Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Shocking History of Electric FishesFrom Ancient Epochs to the Birth of Modern Neurophysiology$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Stanley Finger and Marco Piccolino

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195366723

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195366723.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy).date: 18 March 2019

The Electrical World of Benjamin Franklin

The Electrical World of Benjamin Franklin

(p.163) Chapter 10 The Electrical World of Benjamin Franklin
The Shocking History of Electric Fishes

Stanley Finger

Marco Piccolino

Oxford University Press

The previous chapter showed how theories involving rapid muscle contractions replaced ancient ideas about cold vapors and venoms, and vague notions of occult (hidden) forces, when accounting for the effects of torporific fish. These mechanical theories emerged in the final decades of the 17th century, and with Réaumur in France, they continued to have substantial backing in the first half of the 18th century. The first suggestions that these fish just might function in another way, by electricity, would first appear around 1750. This significant change in thinking would emerge in the context of the tremendous attraction that electricity held for academic scientists and even amateurs in the 1740s and 1750s. In this Zeitgeist, a wide variety of phenomena, in both the animate and inanimate world, would be increasingly perceived as electrical. This chapter examines this phase in the history of electricity, and by so doing it sets the stage for the understanding of how torpedoes, a family of African catfish, and the South American eel, literally became electrical. It also introduces a number of technological innovations and introduces Benjamin Franklin, who would not only play a major role in understanding the nature of electricity, but would also be influential in showing that torpedoes are, in fact, electrical. The chapter also presents historical information about the Royal Society of London, emphasizing its commitment to overthrowing falsehoods with experiments, and its belief that even the smallest facts might lead to useful knowledge.

Keywords:   electric fish, electricity, torpedoes, catfish, electric eels, Royal Society of London, Benjamin Franklin

Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us .