Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Happy Birthday Benjamin Franklin!

Gee, it seems whenever Stefan and I attempt to write a post together it ends up being a total disaster. Good morning Stefan! Thanks for the draft, I rewrote it, just so you know! Okay folks, here we go: today is Benjamin Franklin's 301st birthday, and so this blog honors the man who enlightened America, born on January 17th 1706 in Boston.

Did you know...

...that Benjamin Franklin was the first American to own a bathtub?

Well, if you knew that and thought is was funny, Stefan taught me it belongs into the recycle bin of urban legends. But lets try again:

Did you know...

... that Benjamin Franklin was so sure that fresh air was important for good health that he took a daily “air bath”?

Well, I didn't know until today. See, that's what being married is good for, you learn how to get along with your ideas about bathing.

Besides this, Benjamin is known for the invention of the lightning rod, the chimney and the public library.

While I was browsing the web for interesting stuff about Franklin, I found this website where you can have Fun with Franklin. Among other things, you'll learn that a necessary ingredient for a lemon battery is '1 adult helper'. But besides this, upon the mere mentioning of Franklin, I kind of feel the responsibility to remind you 'Never play with electrical cords, wires, switches, or plugs. - Fly kites and model airplanes in a wide open field or park never near overhead electrical wires.'

Yes, yes, you'd have thought after 300 years, people should know:

"(19 March 2006, Belize) Benjamin Franklin reputedly flew his kite in a lightning storm, going on to discover that lightning equals electricity. However, certain precautions must be taken to avoid sudden electrocution. Kennon, 26, replicated the conditions of Ben Franklin's experiment, but without Ben's sensible safety precautions. Dennon was flying a kite with a short string that he had extended with a length of thin copper wire. The copper made contact with a high-tension line, sending a bolt of electrical lightning towards the man. Just bad luck? Kennon's father told listeners his son was an electrician, and "should have known better." Kennon is survived by his parents, six sisters, and five brothers."

But besides providing an everlasting inspiration for the truly ingenious, Franklin was also actively involved in the first scientific clinical trial:

In the 1780s, the Viennese physician Anton Mesmer came to fame with his theory that "animal magnetism" may be an important determinant for the health of the body and the mind, and that magnetism could be used to cure all kinds of diseases. In a time when electricity was recognized as a driving force for the muscles in the body, this idea could not be easily dismissed as plain nonsense.

Mesmerism: The Operator Inducing a Hypnotic Trance, engraving after Dodd, 1794. Plate from Ebenezer Sibly's book, A Key to Physic, 1794. (Source)

There were many arduous fans of Mesmer and his healing methods. But there were skeptics, too - one of them was Louis XVI, the King of France, who wasn't as mesmerized as his wife, Marie-Antoinette. He wanted to know for sure what was there about these theories of this Austrian physician, and commissioned a report by high-level, international and interdisciplinary committee of experts to find out.

Headed by Franklin, and including the chemist Lavoisier, the botanist Jussieu, and the physician Guillotin, the panel carefully planned and conducted experiments to test Mesmer's hypothesis. In their public report, they concluded that there was no scientific evidence of animal magnetism. Successes of Mesmer's cures could be attributed either to other factors, or to a placebo effect. I bet they'd been interested to hear this frog's idea about animal magnetism.

One could go on and on about Franklin, if you are really interested, you might want to read his autobiography. But from all the interesting things about this great man's life, I want to share with you a quotation that I found about our search for the truth:

    "Perhaps the history of the errors of mankind, all things considered, is more valuable and interesting than that of their discoveries. Truth is uniform and narrow; it constantly exists, and does not seem to require so much an active energy, as a passive aptitude of the soul in order to encounter it. But error is endlessly diversified; it has no reality, but is the pure and simple creation of the mind that invents it. In this field the soul has room enough to expand herself, to display all her boundless faculties, and all her beautiful and interesting extravagancies and absurdities."

    (In the preface of the 1784 Report of Dr. Benjamin Franklin and other commissioners, charged by the King of France, with the examination of the animal magnetism, as now practised at Paris)

For more fun with Franklin, check out this very professionally designed website, it's just a looker.

