Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?- Dr. Victor Frankenstein
From mummies to zombies to the creature himself, Frankenstein's monster, the tales of reanimating the dead span thousands of years. For many people Mary Shelly's Frankenstein is or was their introduction to the subject of reanimation. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a cautionary tale about the abuses of science — in particular, the potential pitfalls of screwing around with corpses and lightning. If you're not familiar with the story of Frankenstein then see yourself the hell out right now. Are they gone? Good fuck em. If there are any untrustworthy folks left that are still here even though they don't know the story, here's a recap. The actual title, which most of you probably don't know, is "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus''. Shelly began writing the story when she was 18. The first edition was published anonymously in 1818 when she was 20. It began as a short story that unfolded into a novel. Although later versions of the tale popularly have the creature (he is referred to as the Creature, and as we all should know, the creature isn't Frankenstein) he’s essentially sewn together from various bodies parts and reanimated during a science experiment using lightning, this is not how the creature was originally written and conceived. In the original novel the creature was also not a big dumb lumbering idiot as he is usually portrayed. In Shelley's original work, Victor Frankenstein discovers a previously unknown but elemental principle of life, and that insight allows him to develop a method to imbue vitality into inanimate matter, though the exact nature of the process is left largely ambiguous. After a great deal of hesitation in exercising this power, Frankenstein (that’s the doctor for you slower passengers) spends two years painstakingly constructing the creature's proportionally large body (one anatomical feature at a time, from raw materials supplied by "the dissecting room and the slaughter-house"), which he then brings to life using his unspecified process. All of that aside, and all the differences and nuances aside, the idea is the same, the goal of reanimation of dead or inanimate things. While Shelly may have written an early example of the concept, process, and consequences of reanimation, she was not the first to think of this concept. There were scientists and thinkers earlier than her dreaming up ideas of reanimating animals and even humans.
Science behind reanimation
Okay Jeff, bear with us here, it's gonna get a little nerdy from time to time. You've all heard the old saying, there's nothing sure in life but death and taxes, but what if death wasn’t such a sure thing? Scientists have been attempting to restore life to the dead for hundreds of years. People have used water, electricity, chemicals and other things to try and reanimate dead animals and people.
A basic example of reanimation using water could be that of the ever popular sea monkey! Sea monkeys are actually brine shrimp. Their dried eggs, sold in pet stores, contain embryos that will revive when put in salt water, hatch, swim about, grow to be a quarter-inch long and make good fish food. Another example is the tardigrade.
It is so small -- the size of a sand grain -- that most people are unaware of its existence, yet several times a year it performs one of the most astonishing feats known to science. When there has been no rain for a long time and its habitat dries out, the little animal's body loses its own water, shriveling and curling into a wrinkled kernel. Without water, the animal plunges into a profound state of suspended animation. The creature stops eating or crawling. It does not breathe. Its internal organs shut down, no longer digesting food or sending signals through its nervous system. Even metabolic processes inside cells shut down -- the usually busy genes going dormant and the enzymes that normally carry out thousands of biochemical reactions every second cease to function. Its body dries to a crisp. So profound is the loss of activity that, according to a common textbook definition of life, which says metabolism is a hallmark of life, the little animal is… dead. And yet, after days or even months, if moisture returns, the animal soaks up the water and resumes all normal activities. The creature is informally called a water bear or, more formally, a tardigrade, which means "slow walker." On the evolutionary tree, it lies between worms and insects, one of the many small but remarkable life forms on Earth known almost solely to those who study biology. So there is one issue with these guys and others like them. There's an argument on whether they are truly being reanimated or if there is just some weird sort of hibernation going on. The chief hallmark of life, textbooks often say, is metabolism, the sum of all genetic