Investigacion Ramon y Cajal. In our letter to him, we have explained that we are two artists who have been studying his "astonishing research," and that we are interested in his views on the relationship between humans and machines. José M.R. Delgado has written that he will be most happy to receive us at his home in Madrid.
Delgado's name is a constant on various conspiracy websites dedicated to the topic of mind control; those with names like The Government Psychiatric Torture Site, and Parascope.
surgical removed implant
Il sito "parascope" non è attendibile ma anzi:
The Internet has in fact become the medium of conspiracy theorists. The network functions as an endless library where the very web structure lends itself to a conspiratorial frame of mind. The idea that every phenomenon and person can be connected to another phenomenon and person is the seed of the conspiracy theorist's claim to "make the connections between things," track the flow of power, and show how everything hangs together within some larger murky context.
Before traveling to Madrid, we get a hold of Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society, the 1969 Delgado book most often cited on the Net. The book has has been gathering dust for 30 years at the university's psychology library: it has never been cracked open. It is a disturbing book, less because of its photo-graphs of animal experiments than because of the triumphal tone of the writing. Delgado discusses how we have managed to tame and civilize our surrounding nature. Now it is time to civilize our inner being. The scientist sees himself on the verge of a new era where humans will undergo "psycho-civilization" by linking their brains directly to machines.
Ramon y Cajal is the name on one of the two insignia referred to in Delgado's book. Cajal was a famous histologist who became the young Delgado's mentor and inspiration. In his acknowledgements, Delgado cites Cajal's telling claim that
It was at Madrid University that Delgado began his research on pain and pleasure as the means of behavior control. After World War II, he became the head of the Department of neuropsychiatry at Yale's medical school. In 1966, he became a professor in physiology. By that time, he had further developed the research of the Swiss physiologist and Nobel Prize winner Walter Rudolph Hess, Egas Moniz who had used electric stimulation to chart how different parts of the brain control different motor functions.
After a series of spectacular experiments on animals in Bermuda, Delgado wrote:
electrostimulation in a group of gibbon apes,
in dismantling the usual power structure within the group. He gave a
ape with a low ranking a control box connected to electrodes that were
implanted in the group's alpha male, and the female learned to use the
box to turn the alpha male on and off at will.
The electrodes were inserted into the ape's brain and connected to an instrument that Delgado called the stimoceiver. The stimoceiver was an ideal instrument for two-way communication. Researchers could affect and at the same time register activity in the brain. From earlier prototypes where the lab animals were connected with wires, a remote control model was later developed that could send and receive signals over FM waves. The device was developed from the telemetric equipment used to send signals to and from astronauts in space.
The taxi lets us out
in an upscale suburb of Madrid
is falling on the brick houses. A church service has just finished and
people in Burberry clothes are streaming out of a strange concrete
At the entrance of the apartment building where Delgado lives, we are
by a fashionable and exuberant American woman of indeterminable age.
woman, who is Delgado's wife, talks nonstop in the elevator that opens
directly into the apartment. The apartment is decorated in a fussy,
style. If it were not such a bleak day, the view would extend all the
to the Pardo Mountains. Delgado gives us a very cordial welcome. He is
a proper old gentleman with sharp, intelligent eyes.
Delgado says that he has had a nightmare about our visit and woke up crying in the middle of the night. In the dream, we had showed up barefoot and in short sleeve shirts and had proceeded to gulp down all of his meringues. An hour later, we are seated at the marble table in his dining room and are served meringues and strawberry tarts after a large meal. We do not want to have more than one meringue each.
In a CNN special from 1985 called "Electro-magnetic Weapons and Mind Control," the reporter claims that Delgado's experiments were limited to animals. Nor is there anything in the texts on the various websites that indicates how far Delgado went in his research. His experiments on humans seem to have fallen into a strange collective amnesia. But anyone can walk into any well-stocked American medical library and take out Delgado's own reports and articles on the subject. There we can find his own candid, open descriptions of how he moved on from experimenting on animals to humans.In an article called Radio Control Behavior in the February 1969 issue of The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Delgado, Dr. Mark, and several other colleagues describe what was the first clinical use of Intracerebral Radio Stimulation (IRS) on a human being. The stimoceiver itself only weighed 70 grams and was held fast by a bandage. One of the patients hid her stimoceiver with a wig because the experiments lasted days or weeks. The patients were scrutinized thoroughly. Everything they said was taped, their EEG was recorded, and they were photographed at regular intervals in order to document changes in their facial expressions.
In one of the article's photographs, we see two of the subjects engaged in "spontaneous activity." They are both girls with bandages over their heads. The girl in the background is holding something to her mouth, perhaps a harmonica. The other girl is bent over a guitar. Delgado's colleague, Dr. Mark, is smiling at them. Mark had already achieved some notoriety at this time by claiming that all anti-social behavior is caused by brain damage. His recommendation had been the mass scanning of the American population in order to detect such damage in time and "correct" it.
