How Long Do Severed Heads Live?

dery1The latest science suggests that old-timey Europe’s  “humane” method of execution, decapitation, is a sham — heads seem remain alive for up to a minute after being disconnected from the lower portions. And theoretically they could survive if quickly reattached to a body. Via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Imagine yourself with your head in the business end of a guillotine. I know, it’s not the most pleasant of thoughts, but the guillotine was once considered a humane way to kill someone: Just a quick slice and you’re flat-out dead. But researchers are finding that neurons, the cells that make up the brain, are active even after their blood supply is suddenly cut off. And they may show activity for longer than a minute. In an arguably not-so-humane study, Dutch scientists measured the brain activity in mice after slicing off the mice’s heads. What they saw was a quick flash of brain activity immediately following decapitation – then, about 50 seconds later, another ripple of activity. So, if you got your head chopped off – since your eyes are connected to your brain, and they’re both inside your head – would you have an “off of body experience”? Nobody (alive) really knows. However, if neurons can’t function normally without a blood supply, those sensory signals probably wouldn’t make it from your eyes to your brain. But you might still be alive. Maybe. And if your head somehow were quickly reconnected to a blood source, you might live to talk about it.

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40 Responses to How Long Do Severed Heads Live?

  1. Cybergabi July 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Luckily Europe’s a bit more advanced these days than the US.

    • JoiquimCouteau July 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

      Congratulations, you win the postmodern olympics. 

    • Dmitry August 28, 2011 at 1:49 am #

      Great. More nationalism is just what the world needs.

  2. Cybergabi July 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Luckily Europe’s a bit more advanced these days than the US.

  3. Anonymous July 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    Congratulations, you win the postmodern olympics. 

  4. artemis133 July 29, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Interesting, but not something I was thinking about today. :

  5. Anonymous July 29, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    Interesting, but not something I was thinking about today. :

  6. O. Spengler July 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    The Soviets were performing successful head transplants on dogs over 70 years ago.
    Here’s a documentation film:
    http://www.archive.org/details/Experime1940

    • Anarchy Pony August 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

      As amazing as that is, it just makes me furious/disgusted/sorrowful.

  7. O. Spengler July 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    The Soviets were performing successful head transplants on dogs over 70 years ago.
    Here’s a documentation film:
    http://www.archive.org/details/Experime1940

  8. Nunzio X July 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    I don’t know how long the head would continue to “live,” but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be conscious.

    Here’s why: if you slam a heavy piece of steel against the back of someone’s neck, a lot of bad shit can happen, the least of which is unconsciousness. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be steel—just give a nice bear-paw strike to anyone up to and including an NFL lineman and see if he doesn’t collapse (assuming he lets you get close enough to perform the experiment, that is.)

    So yeah, there might be brain wave activity but the actual head would be pretty much out of it.

  9. Nunzio X July 29, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    I don’t know how long the head would continue to “live,” but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be conscious.

    Here’s why: if you slam a heavy piece of steel against the back of someone’s neck, a lot of bad shit can happen, the least of which is unconsciousness. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be steel—just give a nice bear-paw strike to anyone up to and including an NFL lineman and see if he doesn’t collapse (assuming he lets you get close enough to perform the experiment, that is.)

    So yeah, there might be brain wave activity but the actual head would be pretty much out of it.

  10. justagirl July 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    they live long enough, that over time, they would chew a hole in the bottom of the basket and it would have to be replaced.  that being said, maybe one would choose the noose(?).

  11. justagirl July 29, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    they live long enough, that over time, they would chew a hole in the bottom of the basket and it would have to be replaced.  that being said, maybe one would choose the noose(?).

  12. justagirl July 29, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    they live long enough, that over time, they would chew a hole in the bottom of the basket and it would have to be replaced.  that being said, maybe one would choose the noose(?).

  13. Marty Kelly July 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    I remember reading about some research done on this to find out if the head experienced pain and was still conscious.. The experimenter had agreed with the person to be beheaded that after the Guillotine had done its work, the experimenter would look in the beheaded’s eyes. One blink signaled no pain or sensation, two blinks meant pain and consciousness….. Macabre, I know… The victim blinked twice!

  14. Marty Kelly July 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm #

    I remember reading about some research done on this to find out if the head experienced pain and was still conscious.. The experimenter had agreed with the person to be beheaded that after the Guillotine had done its work, the experimenter would look in the beheaded’s eyes. One blink signaled no pain or sensation, two blinks meant pain and consciousness….. Macabre, I know… The victim blinked twice!

  15. Hadrian999 July 29, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    does it matter, if you are convinced someone did something bad enough to be executed do you really care that they might be uncomfortable for a minute?

    • Jin The Ninja July 29, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

      exactly. let’s not pretend execution is humane.

  16. Hadrian999 July 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    does it matter, if you are convinced someone did something bad enough to be executed do you really care that they might be uncomfortable for a minute?

  17. Anonymous July 30, 2011 at 12:12 am #

    exactly. let’s not pretend execution is humane.

  18. Tuna Ghost July 30, 2011 at 4:24 am #

    Not unexpectedly, heads adorned with moustaches live twice as long as heads without, and enjoy a better sex life.  SCIENCE!

  19. Tuna Ghost July 30, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    Not unexpectedly, heads adorned with moustaches live twice as long as heads without, and enjoy a better sex life.  SCIENCE!

  20. jasonpaulhayes July 30, 2011 at 5:17 am #

    Not long!

  21. jasonpaulhayes July 30, 2011 at 1:17 am #

    Not long!

    • SF2K01 July 30, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

      30 seconds is all the time the old french study could get responses from heads after decapitation.

      • Tuna Ghost July 31, 2011 at 5:32 am #

        If we’re talking about the same french guy, I recall a favorite line in his study regarding how when the head’s name was called the eyes turned to the speaker “with conviction”.  For some reason that “with conviction” line makes me laugh every time.  

        • Cornelius July 31, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

          I don’t think you know the meaning of the word conviction unless you reply to this… ;p

  22. Anonymous July 30, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    30 seconds is all the time the old french study could get responses from heads after decapitation.

  23. Dennis Hostetler July 30, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Shades of Futurama

  24. Anonymous July 30, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    Shades of Futurama

  25. KxBk6U July 31, 2011 at 1:26 am #

    This could be an interesting experiment. I’ll need some subjects. Anyone have an ex they’d like to donate?

  26. KxBk6U July 31, 2011 at 5:26 am #

    This could be an interesting experiment. I’ll need some subjects. Anyone have an ex they’d like to donate?

  27. Tuna Ghost July 31, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    If we’re talking about the same french guy, I recall a favorite line in his study regarding how when the head’s name was called the eyes turned to the speaker “with conviction”.  For some reason that “with conviction” line makes me laugh every time.  

  28. Cornelius July 31, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    I don’t think you know the meaning of the word conviction unless you reply to this… ;p

  29. Cornelius July 31, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    I don’t think you know the meaning of the word conviction unless you reply to this… ;p

  30. Old Soul August 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    As amazing as that is, it just makes me furious/disgusted/sorrowful.

  31. Kate Suchmann August 17, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    This is thoroughly covered in Stiff by Mary Roach http://www.maryroach.net/stiff.html

  32. Kate Suchmann August 17, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    This is thoroughly covered in Stiff by Mary Roach http://www.maryroach.net/stiff.html

  33. Dmitry August 28, 2011 at 5:49 am #

    Great. More nationalism is just what the world needs.

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