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R e e n c h a n t e d S c i e n c e






a r t

Copyright 1996 by Anne Harrington

Published by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540
In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, Chichester, West Sussex
All Rights Reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Harrington, Anne
Reenchanted science : holism in German culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler /
Anne Harrington.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-691-02142-2 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. Life (Biology)Philosophy. 2. MedicineGermanyPhilosophyHistory.
3. ScienceGermanyPhilosophyHistory. 4. Mind and bodyPhilosophy.
5. HolismPhilosophy. I. Title.
QH501.H37 1996
574'.01dc20 95-48463

This book has been composed in Times Roman

Princeton University Press books are printed on acid-free paper and

meet the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production
Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources

Printed in the United States of America by Princeton Academic Press

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
To Godehard, whose deep engagement in the life worlds
of this time and place helped transform what was "just
a book project" into a challenging partnership of mutual
discovery. The experience was a gift I could not have
requested, and will never be able to fully reckon.


The "Human Machine" and the Call lo "Wholeness" 3
The Original Goethean Vision of "Wholeness" 4
A Fractured Nation and the Mechanists' Quest for Unity in Nature 1
Necessary Ways of Knowing and the Mechanization of Mind and Brain 12
Wholeness Betrayed: Political Unification and the Rise of the "Machine"
Society 19
The Place of "Wholeness" in the Fin de Steele Upheavals 23
World War I and Its Aftermath: Science as Cultural Critique 30
Biology against Democracy and the "Gorilla-Machine" 34
On the Way to a Biology of Subjects 38
Scientists in Their Soap Bubbles: Uexkull's Kantian Challenge to Science 44
Revitalizing Life; Umweltlehre and the Vitalist-Mechanist Controversy 48
The Shocks of World War I and Weimar 54
Toward a "Biology of the Stale" 56
Uexkull on the "Jewish Question" 62
The Fight against the "Gorilla-Machine" 63
Uexkull's Relationship to National Socialism 68
World War I and the Search for God in the Nervous System 72
Shock, Recovery, and the Localization of Time in the Brain 11
World War I: Degeneration and Renewal 82
The Biology of Instincts and the Evolutionary Arrow 88
The "World of Orientation" versus the "World of Feeling" 92
Morality in the Cells: The "Syneidesis " or Biological Conscience 96
An Answer to "fgnorabimus": Monakow's Neurobiology of Scientific
Knowledge 98
"A Peacefully Blossoming Tree": The Rational Enchantment of
Gestalt Psychology 103
Gestalt versus Chaos: The Voice of Houston Stewart Chamberlain 106
Gestalt versus Chaos: The Voice of Christian von Ehrenfels 108
Max Wertheimer: Claiming Gestalt for Science and Rational Enchantment 111
The Mind's Laws of "Immanent Structuralism " 114
"A Peacefully\Blossoming Tree": Wertheimer's Vision for Weimar 117
Attacks on the Berlin Gestalt Vision 123
The Rise of National Socialism and Wertheimer's Emigration to America 128
Wolfgang Kohler 's Case to Americans for the Reality of Values in a
World of Facts 130
Wertheimer's "Gestalt Logic " as an Antidote to Demagoguery 132
The Self-Actualizing Brain and the Biology of Existential Choice 140
The Imperative of Regeneration in the Clinic and Society 142
Insights from Brain-Damaged Soldiers: Actualization and Wholeness 145
Changing Theoretical Orientations: From Reflex Theory to Gestalt 151
Reason, Courage, and the Making of a Weimar Hero 154
The Call for a Holistic Clinical Practice 159
The Goethean "Schau": Toward a Holistic Epistemology 162
Goldsteins Persecution and the Biology of Fascism 164
Goldstein in America: The "Wholeness" in the Human Encounter 169
The Lessons of Goethe in the Post-Hiroshima Age 171
Life Science, Nazi Wholeness, and the "Machine" in Germany's
Midst 175
Gestalt, Goethe, and the Fuhrerprinzip 178
The "Jew " as Chaos and Mechanism 181
Holistic Medicine and the Sick Man as "Machine" 185
Holistic Opposition: The Case of Hans Driesch 188
Nazi Mechanism and the Decline of Nazi Holism 193
Ambiguous Legacies: The Case of Viktor von Weizsacker 200


Figure 1. Gerd Arntz, Fabrik [Factory], 1927.

Figure 2. Goethe's vision of wholeness and teleology: "Sketches of the
construction [Aufbau] of the higher plants," 1787. 6
Figure 3. The "atomistic" human brain: localization map by Karl Kleist,
1886. 17
Figure 4. The "machine" brain: associationist-connectionist schema of
mind and brain functioning.
Figure 5. George Grosz, Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, 1918. 22
Figure 6. Fritz Lang, Metropolis, film still, 1927. 23
Figure 7. The Wandervogel movement, youth celebrating nature in pagan
Germanic ritual, date unknown. 26
Figure 8. "Transformation Panorama" set design, Act III, from Richard
Wagner's opera, Parsifal, 1904. 26
Figure 9. Jakob von Uexkull (1864-1944). 35
Figure 10. Uexkull's "functional circle" that creates the Umwelt, or unified
organism-environment system, 1934. 43
Figure 11. The Umwelt of the astronomer looking through his telescope
in a tower, demonstrates the Kantian implications of a new
biology, 1934. 47
Figure 12. Hans Driesch (1867-1941).
Figure 13. Driesch's embryo experiments that gave new credence to vitalism 50
in biology, 1891.
Figure 14. Constantin von Monakow (1853-1930). 73
Figure 15. The human brain compared by Constantin von Monakow to the
functioning of a music box, 1928. 81
Figure 16. Culturally stylized photograph of the Swiss Alps emphasizes their
capacity to serve as a sanctuary from modern life, 1899. 84
Figure 17. Monakow's schema of the Horme's progress through the various
instinct levels towards final reunification with the cosmos 91
("World-Horme"), 1928. 104
Figure 18. Max Wertheimer (1880-1943). 109
Figure 19. Christian von Ehrenfels (1859-1932). 116
Figure 20. Wertheimer's illustration of various "Gestalt laws," 1921. 125
Figure 21. Felix Krueger (1874-1948). 141
Figure 22. Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965).
Figure 23. Goldstein's toolbox that tested brain-damaged patients for loss of 167
holistic "abstract capacity" (separate tests for men and women), 1941.
Figure 24. National Socialist workers with shovels salute en masse, photograph 176
supervised by Leni Riefenstahl, Nuremberg, 1934.
Figure 25. Poster of the Fiihrer Principle, "March 13, 1938. One Folk, 180
One Reich, One FUhrer."
Figure 26. Drawings demonstrating evidence of inferior perceptual depth
capacity and spatial-compositional skills (holistic "seeing") in Jewish
school children as compared to their Aryan peers ("Jewish" drawings
are middle-left and bottom-left). 183
Figure 27. Anti-Semitic cartoon from Julius Streicher's DerStUrmer
representing "the Jew" as "chaos." 184
Figure 28. Cover from holistic medical journal Der Heilpraktiker during
the Nazi years, extolling "earth-water-light-air" as "sources of
healthy life," 1936. 188
Figure 29. "Priests on the Plantation": priests working on the herbal
plantation at Dachau concentration camp, part of the holistic
naturopathic vision of Nazi medicine, early 1940s. 189
Figure 30. Viktor von Weizsacker (1886-1957). 201

THIS BOOK has been a long time in conceptualization, research, and writing.
The process of producing it has also been an object lesson in the. ultimately
collective and community nature of even apparently solitary practices of
scholarship. To say this is only a rather pedantic way of observing, with both
humility and great gratitude, just how many different people over the past
years have stepped in and provided help and support for this project.
The initial ideas for this book were conceived during a postdoctoral tenure
as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow based at the Institute for the History of
Medicine of the University of Freiburg, Germany. I am indebted to the Alex-
ander von Humboldt Foundation for its generous financial support of my work
at that time and to the Institute's director, Eduard Seidler, and to my host and
sponsor, Heinz Schott (now at Bonn), for welcoming me so warmly to the
Institute and integrating me so thoroughly into its culture. Further financial
support for research and writing was provided by a grant from the National
Science Foundation in 1991 and by the Spencer Foundation in 1993. I am
grateful for the vote of confidence shown me by all of these organizations. I
hope they will be pleased with the results.
Even though I may no longer recall all their names, I do remember with
considerable gratitude the assistance of librarians and archivists in Germany,
Switzerland, and the United States, many of whom went beyond the call of
mere duty by drawing my attention to uncatalogued material in neglected
boxes, giving me access to photocopiers and other tools, and taking a personal
interest in the questions and issues I was pursuing. In researching this project,
I also had the pleasure of speaking with a range of witnesses and actors from
the era, all of whom who gave generously of their thoughts and memories:
Roberta Apfel, Viktor Hamburger, Richard Held, Owsei Temkin, Norbert
Mintz, Aaron Smith, Frederick Wyatt. Early on, Professor Thure von Uexkull
made archival material that his family controlled available to me. Through our
rich but not always easy discussions, he also took me on a layered and com-
plex odyssey at the interface.of memory and values that came to inform my
telling of the story of holism in Germany in a number of ways. I hope he will
feel that, in the. end, I responded with integrity to both the challenge and the
inspiration he embodied for me.
I am grateful to a number of undergraduate and graduate research assistants
who have stepped in to help with this project over the past several years: John
Griffith, Stein Berre, Kalpesh Joshi, and Tracey Cho. These students gamely
took on tasks ranging from the pedantic to the quite sophisticated, and through
their own intellectual nimbleness and curiosity, often provoked me to rethink
matters, sometimes more thoroughly than I otherwise would have. Gretchen
Hermes brought both passion and critical discrimination to her work with me
on the selection and development of the illustrations and in the process taught
me just how powerfully images can "speak" historical truths that cannot be so
easily captured in textual form.
A range of colleagues, too many to name, provided feedback on earlier
versions of the arguments made in this book, both as I presented them in
seminars and in written form. I feel especially indebted and grateful for the
support and input of Garland Allen, Cathryn Carson, Gerald Geison, Richard
Held, Larry Holmes, Gerald Holton, Lisbet Koerner, Susan Lanzoni, Edward
Manier, Jane Maeinschein, Everett'Mendelsohn, Diane Paul, Dorothy Porter,
Roy Porter, Robert Richards, Charles Rosenberg, Barbara Rosenkrantz, Sam
Schweber, Skuli Siggurdsson, Paul Weindling, and Nicholas Weiss. For sev-
eral years, Richard Beyler and I engaged in productive dialogue about our
mutual interests in holistic science in the German context, and I am grateful to
him for those exchanges, as well as for his generosity in sharing certain archi-
val material he had collected for his own research. Erika Keller gave the book
a rich "lay-per son's" read that identified still other avenues for clarification
and expansion. Allan Brandt and I had some especially fruitful discussions
about the introduction to this book that left a lasting imprint on its ultimate
form. Evelyn Fox Keller was both a source of scholarly insights in her own
right and a much-appreciated emotional support and sounding board during
the tough spells. Mitchell Ash was an exceptionally generous and engaged
colleague and critic during the earlier stages of this book's conceptualization
and writing, even as he worked on his definitive history of Gestalt psychology
in its institutional and cultural context. As a relative newcomer into an arena
where he had already done such valuable work, I had the opportunity to learn
a great deal from him. I am only sorry his own book was published too late to
be incorporated significantly into the arguments made here. Robert Nye took
particular pains to provide helpful feedback to the book as a whole at a late
stage, inspiring me to make a number of additions and enhancements to the
book that would otherwise not be there. Finally, I feel enormously indebted to
the rich, frank, and detailed'comments of John McCole and Peter Galison on
the book as a whole that came in the final hour and that resulted in some
substantive revisions and enlargments in my overall argument and analysis.
Their care when it counted saved me from committing some significant errors.
Obviously, any remaining weaknesses or misunderstandings are my own
While I was fending off decompensation under a looming publication dead-
line, my assistant Billie Jo Joy took on the onerous job of proofing and copy-
editing the manuscript and organizing its final compilation for delivery, in the
process providing steady emotional support and encouragement, for which I
will always be grateful. At the same time, Meg Alexander navigated with
elegance and humor the bewildering world of copyright permissions for the
illustrations, taking over a job ably begun by Diane Ehrenpreis.
My husband, Godehard Oepen, came into my life about the same time as I
began turning my attention to the themes and material described here, and he
knows better than anyone else what conceiving and writing this book has
entailed for me. My debt to him along the way for support and assistance
practical, intellectual and emotionalis just incalculable. I can only hope he
understands how deep my gratitude goes.
I am very proud and pleased that this book found a home with Princeton
University Press and grateful especially to Emily Wilkinson and her assistant
Kevin Downing for their competent and humane support through the process.
It's good now to "let go" of the project, knowing that it is in such good hands.

IN 1918, the sociologist Max Weber was invited to give a lecture at the Uni-
versity of Munich.1 The invitation came just a few months after the end of the
prolonged and devastating Great War, which had ended in Germany's humili^
ating defeat, the collapse of her old regime, and the breakup of the Austro-
Hungarian Empire. Weber knew that the students listening to his talk were
hungry for existential and moral orientation and would be hoping for a mes-
sage from him that addressed their demands for personal relevance and larger
meaning in their studies. He did not feel able to comply. The theme he chose
for his lecture was "Science as a Vocation," and his words were sober. The
scientist was not a prophet, he said, and not in a position to provide any of the
larger answers or transcendent grounding for life the students were looking
for. Indeed, Weber was prepared to go further: the effect of science was actu-
ally to undermine all transcendent principles, systematically stripping the
world of all spiritual mystery, emotional color, and ethical significance and
turning it into a mere "causal mechanism." Weber profoundly regretted the
existential emptiness left behind by this "disenchanted" world after science
was finished with it, but he saw no alternative to a stoical, clear understanding
of the inevitable. It was the "fate" of the modern individual to live in a "god-
less, prophetless" world:
Wherever. . . rational empirical knowledge has consistently carried out the disen-
chantment of the world and its transformation into a causal mechanism, there
appears the ultimate challenge to the claims of the ethical postulate, that the world
is a divinely ordered cosmos with some kind of ethically meaningful direction.2
As Weber well knew, many in his student audience would not have been
happy with his uncompromising call to stoicism,3 but the sociologist's assess-
ment of science as a "disenchanting" force in the modern world would hardly
have surprised very many of them. Since the 1890s, an intensifying stream of
German-language articles and monographs had been identifying the rise of a
certain kind of mechanistic thinking in the natural sciences as a chief culprit
in a variety of failed or crisis-ridden cultural and political experiments. Sci-
ence had declared humanity's life and soul a senseless product of mechanism,
so people now treated one another as mere machines. It was said that the
spread of mechanistic, instrumentalist thinking into all areas of professional
and cultural life had given rise to a cynical, this-worldly attitude and a decline
in morality and idealism. Traditional ideals of learning and culture were in
crisis, the young people were alienated, and the arts had degenerated into
exercises in absurdity and self-absorption. The nihilistic message of scientists
who apparently valued Technik over soul and integrity was even blamed for
the devastation of the lost warthe first war, it was said, in which "victory
[was] no longer decided by the spiritual and mental resistance of men, but by
the predominance of mechanical instruments of power."4
Weber's lecture in 1918 was intended as a direct response to the widespread
mood of restless antimodernism and antiscience that was so palpable in the
wake of that lost war and the fall of the Wilhelminian regime. While his sym-
pathies were with the disaffected, the personal effect of the war on Weber had
been to reinforce a profound distrust of any charismatic, irrationalist solutions
to the dilemmas raised by the Machine society. His message, therefore, had
been uncompromising: science could give no answers to the burning ques-
tions of existence, and it must not try, regardless of the pain and unsatisfied
hungers that it left in its wake.
Yet not everyone was prepared to accept Weber's conclusion that the
choices were inevitably irresponsible irrationalism or grim-faced resignation.
This book tells the story of a group of German-speaking scientists who, in the
early decades of the twentieth century, effectively agreed with Weber's con-
clusion that a certain kind of mechanistic science had "disenchanted" the
world. They did not, however, believe that the process of disenchantment
through science was inevitably destined to continue. Instead, these men
biologists, neurologists, and psychologistsargued that a continuing com-
mitment to responsible science was compatible with an ethically and existen-
tially meaningful picture of human existence; but only //one were prepared to
rethink prejudices about what constituted appropriate epistemological and
methodological standards for science. Under the banner of Wholeness, these
scientists argued, in varying ways, that a transformed biology and psychol-
ogyone that viewed phenomena less atomistically and more "holistically,"5
. less mechanistically and more "intuitively"could lead to the rediscovery of
a nurturing relationship with the natural world. What the old science of the
Machine had wrought, a new science of Wholeness would heal. It would
"reenchant" the worldand it had 'voiced' this idea long before Morris Ber-
man issued a similar call to arms in his bestseller from the 1980s.6
The Machine science in dispute here was, above all, the work of the so-
called biophysicist program spearheaded by leading German scientists like
Hermann von Helmholtz, Emil Du Bois-Reymond, and Rudolf Virchow.
These were the men who, in the second half of the nineteenth century, had
fought for a total integration of physiology with physics within a reductionist
framework, and whoarguing from a particular hard-line interpretation of
Immanuel Kant's "critique of reason"had asserted that all science must nec-
essarily limit itself to mechanistic modes of explanation. Any and all other
kinds of assertion were, by definition, "metaphysical" and outside the proper
sphere of science.7
The rebellion against this fortress of rigor began with the fin de siecle re-
vival of vitalism in early-twentieth-century biology, primarily associated with
the work of Hans Driesch. Through its showcasing of research results in em-
bryology, Driesch's new vitalism declared that the inability of mechanism to
account for the incontrovertible results of laboratory research justified a turn
to alternative formulations. Nevertheless, by the first decades of the twentieth
century, such prominent theoreticians of holism like Adolf Meyer-Abich and
Ludwig von Bertalanffy were distancing themselves from the claims of out-
right vitalism and proposing a range of alternatives to mechanism that were
self-consciously emphasized as nonvitalistic; alternatives that often also
looked back to Kant but emphasized a different reading of that legacy. Espe-
cially important for these men was the Kantian assertion that the mechanistic
causal categories of human reason in fact fall short when dealing with living
organisms. Kant had said that in the realm of living processes, human judg-
ment was justified in positing a different order of causality, a teleological
causality (Naturzweck) that looked at the functioning of parts in terms of the
organization and needs of the whole.8 In reaching back to this aspect of Kant's
legacy, twentieth-century holistic scientists were thus challenging, not only
the empirical inadequacies of the nineteenth-century "Machine model" of life
and mind, but also the epistemological and methodological inadequacies of
the science that had created that model in the first place.
The new "holistic" science of life and mind that was to replace the old
Machine science was really more a family of approaches than a single coher-
ent perspective. The need to do justice to organismic purposiveness or teleo-
logical functioningto questions of "what for?" and not merely "how?"
was central in all cases. Beyond that need was a range of overlapping under-
standings. Some holism was concerned with finding alternatives to the view
of the organism as a mere sum of its elementary parts and processes (what was
often denounced as atomism). This form of holism aimed instead to under-
stand apparently discrete physiological processes in terms of their roles in the
total functioning of the organism. Others understood by holism an imperative
to resist the tendency of the time to treat bodily phenomena and mental phe-
nomena as separate ontological categories (so-called psycho-physical paral-
lelism). This holism insisted instead that the task of a human holistic biology
in particular must be to reground the mind in the body and to reanimate the
body with the mind: psychosomatic medicine would be one of the most endur-
ing legacies of this second holistic tradition. Still another form of holism em-
phasized the inadequacy of thinking that the "whole" could be considered
merely at the level of the individual organism. It maintained that organismic
processes and behavior only make sense when studied as part of a larger sys-
tem, whether that system be the immediate lived world of the organism, nature
as a "whole," or (in some cases) the cosmic logic of the evolutionary process
writ large.9
But that is not all. In this process of drawing up a holism designed to chal-
lenge the many faces of the Machine in the laboratory and clinic, holistic life
and mind scientists also felt increasingly free to speak to the broader question
of the Machine in society and intellectual life. From Berlin to Prague to Vi-
enna to Zurich, these scientists began to mingle their voices with those of
other kinds of cultural critics, would-be reformers, and crisis-mongers. Those
other voices from outside the sciences also typically used the oppositional
imagery of machine and wholeness in order to articulate what they believed
had gone wrong in politics, the community, and individual existenceand to
identify roads to renewal.10 That imagery in turn had energetic links to other,
overlapping political and societal oppositions of the time: Gemeinschaft
(community) versus Gesellschaft (society), an opposition made famous by the
nineteenth-century sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies;11 (German) Kultur versus
(French) Zivilization; Life and Soul versus Mind and Reason, a squaring-off
associated with such "life philosophers" as Ludwig Klages.
The resonances across these binary clusters were strong, and new writers
entering the fray found themselves either struggling to disaggregate their spe-
cific arguments from those of the collective, or else (more frequently) allow-
ing their reliance on one trope to draw on the energies of the collective. For
example, when Tonnies spoke of the noxiousness of "societies," part of his
point was that "societies" were so noxious because they functioned like ma-
chines. "Gemeinschaft," he declared, "should be understood as a living or-
ganism, Gesellschaft as a mechanical aggregate and artifact."12 And when he
went on to suggest that a great metropolis like Berlin exemplified all the ugli-
ness, impersonality, and hostility inherent to modern society, well, here again,
what "Berlin" was had already been partly "pre-interpreted" for both him and
his readers through preexisting cultural imagery that saw that city as a kind of
monstrous (or awesome) "machine." 13
What happened now when the voice of this new "anti-machine" science
began to mix with those of these other, full-time cultural critics, many of
whom were well known for their distrust of both science and scientists? (The
life philosopher Theodor Lessing was not untypical when he decried modern
man as "a species of robber-apes which has been infected with megalomania
by science."14) Significantly, the result was less frequently an open struggle
over values and control and more often a subtle shift in the cultural logic that
ruled the larger critique as a whole. Even though science (the "old" science)
had been the enemy, nevertheless it had always been a powerful enemy, with
an authority that would be useful to have on one's own side. Now that it was
in the process of remaking itself (the "new" science),15 now that its truths were
in the service of Wholeness rather than the Machine, few objected to letting it
continue to claim a unique social and epistemological authority in the larger
In this context, the vision of holistic nature emerging from the life and mind
sciences tended to carry the most clout. This is not because researchers in the
physical sciences (physics, chemistry, engineering, etc.) felt that they had
nothing to say about Mechanism, Wholeness, or the crisis of modernitythey
did. There is still much to ponder in Paul Forman's now classic 1971 argu-
ment that German twentieth-century physics drew back from the mechanistic
and deterministic principles to which it had been epistemologically commit-
ted, not out of empirical and conceptual necessity, but as an "accommodation"
to a cultural mood that was explicitly hostile to deterministic, materialistic
philosophies.16 According to Forman, the enshrining of much more culturally
congenial acausal, antimechanistic, even semimystical, interpretations of
quantum theory and relativity allowed physics to transform itself from a sus-
pect enterprise toin the words of another historian"the solvent of the ma-
terialism that had spread with the conquests of classical physics."17
The case of physics notwithstanding, the holistic biological and psycholog-
ical sciences possessed a special authority in the larger cultural discussion
about Wholeness because these sciences studied the subjectslife and soul
that served as key symbols in this time of cultural and spiritual regeneration.18
Posing their laboratory and clinical claims in metaphors and tropes encrusted
with suggestive meanings and historically resonating associations, holistic
life and mind scientists managed at once to engage the data and problems of
the laboratory and clinic while simultaneously functioning as part of the heter-
ogeneous field of German cultural criticism and theory. We see how, in this
time of perceived intellectual and social crisis, metaphor and other connota-
tive properties of language allowed holistic scientists to leapfrog in a range of
ways across the epistemological divisions of the time that an earlier genera-
tion of science had declared must necessarily separate the secular from the
sacred, the natural from the political, the mythical from the necessary. For
those with the culturally and politically sensitized ears to hear the messages,
the new arguments in biology, neurology, and psychology for Wholeness and
against the Machine could thus gradually come to persuade simultaneously as
scientific fact, salvation mythology, and psychobiological guide to cultural
and political survival.
How receptive were the more established perspectives in the sciences them-
selves to these holistic challenges? Some important disciplinary traditions
seem to have been more or less indifferent. In his study of some forty-odd
German geneticists from the Wilhelminian and Weimar period, for example,
Jonathan Harwood found that most were basically supportive of mechanistic
and materialist explanations in their discipline, while only a minority ex-
pressed some sympathy for a more holistic perspective (here often conveyed
in concern with a possible role for cytoplasm in hereditary transmission).19
Conversely, disciplines like embryology, botany, medicine, psychology, neu-
rology, and zoology seem to have taken the call to wholeness far more to
heart, presumably because of the preoccupations within those fields with such
phenomena as form, development, and self-regulation. Nevertheless, even in
subdisciplines of the life and mind sciences that were most receptive to ho-
lism, no full consensus was reached and various established mechanistic and
reductionistic perspectives continued to carry weight. The heyday of holistic
thinking in German neurology, for example, coincided with a period of inten-
sive laboratory investigation into the cellular basis of brain function that cul-
minated in the drawing of the cyto-architectonic maps of Korbinian Brod-
mann and the attempts by neurologists like Oskar and Cecile Vogt to relate
discrete psychic functions to histological variations in the brain. It is true that
holism claimed the future of the German mind and life sciences for itself, but
as late as the 1930s, this oppositional movement still knew itself best by em-
phasizing what it was not, still was caught up in the process of debating and
developing its own agenda and strategies.
This said, I am less interested in locating holistic life and mind science in
the broader history of institutionalized science research in Germany (valuable
as such a study would be) and more concerned with establishing a place for it
as a neglected voice in German cultural history.20 Viewed from this perspec-
tive, it emerges as a story with a number of broad turning points, the most
important of which was the First World War. The national humiliation, class
fragmentation, and political polarization engendered by the loss of that war
acted as a radicalizing force for many scientists involved in developing holis-
tic reformulations of life and mind. The crises of the time seemed to demand
that holism become more than just a means to a more authentic vision of life
and mind; it must also become a blueprint for visualizing a more authentic
future for Germany. In this uncertain time, the same flexible language and
imagery that had previously connected this science to older aesthetic and spir-
itual traditions in Germany now stretched itself to connect it to the politics and
social disarray of the postwar era as well. After 1918, in other words, holism
often spoke with a political accent.
For a while, the intellectual field of holistic life and mind science was able
to accommodate a range of political solutions to the tensions between moder-
nity and nostalgia, mechanism and wholeness, science and spirit, Technik and
Kultur. Nevertheless, as intellectuals in the 1920s descended into greater
depths of discontent, aspects of the scientific Wholeness/Mechanism opposi-
tional imagery began to take on dimensions that both German-speaking cen-
tral Europe and the rest of the world would learn to regret. Jews would be
increasingly identified as both cause and as flesh-and-blood instantiation of all
the worst values of the machinesummative, nonsynthetic thought, soulless,
mechanistic science, rootless, mercenary social relations.
An earlier tradition of intellectualized anti-Semitic "scholarship"the bulk
of it stemming from the fin de siecle yearsprovided ready resources for
these developments. At the turn of the century, the Anglo-German race phi-
losopher Houston Stewart Chamberlain had spoken of the "crude-empirical,
causality-bewitched materialism" of the old mechanistic sciences that was
"nothing other than the Semitic Creation-story in modern clothing."21 Otto
Weininger had similarly linked the growing alleged infiltration of Jews into
the medical profession with the triumph of the soulless-machine perspective
in both medical theory and practice. "From the earliest times, until the domi-
nance of the Jews," he wrote, "medicine was closely allied with religion. But
now they make it a matter of drugs, a mere administration of chemicals. . . .
The chemical interpretation of organisms sets these on a level with their own
dead ashes."22 By the time the National Socialists had secured power in Ger-
many in 1933, metaphorical linkages like these increasingly carried policy
implications and struck increasingly ominous poses. In a 1935 article that
appeared in the official medical journal of the Nazi party, Ziel und Weg, the
message could hardly have been clearer. The article stressed the dissolutive,
sterile nature of Jewish thinking and Jewish science that could lead only to
"death" and contrasted this with the "simple, organic, creative" thinking of the
"healthy non-Jew," who "thinks in wholes." 23
The "racializing" of German holism and its partial absorption into the pol-
itics and mythology of National Socialism is an important part of the larger
story of German holism, and is recounted in chapter 6 of this book. Neverthe-
less, even if we know how part of the story I tell in this book is going to "come
out," it is important that we resist "discovering" the outline of a terrible future
in holism's past or imagining that all holistic, vitalistic, or teleological views
of nature are part of a larger "destruction of reason" that can be tracked in
some straight, degenerating line from the romantics to Hegel to Nietzsche to
Hitler. Such claims and temptations are familiar in the older secondary litera-
ture on modern Germany,24 but one can argue they do not do justice either to
the historical contradictions of modernity in general or to the role of anti-
mechanistic, pastoral, and alternative scientific thinking as a reaction to and
comment on those contradictions. In his study of Weimar culture, for exam-
ple, Detlev Peukert stresses the extent to which expressions of anxiety among
German intellectuals about the consequences of modernity were found, not
just among the cranky "anti-modernist" fringe sowing "cultural despair" in
cheap pamphlets, but in the writings of intellectuals we would place firmly
"within the modernist fold."25 In a similar way, I argue, in this book that,
before 1933, various liberal, democratic, and Jewish scientists were attracted
to both the intellectual and cultural promises of holism and managed to share
concerns about the "mechanization" of both science and society with their
more reactionary and, in some cases, anti-Semitic colleagues. As one then
tracks the varied arguments across the decade, one can see how, gradually,
different spokespeople for holism actually came to be as much in a state of
tension with one another as they were with their mechanistic rivals, each de-
veloping arguments designed to undermine the politics and positions of the
Yet, even as holism in some respects proved to be a pluralistic and some-
times even quarrelsome phenomenon, in other respects, it always remained a
surprisingly closely knit one: certain recurring themes and problems made up
a coherent conceptual grid whose architecture, without being rigid, allowed
distinctions to be drawn between innovations and theoretical developments
that were "inside" the frame and those that posed a threat to it. The self-
defined borders, colors, and contours of this grid clearly mark it as a "Ger-
man" construction.26 That said, we should nevertheless not insist on a more
rigid definition of holism's "Germanness" than was in fact operative at the
time. The paper trail left by holistic life and mind scientists did not respect the
political borders of Germany proper but to varying degrees embraced the Ger-
man-speaking parts of Switzerland, Hungary, and Austria as well.27 Although
political events like World War I had repercussions for everyone, holistic
comrades-in-arms "recognized" one another in the first instance because they
all (quite literally) spoke a common language, made use of certain common
rhetorical conventions, and saw themselves as in dialogue (in varying ways)
with common philosophical, scientific, and cultural legacies.
Still, even if I stress the relative looseness with which I speak of the "Ger-
manness" of German holism, it is true that the focus of this book privileges
German cultural experience. It does not do this because of some assumption
that an impulse toward antimechanistic, "holistic" approaches in science was
a uniquely German phenomenon in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Anyone at all familiar with this material knows that the very term "holism"
(a word not generally used by Germans) was coined in 1926 by the South
African statesman Jan Christiaan Smuts.28 Additionally, two highly influen-
tial early-twentieth-century advocates of antimechanistic philosophies of sci-
ence were products of French and British culture respectively: Henri Bergson,
author of Creative Evolution, and Alfred North Whitehead, architect of an
"organismic" approach to reality that came to be known as "process philoso-
phy."29 These men were admittedly not scientists themselves, but in the
United States, embryologists at the University of Chicago, such as Charles
Manning Child and Charles Judson Herrick, worked during the interwar years
on developing dynamic, holistic models of organismic development, while
American psychologist Karl Lashley galvanized experimental psychology
with his radical holistic or "equipotentialist" view of memory and intelligence
in the brain.30 In this sense, one could conclude that holism had become the
touchstone of the day.
Moreover, there is every indication that Germany was not the only cultural
setting in which holism was not an insular intellectual phenomenon but rather
a vehicle for both political anxiety andsocial reformist zeal. Sharon Kings-
land has emphasized ways in which embryologists like Child and Herrick at
the University of Chicago used holistically oriented ideas like "emergent evo-
lution" as part of a biological defense of liberal politics that affirmed the au-
tonomy of the individual within a social whole. Stephen Cross and William
Albury have suggested a relationship between the preoccupation in American
physiology with organismic regulation and homeostasis (internal physiologi-
cal balance) and broader American interwar concerns with the need to pre-
serve social stability.31
The history of science is still waiting for some systematic comparative
analysis of twentieth-century holism in the life and mind sciences that would
both clarify larger unifying patterns across cultural and national contexts and
also tease apart salient distinctions.32 Nevertheless, the particular story of
holism in the German-speaking countries is likely to continue to have a partic-
ular prominence and importance of its own. In Germany, a sense of grounded-
ness in cultural values mattered enormously, since there was no stable tradi-
tion of political and national identification. Industrialization had come later
and harder there than elsewhere in Europe and the United States. And later, it
would be the German-speaking countries that would lose a war, lose an em-
pire, and lose the respect of the world. A great deal seemed to be in crisis, a
great deal seemed to be at stake, and "the [resulting] feverish intellectual cli-
mate . . . created almost laboratory-like conditions in which every conceivable
solution to the problems of modernity could be put to the test."33 If one of the
larger rationales for studying holistic science is to understand how it could
become "more than itself," could enter into a dynamic relationship with its
own proliferating set of meanings, we are warranted to look at where the
action is likely to have been most intense.

