:
Nathan tried to discover more about Powyss and the outcome of his experiment, but without success. Nothing of either remained. Instead she turned to fiction, writing a pair of short stories that imagined the peculiar undertaking, the first from Powyss’s point of view, “An Experiment: Above”, and then, in “An Experiment: Below”, from the solitary subterranean perspective of his confined subject... Despite this, Powyss and his story continued to nag at Nathan; she could not shake the sense that it “deserved fuller consideration”. The result is The Warlow Experiment
How long does a severed head remain conscious? In 1905, Dr Gabriel Beaurieux used the opportunity of the execution of the criminal Henri Languille by guillotine to attempt to find out. From a contemporary newspaper account of the scene:
When the head had rolled away from the scaffold and was lying in a pail, Dr. Beaurieux, head physician at the city hospital, caught it with both hands, raised it up in the air, and exclaimed in commanding voice:
Terrible stillness for a moment. And, look! The dead head actually obeys! The eyelids open, and two eyes, abundant with life, glare questioning at Dr. Beaurieux—and then the lids close.
But the doctor has no mercy—he is experimenting. And once more he commands:
Again the eyelids open, and two soulless eyes attempt to see, to find a point in the space. A conscious struggle really is proceeding, until the lids again close. But for the third time Dr. Beaurieux raises the head up in the air:
This time in vain. The experiment had lasted thirty seconds, and now the question is:
Has the reflecting movement released other functions of the brain? Did Languille know that they called him, and that he had better awaken and answer? Gruesome it were, if he really had answered, for instance repeated his "Goodbye, you beautiful life!"
The execution of Henri Languille - source: wikipedia
The Racine Journal Times - Aug 23, 1905
John Seney, an engineer at the Du Pont laboratory in Seaford, Delaware, had an ambitious plan (which he called 'Project Daedalus') to study buzzards and thereby figure out a way to allow a man to fly by flapping his arms — with the help of 36-foot wings strapped to them.
Seney's project received quite a bit of media attention for several years in the mid-1960s, but I can't find any report indicating that he ever got to the stage of a test flight.
"Leonardo, the buzzard, is chased in Seaford, Del., basement laboratory of John Seney, 50-year-old scientist who is using the buzzard in his human flight experiments. Pursuing the bird is Stephen Moore who is helping Seney, and if the experiments get off the ground, will see Moore get off the ground with human-propelled wings. That's why they have named the buzzard Leonardo — after Leonardo da Vinci who had dreamed of flying like a bird."
Sarasota Journal - Dec 30, 1964
Baltimore Sun - Feb 21, 1965
In 1973, Professor Robert Gunn advanced this theory.
Twenty years later, he was still pursuing the idea, as you can see in the scientific paper at the link.
To reappraise a prior study of hangover signs and psychosocial factors among a sample of current drinkers, we excluded a subgroup termed Sobers, who report "never" being "tipsy, high or drunk." The non-sober current drinkers then formed the sample for this report (N = 1104). About 23% of this group reported no hangover signs regardless of their intake level or gender, and the rest showed no sex differences for any of 8 hangover signs reported. Using multiple regression, including ethanol, age and weight, it was found that psychosocial variables contributed independently in predicting to hangover for both men and women in this order: (1) guilt about drinking; (2) neuroticism; (3) angry or (4) depressed when high/drunk and (5) negative life events. For men only, ethanol intake was also significant; for women only, being younger and reporting first being high/drunk at a relatively earlier age were also predictors of the Hangover Sign Index (HSI). These multiple predictors accounted for 5-10 times more of the hangover variance than alcohol use alone: for men, R = 0.43, R2 = 19%; and for women, R = 0.46, R2 = 21%. The findings suggest that hangover signs are a function of age, sex, ethanol level and psychosocial factors.
As defined by biologist Lincoln Brower, a "blue jay emetic unit" is the amount of cardiac glycosides
(a type of poison found in plants such as milkweeds) that will make one blue jay vomit. Brower determined the exact amount by putting cardiac glycosides into gelatin capsules which he force-fed to blue jays.
