Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to Tell If You’re Dead

By Deanna Day

In 1874, a doctor whose name seems to have been lost to history presented a necrometer to the Paris Academy of Medicine. Such machines—intended to determine whether a body was living or dead—were in high demand at the turn of the century. A literary tradition that includes Edgar Allan Poe stories such as “The Cask of Amontillado” as well as new medical advancements like artificial respiration contributed to popular anxieties about the nature of death: How can we be sure that a body that looks dead actually is dead?  (This dilemma was also the origin of the safety coffin and many other technologies for those afraid of being buried alive.) The necrometer, with its quantitative scale of relative “vitality,” purported to answer this question.

The device presented in Paris in 1874, though, was a parody—it was nothing more than a fever thermometer with an altered scale. The “point of health”—what we know as the standard 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit—was mislabeled as 0, the indicator of death. Several of those in attendance were diagnosed as deceased. The point of the presentation: to demonstrate the absurdity of necrometry.

Read the rest here.

RWNote: This is just wishful thinking, but is there any chance that Thomas Piketty's new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is just a modern day Parisian parody of egalitarianism advocacy?

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to say it's a slim chance, Robert, but at least we know Piketty's work would fail any necrometer test, phony or real.