I Met Faraday’s Ghost

Way back in the last century, 1985-88, I was accustomed to doing research with lasers in a pitch black laboratory in the bowels of The Royal Institution in Albemarle Street, Mayfair. There were noisy pumps and a 20Hz click of an excimer laser firing. One could drift off into one’s own world.


In the basement there was a museum to the likes of Faraday and Davy who had revolutionised modern science there. My laboratory was “next door” to that of Faraday though separated in time by a century or two.

Back then, in Faraday’s time, on mainland Europe if you pissed off the Pope there was a lot at stake, perhaps literally.

Competition for the minds of men between science and organised religion was game on. People like Newton and Faraday probably had access to things like I posted in the previous post. Alchemy was not all about bullion and proper chemistry, as we know it today, was in its infancy. Esoteric science may well have influenced the more socially acceptable infant exoteric sciences. There was less chance of incarceration or excommunication for exoteric stuff. Occult meant to burn in hell, deal with the devil and not to see clearly that which is veiled.

Arab optics and Jewish Kabbalah were frontier sciences. There was no Netflix, Instagram or YouTube so people had to exercise their minds in other ways. There were no satellites or 3D printing. People had to settle for 2D drawings. People still loved the classics, laughing and grief, Latin and Greek.

As a student one is often up for a ruse. We would spread rumours of having heard Faraday walking the basement corridors. Then at night when everyone else had gone home, we would sneak up on an individual, eyes fixated on a computer screen, in the darkened basement. Then we would tap them on the shoulder in order to induce cardiac arrest and a swift need for a clean pair of trousers. At one stage or another pretty much everyone in our group had “fright night”.

I am pretty sure that I met Faraday’s ghost on several occasions…only in my case it was not a fellow student having a laugh….

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