On Artificial and Animal Electricity
Alessandro Volta vs. Luigi Galvani
Journal of Philosophy of Life Vol.3, No.3 (September 2013):212-237
Two Italians, Alessandro Volta (1745–1827), a physicist, and Luigi Galvani (1737–1798), an obstetrician and physiologist, separately conducted experiments on dead frogs using metals that made their legs twitch. Volta concluded that electricity was an artificial and external phenomenon, dependent on the metals and unrelated with the frog’s body; Galvani concluded that the frog’s movement proved that there was such a thing as animal electricity that, even after life, remained stored in nerves and muscles. At stake was a metaphysical debate: Was it possible to restore a body’s movement after death? Could electricity unveil the mystery of life, conveying immortality? The use of electricity in order to promote health, in an invasive way, in direct contact with the body, has seen significant advances in medicine, but a serious reflection on its non-invasive and indirect benefits and disadvantages, remains virtually unaddressed. How does electricity affect our space perception and orientation, our body, and its surrounding environment?
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