The Dangers of Air Pumps and Electrical Machines!

The theme of Priestley’s quote at the beginning is that governments or specifically the English hierarchy had a reason to tremble at air pumps or electrical machines for years to come.  The question is why?  To answer that straightforward, governments or religions feared air pumps and electrical machines because the new technologies that arrived in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were violent.  These technologies were acquired through trades with other nearby towns.  These trades were fueled by coal.  To be exact Steven Johnson states, ““When those technologies arrived, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the social transformation they unleashed was swift and violent. Its lucrative metal trades fueled by nearby coal deposits in South Staffordshire and Warwickshire, Birmingham” (Johnson, pg. 157).  It was thought that if the English hierarchy had reason to tremble at the sight of an air pump then steam engines would give them much more to worry about.  This is because the amateur and the small societies prevailed from having these Enlightenment science.  The main reason that Governments had a problem with the air pumps and electrical machines was that it separated the power within a society.  Priestly suggested many times that he liked the idea of building up innovation.  He didn’t like the centralized idea of the already existing societies.  His idea was two split up society into different groups.  He states that, ““Let philosophers now begin to subdivide themselves, and enter into smaller combinations” (Priestley, pg. 152).  He thoughts there should be diversity of groups.  Using these new technologies such as air pumps helped them do just that.


Johnson’s work does shed light on a number of current examples of scientific or technological research of modern day.  The best example I can think of is cloning.  Cloning is a hot topic now a days.  This is a political consequence because some people with be for it and some will think it’s a horrible idea.  There will be two sides until the end.  Cloning is already being used for farming animals and producing food.  By cloning chickens for example we can double the food production and save time.



4 thoughts on “The Dangers of Air Pumps and Electrical Machines!”

  1. I like how close you stuck to the text here and interpreting what Johnson might mean. I also appreciate that you posed the question of why these things are the way they are and let Johnson’s text help to answer that question. In addition, I too believe that cloning is a very important topic with huge scientific and political implications.

  2. Hey Will! I really liked your interpretation of the text. I like the idea of the separated power within a society, I also believe this is exactly what Priestley wanted. He hated the idea of society and science being mix and I think he had a good reason to believe that. I also liked your example in your second paragraph. I think cloning is going to become a very big ethical issue, I think its going to be very similar to designer babies. Good work!

  3. I think that you are right in your assessment of why governments fear air pumps and electrical machines; I think that you touch upon similar ideas that Professor Reidy did in lecture on Tuesday in the sense that governments and religions fear changes in the status quo. Such changes are created by technological advances and they are what can cause people to question previous ideologies and governmental/religious ideals which ends up undermining those institutions. I think cloning is definitely a moral and ethical issue that will cause similar problems and skepticisms to occur.

  4. Hi Will! I really enjoyed reading and understanding your take on Johnson’s take on air pumps and electrical machines! I think cloning was a very interesting idea on how there is modern day political and social stimulated scientific projects. I do agree with you on how cloning could help produce more food and stay efficient in keeping the staggering ever-growing population of humans feed and happy. One thing I can see on how cloning can become a possibly negative effect is by if cloning humans becomes a normal practice in society. We have no clue on how far we can push cloning until an unknown consequence takes shape.

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