and enzymatic processes that go on inside cells and in interactions among cells. If one accepts that definition, then an organism in suspended animation is not alive. That conclusion, however, raises a semantic problem because if it is not alive, it is dead. If so and if it revives, then life has been created, a phenomenon that would violate a cardinal principle of biology -- that complex life forms cannot be spontaneously generated but only come from living parents. To avoid this logical trap, the few biologists who have studied the phenomenon generally refer to it as cryptobiosis, meaning "hidden life." So strong, however, was the metabolism-centered view of life that until recently most biologists suspected that cryptobiotic organisms were not totally inactive. They argued that enough water remained inside the animals to permit metabolism to continue at a rate too slow to be detected. After all, they knew some higher animals can reduce their metabolic rates by hibernating in winter, and others enter a state of even lower metabolism, called estivation, that allows them to endure dry, summer heat. Cryptobiotic animals, many researchers suspected, were simply extending a familiar capacity to a previously unknown extreme. Recently, however, scientists have established that, although even the driest organisms retain a few water molecules, they constitute only a small fraction of the minimum needed for metabolism. For example, most of the workhorse molecules of metabolism, proteins, must be awakened in water to assume the shape essential to their functions as enzymes. Tardigrades and nematodes, like most animals, are normally 80 percent to 90 percent water. In the cryptobiotic state, the organisms contain only about 3 percent to 5 percent water. Under laboratory conditions, the water content of some has been reduced to 0.05 percent, and they were revived. Most authorities now agree that no metabolism occurs during cryptobiosis. The term no longer means "a hidden form of ordinary life" but rather "a state of being in which the active processes of life are temporarily suspended." In the cryptobiotic state, all that remains of a living organism is its structural integrity. A dry animal may be shrunken, but it maintains all connections that keep together the structures of its cells. In other words, biologists now hold, molecules hooked together in a certain way will metabolize if given water. Life is not the result of some mystical animating force that inhabits proteins or the nucleic acids that make up DNA. It is the structural arrangement of certain molecules that will behave chemically in specific ways in the presence of water. So what does that all mean? Fuck if we know. But essentially it seems that in these tiny organisms, if the law of the land is followed to a T, then it seems they are dead, dried, shriveled up things with no metabolisms, thus no life, that can actually be reanimated with water. Interesting indeed. There's a ton more cool info on this in an article from the Washington Post titled "Just Add Water" from 1996 that this information was taken from. If you're really into the science behind this stuff we definitely recommend this article!
Now if one were to think that Frankenstein, despite being an early foray into the world of reanimation, was possibly influenced by real world attempts at the same result, one would be correct. In the late 18th century many doctors and scientists began toying with dead things and electricity. In 1780, Italian anatomy professor Luigi Galvani discovered that he could make the muscles of a dead frog twitch and jerk with sparks of electricity. Others quickly began to experiment by applying electricity to other animals that quickly grew morbid. Galvani’s nephew, physicist Giovanni Aldini, obtained the body of an ox, proceeding to cut off the head and use electricity to twist its tongue. He sent such high levels of voltage through the diaphragm of the ox that it resulted in “a very strong action on the rectum, which even produced an expulsion of the feces,” Aldini wrote.
People outside of science were also fascinated by electricity. They would attend shows where bullheads and pigs were electrified, and watch public dissections at research institutions such as the Company of Surgeons in England, which later became the Royal College of Surgeons.
When scientists tired of testing animals, they turned to corpses, particularly corpses of murderers. In 1751, England passed the Murder Act, which allowed the bodies of executed murderers to be used for experimentation. “The reasons the Murder Act came about were twofold: there weren’t enough bodies for anatomists, and it was seen as a further punishment for the murderer,” says Juliet Burba, chief curator of an exhibit called “Mary and Her Monster” at the Bakken Museum in Minnesota. “It was considered additional punishment to have your body dissected.”