It seems necessary to say that even though I aim to locate German holistic life
and mind science in German culture, and even though I assert that this was
science that became "more than itself," I do not believe that the content of this
science was merely some socially driven or historically arbitrary creative
product unconstrained by any demands from its own data. Certainly, I share
the conviction of most of my profession that the statements of science do not
"mirror" the realities of nature in some simple, detached way. At the same
time, I believe that what actually makes science worth taking so seriously is
the fact that it apparently does, in highly ritualized ways, engage phenomenal
realities that "talk back" and whose logic is not wholly humanand yet si-
multaneously does so in ways richly generative of human meanings and social
imperatives. In other words, ontologically, we humans are not the measure of
all things, but scientific knowledge does involve a process, still not well un-
derstood, in which that which we call "natural" is brought inside human his-
tory and enabled to play a role in any number of human dramas.34
Given this, how have I understood the accounts of German holistic life and
mind science written by scientistsaccounts that speak very little about cul-
ture and politics, and a great deal about invertebrate animals, human brains,
urchin embryos, and experimental subjects?35 Roughly put, my position has
been, not that these accounts are "wrong" (though they may certainly be fash-
ioned in self-serving ways), but rather that they are misleadingly incomplete.
Here, my understanding of metaphorits capacity to connect different orders
of reality simultaneouslyhas allowed me to claim the story of German ho-
listic science for German cultural history without neglecting the role, so self-
evident to scientists, played by the nonhuman, the material, and the unex-
pected in that same story.36 Paying attention to the multiregister voice of
metaphor has allowed me to see how the conceptual "content" of holistic life
and mind science was also its cultural "context" but without my summarily
reducing or collapsing the former into the latter.
There is another way in which I have resisted the temptation to reduce or
collapse my material while writing this book. In fact the book ultimately tells,
not just one story about the cultural meanings of holism, but rather several.
The book's heart lies in its biographical studies of four German-speaking ho-
listic scientists active between 1890 and 1945: behavioral biologist Jakob von
Uexkiill (1864-1944), clinical neurologist Constantin von Monakow (1853
1930), Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer (1880-1943), and holistic neu-
ropsychiatrist Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965). While a couple of these names are
familiar today and the others are more obscure, the criteria for choosing this
mix of characters was not based on present-day perceptions of a particular
figure's "importance" or enduring legacy. Instead, all the main protagonists in
this book were chosen for their reputations among peers as pioneers in the
attempt to transform basic principles of psychology and biology along an-
timechanistic, holistic lines.
With an age gap of 27 years between the youngest (Max Wertheimer) and
the oldest (Constantin von Monakow), these four men cannot be said to repre-
sent a "generation" in the sense exploited by other cultural historians.37 Nev-
ertheless, they drew on one another's insights and data, and even, in some
cases, collaborated. They also shared active and sometimes contentious mem-
bership in the larger scientific, philosophical, and cultural community of sci-
entific holism that included such figures as the embryologist and philosopher
Hans Driesch, the philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels, the race theorist
Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the psychologist Felix- Krueger, the psycholo-
gist Wolfgang Kohler, the holistic-biology theorist Adolf Meyer-Abich, and
the "medical anthropologist" and psychosomaticist Viktor von Weizsacker.
All reacted strongly, yet distinctively, to the complex agenda of concerns that
had been raised by the First World War. And finally, all of them, in a range
of ways both subtle and blunt, employed the rich metaphorical language of
Wholeness to argue for connections between developments in the clinic or
laboratory on the one hand and solutions to the cultural imperatives of the
time on the other.
A group-biography approach was chosen, not to reproduce some hagio-
graphic understanding of history of science as a parade of "Great Men," 38 but
rather to express the spirit of what Carl Schorske calls "the empirical pursuit
of pluralities." In parallel-tracking four scientists who lived and worked
again to quote Schorske"as culture-makers in a common social and tempo-
ral space,"39 my larger goal has been to tell a story greater than the sum of its
individual parts, to write a history with, not one, but multiple viewpoints and
endings. Taken together, I hope such a narrative strategy will enable me to
convey, at a level of detail that would otherwise not be possible, my deep
sense of German holistic life and mind science as a world of tensions, ambig-
uous intellectual and moral messages, and shifting potential courses that elude
any easy or dogmatic generalizations.40
Reenchanted Science
Figure 1. Gerd Arntz, Fahrik [Factory], 1927. 1995 Estate of
Gerd Arntz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

T h e " H u m a n Machine" and the

Call to " W h o l e n e s s "

HOLISTIC life and mind science brought a potent mixture of Salvationist opti-
mism and bristly aggrievement to its view of the world. On the one hand, this
reformist impulse was all about celebration: its leaders knew they were guid-
ing the sciences out of the dusk of the past and toward the brightening new
horizon of Wholeness. At the same time, they also spent much time glaring
retrospectively at a particular enemy they believed was responsible for all of
their struggles in the first place. They knew this enemy under many faces but,
significantly, almost all of those guises were condemned under the same
name: the Machine.
The Machine that haunted holism's self-consciousness was an entity with
a status much like that of "the Communist threat" that haunted the conscious-
ness of the United States during the height of the Cold War. That is to say, it
is best understood, first and foremost, as an emotionally charged image of
negativity that functioned to define and drive holism's positive agenda. Nev-
ertheless, we are also not dealing with a made-up entity constructed entirely
out of rhetoric and paranoia. The Machine was so potent because there were
evident realities feeding and reinforcing its various meanings (real people
who called themselves mechanists, for example).
Holists themselves were inclined to suppose that the specific terms of ho-
lism's relationship to the Machine were more or less transparent: "good" sci-
ence simply began to assert itself against "bad" science; new worldviews
began courageously to square off against older entrenched ones. In this chap-
ter I adopt a somewhat larger perspective. What I am trying to show is the way
in which the terms and conditions of a quarrel were constructed, not because
there was no other possible way to think and talk, but because the mechanistic
program in the life and mind sciences had come to be identified with a range
of high-stake and contentious debates marking the German-speaking coun-
tries' rapid and rocky road into industrialized modernity. Over time, the terms
"wholeness" and "machine" became "thick" with the meanings and feelings
of urgency that were attached to those other debates. Several moments in this
process were particularly decisive: the failed liberal revolution in Germany of
1848, the founding of the German Empire in 1871, the broader politics and
passions of the fin de siecle Central Europe, and the outbreak and subsequent
disastrous loss of World War I.


Early in the nineteenth century, a heterogeneous group of German scientists

and philosophers who identified with the Romantic impulse of that era found
themselves haunted by an image of fragmentation and mechanism that they
traced back especially to Newton's establishment of the law of universal grav-
ity. As they saw matters, this English scientist had been born into a universe
of color, quality, and spontaneity and had proceeded ruthlessly to transform it
into a cold, quality-less and impersonal realm of homogeneous and three-
dimensional space, where particles of matter danced like marionettes to math-
ematically calculable laws:1

Where now, as our wise men say, only a soulless ball of fire rotates, Helios in
quiet majesty once guided his golden chariot. Oreads filled these heights. A Dryad
lived in every tree. From the urns of lovely Najads sprang the silver foam of
streams. Alas! from that living, warm picture only the shadow remains. . . . Like
the dead stroke of the pendulum, Naturebereft of godsslavishly serves the
law of gravity.2

Significantly, not all of Europe shared the despair of the German Romantics
over Newton's contributions to the new modern science, and certainly not all
shared the perceptionleast of all, Newton himselfthat humanity was now
condemned to live in a dead, particulate universe devoid of "dryads" or spir-
itual meaning.3 We are thus led to the questions: Whence this German Ro-
mantic preoccupation with the sins of Newtonand whence their particular
focus on "atomization" and "slavish" obedience as the essential message of
that Englishman's science? Historian John Reddick finds a partial answer to
these questions in the political situation in Germany at the turn of the nine-
teenth century. Germany, in sharp contrast to France or England, lived under
autocratic rule and in fragmented fiefdoms; it did not know itself as a unified
political, social, or cultural entity, but rather only as "a multiplicity of state
and stateletsthe atomization and attendant backwardness of particu-
larism."4 Reddick suggests that the fragmented landscape of Germany was
important in cultivating a philosophical sensibility that began to look for
wholeness and synthesis, not in the immediately lived realities of the every-
day, but in the ideal realms of the mind and natural order. Seizing on the
idealist potential lurking inside the cracks pried open by Immanuel Kant's
critique of pure reason, "the mind as the giver of meaning, as the creator in a
certain sense, of the knowable world [was] . . . set . . . ever more intensely at
the centre of the universe."5 And graduallyon the shards of a desolate his-
torical reality that Reddick calls the "shattered whole"the great holistic,
idealistic systems of natural philosophy [Naturphilosophie] were constructed:
systems associated with names like Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich Schiller,
Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and George Wilhelm Hegel.
The natural philosophers called themselves children of Kant, even though
they went in directions that would have horrified the Konigsberg philosopher.
But Kant had provided early-nineteenth-century opponents of Newton's
clockwork universe with another resource; one rooted not in the Critique of
Pure Reason, but in the Critique of Judgment. There Kant had insisted that the
innate reasoning categories of mechanistic causality that humans appropri-
ately bring to their analysis of nonliving reality were incapable of doing jus-
tice to the activities of the living realm. To make sense of life as a phenome-
non, human judgment was forced to postulate, at least for heuristic purposes,
an additional principle of Ideological causality that Kant called "natural pur-
pose" (Naturzwecke). This was a form of explanation in which the working
parts of an organism were to be understood in terms of the teleology or pur- *
posive functioning of the organism as a whole.6
Kant had juxtaposed his discussion of the "Ideological judgment" with a
discussion of something else he called the "aesthetic judgment" and con-
cluded by proposing that similar sorts of cognitive processes were involved in
grasping the nature of living phenomena on the one hand and the nature of the
beautiful and sublime on the other. And it was this assertion that first sug-
gested to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe the possibility that a science of life
could be created in which "the products of nature and art [were] treated one as
the other, aesthetic and teleological judgment mutually illuminating each
Goethe's resulting aesthetic-teleological vision of living nature would sub-
sequently function as one of the later generations' recurrent answers to the
question of what it "meant" to be a holistic scientist in the grand German style.
In contrast to the meaningless fragmentation of Newton's universe, Goethe
had imagined a rich and colorful world8 shaped by aesthetic principles of
order and patterning. The whole messy diversity of visible nature, he thought,
could in fact be shown to be a product of a small number of fundamental forms
or Gestalten. By observing and comparing the various metamorphoses of one
or another form, he felt that the original or primal form of the type in question
could be deduced using the pure judgments of the mind, in a manner akin to
seeing the "form" of something in Plato's philosophy. Thus, flowers were to
be understood as modified leaves.9
But that was only the beginning. To decompose nature into its primal forms
was an aesthetic revelation, but to then understand how those same primal
forms metamorphosed into ever more complex forms was a revelation of the
teleological principles operating in living nature as a whole (see figure 2):
In every living being, wefindthat those things which we call parts are inseparable
from the Whole to such an extent, that they can only be conceived in and with the
latter; and the parts can neither be the measure of the Whole, nor the Whole be the
measure of the parts. So [in turn] a circumscribed living being [an organic Whole]
takes part in the Infinite [the all encompassing Whole]; it has something of infin-
ity within itself.10
Figure 2. Goethe's vision of wholeness and teleology:
"Sketches of the construction [Aufbau] of the higher
plants," 1787. Johann Wolfgang Goethe "Notizen und
Zeichnungen aus Italien," 1787, Zur Morphologic,
ed. Dorothea Kuhn, vol. 9, pt. A, Die Schriften Zur
Naturwissenschaft, (Weimar: Hermann Bohlaus
Nachfolger, 1977).

Although in one sense clearly an original, Goethe was also reflective of

certain larger intellectual trends of his time. Timothy Lenoir has shown that
actually a significant subset of early-nineteenth-century German biologists
had chosen to ground themselves in the authority of Kant's Critique of Judg-
ment and practiced a form of modified vitalism or "teleo-mechanism" (Le-
noir's term) that assumed the working of innate principles of purposiveness
within the organism. The focus was on understanding how an animal's parts
functioned in terms of the needs of the integrated whole. The foundations of
this research program were laid down by morphologists like Johann Friedrich
Blumenbach and Carl Friedrich Kielmeyer and later brought to maturity by
embryologists Karl Ernst von Baer and Johannes Miiller. Both of these men
emphatically rejected the purely speculative biologies of natural philosophy
(Fichte, Schelling, Hegel), but both were nevertheless emphatic about the
need to posit the existence of special emergent vital principles in living organ-
isms that could account for such holistic and purposive phenomena as devel-
opment and differentiation.11



By the fourth decade of the nineteenth century, this first antireductionist and
teleological vision of organismic wholeness was coming under increasingly
successful attack by a new generation of mechanistic scientists. Spearheaded
by a closely knit group of self-identified "organic physicists"Hermann von
Helmholtz, Emil Du Bois-Reymond, Ernst Briicke, and Karl Ludwig12this
mechanistic offensive was driven by an intellectual holy grail: a vision of a
science which had extended the causal-mechanistic mode of understanding to
include living phenomena. The realm of the organic was to be integrated
wholly with the realm of the inorganic. Once this was accomplished, science
could look forward to a future as a united enterprise guided by a single, uni-
versal set of principles. The most well-known expression of this faith was
articulated in the 1847 youthful manifesto of the organic physicists, that read
in part:
[N]o other forces than the common physical-chemical ones are active within the
organism. In those cases which cannot be explained by these forces, one has either
to find the specific way or form of their action by means of the physical mathe-
matical method or to assume new forces equal in dignity to the chemical-physical
forces inherent in matter, reducible to the force of attraction and repulsion.13
As the mechanists saw things, the greatest impediment to the attainment of
their goals was "vitalistic" thinkingwhich they defined as any approach to
the organic world that called for the. introduction of "additional" or "special"
principles to account for living processes. An 1858 paper, "On the Mechanis-
tic Interpretation of Life," by Germany's leading physician Rudolf Virchow
proclaimed the message of the revolt against vitalism in terms that were loud
and clear: "There is no spiritus rector, no life-spirit, water-spirit, or fire-
spirit. . . . Everywhere there is mechanistic process only, with the unbreakable
necessity of cause and effect."14
By this time, the "natural philosophy" of the early nineteenth century
partly because of its own excesseswas a rapidly sinking ship on the German
cultural horizon that the chemist Justus von Liebig in 1840 would denounce
as "the pestilence, the Black Death, of the nineteenth century."15 In this envi-
ronment, the broadside mechanistic attack on all forms of vitalism was so
successful in part because it tended to tarnish all of its opponents with the
black brush of natural philosophy, overlooking or deliberately distorting the
evidence that such materialistic vitalists as Johannes Muller had actually been
explicit opponents of natural philosophy.16
That said, the rapid fall of the vitalistic perspective of once revered scien-
tists like Mullerhimself a teacher of several of the key mechanists, such as
Helmholtz and Du-Bois Reymondcannot be merely attributed to slander or
a lot of clever rhetorical jockeying. A number of dramatic new scientific de-
velopments that followed in quick succession over the course of the 1840s and
1850s had invested the mechanistic cause with considerable plausibility, even
as these developments were hardly the transparent milestones in the positive
history of science that their proponents would later claim.
Of these, the most important was the law of the conservation of energy, or
first law of thermodynamics, associated in Germany with the work of
Helmholtz17 (although parts were independently developed by the German
physician Julius Robert Mayer and the British physicist James Prescot
Joule).18 "The law in question," explained Helmholtz in an 1862 popular lec-
ture on the topic, "asserts that the quantity of force which can be brought into
action in the whole of Nature is unchangeable, and can neither be increased
nor diminished."19 In other words, all forms of energy (mechanical, kinetic,
thermal) were equivalent and could be transformed into one another. This in
turn implied that such superficially diverse phenomena as electric-powered
technology, human physiology, and even Newtonian laws of motion could all
be understood according to the same principles. There was nothing special,
nothing "extra" that was needed to understand life, including the life of human
beings. As Rudolf Virchow stressed in 1858: "[T]he same kind of electrical
process takes place in the nerve as in the telegraph line . . . ; the living body
generates its warmth through combustion just as warmth is generated in the
oven; starch is transformed into sugar in the plant and animal just as it is in a
With the first law of thermodynamics, calling living organisms "machines"
was no longer to say that they were a bunch of parts operated by strings and
pulleys. It was to imagine them as fields of forces. This revitalized metaphor
would inspire new technologies and a great deal of productive work: Carl
Ludwig's kymograph invented in 1847 measured cardiac contractions;
Helmholtz's even more audacious myograph, invented in 1850, measured the
force and duration of a nerve's impulse (and found it surprisingly slow). Emil
Du Bois-Reymond's 1848 Investigations on Animal Electricity further argued
the case for seeing electrical energy as the juice of life and soul. Most impres-
sive was its demonstration of the existence of independent electrical "cur-
rents" in the muscles and nerves; the same sort (as Du Bois-Reymond
stressed) that was found in inorganic nature.21
These findings were being established and elaborated during an unprece-
dented explosion of industrialization and urbanization in German-speaking
Europe, and as historians like Anson Rabinbach have stressed, the new "ener-
getic" view of living organisms was both inspired by German industrialism
and seemed to sanctify it. When in 1858 Virchow compared processes in ani-

mals to those in factories, he was sending the clear message that industrializa-
tion had as "natural" a place in the new cosmic order as anything else. He was
also opening his audience up to the idea that humans were, after all, just
"human motors" functioning according to principles found also in the factory.
Perhaps, therefore, they could be expected to produce according to its stan-
dards. Thus, from the beginning, the identification of machine-like processes
with natural forces was invested with larger social and economic stakes.
In turn, this blurring of the truths of scientific mechanism with the goals of
industrialization would dramatically affect the ways in which later holistic
critics of mechanism understood the legacy against which they were rebelling.
The logic of the association implied that, to the extent that holists despised the
instrumental, capitalistic values of industrial society, so much must they reject
all mechanistic, atomistic approaches to visualizing problems in biology. As
historian Fritz Ringer has noted, many German intellectuals in the early twen-
tieth century

never really distinguished between the fact of industrialization and the attitudinal
changes which they themselves identified with it. They linked commerce with
commercialism, machines with mechanistic conceptions, and the new economic
organization with rationalism and utilitarianism. Such a tendency not to distin-
guish clearly between levels of causality led many to behave as if "materialistic"
philosophers had really caused millions of people to become gradually more cov-
etous than they had been before.22

But the example of mid-nineteenth-century physics did not only call for a
reduction of all processes to mechanical causal principles; it also emphasized
the extent to which the essence of Machine reality (and, as the twentieth cen-
tury darkly supposed, the society that served such a reality) was summative
and fractured rather than unified and holistic. In the mid-nineteenth century
notwithstanding new developments in physics that would ultimately overturn
this viewthe universe of Newton was still supposed, by most people, to be
composed of homogeneous building blocks or atoms. Life was increasingly
proclaimed as no different. Already in the early nineteenth century, the cell
theory of German botanist Matthias Jakob Schleiden and German physiolo-
gist Theodor Schwann had established a basic framework for understanding
life in terms of its "atoms." By 1855 the German pathologist Rudolf Virchow
was prepared to stress further that life was nothing more than the activities of
individual cells, and that all those activities in turn could be understood as
products of "mechanical matter." In an epochal paper on cellular pathology,
he declared:

I have shown that these tiny elements, the cells, are the actual loci of life and
hence also of disease The cell is the locus to which the action of mechanical
matter is bound, and only within its limits can that power of action justifying the
name of life be maintained. But within this locus it is mechanical matter that is
activeactive according to physical and chemical laws.23
Having now apparently transformed life into a machine composed of build-
ing blocks that obeyed strictly the laws of energy and motion, physiological
reductionism still faced a final challenge. As the first vitalists themselves had
stressed, machines are static creations that do not grow and change over time;
organisms clearly do. How could one account for the ways in which organ-
isms adaptively develop and change? Two nineteenth-century thinkers helped
to show away. The first of these, of course, was Charles Darwin, whose model
of evolution offered a means for imagining how apparently purposive changes
in a species could in fact come into being through selection among variations
created by chance events.24 Darwin's theories would be promulgated in the
German-speaking countries by the zoologist Ernst Haeckel, whose famous
assertion, "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny [individual development mir-
rors evolutionary development]" in turn brought evolution and embryogene-
sis into a common naturalistic framework. Haeckel, though much more of a
late Romantic and much less of a consistent reductionist and materialist than
his critics would later paint him, did insist that organismic recapitulation of
evolutionary history must be seen as a "physiological process" resulting from
"mechanically "working causes.'" 25 He was not, however, able to say much
about those causes. The question of the mechanics of development would,
instead, be taken up by the embryologist Wilhelm Roux, whose "developmen-
tal mechanics" became German biology's second reductionistic reply to the
problem of change and growth.
Roux's basic claim, tested by him in numerous ways over the course of his
career, was that hereditary parts of the fertilized germ cell were unevenly
distributed during cellular division or cleavage. As cleavage continued, each
daughter cell was left with fewer and fewer potentialities until finally each cell
was only able to express one major trait. These cells in turn divided and multi-
plied to produce the different tissue types associated with an entire organ-
ism.26 Such an emphasis on the quantitative causes behind the emergence of
a differentiated organism, Roux stressed, was consistent with the goals of
mechanistic explanation favored by physics and chemistry.27
Now, it is clear that, on one level, the cumulative effect of this collective
effort to "unify" science under a reductionist, mechanistic rubric ran directly
counter to the "holistic" biological impulse of the early nineteenth century. At
the same timeand in an irony that largely eluded the consciousness of the
actors themselvesthere is also a sense in which the mechanistic push for
"unification" was driven by some of the same broader cultural concerns that
historians like Reddick have seen in the original Romantic-era preoccupation
with Wholeness. That is to say, both the romantic and the mechanistic efforts
were, in different ways, haunted by an image of a fractured Germany and were
motivated by a desire to discover conditions under which some sort of synthe-
sis and integration could be imagined and lived.
The early-nineteenth-century generation of teleologists and Goethean vital-
ists had looked for wholeness and unifying purposiveness in the domain of
higher ideals or natural and aesthetic principles. It was a sensible "solution,"
given the professional realities of their dayone in which they had effec-
tively renounced intervention in policy matters of the real world in return for
intellectual autonomy and noninterference from the state.28
By the time the mechanists were approaching maturity, however, matters
were rather different. The self-conscious "apoliticization" of the German phi-
losophy faculties had been swamped by a rising wave of nationalism that had
spread across both Germany and Austria. First triggered by the French occu-
pation and the subsequent wars of liberation against Napoleon (1813-1815),
as the decades went on, this nationalism more and more frequently wore a
liberal face and dreamed of German unification under a government modeled
after Britain's or France's, with a constitution that would guarantee free
speech, trial by jury, and popular representation. In the universities, these
were the years that saw the founding (1815) of the Burschenschaften (a type
of fraternity), which aimed to unite all Christians in all German universities
under its flying black, red, and gold flagirrespective of local province, class,
or caste.
Scholars like Timothy Lenoir and Keith Anderton have argued that the
liberal goal of national unification and the mechanistic goal of scientific "uni-
fication" were bound together.29 Why? Certainly, as Anderton notes, there
were practical motivations: science, the argument went, was a methodologi-
cally universal form of knowledge that needed to be free to roam where it
would, without arbitrary political regulations, tariffs, or other restrictions im-
posed by the current feudalized system. Another, more subtle kind of reason
for the relationship between the two agendas was perhaps ultimately more
potent: the order of nature and the order of society have always appeared to
provide a kind of mutual justification for each other. As scientists, the
mechanists thus dreamt of a thoroughly naturalized universe that had over-
come all arbitrary "extra" forces and united all of its different objects under
one set of rational and universal natural laws. As liberals, they dreamt of a
state that had overcome all capricious and arbitrary local sovereigns and
united all of the provinces and principalities under a single set of constitu-
tional laws. In his 1848 preface to a major assault on the vitalistic perspective,
"On the Life Force [Lebenskraft]" Du Bois-Reymond merged his vision of
political triumph and scientific triumph together in a language suggestive
enough to embrace his hopes for both: "Physiology will fulfill her destiny. . . .
giving up its peculiar interests, [it] will enter completely into the great union
of states of the theoretical scientists."30
In 1848 Du Bois-Reymond could be hopeful of imminent triumph, as vari-
ous nationalist groups revolted across the German states, andfor a whilea
vision of a newly united, liberal Germany was in sight. By the end of that year,
however, the revolution had failed, the monarchies had been restored, and
relations between the state and the church had been revitalized. Liberalism, its
hopes deflated, went into retreat. In the years that followed, there was still a
liberal discourse about Wholeness and "unity," but it had a different logic and
prosody than before. As Norton Wise has noted, the classical liberalism of
1848 that hadbelieved in natural rights, natural law, and social contract was
now being increasingly replaced by a moderate liberalism dominated by more
conciliatory organic and evolutionaryimagery of national unification. Ques-
tions of individual rights were now muted in a language that "saw unity in the
whole and diversity in the parts as equally essential aspects of the organic
system. . . . [And moderate liberals] claimed both greater unity and greater
individual freedom in their ideal state than any social contract could support,
with its aggregation of isolated individuals."31
In the sciences, this imperative to find an uneasy balancing act between
individualism and unity would find echoes in even so apparently esoteric a
matter as Rudolf Virchow's discussion of cell theory. Twentieth-century
holists would remember Virchow's work as a landmark moment in the atomi-
zation of life; but in fact matters were not so straightforward. In his classic
1855 paper on cellular pathology, Virchow did defend the need to think about
life and pathology from the perspective of its cellular processes. However, in
so doing, he emphasized ways in which the reader must imagine the individ-
ual cell itself as a type of micro-whole: "The significance of the constituent
parts," he said, "will at all times be found only in the Whole. [At the same
time] if we advance to the last boundaries within which there remain elements
with the character of totality or, if you will, of unity, we can go no farther than
the cell."32 Paying deference to Wholeness now signalled a willingness on the
part of liberal science to function within the framework of the reactionary
realities of the day while continuing to nurse hopes of a future "unity" that had
eluded the liberalism to date.



To the dismay of the liberal mechanists looking for ways to work for reform
within the new system, the years after the failed revolution also saw a. lot of
antireligious, radical agitation from a group of overtly materialistic scientific
popularizersall unrepentant democrats. Spearheaded by such figures as Karl
Vogt, Jacob Moleschott, and Ludwig Biichner,33 these men were largely re-
sponsible for the growing accusation from the government itself that science
aimed to promote the religious heresy of philosophical materialism. Indeed;
there were grounds for governmental unease. Consider the case of Karl Vogt,
the biologist who had become notorious in 1846 for a remark that appeared to
compare the soul with urine ("thoughts stand in the same relation to the brain
as gall does to the liver or urine to the kidneys").34 His materialism was not
only unequivocal, but the political agenda of that materialism was overt and
provocative. In his 1849 Investigations into the Governments of Animals, he
had provocatively proposed that, since one could alter secretions of the brain
by altering diet, scientifically planned nutritional regimes should be able to
alter thoughts and beliefs in politically progressive directions. "Since belief,"

he wrote, "is only a characteristic of the body's atoms, a change in belief
depends only on the manner and kind of the replacement of the atoms of the
body."35 In case anyone had failed to understand the direction of change he
was hoping for, Vogt went on in this book to depict "the clergy as cock-
roaches, lovers of darkness who consumed what others worked for" and to
propose that "their natural enemy was the social democratic ant, which, when
repressed beyond the limits of its tolerance, would unite to fight the cock^
roaches until all of them had been eliminated."36
The results of writings like this were predictable, if ironic: vilified by the
reactionary ruling powers, these men all suffered professionally for their pop-
ularizing activities and in-this way actually undermined their own ability to
influence the growth and legitimation of the very science to which they
claimed so committed.37 In contrast, (and here I am following Ander-
ton's argument), scientists like Helmholtz, Du Bois-Reymond, Ludwig, and
Virchow managed to become highly prominent and authoritative voices in
debates over the proper science-state relations and to work out a more or less
professionally satisfying relationship with the monarchical powers. One of
the ways in which they did this was by distancing their agenda from that of
their more radical materialistic cousins and carefully insisting that a mecha-
nistic approach to nature had nothing in common with a materialistic under-
standing of nature. The inspiration of Kant here was explicitly acknowledged:
nothing in the human reasoning apparatus equipped science to speak with
authority about such matters as the fate of the soul and the ultimate nature of
reality. To the extent that materialism claimed to have answers to both these
issues, it transgressed the limits of pure reason, abdicated the right to call itself
"science," and revealed itself to be as "dogmatic" and "metaphysical" as the
vitalism it also assailed.

