When Sparks are Ignored: Lobotomies

Humans are capable of some brilliant things, but they can also do some really stupid things. Sometimes it is the most brilliant people who do the stupidest things, and sometimes it takes a while for everyone else to realise how silly these things are. Lobotomies are one example that causes particular pain to Sparks.

A lobotomy is an operation where the connections between the prefrontal cortex (part of the frontal lobes) and rest of the brain are severed. The prefrontal cortex is where the executive functions of the brain are performed (such as reasoning and understanding, creativity, planning, attention, problem solving, inhibition, mental flexibility, and the initiation and monitoring of actions).The idea behind disconnecting the prefrontal cortex is that this leads to the uncoupling of emotions and intellect.

Lobotomies were developed in 1935 by neurologists Dr. Antonio Egas Moniz and Dr. Almeida Lima as a treatment for mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. If you were considered extremely emotional, difficult or moody you might also have been given a lobotomy. They were given to criminals, to problem family members and to patients who would otherwise have taken up hospital beds.

As you may know, when Sparks visit human brains they inhabit the frontal lobes. This is because Sparks are looking to interact with the intellect and because the frontal lobes are where all good ideas are formed. If you were to lose the function of your frontal lobes you’d be left with what is sometimes called the reptilian part of the brain. The reptilian part of the brain runs on reward and punishment. It is not capable of abstract thinking (like imagining the likely consequences of actions or understanding another person’s feelings or motives). Obviously if you lost the function of your frontal lobes you’d also lose the opportunity to be influenced by a Spark.

Many Sparks joined forces to try to stop the lobotomy craze taking off, but they weren’t successful because not all brains are receptive to Sparks and the type of people who sanctioned and performed lobotomies turned out to be the least receptive. The potential patients were far more receptive to Sparks, but they were also often powerless or overcome by other problems, and in the end there was just not enough time – most people seemed to want a solution that was convenient rather than good.

Instead, lobotomies were made even easier by Walter Freeman. The first lobotomies involved drilling holes into the skull on either side of the prefrontal cortex and injecting the connecting fibres with alcohol to destroy them. So that lobotomies could be given to more people, Walter Freeman came up with a technique that was faster, more accessible and less expensive. This involved getting to the prefrontal cortex through the eye sockets instead. His method has become known as the “ice pick lobotomy”, because he developed the technique using an ice pick and eventually used an instrument (orbitoclast) that resembled an ice pick.

The ice pick lobotomy could be done by non surgeons and didn’t require an operating room. It took around 10 minutes to perform. The patient was made unconscious using electroconvulsive shock instead of anaesthetic. The orbitoclast was pushed up through the top of one eye-socket. Then, after a light tap on the end with a hammer, the orbitoclast would break through the thin layer of bone and enter the brain. Next the fibres connecting the prefrontal cortex were then broken by twiddling the orbitoclast around a bit. The procedure was then repeated on the other side (via the other eye socket).

Sparks weren’t even able to stop Dr Moniz being given the Nobel Prize in 1949 for his lobotomy work. Things began to turn around when the USSR banned lobotomies in 1953, but it was really the invention of drugs as a replacement that meant that Lobotomies began to decline in the 1950s.

Some people were happy with their lobotomies, as some people are happy taking drugs today. But many people suffered and many died. Those of you who still have the connection between intellect and emotion may like to listen to Josef Hassid play the violin (pre-lobotomy) while reading about him and nine other notable lobotomy patients.

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