Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Clocks and Ketamine

So today we had a meeting in the afternoon. I had about an hour and a half until I was leaving for home, so I sat down to read a few research papers. The first paper reported on a set of physiological experiments, and as usual they listed the actual medical procedure used in some detail. They mentioned that they'd used "ketamine" as a prelude the general anaesthesia. Ketamine tends to show up quite often in this kind of reports, and I suddenly realized I didn't really know anything about the drug.

Wikipedia to the rescue. I look up Ketamine, and it turns out to be quite interesting; it's an analgesic - a pain killer - but also causes "dissociative analgesia", which I also had to look up. That lead me to look up analgesia and anaesthesia to become clear on the difference (mainly, analgesia is about blocking the sense of pain specifically while anaesthesia is general loss of awareness).

The history section on anaesthesia is very interesting. It mentioned a Japanese physician that had performed a mastectomy in 1804 with general anaesthesia, mixing traditional Chinese knowledge and Western know-how acquired through something called rangaku. This turned out to be the dissemination of Western knowledge and items to Japan through the Dutch merchants in Nagasaki during sakoku the period of self-imposed isolation between 1641 and 1853. As it turns out, the isolation was not total and a fair amount of medical, technical and scientific knowledge and devices were allowed into the country; even to the point where there were speciality stores for Western goods in the major cities.

One popular item was lantern clocks, an early, and not very accurate clock design. Early clocks used verge escapements, which had the drawback that they slowed as the spring wound down. A much better design is the anchor escapement, a modern variant of which is still used in pendulum clocks. The lever escapement is similarly used in mechanical wristwatches and clocks today, and ...

... and by now it was well and truly time for me to go home. The paper is still unread, but my mind is filled with a fresh supply of odd knowledge. Is Wikipedia the single most significant source of collective knowledge or the greatest productivity killer mankind has known? I suspect it can't be one without the other.


  1. Oh, how that tale seems familiar. Wikipedia must certainly be in top-10 of best internet inventions, and I'm sure that the world has become a better place because of it - at least my world... But damn, I have also lost many hours there that could probably have been put to better use.

    A quick look in my browser history from the last two weeks reveals articles such as Clay animation, Colored gold, Coriander, YUV, Favicon, Doom9, Yoichi Masuzoe, Star schema, ...
    Most of those were actually relevant at the time, so I don't feel so bad about it now :)

  2. Rangaku - but of course you have heard of CP Thunberg, one of Linne's disciples, who travelled to Edo Japan in the 1780s and continued his correspondence with the Shogun's physicians even after he returned to Uppsala?

  3. Martin, actually I've never heard of Thunberg before, or anything much about Edo-era Japan. I was never much into history or social science as a student I guess.


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