Get Outta My Head! Toxoplasmosis And Mind Control By Way Of Cat Poop. You Can’t Make This Stuff Up
People are forever fascinated with tales of the Other, something or someone that looks like us, sounds like us, but decidedly isn’t us.
We’ve had vampires and werewolves for centuries–heck, going back to the Old Testament, we had the human-like golem, a man/monster made from clay. More recently there were plant-based alien spores that replaced humans in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” countless aliens, and of course these days, zombies are all the rage. What they all have in common is that they involve creatures that look human, but who are actually other-directed, and somehow unknowable.
But the truth is, in this weird wild world, sometimes we need look no further away than our own backyard to find something strange and terrifying.
Take toxoplasmosis gondii. If you’ve heard of it, you probably know that it is a parasite that has quite a strange life-cycle–and reputation.
- gondii needs to pass through two different hosts in order develop and reproduce, and it has evolved a method to ensure transmission between hosts that is both clever and disturbing. For example, rats and mice that are infected with it display a fearlessness toward cats. They will stroll right up to a cat and hang out, seemingly unaware of or uncaring about the danger.
And cats, conveniently, are the final stage host for toxoplasmosis. This fearlessness in rodents makes the parasite more likely to be ingested by a cat, and thus be given the opportunity to complete its life cycle.
But that “mind control” doesn’t seem to be limited to rodents. An increasing number of studies seems to show a link in humans between an infection with these parasites and schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, aggression and even increased risk of suicide. It’s possible that people who are infected are two to three times more likely to have a car crash.
What is perhaps most striking about Toxoplasmosis, especially given such a disturbing array of possible mental disorders thought to be associated with it is that 30 to 50 percent of the human race is suspected of carrying it.
Hello, invasion of the body snatchers.
But criticisms of these studies point out that there is no way to separate correlation and causation. Meaning, most of these studies looked at people who were already infected, and did not examine their behavior before infection. In fact one study followed a group of 1000 people from birth and found there was no strong connection between infection and abnormal behavior or mental illness.
Still, knowing that there are such parasites out there–and there are many, many examples in the animal kingdom of behavior- and even gene-altering parasites–should give us pause.
For one thing, how much of our own behavior is actually initiated by us? While we’re on the subject, what makes my mind my own and not just a jumble of chemical/hormone/electrical impulses?
Second, and a perhaps less philosophical question is this: if a tiny parasite can control humans minds, even a little bit, then what kind of potential is there for devious and clever humans to attempt to control one another?