Lucid decapitation

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In Frans Bengtsson’s book, The Long Ships two captured vikings sit on a bench and await beheading. To pass the time they speculate about whether the head still controls the body when it is separated from it. They agree to put the matter to the test. The first to lose his head will try, after, to pin his brooch into the ground.

Good empirical science a long time before Frances Bacon caught cold in the snow testing refrigeration on chicken carcasses. The brooch of course fell from the fingers, but, for me it left the question of the survival of consciousness unanswered. Even if the severed head loses control of the limbs, does consciousness persist at all?

An article in damninteresting.com explores the question in some detail. A example:

In the heyday of the guillotine during the French Revolution, it is said that many of the condemned were asked to blink for as long as possible after decapitation. While many reportedly did not blink at all, some complied for as long as thirty seconds. Still other observations describe much more specific reactions to stimuli following beheading. Consider the case of Languille, a convicted murderer who was guillotined in France. He was observed by Dr. Beaurieux during his execution at 5:30am on June 28th, 1905. As written in Archives d’Anthropologie Criminelle, here are the doctor’s observations:

Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds … I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased.The face relaxed, the lids half closed on the eyeballs, leaving only the white of the conjunctiva visible, exactly as in the dying whom we have occasion to see every day in the exercise of our profession, or as in those just dead.It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: ‘Languille!’ I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions … Next Languille’s eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves … After several seconds, the eyelids closed again, slowly and evenly, and the head took on the same appearance as it had had before I called out.It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead.

More examples and the full article here.

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Lucid decapitation

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