Not only that (the mechanists' argument continued), but because mecha-
nism knew the limits of its explanatory powers, it also posed no challenge to
the church or the faith of the people. As Virchow put it in an 1849 lecture,
"There can be no scientific dispute with respect to faith, for science and faith
exclude one another. Not that one makes the other impossible, or vice versa,
but rather that belief has no place as far as science reaches, and may be first
permitted to take root where science stops. . . . The task of science, therefore,
is not to attack the objects of faith, but to establish the limits beyond which
knowledge cannot go and to found a unified self-consciousness within these
The other side of the coin here was that all knowledge properly belonging
to science was necessarily mechanistic because the human mind could not
"know" nature in any other way. But why was the human mind limited to
knowing nature in causal-mechanistic categories? The answer, said the
mechanists, was that the human mind itself operated according to precise
mechanistic-causal principles, whose laws (these scientists added, without a
trace of self-reflective irony) were currently being elucidated by mechanistic
science itself. In other words, epistemological categories that Kant had seen as
transcendental were declared to have a naturalistic origin in the machinery of
human cognition itself. What had started out looking like a doctrine of re-
straint and self-imposed limits had been transformed into a new empirical
The mid-nineteenth-century naturalization of Kantian categories of reason
took a number of forms, only some of which were directly supervised by the
organic physicists themselves. Helmholtz's work on optics and the psy-
chophysiology of vision was clearly one important contribution,40 but even
more important to twentieth-century holism was the intensive effort during
these years to shore up the empirical evidence for a certain global theory of
human cognition called "associationism." With roots in British empirical phi-
losophy, this theory was in its heart a metaphor: an image of mental processes
that was based on the way in which material atoms were believed to interact
and combine in three-dimensional Newtonian space. Here, mind was con-
ceived as a nonspatial "space" in which basic,units of mentation were joined
into more complicated units according to various fixed "laws," such as "conti-
guity," "similarity," etc. The whole process was seen to be automatic, deter-
mined, and curiously "mindless'^much the way most people in the early
nineteenth century believed machines to function.
As for the units of thought themselves.the mental atomsthey were dull,
trustworthy sentries of the material world, but nothing more. Since the time of
Locke, associationism had been linked with an empirical epistemology called
sensationalism, which believed there is nothing in the mind other than what
comes in through the special senses. Hence, associationism held that all men-
tal atoms were derivative but reliable packets of sensory data, variously de-
fined by the associationists as "copies," "pictures," or "representative images"
of direct experience. The concept of innate, inspired, or intuitive knowledge
had no place in this model. In this senseand this is the pointthe idea of
associationism was at once a theory about the workings of mind and a theory
about what such a mind was in a position to know about reality.
It was the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) who, in an influen-
tial essay, "Signs of the Times" (1829), identified the spirit of associationism
with what he called the "Age of Machinery." As he saw it, this doctrine of the
mind was mechanistic because it emphasized the accumulation and sorting of
external data according to fixed laws and played down, if it did not outright
deny, an active, synthetic role for the mind. The doctrine, he said, "is mechan-
ical in its aim and origin, its method and its results. It is not a philosophy of
the mind; it is a mere . . . genetic history of what we see in the mind."41 As
such, it was a view of human agency that encouraged individual fatalism and
collective passive adherence to the instrumentalist goals of an emerging ma-
chine age. Again a model of something supposed to exist in nature had been
identified with the needs and goals of an emerging industrial society, this time
in England. Not only was one meant to believe, as Carlyle later stingingly
noted, that the Universe was "one huge, dead, immeasurable Steam-engine,
rolling on, in . . . dead indifference"; we must turn away from all contrary
evidence of the "Stupendous" in "stupid indifference," each of us having
learned to see ourselves as "a mere Work-Machine, for whom the divine gift
of Thought were no other than the terrestrial gift of Steam is to the Steam-
engine; a power whereby cotton might be spun, and money and money's
worth realised."42
Across the decades of the nineteenth century, the British model of the asso-
ciating mind functioned as both frame and practical starting point of German
efforts to transform psychology into a field of empirical research that could
claim autonomous scientific status for itself. Some classic signposts here in-
cluded the work of Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841), which grafted as-
sociationist dynamics onto a more traditional unifying soul; the work of Ernst
Heinrich Weber (1795-1878) and that of Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-
1887), which advanced the use of quantitative methods in psychology through
their focus on perception of incremental, elemental sensations; and the work
of Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), which leaned heavily on associationist phi-
losophy in developing an experimental psychology devoted to precise iden-
tification of the shifting furniture of consciousness.43
By the 1870s, the mechanically associating mind had found an additional
role for itself when it was incorporated into the language and practical clinical
activities of neurology. The background to these developments had begun
in France in the mid-1860s when the French neuroanatomist Paul Broca
managed to persuade his colleagues on the basis of certain clinico-anatomic
evidence (speech loss coinciding with circumscribed damage to the brain)
that the "faculty of articulate language" had its seat in the left frontal lobe
of the human cortex.44 In this way, he breathed new life into an older, largely
discredited ideafrom so-called phrenologythat the human brain orga-
nized its functions in atomistic units, with different discrete brain regions
serving different functions of the mind. However, it took the pioneering
1870 work of two of their own countrymen, Gustav Fritsch and Eduard
Hitzig, to make German-speaking researchers really take notice of the new
The radicalness of the Fritsch and Hitzig work lay partly in the way it used
experimental methods to argue for an atomistic understanding of brain func-
tion, but even more in the way it overturned a deeply rooted conviction of
early-nineteenth-century brain science that even Broca had not tried to call
into question: the idea that the cortex of the brain was exclusively reserved
for mental activities. Since the 1830s, it had been accepted that the spinal
cord and subcortical regions of the nervous system served sensory-motor
functioning for the body, but the cortex remained a kind of physiological terra
incognita. Fritsch and Hitzig demonstrated that, in fact, the cerebral cortex
plays a role in sensory-motor activity, toothat the "body" extended to the
highest levels of the brain. Applying electrical currents to the brains of dogs,
the two Germans were able to produce crude movements of the body and
found, moreover, that specific brain regions seemed responsible for specific
Now, if the cortex possessed "motor centers," as Fritsch and Hitzig's work
suggested, then it was logical to suppose, by analogy with the workings of
spinal and subcortical structures, that it possessed sensory centers as well.
And indeed the effort to identify these cortical motor and sensory centers
dominated experimental physiology in the last three decades of the nineteenth
This emerging conception of the brain as a sensory-motor structure consist-
ing of discrete centers had important implications for the effort to correlate
mental processes with brain processes. Could it be true, as the English neurol-
ogist David Ferrier said in 1874, that "mental operations in the last analysis
must be merely the subjective side of sensory-motor substrata?"48 In 1874, a
young German neurologist, Carl Wernicke, took the first step toward an an-
swer to this question with a classic monograph on the problem of language
loss (aphasia) and cerebral localization, The Aphasic Symptom Complex.
Using the anatomy of sensory-motor "projections" of his teacher, Theodor
Meynert, as his basic building blocks,49 Wernicke constructed a model of the
brain that turned the mental atoms of the associationists into primitive units of
sensory-motor "memories." In place of the mechanically associating mind
functioning in some parallel universe to that of the brain, he offered a brain
composed completely of sensory-motor impressions associated with localized
regions. The back of this brain was specialized for processing and storing
sensory data, taking in information from the outside world; the front of this
brain consisted of motor projections and centers, reacting to incoming sensory
information with appropriate motor behaviors. The basic architecture of Wer-
nicke's brain, in other words, was built on the model of the sensory-motor
reflex loop. Within the brain, sensory-motor units communicated with each
other along so-called association fibers. They ran up and down them like so
many electrical pulses along a telegraph line, interacting in accordance with
the established psychological "laws of association" and generating in this way
(somehow) the full complexity of mind and consciousness.50
This model of human brain functioning was an immediate success in neu-
rology, providing a framework for the description and explanation of multiple
new clinical entities that involved loss or disturbance of higher mental func-
tions (the aphasias, the agnosias, the apraxias)51 and launching what some
nostalgically recall as a "golden age" in the history of the study of the human
brain (see figure three). In the day-to-day life of the clinic proper, however, the
most immediate advantage of this approach to brain functioning was the way
it offered neurologists a way to visualize what could be called the breakdown
of the human machine.52 Generations of medical studentsarmed with their
paper-and-pencil diagrams of brain centers and connections (see figure 4)
learned to listen to the fragmented or chaotic language utterances of their
patients, not (as a later generation would complain) for the human stories they
could have been telling, but rather as indicators of this or that type of damage,
Figure 3. The "atomistic" human brain: localization map by Karl Kletst, 1886.
Karl Kleist, "Kriegerverletzungen des Gehirns in ihren Bedeutung fur
die Hirnlokalisation und Hirnpathologie," in Handbuch der Artzliche
Erfahrungen im Weltkriege 19I4-I9I8,
(Leipzig, Barth Verlag, 1922-1924), vol. 44, p. 1365.

Figure 4. The "machine" brain: associationist-

connectionist schema of mind and brain functioning,
L. Lichtheim, 1885. L. Lichtheim, "On Aphasia,"
Brain 1 (January 1885): 433.

much as a mechanic might listen to the irregular sputterings of an automobile

engine. In this non-dialogue, the final doctor-patient encounter generally oc-
curred at the patient's autopsy, when the neurologist would check the accu-
racy of his predictions against the revealed physical state of pathology or
injury in the patient's brain.
The Wernicke vision of the mind and brain atomistically combining and
analyzing units of sense experience was highly practical for research and prac-
tice. It was also, howeverand not at all coincidentallyhighly congruent
with the realistic Kantianism of the mechanists. Mechanistic science turned
out to be nothing much more than a formalization of the principles carried out
by the human mind when it was engaging external reality. This meant that
mechanistic science alone represented a validated and "natural" approach to
reliable truth. Any other approaches, however seductive, could only result in
superstitious polemics or meaningless assertions of faith.
It was this final assertion that would enrage a coming generation that de-
manded more answers than were to be found in the causal clanking of physio-
logically mediated appearances. They would rebel against the machine model
of mind and brain, not only because they knew it to be wrong, but also because
they perceived it as having provided aid and comfort to the hegemonic ambi-
tions of a mechanistic science that had smiled smugly and declared Ignora-
musignorabimus ("we do not know and we will never know"the famous
words of Du Bois-Reymond) to any questions that had threatened the author-
ity and all-sufficiency of its own purview.53



While the Machine was expanding and sharpening its meanings and embed-
ded agendas, the meanings of Wholeness were in a process of transformation
as well. The chief catalyst for change here was the achievement in the 1870s
of the long-elusive goal of German unificationbut under a distinctly differ-
ent form than originally anticipated; Instead of a liberal revolution, or even a
slow evolution toward a constitutionally constituted nation, Germany was
united abruptly and violently under a man, Otto von Bismarck, who had
sworn to rule the new nation with "blood and iron." After first inflaming na-
tionalist passions by leading Prussia into three wars in six years, Bismarck had
subdued the liberals and the German southern states, had excluded Austria
from the nationalist unification effort, and had then consolidated all the other
German states under Prussian rule. A new empire, ruled in name only by the
emperor William I, was declared in 1871.54
This kind of "unity," this reality of Wholeness, was not what years of fanta-
sizing in the Burschenschaften had led some people to expect. The poet Ferdi-
nand von Saar expressed the confusion and disappointment of.many when he
wrote that he had loved Germany in the years when she had dreamt of unity,
but nowunited, victorious, and heavily annedhe could only mourn the
worldwide loss of reverence for the authentic German heart and mind.
Oh, how I loved you once, you People now grown so powerful,
As divided, you still dreamt of unification!55
It is true that there were some, whether out of opportunism or conviction,
who would accept the terms of the unification and even offer to sanction it
with the naturalizing language of science. As late as 1892, the evolutionist
Ernst Haeckel addressed a gathering of the faculty of the University of Jena,
come together to honor Bismarck, who was visiting the university at
Haeckd's invitation. Effusively praising the statesman's accomplishments,
Haeckel proposed that the university create, on the spot, a new academic de-
gree: Doctor of Phylogeny. He concluded by declaring that the " 'new honor-
ary title should be held for the first time by no one else than the creative genius
of modern German history, Prince Bismarck, the deeply perceptive observer
and ethnologist, the practical creator of history.' " 56
For most, however, any effort to equate the original nationalist vision of
wholeness with Bismarck's Germany would look hollow, and increasingly so
as the century wore down. Far from representing wholeness, the Bismarckian
political system was instead more likely to be identified with its antithesis, the
Machineexternal unification without an internal uniting vision. Bismarck's
active fomenting of internal dissension in Germany along party lines, as a
strategy to maintain his power, hastened the disillusionment of many who had
once dreamt of serving and supporting the "national whole." He had begun
by allying himself with the liberals, who (in the words of historian Hans-
Ulrich Wehler) "had finally succumbed to Realpolitik [and] . . . were wil-
ling to put up with 'Bismarck's bold tyranny . . . in the interest of creating
the Empire.'" 57 The first years of unification were devoted to promoting
the growth of industry and capitalism in Germany, including investments in
the sciences. Simultaneously, Bismarck engaged in a systematic persecu-
tion of the large Roman Catholic minority in Germany and its political party,
the Center party (a persecution tolerated by his liberal allies, many of
whom had themselves anticlerical biases). This was the era of the so-called
By 1879, however, Bismarck had changed tacks again. Faced with an eco-
nomic depression and a perceived need for protectionist trading measures, he
pursued a new set of alliances with the conservatives, ended the Kulturkampf,
and instigated a stream of de-liberalization measures. His new political foe
became the mildly Marxist Social Democratic Party (SPD). In the 1880s, Bis-
marck outlawed the SPD and tried to placate the German workerswho
might otherwise have turned against himby offering a comprehensive so-
cial security system. But divisions and dissent continued to grow. By 1890
Bismarck had lost control of the Reichstag and was considering using force to
overturn the constitution when the new emperor, Wilhelm II, forced him to
An 1890, anonymously authored tract, Rembrandt as Teacher, by a previ-
ously unknown schoolteacher later identified as Julius Langbehn58 gave voice
to a widespread sense of betrayal over these political wheelings and deal-
ingsand to a widespread hunger among many Germans for "something
more."59 Langbehn said that Bismarck had provided external unity for Ger-
many; what was needed now, though, was a leader with the aesthetic vision to
give Germany back her internal, cultural unity. For this, he pinned his hopes
on the German youth. "At the time of the old Burschenschaft, German youth
rose for the ideal interests of the fatherland," he reminded his readers. Today
they must be prepared to fight again.60
Bismarck, however, was only one face of a Machine whose meanings were
multiplying. The Machine was also the "war engine" of the Prussian army:
pitiless, efficient, impersonal.61 The Machine was the coke furnaces and iron
and steel factories of the Ruhr Valley, the ugly result of a process of extraordi-
narily rapid industrialization at the end of the nineteenth century that had left
many feeling uprooted and aesthetically revolted. In the years before 1857,
pig-iron production in the German states grew by 250 percent and coal pro^
duction by 138 percent. Railway construction between 1850 and 1860 dou-
bled the total network/from 6,000 to 11,500 kilometers. Between 1860 and
1870, coal production had again increased by 114 percent, to 26 million tons
(double that of France). The railway network had again almost doubled in size
to 19,500 kilometers and then increased again to 28,000 kilometers by 1875.
Between 1850 and 1870, the total volume of rail freight traffic increased by a
factor of 21.62
The exponential growth of industry stimulated in turn an enormously rapid
process of urbanization. Between 1871 and 1890, the urban centers (commu-
nities of 2,000 or more inhabitants) absorbed three-quarters of the total in-
crease in the empire's population.63 For every writer fascinated by the excite-
ment and energy of the new urban lifestyle, there was another who deplored
its anonymity and immorality. These were thus the years that first saw the rise
of images of the city and the metropolis as dead, impersonal "machines."64
Berlin was the living embodiment of such imagerya "stone-gray corpse" of
a city (to use George Grosz's epithet) with its hordes of isolated workers, its
alleys patrolled by child prostitutes, and its miles of dingy tenements where
the corrupt and destitute practiced the unsavory details of their lives (see
figure 5).65
With anxieties and discontents further stoked by the first of several major
economic depressions in 1873, the political and cultural direction of an in-
creasingly disgruntled German-speaking population moved to the right. The
old liberal tradition of democratic "unity" gradually began to be overshad-
owed by a new nationalism dominated by more explicitly racist, conservative
understandings of the German "nation." And in this environment, one sees the
rise of new anti-Semitic imagery in which not only cities and factories but also
Jews were represented as perpetrators of materialism and mechanization. In
Austria in the 1880s, "while Liberal parliamentarians condemned 'the so-
called anti-Semitic movement as unworthy of a civilized people,'" others de-
fended it in the name of the " 'moral rebirth of the fatherland.' ' ,66 In the Ger-
man empire, the years between 1873 and 1890 alone there were no fewer than
five hundred publications on "the Jewish question," while the less literate
indulged in street brawls, abusive chanting outside restaurants and shops, and
the smashing of windows, all in the name of defending "German idealism"
against "Jewish materialism."67
As indicated earlier, mechanistic science had from the beginning been asso-
ciated with all these other faces of the Machine and indeed, to some people,
seemed to sanction their existence. Moreover, in the context of an increas-
ingly palpable Machine society, the more fundamental existential message
associated with the mechanization of life and mind took on new poignancy:
for years now, science had been saying that human beings were also nothing
more than machines: meaningless agglomerations of physical force without
souls or higher destinies. It did not take much imagination to conclude further
that such a dismal ultimate status meant that people really could demand or
hope for nothing better than to be mere cogs in an equally soulless social and
economic system.68 In this sense, Fritz Lang's later interwar film fantasy, Me-
tropolis, with its striking images of demoralized automaton-like workers
trudging slowly through a monstrous underground city, spoke to a collective
sensibility that actually had been growing for several decades (see figure 6).

Figure 5. George Grosz, Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, 1918. 1995 Estate of

George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Figure 6. Fritz Lang, Metropolis,filmstill, 1927. Registered in the name of

Paramount Famous Lasky Corp.


By the 1890s, however, resignation was beginning to be replaced by the first

stirrings of rebellion. In his memoirs, Friedrich Meinecke, the liberal German
historian, did his best to explain:
In all of Germany, something new could be felt around 1890, not only politically
but also culturally . . . a new and deeper longing for the genuine and true, but also
a new awareness of the problematic fragmentation of modern life awoke and [we]
tried to dive down again from its civilized surface into the now eerie, now tempt-
ing depths.69
The era that George Mosse has described as involving a global "change in
the public spirit of Europe" eludes easy summary.70 It has been variously
analyzed as: an intellectual revolt against the constraints of positivism and
materialism; a social and economic process of generational rebellion against
the liberal bourgeoisie; a time of aristocratic malaise and loss of faith in pro-
gress and the future; a time of bold new experiment in art and innovation in
the sciences (psychoanalysis, relativity physics); a time of mass movements
and mass politics that saw the rise of such new institutions as department
stores and mass spectator sports; an era marked by a critical upsurge in anti-
Semitism; and an era preoccupied with cultural decadence and biological de-
generation. Almost all analysts associate the varied cultural and intellectual
upheavals with the birth pains of the emerging technological modern age, but
differ (depending on their starting assumptions) on whether these upheavals
are best understood as part of modernism itself or as an alienated reaction
against it.71
Politically, 1890 was a self-evident turning point, as the old emperor died
and the new one, Wilhelm II, dismissed Bismarck, lifted the Anti-Socialist
Laws, and gave indications that he would be willing to institute new social
reforms. In such an atmosphere, the time seemed ripe to rise up against any
and all forces that would condemn one to being a cog in a Bismarckian politi-
cal machine, a "human motor" in an industrialist's factory, a meaningless play
of cells and atoms in a scientist's laboratory.
The documents of this struggle are filled with calls to authenticity, to natu-
ral life, and above all to wholeness. Wholeness as an evocative image was now
different than it had been during the era of systems-building in the time of the
Romantics; and it was different again than it had been during the years of
struggle for national unification. It still bore clear traces of those earlier lega-
ciestransformed in various waysbut for the first time, it also began to
privilege the growth and cultivation of the "whole" selfbody and mindas
a necessary foundation for collective wholeness. In his 1849 Art Work of the
Future, Richard Wagner had declared that any aesthetic effort to express what
was highest and most true must necessarily draw on the united resources of the
reason, the heart, and the body. An ideal of perfect wholeness also lay behind
the Wagnerian concept of Gesamtkunstwerk (unified work of art), that aimed
to integrate tone, word, and visual aesthetic into an art experience that could
be appreciated by the authentically unified man.72 Rebellious sons and daugh-
ters of bourgeois merchants, bankers, and university professorseducated in
the German tradition of individual cultivation or Bildungalso recognized
something they could respond to in that widely quoted Nietzschean summons
from Thus Spake Zarasthustra: "become what you are."73 Socialist Kurt
Eisner, for example, saw no contradiction between his radical collectivist pol-
itics and his self-conscious Nietzschean emphasis on the "necessity of the
individualistic principle." In fact, the goal of socialism, he declared in his
1891 Psychopathia Sptritualis, was "to develop all the seeds of one's self-
hood, but in the service of the whole."74
These were the years when, in the universities, academics first began to turn
urgent calls for professional and national "wholeness," "oneness," and the
"whole" into slogans for their fight against the fragmentation of knowledge,
the shallowness of modern individualism, and the loss of community values.75
These years also saw the rise of quasi-religious movements and sectsped-
dling everything from vegetarianism to occult knowledge and practice to Uto-
pian lifestylesall with the aim of reconnecting the individual, lost in the
cogworks of the bourgeois society, to his "higher," more "organic," more
"whole" self. Also a product of this time were the youth groups (Wander-
vogel, or birds of passage) that rejected bourgeois, materialistic values, and
enticed streams of teenagersmany of whom, a decade later, would take their
idealism with them to the war frontinto the countryside, where they found
ways to experience community bonding and a sense of connectedness with
.nature (see figure 7).
Among the most highly educated strata of German cultural life, hunger to
discover new forms of wholeness manifested itself in the striking phenome^
non of "bourgeois Wagnerianism."76 With an institutional focus in Bayreuth,
Wagnerianism provided thousands of jaded or spiritually restless Germans
with a total aesthetic immersion experience through multi-day extravaganza
stagings of Wagner's operas that were performed at the Festspielhaus, a thea-
ter designed by Wagner himself.77 But Wagnerianism was also far more than
just a day at the theater. Through journals, societies, and the widespread circu-
lation of Wagner's own writings, Wagnerianism also came to function in Ger-
man fin de siecle society as a kind of "high culture" escapist philosophy of art
and experienceshot through with a militant pan-Germanism and a distinct
dose of anti-Semitismthat promised to "protect the subject from a kind of
'transcendental homelessness,' and to offer an oasis of meaningful presence in
a world that had grown senseless"(see figure 8).78
The work of Friedrich Nietzsche, rediscovered in these years, was also po-
tent medicine for a generation alienated from the status quo and looking for
wholeness. In The Birth of Tragedy, the philosopher had urged Germans to
strive for a dialectical synthesis of Dionysian and Apollonian impulses that
would allow them to develop and live in a condition of wholenesspsycho-
logically, aesthetically, and politically. It was, he said, a one-sided faith in
progress and scientific rationalism that had destroyed the mythic foundations
of ancient culture and had ultimately produced the emptiness and fragmenta-
tion of contemporary Germany.79 The enduring influence of this sort of argu-
ment in the 1890s would hardly be diminished by Nietzsche's own later de-
nunciation of The Birth of Tragedy as a product of youthful excess.80
For many in the generation of the 1890s, the conclusion here was clear: the
Machine in German culture had many faces, but the machine-like rationality */
of the natural sciences was the engine that drove the entire monster. If this was
so, then it followed that emancipation from a Machine society would require
a challenge to the basic consensus both about what knowledge was and about
how it was to be achieved. The new generation began to insist that the goal of
individual wholeness required that human beings no longer restricted them-
selves to thinking like machines; from the highest levels of academia on
down, the call went out for a willingness to explore mental possibilities be-
yond those of dry empiricism and passive association of ideas. The philoso-
pher Wilhelm Dilthey was one of the most systematic and influential fin de
siecle leaders of this challenge to the old positivist ways. Promising to replace
the diluted "lymph of reason" associated with the neo-Kantian positivist phi-
Figure 7. The Wandervogel movement, youth celebrating nature in pagan
Germanic ritual, date unknown. Rights by Stapp Verlag Berlin.

Figure 8. "Transformation Panorama" set design, Act HI, from Richard Wagner's opera,
Parsifal, 1904. Maurice Kufferath, The Parsifal of Richard Wagner, (New York:
Henry Holt & Co., 1904), frontispiece.
losophy with the blood of real life, he argued that a knowledge of the whole
of life's rich variety must include methods that could grasp not only the ra-
tional and analyzable but also the irrational and the holistic.81 "The basic con-
ception of my philosophy," he declared, "is that up until now no one has put
whole, full, and unmutilated experience at the basis of philosophizing, that is
to say, the whole and full reality."82 The positivist-associationist view of
human experience consisted of atomized sensations and impressionsblobs
of color, twinges of pain. Clearly, this was a scientist's wrong-headed abstrac-
tion of a reality that in fact was rich and connected.83 Knowledge of life "as a
whole" would not be achieved using the "mutilating" knives of reductionist
analysis and causal explanation. With this as his premise, Dilthey proposed
his famous epistemological bifurcation of scholarship into those sciences
primarily the physical sciencesthat may legitimately rely on Erkldren
(causal understanding) and those sciencesprimarily the human and social
sciencesthat must derive their chief insights through the methods of Ver-
stehen (hermeneutic interpretation). The latter differed from the natural scien-
tific method by being dominated by a process of empathic reexperiencing
(nacherleben): "The basis of the human sciences is not conceptualization but
total awareness of a mental state and its reconstruction based on empathy."84
On the popular level, Julius Langbehn had been even more radical. Not
content with talk of "separate but equal" epistemological realms like Dilthey,
he had attacked empiricism and induction as inherently inadequate for dealing
with the Wholeness of natural phenomena and denounced the scientific spe-
cialists intent on fragmenting German culture.85 Only after the structure {Ge-
stalt) of a phenomenon had been intuitively grasped, he said, was one in a
position to begin to acquire facts with meaning. Here he cited Goethe's con-
troversial and much-maligned theory of colors {Farbenlehre)^ as a positive
example of this kind of intuitive-empirical science, asserting that its total
wrongness was preferable to Darwin's "partial" truths, which "delivered
bricks, not buildings." 87
A seeming irony, but hardly an accidental one, in all these attacks on at-
omistic, mechanistic knowing is that science itself in the 1890s seemed in-
creasingly to concur with many, if not all, of the objections raised. If More
than a machine! was the emerging watchword in German-speaking culture at
large, it was hardly less so in new work going on in certain labs and clinics at
the time. The fact that the scientists involved insisted that this was all just
business as usualthat new discoveries simply demanded new ways of think-
ingmade the claims all the more persuasive in the context of the broader
cultural debate. Nature too, it seemed, was rebelling against the Machine.
For people at that time, some events and figures in the process of theoretical
reorientation came to serve as veritable touchstones for the entire project. In
1890, an important challenge to the associationist model of mental processes
was issued by Austrian philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels, who pointed out
that indeed we seem to perceive phenomena not in terms of the putative at-
omistic elements out of which they are composed but rather in terms of the
relationship, the patterned whole into which these elements fall. Thus, the
essence of a melody lies not in its specific notes but in the meaningful order
created by those notes together. This is why a melody can be transposed to a
variety of keys and still be recognized. Ehrenfel's famous summation"the
whole is greater than the sum of the parts"88became the effective clarion
call of the new holistic perspective, trumpeted from one text to the next for
In the first years of the new century, Oswald Kulpe's school of experimen-
tal psychology at Wurzburg took the case against classical associationism still
further by detailing the apparently randomeven irrationalway in which
the mind "associates" to arrive at a "rational conclusion" and stressing gen-
erally the relatively small role which consciousness and logic actually seemed
to play in human thought.89 Soon after this, Max Wertheimer's Gestalt school
of psychology in Berlin would start to challenge the associationist approach to
mind still more decisively (see chapter 4).
Meanwhile, in the life sciences, the embryological studies of Hans Driesch
at the turn of the century had begun to challenge the mechanistic model of
Wilhelm Roux and to give new life to the old idea that there are extramaterial
principles at work in living organisms that are inexplicable in terms of physics
and chemistry. Destroying one of the blastomeres90 of a sea-urchin egg at the
two-cell stage of development, Driesch had found evidence that the cells con-
tained remarkable reorganizing powers in the face of damage. Instead of a
half-animal developing out of the remaining egg halves (as the older machine
model predicted), the half developed into a whole larva that was half the nor-
mal size. These results were the starting point for Driesch's influential theory
of organisms as "harmonious equipotential systems" whose properties, he in-
sisted, could not be accounted for in mechanistic terms (see also chapter 2).91
In some German neurology clinics, other events were afoot that seemed to
reinforce this widening antimechanistic impulse. Instead of merely diagnos-
ing and studying different patterns of brain damage, clinicians were beginning
to focus on the capacity of the human brain to reorganize itself adaptively
following damage. Increasingly it would be said that the simple fact that
brain-damaged people can get better over timecan regain lost speech and
movementwas simply incompatible with the nineteenth-century machine
model of the nervous system as a purely mechanical apparatus operating ac-
cording to fixed laws of reflex and association. Brushing aside the nineteenth-
century explanations of recovery that had vaguely spoken of things like "sub-
stitution" and "compensation," the fighting words were spoken: machines do
not repair themselves after suffering damage, and functions which "reside" in
certain fixed regions of the brain cannot reappear if the brain regions that serve
them have been permanently destroyed. A new, more dynamic concept of the
human brain was clearly needed, one in which functioning was determined
not by rigid structural arrangements, but by the ever-changing and purposive
reactions of the whole nervous system.92
A strong nostalgic dimension animated these housecleaning efforts, a hark-
ing back to those earlier sciences, philosophies, and cultural orientations that
had been committed in various ways to seeing life "as a whole." Kant was a
persistent reference point here (particularly the Kant of the Critique of Judg-
ment), as were (more ambivalently) some of the less extravagant of his off-
spring among the "natural philosophers." The holistic tradition from the past
that was most widely and happily pressed into service as an historical anchor,
however, was that of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe's science of mor-
phology in particular was resurrected as a "paradigm science" that could
speak at once to reason and to the lived truths of the heart. Ludwig Berta-
lanffy, himself an architect in the interwar years of a holistic "theoretical biol-
ogy," recalled the mood of the time in the following way:
[T]he elementaristic and utilitarian conceptions are basic in the mechanistic
world picture, and they are closely connected with the general Zeitgeist of this
era. The theoretical procedure of classical physics, the triumph of technology and
of the machine, the corresponding conception of organisms as living machines,
the Malthusian problem of over-population leading to struggle for existence in
human populations as well as in biological communities, and the principle of free
competition in national economy are all different expressions of the same general
The dissatisfaction with this view has led to the cry, "Back to Goethe."93
In taking up the "back to Goethe" call, fin de siecle holistic life and mind
science emphasized a message that was also being articulated in different
ways outside of the sciences: namely, that more was at stake here than just a
choice between different models or explanatory styles. The discovery of
Goethean principles of wholeness in natural phenomena challenged basic
epistemological principles of the analytic methods of nineteenth-century sci-
ence itself. Biased as that science was toward atomistic, reductionistic think-
ing, it could not help but see sums and machines operating according to linear-
causal principles everywhere it looked. If it wished now to do justice to the
new discoveries, it would have to expand its methodological and epistemo-
logical horizons. By the interwar years, some holistic researchers like Felix
Krueger were prepared to echo the Goethean view that the triumph of a holis-
tic perspective would transform science into an enterprise rooted in both rea-
son and intuition, capable of uniting its insights with those of art and religion.
Other holists, like Kurt Goldstein and Max Wertheimer, limited themselves to
more dialectic proposals in which traditional analytical and empirical ap-
proaches were to be enriched and offset by moments of what was sometimes
called "Gestalt seeing" or synthetic "gazing" {Schauen)moments that re-
vealed the organizing pattern of the whole. Exactly what was fully implied by
these varied proposals to broaden the epistemological frontiers of natural sci-
ences was unclear and much in contention. Max Weber, although a man who
felt as keenly as anyone the oppressiveness of the current "disenchanted"
world, would also be widely remembered for his untranslatable, sarcastic re-
action to all this mystical talk about new epistemologies in the sciences
"Wer schauen will, gehe ins LichtspielT ("Whoever wants to schauen [with
its double meaning of intuite and look], let him go visit the cinema!")94



