Sense Perception of Electricity


IN the very interesting address of Prof. C. von Nägeli at Munich, on “The Limits of Natural Knowledge,” of which a first portion is printed by you (NATURE, vol. xvi. p. 531), in illustration of his argument that there may be many forces in nature which we have not the requisite senses to perceive, he instances electricity as an universal element which might well have escaped our cognisance but for its occasional concentrations and disturbances making vivid appeal to two senses that we have—in lightning and thunder. The illustration is an apt and telling one, but is it worth while to note that though we have no sense differentiated to perceive electricity as the eye receives the light wave and the ear the sound-wave of the circumambient ether (an organ, by the way, which would be useless to us unless we had also the power of self-insulation on the approach of this danger), we have a very general physical perception of electrical changes? The remark, for instance, is very common, “I thought it felt like thunder;” and in some this consciousness is quite abnormal. I knew personally one gentleman to whom this sensitiveness was such a constant source of malaise that he was medically advised to wear a fine silk vest as an insulator. In his case the success of the experiment was so marked that, according to his own statement, it “made life another thing.” It would be interesting to know whether such a peculiarity was transmitted.

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CECIL, H. Sense Perception of Electricity. Nature 16, 549 (1877).

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