Haldane and self-experimentation

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No, not that Haldane. His father. Seth Roberts points to several reviews of a new biography of JS Haldane. He was apparently quite the self-experimenter:

He survived concentrations of carbon monoxide in the blood that would, as his biographer notes, have looked entirely plausible as the ’cause of death’ on a death certificate. ‘Dry air,’ Goodman writes, ‘he could withstand to an astounding high of 300F, though if he moved about too much his hair began to singe.’ Working in 99F ‘dry bulb’ heat, on one occasion, a colleague gave up after half an hour with a rectal temperature of 102.4F; Haldane went on for another 30 minutes. He spent hours and hours breathing toxic air and taking careful, methodical notes of its effects. He gassed himself with chlorine, methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, pure oxygen, nitrogen, mustard gas and god knows what else in various combinations… you name it, he turned blue and passed out on it. And, typically, no sooner had he come back round than he returned to the chamber to have another go.

Related: various posts on lil’ Haldane


  1. Haldane the Younger carried on the tradition, too.  
    “Early attempts to acidify his blood by drinking dilute hydrochloric acid were unsuccessful, but he achieved the desired effect with ammonium chloride—imbibing more, proportionally, than had proved fatal to a dog. One of these experiments went on for almost two uncomfortable, painful and disturbed weeks. Explaining these ordeals, he pointed out that a rabbit could not tell the experimenter if it had a headache or had lost its sense of smell. He noted with interest the effect of the laboratory staples upon his mood and state of mind: hydrochloric acid provoked exhilaration and irritability; chlorides induced hallucinations. 
    Throughout his life, J.B.S. also took a passing interest in the effect of organic chemicals upon his consciousness. In his youth, he and Naomi dabbled with chloroform; in his later years, relocated in India, he swallowed bhang, a cannabis preparation. If he had to drive a long distance, he would take Benzedrine; his second wife, Helen Spurway, let on that it was used for all-night working sessions where lecture materials had to be completed. ‘We must have a shot at cocaine some day’, an earlier lover remarked to him, apropos of nothing, in a letter of November 1923, though what cocaine could add to that mind and ego is hard to imagine.” 
    —Marek Kohn, A Reason for Everything (p. 153-4)

  2. In Britain in 1923 cocaine was probably still legal (I haven’t checked). In WWI the relatives of troops at the ‘Front’ would often send them gift boxes of heroin and cocaine. Those were the days! 
    (Actually, I don’t mind betting that British troops in Afghanistan today are getting plenty of cheap skag, but the army, like the navy, can turn a blind eye when it suits them.)

  3. …sorry, it was morphine and cocaine. So that’s all right then! The gift boxes were sold by Harrods. See the Wiki article on ‘The Great Binge’.

  4. A lot of solvents have psychic effects. Toluene, ether, alcohol. Dissolving your inhibitions or something. (Is nitrous ozide a solvent?) 
    The decadent, insane poet Beddoes (whose father was a famous surgeon and pioneered the use of nitrous oxide) did surgery on himself.

  5. John: 
    You know about the plastic surgeon who hung himself?