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The Shocking History of Electric FishesFrom Ancient Epochs to the Birth of Modern Neurophysiology$
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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

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The Dutch, the Eel, and Electricity

The Dutch, the Eel, and Electricity

(p.201) Chapter 13 The Dutch, the Eel, and Electricity
The Shocking History of Electric Fishes

Stanley Finger

Marco Piccolino

Oxford University Press

The Dutch were in a particularly privileged position to appreciate the parallel between the discharge of the most powerful electric fish known, the South American eel, and that of a Leyden jar. The eels thrived in the rivers of their South American colonies; their talented natural philosophers had introduced the famous electrical bottle that had taken the world of physics by storm; and they had wealthy and avid collectors desirous of obtaining exotica and showing off their specimens. Moreover, some of the most important steps towards fish electricity would involve Dutch scientists, both along the “Wild Coast” of the Guianas and in the Netherlands proper. The fact of this should not be surprising when one considers the rich cultural heritage of the Netherlands, the means of communicating ideas between the Dutch, and flourishing nature of Dutch science in the mid-1700s. With the Dutch discoveries of the 1750s and 1760s, the discharges of the eels discovered in the 1500s would become more electrical in many previously incredulous minds, and the idea that a few other fishes might also be electrical would gain needed credibility. But as is so often the case with the early history of a new idea, not every question that was being asked was about to be properly or fully answered, and over time some of the excitement associated with the Dutch and their South American eels seemed to fade into oblivion.

Keywords:   electric fish, South American eels, Leyden jar, fish electricity, Dutch

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