Crazy Smart

Just because a person comes up with smart and revolutionary ideas, does not mean that all their ideas will be just as clever. In fact, some of these geniuses have come out with stuff that is downright kooky! 

René Descartes

René Descartes  (1596–1650) is considered a very important fellow in philosophical circles. His Cogito ergo sum "I think, therefore I am", is a fundamental element of Western philosophy. The idea is, that if you wonder whether or not you exist, this is evidence that you do exist, as there is an "I" doing the thinking.

As a mathematician, Descartes is also credited with our Cartesian Coordinate System. A system he developed as he was lying in bed looking at a fly. Descartes realised, that he could describe the position of the fly, using only three numbers. The three numbers could describe the three-dimensional position of the fly, in relation to the floor and two adjacent walls. Today this is known as the x,y,z coördinate system. 

rene DescartesCredit: wikipedia

Descartes, the father of modern philosophy and cartography, did however, have some other ideas which have not been so good. His idea that animals don't feel any pain is one, that I find particularly disturbing. It was Descartes belief, that because animals did not talk, they do not have souls and are therefore similar to mere clock-work machines. The cry of pain emanating from a dog struck by a horse and cart, was to him, merely an artefact of the machine breaking. It is believed also, that Descartes conducted vivisections using live dogs nailed to planks. 

Mind BodyCredit: wikipedia

René Descartes' illustration of mind/body dualism.

Another idea expressed by Descartes, became pervasive and probably held back knowledge of the human mind by hundreds of years. This is his concept of Cartesian dualism and the belief that the mind and body are separate. The English philosopher Gilbert Ryle described this idea as the “ghost in the machine”, to convey the divisionPhineas GageCredit: wikipedia between 'ghost' or spirit and 'machine' or body.

It was also Descartes idea, that the mind and brain communicated through the pineal gland, which was interesting but wrong. Today many neuroscientists would say that the mind is what the brain does. However this stance may be too reductionsit for some people. But it seems that from what is known, we cannot have a mind without a brain. The brain is dependent on the neurobiology. The case of Phineas P. Gage, who survived when a metal rod pierced is skull, on September 13, 1848, destroying a large section of his brain, revealed that when you change the brain you also change the mind. 

Charles Bonnet

Charles BonnettCredit: wikipedia

Portrait of Charles Bonnet (1720-1793)

The Swiss naturalist and philosophical writer Charles Bonnet, is mostly famous because the condition Charles Bonnet syndrome is named after him. Bonnet wrote about the  experiences of his grandfather, who had lost his sight to cataracts and began having "visions". These hallucinations were of patterns, people, birds and buildings. One characteristic of these hallucinations however,  is that they are usually "lilliputian" i.e. much smaller than normal. Hallucination of many varieties often occur, when there is decreased "input" in parts of the brain and so the brain creates it own stimulation.

Another important finding of Bonnet's, was the discovery of parthenogenesis in aphids (asexual reproduction). However this discovery led him to some wackier ideas. In Philosophical Palingesis, or Ideas on the Past and Future States of Living Beings (1770)  Bonnet outlined his view, that females carried all later generations, in a miniature form within them. He believed these miniature beings, often called homonculi, could survive great cataclysms such as the biblical Flood and also it was due to these catastrophes, that evolutionary change occurred. After the next disaster, men would become angels and mammals would gain greater intelligence. Each life form would assume successively higher forms in the hierarchy.

Henry Ford

Henry FordCredit: wikipedia

There is much to admire about Henry Ford. He perfected the assembly line for automobile manufacturing, designed the famous and affordable Model T, paid his workers well and helped create a middle class in America. In the business world, Henry Ford is a giant of a man, were waiting for the but....he had some crazy ideas too, like creating a prefabricated industrial town in the Amazon Rainforest called Fordlândia.

Henry Ford negotiated a deal with the Brazilian government in 1928, to create the world’s largest rubber plantation in the midst of the Amazon forest. He was trying to checkmate the Asian rubber growers, who had a monopoly on rubber and who drove the prices sky-high. So, Ford relocated workers and employed indigenous people to work at Fordlândia. However nothing much worked out as he had hoped.

Square DancingCredit: Flickr by the Henry Ford

Ford didn't consult a specialist about growing the rubber trees and most trees died; the trees that did grow, developed leaf blight. Meanwhile Ford built swimming pools, tennis courts, and shops. However there was also malaria, riots and cultural clashes. One of the major problems however, was the fact that Ford tried to control everything. Workers were expected to work flat-out in the outrageous jungle heat and he tried to impose a kind of "cultural imperialism" on the workers, forcing them to eat bland foods at the canteen, for which he would deduct money. Then there were the English only singing occasions, the compulsory square dances and alcohol bans. Ford tried to enforce his will, not only on the jungle, but on the free time and culture of his workers. Needless to say, the workers were unhappy and rioted. 

Workers clearing jungleCredit: Flickr by the Henry Ford

After losing $20 million on his Amazon venture (over $200 million in today's dollars) Ford sold Fordlândia for $250,000. Today Fordlândia is crumbling into ruins and deserted in the Amazon jungle.

Listen to the story Fordlandia: The Failure Of Ford's Jungle Utopia

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City
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