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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Can A Severed Head Think?

If there was sensation after decapitation, then the guillotine wasn't the quick merciful death promised by the Revolutionary leaders. It was cruel, maybe crueler than hanging or disemboweling, to transform the victim into a disembodied head fully experiencing the agony of a horrific knife wound. Remember that the Enlightenment was an age of reason--with a turn away from religion and emotion--so the logical question was: Why couldn't the head beam on for a few more minutes of consciousness? As one French writer put it, if the severed head is conscious, then it reconfigures Descartes famed dictum to "I think but I am not."

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997

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