The cry of the 1890sinside and outside the natural sciencesfor more life,
more soul, more Goethe, more wholeness was, of course, raised in the face of
the "other" impulse spreading across German-speaking Europe: a fascination
with the idea of efficiency and Technik.95 The international image of Ger-
many as the "machine nation" grew steadily in the years 1890-1914. A 1915
war propaganda tract by an Englishman, G. Stirling Taylor, argued
[I]f this war means anything, it means a revolt against modern civilization. If the
modem commercial-capitalist-machine production is right, then why, in the name
of common-sense, should we crush Germany, which bids fair to be the machine
nation par excellence of the world. If modern centralised government is a good
thing, then let us shed our last drop of blood in defence of the monarchy of
Potsdam. If religion and romance are evil things, then let us raise our voices in
grateful praise of a Prussian that would destroy Rheims cathedral rather than lose
a battery of guns. Every symptom of the "modern" world has reached its highest
point in Prussia.96
The outbreak of war in 1914 provoked a crisis across German society in the
struggle to balance the powerful seductions of modernity on the one hand
against the "hunger for wholeness" on the other. Initially the call to arms
seemed to satisfy the younger generation's widespread longing, nourished in
the nationalism and idealism of the youth movements, to leave behind a stulti-
fying, bourgeois existence in order to pursue something noble; something be-
yond one's individual petty life. Thus, Ernst Troeltsch received a resounding
response when, in a pro-war 1914 speech, he identified wholeness as one of
the key orienting "ideas of 1914:"
The first victory we won, even before the victories on the battlefield, was the
victory over ourselves. . . . A higher life seemed to reveal itself to us. Each of us
. . . lived for the whole, and the whole lived in all of us. Our own ego with its
personal interests was dissolved in the great historic being of the nation. The
fatherland calls! The parties disappear... . Thus a moral elevation of the people
preceded the war; the whole nation was gripped by the truth and reality of a
suprapersonal, spiritual power.97
This idealism and faith were to die, however, in the flames of a military
defeat in which it had become increasingly clear that "victory [was] no longer
decided by the spiritual and mental resistance of men, but by the predomi-

nance of mechanical instruments of power . . . Things had come to rule over
In many ways, Germany and her allies had led the way in ensuring that all
this would be so. Between 1914 and 1918, Germany watched over more new
weapons development than had ever been seen in history.99 The fact that she
and her allies were ultimately felled by the Machine, then, seemed to many the
ultimate irony. In Austria, for example, some intellectuals would begin to say
about their country's defeat what Karl Kraus had written in regard to the sink-
ing of the Titanic: that this was God's own revenge ex machina on worshipers
of the Machine. 100
As it became clear that the war was lost and Germany would have to sue for
peace, the German people rose in revolt against their leaders. Revolution
spread to Munich and even Berlin. The German generals themselves pressed
for the emperor's abdication. Wilhelm II went into exile in the Netherlands,
and the Social Democratsthe former political "outsiders" of Germany 101
took over the government, proclaimed a republic based in Weimar, and signed
the Versailles Treaty that brought the war to an end, although at enormous
economic and psychological cost to Germany. The Austro-Hungarian empire
(already weakened after the death of Emperor Francis Joseph I in 1916) col-
lapsed too. On November 11, the day the armistice was signed, the emperor
Charles I officially renounced the thrones of Austria and Hungary and went
into exile; a week later, Austria, impoverished and a fraction of her former
size, declared herself a republic.
The drastic military defeat, the punitive and humiliating Treaty of Ver-
sailles, and the sudden leap into democratic republicanism all made for a situ-
ation of crisis and confusion. With no tradition of democracy to refer to, there
was a widespread distrust of the political machinery of the new Republics that
appeared to rule by brute numbers rather than through any higher sense of
leadership. Jakob von Uexkull bitterly concluded in 1920 that with the estab-
lishment of the parliamentary Weimar Republic government in 1918, the
"world-ideal of the materialists, chaos, had passed itself onto the state."102
With the war veterans still limping home, there came next the stunning
news of a Marxist revolution in Russiaan event that was terrifying in its
ambiguity. Was this yet another victory for the materialistic, atheistic forces
of the Machine (as most conservatives in Germany concluded)? Or was it the
true Wholeness of which some socialists had dreamed, a theocracy with the
People made divine?
With so much destroyed and so much unclear, the postwar mood was rebel-
lious, intense, and prone to extremes. Some threw themselves wholesale into
the modernist experimentso much so that, by 1929, the educator and Protes-
tant cleric Gunter Dehn could grouse that "one is constantly made aware that
it is not socialism but Americanism that will be the end of everything as we
have known it. Scarcely any proletarian girls now have their hair dressed in
the old way: they wear it bobbed, of coursea style truly bereft of meta-
physics. Here is a meaningful symptom of the entire attitude to life we have
described."103 Others did not explicitly reject mechanism and modernity,
but they did seek to infuse it with a "German" energy of rebellion and neo-
romanticismas did Ernst Junger who declared in 1925 that Nietzsche had
"taught us that life is not only a struggle for daily existence but a struggle for
higher and deeper goals. Our task is to apply this doctrine to the machine." 104
Then there was so-called life philosophy (Lebensphilosophie), the some-
what inchoate and scattered intellectual movement of the postwar years that
aimed collectively to demand that the whole Enlightenment tradition respon-
sible for the Machine in all of its faces now stand up and prove its legitimacy
against Lifethe only Absolute that this point of view was still prepared to
acknowledge.105 Many of the epistemological concerns raised by this move-
ment were not very different from those advanced by people like Dilthey in
the 1890s, but life philosophy infused them with a far more explicit political
and populist accent. The graphologist and pop philosopher Ludwig Klages,
for example, spent three volumes (Reason as the Antagonist of the Soul) de-
nouncing human rationality as a parasite that had worked across history to
asphyxiate the originally intuitive and prophetic soul of primeval human-
ity.106 Klages would be remembered by later historians for his rule in stirring
the irrationalist, antidemocratic sentiment of the waning days of Weimar.
However, it is important to realize that life philosophy was not just a phenom-
enon of the cranky right. When Western Marxist Ernst Bloch blasted Klages
as a "Tarzan philosopher,"107 he was not acting as an outraged defender of
traditional Enlightenment values but as someone who resented Klages' mis-
appropriation of a tradition to which he also felt drawn. In other words, in
these years even Marxism (of the Hegelian, Western sort) found it possible to
dream of a politics grounded in the absolute of "life" and strove to achieve
what a former defender of that dream, Georg Lukacs, later ambivalently re-
called as a "left" ethics fused with a "right" epistemology.108
Writing in 1927, Theodor Litt called attention to the fact that the "victori-
ous breakthrough of 'wholistic' convictions" in biology and psychology dur-
ing the years after the war had occurred in parallel with the explosion of inter-
est in so-called life philosophy."109 While certainly one did not "cause" the
other, the relative simultaneity of these two events, as Litt implied, was nei-
ther accidental nor insignificant for understanding the future course of both.
Holistic life and mind science had established the terms of its epistemological
and conceptual struggle against the Machine in the fervors of the fin de siecle
years. The war and its aftermath, however, managed to infuse its argument
with the Machine with heightened political and cultural stakes. Let the holistic
life and mind scientists draw all the distinctions they wanted between life
philosophy and their own commitment to life and wholenessthe very nature
of their enterprise could not help but make them useful resources and authori-
tative voices in larger cultural debates that were as often hostile to traditional
science as not. came that in a confusing, urgent time, the scientific, anti-
scientific, spiritual, social, and political meanings of "life," "soul," "whole-
ness," and "mechanism" all tended to blur into a single story of struggle and
salvation. ,
It is with an appreciation for the full complexity and ambiguity of all of
those meanings that we need to "listen," both to holism's incessant attacks on
the old machine science of the past and to the precise details of its dream of a
future world in which holism had "reenchanted" life and mind and cleared the
way to a renewed wholeness for the German people. The self-consciousness
of behavioral biologist Jakob von Uexkull is in this respect paradigmatic. A
tireless, aggrieved critic of mechanistic science (see chapter 2), he sometimes
allowed himselfas in the following 1921 letter to his sympathetic friend,
Houston Stewart Chamberlainto dream of better times to come:
When one has sharpened one's vision for the divine and deciphered the melody of
the plants and the trees, then can one say again that a 'Dryad lives in every tree.'
Mythology emerges triumphantly out of dry science A rebirth is possible
here, and if it would be accomplished, Germany would be the birthland.'10

Biology against D e m o c r a c y and the


IN HIS TIME, Jakob Johann von Uexkull (1864-1944) could well have antici-
pated that his would be an enduring legacy in the annals of holistic life and
mind science. Having begun his scientific career as an invertebrate physiolo-
gist, he soon broadened beyond that work and developed a widely cited holis-
tic model of animal behavior that envisioned the organism and its environ-
ment as a single, integrated system (the so-called Umwelt). The physiologist
Albrecht Bethe would subsequently hail Uexkull's early comparative physiol-
ogy work as the most successful science of his peer group.' Ethologist Konrad
Lorenz saluted him as someone who "knew the strings by which an animal is
suspended in its environment to a degree hardly ever surpassed by an etholo-
gist."2 Martin Heidegger called Uexkull, "one of the shrewdest biologists of
our time,"3 while his friend and physiological colleague, Otto Kestner, nomi-
nated him twice for the Nobel Prize.4 Abroad, both his physiological work and
his later animal behavior studies were well known and respected even by sci-
entists with significantly different metaphysical commitments than he: Her-
bert Spencer Jennings, Jacques Loeb, and Conway Lloyd Morgan.5
Today, fields as diverse as physiology, philosophy, medicine, ethology,
semiotics, and cybernetics acknowledge the significance and stimulation of
Uexkiill's basic ideas.6 Nevertheless, Uexkiill's work remains less widely
known in the late twentieth century, especially in the English-speaking world,
than he and his admiring colleagues probably would have anticipated. This
small fact is a useful point at which to begin his story. This is a man whose
style of scientific authority and vision of biology have not translated easily
across time and place. The argument that will be developed here is that this is
so not because his vision and style in themselves were uncompelling, but
because they were so deeply situated in certain cultural assumptions and his-
torical reference points of the time.
Even during his own lifetime, Uexkiill's campaign to construct an anti-
mechanistic science of life and behavior did not "translate" readily into sense
for all of his peers. The zoologist Richard Goldschmidt (1878-1958) bluntly
recalled Uexkull as a combination "eccentric mystic and physiologist," a
"life-long producer of a mixture of good science and mysticism or metaphys-
ics."7 Although in 1913 Uexkull was a top contender for the directorship of
the new Berlin-based Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology, objections from
hostile colleagues concerning his alleged "wild and unsound" theorizing led
to the less controversial appointment of cell biologist Theodor Boveri.8 A

Figure 9. Jakob von Uexkull (1864-1944). Uexkull

TeilnachlaG, Courtesy of the Zoologisches Institut and
Zoologisches Museum, Hamburg University.

disappointed Uexkull would denounce Boveri's good fortune as the "death

toll" for German biology.9
Uexkull was more than sixty years old before his own supporters succeeded
in securing him an institutional base for his research. The Institute for Umwelt
Research, affiliated with the University of Hamburg, was founded in 1926.
Uexkull himself, 1925 at Hamburg as a scientific assistant (wis-
senschaftliche Hilfsarbeiter; a position almost comically beneath a man of his
years and experience), was finally made an honorary professor at the univer-
sity in 1926, at the age of sixty-two.
These blows to his pride hurt all the more because life for Uexkull had
originally seemed to promise a more elevated and privileged course. Born in
1864, the fifth child of an aristocratic German Baltic family, he had spent his
first years living on the family estate in Estonia, where for a time he received
private tutoring at home. After a short stay in Coburg, where he was sent to a
Gymnasium, the family moved to the city of Reval, where Uexkiill's father
had been appointed mayor. There, the young Uexkull attended the Domschule
of Reval, whose rector at that time was the father of the future Gestalt psychol-
ogist Wolfgang Kohler. On completing his Abitur (the elite German high-
school degree) in 1884, Uexkull enrolled in the Estonian university at Dorpat,
where he studied zoology.
During these years, Uexkiill's nationalistic consciousness was awakened
and solidified through his enforced participation in the czarist-ordered "Rus-
sification" of the Baltic states. There had long been scorn among the local
Baltic Germans for those in the community who identified more with Russian
language and culture than with German; such people were stigmatized as "the
Russianized" and were socially ostracized by their peers. In the 1870s, with
the triumph of the Prussian army over France and the consolidation of Ger-
many as a nation under Bismarck, German Baltic identification with Germany
intensified beyond the level of mere allegiance to her language and culture.10
In these years of growing nationalism, it was a mark of honor for young
Baltic Germans to receive poor grades in Russian language studies. Uexkull
was among those who refused to learn Russian properly. As his wife later
recalled, using the ironic vocabulary of ethology: "Everything in Russian sig-
naled 'enemy' to him, that is to say, there came to be an indissoluble, subcon-
scious connection between the language and the politics of 'Russification.'" 11
She also recalled how Baltic Germans like Uexkiill avoided the Russian law
enforcement and judicial agencies; unwilling to expose their dirty laundry to
the Russian "strangers," they preferred to settle disputes internally in their
own way. Thus it happened that while he was a student, Uexkull insulted a
fellow student, refused to apologize, and found himself challenged to a pistol
duel. His opponent was an expert marksman, but Uexkull was prudent enough
to avoid injury by shooting up into the air. He managed to escape with nothing
worse than a flesh wound in the calf.12
As an adult, Uexkull avoided such overt confrontations, but his profes-
sional relations with colleagues were still frequently stormy. Often arrogant
toward those he felt were beneath him, he was also possessed of a sharp
tongue when dealing with intellectual rivals and enemies. In his publications,
he was openly scornful of much that went under the rubric of "psychology"
and "physiology" and especially condemned all attempts to base biology on
principles of Darwinian evolutionary theory. These opinions tended to alien-
ate him from the mainstream academics of physiology, animal psychology,
and zoology, who under other circumstances would have been the most obvi-
ous supporters of his innovative scientific work.13
At the same time, Uexkull had a reputation as a wit, raconteur, and bon
vivant. When he was not taking on his rivals, he could be charminghis wide
circle of friends included such figures as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, fellow
Baltic aristocrat and philosopher-mystic Alfred Keyserling, Prince Philipp
Eulenburg, and Cosima Wagner, the powerful matriarch of Bayreuth. The
Wagnerian and race philosopher Houston Stewart Chamberlain (later one of
National Socialism's self-proclaimed sources of intellectual inspiration) was
an especially close, confidante over several decades, as testified by the long
paper trail of correspondence stored in the Chamberlain archives at Bayreuth.14
In 1903, at the late age of thirty-nine, Uexkull married the twenty-five-year-
old countess Gudrun von Schwerin, who much later would glowingly recall
life with her husband in what is still the only book-length biography of
Uexkull.15 Three children resulted from that marriage: Sophie Luise
Damajanti (1904), Karl Kuno Thure (1908), and Gustav-Adolf (Gosta)
(1909). Middle child, Thure von Uexkull, would himself later become a pio-
neer in the development of psychosomatic medicine in Germany, where he
would use his father's Umwelt theory as the framework for a "subjecf'-bri-
ented approach to clinical practice.16
But Jakob von Uexkull was not only a man of fiery opinions, culture, and
witit cannot be emphasized enough that he was also an aristocrat. The spe-
cial Gnade, or grace, of his noble birth and upbringing, the simple fact of his
having been born into the noble Uexkull family, is central to understanding
the personality and values that would be decisive in the later shaping of his
bio-political worldview. This was a man who claimed membership in a family
that traced an illustrious lineage back through seven hundred years of Baltic
history. His wife would later recall the assertion of the historian Astaf von
Transehethat "to write the history of the Uexkulls is to write the history of the
Livlands." She also quoted a chronicler of the Baltics that recalled the Uexkull
family as a "very self-willed lineage, irascible, violent, and always above the
law."17 During long centuries of czarist rule, the Uexkulls, having won them-
selves considerable land and wealth as a reward for military service, helped
impose German discipline on the unruly communities of Latvians and Estoni-
ans. Jakob von Uexkull later compared his family's role to that of the "wax
cells" in a beehive that hold the honeycomb together and keep the honey from
"flowing uselessly away," stressing in the next breath that he would not want
this honeycomb metaphor to be misunderstood as meaning "that these folk
were pure honey nectar."18
According to the family-generated mythology, long years in the Baltics had
not tempted the Uexkulls to succumb to either alien ideology or crass oppor-
tunism. Instead, they and other Baltic German aristocrats lived according to
the highest dictates of personal conscience. Holding themselves aloof from
the native peasants, they taught their children "never . . . to forget that God
made us German." But, for all that, their loyalty to their Russian ruling hosts
was proudly unwaveringnot because they loved Russia as such, but because
they had entered into a contract of honor with the czar, and nothing so base as
personal antipathy could compel them to violate that. For this reason, accord-
ing to Uexkull, at any point in history, the czar "would be safer in the circles
of the Baltic barons than in the lap of his own fickle people."19
Given this commitment to "the well-being of the whole" that "acted as a
compass for the convictions of the individual," those Baltic Germans who
(like Uexkull) applied for German citizenship after the Russian Revolution
claimed to find themselves "fully bewildered" by the crude circus of pressure
groups and party negotiations that went under the name of "democracy" in the
new Weimar republic. As individuals who had experienced firsthand the
differences between a German noble and an Estonian peasant, they stood ap-
palled before the dangerous democratic notion that any man's vote and voice
was as good as any other. Uexkull argued sharply that majority rule was a
medieval ideal that had been abandoned in all areas of thought, save politics.
In the natural sciences, it had long been clear that truth was not something that
could be decided through majority consensus; and for this reason modern sci-
ence was necessarily an aristocratic enterprise in which the assertions of one
genius could topple the untutored opinions of the would-be knowers. 20 Poli-
tics had yet to learn this obvious lesson, and much of Uexkiill's energy after
the establishment of the republic in 1918 would be devoted to developing
biologically based arguments to demonstrate the unnaturalness and absurdity
of the new democratic system in Germany.


In his memoirs Uexkull explained how, since early childhood, he had been
possessed by the powerful mystical conviction that "there are miracles in na-
ture."21 All the same, there was a stage in his early life when his faith in such
"miracles" wavered. By age sixteen, while still a schoolboy in Reval, Uexkull
had become a convinced determinist and materialist and had turned his back
on Christianity. He even went so far as to refuse, on the occasion of his much-
loved mother's death, to participate in the religious service held for her, in
spite of the pain and isolation this cost him. 22
At age twenty, he enrolled in the zoology program at the University of
Dorpat, and chose to specialize in the classification of marine life (an early
focus that would also help define his future research). He was introduced here
to the work of Darwin and Haeckel, especially through the lectures of one
teacher, Julius von Kennel. Uexkull recalled how he was initially quite taken
with the elegant power of this theory of species development through natural
selection; however, as he put it, "Kennel himself completely spoiled this im-
pression when he assured me that he would be in a position to prove the
familial relationship existing between all animal'species, regardless of which
ones. I rightly said to myself: this is frivolous game playing and not science.
On this basis, I decided to abandon zoology and devote myself to physiol-
ogy."23 His wife suggests that this antipathy toward the dogmatism of his
Dorpat instructors also woke within him the first doubts about the correctness
of his own earlier materialistic convictions.24 This may be, but in light of the
passion with which Uexkull would fight materialism and Darwinism through-
out his life, it seems likely that he would have been eager to abandon both as
soon as he could reasonably convince himself of their intellectual hollowness
or of the stupidity of their advocates. Significantly, though, he never devel-
oped a systematic critique of Darwin's theoryunlike, for example, his fel-
low Estonian from a generation earlier, Karl Ernst von Baer (the man identi-
fied by Timothy Lenoir as "the most important architect of the teleomechanist
program of mid-nineteenth-century biology"). Instead, he made it increas-
ingly clear that his fight against the Darwinian Machine was driven as much
by existential, moral, and political passions as by concerns for appropriate
forms of explanation in biology.
Uexkull's early disillusionment with a Darwinian zoology and his recourse
to a research career in physiology would define the first phase of his profes-
sional life. Leaving Dorpat in 1888 with a cand.zool. degree, he went to Hei-
delberg in order to learn experimental methods from the physiologist Wilhelm
Kiihne. Kiihne, who had been a student of Johannes Muller and had succeeded
Hermann von Helmholtz at Heidelberg in 1871, is best known today as the
originator of the concept of the enzyme. He was obviously a compatible men-
tor for the young Uexkull. In an obituary for his teacher written in 1890,
Uexkull praised both Kiihne's resistance to the fetishization of method and
instrument that characterized so much late-nineteenth-century experimental
science and his principled antireductionist approach to physiological prob-
lems. He noted approvingly that "[I]n physiology, he . . . saw always just
biological and never physical problems, and for this reason avoided mathe-
matical analyses of life processes."26
When his apprenticeship in Kiihne's laboratory was abruptly terminated by
the death of his teacher in 1890, Uexkull began to divide his time as a private
scholar between Heidelberg and the zoological station in Naples, which was
run by Anton Dohrn. In 1891, he met the embryologist Hans Driesch in
Naples; the intellectual attraction between the two men was immediate. Along
with the physiologist Rudolf Magnus, these three men formed a little clique
that worked together aggressively at scientific meetings to undermine mecha-
nistic principles in the life sciences.27
In these first years of work, adapting methods of preparation and stimula-
tion developed by Kiihne for frogs, Uexkull focused his attention on elucidat-
ing principles underlying muscular and nervous processes in invertebrate ma-
rine animals. One of the most significant results of this phase of his career was
the discovery that invertebrates possessed distinct and separate muscles for
tension and contraction. In addition, the flow of energy in the stimulated nerve
net of an invertebrate such as the urchin turned out to always be in the direc-
tion of the extended muscle.28 For this experimental work and its elaborations,
Uexkull would later be awarded an honorary medical doctorate from the Uni-
versity of Heidelberg in 1907.29
During these years, Uexkull also undertook whole-organism studies of lo-
comotion in both the seaworm Sipunculus and the sea urchin and went to Paris
to learn the techniques of serial cinematography developed by the French
physiologist Etienne Jules Marey for the purposes of studying body move-
ment. The fact that he was dealing in his work with animals lacking a central
nervous system"republics of reflexes," as he put itraised new analytical
challenges for him. "When a dog runs," he noted, "the animal moves its feet.
When the sea urchin runs, the feet move the animal."30 Yet, as he continued
with his studies, Uexkull became greatly impressed by how much "planfui
cooperation" nevertheless existed between the isolated reflex centers and or-
gans of these animals. Together these centers managed to move the creature
about, keep it clean, fight its enemies, and capture its prey. Uexkull coined the
word Bauplan, or "blueprint," to express his early impression of prees-
tablished teleological coordination in marine animals. It was his first step in
what would become a long journey of metaphor transmutation and expansion.
Ultimately, Uexkiill's concept of the Bauplan would become the cornerstone
of a comprehensive world view operating at once as a biological, political, and
spiritual principle.
In developing his explanatory models for these early experimental findings,
Uexkull made liberal use of various self-confessed "fictional schemas." These
were pictures or models that could account Tor his behavioral results but did
not necessarily correspond to anything one would literally expect to find in-
side an animal (he often imagined a "nervous fluid" flowing through various
tubes, feeders, reservoirs, and valves).31 The word he used for this approach to
theory-building was anschaulich, an ambiguous term that can mean "con-
crete" or "graphic," but that also may refer to knowledge that is immediately
visible or intuitively self-evidentwhat Karl Ernst von Baer had described as
that moment when "the living forms and their connections swim before [the]
soul."32 In later years, Uexkull would play with all of the ambiguities implied
in the idea of Anschauung, so that this word, like Bauplan, would multiply in
its meanings and resonances.
Writing in the first decade of the century, a younger Uexkull explained his
concern with anschaulichkeit as follows: there were two approaches to under-
standing life processes: one the province of what he called biology, and one
the province of physiology. Physiologists concerned themselves with the ma-
terial, causal substances, and forces operating within the organism. Biologists,
on the other hand (and he now counted himself among their numbers), were
interested in accounting for the activities of a particular animal in terms of its
functional logic and underlying plan. They were like the architect for whom
the structure and arrangement of the house were everything and who left ques-
tions about the mixing of asphalt and the,making of bricks to others. This- is
why Uexkull could declare in 1907 that "Biology is in its essence 'An-
schauung.'" A 1905 paper explained this position in more detail:
It is . . . not to be complained of if we biologists, who are asking about the func-
tion of animals, look with much coolness at the end problems of physiology....
When I for example lay out the plan of structure of a worm, and in so doing use
any convenient physical schema, it doesn't occur to me at all to touch upon a
physical problem. One may always think of any other force as at work in the same
object. I am not concerned with that. I seek only for a fitting expression in order
to make the plan of the animal anschaulich?*
In illuminating or "making anschaulich" a diverse range of plans or "blue-
prints" across species, Uexkull found himself confronted with a new kind of
epistemological problem. Increasingly, he was forced to ponder the idea "that
each animal [species] lives in a different [functional] world from every
other."34 An intensive immersion during the 1890s in the works of Immanuel
Kant had prepared the groundwork for this emerging new concern. Uexkull
had first read Kant as a schoolboy of fifteen, but in Heidelberg he undertook
a thorough study, working systematically with a small reading group that in-
cluded his bachelor roommate, future historian Alfred von Domaszewski, and
his physiologist friend Rudolf Magnus.
For Uexkull, the Kant that emerged from these studies was a deeply psy-
chological or subjectivist one: the a priori principles, the schemata, that al-
lowed for experience were not of a transcendent or logical nature, but were
products of constraints imposed by an organism's sensory organs and biologi-
cal constitution. In unpublished autobiographical notes, Uexkull recalled a
critical incident on the way toward this conclusion that occurred during a walk
through the Heidelberg woods. Looking at a beech tree that rose up before
him, he suddenly had the thought: "This is not a beech tree, but rather my
beech tree, something that I, with my sensations, have constructed in all its
details. Everything [about the beech] that I see, hear, smell or feel are not
qualities that exclusively belong to the beech, but rather are characteristics of
my sense organs that I project outside of myself."35
This initial revelation allowed Uexkull to return to the problem of his ani-
mals and their behavior from a new point of view. It now seemed self-evident
to him that every animal, every living thing, far from being a passive product
of an external world (as the mechanists and Darwinians claimed), was also, in
fact, an active creator of its own "external reality." Those realities, because
they were subjectively constructed by the sense organs, were different for
animals with different sorts of sensory organs. Uexkiill frequently used the
vivid image of a soap bubble to convey the fundamental premise of his posi-
tion: "Each of us carries this soap bubble around with himself his whole life
long, like a sturdy shell. It is tied to us, as we to it. Within our soap bubbles,
our suns rise and set for each of us. These suns are very variable."36
By 1907 Uexkull had found a name for the "soap bubbles" that tied every
subject to his own self-generated world: the Umwelten. Before Uexkull, the
word Umwelt had referred to the milieu or environment and was used primar-
ily in sociological analyses. Uexkull's decision to appropriate a familiar term
for a distinctly different biological and epistemological cause would later lead
to frequent misunderstandingsespecially by the Nazis, who regarded all
theories with an environmentalist orientation as Marxist-tainted ideologies.
Be that as it may, the original message of Umwelt theory was clear: "the
secret of the world is to be sought not behind objects, but behind subjects."37
In practical terms, this theory meant an empirical research program that used
both field observation and experiment to piece together the "reality" that a
specific animal at once created with its sense organs and then interacted with
using its effector organs. Only an organism's observable behavior was to be
studied: Umwelt theory took a self-consciously agnostic position on the na-
ture of the "minds" of any animal, since such minds were assumed to be im-
penetrably trapped inside the animal's species-specific "soap bubble." For this
reason, Umwelt theory disdained the fashionable and anthropomorphic "ani-
mal psychologies" of the time (often Darwinian-inspired) for their hopeless
philosophical naivete. As early as 1902, Uexkull had written disapprovingly:
Just as there are people who believe that they can speak a foreign language, when
they begin by stuttering in their own, so the comparative psychologists believe
themselves able to approach the animal soul, when they in some fashion distance
themselves from their own souls, or otherwise mutilate them. . . . I would like at
the same time to draw to the attention of our rivals that we are not claiming that
animals do not possess a psyche; rather we only claim that no empirical knowl-
edge about this question is possible.38
In an influential 1899 publication, Uexkull, along with his colleagues Al-
brecht Bethe and Theodor Beer, had attacked the use of anthropomorphic
"subjective" terminology in animal sensory physiology and proposed a series
of "objective" substitutions.39 In place of "seeing," for example, these three
men suggested speaking of "photoreception," a term which allowed one to
adopt a totally agnostic stance on the question of whether what an animal
experiences while using its photoreceptors had much, if anything, in common
with what humans understood by seeing. This paper was to have a broad im-
pact on the rise of behaviorism in the United States and of Pavlovian reflexol-
ogy in Russia.40 The ironies of these historical developments were not lost on
the antimechanistic Uexkull, who later was explicit in distancing himself from
this early paper. Although he still found it laudable in its efforts to "clean up"
an impossibly anthropomorphic nomenclature, he argued that it nevertheless
suffered from a basic error. It treated the sense organs like mechanical appara-
tuses. .. . According to this perspective, the eye is a photographic camera that
takes a picture of the external world, and transmits a light-sensitive plate.
The eye, however, is capable of more. It throws the picture that is produced on
its retina out of itself into the visual space [surrounding] that animal with eyes. If
the eye did not have this capacity, the dragonfly would not be able to catch a
midge in flight, nor would the dog be able to snatch at the scrap held before him.
The same is true of all the sense organs. Sounds, smells, tastes, and touch are all
transposed out of the body and into the subjective space of the animal, proving in
this way the existence of non-physical, that is, soul-like factors. It is for this reason
fundamentally false, to try to explain the lives of animals mechanistically.41
By 1909 Uexkull had outlined his subject-oriented approach to the study of
animal behavior in what would become one of his most important mono-
graphs, The Outer World [Umwelt] and Inner World of Animals.42 Its most
fundamental assertion was that every organism constructed a world for itself
out of only those sensory features that were uniquely relevant to its own pur-
poses or Bauplan. "This is the basic, but much too infrequently heeded fact;
namely, that every living being, the moment its [sensory] organs begin to
function and its body establishes a relationship to the outside world, finds

Merk-r- Merkmal-Triiqer
[11 Gegengefuge
Wirk-f Wirkmal -Trager
Organs, Efektor

Figure 10. Uexkiill's "functional circle" that creates the
Umwelt, or unified organism-environment system, 1934.
Jakob von Uexkull and George Kriszat, Streifziige durch
die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen/Bedeutungslehre
(Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1956), p. 27.

itself in an Umwelt that is its own, constructed for its own needs."43 Each of
these individual subjective realities was visualized by Uexkull as a small,
selected piece of an overarching objective realitythe "thing-in-itself'
whose existence he did not deny but which could never be known in an unme-
diated or totalizing fashion by any biological creature.
Another important thing to understand about every individual Umwelt was
that it was constantly being updated. Each action on the part of the organism
naturally changed the sensory reality the animal experienced, and each new
reality in turn ;provoked new reactions. Merkmale was Uexkiill's term for the
sensory cues used by an animal to guide its behavior; Wirkmale was his term
for the responsive behaviors themselves. Together, Merkmale and Wirkmale
made up the total functional reality of an organism or its Umwelt.44 And the
creative eye at the center of all these rolling dynamic realities (what Uexkull
later called "functional circles") was the animal itself, the unwitting generator
of a play in which it was both writer and hero (see figure 10).
To understand all this in concrete terms, let us take Uexkiill's description of
the Umwelt of the lowly tick. From field research, it had become clear that this
insect's sensory organs were set up in such a way that it interpreted all mam-
malsfrom humans to ratsas the same sort of perceptual "thing." Interest-
ingly, such a subjective world stood in sharp contrast with the human Umwelt,
in which "a mammal as a directly perceived [anschauliches] object does not
exist as such; mammal [for humans] is only an abstraction of thought, a con-
cept that we use as a means of categorization, but that we could never encoun-
ter in life."45
In the tick's encounter with the experienced "mammal," a series of sensory
constructions or cues elicited in turn a series of predictable actions. The initial
cue was the smell of mammalian sweat. At the outset, in other words, the
tick's Umwelt consisted of nothing more than this olfactory stimulus, and its
response was to drop itself from the tree branch or wherever it was down
toward the smell. The act of dropping brought the tick into tactile contact with
the mammal's hair (a second cue and enlargement of the Umwelt). Hair in turn
acted as a thread that guided the insect toward the heat generated by the mam-
mal's skin. The tactile cue "heat" acted as a signal for the tick to begin sucking
blood, blood which it neither tasted nor saw. Three cues, three responsesa
simple Umwelt, as Uexkull himself admitted. However, "the poverty of the
Umwelt is just that which is responsible for the reliability of action, and relia-
bility is more important than riches."46
The 1926 founding of Uexkiill's Institute for Umwelt Research at the Uni-
versity of Hamburg, an institute that also made use of the facilities of the
Hamburg Zoological Garden Aquarium, offered an opportunity to build up a
storehouse of such models of species-specific Umwelten.47 It is true that the
new institute's relationship with the university's zoology faculty was shaky,
owing to its explicit anti-Darwinian stance. However, Uexkull was able to
cultivate more sympathy for his views with the medical and the philosophy
faculties and was soon teaching a series of popular colloquia with the conser-
vative holistic philosopher Adolf Meyer-Abich. A zoologist named Friedrich
Brock, who had become an admirer of Uexkull while a graduate student work-
ing under Hans Driesch,48 became Uexkiill's first research assistant at the
institute. Although widely recognized as an unremarkable thinker, certainly
nowhere near the caliber of Uexkull himself, he would more or less through
default become his teacher's successor in 1940.49
During the early years, institute research focused on the behavior and phys-
iology of marine animals; however, the arrival in the late 1920s of the Greek-
born psychologist Emmanuel Sarris led to the initiation of a new research
direction that focused on dogs. This work attracted a considerable amount of
local press attention and ultimately led to the development of new methods for
training guide dogs for the blind.50 During the difficult years of World War II,
when pragmatism rather than ideological merit was driving governmental
funding decisions, the guide-dog program would become the institute's most
important rationalization for continuing existence. At that time, with Ham-
burg experiencing almost daily air raids, all the young men away in the army,
and Uexkull himself nearing the end of his life on the island of Capri, the
dogs and training program were single-handedly maintained by one former
female student, Frau Dr. Emilie Kiep-Altenloh, who later became a Hamburg