On November 4, 1818, Scottish chemist Andrew Ure stood next to the lifeless corpse of an executed murderer, the man hanging by his neck at the gallows only minutes before. He was performing an anatomical research demonstration for a theater filled with curious students, anatomists, and doctors at the University of Glasgow. But this was no ordinary cadaver dissection. Ure held two metallic rods charged by a 270-plate voltaic battery to various nerves and watched in delight as the body convulsed, writhed, and shuddered in a grotesque dance of death.
“When the one rod was applied to the slight incision in the tip of the forefinger,” Ure later described to the Glasgow Literary Society, “the fist being previously clenched, that finger extended instantly; and from the convulsive agitation of the arm, he seemed to point to the different spectators, some of whom thought he had come to life.”
Ure is one of many scientists during the late 18th and 19th centuries who conducted crude experiments with galvanism—the stimulation of muscles with pulses of electrical current. The bright sparks and loud explosions made for stunning effects that lured in both scientists and artists, with this era of reanimation serving as inspiration for Mary Shelley’s literary masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. While most scientists were using galvanism to search for clues about life, Ure wanted to see if it could actually bring someone back from the dead.
“This was a time when people were trying to understand the origin of life, when religion was losing some of its hold,” says Burba. “There was a lot of interest in the question: What is the essence that animates life? Could it be electricity?”
Lying on Ure’s table was the muscular, athletic corpse of 35-year-old coal miner, Matthew Clydesdale. In August 1818, Clydesdale drunkenly murdered an 80-year-old miner with a coal pick and was sentenced to be hanged at the gallows. His body remained suspended and limp for nearly an hour, while a thief who had been executed next to Clydesdale at the same time convulsed violently for several moments after death. The blood was drained from the body for half an hour before the experiments began.
Andrew Ure, who had little to no known experience with electricity, was a mere assistant to James Jeffray, an anatomy professor at the University of Glasgow. He had studied medicine at Glasgow University and served briefly as an army surgeon, but was otherwise known for teaching chemistry. “Not much is known about Ure, but he was sort of a minor figure in the history of science,” says Alex Boese, author of Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments. One of Ure’s main accomplishments was this single bizarre galvanic experiment, he says.
Others, such as Aldini, conducted similar experiments, but scholars write that Ure was convinced that electricity could restore life back into the dead. “While Aldini contented himself with the role of spasmodic puppeteer, Ure’s ambitions were well nigh Frankesteinian,” wrote Ulf Houe in Studies in Romanticism.
Ure charged the battery with dilute nitric and sulphuric acids five minutes before the police delivered the body to the University of Glasgow’s anatomical theater. Incisions were made at the neck, hip, and heels, exposing different nerves that were jolted with the metallic rods. When Ure sent charges through Clydesdale’s diaphragm and saw his chest heave and fall, he wrote that “the success of it was truly wonderful.”Ure’s descriptions of the experiment are vivid. He poetically noted how the convulsive movements resembled “a violent shuddering from cold” and how the fingers “moved nimbly, like those of a violin performer.” Other passages, like this one about stimulating muscles in Clydesdale’s forehead and brow, are more macabre:
“Every muscle in his countenance was simultaneously thrown into fearful action; rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles, united their hideous expression in the murderer’s face, surpassing far the wildest representations of a Fuseli or a Kean,” wrote Ure, comparing the result to the visage of tragic actor, Edmund Kean, and the fantastical works of romantic painter Henry Fuseli. He continued: “At this period several of the spectators were forced to leave the apartment from terror or sickness, and one gentleman fainted.”
The whole experiment lasted about an hour. “Both Jeffray and Ure were quite deliberately intent on the restoration of life,” wrote F.L.M. Pattinson in the Scottish Medical Journal. But the reasons for the lack of success were thought to have little to do with the method: Ure concluded that if death was not caused by bodily injury there was a probability that life could have been restored. But, if the experiment succeeded it wouldn’t have been celebrated since he would be reviving a murderer, he wrote.
