October 8, 2017

The philosopher Jeremy Bentham had "a penchant for showing dinner party guests the two glass eyes he kept in his pocket."

"The eyeballs were part of a larger project: Bentham wanted his body publicly dissected; his skeleton cleaned up, fully articulated, and padded with straw; and his head mummified for display. He would be, he said in his will, 'the Auto-Icon,' visited by friends or occasionally wheeled out for gatherings and parties.... Bentham had asked a friend, Thomas Southwood Smith, to embalm his head using traditional New Zealand Maori methods. The process—he was essentially smoked, and fitted with the eyes from his pocket—didn’t work as hoped."

So the head isn't kept on display with the rest of his body (which sports a wax head), but you can see a photograph of the head — with its brilliant blue glass eyes — at "Jeremy Bentham’s Head Is Coming Out of Its Box and Under the Microscope/Scientists want to know if the forward-thinking philosopher had autism" (Atlas Obscura).

19 comments:

BarrySanders20 said...

That's about how I would expect a smoked head to look.

The Vault Dweller said...

Jeremy Bentham sounds like the reason why executors of estates have really wide latitude in handling burial proceedings. Reminds me of a book I heard about but never read. It was written by Alan Alda, the actor, and was titled "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned". Apparently one point during his child hood the deceased family dog was literally stuffed. And Alan, learned why this is a bad idea.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

When I die I want that done to my head. However, I want a built-in vision/motion system, so the eyes will track people moving around in front of me.

tcrosse said...

We must ask ourselves how this produces the greatest good for the greatest number.

Laslo Spatula said...

They Saved Hitler's Brain

I am Laslo.

Darrell said...

Smoking heads right is a lost art.

JAORE said...

OK,the wine is FLOWING and the music is poppin'. Sally is dancing topless on a table. I think it's time to bring out old Bentham's head to turn this baby up to eleven!

The Vault Dweller said...

We must ask ourselves how this produces the greatest good for the greatest number.

It is a cautionary tale. It teaches society the lessonm when viewed in comparison to Egyptian mummies and Irish bog men, that when preserving human bodies for display it takes a minimum of a few thousand years for that to become worthwhile.

Bad Lieutenant said...

But now he can get cameos on Futurama and Creepshow!

William said...

Slightly off topic: When Lenin took power, he disnterred the bodies of the Orthodox saints. There was a belief among the faithful that the saints had led such pure and saintly lives that their bodies did not corrupt and putrefy in the ways of other mortals. The decomposed bodies of the saints were put on display and the faithful were ordered to file past to see how mistaken their beliefs were...,.After Lenin died,an enormous amount of time and trouble was taken to insure that his body did not decay. The old orthodox belief in post mortem perfection lives on in Lenin's tomb. I'm not sure if this is an example of irony or hypocrisy.

The Godfather said...

Prop me up beside the juke box if I die.

robother said...

The original Old Blue Eyes.

EDH said...

Wise words on displaying Bentham's preserved head from that great existential philosopher, Wade Garrett.

"I can't believe you're still dragging that shit around with you.

It seems to me, you'd be a little more... philosophical about it.

And cut it the fuck loose.
"

Guildofcannonballs said...

So I was watching "My Mother The Car" wondering how it came about, and now I see the Auto-Icon.

Coincidence? I think not so much...

Luke Lea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Lea said...

"Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure." That was the opening sentence in Bentham's famous essay, "The Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation," and you must admit it contains more than a grain of truth, since it applies equally to all sentient creatures. Bentham's genius was in demonstrating how it applied to even the most elevated forms of human behavior, including acts of self-sacrifice and noblesse oblige. He is still worth reading.

Paul Snively said...

I guess Atlas Obscura didn't get the memo that Utilitarianism is the philosophy of totalitarianism, and omitting Bentham's best-known work, the Panopticon, by means of which an unknown, but small, number of guards can keep watch (or not) over a much larger prison populace can only politely be described as... motivated.

Of course, Bentham believed in "women's rights," legalizing homosexuality, etc. so ignoring the historically-demonstrated totalitarian logical conclusion of his philosophy is guaranteed because necessary.

tcrosse said...

The Panopticon is the name of an old theatre in Glasgow, built 1857, where Stan Laurel made his debut. Locals call it the Pots and Pans.

Jim S. said...

Bentham says to his guest, "I have my father's eyes." Then he reaches into his pocket...