Becker, Robert O. and Marino, Andrew A. Electromagnetism and Life. Albany, New York:
State University of New York Press, 1982.
Robert O. Becker is a controversial figure, a heretic in medicine (he is at Upstate Medical Center,
Syracuse). He is identified as an orthopedic surgeon but this book is about electricity in
biological processes. It is easy to see why electricity was kept out of biology for so long: it was
unnecessary, given the purely mechanical model of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Moreover, until the development of computer models, the extraordinary complexity of a model
which included electric and electronic mechanisms was practically unthinkable. It is today an
idea whose time has come. There are new models around and there are the complexities of life
waiting to be handled. This book has it that that mankind has dangerously toyed with
ElectroMagnetic Forces (EMF) and thus introduced all kinds of radiation. The precise nature of
this pollution is unknown. These authors regret that the pollution has already occurred, and they
do not know what can be done about it now.
It is their reconstruction of history that is most impressive: as they authors see it, electricity was
all but ruled out of biology for a couple of reasons. I have already suggested that the mechanistic
model of Helmholtz, and others, did not require electrical energy. The body was merely a
machine (shades of Newton, Freud and Darwin). The Flexner Report (1910) - with its criticisms
of medical practitioners - was being talked about. Quackery was being condemned by the
Medical Association and nothing smelled of a quack more than electricity. Rejecting electrical
models was in the wind. In simple terms, medicine had to give up on all devices which could not
be explained by the mechanical model. After all, Pasteur, Koch, Darwin, Helmholtz and the
others were interested in physical-chemical explanations of behavior. Their successes ruled out
the need for complex electrical models. Finally, the growing electrical giants - the Edison
Institution, for example - had no interest in seeing the public riled up at the idea that electrical
energies had any effect on the body. The utility companies are still fighting for that principle. So
bioelectrical energy waits to be rediscovered even though the initial studies of electrical energy
by Galvani were essentially biological.
Here is a heresy waiting to be reintroduced into mainstream science.