The Pleasure Shock
The secret history of one of today’s most promising medical breakthroughs: deep brain stimulation, or 'brain pacemakers'.
Deep brain stimulation was invented by the American psychiatrist Robert G. Heath at Tulane University in the 1950s and 1960s in what has been described as one of 'the most controversial yet largely undocumented experiments in US history’ – controversial to us because Heath’s patients including incarcerated convicts and gay men hoping to be ‘cured' of their sexual preference; controversial in its day because his work was allegedly part of MKUltra, the CIA’s notorious ‘mind control’ project. As a result, Heath’s cutting-edge research and legacy were put under lock and key, buried in Tulane’s archives.
Decades later, it seems the ethical issues raised by his work have also been buried: this very same experimental treatment is becoming mainstream practice in modern psychiatry for everything from schizophrenia, anorexia and compulsive behaviour to depression, anxiety and even drug and alcohol addiction, obesity and aggression.
In the first popular book to tell this story, the award-winning science writer Lone Frank juxtaposes Heath’s pioneering efforts and subsequent public outrage with the current embrace of deep brain stimulation by scientists and patients alike. What has changed? Why do we today unquestioningly embrace this technology as a cure? How do we decide what is a disease of the brain to be cured, and what should be allowed to remain un-probed and un-prodded?
The Pleasure Shock weaves together biography, neuroscience, psychology, history of science, and medical ethics to explore our views of the mind and the self – and what changes to the brain we are prepared to find acceptable.