Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment – Topics For Teachers to Explore

As indicated in our last post, this marks our first blog that suggests topics teachers might want to explore in classroom discussions involving stories in the Adapted Classics collection. The first book we published in the collection is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, and there are lots of topics teachers might want to explore in this one.

You might ask why Dr. Heidegger conducted the experiment. What did he hope to find out? The subjects in the experiment might trigger other questions. All of them were old friends of the doctor, so we know Dr. Heidegger knew them and and that he was probably also aware of their rather ignoble pasts. Were they useful subjects for what he hoped to learn from the experiment? Did Dr. Heidegger anticipate the results of the experiment? If so, did the results completely meet his expectations? Did the experiment prove anything given the common flaws of the subjects?

At least one literary critic who reviewed Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment condemned it because he said Hawthorne should not have glorified Dr. Heidegger, who he considered a very bad man. This critic claimed that any person who would subject friends to an experiment that ran such great risk as this one did must be considered immoral and beneath contempt, and should never be glorified as a wise and righteous person.

This criticism opens up an unexpected can of worms that doesn’t have much to do with Nathaniel Hawthorne or Dr. Heidegger, the character he created. Somehow it doesn’t seem so cruel to me that four old duffers were given a crack at reoccupying the healthy and lively bodies of their youth. It almost seems that most old people would jump (if they could) at that chance even if they knew the effects would be temporary.

I wonder how many middle-school students would agree with me, or would most agree with the critic who labels Dr. Heidegger a bad man for exposing his friends to the mind-boggling possibility that they could magically recapture their youth and perhaps, with a change of scene and focus, even retain it. Was Dr. Heidegger only bad because his experiment would prove his old friends to be unreformable, a result that he must have anticipated?


And just what is up with this common pre-occupation of retaining and/or restoring youth anyhow? Shouldn’t we admire people who accept the process of aging as it naturally occurs and who do not go to great lengths to cover-up the aging process?

Beyond cover-up, isn’t it natural and admirable for people to exercise and eat right to retain their health and delay the deterioration of their bodies? Don’t we all want to stay forever young in both spirit and body? Is there something wrong with that? Were the subjects of the experiment wrong to relocate to the fountain of youth once they knew the power that it held?

This blog contains just a small sample of the topics that Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment might raise – topics that could be addressed in a classroom discussion. We will revisit this story for more topics as time goes by. I hope I do not grow too old before I can do that. Maybe I should take some of that elixir! Google me to Lake Macaco!

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