In school science labs, we always learned that proper experimentation hinged on a delicate balance of adequate subjects, samples sizes and controls and a precise understanding of all the variables of the environment. But it turns out that even science isn't always an exact science. There are plenty of white-coated professionals throughout history who spat in the face of empirical research and just injected themselves with shit to see what would happen. And to some of those men, we owe the basis of modern medicine.
#6. Testing Anesthesia With Punches to the Dick
If you're testing a new drug meant to block pain, how do you really know it works? Why, by injecting it and then having another dude punch you in the cock. We are in no way joking. Let us introduce you to Dr. August Bier.
A man whose daily calisthenics routine included "bear-punching" and "cliff-taunting."
In 1898, Bier was responsible for the first successful attempt at spinal anesthesia, proving to the medical community that regional numbing was possible. This opened the door for countless advancements in surgery and medicine, and it was all thanks to one man who dared to ask the question, "What's the worst that could happen if I shot cocaine into my spine?"
Unlike the other entries on this list, Bier first experimented with his new anesthetizing technique on a surgery patient instead of himself. The man was suffering from adverse reactions to the general anesthesia, so Bier gave him what may have been the coolest experimental option in the history of medicine, offering to just inject 15 milligrams of coke directly into the man's spinal cord.
It worked, too. The patient felt no pain during or after the surgery, which encouraged Bier to do further testing using intrathecal injections. With the help of his colleague, Dr. Hildebrandt (who was weirdly also named August), Bier tried to inject himself to really understand the effects of the drug.
Kids, you can use that excuse the next time you get caught trying to "understand" a controlled substance.
Now, just stabbing a needle into your spine isn't easy work; usually the needle is separate from the syringe for the initial piercing, then the syringe is added once the needle is in place. In the case of Bier, the syringe didn't fit the needle, which meant that, for a significant amount of time, he sat there with spinal fluid squirting out of his back while Hildebrandt tried to jury-rig the syringe. By the time the two gave up, Bier didn't have enough coke or spinal fluid left in his system to completely numb him properly for testing.
"The good news is you can't feel pain. The bad news is I've paralyzed you from the waist down."
Now, an ordinary scientist would have waited until the drug had completely worn off before trying to proceed with the experiment. But not Bier. Hildebrandt volunteered immediately to take his place, and a moderately coked-up Bier consented. Hildebrandt's legs went numb after the injections, and the two celebrated their victory by testing his threshold of pain. First, Bier tickled and poked him. Then the experiment took a considerably darker, more violent turn as Bier ripped the pubic hair off his lab partner and burned his leg with a cigar.
When Hildebrandt swore he couldn't feel anything, Bier just started throwing everything at him. He smashed a hammer against his knee, punched his balls, pinched his nipples and kicked him in the shins, which we're sure are all legitimate steps in any scientific experiment, particularly one where both scientists are still reeling from injecting cocaine into their cores. Yet throughout the entire experiment, Hilderbrandt felt nothing.
That's the whole of Hildebrandt's legacy. Being punched in the balls.
It wasn't until Hildebrandt woke up in the middle of the night that he started violently vomiting. He became too weak to move for three days after the experiment, though we're guessing some of that had to do with the fact that his kneecaps were destroyed by a hammer. Bier also came down poorly from his science high, with dizziness, headaches and an inability to stand for long periods of time, but the work was done. They had proven the potential of regional anesthesia. Today, it's humbling to think that such a huge part of modern surgery hinged on a cocaine torture party in 1898.
#5. Friedrich Serturner Tests Morphine by Throwing a Teenage Morphine Party
So, already you can see that people who experimented with painkillers were something of a special breed. For instance, what's the first thing you do when you invent a brand new, super-powerful painkiller? If you said, "Invite a bunch of friends over and start giving that shit out like hors d'oeuvres," then you're thinking like the inventor of morphine.
Who popped his collar so hard his neck shot off.
