In the not too distant future, when computers inevitably attain consciousness and enslave humanity, the lucky few who manage to escape their Matrix-style pseudo-reality will be left wondering—which asshole invented these things in the first place? And the accusatory finger of history will point back, past Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, past WWII and Alan Turing, all the way back to mid-19th century England, where it will land square on the nose of inventor Charles Babbage.
Babbage developed a digital computer a full century before computers were even a thing. And he did it without transistors, without circuits, without electricity—we’re talking rods and gears here people. Continue reading
In a study that would make even the most cool-headed scientist sweat like a tasty man at a cannibal convention, researchers from the University of Oklahoma pumped nearly 300mg of LSD into the body of a male asiatic elephant.1 Immediately following the dosage, equivalent to nearly 3000 human hits of acid, the creature suffered a massive seizure and died.1
This was not an isolated incident. Countless animals have been drugged with hallucinogens in the name of science. Everything from cats2 and rats3 to snails4 and goats have had their doors of perception unwittingly flung open in the quest to answer one of [stoned] man’s most basic questions: What are our pets like high?
Thanks to German pharmacologist Peter N. Witt, we’ve even drugged spiders. Continue reading
Okay, so you’ve got the job interview of your life tomorrow, just one small problem: your kidney is failing. Also your spleen has ruptured. You’re experiencing necrosis of the liver, critical hyperkalemia, and, why not, septic shock. In short, you’re dying…or are you?
With your last ounce of strength you set out and grab the sturdiest, most passed-out homeless man you can find and drag him to the nearest experimental surgery clinic that’s open late. Plunking his rum-soaked body on the counter so as to startle the triage nurse you yell, “I need a full body transplant! Stat!” Continue reading
The talk began, as all great urology lectures should, with slides of the speaker’s own penis. The erection plastered over the screen, explained Dr. Giles Brindley, was caused by smooth muscle relaxant injected directly into his shaft. It’s a method so powerful, he continued, that a single dose can make an impotent man stay hard for hours. In fact, concealed behind the podium, Brindley was hard right now. He shot up in his hotel room beforehand.
Skeptical? The audience sure was. This was 1983 by the way. Viagra, and the days when aging senators and soccer legends spoke candidly about their struggles with ED, were still years off. So the elderly professor leapt from behind the podium and dropped his slacks, revealing “a long, thin, clearly erect [achem] penis.”1
Now, he said, “I’d like to give some of the audience the opportunity to confirm the degree of tumescence.”1 Continue reading
A top secret CIA work retreat in the fall of 1953 took a turn for the weird when agency operative Sidney Gottlieb slipped LSD into his colleagues’ after dinner cocktails.1 Most people on acid return to normal after a few hours—guest Frank Olson wasn’t so lucky.
The following morning Olson found himself in the grips of an LSD-induced psychotic episode.2 Several days later, in a fit of drug-triggered paranoia and despair, the agent leapt to his death from a 10th floor hotel window.2
It’s hard to think of a group of people less suited to tolerate the effects of acid than paranoid, McCarthy-era spies. Continue reading
History books, Smithsonian tour guides, and commemorative North Carolina state quarters would have us believe that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. Sure, they managed to launch the first manned, powered, controlled heavier-than-air flight, an improbable feat in its own right. But without the lessons gleaned from nearly a century of ill-informed flight experimentation, they’d never have amounted to squat.
We don’t diminish the Wright’s legacy paying homage to the gliders, calamitous multiplanes, and giant man-lifting kites, that paved their way—but we do open a door to some pretty funky, Victorian-style derring-do. Continue reading
Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians…
—John Maynard Keynes, economist, historian, baron.1
Fateful apple falls from a tree and bonks young Isaac Newton on the head. Newton has an epiphany (and presumably a heart-healthy snack).
Why, he wonders, should objects always fall down. Why not up? Or sideways? Or in some crazy, unrealistic corkscrew fashion? Then it hits him: Maybe the apple didn’t just fall. Maybe it was drawn down, by an invisible force emanating from our Earth. Bouyed by the fruit’s anticarcinogens and glucose-regulating phytonutrients, he then proceeds to sketch the foundations of the theory of universal gravity, differential calculus, and classical mechanics, unwittingly kick-starting the Enlightenment.
We all know the legend, but is there any truth to it? Is Newton’s apple a handy metaphor for serendipitous innovation? Or is it rather, a trick, designed to draw attention away from Sir Isaac’s true inspiration? A source so cultish, so cripplingly obscure, no grade school science teacher would dare speak its name. Continue reading
A little over 65 years ago, rocket scientist Jack Parsons and his scribe (a then unknown L. Ron Hubbard) embarked on grueling course of sexual magick designed to conjure an elemental mate.1 It was the first step in what Parsons believed would become his greatest legacy…the invocation of the Goddess BABALON, the female messiah.1
On the 14th day, Parsons sensed the working was complete. He returned to his home in Pasadena to find his future wife Marjorie Cameron waiting for him. Together, the pair would attempt to incarnate a living vessel for BABALON herself. It was Parsons’ conviction that, if they succeeded, the spirit of female lust and Dionysian freedom would walk the Earth, and the blind Aeon of Horus would be redeemed.2
Oddly enough, this wasn’t the first time Parsons’ would crazily attempt to shape the future of humanity. Less than a decade earlier, this occult priest of the Ordo Templi Orientis pioneered a similarly far-flung set of experiments in rocketry. His research, though to this day obscure, led directly to the founding of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and set the stage for the era of spaceflight. Continue reading
13th century Friar Albertus Magnus is said to have spent upwards of three decades engineering a mechanical head that could move and speak. So terrifying was his creation that Thomas Aquinas smashed it on first sight.1
It would take another 500 years for Europeans to finally ease their attitude toward lifelike automata. In 1739, Jacques de Vaucanson captured the public imagination with his “Defecating Duck,” a bizarre clockwork apparatus that ate food pellets and shat them out the other side. In 1770, Wolfang von Kempelen debuted his mystifying chess-bot (known simply as “The Turk”). The machine would go on to best the likes of Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin.2
Simulating human speech, however, proved a more elusive goal. While Pierre Jaquet-Droz’s robots could be programmed to write and draw pretty much anything, the most advanced mechanical speech synthesizers of the 18th century could utter nothing more than a few select words and phrases. It wasn’t until the early 1840s that an obscure German inventor by the name of Joseph Faber conjured up the very first bona-fide talking head. Continue reading
On January 11th, 1965, at an art happening in Amsterdam’s Dam Square, failed med student turned New Age medical revolutionary Bart Huges slowly began to uncover his self-inflicted head wound. Though his audience was composed of some of the grooviest, most psychedelically-minded people in Europe, few could have been prepared for what lay beneath the thirty-two meters of day-glo surgical gauze: a gaping, pulsating hole boring directly into the outer layers of Huges’ brain! Continue reading