Forget x-rays.

In our last episode, I was humming and hawing re: x-rays and how best to demonstrate, in my Design Thesis (a book about vision and the limits of evolution) the world as it would appear if we could see through it. Since then, I have learned from the example of Thomas Edison’s inventor/employee Clarence Daly to just not mess with that stuff, period.

“Don’t talk to me about X-rays,” Edison famously said, after he learned of Daly’s sacrifice in the name of science. “I am afraid of them.” And well he might be, as soon after his man Daly fashioned a Roentgen-style fluorescent x-ray emitting apparatus in the workshop and began testing it, Daly began to show the signs of radiation poisoning. Undeterred by the loss of all his hair and the swelling up of his left hand, Daly switched to testing the apparatus on his right hand instead. He slept, we are told, “with both hands in water to alleviate the burning.”
The medical applications of the device were obvious to all, however, and though Edison was always interested in commercializing his “mucker’s inventions, he left the X-ray machine to others to develop.

Thomas Edison looking right through Clarence Dally's hand.
Thomas Edison looking right through Clarence Dally’s hand.

Edison had paid for his lessons in physics with his own eyesight: exposure to Daly’s machine had knocked his vision about “a foot out of focus” from continuous exposure to the ionizing radiation, which, along with Daly’s slowly advancing cancers (he died nine years after starting work on the project) lead Edison to conclude he “did not want to know anything more about X-rays.”

The sacrifices of Daly and others to the advancement of what came to be known as Radiology are celebrated today, but I’m not about to emulate them. I’m leaving that stuff to the experts. Chaps like Nick Veasey seem to be doing just fine without me.

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