It’s funny how it can sometimes take 25 years and a lifetime of reading to finally put two and two together regarding something about Ghostbusters, but here we are.
The thought, my thought, in question is at the very beginning of the film when Peter teases Egon;
“This reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole in your head.”
To which a stern, mildly annoyed Egon insists it would have worked had Venkman not interfered. And there is – what would have worked? What was Egon up to?
Technically, the procedure Egon was attempting is called trepanation and it has a long history – ancient skulls have been found with very deliberate openings in the skull that were not caused by violence or anger. Today, the procedure is used to relieve pressure to the brain when someone suffers and illness or injury that increases the amount of fluid surrounding the brain. With no place to go, the fluid just builds up, squeezing the brain to the point of damage or death. And somewhere in between, there is some suggestion that they have been attempted for superstitious reasons – ie, opening the skull to let the bad spirits out.
None of these seem like they likely what Egon was going for – had he been injured, it’s unlikely he would be capable of trying the procedure on himself. And despite his interest in the paranormal, he’s far too rational a man to try and drill a hole in his head to let out some bad spirits. There is also a third option – that Egon was attempting to do himself in, albeit in an incredibly messy and unconventional way. Except nothing about him seems that morose and Peter’s jibbing him suggests Dr. Venkman didn’t think Egon was deliberately attempting to harm himself either.
However, the man is clearly interested in the science on the cutting, nearly cuckoo, edge – meters that read psi-energy, a nuclear powered energy system for capturing and holding ghosts, and making cranky, mood-altering slime happy. The guy clearly has no problem with fringe science. And guess what? Trepanation has a scientific fringe.
There are two, similar schools of thought on medical self-trepanation, both having to do with blood-brain volume. The only difference between the two schools is that one thinks that increased blood volume let’s the brain tap into psychic powers. The other thinks is just lets the brain and body run better.
There is little on the psychic school, but it’s not hard to assume that they are observing the same effects as the other theory (increased mental energy, ability to focus attention better, and a general sense of well being), but attributing them illusionary properties (ie their minds are expanding, allowing them ESP.)
The non-psychic school of thought isn’t that far fetched however – the biggest proponent, Bart Hughes, argues that children, who actually have a higher blood-brain volume, do so because their skulls haven’t fully fused. This give and take to the skull allows for that increased volume. Once fully grown and the skull seals, the volume decreases – this is then attributed as the cause for the loss of childlike energy and enthusiasm, even stretched sense of time. Without some serious study, it’s hard to say if this is actually true or not, but many claim there is ample, anecdotal evidence.
A few people have had deliberate, non-emergency trepanations conducted on themselves and report a number of benefits, including some who describe it as being mildly high all the time.
So, with all that in mind, what exactly was Egon up to? It’s all guesstimation, but once you agree it’s unlikely he was trying to save his own life through head surgery or trying to let the bad spirits out – and barring that he was just trying it for the heck of it – there’s not a lot of options left.
I propose that Egon was attempting to recreate some of Hughes theories – to an academic, but broadminded individual such as Dr. Spengler, there would be one of three outcomes (four if you count death, but as before, he builds mini-nuclear accelerators without fear, and has never shown a moment’s doubt in any of the movies, so, fair bet he wasn’t going to cut his head open if he thought it highly likely he would die from it);
– Nothing happens and he has a small area (usually about the size smaller than a dime) of skull missing that you can feel under the skin.
– The medical benefits manifest, proving Bart Hughes right, and making an already brainy Egon that much more of an egghead (so to speak.)
– The psychic benefits manifest and that’s a whole, new exciting set of results. Or at the very least he will feel fantastic all the time.
In any case, it seems worth the attempt – and that Peter interrupted would certainly be ground to be grumpy about it, even years later. For whatever reason – perhaps Ray and Peter convinced him that the risks were higher than he thought – we know Egon never tried again. But we know he tried, and I think this is the best possible explaination for why he wanted to try it in the first place.
So think about that, the next time you fire up the movie. You’ll look at Egon in a whole new way.
I’m sending this one to GhostbustersFans.com, instead of leaving the comments open. For those of you without an account there, this could be a good excuse – once complete, it’ll kind of be like Ghostbusters MySpace.
UPDATE: gbfans forums are closed to public reading, so I’m going to open up the comments system on this post. Oh well, so much for that experiment.