PS: Sorry Stefan for messing up your pedagogically valuable essay.

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  1. Ben Franklin's funeral on 21 April 1790 was lead by the entirety of Philadelphia's clergy, boy-bunging Catholic priests to situationally prevaricating rabbis. Official Truth says it was out of respect for the great man. Worldy others suspect they wanted Franklin safely dead and buried without doubt.

  2. I appreciate the link to the poor levitating frog in the ultra-strong magnetic field ;-)

  3. what a nice post! Thanks you reminded me of Franklin's birthday. And the frog is cool. How strong does the field need to be to make it levitate?

  4. Hi Bee and Stefan,

    Franklin was such an interesting and complex person, and this is a great post.

    It seems that Stefan might be learning how to keep the marital peace: defer to the wife! ;-)

  5. Well on "useless knowledge, not," to some, he sat at the very heart of the constitution written for the United States.

    my comment in regards to reasonOn constitution reform, Jefferson Davis words needed revision, to have a man like Benjamin Franklin stand up and devote a treaty on reason? It would guide the American view, to a healthy and just system of inquiry, as to the rights and freedoms shared by the American views? What lessons lie in scientific inquiry then to have those who stand at the forefront, and make it some intangible realism of the "forces of light and darkness "fighting to bring society into it's talons?

    But more then that his views on a book's cover had signficance in terms of his "overcoat" that he put on for this life.

    Some would refer to it as "reincarnation."

    "Death, so called, is but older matter dressed
    In some new form. And in a varied vest,
    From tenement to tenement though tossed,
    The soul is still the same, the figure only lost."

    Poem on Pythagoras, Dryden's Ovid.

    On Franklin's epitaph it reads....

    "The Body of
    B. Franklin, Printer
    Like the Cover of an old Book
    Its Contents turn out
    And Stript of its Lettering & Guilding
    Lies here. Food for Worms
    For, it will as he believed
    appear once more
    In a new and more elegant Edition
    corrected and improved
    By the Author

    and he was a good cryptographer?

  6. Apparently the epitaph written above was when he was 22 years old. At 84 this was the final one written below.

    Benjamin and Deborah Franklin: 1790

    And in regards to the work on the constitution, maybe you can see his hand in it?

    It is nice to study these things, so you know what govern's the people, their rights, and freedoms.

    Reading words by it's authors definitiely comes under the influences of it's time.

    So the symbolism of "eagle" and such, may, from my point of view had been inherited from the "native people" of the United States.

    An "aspiring view" between earth and heaven, the rights of all? About what was held sacred to these same native people, and all people in Franklin's eyes.

    Writing constitutions are a very important aspects of building countries, nations. Organizations.

  7. Hi anonymous,

    How strong does the field need to be to make it levitate?

    as far as I know, the first experiment with the levitated frog was done in the High Field Magnet Laboratory of the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Check out the Levitation Pages! The frog was levitated in a field of about 16 Tesla.

    For comparison, the Earth's magnetic field has about 50 Microtesla, and the LHC superconducting magnets yield 7 Tesla, and the magnetic field in the ATLAS detector will have 2 Tesla. MRI machines operate with fields below 2 Tesla.

    By the way, the guy who did the trick with the frog, Andre Geim, shared the Ig Nobel Prize for this experiment. He is now at the University of Manchester in Britain, and he's one of the leading researchers in graphene. In between, he did some funny stuff with Gecko Tape...

    Best, stefan

  8. Dear Stefan, Thanks so much, this is really interestin. I love the Gecko-idea! Is anything known whether the procedure had consequences for the health of the frog? I like your blog alot.

  9. As far as I know, Ben Franklin is the only male to be portrayed on a common American coin who wasn't also a president. On our paper money, he shares a similar honor with Hamilton. A $100 bill is sometimes called a "benjamin"; Hamilton is on the $10.

  10. Thanks! Great post. I enjoyed reading it. Benjamin Franklin was a great scientist.

  11. Benjamin Franklin had a remarkable impact in so many ways, especially in the area of technology and science. A Benjamin Franklin article just received the ‘Top 100 Electricity Blogs’ Award


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