Eggs and Experimentation

Scientific American sets forth “an egg-cellent activity from Science Buddies”:

How do animals, such as chickens, which develop inside an egg outside of their mothers’ bodies and therefore do not have umbilical cords, take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide? Bird and reptile eggs have a hard shell. Directly under the shell are two membranes. Between the membranes is a small air cell, also called an air sack, filled with oxygen. As the animal develops it uses the oxygen, which must be replenished, and it also has to release carbon dioxide. How does this happen? Well, if you examine a chicken egg carefully with a magnifying glass, you’ll see that there are tiny little holes, called pores, in the shell. In this activity, we’ll see how those work to let the developing chick breathe.

Materials
  • Large pot or bowl
  • Water
  • Blue food color
  • Liquid dishwasher detergent
  • Teaspoon measurers
  • Three eggs (for best results, do not use freshly laid eggs, rather, use older, commercial eggs)
  • Tongs or large spoon
  • Cup
  • Plate or paper towel
  • Optional: a sensitive scale, such as a digital kitchen scale or a triple-beam balance that can measure tenths of a gram
Preparation
  • Pour one and one half cups of water in a large pot or bowl.
  • Add one quarter teaspoon of liquid dish detergent and one quarter teaspoon of blue food color. Mix well.
Procedure
  • Carefully put the three eggs in the pot with the water, dish detergent and blue food color.
  • Make sure that the eggs are submerged in the liquid. If part of the egg is above the surface of the water, mix together liquid dish detergent and blue food color with more water in the same proportions as you did before. Add this to the pot until the eggs are submerged.
  • Set a timer for one hour or make a note of the time.
  • After the eggs have soaked in the liquid for at least one hour, carefully lift one of them out of the liquid using the tongs or large spoon. How does the egg look?
  • Crack the raw egg into a cup, being careful not to damage or crush the shell much.
  • Set the empty eggshell on a plate or paper towel.
  • Carefully inspect the inside of the shell. What do you see?
  • Crack open the other two eggs in the same way. Look all around the inside of their shells, too. What do you see? Do all of the insides of the shells look the same? Are there noticeable differences?
Observations and results

Did all of the eggs have at least a few small blue dots on the inside of their shells? Were the dots mostly clustered in one or a few areas on the inside of each shell?

Directly under the chicken egg’s shell are two membranes. When the eggs are laid by the mother they are warmer than the air, and as they cool the material inside the egg shrinks a little bit. This shrinkage is what pulls the two membranes apart, leaving behind the small air sack that is filled with oxygen. As the developing chick grows it uses the oxygen from the air sack and replaces it with carbon dioxide. The tiny pores in the shell allow the carbon dioxide to escape and fresh air to get in. The chicken egg has more than 7,000 pores in its shell to allow this to happen! These pores also allow water to go through the shell, which is why the dye appears as small dots on the inside of the shell, often clustered in certain areas, and why an egg after being hard-boiled would weigh slightly more than when it was raw. Also, freshly laid eggs do not allow water to penetrate as well as older, commercial eggs do, so fewer blue spots will probably be visible on the inside of fresher eggs compared with older ones.

This experiment was described (somewhat more tersely) some seven centuries ago by Rashba:

בצים שנתבשלו בקדרה עם בשר ואפילו עם קליפתן אסור לאוכלן בכותח, שקליפת הביצה בבירור מנוקבת היא וכשאדם מבשלה בתוך יורה של צבעים תמצא הביצה עצמה צבועה מאותו צבע, ועל כן אסרו בגמרא ביצת אפרוח …1

Taz disagrees with Rashba’s assertion of the porousness of eggs:

וצ”ע ממה שכתב רמ”א בסימן פ”ו סעיף ה’ דאם הביצה נקובה דינה כקלופה דהא כל קליפת הביצה נקובה היא ופולט שפיר ואפילו הכי מותר בביצה אסורה שאינה פולטת אלא (ציר) [זיעה] דמאי שנא נקובה בתולדה או שלא בתולדה …

ואי לאו פה קדוש דרשב”א [הייתי אומר] דאין נקב בביצה בתולדה אלא שבולע ופולט דרך הקליפה מדבר שהוא ממש בו וצ”ע:2

Taz does not explicitly counter Rashba’s argument from the passage of dye through the eggshell. Perhaps he understands that just as טעם is absorbed into the shell and then passes through to the egg’s contents, even in the absence of actual holes in the shell, so, too, is the dye absorbed into the shell itself and then passes through to the egg’s contents.

