Electroshock Therapy

I’d like to do pretty much what I did the first time, which is to choose a light-hearted theme. Last time, I talked about death and dying. This time, I’m going to talk about mental illness. But it has to be technological, so I’ll talk about electroshock therapy. (Laughter)

You know, ever since man had any notion that some of his other people, his colleagues, could be different, could be strange, could be severely depressed or what we now recognize as schizophrenia, he was certain that this kind of illness had to come from evil spirits getting into the body. So, the way of treating these diseases in early times was to, in some way or other, exorcise those evil spirits, and this is still going on, as you know.

But it wasn’t enough to use the priests. When medicine became somewhat scientific, in about 450 BC, with Hippocrates and those boys, they tried to look for herbs, plants that would literally shake the bad spirits out. So, they found certain plants that could cause convulsions. And the herbals, the botanical books of up to the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance are filled with prescriptions for causing convulsions to shake the evil spirits out.
Finally, in about the sixteenth century, a physician whose name was Theophrastus Bombastus Aureolus von Hohenheim, called Paracelsus, a name probably familiar to some people here — (Laughter) — good, old Paracelsus found that he could predict the degree of convulsion by using a measured amount of camphor to produce the convulsion. Can you imagine going to your closet, pulling out a mothball, and chewing on it if you’re feeling depressed? It’s better than Prozac, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

So what we see in the seventeenth, eighteenth century is the continued search for medications other than camphor that’ll do the trick. Well, along comes Benjamin Franklin, and he comes close to convulsing himself with a bolt of electricity off the end of his kite. And so people begin thinking in terms of electricity to produce convulsions. More

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