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The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution by Henry Schlesinger
Albert Einstein, animal electricity, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, British Empire, Copley Medal, Fellow of the Royal Society, index card, invention of the telegraph, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Livingstone, I presume, Menlo Park, Metcalfe’s law, popular electronics, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RFID, Robert Metcalfe, Stephen Hawking, Thales of Miletus, the scientific method, Thomas Davenport, transcontinental railway, Upton Sinclair, Vannevar Bush, Yogi Berra
In describing how the torpedo fish may have worked—essentially reverse engineering the creature—Nicholson sketched a rough blueprint for the first true battery. With papers endorsing and refuting the two differing theories circulating between supporters of both sides, Galvani in some of his last writings proffered the idea of two different types of electricity—animal electricity and common electricity. Not quite a complete concession, the good doctor’s suggestion was closer to a compromise based on diplomacy and perhaps weariness with the debate rather than experiment or scientific fact. Volta, still working hard to prove his bimetallic theory, offered up his own compromise. He would admit that animal electricity exists, but not in the way that Galvani described—accumulating in muscles, particularly in severed limbs and small pieces of muscle. Yes, the nerves may act as conduits for electric fluid, Volta allowed, but that fluid doesn’t originate in the muscles.
In late 1801, he demonstrated the battery for Napoleon himself, who had a keen interest in science, both personally and as a public relations tool. Napoleon’s well-publicized interest in science seemed to have a somewhat calming effect on the ruling class, and in 1810, Napoleon made Volta a count. Volta’s public demonstrations, including an engagement at the Royal Society, focused on the battery’s design and function rather than theory and touched only lightly on the controversy over animal electricity that had lasted eight years. Volta carried with him a small, pocket-sized battery as well, showing how the device could be scaled down for portability—though its diminutive size proved less impressive than the larger pile or crown of cups. Soon, other natural philosophers began giving their own demonstrations of the device. One of the strangest public performances was offered up by Étienne-Gaspard Robertson.
Indeed, the first patent for a battery would come several decades in the future, well into the nineteenth century and long after his death. Patents for electrical devices, of course, were difficult. It was necessary to show a useful application, and the few that did receive patents at the time often listed medical purposes. NOT SURPRISINGLY, WITH A DEVICE capable of producing a continuous flow of electrical current, the debate surrounding animal electricity was soon forgotten. Unlike a Leyden jar, which required constant laborious charging and from which electricity exploded in an electrostatic burst, the battery was easily constructed out of readily available materials and provided a relatively long-lasting and steady flow of current with which to experiment. It’s also interesting to note just how little desire there was to explore the way in which the battery produced its charge.
Energy: A Human History by Richard Rhodes
Albert Einstein, animal electricity, California gold rush, Cesare Marchetti: Marchetti’s constant, Copley Medal, dark matter, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, decarbonisation, demographic transition, Dmitri Mendeleev, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, energy transition, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, flex fuel, income inequality, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of the steam engine, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, joint-stock company, Menlo Park, Mikhail Gorbachev, new economy, nuclear winter, oil rush, oil shale / tar sands, oil shock, peak oil, Ralph Nader, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, selection bias, Simon Kuznets, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, uranium enrichment, urban renewal, Vanguard fund, working poor, young professional
He pondered a variety of explanations, struggling with the accepted belief that animals generate a special kind of electric charge in their muscles and transmit it through their nerves. This “animal electricity” was believed to be different from static electricity or lightning and unique to each animal. Galvani believed his experiments had elicited animal electricity rather than ordinary, non-vital electricity. Volta doubted Galvani’s claim: If so, why did a living animal’s leg respond only when he linked spine to muscle with a bimetallic conductor? Why not a conductor made of only one metal as well? Volta suspected that the electric charge demonstrated by the frog’s response came not from the frog but from the contact between the two dissimilar metals—a conclusion that offered an exception to the animal electricity theory and thus challenged its validity. To confirm his suspicion, Volta tried another experiment.
