Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment

“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” is a short story by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne published in 1837. In the story, Dr. Heidegger invites four elderly friends to his study. He displays a vase that he claims has water from the Fountain of Youth discovered in Florida. The water wondrously causes an old rose to bloom again when dropped into it and Heidegger claims it can make people young again who drink it. He asks the four guests to participate in the experiment of drinking the water to grow young again so he can observe how they would act. The participants agree wishing to live their life again free from the mistakes they had made in their youth.

The participants are a Mr. Killigrew who, throughout his life, had had many self-indulgent, sinful pleasures. A Mr. Medbourne who lost his fortune in speculation. A Mr. Gascoigne whose political career was ruined by corruption. A Ms. Wycherley who was a formerly beautiful women now ravaged by age.

As Heidegger watches, they anxiously drink the water. As their youth becomes restored they resort to acting as fatuously as they had in their prime. Mr. Killigrew shouting happy drinkings songs and lustily viewing Ms. Wycherley. Mr. Medbourne sketching out far-fetched speculation schemes. Mr. Gascoigne talking meaningless political slogans and softly speaking secrets to himself. Ms. Wycherley admiring her image in a mirror and flirting with the men. The vase is accidentally smashed as the men fight over the widow, and its miraculous water is lost. The guests’ transformation only lasts for minutes, and then returns them to their original old age.

While only fictional, this story illustrates the truth that people, absent God, would not likely live much different no matter how many times that had a chance to live their life over again. At our core, we are who we are. Given a second chance our faults would emerge as silly and sinful as they had in our past. We cannot self-improve our essential self. We can only die to it, accept Christ, and let him live through us. Then we can shine forth as new creatures (II Corinthians 5:17).

The story ends with Dr. Heidegger stating his observation taught him to never want to return to his youth. However, the four participants start to make plans to travel to Florida to find the Fountain of Youth. This is a very short and thought-provoking story that all should enjoy.

One thought on “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment

  1. That’s a good observation lost on people who believe they can or have pulled themselves up by their boot straps and therefore believe others should do the same. Surrender and submission to God, His ways and means can have transforming effect. Can we maintain a contrite attitude?


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