Sunday, April 8, 2012

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was one of those rare people who could truly be called a 'polymath' (a person equally skilled in many different fields of study). Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galiliei and Francis Bacon are often also considered to be polymaths.

As well as being one of the Founding Fathers of the United States he was a printer, journalist, newspaper owner, physicist, politician, musician, composer and prolific inventor.

In this podcast his life and work are discussed by a number of academics:

Incidentally, I can across a rather amusing story about Franklin recently. In 1781 the Royal Academy of Brussels ran a competition asking for clever scientific suggestions. Here is his entry:

Permit me then humbly to propose one of that sort for your consideration, and through you, if you approve it, for the serious Enquiry of learned Physicians, Chemists, &c. of this enlightened Age. 
It is universally well known, that in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.
That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.
That all well-bred People therefore, to avoid giving such Offence, forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.
That so retain’d contrary to Nature, it not only gives frequently great present Pain, but occasions future Diseases, such as habitual Cholics, Ruptures, Tympanies, &c. often destructive of the Constitution, & sometimes of Life itself.
Were it not for the odiously offensive Smell accompanying such Escapes, polite People would probably be under no more Restraint in discharging such Wind in Company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their Noses.
My Prize Question therefore should be, To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes.

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