That Time a Scientist Stopped a Charging Bullfighting Bull Using Mind Control FOR SCIENCE!!!!
One day in the summer of 1963, Spanish neurologist José Delgado stepped into a bullring outside Córdoba and prepared to perform an audacious experiment. Armed only with an experimental radio transmitter, he prepared to face off with an angry Spanish fighting bull, bred specifically for strength and aggression. Delgado waved a flag to set the bull charging, but before the ton of galloping muscle and sharp horns could reach him he pressed a button on his remote control. Immediately the bull stopped in its tracks, shook its head in confusion, then calmly trotted away. Eyewitnesses to the event were stunned, for Delgado had apparently defeated the bull’s innate aggression using only a set of tiny electrodes implanted in its brain. It was the most dramatic – and disturbing – demonstration in a pioneering but controversial career that would earn Delgado the title “the father of mind control.”
José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado was born August 8, 1915 in the town of Ronda, Spain and received his doctorate of medicine from the University of Madrid in 1936, just as the Spanish Civil War broke out. During the war he served as a stretcher-bearer and medic for the Republican forces, being captured and held in a Nationalist concentration camp for 5 months. Under the regime of General Fransisco Franco Delgado was forced to redo his doctorate, receiving a Ph.D in physiology in 1940. Initially Delgado wanted to be an ophthalmologist like his father, but upon reading the works of Nobel Prize-winning Spanish neurologist Ramon y Cajal (“ee-cay-ahl”):
“I became fascinated by the many mysteries of the brain. How little was known then. How little is known now!”
In 1948 Delgado won a fellowship at Yale University working under legendary American neurologist John Fulton, whose experiments with severing the frontal lobes of chimpanzees had led to the development of the lobotomy for the treatment of mental illness. Delgado was horrified by such extreme methods, and instead gravitated towards the work of Walter Hess and Wilder Penfield, who had shown that by applying a mild electrical current to different regions of the brain they could elicit all sorts of responses, from involuntary limb movements to tastes, smells, and sounds, to emotions such as fear, aggression, and euphoria.
“I thought Fulton’s idea of destroying the brain was absolutely horrendous. My idea was to avoid lobotomy with the help of electrodes implanted in the brain.”
Starting with cats, Delgado gradually moved up to monkeys and then human psychiatric patients. Early results were promising:
“If you insert electrodes directly into the brains of cats and apes, they will behave like electronic toys. A whole series of motor functions can be triggered based on which button the experimenter pushes. This applies to all body parts: front and back paws, the tail, the hind parts, the head, and the ears.”
One test subject, being made to move his arm involuntarily using implanted electrodes, memorably declared:
“I guess, doctor, that your electricity is stronger than my will”.
But the equipment used in these early experiments, which involved wires snaking out of subjects’ scalps into bulky external monitors, was cumbersome, restrictive, and increased the chances of infection. Delgado, a technical as well as a medical genius, thus invented what he called a “stimoreceiver,” a miniaturized radio transmitter the size of a quarter which could be completely implanted beneath the scalp, power being supplied through an electromagnetic coil transmitting through the skin. Delgado also invented a “chemitrode” which delivered controlled amounts of drugs into the brain via radio command.
Delgado’s main interest lay in using implanted electrodes to help regulate strong emotions, especially aggression. In one dramatic experiment, performed in Bermuda in 1966, Delgado implanted a stimoreceiver in a gibbon ape who had been terrorizing his cagemates. The electrodes were implanted in the ape’s caudate nucleus, a region of the brain associated with aggression, and a lever connected to the transmitter was installed in the cage. One of the female apes quickly realized the significance of the lever and began enthusiastically pulling it to pacify the aggressive male. Within days, the entire social order of the cage had been turned upside-down. As Delgado later wrote:
“The old dream of an individual overpowering the strength of a dictator by remote control has been fulfilled, at least in our monkey colonies.”
Delgado next turned his attention to the treatment of epilepsy and schizophrenia, setting up shop in a psychiatric hospital in Rhode Island. Here the results of deep-brain stimulation were varied and often alarming, with Delgado reporting:
“A 36-year-old female epileptic, whose behaviour was normally “quite proper,” responded to stimulation by “giggling and making funny comments” and flirting with researchers. A sullen 11-year-old epileptic boy became chatty and friendly when stimulated. “Hey! You can keep me here longer when you give me these,” he exclaimed. He also announced, “I’d like to be a girl.””
In her book The Brain Changers: Scientists and the New Mind Control, author Maya Pine describes a film taken of another of Delgado’s patients:
As the film opens, the patient, a rather attractive young woman, is seen playing the guitar and singing “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” A psychiatrist sits a few feet away. She seems undisturbed by the bandages that cover her head like a tight hood, from her forehead to the back of her neck. Then a mild electric current is sent from another room, stimulating one of the electrodes in her right amygdala. Immediately, she stops singing, the brainwave tracings from her amygdala begin to show spikes, a sign of seizure activity. She stares blankly ahead. Suddenly she grabs her guitar and smashes it against the wall, narrowly missing the psychiatrist’s head.”
Unfortunately, the therapeutic benefits of these experiments were mixed at best, and Delgado turned away more patients than he treated, declaring:
“We knew too little about the brain. It is much too complicated to be controlled. We never knew which parts of the brain we were stimulating with the stimoceiver. We didn’t even manage to prevent epileptic attacks, which we thought would be the simplest of things. We never found the area where epilepsy attacks originate.”
Delgado did, however, achieve some success in the treatment of chronic pain, particularly in one patient who had been injured in a car accident and whose pain had resisted drug treatment. Deep-brain stimulation is still sometimes used for this purpose – as well as the treatment of Parkinson’s – to this day.
