#3. The Man Who Imprisoned His Son to Teach Him a Dead Language
In 1881, Lithuanian-born Jew Eliezer Ben-Yehuda emigrated to Palestine and realized that all the other immigrant Jews were speaking a bunch of foreign languages he couldn't understand, which made it really difficult to organize a bris. He figured that Jews should be speaking in a common, unifying language, and they actually had one available -- Hebrew -- but it hadn't been spoken as a native language since around the third century B.C.
So Ben-Yehuda decided that his son, Ittamar, would have the privilege of being the first native Hebrew speaker in a few thousand years. It was going to be tricky -- Old Testament Hebrew didn't have words for things like steam trains, so Ben-Yehuda had to straight invent large portions of the language so that he'd be able to teach his son about anything that had happened since around the beginning of the Roman Empire. And yeah, that actually seems more awesome than bizarre, and when you consider that there's a guy in Minnesota who tried to teach his son Klingon, you'd think this kid got off lucky. However ...
What's the Klingon word for "virgin"? We have a feeling he'll be using it a lot throughout high school.
Where It Gets Weirder:
When Ben-Yehuda said that his son was going to learn pure Hebrew, he really meant it. And since he and his dad were the only people who actually spoke Hebrew in conversation, Ittamar wasn't allowed to speak to or be spoken to by another human being, ever. When family friends came around to the house, Ittamar was sent to bed, lest he accidentally hear a non-Hebrew word and ruin everything.
When Ben-Yehuda caught his wife singing to the child in Russian, he flew into a rage and ended up breaking a table (we presume that during this incident the child learned the Hebrew phrase for "your mother is a lying whore"). Ben-Yehuda even forbade his son from listening to the noises made by animals, possibly because he figured that the local donkeys were all braying a donkey version of Palestinian Arabic in an effort to undermine all his work.
"You're worse than those cats meowing in Farsi."
But rather than treating Ben-Yehuda as a crazy person who feared animal language conspiracies, the Jewish community backed his efforts and began teaching Hebrew to their own kids, and today, Hebrew is an official language of Israel, although they probably also know what dogs and cats sound like.
#2. Charles Darwin's Zoological Study (of His Son)
You know about Charles Darwin's work with animals, but what you may not know is that he had some trouble switching off at home. So when the cycle of life brought Darwin a son, William, he raised that boy the only way he knew how: like a biologist.
Darwin spent the first couple of years of his son's life taking copious notes on the baby's behavior. Not so that he could publish anything -- the article in which his findings appear wasn't published until 37 years later, as an afterthought. He just did that shit out of pure habit.
"Day 68. Subject wiggles and poops uncontrollably. Not sure if this is normal. I fear for its future."
Where It Gets Weirder:
But Darwin didn't just watch and learn; he took the initiative to put the growing infant through an increasingly bizarre series of behavioral experiments, like shaking various objects in front of his face to test his reactions, and bringing the boy to a zoo to find out which animals frightened him and revealed fears inherited from "ancient savage" times.
In one experiment, Darwin tested his son's reaction to tits (possibly a test of his manhood), but was disappointed that "he perceived his mother's bosom when three or four inches from it, as was shown by the protrusion of his lips and his eyes becoming fixed; but I much doubt whether this had any connection with vision; he certainly had not touched the bosom."
"Did you just call me gay?"
As if this wasn't weird enough, William is occasionally referred to as "it" throughout Darwin's notes. Then again, given how people used to dress boys back then, maybe he just forgot.
"I'm really looking forward to when fashion natural selects me a pair of pants."
#1. The Psychologist Who Raises a Chimpanzee as a Sibling to His Own Child
Back in the 1930s, scientists still weren't clear on what parts of human intelligence and behavior were innate, and which were just caused by upbringing. It was even theorized that some of the more intelligent animals, like chimpanzees, lack human speech, behavior and morals only because no one had ever read to them as children.
But how the hell do you test this theory? Luckily, a psychologist named Winthrop Kellogg remembered that it was the 1930s and that he was batshit insane, so he decided to take home a young chimpanzee named Gua and raise it next to his infant son Donald, raising them identically, just to see what would happen.
Where It Gets Weirder:
Winthrop also developed an extensive testing system in which Donald and Gua were pitted against each other daily in an epic battle of baby vs. chimp (when we do this, people tell us it's illegal). Kellogg tested things like dexterity, memory, language development, obedience and the age-old question of what happens when you tie a baby to a chair and spin it around really fast.
Unfortunately, Kellogg failed to produce the expected chimp man in a top hat and monocle. Gua basically remained a chimpanzee. But the experiment had unforeseen side effects for Donald, who actually started acting like a chimp -- the experiment had to be abandoned when Donald wouldn't stop running around biting people.
So next time you're judging people on Facebook for putting up pictures of their poop-covered children using the "public" setting, remember for a minute the small child who nearly 100 years later still has videos up on YouTube of his parents firing guns next to his head to see what happens.
Spoiler: It kind of freaks them out.
C. Coville's Twitter is here.
For more frightening experiments, check out 9 Real Life Mad Scientists and The 6 Cruelest Science Experiments Ever (Were Done on Kids).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 6 Stupidest Things You Can Pay People to Do for You.