Saturday, September 11, 2010

We're crazy now. We were crazier forty years ago.

Limbaugh. Beck. Palin. Bachman. Pawlenty. Mosque madness. Burning Qu'rans. Marketarianism. Denialism. Birther. TrutherAmerican torture.

We're certifiable. It's not just 9/11 -- we elected Cheney and denied reason before that. It took 9/11 though, to really put us in asylum territory.

If you care about humanity, or your own family, it's a wee bit depressing. That's why I liked Graham Burnett's Orion article. It's ostensibly about dolphins, but it tells the story of a peculiar man in a peculiar time not so long ago...
A Mind in the Water | Orion Magazine

... who was Lilly? His early biography offers little hint of what would be his enduring obsession with the bottlenose. Taking a degree in physics from Caltech in 1938, Lilly headed off to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, joining the war effort as a researcher in avionics. An early photo shows him as a rakish young scientist, smoking a corncob pipe while tinkering with a device designed to monitor the blood pressure of American flyboys—a number of whom, in those days, were actually using surfacing cetaceans for strafing practice.

After the war, motivated in large part by contact with the pioneering brain surgeon Wilder Penfield, Lilly turned his hand to neuroscience, applying the era’s expanding array of solid-state electronic devices to the monitoring and mapping of the central nervous system. Eventually appointed to a research position at the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), Lilly spent the better part of a decade conducting invasive cortical vivisection on a variety of animals, particularly macaques. In the spy-versus-spy world of the high Cold War, this kind of work had undeniably creepy dimensions. Manchurian Candidate anxieties about “forced indoctrination” and pharmacological manipulation of political loyalties peaked in the 1950s, and security establishment spooks (as well as a few actual thugs) hung around the edges of the laboratories where scientists were hammering electrodes into primate brains...
Calech alumni. Medical training in Pennsylvania. Went into the tech industry. That's way too close to my life.

There are other intersections. I loved dolphins as a child; I'm sure I read his 1960 Man and Dolphin -- or at least the derivative works. (I was born in 1959, but in those days books lasted a long time in public libraries.)

Lily was genuinely crazy, but, as  Burnett reveals, so was his time.

This may come as a surprise to some. My generation has been keeping the 1970s in the attic, pretending it never happened. We got rid of all the books and most of the movies (the early music  we kept). We had lots of help -- everyone from that time has something to hide. The 1960s made a good distraction.

It's been forty years though. There are curious adults alive today with nothing to hide. They're going to start poking around the attic.

They'l find that the 1970s were seriously crazy. Yeah, America's nuts now, but, the good news is, we were at least as crazy then.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So who was the "pink faced half-wit" of the 1970s?,18076/