The Man with the Electrified Brain

The acclaimed author of the blockbuster The Professor and the Madman tells the tale of his own descent into madness.

  • Byliner Original
  1. Onset

    I was standing on the very edge of the crevasse, an edge sculpted smooth by years of blizzards and sunshine until it had been chamfered to a near-perfect glassiness, its surface like pure white obsidian. The edge arced down from the Greenland ice cap into a blue abyss of incalculable depth, out of which echoed the sounds of meltwater torrents raging far down at the base of the glacier. To slide down into the gash would be instantly and horribly fatal—and yet, in my strangely floating state of mind, detached as I was from the scientific inquiry that had brought me to the Arctic, I just then didn’t seem to care. It seemed so easy simply to slide away into the comfort of the deep. I wasn’t deliberately suicidal. I wasn’t frightened. It was that I didn’t appear to care what happened, so long as what was just then discommoding my mind could be somehow made to go away.

    Some months before this expedition, I had begun to experience what would turn out to be a prolonged and debilitating disarrangement of my brain. As it happened, I survived the Greenland incident. But for the subsequent four years my life was ruled by onsets like this of an unpredictable malady, one that I have never fully understood. For decades afterwards—and still today, given the persistent mysteries of the brain and the attendant complications in mapping it—I have worried that the debilities of those years might return. To some bizarre degree I have blamed this fear, irrational though it may sound, purely and si...

Originally published in August 2013