He prepared a frog leg with a long piece of nerve extending out of the thigh. To the bare nerve, but not touching the thigh, he then clipped two leads from a weakly charged Leyden jar. The leg muscles contracted. The current from the Leyden jar had stimulated the leg muscles even though it had circuited only through the nerve. To Volta, that meant the current didn’t originate in the muscle, as the animal-electricity theory proposed. Volta then administered his coup de grâce: he prepared another frog leg with a similarly exposed crural nerve, but instead of connecting the nerve to a Leyden jar, he clipped on an arc of two dissimilar metal strips, one of tin leaf and the other of brass. “Instantly the entire limb will be excited into convulsions and kicks,” he wrote, “yet the limb has not been touched, and it is inconceivable that it could be reached by the electrical fluid, which has traveled only between . . . two adjacent parts of the nerve.”9 If he could make the frog leg jump by attaching a bimetallic conductor, Volta concluded, “then there is surely no reason to assume that a natural, organic electricity is at work here.”10 Volta’s “nerve only” experiment: (a) with Leyden jar, (b) with bimetallic conductor.
“Instantly the entire limb will be excited into convulsions and kicks,” he wrote, “yet the limb has not been touched, and it is inconceivable that it could be reached by the electrical fluid, which has traveled only between . . . two adjacent parts of the nerve.”9 If he could make the frog leg jump by attaching a bimetallic conductor, Volta concluded, “then there is surely no reason to assume that a natural, organic electricity is at work here.”10 Volta’s “nerve only” experiment: (a) with Leyden jar, (b) with bimetallic conductor. Volta was generous enough, or sensitive enough to the politics of science, not to try to crush Galvani entirely. He praised him instead with a qualified superlative: “Galvani’s great discovery of a full-fledged animal electricity,” he announced, “remains solid and stable; nonetheless, it must be limited to fewer phenomena, and nearly all his suppositions and explanations collapse.”11 Volta went on to prove that no animal tissue need be part of the apparatus to make electricity. Years intervened between Galvani’s 1792 report and Volta’s ultimate response, years of debate across scientific Europe and of further experiments and reports.
The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, animal electricity, British Empire, Copley Medal, Dava Sobel, double helix, Edmond Halley, Etonian, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, invention of the printing press, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John Harrison: Longitude, music of the spheres, placebo effect, polynesian navigation, Richard Feynman, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, trade route, unbiased observer, University of East Anglia, éminence grise
If the Life Force was ‘super-added’, some power outside man must obviously have added it.8 In drawing his analogies between Vitality and electricity, Abernethy also called on the authority of Humphry Davy’s Bakerian Lectures at the Royal Society. Like many scientific men of the day he was entranced by the potentialities of the voltaic battery, and its possible connections with ‘animal magnetism’ and human animation. Electricity in a sense became a metaphor for life itself. ‘The experiments of Sir Humphry Davy seem to me to form an important link in the connexion of our knowledge of dead and living matter. He has solved the great and long hidden mystery of chemical attraction, by showing that it depends upon the electric properties which the atoms of different species of matter possess…Sir Humphry Davy’s experiments also lead us to believe, that it is electricity, extricated and accumulated in ways not clearly understood, which causes those sudden and powerful motions in masses of inert matter, which we occasionally witness with wonder and dismay.’9 The lectures excited great interest in the medical profession, but not yet among the general public.
The art of living happy is, I believe, the art of being agreeably deluded; and faith in all things is superior to Reason, which, after all, is but a dead weight in advanced life, though as the pendulum to the clock in youth.’106 In July he went down to the coast to collect some specimens of the electrical eel or torpedo fish at Trieste. He had renewed his interest in Vitalism and the mysteries of animal electricity. But he hurried back to Laibach, again writing to Jane almost teasingly: ‘I am just returned to my old quarters & my pretty Illyrian nurse, after an excursion of a fortnight to Trieste…I succeeded in my projected experiment on the Torpedo and I have I think been able to establish a new principle with respect to the species of Electricity which will be a [gain] in Nat Science.’107 He worked on throughout the summer, trying to believe he was convalescing, and remained at Laibach as long as possible, until the autumn weather broke and the snowclouds began to gather in the mountains.