In any event, Pri Megadim defends Rashba from Taz’s question, explaining that the halachah distinguishes between the natural pores of an eggshell and artificial holes made therein, since the former “are very small” relative to the latter:

ויש חילוק בין נקב בתולדה דהוא קטן מאד … מה שאין כן נקב שנתהוה אחר כך …3

  1. שו”ת הרשב”א (מכון ירושלים) חלק א’ סימן תקט”ז, הובא בבית יוסף יו”ד סימן צ”ה סעיף ב’‏ []
  2. ט”ז שם סוף ס”ק ב’‏ []
  3. פרי מגדים משבצות זהב שם []

Ants, Engineering, and Epistemology

Scientific American reports:

Tiny Robots Mimic Termites’ Ability to Build without a Leader

Using sensors coupled with a simple set of rules, the robots worked independently to build structures

Termites can create mounds that are hundreds of times their own size, working independently without communication or a leader. Inspired by the creatures, scientists have created robots that use just a few simple rules and environmental cues to build castle-like structures and pyramids.

The robots all work independently. Each travels along a grid and can move, climb a step and lift and put down bricks. And they use sensors to detect other robots and existing bricks, and react to these stimuli according to a simple set of rules, such as when to lay a brick or climb a step higher. The template for each three-dimensional structure is translated into a specific set of ‘traffic rules’ and combined with fixed laws of robot behavior, says co-author Justin Werfel, a computer scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His team’s results appear today in Science.

The idea of combining traffic rules and robot behavior is “brilliant from an engineering perspective”, says Alcherio Martinoli, a roboticist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. “It just decouples a complex reverse-engineering problem into two pieces of information which have to work together,” says Martinoli, who was not involved in the work.

The remarkable ability of ants1 to work industriously without a leader was already noted by King Solomon:

לֵֽךְ־אֶל־נְמָלָ֥ה עָצֵ֑ל רְאֵ֖ה דְרָכֶ֣יהָ וַחֲכָֽם׃ אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֵֽין־לָ֥הּ קָצִ֗ין שֹׁטֵ֥ר וּמֹשֵֽׁל׃ תָּכִ֣ין בַּקַּ֣יִץ לַחְמָ֑הּ אָגְרָ֥ה בַ֝קָּצִ֗יר מַאֲכָלָֽהּ׃2

The Talmud records that R. Shimon b. Halafta, who apparently had a scientific mind and took nothing for granted, performed an experiment to determine whether ants really have no king, on account of which he was given the (possibly pejorative) appellation עסקן בדברים, “since he did not wish to rely upon the authority of Solomon” (Rashi):

הוה אמרו עליו על רבי שמעון בן חלפתא שעסקן בדברים היה … מאי עסקן בדברים [רש”י: למה נקרא שמו עסקן תחלה] א”ר משרשיא דכתיב לך אל נמלה עצל ראה דרכיה וחכם אשר אין לה קצין שוטר ומושל תכין בקיץ לחמה אמר איזיל איחזי אי ודאי הוא דלית להו מלכא [דכתיב אשר אין לה קצין והיינו עסקן דלא בעי למיסמך אהימנותיה דשלמה] [הנמלים אוהבים צל ושונאים חום] אזל בתקופת תמוז פרסיה לגלימיה אקינא דשומשמני [נמלים] נפק אתא חד מינייהו [מתוך חורי הקן ובא לחוץ וראה הצל] אתנח ביה סימנא [להכירו לידע מה יעשו לו חבריו כשימצא שקרן] על אמר להו נפל טולא נפקו ואתו דלייה לגלימיה נפל שמשא נפלו עליה וקטליה אמר שמע מינה לית להו מלכא דאי אית להו הרמנא דמלכא לא ליבעו3

The Talmud, however, proceeds to deny the conclusiveness of this experiment, concluding that we have no choice but to rely upon the authority of Solomon, “whose statement was inspired by רוח הקודש” (Rashi):

