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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shocking Chickens and Spiritual Growth

Benjamin Franklin did not discover electricity, but by 1750, he was probably the first person ever to successfully perform mouth to mouth resuscitation. And, just 25 years later, Dr. Peter Christian Abildgaard was very likely the first person ever to use electric shock to restart a heart. In fact, he didn’t do it just once, he did it “rather often”.

From 1749-1750, Ben Franklin was experimenting with electricity and told a friend that he intended to throw an electric-themed party at which he planned to kill a turkey by electrification and then serve it for dinner. In preparation, he built a battery of Leyden jars, used to store electricity. Then, he began by shocking a hen and was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did it kill the bird, but the meat of the hen was ‘uncommonly tender’. “Franklin next knocked down a second hen with the Leyden jars, but instead of letting it die he tried to revive it by picking it up and ‘repeatedly blowing into its lungs’. After a few minutes, the bird groggily regained consciousness and let out a little squawk. Delighted, Franklin carefully placed it down on the floor, whereupon it ran straight into a wall. It was alive, but the electricity had blinded it. Nevertheless, this was the first recorded case of the use of artificial respiration to revive an electric shock victim.” [1] Franklin eventually was successful in killing his turkey but not before absentmindedly touching both ends of his fully charged Leyden jars to test them and almost killing himself. History doesn't tell us whether his wife was more upset by this or by walking in on him giving mouth to mouth to a chicken.

In 1775, Peter Christian Abildgaard, a Danish physician, brought a chicken back to life in a different way. “Employing what was, by now, the established bird-killing technique, he exposed a hen’s head to the shock from a battery of Leyden jars. The bird collapsed, seemingly dead. In fact, it really was dead.… But this time Abildgaard gave it another shock to the head to see if he could revive it. Nothing happened. He tried it again. Still no response. And then yet again. Finally he tried a shock to the chest. Suddenly the bird ‘rose up and, set loose on the ground, walked about quietly on its feet’. Abildgaard was ecstatic. It was the Lazarus of Birds! He was so excited that he immediately killed it and brought it back to life again – not just once, but ‘rather often’. After enough of this treatment, the hen seemed stunned and could only walk with difficulty, so Abildgaard finally let it be. It didn’t eat for a day, but eventually made a full recovery and, to the physician’s great delight, laid an egg.” [2]

Defibrillation, the use of electricity to restart a heart, wasn’t used on a human until 1947 when Dr. Claude Beck saved the life of a 14 year old boy.[3] Meanwhile, mouth to mouth resuscitation, then combined with chest compressions, wasn’t an accepted medical practice until 1960 and wasn’t promoted to the public until the 70’s over 220 years after it was first discovered. 

There is a plethora of great research out there about spiritual development. Let’s not let it wait 200 years before we learn from it and apply it to our real lives. This blog will keep you aware of the most relevant and applicable scientific research on spiritual formation out there.

What are some of your favorite scientific discoveries?

[1] Alex Boese , Electrified Sheep, (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2011), 17-18.
[2] Boese, 19.

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