30 July 2013

Triviality XIV: The Askesian Society

Rob's Note: Shortest Triviality column you'll probably get all year, because I say so. >:D Actually, the subject is interesting but there really isn't a lot about it to discuss. So I'll just lay down the bare facts and you can extrapolate from there, how does that sound? :)

I've also updated some more pages to make them more interesting and comprehensive, so take a look!

Also remember to check out the first Country Facts column on Friday!

So, what was this society? Certainly not like last time's Round Table. They were vicious. These people? They were more insane.

The Askesian Society was a scientific club in London that was around for about 10 years or so, back in the early 1800s. Very short lived. But I'll get to that more later.

That word, "askesian"? It comes from the Greek word askesis which means "training".

This club was officially for "debating" and talking about scientific theories. One member even wrote a book about clouds. Because, you know, people liked talking about clouds back then and thought themselves mighty smart for doing so. (We sort of do that today. Just not about clouds. Unless you're a meteorologist. Or whatever. No offense.)

The founder was a William Allen, a scientist, of course, who let his laboratory be used for the club's benefit, so its members could be used to perform scientific experiments.

However, if Mr. Bill Bryson is to be trusted (and he generally is), the most interesting thing about this little club were their "laughing gas evenings". Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like.

Several evenings the club would get together. Some people would take nitrous oxide (aka N2O, aka laughing gas, aka anesthesia) and stagger around the theatre where the club met. It was hilarious (apparently) and lots of fun, and many members would do it just to get intoxicated by the N2O. They were the original drug takers. *shrugs*

As Bill Bryson puts it in his excellent book A Short History of Nearly Everything, a book you really should read if you like science,

In the early 1800s there arose in England a fashion for inhaling nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, after it was discovered that its use 'was attended by a highly pleasurable thrilling.' For the next half century it would be the drug of choice for young people. One learned body, the Askesian Society, was for a time devoted to little else. Theaters put on 'laughing gas evenings' where volunteers could refresh themselves with a robust inhalation and then entertain the audience with their comical staggerings.

The club was disbanded in 1807 after being around for 11 years. But good news! In 2007 the club was restarted in honor of the 200th anniversary. They still meet in London, and you can pay a fine of seven pounds to talk about science and philosophy. No word yet on laughing gas evenings, though. We can't have everything in life. *shrugs*


Click here to go to the last Triviality.

Sources: Wikipedia, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. The above quote belongs to Bill Bryson from the above named book.

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