Ure is just one of many scientists and doctors at this time experimenting with reanimation. We’ll discuss some others in a bit. In modern times a case can be made that we reanimate people all the time. Without getting into semantics of clinical death versus biological death versus this versus that blah blah, we can look to the use of a defibrillator as a basic use of electricity to revive a person who is technically dead. Would that not be reanimation? There are arguments being made and in discussions about reanimation it seems like this usually comes up. Then there is a giant sciencey biology fight and much ink is spilled and pocket protectors destroyed and still no consensus.. so we'll spare you the agony of those arguments. Electricity seems to be the most popular medium in historical attempts at resurrection, mostly because of its effects on muscles and the ability to move body parts after death. These days we know that this is simply a reflex action due to the stimulation of the muscles and nerves and has nothing to really do with reanimation so to speak.
So what about using chemicals? Can chemicals reanimate cells and bring the dead back to life? Well according to many zombie movies yes, but according to a Yale university study...also yes. Yale neuroscientist Nenad Sestan revealed that his team has successfully reanimated the brains of dead pigs recovered from a slaughterhouse. By pumping them with artificial blood using a system called BrainEx, they were able to bring them back to “life” for up to 36 hours. Also you heard that right… The call it fucking BrainEx. If that doesn't Scream B horror movie..I don't know what does. Admittedly, the pigs’ brains did not regain consciousness, but Sestan acknowledged that restoring awareness is a possibility. Crucially, he also disclosed that the technique could work on primate brains (which includes humans), and that the brains could be kept alive indefinitely. This is interesting because it raises some interesting questions. If consciousness could be restored to the brain if a human… Would it be worth it. What would it be like to just be a brain? Even if your conscious brain were kept alive after your body had died, you would have to spend the foreseeable future as a disembodied “brain in a bucket”, locked away inside your own mind without access to the senses that allow us to experience and interact with the world and the inputs that our brains so crave. The knowledge and technology needed to implant your brain into a new body may be decades, if not centuries, away.
So in the best case scenario, you would be spending your life with only your own thoughts for company. Some have argued that even with a fully functional body, immortality would be tedious. With absolutely no contact with external reality, it might just be a living hell.
According to some, it is impossible for a disembodied brain to house anything like a normal human mind. Antonio Damasio, a philosopher and neuroscientist, has pointed out that in ordinary humans, brain and body are in constant interaction with each other. Every muscle, nerve, joint and organ is connected to the brain – and vast numbers of chemical and electrical signals go back and forth between them each and every second. Without this constant “feedback loop” between brain and body, Damasio argues, ordinary experiences and thought are simply not possible.
So what would it be like to be a disembodied brain? The truth is, nobody knows. But it is probable it would be worse than being simply tedious – it would likely be deeply disturbing. Experts have already warned that a man reportedly due to have the world’s first head transplant could suffer a terrible fate. They say his brain will be overwhelmed by the unfamiliar chemical and electrical signals sent to it by his new body, and it could send him mad. A disembodied brain would be likely to react similarly – but because it would be unable to signal its distress, or do anything to bring its suffering to an end, it would be even worse.
So, to end up as a reanimated disembodied human brain may well be to suffer a fate worse than death. Now maybe if you had a body things wouldn't be so bad, but as stated earlier many think that it would be extremely tedious to live forever if it was possible. None of us expected to make it this long… Fuck living forever.
Another player in the chemical game actually is a mix of chemical and biological attempts at reanimating recently dead brains. The company Bioquark, plans to initiate a study to see if a combination of stem cell and protein blend injections, electrical nerve stimulation, and laser therapy can reverse the effects of recent brain death. They're literally trying to bring people back from the dead.
"It's our contention that there's no single magic bullet for this, so to start with a single magic bullet makes no sense. Hence why we have to take a different approach," Bioquark CEO, Ira Pastor, told Stat News.
As Pastor told the Washington Post last year, he doesn't believe that brain death is necessarily a permanent condition, at least to start. It may well be curable, he argued, if the patient is administered the right combination of stimuli, ranging from stem cells to magnetic fields.