Uexkull claimed, more or less modestly, that his Umwelt behavioral research
program actually introduced no new ideas but simply reconceptualized and
gave an empirical foundation to basic insights that had long been known in
philosophy. A major philosophical work, Theoretical Biology, on which he
worked for more than five years, attempted to clarify the ways in which this
was so. In a letter he wrote to Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who had praised
this work, Uexkull protested: "I do not have the ambition to measure myself
against truly great men. I have made no contribution other than that I have
simply drawn attention to fruits that had been gradually ripening on the tree of
Kantian wisdom." 52 A much earlier letter to Chamberlain, though, had been
more expansive in its conviction of his work's originality and especially of its
potential broader cultural impact: "I am writing a treatise on theoretical biol-
ogy, that will also not be an easy mouthful. However, the war has extraordi-
narily widened understanding of Organization, so that one may hope that in
this way that the Age of the Number will be overcome."53
Uexkull's idealist psychological reading of the Kantian a priori was, of
course, the Archimedean insight here: experience was not directly reflective
of reality but was actively created by every subject. To that, Uexkull added
the clarifications of another great German, the early-nineteenth-century phys-
iologist, Johannes Muller. Midler's doctrine of "specific energies"even
if wrong in its physiological detailshad correctly recognized that, in percep-
tion, what was directly given to consciousness was not some outside stimulus,
but rather a mental representation of the state of certain stimulated sensory
nerves.54 Depending on the specific energy of the nerve stimulated, one could
expect different translations of an outside stimulus to be produced. Visual
sensory nerves, for example, always represented incoming stimuli in terms
of light, shadow, and color regardless of whether the stimulus from outside
was a sunset or a blow to the head. With this recognition, it became further
obvious that different species, having varying nervous systems and combi-
nations of specific energies, must inevitably perceive reality in very different
These insights inevitably had self-referential implications for the practice
of natural science, which still too often functioned as if it were capable of
discovering some unvarnished reality cleansed of all traces of human subjec-
tivity. Uexkull explained:
Natural science is divided into theory and research. The theory consists of theo-
rems that contain clear statements about nature. The form of these theorems often
gives the impression that they would rest themselves on the authority of Nature
This is an error, because Nature gives no lessons, but rather merely shows
changes in its appearances.
These changes can be used by us as indications of answers to our questions. In
order to achieve the proper understanding of the relationship of science to nature,
we must transform every theorem into a question, and render an account to our-
selves for the changes in natural appearances, which researchers had used as evi-
dence for their answer.
Research cannot possibly proceed without questions that make assumptions
(hypotheses), in which the answer (thesis) is already contained. The ultimate
recognition of the answer and the establishment of a knowledge-claim follows
as soon as the researcher has found a sufficiently persuasive number of manifes-
tations in Nature that he can interpret as positive or negative in terms of his
The sole authority on which a knowledge-claim rests is not that of Nature, but
that of the researcher, who has answered his own question himself.56
The claims of natural science, then, did not represent some transcendent
realm of truth (i.e., were not objective) but were human concepts that re-
mained fully contained in the human soap bubble; part of the human Umwelt
that Uexkull called the "concept world." According to him, there had been a
time in history when human concepts and human experience had stood in
close relationship to each other; consequently people had resonated with the
phenomenological "truth" of their culture's knowledge-claims and had felt "at
home" in the universe. With the rise of modem science over the last three
hundred years, however, scientific models of the universe had diverged in-
creasingly from humanity's direct Anschauungen. First, the earth was ousted
from its privileged place in the center of the universe; then a heaven of fixed,
astrologically coherent stars was broken open and transformed into a sense-
less eternity of space; God was dethroned and annihilated, and the earth
turned into a trivial grain of sand somewhere on the margins of an inconceiv-
ably large and meaningless universe (see figure ll). 5 7 A new chapter in this
process of alienation had been reached with what Uexkull called the "de-
formed monster" of Einstein's theories, which made a mockery of all human
common sense or anschaulich experience of reality.58
Setting himself against both the materialist and the positivist neo-Kantian
temper of his time,59 Uexkull now suggested that Umwelt theory indicated
that the docility with which humanity had choked down these increasingly
nihilistic physical models had in fact been unnecessary. As he declared in a
passionate letter to Houston Stewart Chamberlain:
Whether... all of the . . . claims that Einstein makes about a conceptual space
without center or coordinations [are true], I am not in a position to verifythey
do not interest me at all either, since this space, the more it distances itself from
concrete space, the more it forfeits its claims on reality.
Concrete space is alone real.
.. .What lies beyond our horizons, beyond our vault of heaven, is forever
closed to us. We are indeed capable of building a conceptual space, in which the
suns and stars move at incredible distances and in inconceivable [spans of] time.
But this conceptual space is just a watering-down of our concrete space, that we
gain by allowing several important elements of this concrete space to fall
away.... The [true] glimpse outside our concrete space and beyond the vault of
heaven is denied to us. The higher reality that reigns there remains for us unknow-
able, whether we now call it "Nature" or "God."
. . . I am afraid that if I publicly proclaim this perspective, that they will treat
me a la Galileo, and either lock me up in a madhouse or else ridicule me as an

^ .-

L. t r s* T V
ej-v^ssav-" "".*SKSSKrj
Figure 11. The Umwelt of the astronomer looking through
his telescope in a tower, demonstrates the Kantian
implications of a new biology, 1934. Jakob von Uexkiill
& George Kriszat, Streifziige durch die Umwelten
von Tieren und Menschen/Bedeutungslehre
(Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1956), p. 27.

However I must just once say my piece. Perhaps no one will understand me
anyway. Nevertheless, it remains a fact: "Epur non si move." I do not move
around the sun, but rather the sun rises and sets in my arch of sky. The same thing
occurs in a hundred thousand other arches of sky.60
Uexkiill's choice of intellectual confessor in this letter was particularly apt.
In Immanuel Kant, Chamberlain had also used a psychological-idealist inter-
pretation of Kant to argue against his age's blind adherence to rational causal
science. As Chamberlain saw matters, "Kant deposed reason from its throne
once and for all" and, in so doing, had revealed the self-referential, "mythical"
nature of all rational-scientific abstract concepts.61 While Chamberlain did
not use the Uexkull term Umwelt, he was one with his biologist friend in
arguing that a key logical consequence of the Kantian critique was to set every
human articulated worldview on the same level of fictitiousness as every
It is true that, in the 1930s, the bitter socialist critic Joachim Schumacher
would attack such readings of Kant as the "abandonment of the spirit of the
Enlightenment,"an abandonment undertaken with the attitude, "Better our
thickest darkness than your slinking light!" 63 As Chamberlain and Uexkull
saw things, however, Kant had in fact provided them with the key out of a
dark dungeon filled with senseless "facts" and into the sunlight of a world-
view in which the claims of science were simply more or less useful tools for
interacting empirically with a reality whose deeper purposes and meaningful-
ness could be known only through immediate experience, intuition, and the
felt imperative of moral commandment.64



In Uexkiill's eyes, one scientific idea that had particularly revealed its inability
to do justice to human Anschauung (to say nothing here of its existential toll)
was the machine model of life. On this general point, of course, Uexkiill's
complaints found widespread reverberation. By the 1890s, with Darwinism in
a perceived crisis and new sciences like embryology in ascendance, the capac-
ity of organisms to develop, change, and heal themselves was being targeted
(as earlier noted) as an insurmountable barrier to any attempt to extend princi-
ples of physics and chemistry to life. In Germany and elsewhere, a range of
scientists had begun to argue for an outright rejection of the model of the ma-
chine in the life sciences. The hope that the study of life could be pursued using
concepts out of the physical sciences must be abandoned, they said; new theo-
retical assumptions must be developed to guide research into living processes.
The most influential contemporary spokesperson for this position was
Uexkull's friend, Hans Driesch (1867-1941) (see figure 12). When Driesch
came to Jena in 1886 as a nineteen-year-old, he wasmuch like Uexkulla
heartfelt admirer of Darwin and Haeckel. He received his doctorate in zoology
under Haeckel, who promptly offered him a job as an assistant in his labora-
tory; however, Driesch, who was independently wealthy, decided instead to
pursue a career as a private scholaragain, much like Uexkull. In 1891 he
went to the zoological station in Naples to pursue marine biological research,
and here he met Uexkull, who had been working on his own research at the
station since the previous year. During the previous year or two, influenced (as
he explained) by arguments of biologists G. Wolff, W. His, and A. Goette,
Driesch had already undergone a process of disenchantment with certain of
the dogmas of Haeckel's Darwinism. As Driesch recalled things much later,
these critics of Haeckel

showed me a problem that Haeckel had not seen at all, and that nevertheless was
apparently very significant: the question of how, through what means and ener-
gies, the individual organism actually is produced out of the egg. We have here to
do, as we see, with a problem in embryology, but not simply in a descriptive and
comparative sense, but in a causal sense. The saying of Haeckel, that phylogeny
is the cause of embryology, in that the latter represents a brief recapitulation [of
the former], even though not absolutely false, when properly interpreted, was
apparently not itself adequate for the intimate illumination of embryological

Figure 12. Hans Driesch (1867-1941). A. Wenzl,

Hans Driesch: Personlichkeit und Bedeutung fiir
Biologic und Philosophie von Heute, (Munich/Basel:
Ernst Reinhardt Verlag, 1951).

Driesch's goal in Italy was to test and empirically develop a model of inher-
itance being argued by A. Weismann that at the time seemed to represent an
alternative to Darwin's so-called pangenetic theory of inheritance. Darwin
had believed that inheritance took place across generations through the
"blending" of whole-body characteristics donated by both parents, including
characteristics acquired during their individual lifetimes. In contrast, Weis-
mann was arguing that the sexual cells were the only parts of the body in-
volved in the transfer of inherited traits across generations. He conceived
these special cells as possessing transposable mosaic-like units that he called
"determinants" and that somehow encoded all heritable traits.66 The determi-
nants of a new organism were set at birth and remained unaffected by cumula-
tive experiences and characteristics acquired across a lifetime. Evolutionary
changes across generations could occur only through mutation or through ran-
dom changes in the combinations of fixed determinants.

>. - ^ .-. - 7nf ffi

Figure 13. Driesch's embryo experiments that gave new credence to vitalism in
biology, 1891. Hans Driesch, "Entwicklungsmechanische Studien,"
Zeitschrift fur wissenschaftliche Zoologie, 1891.
Driesch hoped to elucidate the embryological mechanisms underlying this
model of heredity by repeating the experiments begun by the embryologist
Wilhelm Roux; experiments that involved destroying one of the blastomeres
of a sea-urchin egg (which he chose over the frog eggs used by Roux since
they were easier to handle) and letting the other grow as it would. As dis-
cussed in the previous chapter, he found that the single blastomere of the
two-cell stage of a sea-urchin egg developed, not into half an organism (that
would have suggested the existence of a mosaic-like blueprint for develop-
ment rigidly laid down inside the egg) but into a whole larva that was half the
normal size (see figure 13).
Clearly, machines cannot be cut in half and become identical, if smaller,
machines; other principles, Driesch concluded, must be in play here.67 Further
experiments at Naples revealed that when segments of the sea-urchin eggs (up
to sixteen cell divisions) were moved into abnormal relative positions (a fu-
ture limb moved to where a future eye should be, etc.), normal larvae still
developed. All this, Driesch decided, was simply incompatible with the views
of Weismann and Roux, no less than with those of Darwin.
At the same time, Driesch found that none of the other organisms that he
studied demonstrated the peculiarly plastic growth pattern of the sea-urchin
eggs. Unclear how to proceed and frustrated by his inability to expand his
empirical'base, he turned to philosophy for direction, studying the worksof
Kant, Schopenhauer, Eduard von Hartmann, Locke, Hume, and Alois Riehl.
By 1895, even though he still lacked a broad species database, he was begin-
ning to toy with the idea that mechanistic principles could not account for his
embryological findings. Finally, jn an 1899 monograph that was the turning
point in his career,68 Driesch introduced an antimechanistic concept of the
embryo as a "harmonious equipotential system." Itself infinitely plastic, this
system was supposed to be molded during development according to the
needs of the situation by an autonomous, nonmaterial teleological principle
that Driesch would soon christen the entelechy, after the teleological principle
first recognized by Aristotle.69 Later Driesch would also focus on recovery
from brain damage in human patients and on the. internally generated acts of
higher animals as additional evidence for the fundamentally nonmechanistic
nature of life and for the need to assume the intelligent functioning of a non-
material but causally effective agent in organisms.70
In a 1908 article, "New Questions in Experimental Biology," Uexkull him-
self confidently identified Driesch's work as the decisive blow against the
"machine" view of life.
Driesch succeeded in proving that the germ cell does not possess a trace of
machine-like structure, but consists throughout of equivalent parts. With that fell
the dogma that the organism is only a machine. Even if life occurs in the fully
organized creature in a machine-like way, the organization of a structureless germ
into a complicated structure is a power sui generis, which is found only in living
things and stands without analogy. . . . It is not to be denied that the vitalists are
the victors all along the line. After having put an end to Darwinism, they have
seized upon the entirefieldof the production of animal form, and now threaten the
last positions of their opponents.71
By 1900, Driesch had more or less abandoned a full-time career as an ex-
perimentalist and had settled in Heidelberg (virtually next door to the Uexkull
family) with the aim of comprehensively working out the philosophical justi-
fication for a vitalist perspective. His Gifford lectures"The Science and Phi-
losophy of the Organism"held in Aberdeen in 1907 and 1908, were an early
fruit of these efforts. In them he conceded that entelechy would seem to pose
a problem for a Kantian-informed epistemology since it could not be compre-
hended through the original categories of pure reason. This fact, however, did
not mean that it must be judged a mere "metaphysical" concept. It meant only
that a new category of understanding must be introduced into both the Kantian
system and into science. Driesch called this category "Individuality" or "Con-
structivity." Humans were conscious of a manifestation of it in their own wills
when they asked, "For what purpose?" The category also shaped their percep-
tions of others with whom they related from the position of an ethical stand-
point. It would be impossible, Driesch felt, to feel morally obligated to an-
other person and yet to regard him or her as a mere causal machine.72
By the time Driesch gave the Gifford lectures, Uexkull had produced the
studies on Sipunculus that led him to propose the existence of a teleological
principle (the Bauplan) much like Driesch's entelechy. At the same time,
Driesch's journey into denser philosophical thickets was problematic for
Uexkull. Increasingly, the latter shied away from making explicit use of
Drieschian concepts like entelechy and psychoid and later privately admitted
that he found many of Driesch's philosophical arguments "too abstract," "be-
yond my anschaulichen horizon." 73 As time went on, probably more than
mere terminological differences separated him from his old friend, in spite of
Driesch's late conciliatory assertions to the contrary.74
What never wavered, though, was Uexkiill's perception that Driesch's ex-
periments had been the starting point for a new approach to an "exact biology"
emancipated from the tyranny of outmoded linear-causal thinking. While
Uexkull did not deny that some aspects of animal physiology might, at any
given time, function in a machine-like fashion, he nevertheless argued em-
phatically that all animals were also more than machines; that is, they all also
possessed extra-mechanistic properties of potentiality and self-directed crea-
tivity. The undeveloped egg cell's capacity to develop out of itself into an
"adapted machine," and the adult animal's capacity to repair and adapt itself
after suffering damage, were examples of organismic initiatives that could not
be explained as sets of logical, linear causes and effects.
Bowing to the limits of human knowledge, Uexkull concluded that science
would never be able to visualize the "natural factors" directly responsible for
the spontaneous creativity and intelligence of living processes. Nevertheless,
much as deists of an earlier age had sought to read God's mind in His creation,
so Uexkull believed that it was possible to observe and map the patterns of
physical and chemical effects left behind by the "natural factors" in any par-
ticular organism. The physiologist could be compared here to someone scor-
ing a melody that is being played by a music box and who does not assume,
just because the composer is unknown to him, that the composition in ques-
tion must have been created by the box itself. In Uexkull's words, "We have
found no waltz in the music box; instead we overhear a melody in the succes-
sion of hormones that is played by Nature itself."75
Cellular protoplasmthat Uexkull later called the "life stuff of the or-
ganism was the endlessly plastic material used by Nature to build her var-
ied musical compositions. As Uexkull explained in 1909, "In order to make
the relationship between protoplasm and structure vividly clear, one should
imagine that our houses and machines are not constructed by us, but rather
independently crystallize out of a mash. Every stone of every house and every
machine part would continue to retain a portion of extra mash in itself, that
would undertake repairs and regulations as they become necessary; in addi-
tion, each house and each machine would contain a larger accumulation of
original mash, that would be responsible for the production of new houses or
new machines."77
Of course, not everyone in Germany's broader biological community was
enamored with this style of biological theorizing. The geneticist Julius
Schaxel attacked the 1921 edition of Uexkiill's Outer World and Inner World
of Animals for its defense of what he called "categorical vitalism"a view of
a kind with that of Hans Driesch, and, Schaxel opined, "definitely not the right
[view]."78 Jn his monograph The Organism as a Whole (1916), Jacques Loeb,
probably Germany's leading advocate for an uncompromising mechanistic
conception of life, also attacked Uexkull and Driesch for their vitalistic ap-
proach to the "whole" functioning of the organism. It was not that Loeb was
wholly lacking in respect for these two menhe even went so far as to call
them "both brilliant biologists."79 Yet, in their very brilliance lay also a dan-
gerous capacity to sway scientific and public opinion in false directions. The
Organism as a Whole was Loeb's urgent attempt at a mechanistic alternative
to the problems of embryological development and the harmonious integra-
tion of inherited characteristics.
Martin Heidegger was another prominent German who identified both
Driesch and Uexkull as the era's key promoters of a new vitalistic biology.
However, his assessment of their influence was, not surprisingly, considerably
warmer than that of Loeb. In his 1929-1930 winter lecture series at Freiburg
University, he hailed both men as having brought about "two decisive
steps"both accomplished, remarkably, within the framework of a "still
reigning" mechanistic biologythat together "had consummated biology."80
The first of these was the recognition by Driesch of the holistic character of
the organism; the second was the insight by Uexkull of the integration of the
animal within its environment. This second insight had led in turn to an even
more radical understanding of holism "whereby [the organism's) wholeness is
not exhausted through the bodily wholeness of the animal, but rather the bod-
ily wholeness is first itself understood on the basis of an original wholeness
[with the environment]."81
Although the fact has not been widely recognized, the 1985 published ver-
sion of Heidegger's 1929-1930 lectures shows that he had studied and di-
gested Uexkiill's works at remarkable length, particularly Theoretical Biology
and Outer World and Inner World of Animals.*1 It may well be, therefore, that
Uexkiill's Umwelt concept contributed, in a way not yet properly recognized,
to Heidegger's intriguingly similar central concept of "Being-in-the-world,"
which Heidegger had first comprehensively articulated in Being and Time,
published just a few years before the Freiburg lectures.
Indeed, in a 1937 article, Uexkull would himself call attention to the simi-
larities between his views and those of Heidegger.83 The timing of this be-
lated recognition of affinities does not belie its truth but does suggest that
Uexkiill's motivation here was not purely that of intellectual generosity. Hei-
degger by this time had established his reputation as one of Germany's lead-
ing academic supporters of the Hitler regime, while Uexkull was under some
pressure to demonstrate the watertight ideological correctness of his Umwelt


Uexkiill's Umwelt.theory was, of course, not designed for Hitler's Germany

but was a product of Wilhelminian Germany: all the essential concepts for his
research program had been developed and presented to the scientific commu-
nity before World War I. When the war broke out in 1914, he was already fifty
years old, and in some ways, his most creative scientific period was behind
him. Yet the war years also marked a new beginning for Uexkull as a scientist,
for these were the years that began to see the expansion of Umwelt theory into
a resource capable of "speaking" across a wide range of urgent concerns.
Even before the war, Uexkull had already lived through a major blow to any
complacency he may have developed about the world and his appointed role
in it. The Russian unrest and uprising that followed the disastrous 1905
Russo-Japanese war had invaded the Baltics, where the "German barons" be-
came particular targets of hate and resentment. Uexkiill's parental home,
Heimar, was among the estates burned to the ground and, although another
family estate survived for the time being (Uexkiill's beloved Werder),
Uexkull was nevertheless financially devastated by these events, since his
personal fortune had been invested in now all-but-worthless Russian govern-
ment securities.84
A major professional disappointment also dogged his last years before the
war. In 1913, he was passed over for the position of director of the new Kai-
ser-Wilhelm Institute for Biology in Berlin, and he remained without a univer-
sity affiliation or institutional base. With such a blatant rejection of his work
and perspective, Uexkull began to despair for the future of biology in Ger-
many. A few years later, he would despair for the future of Germany itself.
Initially, like so many others, he was caught up in the nationalistic fervor
and high hopes of the "spirit of 1914." He had never, perhaps, felt so German
as at that time. As his wife recalled:
If the Baits had led a special existence up to this point as wayfarers between the
East and the West, between Germany and Russia, so the narrow path which had
permitted this travel was [now] abruptly washed away. There were no more Baits,

there were only Germans and Russians. Instead of the old feudal oath of loyalty
to the Kaiser (in Petersburg or in Berlin), came the call to Nation.. .. Jakob sided
passionatelywith Germany.85
During the first years of the war, the Uexkull family took up residence in
the family castle of Uexkiill's wife, Gudrun (nee Schwerin) von Uexkull,
which was located in the quiet village of Schwerinsburg, in Pomerania. (The
Schloss Schwerinsburg was destroyed in the last months of World War II, and
the land making up Pomerania was soon after divided between East Germany
and Poland.) In Schwerinsburg, Uexkull helped to rally and organize the local
workers and farmers for the war effort. For him, the issues at stake were spiri-
tual issuesat the very least, this war was a high-minded struggle to preserve
the values of German culture. In his fervent rhetoric:
Why did even foreigners staying in Germany have the impression that this war
was a holy war? Because German family life suddenly revealed itself before all
the world, because the holy fire of idealism that had illuminated and warmed
individual homes shot up toward heaven like a single mighty flame.86
When England entered the war against Germany on August 4, 1914,
Uexkull was shocked. An urgent letter to Chamberlain on August 11 urged
him to follow Carlyle's example in 1870 and call on his one-time countrymen
to support Germany against France and Russia: "How does England come to
make common cause with these culture-hating bandits? Genuine human cul-
ture can be sustained only through England and Germany together."87 When
England failed to come to its senses, Uexkull revised his view of its cultural
virtues, turning against it with a hate born of disappointment and betrayal.88
Uexkull was far from alone or exceptional in his rage. Gott strafe England!
(May God punish England!) was the cry throughout Germany.89 As a biolo-
gist, Uexkull took advantage of the mood of the hour to make a new type of
case against Darwinism: not only was this doctrine patently false on scientific
grounds, it had also plainly revealed itself to be nothing more than a transpar-
ent reflection of the cutthroat market ethics of the enemy: "The German im-
perative of Kant requires every individual to be an autonomous lawgiver on
moral issues. In contrast, Darwin exonerates the individual from this responsi-
bility with his English imperative. . . . Darwin's position can be briefly sum-
marized in the following way: the bigger the herd, the higher the morality."90
The paper trail of Uexkull's publications after 1914 emphasizes the extent
to which the war catalyzed a change in this biologist's sense of professional
identity. To be a "mere" scientist, detached from the larger world of social and
cultural life, was clearly no longer acceptable, or even, perhaps, psychologi-
cally possible. The current times of crisis called for intellectuals to lecture and
to wield pens no less boldly than the German soldiers had wielded their weap-
ons in the field. Uexkull was sufficiently attuned" to the tenor of the times
to realize that someone who could claim to speak with the voice of biology
possessed a unique means of influencing the public on important issues and
problems of the day. "I have noticed," he wrote to Chamberlain in 1921, "that
the biological mode of expression is more attractive to our contemporaries
than the abstract philosophical."91 Whereas previously Uexkull had very oc-
casionally written popular pieces on new developments in biology, he now
began to publish prolifically in the general-interest press on questions of poli-
tics, appropriate government, morals, and spirituality. Ultimately, he would
produce close to forty of these essays and articles over thirty years. The rest of
this chapter analyzes some of the principal themes running through these
works and their reception.


Uexkiill's preoccupation with the "life functions" of the state began in the
crucible of the war with a 1915 article entitled "Volk und Staat" (Volk and
State). This paper opened with a discussion of species as a noncontroversial
example of a biologically coherent collectivity whose distinctiveness was
fixed by special "genes" that worked to preserve a collective Bauplan across
individual members. (For Uexkull, the rediscovery of Mendel's work pointed
to a tendency for traits to persist within a species group and represented just
one more nail in the coffin of Darwinism.) Races were natural subdivisions of
species and had genetic impulses that maintained the racial distinctiveness of
each within the larger species class. In a similar way, Volker were natural
subdivisions of races, each of which could be most easily identified by a
shared language.
Clearly, then, Germany consisted of a Volk; but it also just as clearly con-
sisted of a political system or a nation state that was now making supreme
demands on its people. It behooved one to ask, then: what was the appropriate
relationship between Volk and state? Still flushed with the magnificence of
the German people in that magic August of 1914, Uexkull set the state in a
subordinate position to the people it ruled. In the body politic, he said, the
Volk was the life stuff that created political and civic organizations and struc-
tures to further its own goals; it was not, however, a slave to these structures.
In 1915, Uexkull was emphatic: "[T]he creator stands above that which it has
Turning to the microstructure of the German Volk proper, Uexkull found its
final irreducible unit not in the individual, but in the German family, whose
dedication to the biological persistence of the collectivity across generations
had translated into the "holy idealism" that had so impressed Uexkull in the
early days of the war: "[T]he primary component of the Volk in all cases . . .
is the family. Parents and children together form a cell that, together in con-
junction with a thousand other cells, build the Volk body."93
Yet, even in this early, basically optimistic article, Uexkull betrayed a
distinct uneasiness. Biology suggested that Volk and the state should al-
ways exist in perfect harmony, but clearly this was not the case. Why not?