He stubbornly sent off another scientific paper to the Royal Society, on the ‘animal battery’ contained in the body of the torpedo or electric eel. It was published on 20 November 1828. He had now submitted forty-six papers to the Society, his first on the voltaic battery long ago in June 1801, and his most famous one on the safety lamp in 1816. He did not want the torpedo to be his last, and he continued to investigate the mystery of ‘animal electricity’ and its possible connection with the universal principle of life. John Herschel would be particularly struck by this paper, which compared the electric eel to a voltaic battery, asked whether the eel could exert this ‘most wonderful power’ at will, and speculated whether the human brain itself might be ‘an electric pile, constantly in action’.144 Nature held other analogies, too. A late autumn 1828 entry in Davy’s private journals reads: ‘Bees, wasps and various winged insects, which appeared to me to be of the Vesper or Apes families were feeding in almost every flower, their tongues searching the honey.
How We Got Here: A Slightly Irreverent History of Technology and Markets by Andy Kessler
Albert Einstein, Andy Kessler, animal electricity, automated trading system, bank run, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, Bob Noyce, Bretton Woods, British Empire, buttonwood tree, Claude Shannon: information theory, Corn Laws, Douglas Engelbart, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, fiat currency, fixed income, floating exchange rates, Fractional reserve banking, full employment, Grace Hopper, invention of the steam engine, invention of the telephone, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, John von Neumann, joint-stock company, joint-stock limited liability company, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kickstarter, Leonard Kleinrock, Marc Andreessen, Maui Hawaii, Menlo Park, Metcalfe's law, Metcalfe’s law, Mitch Kapor, packet switching, price mechanism, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, profit motive, railway mania, RAND corporation, Robert Metcalfe, Silicon Valley, Small Order Execution System, South Sea Bubble, spice trade, spinning jenny, Steve Jobs, supply-chain management, supply-chain management software, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, tulip mania, Turing machine, Turing test, undersea cable, William Shockley: the traitorous eight
In 1780, Italian Luigi Galvani and his assistant were dissecting frogs, and the assistant dropped a metal scalpel on a frog’s leg (yes, apparently they tasted like chicken back then as well.) The frog twitched and Luigi proudly announced his discovery of “animal electricity.” He then spent 20 years doing to frogs and birds just about anything he could think of including touching their legs and wings with brass and iron and copper and zinc, and hanging them on brass hooks. Another Italian, University of Pavia Professor Alessandro Volta, was a skeptic of animal electricity. Instead, he was more intrigued by the metals. Volta figured the frog was just a detector of electricity, not the source. He visited Galvani and noted that when Galvani used a steel knife and a tin plate, the frog moved. So Volta put a frog between a stack of brass and iron and sure enough it twitched.
Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson
airport security, animal electricity, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, Frederick Winslow Taylor, glass ceiling, Iridium satellite, medical residency, meta analysis, meta-analysis, placebo effect, randomized controlled trial, Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Stanford marshmallow experiment, technoutopianism, Walter Mischel
Scribonius Largus, the court physician for the Roman emperor Claudius more than two thousand years ago, recommended the application of a live torpedo fish—an electric ray capable of delivering up to 200 volts at a time—to the forehead for relief of headaches, and other cultures around the world prescribed electric fish for everything from epilepsy to exorcism.2 By the end of the eighteenth century, the great debate between Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta had introduced the idea of “animal electricity” to the world. Galvani’s nephew Giovanni Aldini soon began using “galvanism” to treat depression in Bologna (as well as applying electricity to the brains of freshly decapitated criminals to elicit bizarre facial expressions).3 In the two centuries since then, various forms of electrical brain stimulation for mental health and other conditions have drifted in and out of fashion with decidedly mixed results.
Chapter 12: Zapping the Brain 1. A sharp bang: I wrote about Red Bull’s Project Endurance in “Your Body on Brain Doping,” Outside, August 2, 2014. 2. Scribonius Largus: C. I. Sarmiento et al., “Brief History of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS): From Electric Fishes to Microcontrollers,” Psychological Medicine 46, no. 3259 (2016). 3. freshly decapitated criminals: André Parent, “Giovanni Aldini: From Animal Electricity to Human Brain Stimulation,” Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences 31 (2004): 576–84. 4. tango dancing: D. Kaski et al., “Applying Anodal tDCS During Tango Dancing in a Patient with Parkinson’s Disease,” Neuroscience Letters 568 (2014): 39–43. 5. ability to spot snipers: Vincent Clark et al., “TDCS Guided Using fMRI Significantly Accelerates Learning to Identify Concealed Objects,” NeuroImage 59, no. 1 (2012). 6.