א”ל רב אחא בריה דרבא לרב אשי ודלמא מלכא הוה בהדייהו א”נ הרמנא דמלכא הוו נקיטי [שכל המהתל בחברו יהרגוהו] אי נמי בין מלכא למלכא הוה [מת המלך ועדיין לא קם אחר ודרך ארץ לעשות איש הישר בעיניו כדכתיב בימים ההם וגו’ איש הישר בעיניו יעשה] דכתיב בימים ההם אין מלך בישראל איש הישר בעיניו יעשה אלא סמוך אהימנותא דשלמה [נאמן הוא על כך וברוח הקדש אמרה]

The commentators note that the idea that it is legitimate to submit claims of the Sages to independent empirical verification apparently contradicts a different Talmudic account:

כי הא דיתיב רבי יוחנן וקא דריש עתיד הקב”ה להביא אבנים טובות ומרגליות שהם שלשים על שלשים וחוקק בהן עשר על עשרים ומעמידן בשערי ירושלים לגלג עליו אותו תלמיד השתא כביעתא דציצלא לא משכחינן כולי האי משכחינן לימים הפליגה ספינתו בים חזא מלאכי השרת דיתבי וקא מינסרי אבנים טובות ומרגליות שהם ל’ על ל’ וחקוק בהן עשר ברום עשרים אמר להו הני למאן אמרו ליה שעתיד הקב”ה להעמידן בשערי ירושלים אתא לקמיה דרבי יוחנן אמר ליה דרוש רבי לך נאה לדרוש כאשר אמרת כן ראיתי אמר לו ריקא אלמלא (לא) ראית לא האמנת מלגלג על דברי חכמים אתה נתן עיניו בו ונעשה גל של עצמות4

The Tosafos explain that R. Shimon was not challenging King Solomon’s assertion, but merely attempting to ascertain the source of his knowledge:

אע”ג דכה”ג חשיב בהמוכר הספינה (ב”ב עה.) מלגלג גבי ההוא תלמיד דאמר ליה רבי יוחנן אם לא ראית לא האמנת מלגלג על דברי חכמים אתה שאני הכא שבא לברר הדבר ולהודיע איך ידע שלמה:5

Maharsha considers this דחוק, since Solomon certainly derived his knowledge from רוח הקודש. He explains instead that there is an epistemological imperative to independently derive even those truths that are established by tradition:

כתבו התוספות … והוא דחוק דשלמה ודאי ברוח הקודש ידע ואמרה אבל הנראה דאין זה מלגלג כמו שכתב בעל חובות הלבבות בדברים התלוים באמונה אף שידע אותם בקבלה צריך כל אדם לחקור אותם במופת והוא שקראו עסקן בדברים בעלמא כגון זו עסק וראה ר”ש בן חלפתא לחקור אחריהם לידע אותם במופת וק”ל:6

Others explain that R. Shimon was simply fulfilling King Solomon’s instructions to “go to the ant [and] see …” – and so he said “I will go and I will see …!”

שמעתי מהרר”י סג”ל ז”ל דשלמה אמר לך אל כו’ ראה כו’ אמר איזיל אחזי כו’ וק”ל:7

Rav Yosef Ḥayyim of Baghdad explains that while one is indeed generally required to accept assertions of King Solomon as fact, משלי (where our discussion of the ant is found) is an exceptional case, since the work, as per its self-description, comprises parables, which may have been composed with poetic license and not be true in a literal sense:

הנה בודאי יש לו לסמוך על דברי שלמה המלך ע”ה ורק מפני שפסוק זה נאמר במשלי שהוא דברי משל וככתוב בתחלת הספר משלי שלמה בן דוד, לכן נסתפק אם הוא כן בודאי שאין להם מלך, או דלמא נקיט כן בדברי משל וצחות לשון ואין הדברים כפשוטן, לכך אמר איזיל אחזי אי ודאי הוא דלית להו מלכא:8

  1. Termites are not actually ants, but there are many similarities between them. []
  2. משלי ו:ו-ח. ועיין פה []
  3. חולין נז:‏ []
  4. בבא בתרא עה.‏ []
  5. תוספות חולין שם ד”ה איזיל ואחזי היכי איתא מילתא []
  6. מהרש”א חולין שם חידושי אגדות ד”ה מאי עסקן בדברים []
  7. מהר”ם שי”ף חולין בתוספות שם []
  8. בן יהוידע חולין שם ד”ה אמר איזיל אחזי []

Frankenstein: Origins

An Account of some Experiments made on the Body of a Criminal immediately after Execution, with Physiological and Practical Observations. By Andrew Ure, M.D.M.G.S.