Uexkull's first answer focused on the power of the Machineor, more specif-
ically, on the unique human tendency to invent artificial supplements to natu-
ral existence. Birds created out of their life-stuff the wings and feathers they
needed for flight. Human beings, in contrast, invented airplanes. This was all
right, as far as it went, because no one supposed that the invention of airplanes
somehow transformed humans into birds. In politics, however, the fatal dis-
tinction between natural structure inherent to an organism (or Volk) and mere
artifice was sometimes obscured. No community would urge its members to
cut off their legs so that motorcycles might grow out of the stumps (the exam-
ple is Uexkiill's!), yet certain states were only too willing to undermine the
natural Volk community so that some artificial political structure might grow
and flourish! Permit such efforts to persist too long, and the Volk would begin
to "putrefy" into a mere mass, the stupidity and cruelty of which had been
analyzed by the French "crowd psychologist," Gustav le Bon.94
In 1915 Uexkull was still not prepared to consider the possibility that Ger-
many could fall victim to such "putrefaction." Still, his disquiet grew as more
and more reports of bureaucratic incompetence mingled with news of defeats
at the front. In his wife's words, he "searched in vain for the 'Plan' that he saw
everywhere at work in Nature. The methods of men seemed inorganic and
planless to him." 95
As the war turned increasingly against Germany, news came of the Bolshe-
vik revolution in Russia. For Uexkull, this "shot heard around the world"
struck painfully close to his heart. Many German friends and relatives, includ-
ing a brother, suffered enormously through internment and then (upon receiv-
ing amnesty from Lenin and Stalin) a long, painful exodus out of Russia.
Uexkull traveled to Estonia, only to discover that his beloved estate, Werder,
had been almost wholly burned to the ground. The final blow came when the
German naval forces failed to act decisively to annex the Baltics for the Ger-
man Reich (as Uexkull had been urging), and these provinces became Soviet
Watching events unfold in the new Soviet Union seems to have been deci-
sive to Uexkiill's growing conviction that he had previously overestimated the
capacity of a Volk to resist degeneration into an animalistic mass. In a bitter
letter to Chamberlain, dated November 20, 1917, he wrote:
In Russia, the long awaited moment has come, the protoplasm of the giant amoeba
[i.e., the Russian Volk] is full in the process of decomposition, and it is no longer
possible to stop this natural process. Senseless pillage and murder are on the
increase, and simultaneously the nightmare image looms of the most enormous
famine that the world has [ever] seen. I am assured by one still very trustworthy
observer, just out of Russia, that by spring people will be devouring human flesh.
What a lovely theme for Russian literature.97
The image of a strong state that would severely restrict the capacity of the
masses to seize power for themselves now began to haunt his socio-biological
reflections. Inspired by Chamberlain's 1917 antidemocratic monograph
Democracy and Freedom, he spoke out in early 1918 against universal suf-
fragethe elected officials would be "neither representatives of the Volk nor
representatives of the state. They would be nothing other than representatives
of the masses."98 But the realization of his worst fears was mere months away.
By late 1918, it was clear that Germany could not win the war. As the emperor
fled his foundering country, the new German republic was declared by the
socialists on November 9,1918; two days later Germany admitted her humili-
ating defeat.
On December 20, 1918, a devastated Uexkull wrote to Chamberlain:99
I feel moved, my most esteemed friend, to send you New Year's greetings. For
I cherish the hope that we will yet weather the darkest day with the blackest
spiritual night. With you alone can I truly speak in a biological way. You have
enough energy and vision to feel the pulse of the deeply diseased state, even as
you especially must experience the processes of decay most bitterly of all
The similarity of all revolutions is something I can today no longer dismiss as
something superficial. . . . It is always cancer, that is, the growth of individual
cells, and the destruction of the organs that goes hand in hand with that. The most
peculiar thing for me remains the delusion of the democrats, who saw the growth
of the masses as a normal phenomenon, even though it already indicated the
beginning of the sickness.
As a result of this error, the cure that they apply misses the markthe organism
cannot be healed through renewed mass formations like the national assem-
bly Individuals just cannot be at all enlightened. The common man does not
think with concepts but with very primitive feelings and intuitions. For him, free-
dom is either the opportunity to rob and plunder or, in the best case, the opportu-
nity to live undisturbed by the state.
It is also not at all fair to demand from him that his Merkwelt [perceptual
reality] possess a picture of the state with all its intertwined relationships of parts.
The only thing that one may expect is that he carries within him a sufficiently
clear picture of his immediate task, and has the will to fulfill it.
And here is where the genotype comes in, that shapes him into a capable mem-
ber of an occupation. This healthy basic energy exists in the Germans, and there
will also never be a dearth of spiritual leaders who can cause a state organism to
develop out of this material. When the sickness has worn itself out, and the stuff
responsible for infection has been neutralized, the new process of growth can
begin. For me, the cry for Order that is now wringing loose from hearts is the first
sign of a beginning resistance. From you, as the most experienced physician in the
history of the Volker, I hope for a word about the prognosis. Do you consider this
cancer to be deadly, or do you believe in a recovery? . . .
This letter is one of the few for which Chamberlain's answer has been pre-
served. The ailing English-born philosopher of Teutonic superiority re-
sponded warmly to his friend's cautious optimism. 100 Having almost de-
spaired, he said, in the face of endless twaddle about "God's punishment,
return to simplicity, reclaiming the Germany of Goethe and the Romantics,

etc.," Uexkiill's reasoned analysis of the situation had finally succeeded in
giving him a ray of hope. He did caution, though, that there was no absolute
guarantee that the life-energies of the German genotype would triumph over
the limited present realities of the German phenotype.101
If Chamberlain wanted delicately to suggest here that Uexkull not become
complacent about Germany's future, he might have saved himself the effort.
Uexkull was the first to realize that the times required not vague hopes of
salvation, but clear diagnoses and plans of action. For the next eighteen
months, his mind and heart were deeply preoccupied with, working out the
ideas first ventured in the New Year's letter to Chamberlain. He followed up
a preliminary missive with a more systematic chapter in Theoretical Biology
that explored the general feasibility of using Umwelt theory as a basis for
analyzing the "state as organism." 102 This early venture into bio-politics
would prompt his compatriot Thomas Mann to make the following laconic
record in his diary for March 1, 1921:
I have been reading here and there in Uexkull's Theoretische Biologic Noted
that interest in biological questions, even of the new, less mechanistic, anti-Dar-
winian sort, disposes one to be conservative and rigid in political manners. Some-
thing similar can be observed in Goethe.103
Still, the suggestions outlined in those publications were mild compared
with what was to come: Uexkull's widely reviewed and influential Biology of
the State [Staatsbiologie]: AnatomyPhysiologyPathology of States,
published in 1920 as a special volume of the conservative journal Deutsche
This work took a two-pronged approach to its topic. It attempted to under-
stand the "natural" biology of healthy state systems, and it attacked the bio-
logical travesties being perpetuated by politics in Germany at the time.
Uexkull began by noting that just as the family was the natural cellular unit of
the Volk, so a hierarchy of different occupations made up the natural building
blocks of the state. The anatomical division of labor in the state saw some
people serving the organs of production, others serving the organs of distribu-
tion and exchange, and rather fewer serving the various organs of administra-
tion. In a healthy state, the organs were many and various but were firmly
interconnected and finally integrated in a central terminus, literally the "brain"
of the state. "From this," Uexkull wrote, "we see that the only form of organi-
zation demonstrated by every [healthy] state is necessarily the monarchy."104
For a government to grant an equal voice to all workers (as the democrats and
socialists in Weimar had done) was as insanely self-destructive as if "in our
body . . . the majority of the body's cells were to decide in place of the cortical
cells, which impulse the nerves should transmit."105
Membership in a particular occupation was not a matter of idle personal
preference but rather of accepting a role most appropriate to one's natural
abilities for the good of the larger community. All roles that served the state
were honorable, so long as the natural Umwelt of the individual in question
matched that required by the post itself. "Liebermann once remarked that the
person who paints a good turnip is a better artist than the person who paints a
poor Madonna. In a similar way, a good saddler is a better servant to the state
than a poor minister."106 To the socialist's plaintive question, "Why should
one man clean gutters and the other get to be a minister? After all, both are
men!" he sarcastically retorted, "The entire ridiculousness of this complaint
springs to the eyes when one applies it to any other object. Every chair, for
example, shows the same injustice. 'Why must its legs constantly rest on the
dirty floor, while its back gets to rise free in the pure air? After all, both are cut
out of the same wood.'" 107
In the last pages of Biology of the State, Uexkull turned more systematically
to the question of Germany's present "pathology." Capitalist democracy, of
course, was a great cancerous illness. By its nature, such a state body fostered
the production of masses of people who then grew in their undifferentiated
power, breaking down the structured tissue of the state body like so many
cancerous tumors. The press was also a persistent toxic influence, claiming a
power fully independent from that of the state, whining about "freedom of the
press" yet daily infecting Germany with its venom.108 Finally, there was the
problem of parasites, both from within Germany's borders and from other
countries. Of the latter type, England was unquestionably the greatest of-
fender, having turned itself into the most powerful "world parasite" on the
face of the planet, sucking friend and foe with equal alacrity.109 As for Ger-
many's internal parasites, Uexkull declined to name names. Instead, he sim-
ply noted that the true parasitic nature of certain "alien races" within Germany
had unmistakably been revealed during this present time of crisis. One could
recognize Germany's internal parasites by the way in which they rejoiced in
the overall weakening of their host and sought to seize lost jobs and other
bounty for themselves. They had a thousand excuses for Germany's enemies
and a thousand tricks for subtly undermining what remained of Germany's
powers of resistance. Germany could not do much about them now, but once
she had again recovered her strength, every necessary step would have to be
taken to neutralize their destructive power.110
In talking about Germany's "parasites"not to speak of her "poisonous
press"Uexkull never once explicitly mentioned the Jews. This does not
mean, however, that the "Jewish question" was of no concern to him (a point
to which I return later in this chapter). Indeed, the many references he did
make (to the liberal press, the banks, etc.) were more or less transparent code
terms for allegedly Jewish interests, widely used at the time by cultural critics
in a time when open attacks on Jews were officially not tolerated.111 More-
over, in a letter to Chamberlain, written about a year after the publication of
Biology of the State, Uexkull made his personal position clear, "The cohesive
power of the Jewish Volk is admirable. For that, the Jews are completely
incapable of building a state. All they produce is just a parasitic net that every-
where corrodes national structures and transforms the Volk into fermenting
piles of pulp."112
Eckart Scheerer, a German historian of psychology, locates Uexkiill's Biol-
ogy of the State in a larger movement among conservative German intellectu-
als to visualize a "third way" between the evils of socialist Marxism on the
one hand and those of liberal capitalism on the other. In the early 1920s,
however, there was still considerable disagreement over exactly what this
third way should be. Uexkiill's feudalistic and anticapitalistic opus was a very
different work than that, for example, of the biological theorist, Oscar Hert--
wig, whose book The State as Organism would attempt to reconcile the con-
servative ideals of political organicism with some of the practical advantages
of modern capitalism. In Hertwig's monograph, factories became the organs
of the state, trusts were the organ systems, highways and throughways were
the vascular system, and communication systems like the telephone and tele-
graph were the nervous system.113 Hertwig's efforts here on behalf of industri-
alization and modernism can be usefully compared with attempts by certain
engineers in Germany at this same time to give a "spiritualized" spin to de-
spised principles like Technik; one that would help pave the way for the inte-
gration of technology into the reactionary politics of the Nazi years." 4
Biology of the State was widely reviewed, and press response was mixed.
While many were enthusiastic, some of the most conservative readers were
not happy with Uexkiill's unusual prioritizing of the authority of the State
over that of the Volk.'15 On the other side of the political spectrum, Uexkiill's
old friend, Hans Driesch, opposed the monograph on more principled
grounds, which he expressed in words that were clear, if gently spoken. Writ-
ing in 1921, Driesch declared that, while Uexkull had made some brilliant and
profound observations in Biology of the State, ultimately his basic premise
that the state might properly be viewed as an organism was untenable. For
Driesch, any particular empirical state could not,.by definition, be considered
a true biological whole because states possessed no independent, creative en-
telechy. Instead, the only "super-personal" organismic entity that Driesch was
prepared to recognizeand, even here, only cautiouslywas a concept of
mankind that recognized no national or volkisch boundaries. It is relevant in
this context that Driesch, in sharp contrast to his Baltic friend, was a repub-
lican who had long defended an ideal of cultural cosmopolitanism, having
himself traveled and lectured extensively in China, Japan, and the United
States (compare also chapter 6). Now, he wrote:

The fact that mankind can create states qualifies it to be in a certain sense a single
"organism"; however the empirical individual states are, in their logical essence,
much more like [inorganic] rocks than like some special construction in the con-
text of the organic world.116
Undaunted, Uexkull reissued a somewhat expanded version of Biology of
the State in 1933, a year in which many of its key themes suddenly seemed of
renewed relevance. This time, the monograph made unmistakable its sharp
ideological differences with the more modernist visions of bio-politicians like
Hertwig by calling attention to one further deadly disease of the state: the
"disease of technology." Above all, the blind elevation of machines over peo-
ple had sucked the lifeblood of the state by creating massive unemploy-
ment.117 The revised monograph also addressed the timely question of "racial
mixing" and decided that simplistic racial theories for maintaining racial pu-
rity were unconvincing on Mendelian grounds. There was, however, a more
compelling argument against racial mixing: the fact that the different Umwel-
ten of different racial groups could, only with great difficulty, if at all, ever be
reconciled with one another.118 However, Uexkull went on to insist that rec-
ognizing the alien "otherness" of certain groups should in no sense lead to the
conclusion that some groups must be condemned as inferior or worse. All
human groups must be respected in their distinctiveness (and the obvious
message was that Jews must represent no exception here) because all in the
end are expressions of the same creative life energy.119 This rather guileless
call for tolerance was then practically undercut by Uexkiill's hopeful conclud-
ing suggestion that the pathological decay that Germany had been experienc-
ing for many years had now been halted by the ascendancy of the party of
Adolf Hitler.120


All the same, Uexkiill's implicit 1933 plea in Biology of the State for restraint
and tolerance when dealing with the "Jewish question" does find clear echoes
in a number of his other published essays and reviews.121 At the same time, as
already indicated, Uexkull was a man who privately was tortured by an image
of the Jews, especially secularized Jews, as ruthless, state-destroying para-
sites. He reacted with powerful emotion to the alleged evidence of a world-
wide Jewish conspiracy revealed in the fraudulent document, Protocols of the
Elders ofZion, that spoke of a Jewish world conspiracy.122 Indeed, as he ex-
plained in a long 1920 letter to Chamberlain, he was convinced that the threat-
ened Jewish plot had already been partly realized in the horrors of Bolshevik
Russia. This country, he believed, had stamped out Christianity and effec-
tively replaced it in people's hearts with the "soulless religion" of Judaism
that denied the afterlife and focused all of its attention on a materialistic here-
and-now dominated by the Machine. "Is Jehovah himself perhaps the Devil?"
he demanded of Chamberlain in a 1921 letter.
In addition Uexkull agreed with Chamberlain that Germany's own Arma-
geddon was not far off; the Jews had already infiltrated all the organs of the
German state: most socialists, democrats, and even centrists, were Jewish. 123
In one letter he expressed a hope that, in the end, "a very ordinary biological
defect will shatter the century-old wisdom of the Jews, and lead not to the
reign but to the eradication of the Jews." 124 One way or another, Germany
wouldmustfight back, "I think that care will be taken that even Jewish
trees do not grow in Heaven." "The time of mass rule, in which the Jews
flourish, will also pass away, and now we have seen through them."125
The disparity between Uexkull's public and private statements on the "Jew-
ish question" understood on several levels. Probably most relevant is
Uexkull's sense of himself as someone who was personally capable of dealing
with ideas and information that would be too dangerous to be trusted to the
masses. Common people were notorious for misinterpreting and distorting
ideas and arguments on sensitive issues like this, ultimately doing Germany
more harm than good. A 1923 letter to Chamberlain was frank: "I fear that
crass racial anti-Semitism just serves to strengthen the ghetto-state, in that it
drives those Jews who don't want to have anything more to do with a Jewish
state into its arms." 126
In addition to bearing the stamp of this self-imposed prudence, Uexkull's
public statements seem to have been written with a clear, strategic awareness
that the political temper of the times was against him and his cause would best
be served by:making haste slowly. One 1921 letter to Chamberlain is highly
revealing in this respect. Here he speaks of his intention to review a new book
entitled The Cosmic Mystery, written by a Jew, Professor Karl Jellinek, and
The Jews have a highly sensitive nose for coming trends. Materialism has gone
rotten; now they do business with Idealism. .. . How many stupid Germans are
going to fall in [the trap]? For this reason, I have undertaken to review the book
in the Deutsche Rundschau, which will be quite a difficult business, since I can't
simply lay my cards on the table.127
Strategies aside, one also has a sense that at least some of the apparent
contradictions in Uexkiill's writings existed because he was, quite simply, a
man not immune to internal contradiction. For example, while consistently
applauding Chamberlain's racial diagnoses of Germany's problems through-
out his friend's life, afterwards, with the Nazis in ascendancy, he stressed
repeatedly that Chamberlain had never intended for people to focus so much
attention on the problem of "race." 128 He claimed that "Chamberlain de-
manded of the Germans, not racial purity, but purity of ideas."129 In addition,
Uexkull's theoretical hatred of Jews as a group did not interfere with his estab-
lishing friendly relations with particular Jews, whom he regarded as more or
less "exceptions" to the general rule of Jewish-German Umwelt incompati-
bility. These friends included the wealthy, highly assimilated Baroness von
Rothschild, who supported Uexkull's research; Otto Kestner, the physiolo-
gist, who was born Otto Cohnheim; 130 and Wagnerians Felix Gross and
Arthur Trebitsch, both devoted disciples of Chamberlain and both tragic ex-
amples of Jewish self-hate.131


All this said, it remains a fact that for Uexkull, the Jewish threat to Germany's
continuing health and cohesion was very real. It was not, however, the only
menace with which Germany would have to contend if she wished to survive
her present dark days of trial. There was also the Machine, a menacing image
with multiple meanings. As technology, the Machine threatened the lifeblood
of the German economy. As an automated approach to assessing human
worth, it dominated the soulless politics of numbers practiced by the Weimar
government. As a scientific view of life created out of a mix of Darwinism and
mechanistic biologywhat Uexkull called the "Gorilla-Machine"132it had
stripped human existence of all higher significance and moral orientation.
This was, in many respects, the most terrible Machine of all and the basis for
all the others.
In a 1926 play-like dialogue entitled "God or Gorilla," Uexkiilfsystemati-
cally laid out the devastating existential and social consequences wrought by
the unresisted domination of this monstrous creature. The discussion takes
place on board a ship bound for the United States. The hero of the dialogue is
a good-natured intellectual.sharpshooter named Dr. Schlemihl. Schlemihl ex-
plains that he is going to America in order to "hunt gorillas," a reference to the
Scopes trial; of the previous year, in which Schlemihl's "all too prematurely
deceased friend" William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) had attacked both the
veracity and morality of Darwinism. A tiny young woman named Frau Meister
feeds Schlemihl the questions and objections necessary to move his argument
along (and is converted to his viewpoint in the end). A journalist representing
the cynical, amoral power of the press, is also pulled into the discussion, along
with a privy councillor, who represents at once the dogmatic atheism and ruth-
lessness of the new "scientific Bolshevik Russia."
Houston Stewart Chamberlain's 1921 monograph Man and God,m which
celebrated Christianity as a timeless, inner religion of experience, was the
intellectual starting point for Uexkull's shipboard dialogue. In his book,
Chamberlain had argued that "the mental organization of humans, in contrast
to that of animals, requires a God as a counterpole to its own subject."134 This
psychological fact meant that, ultimately, the choices for a society did not
come down to religion versus science, but rather to a choice between old gods
and new gods: the old Christian God in heaven versus the "star-machine" and
the satanic "gorilla-machine," worshipped "even by the so-called atheists."135
In the dialogue, Dr. Schlemihl summarizes the stakes:
It is . .. for the individual person not a matter of indifference whether the world
is ruled by a moral or an amoral principle. Eventually there comes a day, even for
the most confirmed atheist, when he must address himself to [the problem of] the
Rule of the Universe. Ifinstead of a Spirit who, standing over the people, pro-
duced him and his companions, and at the same time speaks his conscience to
himif he should then find nothing but a lifeless machine that mocks all his
heart's yearnings, then this machine will begin to take on a satanic life. A horrible
grotesque face grins at him. This is what Bryan has identified as the Gorilla.
Omnipotence has fallen into the hands of an ape-like monster.136
In his 1936 memoirs, Uexkull would tell a story from his university days of
a fellow student who had sunk into such existential despair after reading Dar-
winand confronting the "Gorilla-Machine God"that he committed sui-
cide.137 In "God or Gorilla," Uexkull went a step further and related such
individual existentialist tragedies to collective moral ones: in a world where
men have been reduced to machines, experiencing themselves as mere play-
things of the Gorilla God, all sense of allegiance to higher principles is lost.
Only the rude mechanisms of the marketplace can continue to command obe-
dience. 138 In one of his letters to Chamberlain, Uexkull elaborated:
With the destruction of Christianity and its God, the human being stops being
human and becomes something worse than a beast: he becomes a machine, the
most pitiless being of all.... The machine that is no longer the servant of men,
but rather their lord transforms itself simply into the Devil. He stands now before
our eyes, so near, so vivid. When the machine rules, the personality perishes.139
Fortunately (to return to "God or Gorilla"), Chamberlain had taught Uexkiill
that the Umwelt of human beings, alone of all species, is permeated by the felt
presence of Something Eternal, of some invisible Plan beyond sense experi-
ence. The idea of heaven as a home of the afterlife and of God had been one
anschaulich expression of this intuited Presence. It made simple human sense:
if divinity existed, it also clearly had to exist somewhere, and the immediate
human reality of a starry canopy of heaven fit the bill beautifully.
Tragically, over the last several centuries, science, as everyone knew, had
cracked open the canopy of stars to reveal not a divinity on a throne before
which hurnanity must tremble, but a meaningless eternity of space. Science
had then declared the ruler of this meaningless world to be something it called
"natural law," but which Bryan (as Uexkull saw it) had more aptly recognized
as the Gorilla God. On one level, this monstrous creature was, of course, a
symbol of divinity like any other. It was a concept of divinity, however, that
was infinitely more pernicious than the one it had replaced, since it was so
contrary to humanity's inborn felt experience of divinity as a personal and
moral force. So it happens that Schlemihl finally confesses in "modest tones"
that his goal is to chase the scientists' Gorilla-Idol out of the heavens for-
ever.140 At the end of the dialogue, a chastened Frau Meister apologizes to
Schlemihl and promises to have "nothing more to do with the dreadful Go-
rilla," but rather "from now on . . . to again ask my stars in my heaven what
they have to say to me."141
"God or Gorilla" was one of a number of popular pieces written by Uexkull
in the 1920s that used Umwelt theory to argue for the continuing feasibility of
natural piety and religious faith in the face of scientific disenchantment.
Sometimes, as in "God or Gorilla," he implied that a form of Christian piety
would be the result of listening to "one's own stars in one's own heaven." He
was fond of remarking that, so far as he was concerned, the essence of the
Christian message could be found in the New Testament assertion that "the
Kingdom of God is within you."142
In other writings, however, Uexkull defended a more pantheistic and mysti-
cal vision of humanity's relationship to divinity that drew on the metaphorical
resonances of his concept of the Bauplan. First developed by Uexkull to ac-
count for the behavior of invertebrate marine animals, then expanded to serve
as the cornerstone of Uexkiill's bio-politics, Bauplan was now finally used by
Uexkiill to designate cosmic, "planfulness." As the "immortal spirit in Na-
ture," 143 Bauplan saw to the individual purposiveness of individual lives but
also coordinated each of those lives into a harmonious interactive whole.
Uexkull liked here to visualize each organism's life as a melody, all of which
the cosmic Bauplan as mighty conductor harmoniously blended together into
a mighty symphony:

We find that all characteristics of living things are united in a planful unity, and
the characteristics of these unities are integrated in a contrapuntal way with the
characteristics of other unities. In this way, one gains the impression of an all-
embracing harmonious Whole, because even the characteristics of non-living
things interweave in a contrapuntal way into the Bauplan of the living.144

Increasingly, Uexkull identified this image of "Nature's orchestra" with

Goethe's concept of "God-Life-Nature."145 In his scientific writings, Goethe
had also celebrated the ways in which different organisms interacted both
with one another and with the world. For him, this harmonious dance was
reflective of the platonic ideal order that lay behind the whole. In what may be
his most famous expression of this perspective, he had posed the question: "If
the eye were not sunlike, how could it glimpse the sun?" Uexkull a g r e e d -
Goethe's question, indeed, spoke to the basic metaphysical principle underly-
ing Umwelt theory. In Uexkiill's own words: "If the flower were not beelike,
and the bee were not flowerlike, the harmony [between them] could never be
achieved." At the same time, Uexkull finally felt compelled to go one step
beyond Goethe in describing the metaphysics of inner harmony. In Science of
Meaning, he proposed a correlate to Goethe's query: not just, "If the eye were
not sunlike, how could it glimpse the sun?" but also "If the sun were not
eyelike, it would not shine in any Heaven."' 46 In other words, Umwelt theory
made clear that the infinity of melodies that are blended together by God-
Nature are played by subjects who create that music themselves within the
confines of their individual soap bubbles. In the end, only God-Nature may be
in a position to hear the entire harmonious symphony to which each subject
during its lifetime contributed.
At the same time, Uexkull knew that simply cultivating a Goethean sense
of the sacred in Nature would not be enough for the common man. Such a man
cared less about aesthetics and more about his personal destiny in the divine
scheme of things; and he cared particularly about whether or not his personal-
ity stood a chance of surviving his bodily death. Uexkiill argued that Umwelt
theory in fact pointed with certainty toward such survival. He explained:

When somebody . . . makes the claim to me that a dead person is also not
different than a broken car, then I ask him whether he believes that the builder of
a car has to break his own bones every time an automobile crashes. And when he
denies that, then I point out to him that the natura) law of human personality that
is responsible for building the human being along with his world, is just as little
affected by the death of the human being as is the builder of the car.147
At death, Uexkull argued, the bodies of organisms (including humans) of
course did become useless, and therefore a person did lose access to the famil-
iar Umwelt which his or her body had helped make manifest. However, the
subjectivity that was the expression of every person's Bauplan did not vanish
but was reabsorbed in the eternal cosmic Bauplan of which it had always been
a direct expression. "This plan, that encompasses our entire personality, is an
. . . indestructible reality, about whose endurance there can be absolutely no
doubt." 148 Or, as he proclaimed in more familiar terms in another article:
"[T]he immortality of the soul . . . is absolutely certain."149
For Uexkiill, the ability of Umwelt theory to offer humanity the promise of
life after death came at a particularly critical time in Germany's political his-
tory. He was hopeful that when the common people were firmly convinced of
their personal immortality, this belief would encourage them to eschew the
temptation to involve themselves inappropriately in state affairs. It would
make clear to them that their task is "to search for equality not on earth, but in
the world Beyond." 150 In this sense, the promise of life after death was not just
central to a satisfying religious world view; it was also central to the stable
state system that Uexkull hoped would soon replace the chaos of the current
democratic republic.
Lest the common man still entertain thoughts of rebelling against his "nat-
ural" place in society, Uexkull warned about the unpleasant nature of any
afterlife that could await the individual who had deviated too severely from
his or her given life plan. For animals, the return after death to the cosmic plan
was unproblematic; the purpose of their lives had always been in seamless
harmony with the purposes of life itself; they simply did what they had to do.
For human beings, though, Uexkull thought that matters were rather different:
"[T]he human being is not inevitably subject to natural rule; rather he is made,
by Nature herself, to be Lord of his subjective rule of development."151 Was
it then possible that the self-designed plans of some human personalities were
too unnatural to be reincorporated into "Almighty Planfulness" after death?
and, if so, what happened then? Uexkull was not sure, but he feared the worst:
"The pendulum that is raised to the left, strikes back to the right with a relent-
less necessity. In cases of natural law, one searches in vain for compassion and
This was more than just alarmist talk designed to subdue the common peo-
ple. Uexkull genuinely feared that nature could take revenge on Germany for
her recent wayward ways. In a gloomy 1920 New Year's letter to Chamber-
lain, he spoke with a frankness he would never allow himself in formal lec-
tures and publications:

The consequences of not staying true to the Law of our lives must be cata-
strophic. Christianity, which can allay this fear, has become an empty delusion for
us educated bourgeoisie. It is the educated, however, who readily grasp the bio-
logical theory of the soap bubble. The great masses understand nothing at all. For
the educated, a dark time is coming, and the Demon who once was physically
enthroned behind the canopy of Heaven, will now again rise up behind the soap
bubble of the frightfully isolated individualnot, now, as a Person, but as a mer-
ciless Law.153


When in 1933 a group of pundits and ideologuesless educated than

Uexkull, but no less fond of evoking the mercilessness of natural lawseized
power, Uexkull was sixty-nine years old. Over the next several years, there
would be increasing uncertainty about the future of his beloved Institute for
Umwelt Research. The years between 1934 and 1936 saw the solicitation of
numerous official evaluations of the value (especially in economically tight
times) of Uexkiill's life work and that of his institute.154 For Uexkull, this
process of review meant that he was forced to spend considerable time argu-
ing for the usefulness of his institute in a climate that had little tolerance for
both ideological ambiguity and "knowledge for knowledge's sake." In 1936
the University of Hamburg formally retired him, although he was able to ex-
ploit personal relations within the cultural ministry in Berlin to retain his di-
rectorship of the institute until 1940.155 All in all, the 1930s were not an easy
time for him.
At the same time, it also cannot be said that his relationship with the Nazi
regime and its ideologues was unambiguously adversarial. Although not a
party member himself,156 there is no doubt that he was delighted by the fall of
the Weimar Republic and not without early hopes for the National Socialists.
His social connections and bio-political publications also made it rather easy
for him to be perceived by various National Socialists as a natural ally and
intellectual resourcea perception that Uexkull seems to have permitted and
even to have partly cultivated. Uexkiill's long-standing friendship with
Chamberlain was respectfully noted by the Nazis, who also did not overlook
his cordial relations with other supporters of the Hitler regime, including the
Wagner family. Finally, there was a relationship of an unclear nature with the
high-ranking party member and chief Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg.157
Rosenberg had been an ardent disciple of Chamberlain (though Uexkull came
to believed he distorted his friend's basic message), and he was also a Baltic
who was born in Reval, Estonia, the town where Uexkiill's father had served
as mayor and where Uexkull himself had attended Gymnasium.
In 1933 Uexkull thus appeared as a figure of potential influencenot.un-
controversial, to be sure, but someone with whom it was worthwhile, during
the early years of Nazi consolidation, to cultivate cordial relations. In 1934, a
review of the second edition The Biology of the State appeared in the Nazi
biology journal Der Biologe (apparently written by Ernst Lehmann, would-be
founder of an official Nazi biology [see chapter 6]). The review praised
Uexkiill for anticipating the broad blueprint of an organismic state politics
now in fact being actualized, with appropriate refinements, in the policies of
Adolf Hitler. That same year, a former research assistant of Uexkull, Lothar
Gottlieb Tirala (Director of the Nazi Institute for Racial Hygiene in Munich)
used Der Biologe to publish an appreciative "dialogue" that described his
former teacher's "biological world view" in terms accessible to the new gen-
eration of National Socialist youth.159 Finally, as Uexkiill's institute first came
under review, a letter arrived from the national headquarters of the National
Socialist Student Organization. Signed by one Wolf Muller, the letter "most
urgently" demanded that Hamburg University not succumb to the financial
temptation to withdraw full continuing support for the Institute for Umwelt
Research during the current period of reorganization. The letter concluded:
"We National Socialist students will not forget Herr von Uexkiill's struggle
against an all-mechanizing biology, and will energetically devote ourselves to
the preservation and protection of this work." 160
In December 1937, the student division of the National Socialist Party in
East Prussia went so far as to publish excerpts of Uexkiill's work, along with
a picture of Uexkiill, in its propaganda rag, Der Student der Ostmark. The
cover letter to Uexkiill from one Siegfried Drescher, head of the cultural divi-
sion of the organization, explained that his group wished to use the writings
of great German thinkers, scientists, and artists to inspire a young generation
of National Socialistic students to realize contributions that the university
might make to the regeneration of the German Volk. The letter closed by
thanking Uexkull for the inspiration of his life's work.161 Although Uexkull
had almost certainly not solicited recognition of this sort, the archives do
show that he promptly sent a copy of the propaganda leaflet to the chancellor
of Hamburg University (during the Nazi years, chancellors were government-
appointed dictators of the various universities) along with a brief letter sum-
marizing the words of the Nazi student leader.162
There were appreciations, then, and appropriations during the early years.
Still, it was also the case that Uexkiill's biology and politics did not map so
seamlessly onto the agenda of National Socialism as some would have liked.
For a time, there was even some question among National Socialist colleagues
whether Uexkiill's concept of Umwelt might mean that this biology actually
added up to a form of environmental!sm or "milieu theory" which could un-
dermine the canonical race doctrines of the time. A 1936 review of Uexkiill's
Institute for Umwelt Research, written by Hamburg University professor Gus-
taf Deuchler, was a very explicit attempt to prevent such misunderstandings:
Umwelt research is in no sense in conflict with the genetic perspective, but
rather enriches it; on the other hand, its philosophical and ideological [weltan-
schaulichen] bases stand in strict contrast with those of milieu theory. Herr v.
Uexkull is perfectly right when he emphasizes that the milieu theory approach
belongs to the Bolshevik world view while the Umwelt research approach be-
longs to the world view of National Socialism.163
Yet, even if there is no doubt that Umwelt theory was a far cry from "milieu
theory," it also remained a fact that Uexkiill's biological perspective did em-
phasize different sorts of principlesprinciples that Uexkull feared now
risked getting lost or obscuredthan did most Nazi race biology. In a 1934
letter to Hans Driesch in Leipzig, a disgruntled Uexkull urged him to "drop a
word" occasionally about the significance of Umwelt research for biology.
"There is danger that we are going to fall victim to the new race research."164
A number of Uexkull's publications in the 1930s began to emphasize that
Umwelt theory not only did not threaten race biology; properly understood, it
actually promised to enrich it.165
In addition to fearing that his biology could be swamped by the new preoc-
cupation with race, Uexkull was also deeply alarmed by the swift measures
taken by the new Nazi regime to undermine the long-standing university tradi-
tion of academic and institutional independence and to turn the universities
into compliant accomplices of a centralized politico-racial and militaristic
agenda. Although Uexkull himself had previously lamented the Jewish infil-
tration of the universities166 and warmly approved of "in-house" strategies to
keep Jews from securing top university positions,167 he was fully taken aback
by Hitler's almost immediate purge of all undesirable university intellectuals
(some 1,200 in 1933 alone, mostly Jews, liberals, and Social Democrats). In
a long letter that Uexkiill apparently wrote in May 1933 and that was ad-
dressed to Eva Chamberlain, the widow of Houston Stewart Chamberlain
but was really intended for Hitler himselfhe once again took the public
moral high ground and declared his alarm and revulsion over the purge.168 He
vehemently denied that Chamberlain had ever intended for his ideas to lead to
a persecution of Jews, and he spoke of the "crass barbarism" that now required
the dismissal of all conscientious and devoted German researchers of Jewish
origin who failed to meet the Nazi required minimum of 75 percent Aryan
blood law.
Soon after, Uexkull was invited by the German Legal Academyheaded by
Hans Frank, Hitler's lawyer (and later the brutal governor-general of occupied
Poland)to participate in a legal philosophical discussion in the Nietzsche
house in Weimar. Many important Nazi intellectuals gathered for the event.
Nietzsche's own ancient sister, dressed in black silk and kid gloves and lying
on a white sofa, was even on hand to greet the guests personally.169
In the evening, Uexkull gave a lecture in which he attempted to demon-
strate the self-destructive nature of the Nazi restrictions on university auton-
omy by using the logic of his own bio-politics. He began with praise: "The
new realization of National Socialism is the total state that represents a living
unity built up out of organs working together."170 That said, it was important
to realize that within the total state, not every institution and individual could
be equally subordinate to the government; to think otherwise was to succumb
to the covert continuing influence of rejected democratic perspectives. No, in
the total state, the universities played a necessarily elite and special role. They
were Germany's "sense organs." For the National Socialist government will-
fully to interfere with the free functioning of such organs was effectively like
an organism deliberately deciding to punch out its own eyes. The eye, like the
university, does not fight back, but the result in both cases is blindness.
At some point during the recital of this lecture, Uexkull was interrupted by
someone who declared that he was straying too far from the theme of the
evening program. Then Hans Frank rose to say that he was confused by the
talk but understood enough to know that he didn't like it.171 It seems that
Uexkull never did'get to finish saying his piece, and the final version of this
lecture was ultimately published not in the Deutsche Rundschau, to which
Uexkull usually sent general-interest pieces of this sort, but in a local and
obscure medical journal.
The Weimar lecture was unquestionably an act of assertiveness and, as
such, stands in interesting contrast to another lecture, given at almost the same
time by a speaker with whom Uexkull otherwise shared certain cultural sym-
pathies: Martin Heidegger. Heidegger's famous Rector's address, "The Self-
Assertion of the German University," on May 27, 1933, at the University of
Freiburg, had called for the university to give up its "much-celebrated 'aca-
demic freedom" in order to pursue the higher historical-spiritual goals that
Heidegger was at that time prepared to identify with the National Socialist
movement.172 Nevertheless, even as he took the opposite viewpoint, Uexkull
still deliberately avoided giving any impression that he was opposed to the
goals of National Socialism in general. On the contrary, he seemed instead to
be suggesting that it would be in the larger interests of the government to
exempt the universities from the forms of control that this government was
imposing on less privileged "organs" of society. Ineffective as his pleas were,
they also do not seem to have put him at any significant personal risk. True,
his institute continued a precarious financial existence, but he himself was left
in relative peace over the next ten years to publish and travel as he wished.
In fact by 1944, his eightieth year, his reputation in Germany was of such
a high nature that the University of Hamburg decided to nominate him for one
of Germany's most prestigious national awards, the Goethe Prize for Art and
Science. Presentation of this award would have represented the crowning of
Uexkull's career. Unfortunately, the university's application on Uexkiill's be-
half was lost through war-related disruptions and no prize was actually pre-
sented that year. Uexkiill's death later that year, in July, put an end to the
university's hopes of trying again to secure him the Goethe Prize for the occa-
sion of his eighty-fifth birthday.173 He died on the Allied-occupied island of
Capri, where he had been livingpartly for health reasonswith his wife
since the winter of 1940. There is a certain ambiguous irony in the fact that on
the day of his funeral, the only clergyman to be found on the island was a
young refugee rabbi from Vienna, who was sent by the Americans as a gesture
of goodwill and who read a psalm over Uexkull's body.174

