It's easy to think of human history as a war, with enlightened scientists beating back the forces of ignorance and superstition. The truth is a lot messier, and often more hilarious.
The reality is that some of the most important innovators in history were just as interested in voodoo as they were in science, and often stumbled across their greatest works by accident. So here's to the combination of genius and crazy that gave us our civilization.
5The Founder of Modern Medicine Was Batshit Insane
While people have used natural remedies for as long as people have existed, the idea of popping a synthetically produced pill is a fairly new one. It's one thing to chew on some coca leaves because you think they have the magical ability to cure your menstrual cramps; it's another to separate and mix chemicals explicitly created to fix your problem. For that giant leap in medical thought, we can thank a 16th century Swiss doctor named Paracelsus. Also, he claimed to have created a tiny person from old sperm and horse shit.
Like ya do.
The Crazy Behind the Science
Paracelsus' revolutionary idea was the concept that sickness came from outside agents, and that those agents could be fixed with the right medication. These two huge innovations paved the way for everything from modern day antibiotics to shady diet pills. Paracelsus also believed that the human body was a perfect little microcosm of the entire universe -- not just that we were made of the elements that made up the rest of what's out there, but that the seven known planets and seven known metals of the time were represented by the seven major organs of the body. And good news! If the poisons from space were the things causing sickness inside the body, the elements from space could also cure the disease. Well ... that's sort of right, we suppose.
It's pretty damn close for a guy who spent his entire life pooping in buckets.
But he didn't stop there by a long haul. Going on the strength of his belief that the human body was made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe, he thought that he could build his own human with the right materials. And that's what he did: He cooked some sperm in a test tube, buried it in horse dung for 40 weeks, and claimed to have produced a real talking little person by the end of the experiment.
And thus did Karl Rove come into the world.
In another incident, Paracelsus called a meeting of the leading academics of his town with the announcement that he had the most important secret of all time. Then he presented them with a bowl of steaming human shit. When they turned tail and ran away, Paracelsus yelled, "If you will not hear the mysteries of putrefactive fermentation, you are unworthy of the name of physicians!" Good ol' Paracelsus. Someday, we hope you remember that the guy who essentially invented all modern medication pooped in a bowl and called it science.