Rage Inside the Machine: The Prejudice of Algorithms, and How to Stop the Internet Making Bigots of Us All by Robert Elliott Smith
Ada Lovelace, affirmative action, AI winter, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, animal electricity, autonomous vehicles, Black Swan, British Empire, cellular automata, citizen journalism, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, corporate personhood, correlation coefficient, crowdsourcing, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, desegregation, discovery of DNA, Douglas Hofstadter, Elon Musk, Fellow of the Royal Society, feminist movement, Filter Bubble, Flash crash, Gerolamo Cardano, gig economy, Gödel, Escher, Bach, invention of the wheel, invisible hand, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, John Harrison: Longitude, John von Neumann, Kenneth Arrow, low skilled workers, Mark Zuckerberg, mass immigration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mutually assured destruction, natural language processing, new economy, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, p-value, pattern recognition, Paul Samuelson, performance metric, Pierre-Simon Laplace, precariat, profit maximization, profit motive, Silicon Valley, social intelligence, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, stochastic process, telemarketer, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Future of Employment, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thomas Bayes, Thomas Malthus, traveling salesman, Turing machine, Turing test, twin studies, Vilfredo Pareto, Von Neumann architecture, women in the workforce
The ideas about galvanism Mary cites were also wrong, though still widely held at the time. They refer to the work of Italian scholar Luigi Galvani, who hung some severed frog’s legs from a brass hook and observed that on touching them with an iron scalpel they twitched. He mistakenly took this movement as a sign of some intrinsic life essence retained in the dead matter, which he called ‘animal electricity’. Of course the electricity was not in the frog’s leg but was actually due to the simple battery effect that the brass hook created when his iron scalpel touched the dead, wet appendage.4,5 These scientific theories and mistakes don’t really matter though, because like all good sci-fi the science was never the point in the story Mary created. Mary Shelley’s famous tale is, of course, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, a tale about an obsessive, ambitious scientist who relentlessly pursues his scientific experiments achieving extraordinary results.
Psychological Review, 90 (4): 293–315. 2Stuart Kauffman, 2010, Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion. New York: Basic Books. 3Neil Stevenson, 1995, The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. Penguin. 4Disagreements over these matters would actually prompt Galvani’s colleague, Alessandro Volta, to create the first real battery, and with it the modern idea of electricity. 5W. Bernardi, 2001, The Controversy Over Animal Electricity in 18th-Century Italy: Galvani, Volta, and Others. Revue D’histoire des Sciences, 54: 53–70, www.edumed.org.br/cursos/neurociencia/controversy-bernardi.pdf INDEX abacus, abaci, here, here, here, here ACLU, here Albright, Jonathan, here Alexa. See Amazon’s Echo AlphaGo, here, here, here Amazon, here, here, here Amazon Mechanical Turk, here Amazon’s Echo, here American Eugenics Records Office, here American Study Group, here antibodies, here, here antigens, here, here Aristotle, here, here, here, here, here Arrow, Kenneth, here associationism, here, here astragalus, astragali, here, here, here automata, here, here, here, here Aytes, Ayhan, here Babbage, Charles, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here Babbage Effect, here, here, here Babbage’s Engines, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here Bacon, Francis, here Bayes, Thomas, here Bayesian inference, here Bayesian reasoning, here, here Bayes’ rule, here Bedford College for Women, here Bell Curve, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here Bell Laboratories, here Bernoulli, Jacob, here, here Binet, Alfred, here, here, here binomial distribution, here black swans, here, here, here Blackwell, Antoinette Brown, here Bloomfield, Leonard, here Box, George, here, here, here Brexit, here, here, here, here brittleness, here, here, here, here, here, here Bryan, William Jennings, here Bryon, Lord, here, here Buolamwini, Joy, here Burks, Arthur, here Byron, Lord, here, here, here, here Cajal, Santiago Ramon y, here Cambridge Analytica, here, here Campbell, Joseph, here Cardano, Gerolamo, here, here, here, here, here Cardwell, Chris, here Carroll, Galen, here Cattell, Raymond, here Central Limit Theorem.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund
animal electricity, clean water, colonial rule, en.wikipedia.org, energy transition, first square of the chessboard, first square of the chessboard / second half of the chessboard, global pandemic, Hans Rosling, illegal immigration, income inequality, income per capita, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), jimmy wales, linked data, lone genius, microcredit, purchasing power parity, Stanford marshmallow experiment, Steven Pinker, Thomas L Friedman, Walter Mischel
To learn more about the methodology of these polls and the supporting data behind the correct answers, see “Notes” here. Education of girls in low-income countries Majority income level Extreme poverty Lifespan Future number of children1 More people Natural disasters Where people live Vaccination of children Women’s education Endangered animals Electricity Climate Number of correct answers out of the first twelve questions NOTES We have taken enormous care to check and double-check our sources and the ways we have used them: in a book about Factfulness, we do not want to make a single fact mistake. But we are human beings; however hard we strive, we still make mistakes. If you spot a mistake, please share your knowledge and enable us to improve this book.
