Philosopher Jeremy Bentham's Mummified Head Is Back on Display

J. Posselwhite/Getty Images
J. Posselwhite/Getty Images

Jeremy Bentham had a problem. He may have been dead, but that wasn't it—the iconoclastic philosopher left strict instructions about what to do with his body after his demise in 1832, and they didn't turn out as planned. After a public dissection by his friend Thomas Southwood Smith, and the transformation of his corpse into a skeleton, Bentham's head was supposed to be dried out with an air pump and some sulfuric acid "in the style of the New Zealanders." Sadly, the sulfuric acid worked a little too well, and with the philosopher's head looking like a theatrical prop, Smith chose to replace it with a life-like wax replica featuring some of Bentham's own hair.

Bentham's body, which he called his "auto-icon," spent several years on display in Smith's office before going to the University College London (UCL), of which the philosopher was an early supporter. While his real head once rested inside the cabinet, it was moved into storage following World War II. (Rumors that students at a rival school once stole it for soccer practice are unfounded.) Now, according to The Telegraph, for the first time in decades, Bentham's head is back on display at UCL, as part of an exhibit on how "science mediates the dilemma of death."

A black-and-white photograph of Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon, with his mummified head
Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon, with his mummified head between his feet, circa 1950
Hulton Archive/Getty

"What Does It Mean To Be Human? Curating Heads at UCL" includes several drafts of Bentham's will, showing how his views about the disposal of his own body changed over time, as well as a draft version of important legislation meant to address the lack of corpses then available for medical dissection in Britain (part of what motivated Bentham's own public dissection) and other materials. The exhibit also includes the head of archaeologist Flinders Petrie, who also left his remains to science.

According to The Telegraph, scientists have recently taken DNA samples from Bentham's head that will be used to study whether the philosopher might be posthumously diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a theory first put forward by researchers Philip Lucas and Anne Sheeran in 2006 [PDF]. Diagnosing famous figures from the past, particularly with psychological ailments, is fraught with practical and ethical difficulties—although few would debate that Bentham was, by the standards of his own age and ours, remarkable. Aside from leaving explicit instructions about turning his own skeleton into a piece of educational art, Bentham was known for championing ideas (like women's rights and the legalization of homosexuality) that were well ahead of his time. He also, as The Telegraph notes, "called his walking stick Dapple, his teapot Dickey, and kept an elderly cat named The Reverend Sir John Langbourne."

"What Does It Mean to be Human?" runs at the Octagon Gallery in the Wilkins Building of UCL until February 28, 2018. Stateside Bentham fans will be thrilled to know that his auto-icon will then travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it will be part of an exhibition on the human body.

[h/t The Telegraph]

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

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“They Will Catch on Fire”: Michigan Library Asks Patrons Not to Microwave Their Books

Burning books may kill coronavirus germs, but at what cost?
Burning books may kill coronavirus germs, but at what cost?
Movidagrafica Barcelona, Pexels

Last month, the Plainfield Township branch of the Kent District Library (KDL) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, took to Facebook to share a cautionary tale about burning books.

It wasn’t a summary of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, nor did it have anything to do with a metaphorical protection of free speech. Instead, the post showed a scorched edition of Window on the Bay by Debbie Macomber, which had apparently been microwaved in an ill-conceived attempt to burn off any coronavirus germs.

As the post explained, each book is outfitted with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag—a more efficient alternative to barcodes, which must be scanned individually and at close range. But since RIFDs contain metal, “they will catch on fire in the microwave.”

“I don't know if it was something that they saw on the news—that they thought maybe the heat would kill COVID-19,” the library’s regional manager Elizabeth Guarino-Kozlowicz told the Detroit Free Press.

Exposure to high heat could indeed kill the virus. According to the World Health Organization, temperatures of 132.8°F or above can eliminate the SARS coronavirus, which behaves similarly to this newer strain (SARS-CoV-2). That said, we still don’t know exactly how heat affects SARS-CoV-2, and nuking a novel is a horrible idea no matter what.

Food & Wine reports that KDL workers are quarantining all returned library books for 72 hours to make sure all coronavirus germs have died before checking them back into the collection. As for the fate of the charred volume, KDL told Mental Floss that the borrower has been billed for it. After they pay the fine, they’ll get to take it home for good.

If you’re worried about borrowing contaminated books from your own library, you can always call first to find out what safety guidelines they’re following. Or, you could stick to e-books for a while—here are five free ways to get them.

[h/t Food & Wine]