In August of 1926, The Yale Review published a little sci-fi story that I suspect had much further-reaching consequences than the editors imagined it would. But some astute readers were paying attention and quietly began spreading the highly instructive message of “The Tissue-Culture King” by Julian Huxley.
Huxley tells the tale of a group of scientifically minded explorers that, lost in the African bush, follows a two-headed toad and stumbles into a giant engaged in worshipping a microscope slide. The party soon becomes acquainted with a previously unknown kingdom with a highly developed culture of blood and ancestor worship.
Also in the kingdom is another white man who had been captured fifteen years earlier and, with the aid of the King’s most important advisor, had managed to exploit the people’s religious rites for the purpose of scientific experimentation, thus giving rise to the worship of tissue cultures as the means to immortality for the king and beloved elders.
I admit that so far, the story sounds a little far-fetched, but I think it’s safe to say that’s just what They want us to think. Late in the story, just about the time this reader’s eyes want to glaze over, another type of ongoing research is introduced. The captured scientist reveals that, with the enthusiastic support of the King’s man, he has been experimenting with hypnosis and telepathy.
Excited at the possibilities of the experiments, the narrator begins to assist and soon the two are able, with group hypnotic suggestion, to send instructions in a wave over the entire kingdom. At this point the narrator thinks they might use their newfound scientific powers to put the kingdom to sleep and make their escape, if only they can find a way to shield themselves from the hypnotic suggestion.
To us modern readers, the answer is clear. The captives shield themselves from the telepathic waves by donning hats made of metal foil. It works, at least until they assume they are far enough away to abandon their protective headgear, only to discover that the King’s evil henchman has overcome and amended their suggestion to a simple, irresistible command to return.
Experts on tin foil hats, who are extremely difficult to find and are rarely willing to make public comments, suggest that Huxley’s fairly obscure story is the smoking gun in the truth about where the foil hat phenomenon came from in the first place. Of course, they also admit that could be a lie fed to us by the government. The world may never know.
What we do know, thanks to the incredibly important work of some MIT grad students who allegedly have too much time on their hands, is that there may be more to the story. In 2005, the students released the results of a groundbreaking and mind-shattering study which revealed that aluminum foil hats actually amplify the radio frequency bands allocated for use by the US government.
It’s worth noting that the MIT researchers did not receive so much as a whiff of interest from the Nobel Prize committee. And I suspect we all know why that might be.
This leaves us, I think, with some questions. First, if Julian Huxley’s story really is the first mention of the protective nature of tin foil hats, then how did that idea first occur to him? Could it have been fed to him telepathically by a government intent on amplifying the private thoughts of its citizens? Was Huxley, instead, involved in the elaborate plan? Was the editorial staff of The Yale Review complicit? Is the MIT study merely an attempt at misdirection by the Feds?
Or did Julian Huxley never intend for any of his readers to actually wear tin foil hats? And was the point of “The Tissue-Culture King” exactly as stated in the story itself, that the increase of scientific knowledge and the power it may lend to those who would yield it for their personal gain, might carry with it some consequences well worth considering? Eh, that seems a little far-fetched.