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Ghost in the machine

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Monkbot Monkbot (Rosamond Purcell)

When the 17-year-old crown prince of Spain, Don Carlos, fell down a set of stairs in 1562, he threw his whole country into a state of uncertainty about the future. Especially his father, King Philip II, who despite being the most powerful man in the world, was helpless in the face of his heir's terrible head wound.

As contributor Latif Nasser, a graduate student in the History of Science Department at Harvard, explains, none of the leading remedies of the day--bleeding, blistering, purging, or drilling--helped. King Philip II decided he needed a miracle to save his son. So he commissioned one from a highly-skilled clockmaker, and made a deal with God that led to an intricate mechanical creation.

Elizabeth King, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, describes how--according to legend--Philip II's plan played out.And Jad and Latif head to the Smithsonian to meet curator Carlene E. Stephens, who shows them the inner workings of a nearly 450-year-old monkbot.

Guests:

Elizabeth King, Latif Nasser and Carlene Stephens

Comments [2]

WS Lauber from Baltimore, MD

You might follow up with San Diego de Alcala (accent on the very last "a") by looking into when and why they bring out the body for viewing. I had the privilege of seeing it when I studied in Alcala de Henares in 2008, and, while I don't know a lot about the decomposition of human bodies, it looked eerily well-preserved for a monk who died in the 15th century. That plus Santa Teresa de Avila's (accent on first "a") finger on display in Avila might make for an interesting show on the veneration of saints. There's a story that Generalissimo Francisco Franco would sign official documents using her hand, leading it to be less than well-preserved. Contrasting all that with folk saints would also be interesting. What does it mean to be a saint, officially and unofficially?

May. 18 2014 02:49 PM
Robyn Broyles from Houston

Interesting episode, as usual. However, I think this segment shows that Radiolab does its best reporting when it stays away from theology, as some of the details of Catholic belief about prayer are inaccurate. It's true that King Phillip may have misunderstood what his faith said about prayer, but from ancient times, it was never considered a mere mechanical operation. For example, the 8th century monk St. John Damascene, as quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, calls prayer "the raising of one's mind and heart to God." I mention this only because it's a common misunderstanding about Catholicism. Thanks for the episode.

Aug. 21 2012 04:43 PM

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