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. []

The Misspent Youth Of Gilon Tzufriedenzucher

For E.R., who’s smart enough to know what we’re really good at.

The pathetic tale of Gilon Tzufriedenzucher, who spent his youth desperately striving for satisfaction and personal fulfillment via athletic achievement, only to be frustrated by the superior jumping ability of the average alley cat and the swimming ability of the average carp:

סיפור ושאלה בצידו?

הרגשת הסיפוק העצומה והנפלאה אותה מרגיש כל עמל בתורה, גם היא מחסדי ד’ עם בריותיו ואהבתו עליהם, שהיא המסייעתו להתגבר על יצרו ולעשות רצון יוצרו, יחד עם הרגשת הריקנות והחדלון אותה מרגיש כל מי שמבטל את זמנו להבל וריק ובטל מתלמודו, ובמיוחד אותם אלו שאינם שומרי תורה ומצוות, שכל ימי חייהם בתוהו ובשממון, גם הרגשות אלו הם מחסדו הגדול, לעורר את אלו המרגישים כן, לתור ולחפש אחר התכלית האמיתית של החיים, שהיא בשמירת התורה והמצוות ובעמלה של תורה.

בעולמם של אלו הרחוקים משמירת התורה והמצוות, שומעים חדשות לבקרים אודות אלו שהשקיעו עמל של שנים רבות, עשו מעשים משונים ביותר, וכל זה בכדי להגיע להשגים מיוחדים, ולזכות בהם למעט פרסום ותהילה, כאשר הדחף האמיתי שעומד מאחורי מעשיהם אלו, הוא הרגשה נוראה של חוסר סיפוק עצמי מהחיים היומיומיים, והצורך באיזו שהיא עטרה ומטרה שעליה ישקיעו את כל כוחותיהם., וכל זה נובע ממה שד’ טבע בנפש האדם לרצות להוסיף עוד ועוד ברוחניות, כדי שנזכה לחיי העולם הבא. ולבסוף, כשכובשים את ההר הגבוה עליו טיפסו, כשהגיעו לפסגה, ורואים שעדיין הרגשתם הרעה נשארה כמתחילה ואולי אפילו התעצמה, או שמקבלים דכאון עמוק, או שמחפשים אחר פסגה חדשה ורעיונות מטורפים אחרים.

פעמים רבות שומעים על אנשים מבוגרים שד’ חנן אותם בכסף לרוב, ומחמת תסכולם הם מחפשים אחר מטרה מיוחדת, כמו לטפס ברגליהם על הר גבוה ועצום, אשר חלק גדול מהעולים עליו נופלים בדרכם בבורות או מחליקים אלי מות, או לחצות אוקינוסים בסירת מפרש קטנה, וכל מיני רעיונות דומים, כאשר הצד השווה שבהם הוא, שמסכנים את עצמם ומשקיעים כוחות וממון לרוב בשביל איזה שהוא רעיון, כאשר מטרתם האמיתית היא להגיע להרגשת סיפוק, אך אצל כולם, גם כשמגיעים למטרה שהציבו בפניהם, שפעמים רבות היא מהולה בכבוד דמיוני של פרסום ברחבי העולם, בכל זאת, הסיפוק מהם והלאה.

כך גם התנהלו חייו של גילון צופרידענזוכער [=המחפש את אושרו וסיפוקו] שגדל בבית שבו המצב הכלכלי משופר, עם אפשריות רבות ומגוונות, ולמרות היותו תלמיד מצטיין בכל המקצועות, לא הרגיש כלל סיפוק והנאה, וכל ימיו היה מרדף מתמיד אחר הסיפוק והנאה, עד כי נדמה היה, שבכל שהוא עומד להגיע אליהם, הם מתרחקים ממנו בכפליים.

מה לא עשה גילון בכדי להגיע לסיפוק, הוא למד ‘קפיצה וניתור לגבוה’, אך גם לאחר אימון של שנים הוא לא היה יכול כלל להתמודד מול חתול רחוב ממוצע, שבלא כל אימון קופץ הרבה יותר ממנו. גם לימודי השחייה בהם הצטיין, עד שלאחר אימונים מפרכים הפך להיות מהשחיינים המהירים ביותר בכל איזור מגוריו, בכל זאת, קרפיון ממוצע שחה הרבה יותר טוב ומהר ממנו.1

Poor Gilon’s mistake was his apparent neglect of distance running, the “one exception to our general [athletic] paltriness”:

All Men Can’t Jump

Why nearly every sport except long-distance running is fundamentally absurd.