The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis by Jeremy Rifkin
agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, animal electricity, back-to-the-land, British Empire, carbon footprint, collaborative economy, death of newspapers, delayed gratification, distributed generation, en.wikipedia.org, energy security, feminist movement, global village, hedonic treadmill, hydrogen economy, illegal immigration, income inequality, income per capita, interchangeable parts, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet Archive, invention of movable type, invention of the steam engine, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Mahatma Gandhi, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Milgram experiment, Nelson Mandela, new economy, New Urbanism, Norbert Wiener, off grid, out of africa, Peace of Westphalia, peak oil, peer-to-peer, planetary scale, scientific worldview, Simon Kuznets, Skype, smart grid, smart meter, social intelligence, supply-chain management, surplus humans, the medium is the message, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, transaction costs, upwardly mobile, uranium enrichment, working poor, World Values Survey
In 1838, another Italian, Carlo Matteucci, a professor of physics at the University of Pisa, showed that “an electrical current accompanies each heart beat.”4 In 1843, the German physiologist Emil du Bois-Reymond was able to detect voltage potential in resting muscles.5 In this early period of electricity development, the observations of physiologists studying the electrical workings in humans and animals proved helpful to engineers constructing the first practical electrical devices. The engineers’ work, in turn, provided helpful clues to the workings of the central nervous system. For example, the nervous system provided a useful model for building the telegraph, while the electric fish gave Volta ideas about how to build a battery. Du Bois-Reymond dedicated Animal Electricity, his 1848 book on electrical excitation in nerves and muscles, to Michael Faraday, whose “descriptions of induction in electrical circuits” provided useful analogies for describing excitation of nerves.6 In a public lecture delivered in 1851, du Bois-Reymond explained how the workings of the telegraph and other new electrical technology paralleled the way animals are constructed. He wrote:the wonder of our time, electrical telegraphy, was long ago modeled in the animal machine.
Adler, Alfred adolescent advertising industry Affective Neuroscience (Panksepp) afferent feedback Age of Faith Age of Reason Age of Sentimentalism aggression agricultural surplus agriculture feudal hydraulic societies industrial late Middle Ages Roman Empire Sumeria Ainsworth, Mary Akhenaten Akkadians Alcoholics Anonymous aliens (the other) Allen, Myles Allen, Steve Allen, Woody altruism Amazon rain forest Ambrose of Milan American culture American Dream American Idol American Indian American Literature American Psychologist American Revolution Anderson, David Animal Electricity (du Bois-Reymond) Animal Planet animal protection animal rights movement animal species fairness and gestures and language grooming behavior learned behavior play and sense of humor sensory apparatus of social nature Annan, Kofi anomie anosognosia anterior cingulate cortex anthrax anxious attachment Aquinas, Thomas, Saint Arbib, Michael archaic man Archer, Brian architecture Arecibo Observatory (Puerto Rico) Aristotle Armstrong, Karen Armstrong, Nancy Arsenio, William F.
