The mythical “third eye”, the pineal gland is a small nodule inside the human brain. For centuries, people have speculated as to what its function might be. To some, it was a vestigial eye, a mystic gateway into the realm of the spirit. Some claimed it was the home of the human soul, the innate radio to God we are all born with. As usual, science eventually had to come and stomp all over the fun.
The pineal gland actually is sensitive to light, despite being buried deep in your brain. This is because it’s connected to your eyes – it sits behind them. It produces melatonin, which as anyone who’s ever had insomnia can tell you, is what helps you sleep. The pineal gland regulates your body’s rhythms, so when you change from day to night shift, it’s the pineal that has to catch up. It also plays a part in puberty and is essentially the body’s alarm clock.
Doesn’t sound so mystical now, huh? It’s true that the pineal gland is not really the all-seeing third eye it might have been, but the fact of the matter is that it took a long time for medical science to really figure out what this little organ did. In the meantime, there was a lot of speculation, which has led to the pineal becoming the mystery gland that New Age believers can point to as “scientific” basis for some of their beliefs.
It’s also really good for horror stories. The idea of a sleeping organ in your head just waiting for the right signal to wake up, like an intruder in your own brain, is extraordinary. One perfect example of this is Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond. While nominally based on Lovecraft’s story, the movie shares very little with it origin. In the movie, the evil doctor’s device stimulates the pineal gland, causing people to both see into other dimensions and become extremely horny. I don’t much get that last part, other than it let us see Barbara Crampton in fetish gear, so I won’t complain.
Later in the movie, the pineal glands literally start bursting out of people’s heads. So much for it just being a source of biorhythms!
Unfortunately, science marches on and the mystery of this little gland has been put to rest. Such party poopers, scientists.