The point of this was that various butterflies ate milkweeds and then became poisonous to the blue jays which, in turn, ate them. Knowing the exact amount of poison needed to make a blue jay vomit allowed Brower to rank each butterfly by its number of blue jay emetic units:
The experiments showed that a monarch that has eaten Asclepias humistrata contains enough poison to make approximately eight blue jays vomit; a butterfly reared on Calotropis procera contains 4.8 blue jay emetic units; one that has eaten A. Curassavica, 3.8 units, and one that has eaten Gomphocarpus, .8 unit. In other words, there is a palatibility spectrum, and the most unpalatable butterfly is at least 10 times as emetic as the most palatable one.
Source: Brower LP (Feb 1969). "Ecological Chemistry." Scientific American 220(2): 22-29.
"barfing blue jay" (picture by Lincoln Brower. Source: ScienceFriday.com)
In 1980, Canfield's natural seltzer launched a campaign to promote its product as being great for watering house plants. It printed on its labels: "We recommend our natural seltzer for house plants."
Could there have been any truth to this claim? Is seltzer water actually good for plants? Well, the only vaguely scientific study I can find addressing this claim (after, admittedly, only a brief search) was a student project conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2002
. The student researchers concluded, "Plants given carbonated water not only grew faster but also developed a healthier shade of green in comparison to plants given tap water."
So, maybe Canfield's was onto something. However, if you're thinking of treating your plants to some seltzer water, I imagine you'd want to use water at room temperature, not refrigerated. Cold water might shock their systems.
Marysville Journal-Tribune - June 9, 1980
Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer - May 19, 1980
Recent research reveals that dentists can not only smell fear, but that when they do their job performance significantly declines. From New Scientist:
The researchers asked 24 student volunteers to each donate a T-shirt they had worn during a stressful exam, and another worn at a calm lecture. The team doused the T-shirts with a chemical that masks body odour, so that no one could consciously smell it. A separate group of 24 dental students said they couldn’t detect any difference between the two sets of shirts.
Next, examiners graded the dental students as they carried out treatments on mannequins dressed in the donated T-shirts. The students scored significantly worse when the mannequins were wearing T-shirts from stressful contexts. Mistakes included being more likely to damage teeth next to the ones they were working on.
So, if your fear causes your dentist to start making more mistakes, I assume that will only increase your fear, causing your dentist to make even more mistakes, leading to a downward-spiraling cycle of terror.
The academic study is here.
This article comes from my weird science site, which I haven't updated in years. My project for the new year is to import all the content from there into WU, so I can shut that site down and stop paying the hosting fees.
While he was a grad student at the University of Chicago in the early 1920s, William Blatz was sitting in class one day, leaning back in his chair, when suddenly the chair collapsed beneath him, sending him sprawling backwards, crying out in fright. The experience was unsettling, but it gave him an idea for an unusual psychology experiment.
He designed a trick chair that would collapse backwards without warning when he flipped an electric switch. The chair was padded, so its occupant wouldn't get hurt. But Blatz figured that the sensation of abruptly, unexpectedly falling backwards would provoke a strong, measurable reaction in subjects. This would allow him to study the physiology of fear under controlled, repeatable conditions. He performed his experiment on a series of unsuspecting victims.
Diagram of Blatz's trick chair.
More in extended >>
When the hook (A) at the top was released, the chair plunged backwards.
As the population increases, we will all have to learn to accept strangers on the street standing very close to us.
One of the students would speak to a stranger on the street and begin asking him questions pertaining to the local police department. While talking the interviewer slowly moved closer and violated the stranger's personal body space. The person's reaction was then filmed.
According to recently collected facts, there were three basic reactions: (1) He-she slowly backed away as the interviewer got closer, (2) He-she struck a defensive pose such as folding arms, looking down, or even turning to one side, and (3) No reaction, though most people do have some kind of reaction...
According to Mark, most people have this "wall" about 18 inches around them that excludes all people from entering. What the interviewers were doing when they moved closer to the person was violating personal body space, causing them to react.
Steve says, "It's a shame this happens because as our world gets more and more crowded, we'll have to get closer together. Let's all start getting closer together and break down that wall."
Terre Haute Tribune - Mar 31, 1974
So why was Simone Harris standing on a Sydney street in a bikini? Was this a publicity stunt? Was she a psychologist conducting research? A performance artist being weird? I haven't been able to find answers anywhere.
Racine Journal Times - June 17, 1970