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Why Did Soviet Scientists Experiment On Lenin’s Brain?

…and what did they find out?

Remember Yuri from game Red Alert? Well turns out there is an actual historical story behind that. It is not widely known, that Lenin’s body in mausoleum on the Red Square is not entirely…whole. It actually misses one a part – a brain. Where is it and how exactly it is connected to the secret scientific experiments of soviet scientist? In 1925, soon after the death of Vladimir Lenin, the government decided to establish a special research facility – the University of Brain (“Institut Mozga”) – in order to conduct experiments on this particular part of the famous leader. The project had very ambitious goals, to study the brains of extraordinary people such as politicians, genius artists and writers, scientists.

The initiative was highly supported by the officials, who believed that concrete evidence of Lenin’s brilliance that is to be found during research, would benefit the image of the Soviet Union. They have also hoped that the experiments  will  identify the key components that make a person stand out, so this can be used in another project of creating a new, better version of a soviet man.

The brain of Lenin was not the only artefact in possession of the Unversity. Slowly, other impressive pieces started to come in and formed the collection of the Institute. Among them were the brains of scientists Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and writer Maxim Gorky, famous politicians. After the World War II the University acquired brains of Lev Landau, Andrei Sakharov, and even Stalin himself.

The work of the facility was a well protected secret. In the end of the 1920’s and the beginning of the 1930’s, a lot of reports on their achievements were published by the press but many details of their research were still shrouded in mystery. Even now the archives of the Institute are impossible to access.

What exactly were they doing with such impressive collection of theirs? It is known that the study of the brain was conducted according to the method of a German neurobiologist Oscar Vogt. The organ was at first thoroughly photographed, then divided in certain parts, then photographed again. After, it was meticulously sliced in more than 30 000 finest layers, which were examined under the microscope. The procedure was very complicated and only few brains were chosen to undergo it.

In the 30’s there was also a special study dedicated to finding a connection between the psychological traits of a person and his brain. They hoped to prove that one’s behaviour can directly influence the nervous system, to later figure out how a person should act in order to improve the structure of their brain. The idea itself sounds naive but still in a way innovative. It should be mentioned that all the scientist who were involved in the developing of the project were a true professionals in their fields. They had access to foreign literature and often worked outside the country, had the best equipment of the time.

So did they actually manage to achieve any interesting results? According to the rumours, they did. For example they noticed that Lenin’s brain wighted 1340 g, when some other contained in the University weighed more than 1700 g. After receiving such an unsettling result, the scientist decided to shift the definition of a normal brain weight from 1395g – 1400g to 1300g – 1400g. Moreover, they claimed that Lenin’s brain only weighted so little because the illness from which the politician suffered has destroyed a part of it.

They have also determined that Vladimir Mayakovsky, a talented revolutionary poet of his time, had a highly developed suboccipital area. This particular part of the human and monkey bran is responsible for some of the most complex functions. Unfortunately, this is about all that is known about the experiments and research of the Institute. All the rest is still kept a secret and other stories abut the facility are likely to be only spooky urban legends.

The laboratory that directly worked with the ‘extraordinary brains’ has stopped functioning around 2003 – 2004. Now the building is deserted, along with some of the equipment and scientific exhibits. Around 2007 many adventure seekers began to explore what is left of the once prestigious Institute of Brain. Apparently, it’s old building on the Bol’shoy Nikolovorobinskiy Pereulok still has jars with brains and even some documents left by the previous occupants.

What do you think?

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Photo: Alexei Nazarov / Vkontakte

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