The Living Severed Head Legend
The Urban Legend: Your head will remain aware even after its been severed from your shoulders (giving you enough time to see your dead body and look around at the world you will soon be leaving). Legend has it, that severed heads have been known to blink, react to stimulus and try to communicate.
The Truth Behind The Urban Legend: Death by decapitation was assumed to be instant and painless in early history. The guillotine was designed for this reason, however there is evidence that your brain will remain aware for several seconds to minutes after your head gets cut off.
The most well known example of this comes from Dr. Beaurieux, who conducted and experiment on a French murder named Languille. After his beheading, Languille's eyes and mouth started moving for about 6 seconds, until his brain had seemed to pass. At this point Dr. Beaurieux shouted his name and Languille eyes popped wide open staring directly at the doctor!
In The Doctors Own Words: "Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine, the pupils focusing themselves". Doctor Beaurieux continued his experiments on guillotine victims and reported similar results for up to 30 seconds. There is a multitude of beheading stories like this throughout history. It’s estimated 20,000 to 40,000 people were beheaded during the French Revolution.
Researchers are finding that neurons, the cells that make up the brain, are active even after their blood supply is suddenly cut off. And they may show activity for longer than a minute. In an arguably not-so-humane study, Dutch scientists measured the brain activity in mice after slicing off the mice’s heads. What they saw was a quick flash of brain activity…
Another Living Head Story
This is about a U.S. Army veteran who had been stationed in Korea, in June 1989. He and his friend were in the back seat of a taxi when the taxi collided with a truck; the veteran was pinned in the wreckage, but his friend had been decapitated. Here is his letter:
“My friend’s head came to rest face up, and (from my angle) upside-down. As I watched, his mouth opened and closed no less than two times. The facial expressions he displayed were first of shock or confusion, followed by terror or grief. I cannot exaggerate and say that he was looking all around, but he did display ocular movement in that his eyes moved from me, to his body, and back to me. He had direct eye contact with me when his eyes took on a hazy, absent expression… and he was dead.”
Successful Head Transplants
In 1963, a group of scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, led by Robert J. White, a neurosurgeon and a professor of neurological surgery who was inspired by the work of Vladimir Demikhov, performed a highly controversial operation to transplant the head of one monkey onto another's body.
The procedure was a success, with the animal being able to smell, taste, hear, and see the world around it. The operation involved cauterizing arteries and veins carefully while the head was being severed to prevent hypovolemia. Because the nerves were left entirely intact, connecting the brain to a blood supply kept it chemically alive. The animal survived for some time after the operation, even at times attempting to bite some of the staff.
Other head transplants were also conducted recently in Japan in rats. Unlike the head transplants performed by Dr. White, however, these head transplants involved grafting one rat's head onto the body of another rat that kept its head. Thus, the rat ended up with two heads. The scientists said that the key to successful head transplants was to use low temperatures.
A human head transplant would most likely require cooling of the brain to the point where all neural activity stops. This is to prevent neurons from dying while the brain is being transplanted.
Ethical considerations have thus far prevented any reported attempt by surgeons to transplant a human being's head. However, just imagine how the world would benefit by saving great minds like Albert Einstein or other geniuses.
Stay tuned for more True Urban Legends coming soon!