The resuscitation process will not be a quick one, however. First, the newly dead person must receive an injection of stem cells derived from their own blood. Then doctors will inject a proprietary peptide blend called BQ-A into the patient's spinal column. This serum is supposed to help regrow neurons that had been damaged upon death. Finally, the patient undergoes 15 days of electrical nerve stimulation and transcranial laser therapy to instigate new neuron formation. During the trial, researchers will rely on EEG scans to monitor the patients for brain activity.
Sometimes the dead come back on their own! Lazarus syndrome is the spontaneous return of a birthday cardiac rhythm after failed attempts at resuscitation. Its occurrence has been noted in medical literature at least 38 times since 1982. It takes its name from Lazarus who, as described in the New Testament, was raised from the dead by Jesus. Basically this occurs after a person has died and attempts to revive then using cpr or other means have failed and since time will pass and the heart will start back up on its own! The causes of this syndrome are not understood very well. With some hypotheticals being there build up of pressure on the chest following cpr, hyperkalemia (elevated potassium levels in the blood), or high doses of epinephrine. Some of these cases are pretty crazy. Is this spontaneous biological reanimation? Heres a few tales:
A 66-year-old man suffering from a suspected abdominal aneurysm suffered cardiac arrest and received chest compressions and defibrillation shocks for 17 minutes during treatment for his condition. Vital signs did not return; the patient was declared dead and resuscitation efforts ended. Ten minutes later, the surgeon felt a pulse. The aneurysm was successfully treated, and the patient fully recovered with no lasting physical or neurological problems.
According to a 2002 article in the journal Forensic Science International, a 65-year-old prelingually deaf Japanese man was found unconscious in the foster home he lived in. CPR was attempted on the scene by home staff, emergency medical personnel and also in the emergency department of the hospital and included appropriate medications and defibrillation. He was declared dead after attempted resuscitation. However, a policeman found the person moving in the mortuary after 20 minutes. The patient survived for 4 more days.
A 45-year-old woman in Colombia was pronounced dead, as there were no vital signs showing she was alive. Later, a funeral worker noticed the woman moving and alerted his co-worker that the woman should go back to the hospital
A 65-year-old man in Malaysia came back to life two-and-a-half hours after doctors at Seberang Jaya Hospital, Penang, pronounced him dead. He died three weeks later.
Anthony Yahle, 37, in Bellbrook, Ohio, USA, was breathing abnormally at 4 a.m. on 5 August 2013, and could not be woken. After finding that Yahle had no pulse, first responders administered CPR and were able to retrieve a stable-enough heartbeat to transport him to the emergency room. Later that afternoon, he again suffered cardiac arrest for 45 minutes at Kettering Medical Center and was pronounced dead after all efforts to resuscitate him failed. When his son arrived at the hospital to visit his supposed-to-be deceased father, he noticed a heartbeat on the monitor that was still attached to his father. Resuscitation efforts were resumed, and Yahle was successfully revived.
Walter Williams, 78, from Lexington, Mississippi, United States, was at home when his hospice nurse called a coroner who arrived and declared him dead at 9 p.m. on 26 February 2014. Once at a funeral home, he was found to be moving, possibly resuscitated by a defibrillator implanted in his chest. The next day he was well enough to be talking with family, but died fifteen days later.
And probably the craziest one: Velma Thomas, 59, of West Virginia, USA holds the record time for recovering from clinical death. In May 2008, Thomas went into cardiac arrest at her home. Medics were able to establish a faint pulse after eight minutes of CPR. Her heart stopped twice after arriving at the hospital and she was placed on life support. Doctors attempted to lower her body temperature to prevent additional brain injury. She was declared clinically dead for 17 hours after doctors failed to detect brain activity. Her son, Tim Thomas, stated that "her skin had already started hardening, her hands and toes were curling up, they were already drawn". She was taken off life support and funeral arrangements were in progress. However, ten minutes after being taken off life support, she revived and recovered.