By David Stipp | Posted Monday, June 4, 2012, at 7:20 AM ET

At first glance the annual Man vs. Horse Marathon, set for June 9 in Wales, seems like a joke sport brought to us by the same brilliant minds behind dwarf tossing and gravy wrestling. It was, after all, the product of a pints-fueled debate in a Welsh pub, and for years its official starter was rock musician Screaming Lord Sutch, founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. But the jokiness is misleading: When viewed through science’s clarifying lens, the funny marathon is one of the few sports that isn’t a joke.

Hear me out, sports fans—I’m a basketball nut myself, and so the joke is as much on me as anyone. To see where I’m coming from, you can’t do better than examining basketball’s most physically talented player, Michael Jordan. He was hailed as nearly repealing the law of gravity, and during his prime he made rival players look as if they were moving in slow motion. But Air Jordan wasn’t in the same league as a house cat when it comes to leaping. Consider how casually young cats can jump up onto refrigerators. To match that, a man would have to do a standing jump right over the backboard. And a top-notch Frisbee dog corkscrewing through the air eight feet up to snag a whizzing disc makes Jordan look decidedly human when it comes to the fantastic quickness, agility, strength, and ballistic precision various animals are endowed with.

There’s no denying it—our kind started substituting brains for brawn long ago, and it shows: We can’t begin to compete with animals when it comes to the raw ingredients of athletic prowess. Yet being the absurdly self-enthralled species we are, we crowd into arenas and stadiums to marvel at our pathetic physical abilities as if they were something special. But there is one exception to our general paltriness: We’re the right honorable kings and queens of the planet when it comes to long-distance running.

The Wales marathon has helped demonstrate that. Its originator was a Welsh pub owner named Gordon Green. One day in 1979 he got into an argument with an equestrian friend about the relative strengths of men and horses as distance runners. Green insisted a human could beat a horse in a long race, and to prove his point he helped instigate the marathon in 1980. For the next 24 years, he found himself losing the argument as riders on horseback left human runners behind. But then it finally happened—in 2004 a British man named Huw Lobb won. Three years later Germany’s Florian Holzinger outran the horses, as did one other human contestant. The media loved it—a predictable farce had become a man-bites-dog story. Bookies were less enthused; they had to pay out on bets made at 16-to-1 odds favoring the horses.

The oddsmakers would have known better if they’d been following the work of Harvard anthropologist Daniel Lieberman and University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble. They jointly proposed in a 2004 paper that we’re superlatively endowed by evolution to go long. Our long-striding legs are packed with springlike tendons, muscles, and ligaments that enable us to briefly store elastic energy as we come down on a foot and then recoil to help propel us forward. Tellingly, the most important of these springs, our big, strong Achilles tendons, aren’t found in early human precursors such as Australopithecus—it seems that the high-end tendons evolved along with other adaptations for distance running in the genus Homo when it appeared on the African savannah about 2 million years ago.

We’ve inherited large leg and foot joints from those ancestors, which spread out high forces that must be absorbed when running. To help ensure stability on two legs, we have big gluteus maximus muscles. (Chimps, which are incapable of distance running, have comparatively tiny butts.) Our clever torsos are designed to “counter-rotate” versus the hips as we run, also aiding stability. And we have an unusually large percentage of fatigue-resistant, slow-twitch muscle fibers, which make for endurance rather than speed. By contrast, most animals are geared for sprinting because they’re either predators that chase or prey that run away, and their muscles thus have much higher percentages of fast-twitch fibers than ours. (Cheetahs’ hind-leg muscles are the fast-twitch-richest of all.)

But what most sets us apart as runners is that we’re really cool—we naked apes are champion sweaters and can dissipate body heat faster than any other large mammal. Our main rivals for the endurance-running crown fall into two groups: migratory ungulates, such as horses and wildebeest, and social carnivores, such as dogs and hyenas. They can easily out-sprint us by galloping. But none can gallop very far without overheating—they largely rely on panting to keep cool, and they can’t pant when galloping, for panting involves taking very rapid, shallow breaths that would interfere with respiration when running. Dogs can gallop for only about 10 to 15 minutes before reverting to a trot, and so their distance-running speed tops out at about 3.8 meters per second. Horses’ average distance-running speed is 5.8 meters per second—a canter. Wildebeests’ is 5.1 meters per second.