The Power Makers by Maury Klein
Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, animal electricity, Augustin-Louis Cauchy, British Empire, business climate, invention of radio, invention of the telegraph, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, margin call, Menlo Park, price stability, railway mania, Right to Buy, the scientific method, trade route, transcontinental railway, working poor
Every source of electric current remained transitory, produced by friction, heat, or induction from the release of accumulated charges in a Leyden jar. Little progress could be made unless some more continuous source of electricity was found. The long and winding road of discovery in this area began with Alessandro Volta, an unassuming physics professor who had been drawn to some experiments with animal electricity conducted by another professor, Luigi Galvani.26 During his research with frogs, Galvani had in 1780 stumbled onto an astonishing discovery: A dead frog’s leg convulsed when touched with a metal scalpel. This accidental observation lured Galvani into eleven years of research into the phenomenon before he published his findings. He concluded that the twitching resulted from a “nerveo-electrical fluid” that had accumulated in the muscle and apparently acted like a Leyden jar.
The first device to replenish an electrical charge through induction rather than friction, it became enormously popular. Volta became professor of physics at the University of Padua at thirty-seven, traveled widely, learned several languages, and won election to the Royal Society of London in 1791, the same year Galvani published his paper. By late 1793 Volta had rejected Galvani’s claim of “animal electricity,” believing that the source of electricity lay rather in the contact of two dissimilar metals during the experiment. Using one of his own inventions, the condensing electroscope, Volta systematically tested a variety of metal disks for their “electromotive force,” a term applied to electric current as opposed to static electricity.27 By measuring the amount of charge on each disk, Volta found that contact between zinc and copper left the latter with a positive charge and the former with a negative one.
Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine by Edzard Ernst, Simon Singh
animal electricity, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Berlin Wall, correlation does not imply causation, false memory syndrome, Florence Nightingale: pie chart, germ theory of disease, John Snow's cholera map, Louis Pasteur, meta analysis, meta-analysis, placebo effect, profit motive, publication bias, randomized controlled trial, Ronald Reagan, Simon Singh, The Design of Experiments, the scientific method
The power of placebo The first medical patent issued under the Constitution of the United States was awarded in 1796 to a physician named Elisha Perkins, who had invented a pair of metal rods which he claimed could extract pains from patients. These tractors, as he dubbed them, were not inserted into the patient, but were merely brushed over the painful area for several minutes, during which time they would ‘draw off the noxious electrical fluid that lay at the root of suffering’. Luigi Galvani had recently shown that the nerves of living organisms responded to ‘animal electricity’, so Perkins’ tractors were part of a growing fad for healthcare based on the principles of electricity. As well as providing electrotherapeutic cures for all sorts of pains, Perkins claimed that his tractors could also deal with rheumatism, gout, numbness and muscle weakness. He soon boasted of 5,000 satisfied patients and his reputation was buoyed by the support of several medical schools and high-profile figures such as George Washington, who had himself invested in a pair of tractors.
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
He had four wives, all of them in separate houses, and he typically dropped in on one of them during his drives around the capital. “I keep my enemies guessing,” he said, brightening again. As Qaisi and I talked, a group of four Iraqi men sat down at a plastic table next to ours. One of them I recognized immediately: Hadi al-Amari, the head of the Badr Brigade, the very militia Qaisi believed had murdered his brother. Suddenly I felt an animal electricity in the air. Qaisi and Amari were eyeing each other. Qaisi stood up; so did Amari. I wondered if they were armed. “My friend,” Qaisi said, “it is so good to see you.” “Yes, it has been a long time,” Amari said. The two men embraced and kissed each other on their bearded cheeks. “We really must get together,” Amari said. “Yes, really, we must,” Qaisi said. THAT SAME SUMMER, I rode into the area of the Green Zone known as Little Venice.
