Niomi Panshiko (panshiko) wrote in little_details,
Niomi Panshiko

I did it for science! Truthiness needed for folksy doc/inventor/eccentric

For an exalted campaign I'm rollin' with a character inspired by Deadwood's Doc Cochran, where my goal is to have someone with an honest but rudimentary understanding of science and medicine, who makes references to the (real, in his world) religious and superstitious aspects of his setting with a old-timey feel. He's intelligent and compassionate, but limited by the facts available through research within his place and time.

If little_details would be so kind, I am working on locating some descriptions of medicine and invention with mix of scientific and superstitious influence. Since I'm familiar with US periods of history, I've been asking The Googles for things like "civil war medicine", "old american west doctors who make house calls", or "crappy inventions of famous polymaths" which turn up very 3rd-grade-textbook explanations of how difficult it was to live during those times. Searches on folk medicine result some better, but with the recent popularity of holistic treatments, it's too much modern folksy and not enough old timey folksy. I thought I'd poll the Human Flesh Search Engine over at little_details, since this community is always impressive with the breadth of knowledge it draws from.

In short, what makes this difficult to research is that I'm not looking for any information in particular. I'm looking for anecdotes to populate my intuition of this character's supporting ideas in his scientific endeavors.

Here's an NFSW (for gruesome gunshot wound) video example of the kind of thing I'm seeking on this youtube clip, where the Deadwood character himself expresses amazement at a man surviving a deadly shot to the head. (this is the first episode, no real spoilers) He's an intelligent guy and can gather that this may be due to an unusual anatomy of this guy's brain, but he then explains the brain as warped by "sinful thoughts", among other things.

It doesn't have to be religious superstition, though. My character's secondary profession is as an inventor. Before his adventuring days, he had a mad scientist-esque research tower devoted to the pursuit of his inventions and medical research (cadaver dissections).

Something I found helpful to populate what may be inside his tower were descriptions of Alexander Ghram Bell's early inventions from a book called The Hacker Crackdown, a book of dubious accuracy but incredible usefulness for my purpose:

In 1863, the teenage Bell and his brother Melville made an artificial talking mechanism out of wood, rubber, gutta-percha, and tin. This weird device had a rubber-covered "tongue" made of movable wooden segments, with vibrating rubber "vocal cords," and rubber "lips" and "cheeks." While Melville puffed a bellows into a tin tube, imitating the lungs, young Alec Bell would manipulate the "lips," "teeth," and "tongue," causing the thing to emit high-pitched falsetto gibberish.

Another would-be technical breakthrough was the Bell "phonautograph" of 1874, actually made out of a human cadaver's ear. Clamped into place on a tripod, this grisly gadget drew sound-wave images on smoked glass through a thin straw glued to its vibrating earbones.

By 1875, Bell had learned to produce audible sounds—ugly shrieks and squawks—by using magnets, diaphragms, and electrical current.

These are just flavor points to have on handy, so my character can make comments like... "yeah, that human ear phonautograph didn't work out so well," or make freaky Deadwood doc style judgments of character after healing party members. It doesn't have to come from a specific time or place, it just has to be weird, interesting, misguided yet not intentionally misleading. It has to be an approach to technology or medicine that we really wouldn't think about today, but makes sense somehow, EG, mechanical vocal cords is not our first approach to sound transmission, but it makes some sense. Weird science is better than religious/supernatural superstition, but religious/supernatural is still useful. Primary sources are a plus but anything including hearsay is welcome.
Tags: ~medicine: historical, ~science (misc)

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