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April 1, 1968

On Blowing One's Mind (19th-Century Style): A Modest Proposal

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medical History, University of California at Los Angeles.

JAMA. 1968;204(1):61-63. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03140140063014

A few years ago I chanced upon a curious little book with the engaging, albeit long-winded, title of The Chemical Experimentalist; or, an attempt to allure by Experiment, and guide by Reasoning, the enquirer after Rational Amusement and Useful Knowledge, Towards the cultivation of the simple and sublime Science—Chemistry. This work is a remarkable hodge-podge of chemical experiments that one can perform at home, hints on cleaning silver and dying cloth, and even a section on the Philosophy of Nature wherein the author solemnly declares, inter alia, "that comets are male planets, and that their tails are their generative organs." That a comet might possess a phallus and could thus presumably indulge in venery on a celestial scale is an intriguing enough notion, but to my mind the most entertaining item in the Chemical Experimentalist is the apparently serious suggestion that nitrous oxide could replace alcohol as a social stimulant.