In Our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence by George Zarkadakis
3D printing, Ada Lovelace, agricultural Revolution, Airbnb, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, animal electricity, anthropic principle, Asperger Syndrome, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, British Empire, business process, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, continuous integration, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological principle, dark matter, dematerialisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Edward Snowden, epigenetics, Flash crash, Google Glasses, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, index card, industrial robot, Internet of things, invention of agriculture, invention of the steam engine, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, job automation, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kickstarter, liberal capitalism, lifelogging, millennium bug, Moravec's paradox, natural language processing, Norbert Wiener, off grid, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, packet switching, pattern recognition, Paul Erdős, post-industrial society, prediction markets, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Brooks, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, social intelligence, speech recognition, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, The Future of Employment, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K
One of the great stories of modern science tells of how, in June 1752, Franklin attached a metal key to the bottom of a dampened kite string and flew the kite in a storm. He luckily survived the electric shock because he was standing under an umbrella to keep dry! A few years later, in 1791, the Italian physician Luigi Galvani (1737–1798) conducted a series of experiments with frogs or, to be more precise, with frog’s legs. The experiments showed that when electricity passed through a dead frog’s legs they kicked. Galvani coined the term ‘animal electricity’. He had discovered bioelectricity. Galvani’s experiments were repeated by Alessandro Volta (1745–1827) – who later invented the electrical battery – and ignited the imagination of Europe. By the mid-nineteenth century, Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818– 1896), a German physician, had developed the galvanometer to measure electric currents in animals, frogs and humans. Using this new instrument, du Bois-Raymond discovered that electricity flowed along the nerves of the body.
Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
Here they squatted, — the old skeletons of men with tearing coughs and running eyes, the young slim smooth brawlers with black eyes and bruised mouths, and the mothers with their feverish children, like little dry flowers, hanging upon their necks. I often had bad burns to treat, for the Kikuyu at night sleep round the fires in their huts, and the piles of burning wood or charcoal may collapse and slide down on them, — when at times I had run out of my store of medicine, I found that honey was not a bad ointment for burns. The atmosphere of the terrace was animated, electric, like the atmosphere of the Casinos in Europe. The low lively flow of talk would stop when I came out, but the silence was pregnant with possibilities, now the moment had come when anything might happen. They did however always wait for me myself to choose my first patient. I knew very little of doctoring, just what you learn at a first aid course. But my renown as a doctor had been spread by a few chance lucky cures, and had not been decreased by the catastrophic mistakes that I had made.
Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks (Cambridge Studies in the Emergence of Global Enterprise) by Andrew L. Russell
American ideology, animal electricity, barriers to entry, borderless world, Chelsea Manning, computer age, creative destruction, disruptive innovation, Donald Davies, Edward Snowden, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Hacker Ethic, Howard Rheingold, Hush-A-Phone, interchangeable parts, invisible hand, John Markoff, Joseph Schumpeter, Leonard Kleinrock, means of production, Menlo Park, Network effects, new economy, Norbert Wiener, open economy, packet switching, pre–internet, RAND corporation, RFC: Request For Comment, Richard Stallman, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, Steve Crocker, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, technoutopianism, Ted Nelson, The Nature of the Firm, Thomas L Friedman, Thorstein Veblen, transaction costs, web of trust
Louis (1904), and Turin (1911).33 At the 1904 Electrical Congress in St. Louis, leading figures in electrical science, including the British inventor and engineer Colonel R. E. B. Crompton, Swedish Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius, Lord Kelvin, and the American inventor Elihu Thomson, created the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Their goal was to establish a representative body that could bring the “cooperative spirit that animates electrical workers” into a formal and permanent organization.34 As the IEC grew and matured in the early twentieth century, electrical scientists understood perfectly well that standards were not exclusively technical matters but rather technically oriented instances of diplomacy, with a heavy dose of international prestige and commercial power on the line.35 Taken together, the wide variety of standards developed for and inspired by electrical telegraphy illustrate the fundamental irony of standardization in the late nineteenth century: there was no standard way to make standards.
The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant
Airbnb, animal electricity, Apple II, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, citizen journalism, Claude Shannon: information theory, computer vision, conceptual framework, Douglas Engelbart, Dynabook, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Ford paid five dollars a day, Frank Gehry, global supply chain, Google Earth, Google Hangouts, Internet of things, Jacquard loom, John Gruber, John Markoff, Jony Ive, Lyft, M-Pesa, MITM: man-in-the-middle, more computing power than Apollo, Mother of all demos, natural language processing, new economy, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener, offshore financial centre, oil shock, pattern recognition, peak oil, pirate software, profit motive, QWERTY keyboard, ride hailing / ride sharing, rolodex, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, skunkworks, Skype, Snapchat, special economic zone, speech recognition, stealth mode startup, Stephen Hawking, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Tim Cook: Apple, Turing test, uber lyft, Upton Sinclair, Vannevar Bush, zero day
Until then, though, batteries had been something of a stagnant technology for nearly a hundred years. The first true battery was invented by the Italian scientist Alessandro Volta in 1799 in an effort to prove that his colleague Luigi Galvani had been wrong about frog power. Galvani had run currents of electricity through dead frogs’ nervous systems—the series of experiments that would inspire Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—and had come to believe the amphibians had an internal store of “animal electricity.” He’d noticed that when he dissected a leg that was hung on a brass hook with an iron scalpel, it tended to twitch. Volta thought that his friend’s experiments were actually demonstrating the presence of an electrical charge running through the two different metal instruments via a moist intermediary. (They’d both turn out to be right—living muscle and nerve cells do indeed course with bioelectricity, and the fleshy frog was serving as an intermediary between electrodes.)