W o r l d W a r I and the Search for G o d

in t h e N e r v o u s S y s t e m

In 1933, the Swiss novelist Maria Waser published a testimonial book entitled
Evening Encounter. Lyrically written, the book described Waser's encounter
with the teachings of Russian-Swiss neuroanatomist and neurologist Con-
stantin von Monakow (1853-1930) in the last months of his life. It explained
that Monakow had turned to Waser, a well-known writer,1 to translate his
lifetime of scientific insights into a language that could reach the hearts of the
spiritually disillusioned generations of German-speaking Europe. She proved
a willing student of his gospel of hope and a celebrator of his wisdom:
[T]he man, who on October 19, 1930 so suddenly left us, was called to us to be
a Helper; for we had lost our direction, but he knew the way. We had fallen into
a state of disorder; he knew the Plan and the secret Will of the Living Principle.
We were alienated from Nature; he stood as one initiated in the middle of her
shrine. We were cheerless, but he knew the deepest joy. We were overwhelmed
with sickness; the laws of healing had been revealed to him: this great physician
had been called by destiny, that he might become a physician for many.2
What had Monakow taught Waser that she could speak in this way about
him? He had revealed, she told her readers, the lie at the heart of the "materi-
alistic fairy tale of the human machine"3 and put in its place a vision of the
human brain as
a revelation of hidden will, each cell a creation and container of divine energy,
each a tiny piece of soul. And the evil spectersbody as the lowly prison of the
soul, body as a soulless machine ...[all] crumble before this pure understand-
ing of the divine unity of all that is living.4
After World War II, other peoplemostly neurologists, concerned with
painting an image of the past that reflected current understandings of what
constituted valid science in their fieldwould tell a rather different sort of
story about this same physician-scientist, Constantin von Monakow. There
was no talk of destiny but much more discussion of Monakow's role in estab-
lishing Zurich as a center for internationally acclaimed neurology, his path-
breaking neuroanatomical work, and his sophisticated revisions of reigning
concepts of brain localization theory. They did not speak of him as a prophet,
but rather as one who made "an outstanding contribution to the empirically
founded theory of neurology," a "prodigious worker," and a "founder" of the
discipline of neurology in the twentieth century.5

Figure 14. Constantin von Monakow (1853-

1930). Constantin von Monakow, Vita Mea/
Mein Leben, eds. Alfred W. Gubser and Erwin
H. Ackerknecht, (Bern: Hans Huber, 1970).

Thus, two posthumous images claim to capture the truth about Constantin
von Monakow: a more official image, in which the neurologist appears as a
vigorous contributor to positivist knowledge of the human brain; and a lurk-
ing, partly obscured image in which he appears to be a spiritual leader called
by destiny to reveal the occult secrets of nature. These undigested images
together introduce us to a single story that is rich in contradictions: Monakow
as an internally torn figure whose conservative "German" scientific person-
ality struggled to maintain a balance with a mystical "Russian" personality;6
Monakow as a stern elitist who at the height of his career would retreat from
the company of the learned to seek clarity of vision among the simple people
in the Swiss mountains; Monakow as a penetrating theorist of holistic neuro-
biology whose most radical holistic message of all would be mostly obscured
or downplayed by those concerned with defining the official nature of his
legacy.7 In this sense, the ambiguities of Monakow's own life mirror many of
the ambiguities inherent in the whole German holistic effort to use science as
a means of healing a fragmented and disenchanted world.
Born in the outskirts of Moscow in 1853 to an aristocratic Russian father
and Polish-German mother, Monakow's ethnic identifications were divided at
the outset. His father, Iwan von Monakow, worked as a censor for the political
press under Nicholas I and Alexander II. His mother died when he was only
four, a loss from which Monakow seems never fully to have recovered. Much
later, in his autobiography, he would recall his anguished encounter with his
mother's corpse: how he had stolen into the death room to find her, had tried
to open her eyes, had probed her mouth and cold body, shaken her, called her
name over and overuntil finally a sort of understanding began to dawn, and
he began to shriek and cry convulsively.8 Even in old age, as he lay dying
himself, he spoke about his long years of yearning for the love of a mother.9
It is perhaps no accident that the image of "the mother" should have turned out
to be a recurring metaphor in his later visionary neurobiology.
Monakow's father was a stern, difficult man who now effectively aban-
doned his motherless children to the care of his servants. Through them, Mo-
nakow learned to believe in a vivid and frightening world of supernatural
powers in which the demons and spirits of peasant lore mingled with the an-
gels and disciples of an imposing Russian Orthodox God. The wicked Russian
house demon, or Domowoi, had a particularly strong hold on his imagination;
after the First World War, he would resurrect it as a half-literal, half-symbolic
representation of sin and retribution. As a boy, however, Monakow coped
with the terrors of evil and the supernatural by becoming almost compulsively
pious. His former student, Minkowski, wrote:
He prayed a great deal, enjoyed reproducing religious ceremonies for himself,
eagerly read the New and Old Testament; and held sermons at the age of eight to
youngsters of his own age, trying to persuade themhowever unsuccessfully
that a strong faith was all that was required to transform one object into another;
for example, a key into a horse!10
In 1863, coming under some form of political suspicion, Monakow's father
sold his lands and brought his family to Dresden, Germany. However, the
onset of the Prussian-Austrian war in 1866 alarmed the elder Monakow suffi-
ciently that he decided to seek further refuge in politically neutral Switzerland
and moved to Zurich. In 1869 the family became naturalized Swiss citizens.
Now sixteen, Monakow was difficult and stubborn, an unmotivated student
overshadowed by his apparently far cleverer brother and frequently at odds
with his father, from whom he would later become permanently estranged.
That spring witnessed another tragedy for Monakow: his much-loved sister,
Maria, died in a psychiatric asylum from a lung infection. She had suffered for
some time with severe depression,11 a victim of a vulnerability to mental ill-
ness that may have run in the Monakow family. Another of Monakow's broth-
ers would be diagnosed in 1886 with dementia praecox dominated by acute
religious delirium.12
In his autobiography, Monakow wrote how he awoke abruptly on the night
of his sister's death with an inexplicable sense of dread; he believed for a long
time afterwards that her parting had been conveyed to him in some mysterious
clairvoyant fashion. This experience initially reawakened his boyhood inter-
est in occult and mystical phenomena, but Maria's death also seems to have
represented a turning point in his inner life: a containment of vulnerabilities,
a self-conscious retreat from the irrational, and the emergence of a certain
defensive ambivalence manifested in a mixture of attachment and condescen-
sion toward women in general. On the one hand, he was fond of making ironic
comments and jokes about the intellectual inferiority of the female sex;13 on
the other, over the course of his life he developed a robust support system of
highly competent women to boost his academic productivity.
Monakow's decision in 1872 to study medicine was made both against his
father's will and, to a large extent, against his own intellectual inclinations.
Indeed, he seems to have been largely motivated by practical financial consid-
erations.14 After a brief but intense Sturm-und-Drang period (dominated by a
passionate disinterest in the medical sciences and a ravenous appetite for
music, philosophy, politics, and late-night socializing in the local pubs),15 he
became increasingly serious, stern, and focused on work. He embraced the
no-nonsense world view of Darwinism and systematically cultivated his criti-
cal skills.
As his career became increasingly productive, he also grew more imperious
and irascible. He pursued work with punishing intensity, often beginning at
dawn and ending only when he went to bed at night. Late in life he would
reflect on the "tyrant" within him that had relentlessly driven him to produce
in this way.16 Huge and heavily bearded, he once attempted to open a certain
door in his laboratoryunaware that it was lockedand, in his irritation,
pulled it out with the frame.17 In old age, he confessed to Maria Waser that, as
a boy, he had wanted to become a general: since he could not bring himself to
obey, he had no choice but to command. 18 His student, Minkowski, recalled
his habit of expecting automobiles and other vehicles automatically to stop for
him whenever he crossed a street, and how if they did not slow down quickly
enough, he would threaten them with his cane.19
At the same time, one also can see behind the persona of the imposing
German professor a vestige of the neglected and surly youth, unsure of his
worthiness but determined to make good in the petty world of Swiss academic
politics. He later recalled his persistent, anxious suspicion in his early career
that his colleagues were superior to him, his reluctance to speak at colloquia
because of his continuing awkwardness with the German language, and the
way in which his scientific ambitions were driven, not only by a hungerfor
knowledge, but also by an inner need to experience power, and authority as
well.20 His appointment to associate professor (Extraordinarius) in 1894 by
the Canton government of Zurich was made over the formal opposition of the
faculty, with the result that his salary was paid by the state rather than the
university.21 For many years, he was forced to support his Brain Anatomical
Institute through personal funds earned in private practice. Only in 1910 did
the University of Zurich finally incorporate this institute under its auspices,
after the International Brain Commission22 formally recognized it as a "cen-
tral interdisciplinary research institute."23
As a German-speaking Swiss at a time when Germany still largely defined
the scientific standards and norms of the academy, Monakow's primary pro-
fessional identification was with the greater German-speaking neurological
and psychiatric community. At the same time, Switzerland, of which he spoke
as his intellectual "cradle," left its unique stamp on him as well. When Mo-
nakow's compatriot Carl Gustav Jung spoke of Switzerland, he emphasized
its paradoxes: unapproachable, stiff and stubborn on the one side; in touch
with a certain "primordial feeling" on the other,24 Traditional home to icono-
clasts, refugees and alternative thinkers (including anthroposoph Rudolf
Steiner, mystic writers like Hermann Hesse and Marie Rainer Rilke, "crisis
theologians" like Karl Barthand Emil Brunner, and the Dadaists in Zurich),
Switzerland, with its multiple ethnic enclaves, could also be provincial and
conservative. More than even many native-born Swiss, Monakow seems to
have lived out this capacity to embody opposites simultaneously.
Even as he drove himself tirelessly in pursuit of exact, positive knowledge,
he looked down on the values of a modernism that envisioned a society built
solely on the fruits of such knowledge. A master of. the technologies of his
own anatomical research, outside the laboratory he disparaged the abstraction
called "technology" as a source of misguided optimism, if not outright deca-
dence. His friend Pusirewsky recalled how, "like every living form that
served, not culture but rather civilization, technology seemed to be disparag-
ingly assessed by him as something unfruitful, if not destructive. If in contrast
one should stress the time that was won [through technology] as a factor that
promotes culture, he would reply cuttingly: 'Time for what? Spent how?' " 25
He was equally vehement in his distrust of the secular agenda of the Machine
Age, the French Revolution, and the "Americanization" of European culture
(which he derided as a "triumph of infantilism").26
A part of him was attracted instead to a vision of social relations that looked
backward rather than forwardthat valued myth over exact knowledge and
the patriarchy of old Russia over the democracy of new Switzerland. This
reactionary attitude manifested itself in his passionate devotion to the music
and operas of Wagner, his continuing "warm feelings of attachment" for the
old Russian feudalism he had experienced in childhood (even as Pusirewsky
insisted that he "naturally condemned" the system of serfdom on which it was
based), and his fascination with the insights of the classic Russian novelists
like Dostoyevsky.27
Monakow, of course, was not alone in his disgrunflement with the current
trends of modern society and his nostalgic attraction to more traditional alter-
natives. The.1880s and 1890s represented the peak years of "degeneration ist"
talk across European intellectual circles, and the Zurich faculties of psychiatry
and neurology were particularly preoccupied with the perceived degenerative
and heritable effects of alcoholism.28 Monakow's close colleague (and some-
time rival) at Zurich-^psychiatrist, entomologist, and social reformer
August Forel, led the antialcohol effort at the university. Eugen Bleuler was
another engaged believer and agitator, and Monakow himself took up the

cause himself after coming to Zurich in 1885, distancing himself from his
previous youthful career as a devotee of the Bierstube. Discussions among
medical faculty on these matters moved easily between observations of patho-
logical anatomy, analyses of the decay of moral habits, lamentations about the
temptations of big-city life, andvivid images of racial devolution. It was an
expansive style of argument that would serve Monakow well in the coming



Monakow began his career, however, with a focus on questions considerably

more restricted. As a medical-student in the mid-1870s, he was taught by
Eduard Hitzig, the Prussian neurologist who had extended the paradigm of
sensory-motor localization to the cortex (and who, on the strength of that
work, had recently been appointed director of Switzerland's leading psychiat-
ric clinic, the Burgholzli, in Zurich). Bernhard von Gudden in Munich then
trained Monakow in the techniques of the microtome, a device he had in-
vented to cut brain tissue into thin slices for microscopic examination. Other
teachers and influences in his formative years included such leading represen-
tatives of classical German neurology and organic psychiatry as Hermann
Munk, Cornelius Winkler, and Theodor Meynert.
Monakow's first major work, begun in the 1880s, looked very much like a
contribution to the best of this classic, old-guard tradition. His work on the
visual pathways of the brain was praised by the leading architect of the associ-
ating mechanistic brain, Carl Wernicke, as one of the most comprehensive
neuroanatomical accomplishments of that era.29 These successes were fol-
lowed by work on the auditory system that, together with the visual system
work, would lay the foundation for twentieth-century thinking on the func-
tional relations between the thalamus and the cortical regions of the brain. In
1897 Monakow published Brain Pathology,30 a 924-page tome that appeared
as part of Nothnagel's Handbook of Special Pathology and Therapy. The re-
vised edition, issued in 1905, was 1,319 pageswith several thousand refer-
ences compiled by Monakow's personal secretary, Agnes Pariss.
As one of the many "invisible women" in the history of science, the story
of Agnes Pariss is worth a brief narrative deflection. An unmarried, middle-
aged Englishwoman, pointedly identified by Monakow and his colleagues as
Miss Pariss, she had formerly worked as a secretary to the influential evolu-
tionary theorist Herbert Spencer. A sentimental, folk-tale flavor pervades the
various tellings of the story of how she came to enter Monakow's service. We
learn that Miss Pariss had fallen ill with some undefined form of hysteria and,
after years of fruitless treatment, was finally referred to Monakow in Zurich
(he had been seeing private patients since 1877). He was able to help her
where others had failed and in her gratitude she begged for the opportunity to
offer him her services (the regular work, she argued, would also help her
maintain her new-found health). According to the stories, Monakow was at
first reluctant to take her on, but she insisted, and he then quickly came to
appreciate the difference her skills, devotion, and unflagging energy made to
his work. Having presumably no ties back in England to impede her (Herbert
Spencer's death in 1903 may be relevant here), she proceeded to adapt her life
wholly to Monakow's needs. With a strong background in medicine and biol-
ogy (we do not learn where this was acquired) and fluent skills in a range of
European languages (French, Spanish, Italian, English, and German), she did
all of Monakow's literature research for him, prepared bibliographies, orga-
nized and catalogued his enormous library, translated texts both for private
study and for publication, and kept up an extensive international correspon-
dence. For all of this, she apparently received no remuneration other than the
joy of being useful to "the Master and his great task."31 She died in her eight-
ies, shortly before Monakow himself, having worked unstintingly for her Herr
for some thirty years.
For Monakow now, notwithstanding a solid reputation as a cartographer of
the fixed-and-sliced brain, the years of the "great task" still: lay ahead. As the
confident positivist era of the 1880s was giving way to the more iconoclastic
and restless era of the 1890s, the focus of his own concerns also began to shift.
These were the years that saw what, on the surface, looked like an extraordi^
nary new self-fashioning of identity: a transformation from empirical neu-
roanatomist to theorist of the living brain in health and disease; from classical
neurologist to agitator for a more dynamic and organismic perspective on
brain functioning.
Although his later hagiographers would prefer to pretend that this transfor-
mation evolved organically according to the mysterious laws of genius,32 it is
evident that the years of Monakow's shifting orientation were also years that
saw him engaged in active dialogue with a range of new philosophical and
psychological ideas. The "Monakow circle," later more formally renamed the
Psychiatric-Neurological Society, began meeting in 1898 to discuss new di-
rections and innovations at the interface of neurology and psychiatry, ulti-
mately with the hope of discovering a common framework for theory and
research. Participants included August Ford and Eugen Bleuler, along with
his staff from the Burgholzli psychiatric hospital (including, after 1900,
Bleuler's first assistant, Carl Gustav Jung). Monakow recalled that by the first
decade of the twentieth century, the group was becoming particularly preoc-
cupied with the work of the radical Viennese neurologist, Sigmund Freud.
Particularly among the psychiatrists, hope was high that the presenting symp-
toms of such disorders as dementia praecoxunderstood by nineteenth-cen-
tury psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin as an inherited brain disorder that followed a
predetermined biological coursecould actually be made meaningful by in-
terpreting them as symbolic expressions of memories and wishes from the
patient's unconscious.33 Ultimately, this process of reevaluation and experi-
mentation would be critical in inspiring Bleuler to reject dementia praecox as
a valid nosology and to create a more dynamic and optimistic psychobiologi-
cal category he called "schizophrenia," which emphasized experiential as-
pects of the disorder.
Eventually, the Burgholzli group's love of psychoanalysis led to increasing
tension within Monakow's society between believers and those, largely within
neurology, who were more skeptical. Consequently, in 1909, and in spite of
Monakow's "warning," Bleuler and his colleagues broke away and founded
their own societythe so-called Freud Organization (Freudsche Vereinigung),
dedicated solely to exploring practical applications of psychoanalysis in hospi-
tal psychiatry.34 In this sense, the invasion of psychoanalysis into Zurich psy-
chiatry ultimately had the effect of breaking up Monakow's professional hopes
for fashioning a unified framework for neurology and psychiatry.
Nevertheless, Zurich neurology was to continue to bear the radicalizing
traces of those years of interdisciplinary intellectual exploration with psychia-
try; and one of the more enduring products was Monakow's own: a notion he
introduced into clinical neurology that he called diaschisis, or cerebral shock.
The idea of diaschisis was his attempt to confront what was being declared as
an increasingly troubling challenge for the classical mechanistic-Iocalization-
ist program in clinical neurology: the fact of patients' clinical recovery from
permanent brain damage.
As Monakow saw things, the classical localizationist theories of his teach-
ers all failed to recognize that a local lesion to the brain not only put the
damaged part of the brain out of commission, but also had the effect of throw-
ing the entire brain into a complex state of sympathetic shock (diaschisis). A
recently injured patient, therefore, might show a variety of disabilities stem-
ming from disordered brain areas that were far from the actual lesion. These
disabilities would often vanish over time as the patient's nervous system sta-
bilized again in a new, adaptive pattern of stimulus combinations.
The implications of diaschisis for future localizationist endeavors were pro-
found. If a shock to the whole brain could affect its localized functioning, then
clinicians would have to understand the full course of neurological break-
down and recovery, not just in reference to the directly damaged structure, but
in relation to a dynamically functioning brain adapting to damage as a whole.
In Monakow's words, "[D]iaschisis is the basic dynamic principle, it forms a
bridge between those phenomena which can be localized distinctly and those
which cannot." 35
Those moving broadly in the same direction received Monakow's revision-
ist challenge to aphasiology with a certain exultation. Eugen Bleuler rejoiced:

Finally, for once, a theory that one not only can describe, but can also believe.
Now [the question] is: are the theorizers of the menagerie prepared to accept
without further ado that they may no longer shut up concepts and whole functions
in cells, the way one imprisons lions and tigers in their cages?16
Others found relations between Monakow's efforts and some of the ne-
glected insights of the earlier noble representatives of German culture. In
1916, during the heat of the First World War, a German colleague, Ludwig
Edinger, wrote to Monakow:
I must write you about a passage respective brain function and, if you want, re-
spective diaschisis, that I have just found in Goethe's conversations. On Gall [the
founder of the brain localization theory called phrenology], he said: that it's not
the small particle of the brain that causes the skull to protrude, but rather the
whole part of the nervous system that happens to have its endpoint in this very
particleincredible how this man had the right intuition on every point.37
Still others found that the phenomenon of recovery from the temporary
effects of brain damage offered new ammunition for the radical effort to top-
ple the hegemony of. mechanism in biology. In "The 'Soul' as an Elementary
Factor of Nature" (1903), Monakow's colleague in Germany, Hans Driesch,
There are no inorganic machines whose specific functioning process remains es-
sentially unchanged after removing any of its parts. . . . Therefore the physiologi-
cal restitutions of the brain. . . cannot be accounted for in terms of its mechanistic
attributes.... Physiologically, the brain is a "harmonious equipotential system."38
But important as diaschisis and recovery were judged to be, they were for
Monakow still just the first stage in what would ultimately evolve into a com-
prehensive reformulation of how psychological functions related to the brain.
Thus, in the second monumental volume of his career, Localization in the
Cortex and Breakdown of Function Through Cortical Lesions,39 Monakow
taught that the effects of diaschisis followed a pattern in which activities and
skills acquired late in life or at a more advanced stage of species development
were the first to vanish, while more primitive or more practiced functions
escaped untouched. This meant that the neurologist treating a patient must not
only know the site of damage, but must also relate the relative evolutionary
level of the function in question to the history of the injury (its onset and
various stages of functional loss and recovery).
More important, this also meant that the symptoms of brain damage were
not just the meaningless squeaks and clangs of a broken brain, but followed a
discernible logic that was rooted in the organism's individual and evolution-
ary history. The mind, in both health and disease, was a process that evolved
and unfolded in time. Its relationship to a spatial object like the brain was
analogous to that between a melody and a music box: nobody would attempt
to "put the melody (or some bars of it) into locally circumscribed parts of the
[music box] cylinder." Similarly, the neurologist must never think that the
functions of the living brain moved along "geometrical lines in certain groups
of gyri" (see figure 15) 40
What was the alternative, then, to thinking about the brain in terms of geo-

-B .

Figure 15. The human brain compared by Constantin von Monakow
to the functioning of a music box, 1928. Constantin von Monakow,
R. Mourgue, Introduction Biologique a L'Etude de la Neurologie
etde la Psychopathologie, (Paris: Felix Alcan, 1928).

metric lines on gyri? Monakow's contemporary Henri Bergson had asserted

that since life was a process in time, it must forever elude natural science,
which "can think and conceive only in spatial terms."41 As a natural scientist
himself, Monakow was not prepared to go as far as that, but he did recognize
the challenge involved in capturing in spatial terms his deep truth that, in the
end, the brain was a four-dimensional object.
He ultimately found a framework for his problem in an image of hierarchy,
one of the conceptual legacies of nineteenth-century evolution to psychologi-
cal and neurological theorizing. The British neurologist John Hughlings Jack-
son had been the first clearly to imagine that the different levels of the brain
might serve as a kind of archaeological record of a species' biological history,
with lower and higher levels corresponding to earlier and later phases of evo-
lutionary development.42 Although Monakow claimed to have studied Jack-
son's work only after the essentials of his own system were in place,43 it is also
the case that his exposure to Freudian thinking within the society in Zurich
would have necessarily exposed him to a broadly Jacksonian model of con-
ceptualizing mind, brain, and evolutionary history in a common framework.44
In his iteration, the brain was conceived as recording its own evolutionary and
biographical history using "memories" of experienced excitations. In this con-
tinuous recording process, older or more primitive mnemic excitations were
simultaneously overlaid by and integrated into more recent ones. Hence, any
specific area of the brain (such as the so-called speech centers) actually em-
braced countless chronological layers of excitation (Monakow's concept of
chronogenic localization).
Later, Monakow's former student Minkowski would compare his teacher's
attempt to integrate spatial and temporal aspects of brain functioning with
Einstein's integration of time and space in modern physics during this same
period.45 However appropriate the comparison, there is no question that Mo-
nakow was struggling with problems that found a broad resonance across
many domains of fin de siecle European culture. As historian H. Stuart
Hughes recalled, the challenge of understanding time and memory
was the problem to which Bergson was to return again and again in an effort to
define the nature of subjective existence as opposed to the schematic order that
the natural sciences had imposed on the natural world. . . . [I]t was the problem
with which the natural scientists were themselves contending in postulating a
universe that no longer strictly conformed to the laws of Newtonian physics. . . .
Finally it was the dilemma that obsessed the novelists of the first two decades of
the new century . . . the tormenting question of how to recapture the immediacy
of past experiences . . . that the logical memory had already stored away in neat
compartments .46
At the same time, Monakow's dilemma was more than just an epistemolog-
ical one; it was also a moral one, here deeply informed less by Freud than by
the degenerationist thinking of his cultural milieu. His temporal view of brain
functioning was predicated on the assumption that more recently evolved lay-
ers of functionin humans, those associated with rational thought and moral
controlwere the most vulnerable ones. This meant that, in cases of shock or
damage, more refined layers broke down first, and one was then witness to a
"welling up" of the suddenly unmasked primitive levels of brain function. The
"return of the repressed," in other words, was always just a thin layer of nerve
tissue away. "Dissolution" had been Hughlings Jackson's term for this cas-
cading down the nervous system to more primitive, automatic, and emotional
states of functioning. Monakow's term for the same sort of process was Abbau
(breakdown, disintegration). It was a concept that would take on an increas-
ingly poignant significance for him with the coming of World War I.


