In A Nutshell
French philosopher Rene Descartes didn’t believe animals had souls. To test his theory, he nailed his wife’s dog to a board and chopped it open while the poor thing was still alive.
The Whole Bushel
In 1647, Rene Descartes exploded biology wide open by theorizing that the body was merely a mechanical instrument. The soul was what gave consciousness, and it resided somewhere in the pineal gland. Unfortunately for the neighborhood dogs, Descartes also theorized that only humans had souls.
If animals were soulless, they were just machines. Therefore they didn’t feel pain—they only acted as if they did. So therefore, it was okay to cut them open and experiment on them. And Descartes sure loved a good experiment.
By his own account, Descartes happily sliced open dogs and stuck his finger into their still-beating hearts, marveling at how the valves opened and closed around his knuckle. But the madness doesn’t stop there. According to some biographers, his first vivisection was an attempt to discover once and for all if animals had souls. And the animal he chose to practice on was his wife’s dog.
Taking a hammer, Descartes nailed the creature’s paws spread-eagled to a board and proceeded to chop it to pieces, utterly unfazed by the “appearance” of pain. Whether he really was looking for the soul or not is a fact that’s been lost to history. All we know is that the dog died shortly afterward in unimaginable agony. How Descartes’ wife reacted to finding out her husband mutilated and murdered her pet to prove an obscure point has sadly not been recorded.