Mind control is one of those superpowers that is guaranteed to corrupt the hero. I don't care how benevolent you are; once you've got the ability to control minds, you're going to be up to some shit. You give Mr. Rogers the power of mind control, and the next time he's ordering a ten-piece McNugget at McDonald's, you know he's gonna be tempted to manipulate the workers into slipping an extra nugget into that bad boy. Damn, it's a good thing nobody's ever invented technology that can control people's brains with the push of a button!
Oh wait, somebody totally did do that. Jose Manuel Rodriguez Delgado wasn't merely experimenting with mind control techniques nearly a half century ago, but he was kind of succeeding. He wasn't a psychic or any other kind of charlatan; he was an actual neuroscientist at Yale who created a working device that seems like it could have changed the world.
Delgado was born in Spain in 1915, and he didn't have the upbringing of your typical comic book supervillain. He received his medical degree, then was thrown into a concentration camp for five months after fighting in the Spanish Civil War. When he got out, he went right back to medical school, where he ultimately decided he was into controlling brains. Actually, maybe it was a fairly typical supervillain origin story. That's basically Magneto.
Delgado was inspired by the research of early neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, and he developed a fascination with not only figuring out how the brain works, but also how to make it work the way he wanted it to work. And what better place to do a bunch of weird shit that's maybe not super kosher but which everyone will let slide than motherfucking Yale in the 1950s?
After winning a scholarship to join the physiology department at Yale, Delgado was ready to party, baby. But not that amateur "drinking and dancing" bullshit you did -- he was ready for cracking into animal skulls and tinkering with their brains. Which he did with something called "the stimoceiver," an implant he invented for animals (and eventually humans) that allowed him to activate certain regions of their brain.
And wow, "stimoceiver" is straight out of the Golden Age of comics, isn't it? It's one of those names that's vaguely techy, but with so little thought thrown in beyond that. It's exactly what the thing does, mashed with how it does it. Like if an old-timey supervillain had a device that made people's dicks explode, he would absolutely call it "the Explododick."
At this point, you may think this guy was a crank, and that the rest of the story will be about how he got rich selling tech snake oil to gullible government agencies. Nope! His invention worked. He came up with a way to control brains. In the 1950s.
Related: 3 Scientific Breakthroughs In Real Life Mind Control
Delgado started with cats, because the Holy Grail in this field is obviously making a cat finally do something you want it to. Basically, when slapped onto a creature's skull, the device would allow Delgado to trigger different responses, depending on where in the brain he sent signals to. The stimoceiver could make cats hungry, sleepy, horny, enraged ... and that's all the cat emotions right there.
But like all scientific experiments, shit doesn't really start popping off until you bring in the monkeys. Delgado said: "By pushing the right 'button' we could make a monkey open or shut his eyes, turn his head, move his tongue, flex his limbs. He could be made to yawn, sneeze, hop." In the same New York Times profile wherein Delgado spoke about his mastery of the monkey, he went on to very casually reference how one of the monkeys he was experimenting on was named Linda, after his daughter. Yep, there's absolutely nothing here to suggest this man was teetering on that fine line between scientific genius and something more sinister. Nothing at all.
Yale University Library
So he'd done it. Delgado had successfully hacked into the brains of some pretty complex creatures. It's wild to think that someone could have designed this at a time when most "technology" was a microchip the size of a Saltine hot-glued onto a battery that weighed more than a cinder block, and the only thing it could do was tell time with 40% accuracy. A mind control chip seems like sci-fi in 2019; the fact that this dude was so far ahead back then is remarkable, terrifying, and remarkably terrifying.
But how could Delgado make sure the stimoceiver could really wreck a brain? In what became the most famous example of his testing shenanigans, he implanted the device into a bull, then put himself smack dab in its path. When the bull began its charge, Delgado pressed a button and it stopped cold. It fucking worked. This is a real thing that happened. There are videos.
Clearly, it was time to start messing with a species that really deserved it: humans. Delgado began experimenting with the stimoceiver on the human brain, and sure enough, he saw the same kind of responses he got from animals. In one case, he was making a patient clench his fist through stimulation. When the man was asked to keep his fingers open the next time they tried it, he couldn't. Now here's a quote from that patient which doesn't even remotely sound like the victim of a supervillain: "I guess, doctor, that your electricity is stronger than my will."
Delgado could use his device to make people feel happy or sad, sure, but it was more than those base emotions. The states of happiness could range from "feeling good" to "slight euphoria" to "the euphoria was beyond natural limits." In other words, he could take people through the whole range of human contentment, from "not watching John Wick" to "watching John Wick" to "watching EVERY John Wick in one sitting" -- all at the press of a button.
He could also manipulate the areas of the brain responsible for arousal, and bring people damn close to climax (not like, manually; using the stimoceiver). The dude had mastered rudimentary mind control and could give people boners at the press of a button, all in an era when you had to spin the wheel from The Price Is Right to enter one number into a telephone. So this is kind of the most important invention in human history, right? What happened to it?
As for what exactly Delgado's endgame was for all this, well, we'll let him speak for himself. "The human race," he said, "is at an evolutionary turning point. We're very close to having the power to construct our own mental functions, through a knowledge of genetics (which I think will be complete within the next 25 years); and through a knowledge of the cerebral mechanisms which underlie our behavior. The question is what sort of humans would we like, ideally, to construct?" He smiles. "Not only our cities are very badly planned; we as human beings are, too. The results in both cases are disastrous."
He's not wrong, of course. We humans are very badly planned. But if you set out to fix that, you're using one badly planned brain to fix another. Society tended to agree -- there was a lot of panic around Delgado's work. Because he was receiving funding from the Air Force, some critics were convinced he was developing augmented super soldiers. By 1970, other scientists in the field controversially boasted that neurotechnology could turn gay people straight, or correct the supposed natural violent tendencies in inner city African Americans (even in that era, people recognized that as some racist dystopian bullshit). In 1972, Congress heard testimony from an expert who accused Delgado of wanting to enslave humanity. One woman sued Yale for $1 million, claiming Delgado had secretly put a stimoceiver in her brain (he hadn't ... as far as anyone knows).
In the half century since, most brain interface advancements have been built around aiding the disabled (such as giving people the ability to communicate via a brain-to-computer connection), and overall progress has been slow -- or at least, slower than what you'd expect, knowing where we were in the '60s and '70s. The brain is more complicated than we ever thought, and it doesn't actually react well to having wires jabbed into it in the long term (cells die, scar tissue forms, it's a whole thing). It seems like the efforts to create a technology that can remotely make humans behave a certain way have largely been abandoned. Unless they weren't, and the people in charge are now using that tech to make us think they were.
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