Elite human runners, however, can sustain speeds up to 6.5 meters per second. Even run-of-the-mill joggers typically do between 3.2 and 4.2 meters per second, which means they can outrun dogs at distances greater than two kilometers.

Our “sustainable distance” is also hard to beat. African hunting dogs typically travel an average of 10 kilometers a day. Wolves and hyenas tend to go about 14 and 19 kilometers, respectively. In repeated distance runs, horses can cover about 20 kilometers a day. Vast throngs of human runners, by comparison, routinely run 42.2-kilometer marathons in just a few hours, and each year tens of thousands of people complete ultra-marathons of 100 kilometers and longer. (A few animals can match that under special circumstances. Huskies can trot up to 100 kilometers in Arctic conditions when forced to by people. But in warmer climes—no way.)

Given all this, you might wonder why it took so long for a human to win the Man vs. Horse Marathon. For one thing, the world’s top runners rarely compete in oddball races in rural Wales. And the 22-mile run (the Welsh race is shorter than the standard 26.2-mile marathon) through a damp, shady landscape doesn’t usually heat-stress horses much, thus largely negating the human runners’ edge. (Not surprisingly, the weather has been notably warm when men prevailed.) Human runners, by the way, have also sometimes won the annual Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, Ariz., in which contestants clamber up and down a mountain on 50 miles of rocky trails.

The article proceeds with an evolutionary explanation for our unique excellence in distance running.

  1. האיחוד בחידוד, פרשת נשא תשע”ב, גליון ר”י שנה שישית, דף האחרון []

A Man Hath No Preeminence Above A Beast

We recently saw Prof. Eugene Volokh’s suggestion that in the context of incitement to violence, the law should distinguish between the incitement of humans and animals:

That Super was a dangerous person and not a dangerous animal should, I think, make a legal difference.

Halachah actually does make such a distinction, albeit in the context of Kinyanim, not criminal or civil liability for incitement:

כיצד תקפו ובא אצלו קנאו קראו ובא אצלו לא קנאו

וקראו לא והתניא כיצד במסירה אחזה בטלפה בשערה באוכף שעליה בשליף שעליה בפרומביא שבפיה ובזוג שבצוארה קנאה כיצד במשיכה קורא לה והיא באה או שהכישה במקל ורצתה לפניו כיון שעקרה יד ורגל קנאה רבי אסי ואמרי לה ר’ אחא אומר עד שתהלך לפניו מלא קומתה

אמרי בהמה אדעתא דמרה אזלה עבד אדעתיה דנפשיה קאזיל

אמר רב אשי עבד קטן כבהמה דמי1

But with regard to Garmi, we have seen the opposite distinction; a Moser is liable for the harm he causes, whereas one who incites an animal to attack is not. Our previous post analyzed in depth the various explanations of this offered by the Rishonim, but we must still understand why an animal’s action that a human has instigated is sufficient for Kinyan, but does not result in tortious liability; this question is raised by Rav Yoav Yehoshua of Kintsk, who concludes that an animal’s action is really not in principle attributable to its human instigator, and the Halachah of Kinyan is merely a Rabbinic enactment:

והאמת לפענ”ד דגם קנין דקורין לה והיא באה ל”ה כמעשה שלו. דהרי קיימא לן (בבא קמא כג:) במשסה כלב בחבירו אינו חייב. ועיין ברמב”ן דינא דגרמי דאף גרמי ל”ה ולא דמי למוסר כיון דהיה יכול לנשוך אף בלא צווי שלו. והוי רק משיא עצה. … בדבר דצריך מעשה האדם בעצמו גם קורא לה והיא באה אינו מועיל. וקנין דקורא לה והיא באה היא רק מדרבנן … ועל כרחך תיקנו כן כדי שלא יצטרך לטרוח …2

Oddly, Rav Yoav Yehoshua cites only the approach of Ramban, and neglects to consider the more mainstream approaches of the Franco-German Rishonim discussed in our previous post.

  1. קידושין כב: – קשר []
  2. רב יואב יהושע מקינצק, שו”ת חלקת יואב (פיעטרקוב תרס”ג) חלק א’ חו”מ סימן א’ ד”ה והאמת לפענ”ד – קשר []