Delgado and Mark's article offers short descriptions of the patients who have had the device affixed to their brain. A black fourteen-year-old girl on the border of developmental disability who grew up in a foster home suddenly goes into a fury that leads to the death of her two stepsisters. A thirty-five-year old white industrial designer who ends up killing his wife and children flies into a rage when other motorists try to overtake him and he chases them and tries to run them off the road. Their aggressive behavior is supposed to be registered by the stimoceiver in the way a seismograph registers the earth's tremors and the same stimoceiver is then to "turn them off" via the FM transmitter.
Delgado bombards us with a steady stream of anecdotes, scientific comments, and provocative rhetorical questions that are only interrupted by occasional tender comments directed to his wife. He tells of his work at the Ramon y Cajal Institute in the 1930s. In order to save a few paltry pennies, he would take a short cut through the zoo on his way to and from work. He would wander through the zoo alone at dawn and dusk and would hear lions and tigers roaring in this jungle in the city. After the War, he came to conquer nature in his own way in Bermuda. Even his wife was delighted to see the alpha male gibbon collapse when the underlings pushed the control lever.
One of the most
important reasons why we wanted to meet
Delgado is that
we imagined him and his activities as belonging
to a borderland between
fiction and reality, between science and madness. People in psychotic
of mind often feel themselves controlled by foreign voices or spend
lives trying to prove that they have had a transmitter implanted inside
their skulls that dictates their actions and thoughts all day and
We ask Delgado what he thinks of the fact that his research provides a
realistic edge to such fantasies.
He answers that he has on several occasions been contacted by strangers who say they want to have their implants removed and also that he has been sued by people he has never seen. Delgado is silent about the article that appeared in the Spanish monthly magazine Tiempo last year, where he was interviewed about exactly such accusations. The Tiempo reporter claimed that Delgado has ties with the Spanish secret police.
Delgado stretches out after the strawberry tarts. He has come to think of a case in Pittsburg in the 1950s where a robber was offered a milder sentence in exchange for being lobotomized.
It was Koskoff who carried out
the lobotomy on the robber. The patient
was quiet for a while after the operation but then reverted to carrying
out robberies again. In despair over his own unreliability, he decided
to take his own life. He wrote a suicide note addressed to Dr. Koskoff:
Delgado's wife puts
her arm on his shoulder and says
The comment makes us both look
A moment later, we are sitting on the sofa. Delgado admits that not one useful application of the stimoceiver has come out of his research.
He says all of this without a
bitterness, as if in
We are surprised by his casual attitude toward the stimoceiver, which in the 1960s and 70s was heralded as a great contribution to science. To demonstrate the power of their invention, Delgado and his colleagues orchestrated violent scenes in the lab. In her book, The Brain Changers: Scientists and the New Mind Control, Maya Pine describes a film where Dr. Mark attaches a stimoceiver to an electrode in a woman's brain. As the film opens, the patient, a rather attractive young woman, is seen playing the guitar and singing Puff, the Magic Dragon. A psychiatrist sits a few feet away. She seems undisturbed by the bandages that cover her head like a tight hood, from her forehead to the back of her neck. Then a mild electric current is sent from another room, stimulating one of the electrodes in her right amygdala. Immediately, she stops singing, the brainwave tracings from her amygdala begin to show spikes, a sign of seizure activity. She stares blankly ahead. Suddenly she grabs her guitar and smashes it against the wall, narrowly missing the psychiatrist's head.2
The same incident was described in one of Delgado's own articles. This experiment was repeated three days in a row.
If there were any problems with the experiments for Delgado, these were not ethical in nature but technical. How do you replicate the lab situation in society? How do you cut off the electricity to the stimoceiver? How do you avoid scarring and inflammation where the stimoceiver enters the brain? But the problems did not provoke any doubts about the supposed success of the stimoceiver. In the long run, the technique could be used to make people happy from a distance.
surprise, he responds indignantly that he has yet to do so.
Delgado's pragmatism does another
pirouette and we are beginning to
trouble following him.
Delgado pours coffee with his trembling hands. Spanish guitar music from the stereo fills the silence. We look together through the three recent collection of essays that Delgado has placed in front of us. Their publication dates range from 1979 up to this year. There is no emphasis on neurophysiology in any of them. Instead, they address questions of learning and upbringing from a more general psychological point of view.
Until the end of the 70s, Delgado and his colleagues were considered conquerors of an unknown territory, a wild and expansive jungle, the landscape of the brain and the soul. Apparently Delgado never got very far into the jungle, which proved to be much too thick and impenetrable. He has apparently retired without any regrets. He has instead started to cultivate his own garden. "My new book is going to be called The Education of My Grandchildren and Myself."
We ask if it is possible to learn to interpret the electrical language of the brain and mention the Swedish science journalist Göran Frankel's interview with Delgado back in 1977.3
In the interview Delgado claims that it is only a question of time before we connect the brain directly into computers that can communicate with the brain's electrical language.
Delgado makes a dismissive gesture and looks at us as if we are numskulls. "It is impossible to decode the brain's language. We can obviously manipulate different forms of electrical activity but what does that prove?" When we ask him about his colleague, Dr. Robert G. Heath, who claimed to be able to cure schizophrenic patients with electrostimulation, Delgado breaks into a patronizing smile and says,
We lead him to a
discussion of his own patients. Delgado
For a moment, we wonder
if we'll have to take out one of his own scientific articles and hold
in front of him as evidence. We start to look for our file with
of medical reports and articles.
