10 January 2013

Benzene: the snake is a lie!

Malcolm W. Browne at the New York Times debunks one of my favorite science legends.

Of all the cases cited by psychiatrists, psychologists and historians of science to illuminate the role of symbolism in creative thought, none is more famous than August Kekule's somnolent vision of a snake biting its tail, a dream that supposedly revealed the true structure of the benzene ring to the German chemist.

But at least one historian now believes that Kekule never dreamed the snake dream, and that, in any case, the benzene ring had already been described by other chemists at the time Kekule claimed to have discovered it.

Cartoon from the amazing Rick Veitch. You should buy all of his books, especially his surreal retelling of the origin of Superman, The Maximortal.

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