The Boiling Frog
By Mort Laitner
We were all sadists in 9th grade. In the name of science, we pinned down live frogs, sliced their bodies in half and examined their bleeding, beating hearts. In dissection pans, we repeatedly stuck battery-powered electrodes into their exposed leg muscles and watched them contract. Wearing our goggles, lab aprons, and latex gloves, we pulled out their organs and raised them to our partners’ faces as if a trophy. As amateur biologists, we gleefully identified each organ: lung, liver, stomach, pancreas and intestines. We compared them to the frog anatomy dissection wall chart that hung in the front of the class over Professor Sam Beyton’s desk.
Washing our hands, we wondered what effect, if any, this experimentation had on our psyches. But as 9th graders the only things we had on our male minds was watching and identifying the bodily parts of the blonds cutting through the veins, tendons and muscles of the poor amphibians. These female classmates made our blood boil.
In the next class, our middle-aged, balding professor, demonstrated what he called, “The Boiling Frog Syndrome.” We watched as he dropped a live frog into a large beaker filled with boiling water. This sadistic act had little effect on us since we had just dissected our own live frog the day before. We watched it jump out and land on the white tile floor. Professor Beyton grabbed the frog and tossed it in a clear beaker of cold water. The frog looked relieved. Then our teacher, using his engraved WWII US Navy Zippo lighter, lit a Bunsen burner and placed the flame a few inches away from the beaker. Every few minutes Professor Beyton would turn the burner’s knob, slowly heating the water. We watched silently as the temperature on the floating thermometer climbed upward until the frog died.
Our professor gestured toward the beaker and explained, “The frog did not jump out because the change in water temperature was so incremental. It never sensed danger. It was lulled into a sense of complacency. This experiment is a metaphor.” Beyton lowered his voice, “Throughout your lives incremental changes will occur in your environment, both good and bad, and you may not notice these changes until it is too late.”
At the time, we were still too busy admiring our blond classmates to fully grasp the implications of his lecture. Now, as we approach retirement, none of us can identify the parts of the frog we dissected, but we can name the blondes who raised our temperatures and comprehend the incremental changes that have flooded our lives.