In one of the Yale
reports in our file, there is a
experiment on an epileptic mental patient. The report states that the
has been in asylums for a long time, she is worried about her daughter,
and suffers from economic hardship. Electrodes measuring 12 centimeters
have been stuck into her brain, 5 centimeters of them inside the brain
tissue. She is interviewed while being given periodic electrical
The woman is tossed between various emotional states and finds that
words are coming to her mind. She experiences pain and sexual desire.
the end of the interview, she becomes flirty and her language becomes
only to be ashamed later and ask to be excused for words that she felt
had come to her from outside. The
woman has been transformed into a
doll that unwillingly gives voice to her brain's every whim.
Delgado, who had previously been so flattered by two artists being interested in his work, now seems to be looking at us with new eyes. Who are we? And what do we want? His tone is short and sharp. The temperature in the apartment has dropped a few degrees. In Physical Control of the Mind, Delgado proudly sums up how he has
With this in
we ask him what therapeutic results came from these experiments.
He looks at the clock
and says that we only have five
But we do not want to abandon our questions about the patients. What
to them? How long were the implants in their brains? Delgado now
somewhat vague. He says that it was other researchers that left the
in for a long time, not him or Dr. Heath, and he does not recall which
patients it was. The electrodes were taken out of his own patients
a couple of days and did not cause any injuries.
When Delgado spoke in
the 60s of "the precise
and machine," it gave rise to a number of far-fetched
His research was also mainly funded by military institutions such as
the Office of Naval Research
and the Air Force
In the US, the CIA and government research in (and use of) different means of behavior control was made public in a series of congressional hearings in 1974 as well as in a Senate investigation three years later. Witnesses offered a glimpse of the CIA's astonishing experiments in the so-called MK-Ultra program. The list of MK-Ultra experiments is like a group photo of the extended family of behavioral technologies: hypnosis, drugs, psychological testing, sleep research, brain research, electromagnetism, lie detection. The specific operations had very imaginative names: Sleeping Beauty, Project Pandora, Woodpecker, Memorandum for the record:Artichoke, Operation Midnight Climax, Project Pandora Radio Remote Brain Manipulation.
The CIA arranged for apes to be brought to the embassy. When the apes were examined after a period of being radiated, it was discovered that they had undergone changes in their chromosomes and blood. The personnel at the embassy was later reported to have increased white blood cell counts of up to 40 percent. The Boston Globe reported that the ambassador himself suffered not only from bloody eyes and chronic headaches but also from a blood disease resembling leukemia.
We take up Delgado's research on electromagnetic fields and their effect on people.
We understand now
that Delgado thinks the meeting ought
come to an
end. We ask him about Project Pandora
and he confirms the story of the Moscow Signal (*) without
any hesitation but he denies being involved in
In 1974 Delgado testified in front of Congress at the MK-Ultra hearings and made his views very clear:
When we confront him with this statement, he falls silent for a second. His crystal-clear memory of a moment ago suddenly evaporates. A fog sweeps in, the words become hard to get out. He does not recall ever being called to Congress. And he has no desire to acknowledge the kinds of statements we have just mentioned. For a second, Delgado becomes a very old and fragile man. But in the next moment, he is standing up straight again and has shaken off all these unpleasantries. Now he is in a hurry. He has to meet his sick sister-in-law. We try to secure a second meeting but he is evasive and talks about the vagaries of the weather and trips to his country house. Out the door in a cloud of cigar smoke, the taxi takes us back to Madrid.
Fredrik Ekman is a lyricist and writer based in Stockholm
1 José M. R. Delgado, Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), p. xix.
2 La felicidad (Spanish Edition) [Paperback]
3 Behavioral Neurochemistry: Proceedings by Jose Manuel Rodrigue Delgado, F. V. Defeudis
4 Maya Pines, The Brain-Changers (London: Allen Lane, 1974), p. 197.
5 The interview is available in Frankel's book Ingenjörstrupper i hjärnan (Stockholm: 1979).
6 José M.R. Delgado, Congressional Record, nr. 26, vol. 118, 1974.
CORRECTIONS (29 November 2014)
Magnus Bärtås is an artist and writer based in Stockholm. Bärtås has previously been on the editorial board of the Swedish magazines 90TAL and Index. He teaches at the University College of Arts and Crafts in Stockholm and is also a lecturer and examiner at the art colleges in Umeå and Gothenburg.
Uno degli scienziati più
controversi, divenuto col passare degli anni un “mostro” assoluto ma
sempre più nebuloso nella mitologia del XX° secolo, è
José Delgado. Oggi i vari saggi e le relazioni sui nuovi
esperimenti citano raramente Delgado, che è divenuto una sorta
di paria della scienza a causa delle sue posizioni troppo “estremiste”
e “destrorse” negli anni ’70. Da Bizzarro Bazar