Read at the Glasgow Literary Society, Dec. 10, 1818

Convulsions accidentally observed in the limbs of dead frogs, originally suggested to Galvani, the study of certain phenomena, which from him have been styled Galvanic. He ascribed these movements to an electrical fluid or power, innate in the living frame, or capable of being evolved by it, which he denominated Animal Electricity. …

Many experiments have been performed, in this country and abroad, on the bodies of criminals, soon after their execution. Vassali, Julio, and Rossi, made an ample set, on several bodies decapitated at Turin. They paid particular attention to the effect of Galvanic electricity on the heart, and other involuntary muscles; a subject of much previous controversy. …

Most of the above experiments were however made, either without a voltaic battery, or with piles, feeble in comparison with those now employed. Those indeed performed on the body of a criminal, at Newgate, in which the limbs were violently agitated; the eyes opened and shut; the mouth and jaws worked about; and the whole face thrown into frightful convulsions, were made by Aldini, with, I believe, a considerable series of voltaic plates.

[Ure spends some time discussing various theories of the relationship between electricity and life, and then continues:]

These general physiological views will serve, I hope, as no inappropriate introduction to the detail of the galvanic phenomena, exhibited here on the 4th of November, in the body of the murderer Clydsdale; and they may probably guide us to some valuable practical inferences.

The subject of these experiments, was a middle sized, athletic, and extremely muscular man, about thirty years of age. He was suspended from the gallows nearly an hour, and made no convulsive struggle after he dropped; while a thief executed along with him, was violently agitated for a considerable time. He was brought to the anatomical theatre of our university in about ten minutes after he was cut down. His face had a perfectly natural aspect, being neither livid nor tumefied; and there was no dislocation of his neck.

Dr. Jeffray, the distinguished Professor of Anatomy, having on the previous day requested me to perform the galvanic experiments, I sent to his theatre with this view, next morning, my minor voltaic battery, consisting of 270 pairs of four inch plates, with wires of communication, and pointed metallic rods with insulating handles, for the more commodious application of the electric power. About five minutes before the police arrived with the body, the battery was charged with a dilate nitro-sulphuric acid, which speedily brought it into a state of intense action. The dissections were skilfully executed by Mr. Marshall, under the superintendance of the Professor.

Exp 1. A large incision was made into the nape of the neck, close below the occiput. The posterior half of the atlas vertebra was then removed by bone forceps, when the spinal marrow was brought into view. A considerable incision was at the same time made in the left hip, through the great gluteal muscle, so as to bring the sciatic nerve into sight; and a small cut was made in the heel. From neither of these did any blood flow. The pointed rod connected with one end of the battery was now placed in contact with the spinal marrow, while the other rod was applied to the sciatic nerve. Every muscle of the body was immediately agitated, with convulsive movements, resembling a violent shuddering from cold. The left side was most powerfully convulsed at each renewal of the electric contact. On moving the second rod from the hip to the heel, the knee being previously bent, the leg was thrown out with such violence, as nearly to overturn one of the assistants, who in vain attempted to prevent its extension. …

Exp. 3. The supra-orbital nerve was laid bare in the forehead, as it issues through the supra-ciliary foramen, in the eyebrow: the one conducting rod being applied to it, and the other to the heel, most extraordinary grimaces were exhibited every time that the electric discharges were made, by running the wire in my hand along the edges of the last trough, from the 220th to the 227th pair of plates; thus fifty shocks, each greater than the preceding one, were given in two seconds: every muscle in his countenance was simultaneously thrown into fearful action; rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles, united in their hideous expression in the murderer’s face, surpassing far the wildest representations of a Fuseli or a Kean. At this period several of the spectators were forced to leave the apartment from terror or sickness, and one gentleman fainted. …1

These experiments of Ure (or perhaps those of his predecessors) are mentioned by the unfailingly interesting Rav Eliyahu Kalatzkin:

