by Kim Pederson…….
Back in the fifteenth century, some believed that madness, depression, and stupidity were caused by something called “the stone of folly” or “stone of madness.” Said rock was purportedly inside the skulls of the afflicted personages, so, logically, the cure would be to open up the cranium and take the stone out (click this link for an “interesting” demonstration). Thankfully, as Jessica Parker tells us in her article “The Stone of Madness,” such operations were likely never done, except perhaps on stage as part of a theatrical performance.
The subject did seem to fascinate painters, though, beginning with Hieronymus Bosch and continuing on through Jan Sanders van Hemessen, Pieter Bruegel, and Pieter Huys. All showed the stone of folly being extracted from someone’s head. The procedure involved was known as treppaning or trepanation. Boring, cutting, or, in the really old days, say, circa 6500 BC, bludgeoning a hole in someone’s head was done to release evil spirits. It was also the treatment for migraines, epileptic seizures, and, of course, mental disorders.
Trepanning, as you might have surmised, is the predecessor of the lobotomy, which involves the cutting or scraping away of all connections to the prefrontal cortex in human brains. This procedure was also meant to subdue the symptoms of mental disorders (see One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, movie or book, for a graphic example of how well this works).
Of course, all this talk about stones and skulls brings the phrase “rocks in your head” to mind, which according to one source means “to be thoroughly stupid, crazy, absurd, incorrect, etc.” It’s that “etc.” that has me worried. I’m afraid, as the rest of the world mulls that phrase over when they look at us, that other adjectives pop up: dumb, idiotic, moronic, harebrained, senseless to name a few. It would be difficult to argue at this moment that they were wrong about us.
Looking down the road, the idea of a lobotomy has much more appeal today than it once did. Too bad the operation results more often in death or suicide or physical incapacity rather than rendering the patient into a perpetual state of “What? Me Worry?” I guess we’ll just have to live with the rocks in our heads. To stay sane, however, we would need an operation to keep our stones of folly from rattling around so much. Perhaps opening a small hole and stuffing our head spaces with cotton wool would do the trick. I even have a term for the procedure: prefrontal numbotomy. I bet some guy with a funnel on his head would do the operation. Yellow Pages, you think?
* Detail from The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, attributed to Hieronymus Bosch. Public Domain.
Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.