Last week, I touched a nerve with a post
discussing whether one could retain consciousness, even briefly, after decapitation. A heady conversation ensued. (Sorry.) Cultural critic Mark Dery
then pointed me to a feature he wrote in 2003 for Cabinet Magazine. Mark would seem to be the perfect writer to delve into decapitation and, as usual, he does not disappoint. (Seen here, "the severed heads of convicted armed robbers and twin brothers Auguste and Abel Pollet, guillotined on 11 January 1909.") From Dery's Cabinet article, titled "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Decapitation":
The evidence for the survival of awareness (as opposed to brain activity) after decapitation remains inconclusive. According to Dr. Ron Wright, a forensic pathologist and former chief medical examiner of Broward County Florida, "After your head is cut off by a guillotine, you have 13 seconds of consciousness (+/- 1 or 2). [...] The 13 seconds is the amount of high energy phosphates that the cytochromes in the brain have to keep going without new oxygen and glucose."4 Naturally, electrochemical activity is no guarantor of conscious thought, although as Wright notes, there are alleged instances of disembodied heads blinking in response to questions, "two for yes and one for no."
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Decapitation
If bodiless heads can think, what about headless bodies? Mike the Headless Wonder Chicken springs immediately to mind. On September 10, 1945, Fruita, Colorado resident Lloyd Olsen sent–or attempted to send–Mike the way of all fryers with a well-aimed whack. Amazingly, the rooster survived his beheading; the next morning, Olsen discovered him pecking and preening (phantom head syndrome?), his reflex actions intact, thanks to a brainstem that had miraculously escaped the vorpal blade. Sustained by grain and water dripped into his exposed esophagus, Mike went on to sideshow fame. He lived for another 18 months before succumbing, at last, to decapitation-related complications.
Previously on BB:
• Conscious after decapitation?
• HOWTO do a movie decapitation
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