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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 Changing Neurophysiological Setting

The Changing Neurophysiological Setting

(p.375) Chapter 25 The Changing Neurophysiological Setting
The Shocking History of Electric Fishes

Stanley Finger

Marco Piccolino

Oxford University Press

Emil du Bois–Reymond studied nerve and muscle physiology in addition to conducting research on various electric fish. For du Bois–Reymond, the two fields were tightly coupled, and this was consistent with his philosophy that the challenge of understanding “nerves, muscles and electric organs is not divisible but has to be regarded as a whole.” He strove to come forth with an “electric molecules” model for nerve and muscle fibers, one that would also be applicable to electric fish organs. But although his conception forced other scientists to think about the issues, while generating additional research, the particular model he developed in order to account for electric phenomena in nerves and muscle was flawed, and in this regard one could make the case that it hindered progress in electrophysiology. This chapter examines du Bois–Reymond's model and its impact. It also looks at Ludimar Hermann's criticisms of this model and the path that led Julius Bernstein, who also had a strong interest in electric fish, to his insightful membrane theory. It begins Hermann Helmholtz (later von Helmholtz), who was both Müller's student and du Bois–Reymond's friend, and his landmark estimates of the speed of nerve conduction and what this work signified.

Keywords:   Emil du Bois–Reymond, nerve physiology, muscle physiology, electric molecules model, electric fish, Ludimar Hermann, Julius Bernstein

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