“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” and the Constant Deceptions of Our World
There exists an entirely different dimension, where illusion and deception form people’s personalities and rule their lives, and that dimension is exists here, everyday of our own entire lives. We all live lives only according to what is in our own heads. Whether it be optimism bias, groupthink, or the fundamental attribution error, we all use basic psychological techniques to place ourselves on a pedestal, and blame everything than ourselves for our misfortunes, while attributing any success to our doing. In this way, we are able to make life bearable and avoid self-deprecating beliefs. We do all this without even realizing it. However, this form of thinking can be a slippery slope if we are not extremely careful. How easily people’s self-aggrandizing beliefs can be brought to the surface and lead to ruin is perfectly revealed the short story “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Dr. Heidegger’s induced deception makes everyone (except Heidegger himself of course) passionately believe they are something or someone they are not. Through Heidegger’s use of a placebo, the manifestation of each patient’s idea of their perfect, past self from the days of their youth is created, and each is fooled. This deception can be compared to something like a virus, once one is infected, delusions rapidly spread from person to person until none are in a healthy mind. All the patients rapidly come to believe each is going to be living in a fictional world where everything they desire has become reality. Just like people do to a lesser extent everyday, the four patients all deceive themselves with selfish visions of grandeur.
The vastly conceited old Widow Wycherly slips into a self centered lie, adhering to the notion that you could possibly cure wrinkles if you drink a lot of water. Initially skeptical “You might as well ask whether an old woman’s wrinkled face could ever bloom again.” (Hawthorn 3). Wycherley immediately overcomes these doubts the same way all of the others do, through her own overpowering desire for them to be true. She hopes the magical potion will work. Remarking the impossibility while craving it to be true causes a bit of self-induced cognitive dissonance, and refusing to employ any logical thinking in her wish to ignore the simple truth the transformation is impossible, decides instead to allow herself to be deceived. After Wycherly downed the first glass “…she started up and ran to the mirror, still dreading that the ugly visage of an old woman would meet her gaze.” (5). Revealing on some level she still knew the potion to be fraudulent. (Wycherly) stood before the mirror curtseying and simpering to her own image, and greeting it as the friend whom she loved.” Wycherly’s primary source of joy comes from her reveling in her own beauty, and now that it has faded, she resorts to lying to herself as if everything in the world is just as it once was in her youth. Wycherly is the first to be unable to contain her desire for newfound youth “Pray favor me with another glass!” (6). Lying to herself, she is eager to participate in being fooled, making her feel she has regained her lost beauty to satisfy her esteem, as impossible as this is.
Having been previously overindulgent in life’s more sinful pleasures, Colonel Killigrew in the beginning overtly establishes he does not believe Dr. Heidegger’s story even after witnessing the rose’s transformation, while Mr. Gascoigne and Mr. Medbourne don’t say much, at first almost afraid to hope Heidegger’s story is true. When you feel strongly about something you get serious, meaning the Colonel and gentlemen are deeply embedded in the lie without even realizing it, the deception has become their reality. “Ahem. said Colonel Killigrew, Who believed not a word of the doctor’s story.” (4). at first. The power of the mirage is shown after the doctor warns them to be wary of the potion’s effects, and all scoff at his thinly veiled prediction. Naturally, once the potion is consumed, in the revitalization of his restored youth “Colonel Killigrew all this time had been trolling forth a jolly bottle song, and ringing his glass in symphony with the chorus, while his eyes wandered toward the buxom figure of the Widow Wycherly.” (5). While the former politician “(Mr. Gascoigne’s) mind seemed to run on politics topics. Now he rattled forth full-throated sentences about patriotism, national glory, and the people’s right; now he muttered some perilous stuff or other, in a sly and doubtful whisper, so cautiously that even his own conscience could scarcely catch the secrete…again, he spoke in measured accents, and a deeply deferential tone, as if a royal ear were listening to his well-turned periods.” (5). already returned to his corrupt ways. The former venture capitalist Mr. Medbourne is already back with a new scheme, despite having previously lost it all “Mr. Medbourne was involved in a calculation of dollars and cents, with which was strangely intermingled a project for supplying the East Indies with ice, by harnessing a team of whales to the polar icebergs.” (6). After Wycherley suggests a dance, a huge conflict over her affection ensues, their burning passions proved unabated. “Inflamed to madness by the coquetry of the girl-widow, who neither granted nor quite withheld her favors, the three rivals began to interchange threatening glances. Still keeping hold of the fair prize, they grappled fiercely at one another’s throats.” (7). A deadly conflict has been created from an apparition, only by what is seen inside the three gentlemen’s heads. The colonel’s comments are not the only thing which are said to be “…not always measured by sober truth;” (5.) Reality is revealed as “the tall mirror is said to have reflected the figures of the three old, gray, withered grandsires, ridiculously contending for the skinny ugliness of a shrivelled grandam.” (7).
Dr Heidegger is playing with them, fooling the three gents and Widow Wycherly, hoping to teach them a lesson, “Did you never hear about the Fountain of Youth?” (4). Dr. Heidegger is clearly leading them on. His guests insist he “Give us more of this wondrous water!” (5). By this time his patients are desperate, Dr. Heidegger has succeeded. He now has the four guests convinced this magical water is the key to eternal youth, everyone is under the spell. Everything from here on out only gets worse for the four guests. “It appears to be fading again.” (7). Soon the potions ‘effects’ decline, revealing the pitfalls of such extreme self-serving bias. The doctor knew that the flower was going to fade and showed his guests, causing them to despair and ending hopes of being young again.
The four “venerable friends” (1). are introduced into world of illusion and deception, where everyone becomes eager to give in to something false under the guise of something to good to be true. The experiment proved Heidegger’s hypothesis, saying “if the fountain gushed at my very doorstep, I would not stoop to bathe my lips in it–no, though its delirium were for years instead of moments. Such is the lesson ye have taught me!” (10). Understanding that the past is the past, such is its virtue, and tricking oneself into longing for it is entirely pointless. Wycherly and the three gents might not notice, but they are now trapped in a state of illusion and deception, and they never recognize this, having grown none the wiser. “…the doctor’s four friends had taught no such lesson to themselves. They resolved forthwith to make a pilgrimage to Florida, and quaff at morning, noon, and night, from the Fountain of Youth.” (10).
The patient’s shared pure self-interest resulted in them living permanently in their own ignorance and the pursuit of something which should be clear to all of them does not actually exist, a profound warning to police one’s view of the world when concerned with one’s own desires, because if we are not careful, reality will easily elude us.
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