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen
affirmative action, Albert Einstein, animal electricity, anti-communist, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, augmented reality, back-to-the-land, Bernie Sanders, British Empire, Burning Man, California gold rush, Celebration, Florida, centre right, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, corporate governance, Credit Default Swap, David Brooks, delayed gratification, dematerialisation, disintermediation, disruptive innovation, Donald Trump, Donner party, Downton Abbey, Edward Snowden, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, failed state, Ferguson, Missouri, God and Mammon, Gordon Gekko, greed is good, high net worth, illegal immigration, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Kickstarter, large denomination, Mark Zuckerberg, market fundamentalism, McMansion, Mikhail Gorbachev, Minecraft, moral panic, mutually assured destruction, new economy, New Urbanism, Norman Mailer, placebo effect, pre–internet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, smart meter, Snapchat, South Sea Bubble, Steve Jobs, Ted Kaczynski, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, trade route, transcontinental railway, urban renewal, Whole Earth Catalog, WikiLeaks, Y2K, young professional
Father Divine, an African-American based in and around New York City, said he was God incarnate. The New York Times assumed his and his followers’ insanity: 16 OF DIVINE’S CULT SHOW MENTAL ILLS, one article was headlined; ONLY 2 OUT OF 18 OBSERVED AT BELLEVUE FOUND FREE OF WELL-DEFINED PSYCHOSES. McPherson, known as Sister Aimee, was a faith-healing, tongues-speaking Pentecostal divorcée preaching in a five-thousand-seat church in L.A. with a giant animated-electric-light billboard inside. After she went missing for five weeks in 1926, claiming she’d been kidnapped, Time described “her ‘disappearance,’ ” the way it referred to Billy Sunday’s “sermons,” with disparaging quotation marks. The bestselling novel of 1927 was Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, a satire about a Billy Sunday–esque evangelist and his McPhersonian lover. In 1933 Time happily reported that “U.S. evangelists find their circles narrowing, embracing smaller and smaller towns.”
NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman
Albert Einstein, animal electricity, Asperger Syndrome, assortative mating, crowdsourcing, Douglas Engelbart, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, experimental subject, Golden Gate Park, Haight Ashbury, hypertext link, IBM and the Holocaust, index card, Isaac Newton, John Markoff, Kickstarter, Larry Wall, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mother of all demos, neurotypical, New Journalism, pattern recognition, placebo effect, scientific mainstream, side project, Silicon Valley, Simon Singh, Skype, slashdot, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, the scientific method, twin studies, union organizing, Whole Earth Catalog, women in the workforce, Yom Kippur War
His aim was to produce “pain or fear” in the twins as a way of making the presence of adults “meaningful” and “rewarding” by comparison, as typical children might seek safety at their mother’s bedside after a bad dream. The results of these experiments were disappointing. Even when subjected to decibel levels capable of causing physical damage to the eardrum, Mike and Marty “remained unperturbed, particularly after the first two or three presentations.” Lovaas doubled down, turning to a method of punishment that had a long track record in behaviorist experiments on animals: electric shock. To head off any criticism for employing such harsh methods on preschool-age children, he added, “It is important to note, in view of the moral and ethical reasons which might preclude the use of electric shock, that their future was certain institutionalization.” He taped strips of metal foil to the floor of a room in his lab and wired these strips to a respectable-sounding device called a Harvard Inductorium—a modified Faraday coil that offered fine-tuning of its electrical output down to zero.