BOOKS | From the discovery of gases lighter than air that lifted the minds of the world’s first balloonists, to the invention of a safety lamp that saved coal miners’ lives, and shed new light on the horrors of child labor. The blending of knowledge – as creative minds are sparked by unexpected sources of inspiration – moves our world forward.
It all seems so logical… after the fact. People should not be operated on without anesthesia. But for centuries, patients were awake and fully aware of every stroke of the surgeon’s scalpel.
In 18th century London, Sir Humphrey Davy’s laughing gas experiments were the talk of the town (and an amusing party trick, too). But it would take another generation of suffering before someone actually thought to take advantage of the numbing effects of nitrous oxide. Why didn’t those two great minds collide sooner?
In The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, Richard Holmes explores an age in which scientists inspired poets, and novels grew from experiments.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein would never have come into being had she not attended Davy’s public lectures on chemistry at the Royal Institution. The amazing stories of the push and pull of knowledge and discovery in the late 18th and early 19th century feels in many ways like the age of design thinking that we are entering on the cusp of the 21st century.
Reading Holmes’ book makes you wonder if there aren’t any modern discoveries with the potential to ease human suffering or propel us into a new century of wonder – once they fall into the hands of a person with the right vision. So that looking back, we can say that it seemed so natural – and future generations can be amazed that we ever lived in an era without….
Author of this article: Claire Taylor
Cartoon of Sir Humphrey Davy’s by James Gillray