Mike Jay

Mike Jay’s books include This Way Madness Lies: The Asylum and Beyond, Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind and Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic.

Zzzzzzz: Why do we sleep?

Mike Jay, 4 April 2024

Whydo we sleep? The habit is pretty much universal among animals, though it takes a wide variety of forms. Many hibernate; a dolphin sleeps with half its brain at a time, so it can keep surfacing for air; Arctic reindeer continue ruminating while in non-REM sleep; and the Antarctic chinstrap penguin, we learned last year, fits thousands of four-second ‘microsleeps’ into the...

In the Alchemist’s Den

Mike Jay, 27 July 2023

In​ 1770 a new perfume shop opened in the centre of Paris on the rue du Bourg-l’Abbé, a fragrant oasis adjoining a district that was, according to one contemporary, ‘by far the worst-smelling place in the world’. This stretch of the Right Bank was home to an abattoir, a fish market, a butcher, an overcrowded prison and a mortuary, whose combined effluvia flowed...

That Ol’ Thumb: Hitchhiking

Mike Jay, 23 June 2022

I’mtrying to remember the last time I saw someone standing by the side of the road with their thumb out, holding a cardboard sign. Like innumerable other bygones – the last milk bottle on a doorstep, the last rag and bone cart – it’s a sight that disappeared without fanfare. Growing up in West London close to the M4 I would see hitchhikers all the time, and by my...

On​ 25 August 1835, the New York Sun ran a sensational scoop: the ‘Great Astronomical Discoveries, Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D., F.R.S., &c, at the Cape of Good Hope’. Herschel – former president of the Royal Astronomical Society and son of William Herschel, the discoverer of Uranus – had sailed from Britain to South Africa two years before with a...

It​ was during the fallout from Watergate that the American public first heard of MK-Ultra, the most notorious of the secret mind control programmes that the CIA ran through the 1950s and 1960s. After Nixon’s men were caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in June 1972, Richard Helms, then director of the CIA, refused to help with the cover-up. In...

The Unpredictable Cactus: Mescaline

Emily Witt, 2 January 2020

My own experience with peyote was inconclusive. I now know that a confusing occasion I got involved in by accident in 2013 was in fact a Native American Church meeting. A friend had invited me to what...

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Dephlogisticated: Dr Beddoes

John Barrell, 19 November 2009

In 1794 Robert Watt, an Edinburgh wine merchant, together with a few associates, was arrested for allegedly framing a plot to seize the Edinburgh post office, the banks and the castle, and to...

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