In the early 1800s, German chemist Friedrich Serturner was the first to isolate the "sleeping agent" in opium, creating crystals of pure incapacitating, addictive pleasure. He tested the substance on two stray dogs because, hey, who's keeping track of stray dogs? The sedation test was successful, in that both dogs were sedated so hard they never woke up. After 100 percent of the testing with the mystery drug resulted in death, Serturner's next step was, naturally, to throw a party and give all his friends a higher dose.
Now, it may be crucial to mention here that Serturner was only 21 years old at the time. Historically, we've accepted that as an age for experimentation in every quadrant of life. We're hoping it explains some of his recklessness, but more importantly, it helps explain why all the friends he dosed with his new drug were only 17.
Presumably the most disposable demographic next to stray dogs and homeless people.
In what we have a hard time picturing as anything other than a fraternity hazing ritual, Serturner gave each of his teenage subjects (and himself) a 30-milligram hit of what we know today as morphine. Then they all waited out the night to carefully monitor how each person would respond as the drug worked its way through his system.
No, we're kidding. He waited 30 minutes before forcing everyone to take another equally massive dose. Then he did it again after 15 minutes, because sometimes science is boring unless you're doing it all at once.
"So now that the notebook has flown off with our faces, is anyone actually writing the results down?"
By the time they were done, he and his friends ingested 10 times the recommended dose of morphine in the span of an hour. When everyone started noticing abdominal pain and sleepiness, Serturner showed concern for what we're assuming must have been the first time in his life. He forced all of his underage friends to throw up what morphine hadn't been digested by swallowing vinegar.
Fortunately, none of the kids had to be buried with the stray dogs. But Serturner went on testing morphine secretly by himself for months after that, which is just a nicer way of saying he got addicted. But without his crucial (and recklessly insane) work, hospitals wouldn't have the most important painkiller ever created.
"You're welcome. Also, are any of you holding?"
#4. Testing the Effects of Isolation by Living in a Cave
During the 1960s, everyone was busy worrying about which would be more damaging in the long run: catastrophic nuclear disaster or free love. In either scenario, humanity was curious to know how long it could survive in bunkers once society collapsed.
The only difference in either scenario would be the number of radioactive tentacles that grew on your crotch.
In other words, scientists wanted to know the effects of living indoors in isolation, away from the sun and stars, for long periods of time. The question was also relevant to NASA, since a human living in space for months or years at a time would face the same problems (if there were any). But how do you even test something like that, short of finding some poor bastard willing to completely abandon the outside world for months at a time?
Enter Michel Siffre, a geologist who discovered a massive underground glacier in the Alps. Upon finding it, he decided the next logical step was to live in its icy core alone for two months, just to see how he'd hold up.
Getting the super-powered dog and the giant key was quite difficult.
When he emerged, he found that he had lost track of days (by about a month), but not of time. In fact, he had inadvertently created a natural rhythm of eating and sleeping while buried in what was presumably a frozen hell. And in case you think we're exaggerating, he suffered from severe hypothermia and his body temperature dropped to 93 degrees while living down there. He blamed it on the fact that his feet were always wet, which apparently means that no one bothered giving him some boots before he descended into a cave of pure ice, and more importantly, that no one thought to question why he didn't just conduct his time experiment in a lab with the blinds drawn instead of buried 375 feet inside a frozen glacier.
But regardless, Siffre's bizarre experiment had proven that we are all equipped with internal clocks that are independent of our concept of day and night.
NASA caught wind of the experiment and asked him to do another isolation test, this time for six months, in another, warmer cave in Texas. By the beginning of the third month, Siffre started to lose his mind. The record player he brought with him broke, and he became extremely depressed, even contemplating suicide. To get an idea of how mentally and emotionally dulled he was by the end, he was struck by lightning during a storm through the electrodes he kept attached to his head to monitor his activity, but didn't realize he could just take them off until after he was struck three more times.
"Man, I've read this sentence about 20 times now. This is really irritating."
So while he learned valuable lessons about the human concept of time, he also made a pretty compelling case for Steve Buscemi's "space madness" in Armageddon.
Especially when he did the whole thing again in 1999.