וזה איזה שנים אשר אנשי החברה מגיני בעלי חיים (טהיערשוטץ פעראיין) [Humane Societies] החלו לחקור ולדון על דבר שאלת השחיטה, ובאיזה מחוזות במדינות שווייץ, מצאו האנטיסעמיטין תואנה להוציא חוק לאסור השחיטה, ולהנהיג הטביחה על ידי הבוטעראל, שיסמאסקע או מכונה עלעקטרית, ובעוד אשר ילכו לצוד ציד ויגרו כלבי הציד בטרפם, לעונג ושעשוע נפשם, יהפכו לרגע כרחמנים, ותחת מסוה החמלה והרחמים, יתנפלו להציק רבבות אנשים, ולהכרית אוכל מפי אחינו בני ישראל, ולא ישימו לב למופתי החכמה אשר הראו לדעת גדולי הפראפעסארין כי השחיטה נעלה וטובה מכל אופני הטביחה ומיתה האחרים, ובא קבוצת דבריהם במחברת הד”ר עהרמאן מטריער, אשר נקראה בשם טהיערשוטץ אונד מענשען-טרוטץ והובא דבריו במכה”ע יידישע פרעססע 18 אפריל שנה תרמ”ה, …

וכבר העיר בצדק החכם מהרי”ם ראבינאוויץ בחוברת “יסודי השחיטה”, שאין הפרכוס ותנועות של הבהמה אחר שחיטתה, מוכיחין שתרגיש אז צער וכאב, כאשר גם אחר כריתת כל הראש במכונת הגוילאטינע [guillotine], נראה בה לפעמים קריצת העינים וכדומה עכ”ד, והחוקרים בחנו בהגישם גוף אדם תלוי לצירי עמוד הגאלוואני, וראו שפרפר בתנועות מוזרות2

But while Ure understood his experiments to demonstrate that electricity could actually restore life to the dead, R. Kalatzkin rejects this interpretation:

In deliberating on the above galvanic phenomena, we are almost willing to imagine, that if, without cutting into and wounding the spinal marrow and blood-vessels in the neck, the pulmonary organs had been set a-playing at first, (as I proposed) by electrifying the phrenic nerve (which may be done without any dangerous incision,) there is a probability that life might have been restored. This event, however little desirable with a murderer, and perhaps contrary to law, would yet have been pardonable in one instance, as it would have been highly honourable and useful to science. …

It is known, that cases of death-like lethargy, or suspended animation, from disease and accidents have occurred, where life has returned, after longer interruption of its functions, than in the subject of the preceding experiments. It is probable, when apparent death supervenes from suffocation with noxious gases, &c, and when there is no organic lesion, that a judiciously directed galvanic experiment, will, if any thing will, restore the activity of the vital functions. …3

ואשר יש שישפטו מזה כי כח העלעקטרי יפעול על הנפש, לא כן הוא, ואך כאשר נשאר עוד בגופו כח חיים בלתי מורגש שב לתנועה מורגשת בכח גירוי הזרם העלעקטרי, וכאשר נראה כי הזרם העלעקטרי לא יפעול מאומה על הגוף אשר כבר אבד ממנו כל כח חיים, ופעמים נשאר בו כח חיוני, גם כשלא נראה בו אות ורגש חיים, וכמפורש בנדה (דף ס”ט) דזב וזבה שמתו מטמאין במשא עד שימוק הבשר, דאז הוא דהוי מת בודאי, ובפ”ת דמסכת שמחות שפוקדין על המתים עד ג’ ימים ומעשה שפקדו אחד וחיה כ”ה שנים, ועיין מ”ש בזה החת”ם סופר (חלק יו”ד תשובה של”ח), וכן יאמרו הרופאים שביחוד בתליה וחניקה, יארע כזאת, ולזאת פעל עליו הזרם העלעקטרי כמבואר

R. Kalatzkin’s cited remarks occur at the end of his long discussion of צער בעלי חיים, which we have previously discussed here and here. His essay was also the subject of a recent Reading Responsa lecture of mine, available at the Internet Archive.

  1. The Journal of Science and the Arts, Edited at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Vol. VI, London 1819, pp. 283-290. See Lauren Young, The Real Electric Frankenstein Experiments of the 1800s, and John Simkin, Andrew Ure. []
  2. אמרי שפר סימן ל”ד אות י”ז []
  3. Ibid. pp. 292-93. []