Monday, November 23, 2009

You Don't See This Every Day

File this one under, “don’t try this at home.” From some information in John G. West’s, Darwin Day In America, I tracked this guy down. Apparently Giovanni Aldini was convinced that enough electricity applied to a sufficiently fresh corpse would produce “reanimation.”

Aldini traveled all over Europe publicly electrifying human and animal bodies, and his performances were extraordinary theatrical spectacles. In 1802 Giovanni Aldini came to London with a spectacular demonstration. Such spectacles performed on humans (and ox heads) produced repeated, spasmodic movements of facial muscles, arms, and legs. He stimulated the heads and trunks of cows, horses, sheep and dogs. An eyewitness reported: "Aldini, after having cut off the head of a dog, makes the current of a strong battery go through it: the mere contact triggers really terrible convulsions. The jaws open, the teeth chatter, the eyes roll in their sockets; and if reason did not stop the fired imagination, one would almost believe that the animal is suffering and alive again".

The most famous experiment took place at the Royal College of Surgeons in London in 1803, on a hanged man named George Forster. Anatomical dissection had formed part of Forster’s death sentence, but no one could have visualized quite the violation that Aldini was going to inflict on him. Before a large medical and general audience, he took a pair of conducting rods linked to a powerful battery, and touched the rods to various parts of the body in turn. The results were dramatic. When the rods were applied to Forster’s mouth and ear, “the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened.” When one rod was moved to touch the rectum, the whole body convulsed: indeed, the movements were “so much increased as almost to give an appearance of re-animation”.

In a not unrelated item, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written during this period.

For more info.

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