Again… Spontaneous biological reanimation? Who knows!
So these are some of the concepts of reanimation. Let's talk about a couple people that were into the reanimation game:
Spallanzani was a Catholic priest, and a professor of natural history at Pavia University in the late 1700s. He started small, adding water to microscopic animals and announcing that he had managed a resurrection when they came to life. But he wasn't really satisfied. For some reason, Spallanzani turned for spiritual guidance to noted French cynic and atheist Voltaire. Spallanzani asked him what he thought happened to the souls of animals after death. Voltaire must have liked the guy, because he replied gently that he believed Spallanzani about the reanimation, and that the priest himself would be best qualified to answer the question. Although the priest's next trick was cutting the heads off snails to see if they'd grow back, he was definitely the least mad of the mad scientists. He was the first person to prove that chemicals inside the body helped with digestion, and was the first to spot white blood cells
Andrew Crosse was messing around with lightning in 1837. He strung about a third of a mile of copper wire around his estate, and concentrated all the electricity it picked up in his laboratory. Specifically, he focused on a sterile dish of a primordial soup that he'd carefully prepared. After zapping the soup, he noticed that crystals were growing in it. Hoping he could graduate to something way cooler, he tried giving the soup long exposures to weak currents. To his amazement, he found that after long weeks, animals shaped like mites began to form, and then move around. He repeated the experiment again and again, and to modern readers it seems that he kept the environment pretty sterile if he followed all the procedures he described. Still, we have to assume it was contaminated. The Victorians assumed the same thing, but they also assumed that Crosse was a jerk. The scientists believed he was making a play for false glory. The theists assumed he was trying to play god. The neighbors just thought he was going to burn his, and subsequently their, house down. He was disliked by all and had to leave his estate, until the scandal cleared.
This was the actual guy who inspired the Frankenstein legend. He lived in the Frankenstein castle, and signed his name as Frankenstein. Surprisingly, he was less like the good doctor than most people think, since he was more interested in preserving life than reanimating it. He did rob graves in the area — or is said to have — but only because he wanted to mix up an elixir of immortality, and for some reason he thought buried corpse parts might do it for him
The Doggie Scientists
In the first half of the 20th century, it was not a good time to be a dog. People were apt to, say, stick you in a tin can and send you into space. But at least, that way, you got to see something. You really didn't want to be in range of the doggie Frankensteins. Robert Cornish would suffocate dogs and attempt to bring them back to life via emergency medical measures. He actually managed to bring two back, although they sustained brain damage. Sergei Bryukhonenko attached his newly-invented heart and lung machine to a dog's head and kept it alive for quite some time, lying on a plate and eating and drinking.
Now this was a Frankenstein extraordinaire that we mentioned earlier. Having learned about how to use electricity to make the muscles of a corpse jump, he took it to the extreme in public. He zapped the heads of slaughtered oxen, in order to get them to twitch in front of audiences. He moved on to the heads of executed prisoners, applying the electrodes to the ears. He cut open corpses so he could zap their spinal cords. He claimed he could zap the suffocated and the drowned, in order to revive them completely. And he bragged that he could "command the vital powers." He also took a sideline into researching whether or not there was a way to make objects and people fireproof. Not much is said about his experiments in the latter area — but perhaps that's for the best. His tireless self-promotion never got him the chance to bring someone back to life, but it got him plenty of attention. He eventually traveled to Austria, where he was made a knight, and awarded a political position. Unlike many of the scientists on this list — and certainly unlike Frankenstein himself — Aldini died a rich and happy man.
In the 1950s, the field of cryobiology was so new, it didn't even have a name yet, so budding cryobiologists didn't always have the exact tools they needed for a particular procedure. James Lovelock was one such scientist, and he outlined a method to bring rodents back to life.