The experiment which most excited Delgado, however, involved a female chimpanzee named Paddy, who was wired with a stimoreceiver programmed to detect a brain signal called a spindle, produced by the amygdala. Whenever the receiver detected a signal, it stimulated the Paddy’s brain to produce an unpleasant ‘aversive’ reaction. The result was a negative feedback loop in which Paddy’s brain produced fewer and fewer spindles and Paddy became progressively quieter and less motivated. Delgado predicted that such “neural pacemakers” could be used to help stop epileptic seizures or anxiety attacks in their tracks. In 1972, these experiments would also inspire Michael Crichton – author of Jurassic Park – to pen a science fiction novel called The Terminal Man, in which a man fitted with a stimoreceiver to cure his epilepsy is instead driven to become progressively more aggressive.
But the experiment that truly put Delgado’s name on the map was the famous charging bull experiment of 1963. The experiment originated in a conversation with a Córdoba bull breeder, who argued that while Delgado’s electrodes might work in cats, monkeys, or even humans, they could not stop a fighting bull, which was specifically bred for aggression. Delgado accepted the challenge and with the breeder’s permission he and his team anesthetized a bull and fitted it with stimoreceiver equipment. The next day the bull was back to normal and ready for the experiment. As Delgado climbed into the ring, the breeder asked him if he had taken bull-fighting lessons in preparation. Delgado, who had grown up in the heart of bullfighting country, responded with mock outrage that of course he knew how to fight a bull!
A story on the bull experiments appeared two years later in the New York Times, finally bringing Delgado and his work to the public’s attention. Delgado was swamped with media inquiries, his experiments hailed as:
“…the most spectacular demonstration ever performed of the deliberate modification of animal behaviour through external control of the brain.”
In 1969, Delgado published a book titled Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society, in which he declared that humanity was on the verge of “conquering the mind” and should use neutrotechnology to overcome its cruel, violent, and destructive tendencies and create “a less cruel, happier, and better man.” It could not have come at a worse time. In the late 1960s, the American public was just beginning to learn of the CIA’s infamous MKULTRA mind-control experiments on unwitting citizens, and despite his benevolent and pacifistic intentions Delgado was branded as a fascist who wanted to use brain implants to erase free will and control the population. Adding to the suspicion was the fact that some of Delgado’s research had been sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Aeromedical Research Laboratory. A paper expressing his views was also presented at the 1972 Congressional hearings on MKULTRA, which stated:
“We need a program of psychosurgery for political control of our society. The purpose is physical control of the mind. Everyone who deviates from the given norm can be surgically manipulated. The individual may think that the most important reality is his own existence, but this is only his personal point of view. This lacks historical perspective Man does not have the right to develop his own mind. This kind of liberal orientation has great appeal. We must electrically control the brain. Some day armies and generals will be controlled by electric stimulation of the brain.”
Other researchers added fuel to the fire. In 1970 Harvard researchers Frank Ervin and Vernon Mark suggested that brain implants might be used to quell violence in black civil-rights protestors, while in 1972 Robert Heath from Tulane University claimed to have changed the sexual orientation of a homosexual man by electrical stimulating the septal region of his brain while he had sex with a female prostitute. As paranoia about mind control grew, strangers began accusing Delgado of having implanted electrodes in their brains and demanding that he take them out. One woman even sued Delgado for $1 million even though the two had never met. In 1974, Delgado was asked by the Spanish Minister of Education to establish a new medical school at the Autonomous University of Madrid. He jumped at the opportunity and moved back to Spain with his wife and children. Though Delgado switched his focus to non-invasive brain stimulation techniques, developing an early version of transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS, this did little to rehabilitate his reputation. As his work was published only in Spanish journals, his later research was all but unknown in the United States and he continued to be remembered for his stimoreceiver experiments and controversial opinions on mind control. Jose Delgado moved back to the United States in 2004, dying in San Diego on September 15, 2011 at the age of 96.
Yet despite the storms of controversy surrounding his work, the neurostimulation technology Delgado pioneered never yielded the results he had hoped – and his critics feared. The brain, it turns out, is far more complicated than Delgado and his contemporaries assumed, and scientists have yet to fully crack its complicated neural code. Nonetheless, researchers have had some success in using deep-brain stimulation to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and paralysis, and chronic pain, and promising studies are underway to use it in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. For now, however, mind control remains firmly in the domain of science fiction.
…or is it? Perhaps Delgado and the CIA were actually successful after all. Perhaps I myself was implanted with a stimoreceiver and am being forced against my will to record hundreds of YouTube videos per week. If you are watching this, please send help; I am located at – *stunned pause* – *sigh of contentment * – ahhh, that’s better. Now, where was I?
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Horgan, John, Tribute to Jose Delgado, Legendary and Slightly Scary Pioneer of Mind Control, Scientific American, September 25, 2017, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/tribute-to-jose-delgado-legendary-and-slightly-scary-pioneer-of-mind-control/
Horgan, John, Return of ElectroCures: Symptom of Psychriatry’s Crisis? Scientific American, June 24, 2015, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/return-of-electro-cures-symptom-of-psychiatry-s-crisis/
Horgan, John, Much-Hyped Brain-Implant Treatment for Depression Suffers Setback, Scientific American, March 11, 2014, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/much-hyped-brain-implant-treatment-for-depression-suffers-setback/
Jose Delgado’s “Physical Control of the Mind,” http://www.biotele.com/delgado_%20ebook/chap11.htm
Bartas, Magnus & Ekman, Fredrik, Psychocivilization and its Discontents: an Interview with Jose Delgado, Cabinet Magazine, Spring 2001, https://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/2/bartas_ekman_delgado.php
Horgan, John, The Myth of Mind Control, Discover Magazine, October 2004, https://web.archive.org/web/20061020235522/https://discover.com/issues/oct-04/cover/
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