The Great War affected Monakow profoundly, even though as a Swiss citizen
he would experience it more as a spectator than a participant. As he recalled
at the very end of his life: "As a person, I was shaken to the depths of my soul.
I suffered deeply on a personal level, as if my highest ideals had been in-
sulted."47 Suddenly, the brains in his laboratory in Zurich started to seem
beside the point. With heavy symbolic ceremony, he laid aside his work on the
newest edition of his book Brain Pathology, and no amount of cajoling could
compel him to take the giant manuscript out of his drawer again. More press-
ing questions now obsessed him. His students and colleagues hardly knew
what to make of the man who retreated to the reading room each day, burying
himself in the study of history, politics, psychology, psychopathology, and
ethics.48 Whereas before he had mostly occupied himself with the organic
brain disorders (aphasia, apraxia, agnosia), leaving the problem of the neuro-
ses to his assistants, he now devoted his time in the clinic to long probing
conversations with the neurotic patients. Although he had, of course, been
familiar with Freud's works before, he made them now a special object of
His personal relationships in Zurich became increasingly tense as most of
his colleagues and family members proved sympathetic to the German cause,
waxing enthusiastic about the reports of military heroism published in the
German newspapers. Monakow responded by insisting derisively that actu-
ally the death of a soldier in the thick of battle was not particularly heroic. The
numbing of the feelings was always so intense in such a situation that a
stricken soldier would hardly notice any pain or be truly aware of the gravity
of his situation.50 He expressed his impatience with the hypocrisy of uncritical
patriotism in an unpublished diary note dated September 7, 1914:
A member of a state that is involved in a warblinded by patriotism and one-
sided reportingis rarely or only to a minuscule degree prepared to admit the
mistakes and weaknesses on the side of his own nation. At the same time, he
focuses his eyes uncritically on the moral weaknesses and deficiencies of the
enemy nation. Only the finest high minds and the truly educated in the nations at
war are free of this fault; men of this sort can be counted [on one hand]; among the
female sex, those truly clean of that fault are hardly to be found.51
Thus alienated, Monakow withdrew as much as the realities of his life
would allow. In the fall of 1914, he began a ritual that would continue
throughout the war years: a retreat up into the Swiss mountains (see figure 16),
where he sought rough quarters among the simple peasants who lived there.
Here, alone, he wrote effusively on the problems of good and evil, the causes
of war, the purpose of life, death, reproduction, maturity, old age, and the
noble and base emotions. Reams of unpublished manuscripts from this period
bear titles like "The Biology of Sin," "Religion and the Nervous System,"
"Guilt and Sin," and "Instinctive Life and Civilization."
To Pusirewsky, who saw Monakow after his return from the first of his
retreats in 1914, it was as if something had changed in Monakow's very soul:
"[S]omehow the stern, remote solemnity of the mountain world seemed to
surround him still."52 She recalled a conversation in 1915 in which Monakow
asked if she believed in the evil spirit of the household, the Domowoi, and
then affirmed his own belief in it. The Domowoi, though, was no longer for
him the literal monster he had feared as a child. He now saw it as a force
lurking in each of usthe "demonic powers in the human spirit" that bring
discord and sorrow to families everywhere.53
Even before the war, he had been persuaded that the human capacity for
civilized behavior was a highly fragile one: "[M]any so-called moral princi-
ples, laboriously acquired in life, and painstakingly maintained and protected,
endure only in peaceful times that do not unsettle our existence. Every serious
conflict in life puts our character and entire sense of ethics to a hard test."54
The subsequent dramatic realization of his pessimism in World War I seems
to have brought him to the brink of existential despair. No longer could he

Figure 16. Culturally stylized photograph of the Swiss Alps emphasizes

their capacity to serve as a sanctuary from modern life, 1899.
(Agfa Foto-Historama, Koln).
believe, as he had as a little boy, that the evil workings of the Domowoi could
be staved off with the pious rituals of Russian Orthodoxy. Trapped now in his
convictions as a scientist, he held forth on the inefficacy of prayer.55 He be-
came preoccupied with the claims of Russian skepticism. This was a political
and cultural movement of the nineteenth century that had rejected all convenr
tional morality, religious hope, and aestheticism as false, soft, and starry-
eyed. In their place, this movement had advocated a total reliance on the "real-
istic," "practical," and "hard" metaphysics of the natural sciencesespecially
Darwinism, experimental physiology, chemistry, and physics. As leading ni-
hilist, D. I. Pisarev (1840-1868), put it in a famous statement that would take
on the force of a manifesto: "Words and illusions perish; facts remain." He
concluded: "[T]he salvation and renewal of the Russian people is to be found"
not in the useless lyricism of a Pushkin, but in the experimental frog.56
Tortured by the prospect of having to accept such an emotionally intolera-
ble worldview but unable to find credibility in any of the other immediately
available options, Monakow's carefully fashioned mandarin persona showed
signs of crumpling. Without warning, coarse Russian swear words now began
to break into his otherwise refined German. His family and friends feared for
his emotional stability. He himself came to refer to these spells of nihilism as
his time of Schlimmsein ("bad existence").
Although the Monakow family's vulnerability to depression may be rele-
vant to these developments, the specific texture and focus of Monakow's de-
spair are very much cultural products that transcend the details of his specific
life story. During the war years, while many rallied to the call for sacrifice in
the name of higher values, a number of intellectuals found themselves horri-
fied by this idealization of militarism and slaughter. Carl Gustav Jung also
suffered a wartime crisis so severe that he feared for his own sanity. In late
1913, he had a terrifying vision that plunged him into an extended period of
struggle with his own inner demons, exorcised through compulsive writing in
a fashion not unlike that practiced by Monakow up in the Swiss mountains. In
Jung's later recollection of this time:
I saw a monstrousfloodcovering all the northern and lowrlying lands between the
North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains
grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastro-
phe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, thefloatingrubble of civili-
zation, and,-the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea
turned to blood.57
In Vienna, Freud found in the outbreak of, war "dreadful confirmation of
what he had all along been saying about the nature of man." 58 Like Monakow,
he was shocked and deeply depressed by "the narrow-mindedness shown by
the best intellects, their obduracy, their inaccessibility to the most forcible
arguments, their uncritical credulity for the most disputable assertions."59 In
his later writing, partly in reaction to the war's horrors, Freud embraced an
increasingly pessimistic view of the human intellect as a "plaything" of un-
conscious forces, including the "primitive, savage and evil impulses" that had
manifested themselves in the trenches of Europe. In Civilization and Its Dis-
contents, he extended these thoughts into a theory of inevitable conflict be-
tween the requirements of civilization and the demands of instinct, including
Thanatos, the "death instinct," expressed in savage aggressive acts against
one's fellows:
This instinct of aggression is the derivative and main representative of the death
instinct we have found alongside of Eros, sharing his rule over the earth. And
now, it seems to me, the meaning of the evolution of culture is no longer a riddle
to us. It must present to us the struggle between Eros and Death, between the
instincts of life and the instincts of destruction, as it works itself out in the human
In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud had also refused to temper his
dark vision of human nature with any formula for salvation:
My courage fails me . . . at the thought of rising up as a prophet before my fellow-
men and I bow to their reproach that I have no consolation to offer them; for at
bottom this is what they all demand.
Monakow would make a different choice. In the early years of the war, one
of his assistants, G. Fuse, had written him, asking in some despair: "Where is
the World Principle? And where is the righteousness of mankind actually to
be sought?"61 In the mountains above Zurich, Monakow at some point re-
solved to find an answer to this questionresolved to seek the consolations
that his age was demanding. In searching, he turned back to the only world he
knew: that of medicine, biology, and the nervous system.
But it was not a medicine and biology that the Russian nihilists, who be-
lieved neither in world principles nor the righteousness of mankind, would
have acknowledged. By the war's end, Monakow's encounter with nihilism
managed to destroy only the professed disbeliever in him. Despair had ended
in revolt and then finally in a dramatic rapprochement between the mystical,
"Russian" dimensions of his personality and his "German" professorial sense
of himself as a neurologist who knew that the answers to questions about the
human condition, however far-reaching, were to be found in a deeper under-
standing of the human biological constitution.
What questions was Monakow asking? As befitted a physician, his first act
when he went into retreat in the mountains had been to ponder a diagnosis for
the current crisis. Rejecting political, economic, and ideological explanations
for Europe's plight after 1914, he had concluded that the nations of Europe
were in the grip of what he called a "world neurosis" that had stripped them
of their civilized veneer.62 The image of "dissolution," originally developed to
account for the behavior of the individual brain in a state of shock, now ex-
panded beyond its original conceptual framework to explain the pathology of
a world at war. "To make war," he wrote, "is a questionable descent into
phylo genetic ally and ontogenetically old instincts, unworthy of the citizens of
a truly noble, high-standing nation."63
That he should have called such a "descent" down the evolutionary ladder
a "neurosis" is again most plausibly understood as one of the legacies of the
Zurich society's earlier attempts to discover bridges between neurobiological
thinking and psychodynamic thinking. Specifically, Freud's model of neuro-
sis had inspired Monakow to conclude that his original concept of diaschisis
couldin fact, must beexpanded to include not only shock and cognitive
breakdown associated with organic brain damage, but also shock or trauma
involving the instinctual and affective realms: cases in which intellect was left
more or less intact but the individual was catapulted back to earlier, more
infantile patterns of urges and feeling.64
If the current war was the precipitating shock for the collective neurosis
being witnessed across Europe, nevertheless Monakow was clear that the con-
stitutional ground for this pathology had been laid down over the course of
many years. In his wartime manuscripts, he repeatedly made the suggestion
that Europe would not have responded so violently to the blood-seductions of
war had this society not already abandoned the grounding ethical values of
Kultur and religious life. Spiritually hungry, deflated, and disoriented by the
impersonal encroachments of modern science and secular lifestyles, people
sought distraction in loveless sexual liaisons, alcohol, and other character-
ruining amusements. The rush to war, and the resulting madness on the battle-
field, had been only the most drastic manifestation of a collective compulsion
to fill the emptiness of modern life. As Monakow exclaimed in a letter to
Pusirewsky shortly before his death: "The meaninglessness of life tortures us.
That is today the disease of our age."65
Yet, though the diagnosis was grim, all was not lost. Here, the double-
barreled significance of the concept of diaschisis is important to stress. Al-
though it emphasized, on the one hand the fragility of all the higher, civilized
layers of human functioning, it had nevertheless also established itself as a
clear alternative to a purely fatalistic view of human devolution or degenera-
tion, emphasizing instead the brain's potential for regeneration and reconstitu-
tion. This meant that Europe, too, might be expected to recover from her "di-
aschisis," from this self-inflicted stumble down her own evolutionary ladder.
"The diaschisis set loose by the war," Monakow declared, "must now finally
be overcome." 66 His friend Pusirewsky recalled:

Because of the insight he had gained as a neurologist into the processes of disin-
hibition that arise through overwhelming pressure, his faith in the regenerative
energies [of humanity] was unshakable; [and] in the wild giddiness of a people
torn apart in postwar time, he could see everywhere signs of recovery.67

Over the next fifteen years, the twin motifs of diaschisis and renewal would
form the larger backdrop for Monakow's work on a series of increasingly
ambitious publications, all with the larger aim of exploring what it would take
for society to overcome the "diaschisis" of modern times: "Feelings, Morality
and Brain" (1916; the only one of his interwar essays to be translated into
English);68 "Psyehiatry and Biology" (1919); "Attempt at a Biology of the
Instinct World" (1922); "The Syneidesis, the Biological Conscience" (1927);
Biological Introduction to the Study of Neurology and of Psychopathology, a
summation (written in collaboration with Bergsonian student, Raoul Mour-
gue) (1928; German publication, 1930); "Truth, Error and Lies" (1930); and,
his final work, the notes for which date back to the war years, "Religion and
the Nervous System (Biological Considerations)" (1930).69
Before we embark on an exploration of these publications, a few words
should be said about Monakow's extensive use of obscure and difficult neolo-
gisms. It was his view that the words typically used to describe the phenomena
that interested himabove all, affective processeswere over-used, impre-
cise, and blunted by superfluous associations. In one (not untypically misogy-
nist) comment, he compared the everyday language of emotional life to
"worn-out pieces of furniture or . . . prostitutes [kokotten]."10 In creating a
fresh (one is tempted to say "virginal") vocabulary for his biology, Monakow
let himself be guided by Goethe's maxim that nature thinks "not like a man
[sic], but like nature." For this reason, he insisted that the scientist must strug-
gle to not address the natural world in a vocabulary burdened with anthropo-
morphism or accumulated human cultural traditions.71


There is a nice irony in the fact that Monakow's tortured precautions to keep
his language free of human traces were all taken for the sake of a project
whose larger goal was both profoundly anthropocentric and deeply preoccu-
pied with the fate of culture. What was this project all about? In an unpub-
lished note from 1923, Monakow nicely summarized the framing premise of
his postwar thinking:
The chief mystery of the soul lies less in the anatomical region and in the mechan-
ical routines of the human nervous system than in the intimate psychological
organization and operation of living protoplasm, in the individual cells and espe-
cially in the phylogenetic and ontogenetic [development of the] embryo.72
Thus a neuroanatomist and neurologist of thirty years standing had
emerged from his wartime nihilistic crisis persuaded that the answers to his
questions were to be found less in the stable phenomena of neuroanatomy and
physiology and more in the fluid protoplasmic processesnow being studied
by men like Driesch and Hans Spemannthat propelled and guided the de-
velopment of the organism as a whole. And the Monakow concept of the
horme was key to understanding the means whereby Being was transformed
into a perpetual process of Becoming.
A vital energy of the species that found new instantiation in every new
organism, the horme was also endowed with a "memory" of the entire history
of the species: all that its untold generations had experienced and learned in
their struggles and strivings to evolve. In this sense, a kind of "blood knowl-
edge" of eons of hard-won lessons was part of the inheritance of every indi-
vidual organism. Over time, the horme's memory of recurring species behav-
ior became increasingly engrained and automatic, and found more and more
overt expression in the individual organism. These were the behaviors that
zoologists then called instinctive. "We consider the horme," Monakow wrote
in 1928, "to be the primal mother of instinct."73
In making this argument, Monakow drew heavily from a body of German
literature that had proposed that the problem of memory might help illuminate
the problem of heredity, here conceived as the problem of how the informa-
tion that creates different kinds of organisms could be preserved and passed
on to succeeding generations. Darwin had been able to account for the pro-
cesses through which some species characteristics are eliminated and others
retained, but he had been unable to present a compelling model of how fa-
vored organisms transfer their traits to the next generation.74 This explanatory
lacuna had helped provide an opportunity for a weakening of the Darwinian
hegemony over explanations of evolution and a renewed interest in a variety
of Lamarckian (and other) alternatives to natural selection.75 Lamarck had
argued that plant and animal life respond to changes in the environment with
new needs that cause them to grow new structures or leam new behaviors.
They then pass these new behaviors and traits to succeeding generations in a
cumulative manner. It was a small step to rephrase the issue and affirm that
new generations were being painlessly provided with "memories" of behav-
iors and "knowledge" of how to grow useful structures that had all been labo-
riously acquired by ancestors.
It is true that the germ plasm model of "hard heredity" developed by Ger-
man embryologist Auguste Weismann argued that the cells that make up and
give rise to egg and sperm are not affected by changes in any other tissues in
the body. If .Weismann was right, this would make it physically impossible for
any traces of an individual animal's life experience to be passed on to future
generations. However, during the fin de siecle, Weismann's theory of heredity
was forced to compete with a range of what seemed like plausible alternatives.
Ewald Hering in Germany thus proposed that all organized matter might be
stamped with a form of memory and that this matter could be passed across
generations.76 This idea was developed, among others, by Ernst Haeckel77 and
especially the German Lamarckian zoologist Richard Semon (1859-1918).
In 1904, Semon had produced a work entitled The Mneme as a Principle of
Preservation in the Transformations of Organic Processes,78 which would
have an enormouseven if today, largely forgotteninfluence on a wide
range of contemporaries.79 Densely and intricately argued, the basic premise
of the book was straightforward: stimuli associated with experiences could
leave a physical trace on organic substances. Semon called these traces en-
grams, and argued that they were heritable. The sum of all the engrams either
inherited or acquired through direct experience was the organism's Mneme.
Mneme was thus a term Semon used to refer to biological memory in the
widest possible sense (from an embryo rat's memory of how long to grow its
tail to the processes of human memory studied by psychology).80
Monakow had first used Semon's ideas before the war to develop his con-
cept of chronogenic localization. He took pains to insist, however, that his
own understanding of how past and present experiences were encoded in the
tissues of the organism was not identical to that of Semon. "Actually," he
wrote in some early private notes, "there are no such things as engrams
(Semon); there are only "ergokymes" (successive [memory traces]) whose
script is flowing and never ending."81 Still, he was prepared to accept Semon's
basic premise of a demonstrable biological process that allowed organisms to
gain access to an always expanding flow of species knowledge that found its
most fundamental expression in instinct and (in humans) intuition.
All the instincts expressed by the horme could be identified materially with
the secretory activities of the nervous system (it would not be too far off to say
that the hormic internal secretions that interested Monakow more or less cor-
responded to what would later be called the hormones). Yet we would be
misinterpreting Monakow grossly if we tried to reduce the hormic impulse to
biochemistry (as some of his later interpreters would try to do). Even while
Monakow believed his horme, or organizing factor, was rooted in protoplasm,
nevertheless this energy was not a mere product of some blind, mechanistic
protoplasmic or chemical process. It was a true, autonomous intelligence that
had been from the beginning the lead protagonist in a drama of species change
and development. It had its origins not in the world of visible, material biol-
ogy, but in a domain that transcended biology and was inaccessible to direct
empirical investigation.82
These views provide the backdrop to the climax of Monakow's argument:
his views on the place of the horme in the cosmic evolutionary story. The
starting point of his thinking here was that evolution was not a merely me-
chanical but a genuinely creative process and that the horme was the raw
creative energy underlying the upward drive of individual organisms and spe-
cies in new directions. As Monakow wrote, "We are concerned here with the
propulsive tendency in every living beingwith all its inherited potentiali-
tiesthat drives it toward the most distant future."83 Over time, he began
more explicitly to spell out the spiritual implications of this view of evolution.
The hormic impulse stemmed from the force of Creation itself (see figure 17).
In this sense, its stirrings in every living cell expressed an intelligence that
Monakow began to call the Worldhorme. As he wrote in "Religion and the
Nervous System" (1930):
The sentence of a French theologian, "God works for the formation of the person-
ality" can be understood and expressed bio-psychologically in the following way:
that the "individual horme" harboring a tiny bit of the "World/iorme" (Universe)
within itself, effects its ends in the inner life of the individual according to the
often incalculable influences of fellow men and external relations.84
The parallels here between this vision and the evolutionary vitalism of the
French philosopher Henri Bergson were conscious and deep. Bergson's Crea-
tive Evolution had offered a novel twist on the standard Lamarckian argument
of the time, which had considered the individual organism as the determiner
of the evolutionary course through its choices regarding use and adaptation. In
Bergson's system, choice and consciousness were overshadowed by the pow-


S a y *"/*"*-
/ dexueL

Jiaime /^O
Sexe Oppose
Descendance { Can/iwV -du

Figure 17. Monakow's schema of the Horme's progress through the various instinct
levels towards final reunification with the cosmos ("World-Horme"), 1928.
Constantin von Monakow and R. Mourgue, Introduction Biologique d L'Etude
de la Neurologic et de la Psychopathologie, (Paris: Felix Alcan, 1928).

erful workings of a transindividual creative force. As historian Bowler ex-

plains it, "The nonmaterial factor in evolution would have to be conceived as
a basic impulsethe elan vitalinjected into life at the beginning and con-
stantly trying to express itself by organizing recalcitrant matter into ever
higher states. Thus, . . . Bergson proclaimed the existence of what was, in
effect, a spiritual force imposing a rational order on the development of
life."85 Evolution was a story, not about the endless differentiation of more or
less complex autonomous entities, as the Darwinians and most Lamarckians
taught, but about the purposive striving of a single cosmic power to realize
itself. As individualized expressions of this cosmic power, we each gain our
cosmic significance through our place in a holistic process whose goals tran-
scend all the finite dreams of any of its constituent parts.86
While it is not possible (and perhaps not interesting) to determine how far
Bergson was a direct inspiration for Monakow's own vision of the evolution-
ary saga, the correspondence, beginning in 1919, between Monakow and the
Bergsonian scholar Raoul Mourgue, does cast light on Monakow's later ongo-
ing dialogue with Bergson's views.87 On Monakow's side at least, it was a
dialogue dominated by great respect. In the spring of 1920, Mourgue took it
upon himself to discuss Monakow's neurobiological ideas personally with his
former teacher, and Monakow thanked Mourgue effusively for his efforts,
adding: "What a joy it would be for me someday to have the chance to con-
verse on this subject myself with this great scholar who has contributed so
much to our knowledge of the human soul!"88
Nevertheless, Monakow ultimately came to consider his own horme con-
cept a distinct improvement on Bergson's less disciplined intuitions. First, as
a principle that only achieved actualization through its manifestation in mat-
ter, his horme avoided Bergson's dualistic distinction between the vitalistic
force itself and the physical medium through which it worked. "In my view,"
he wrote disapprovingly, "it is completely impossible to separate the psychic
from the physical in living protoplasm."89 Secondly, the horme was an im-
provement on the Bergsonian elan vital because it helped explain the darker
realities of life that no postwar world-view dared ignore: "[I]t seems to me that
[Bergson] lacks in his term 'dan vital' [a sense for] the negative side, that is
to say the component of arrest, of suppression and of degeneration (Eklisis90)
in addition to the creative principle."91 There was less inevitable upward dy-
namic in Monakow's system, but by the same token there was a considerably
greater imperative for the services of the psychiatric and neurological commu-
nity, who alone would be able to understand and intervene in cases when the
horme was pathologically diverted from its evolutionary course. Thus, in a set
of logical steps not that different from those carried out by his Zurich col-
league, Carl Gustav Jung, Monakow gave new life to the old Romantic under-
standing of the psychiatrist as a curator of souls, or Seelsorger.
Clearly, a vision like thissensitive to the grave realities of the day, yet
finding an occasion for hope in those same realitieswas in a position to
provide a strong message of inspiration for a demoralized, rudderless interwar
population. Maria Waser wrote in 1933 of the comfort with which Mo-
nakow's teachings had provided her after she had suffered for so long through
the age of "critics of creation, defamers of God and idolizers of the Ma-
chine."92 In the specific context of postwar German-speaking Europe, the
horme inspired and consoled because it suggested that Nature herself was
working with mankind (and perhaps particularly wise biologists and medical
men) to overcome alienation and fragmentation and help the human species
recognize its true heritage in connection and wholeness. As Monakow wrote:
The horme is nothing other than the activity of the universe (Worldhorme), within
which we human-children are highly organized necessary parts. As such, we are
temporally and partly also spatiallythrough free mobilityclosely bound up
with one another; we [also] form ties with animals and plants and also with nonor-
ganic bodies, into which last we merge after death.... There is undeniable glory
in the thought that an indelible temporal bond links us, not only with our ancestors
and our descendants, but above all also with the whole rest of the organic world.93



Armed with this broad understanding of the horme as the carrier of instinct in
the service of a cosmic evolutionary impulse, Monakow next turned his atten-
tion to conceiving its place and functioning in the human nervous system. The
Jacksonian hierarchy of nervous functioning, first developed in his prewar
work, remained the central scaffolding of his thinking. Now, however, next to
the hierarchy he had studied as a clinical neurologist (brain structures that

mediated speech, object recognition, and other functions concerned with the
"world of perception and orientation", he envisioned a second hierarchical
system. This other system was concerned with the "sphere of feelings and
instincts" and was served not by neuroanatomical structures but by protoplas-
mic "secretions." In his words:
In general one can say that nervous activity that possessesfirmspatial and tempoT
ral components, as well as nervous activity that is marked by subjective [impres-
sions of] causality both belong to the world of impressions (the world as idea), out
of which our knowledge flows. Activity, however, that occurs independently of
space and time, but is rather identifiable through subjective [impressions of] value
and quality as well as blind active striving (will) must be referred to the world of
feeling (the inner mirror of the "world as will").94
The embedded references here to the post-Kantian philosophy of Arthur
Schopenhauer ("the world as will and idea") alert us to the fact that this bi-
furcation of neurophysiology into two realms was to be more than just a de-.
scriptive contribution to life and mind science. Monakow also had a more
ambitious epistemological agenda here; a point to which I return later in this
chapter. Here it will suffice to say that, in speaking of the world as "idea" and
"will," Schopenhauer himself had begun by basically accepting Kant's view
that human reason can only access reality in the form of mediated phenomena
(the world as "idea"). However, this philosopher had refused to follow Kant
in the view that absolute realitythe "thing-in-itself'lay forever beyond
experience. Instead, Schopenhauer had argued that, while it was true that
human reason was restricted to knowing a world of mere appearances,
through inner experience we were each nevertheless in a position to become
aware of the more fundamental reality behind appearance. Looking within
ourselvesor, alternatively, transported to a different level of awareness
through music or the artswe discovered a connection to a reality that stood
outside the causal logic of time and spacea reality dominated by the energy
of striving or will. This striving, this will, Schopenhauer proposed, was the
fundamental absolute of the universe, the Kantian thing-in-itself. Reason, far
from being the most authoritative interpreter of reality, had merely been cre-
ated by the will to serve its own needs.95
For Monakow, a consistent evolutionary perspective on human behavior
demanded a broadly similar conclusioneven as his notion of life-as-striving
was a far less dark and amoral vision than that of Schopenhauer. Reason must
have been developed by lifetherefore, by the horme itselfin order to serve
its ends. "Later logical thinking (formal operations of thought)" must be
merely a "continuation of simpler . . . innervatory processes." In this sense,
the brain, as he put it provocatively in a 1928 publication, "had created it-
self."96 To think otherwise would be inconsistent with sound biologyhow-
ever subversive it might appear in other ways.
By the early 1920s, Monakow had begun formally to map the instinct hier-
archy of the hormewhat one of his interpreters, Walther Riese, called his
"genealogy" of the instinct world. Riese's allusion here to Nietzsche is clear
and may well reflect a specific historical debt. Nietzsche's "On the Genealogy
of Morals" had, in its own way, attempted what was also Monakow's aima
naturalization of morality. First published in 1887, this work may well have
been imbibed by Monakow as he made his way through the literature of Wag-
ner, Schopenhauer, and other theorists of "life" and alternatives to rationalist
and empirical epistemologies.97
Monakow's disaggregation of the horme broke it down into five basic
streams, or instinctual urges, that existed in an ascending hierarchical relation-
ship. These were:
(1) The instinct (prominent in the embryonic phase of life) to form and
grow according to one's morphological plan;
(2) The instinct to preserve one's individual being;
(3) The instinct to maintain one's species through sexual behavior;
(4) The instinct to feel holistically connected with the social group to which
one belongs (family, nation, humanity); and finally
(5) The instinct to strive for holistic unity with the cosmoswhat Mo-
nakow would eventually call the religious instinct.
In the normal process of development, Monakow felt that the higher (and
later evolved) instincts in humans came to engulf the more primitive, survival-
driven patterns of behavior. Since, for Monakow, evolution was a progressive
process, it was possible to conclude that the goals pursued by the later-
evolved instincts were superior to those coveted by the more primitive in-
stincts. In other words, the horme, in its journey through evolutionary time,
had effectively left behind a record in the body of its progressive achieve-
ments. And this biological record could serve as a natural source of moral
orientation for a disoriented humanity.
What did the record of instinct evolution reveal? To begin with, it showed
that spiritual, selfless instincts stood naturally above and over selfish, material
instincts. To become civilized, we did not have to fight or repress our in-
stincts, as Freud had thought; we merely had to learn to orient our feelings
toward those higher instincts that automatically promoted biological health
and internal harmony.98
The record revealed in the instinct hierarchy also had something to say to
the politics of the day. Through his biology, Monakow told a moralizing story
in which the individual, guided by the biological wisdom of the horme, moved
from an initial preoccupation with self and survival to an identification with
something beyond self. Often this process of identification began with a focus
on family and the narrow community, but the nature of things was for con-
sciousness to expand to recognize its relationship to increasingly larger enti-
ties, up to the species, the organic world and finally the cosmos. This celebra-
tion of the interconnectedness of the entire human race would lead Monakow
to advocate a politics of cosmopolitanismalbeit one that bears little rela-
tionship to the "ideology of internationalism" of the time.99 For Monakow,
international community was not a thing of human reason but rather of mysti-
cal necessitythe "natural" culmination of a holistic world view in which all
living creatures were united in the cosmic dynamic of hormic evolution.100
At the same time, this view did not mean that individual and national health
could be achieved simply through passive surrender to our unconscious. Be-
cause each individual human instinct in the hormic hierarchy knew and cared
only for its own goals, it followed that each person was "a battlefield in him-
self." The struggles carried out on this battlefield, however, were the stuff of
life itself. "There must be struggle, it keeps us alive, makes us strong, and
finally helps us triumph over confusion, leading in this way to a level of joy
without which life has no value."101
Struggle was the natural dynamic that moved the life force upwards to
higher levels of existence. For those unwilling to embrace the necessary, dis-
ease and moral degradation inevitably followed. Monakow was clear that
pathological dynamics were set in motion when one allowed the lower drives
to swamp inborn higher impulses (in analogy to the way he had understood
the symptoms of brain disease to be caused by a lower-level swamping of
higher functional levels in the nervous system). Such dissolution within the
"instinct sphere" followed a similar vicious pattern, whether the patient was
an individual or an entire nation.102
This image of hierarchical breakdown returns us to the insistent drumbeat
of degeneration that played throughout Monakow's articulation of his psycho-
biological vision. No organism, he insisted, should be spared the natural
struggles of existence, lest it fall prey to the inevitable decay and stunted
growth that were a consequence of passivity and lack of striving. This ex-
plains the harsh, almost apocalyptic view he took toward the modernist, pro-
tectionist agendas promoted in his time by the Marxists and the Social Demo-
crats. As he told Maria Waser:
Do you see the marvelous wing-breadth and effortless gliding and sudden di-
rected swoop of wild birds? Compare that to the waddling and anxious hopping-
flight in the hen yard! Such a fate awaits a humanity that has been massively
provided for through the State!103
Particularly severe consequences awaited those who, dulled by secularism
and a soft life, neglected the uncompromising demands of the highest hormic
creation of all, the religious instinct. The irreverent not only suffered from
"spiritual desolation," which they invariably attempted "to repress through
shallow, increasingly present-oriented pleasures." They also suffered from "a
sort of ethical depravity."104 Many, if not all forms of criminality and psychi-
atric distress were at bottom spiritual crises: "[T]he question of biology and
religion stands," Monakow opined, "in a close relationship to [that of] neuro-
sis and psychosis."105
As indicated before, Monakow felt that the steady instinctual "dissolution"
of an increasingly secular central Europe had made the acute pathological
eruption of the Great War virtually inevitable. Here he pointed a particularly
accusatory finger at the mechanistic sciences of the last decades for their role
in this larger degenerative process. Modem science had lost touch with its
earlier sense of reverence for God in nature, its earlier sense of itself as a
holistic spiritual body of teachings (as exemplified in the works of Goethe and
Burdach). Instead, it had splintered into countless specializations, shackling
its special technologies and modes of knowing to the utilitarian, materialistic
drives of industrial capitalism. The catastrophic results could have been antic-
ipated. In Monakow's words:
The last World War should really also be considered from this just mentioned
biological perspective. Consider the almost fantastic impulse in natural scientific
research towards differentiation and specialization, especially with the goal of
enriching technical means and works (industrialization) and fostering or more
precisely defending current or rather daily economic prosperity. This was carried
out at the expense of the just interests of the Volk, yes, even at the cost of a true,
higher morality and the educating of the people to strive for higher life goals (the
future of the nation in the sense of just humanitarianism, loving one's neighbor,
compassion and the virtues generally). Such a one-sided form of "prosperity,"
focused chiefly on "economic values," on the winning of power, on personal
superiority, or rather the prestige of a nation, must cause a deep spiritual reaction
over the long term, in the sense of a moral inferiority, a collective sense of emo-
tional desolation and poverty also in the religious sensibility. This emerged both
at the beginning of the war and in its later manifestations.106



How was a biologist of the human soul to make sense of the undeniable fail-
ings of the modern age? How was he to account for the fact that humanity had
allowed its evolutionary journey to deviate down roads of spiritual desolation,
suffering, and destruction? Clearly, the evolutionary process itself gave no
guarantee that good would prevail over evil, and in fact it was necessary and
right that this be so, since it was freedom of choice that made us truly moral
beings, in the Kantian sense of that category. However, if the promptings of
instincts did not lock the organism into some predetermined course, then was
there anything beyond mere convention and arbitrary taste that allowed us to
recognize and choose between good and evil, right and wrong? Where, in
other words, within in our biological beings was the Kantian moral compass
to be found? Here is how Monakow himself formulated the dilemma at hand:
The question now presses itself on us: what energy in the human organism regu-
lates the course of different instinctive requirements and processes? Who is the
"judge" (or guardian) who finds a satisfactory resolution to the inevitable colli-
sions, minor and serious, that are daily experienced within the instinct world, and
especially between the primitive instincts of the Hormeterien and the [more ad-
vanced] manifold instinct levels of the Noohormeterien ... ?107

His answer to this question lay in a biological principle he called the synei-
desis or "biological conscience." First formally unveiled in the 1927 volume
of his journal Swiss Archives for Neurology and Psychiatry, the syneidesis
was proclaimed the "most sophisticated child of the horme"what Mo-
nakow's student, Erich Katzenstein called "the guarantee of wholeness in
[Monakow's] human biology."108 Its purpose was to intervene in moments of
organismic and psychological imbalance and, thermostat-like, nudge the en-
tire system back into order.109
At the most primitive levels of the instinct hierarchy (the levels involved in
biological growth and change), the syneidesis was an unconscious, imper-
sonal principle. In embryonic development, for example, it was the "compen-
satory factor" that intervened in cases of damage and discovered possibilities
for regeneration and differentiation. In other words, at this level, Monakow
identified his syneidesis with the biological intelligence Hans Driesch was
calling the entelechy. In cases of temporary loss of neurological functioning
or diaschisis, the syneidesis was the intelligence that helped the brain recover
or find new functional strategies.
As the young child developed, Monakow believed that the syneidesis con-
tinued to regulate instinctual and growth activities but that its influence re-
mained essentially unconscious. The awakening of the syneidesis into human
consciousness came only after a considerable period of neurological refine-
ment and ethical education. This mighty event in the development of the child
represented the birth of what philosophers had long called the moral sense, or
In other words, human conscience or sense of right and wrong was nothing
less than the conscious face of the syneidesis, or the highest and most subtle
form of the biological principle of auto-regulation. For Monakow, recogniz-
ing this gave intuitive judgment in moral decision-making an authority that
was rooted in the cosmic life drive itself; an authority far above that of reason
and sense. As he put it in an exhortative note to his friend, Pusirewsky, who
had been experiencing problems with her vision, "Avoid getting carried away
with the. care of your organs (including your eyes) and [instead] place your
trust blindly in the syneidesis, which unerringly carries out its duties in the
depths of your soul and your organism!"110
Grounding the moralizing thrust of that remark was actually a philosophi-
cal position, rooted in the Kantian tradition, that the highest moral sense must
necessarily be a power that functioned independently of any and all sensory
input.111 At the same time, as a psychiatrist, Monakow saw clearly that the
normal healthy functioning of the syneidesis could become dulled or diverted
through the myriad siren calls of sensory existence, and perhaps especially
through the mass delusions and confusions caused by propaganda, as hap-
pened in the First World War.112 The ingestion of narcotics and alcohol also
undermined ityet another reason Monakow offered for his involvement in
the temperance movements of this time. The story was told of how a friend
from youth visited Monakow in his last days and laughed over his decades of
strict abstinence: "How many pleasures have you allowed to elude you all
these years!" Monakow's reply was stern: "The pleasure that you all buy,
comes to me as a gift out of my own nature fully by itself, and without any
Yet, while the light of moral sense could be obscured, it could never really
be extinguished. Even in the worst and weakest of sinners, the syneidesis
never ceased in its efforts "to bring the organism and the personality back . . .
on the right vital way."114 It remained an active regulatory and potential heal-
ing power even in cases of severe psychosis, criminality, and organic damage:
all instances of psychobiological regression or fixation, where the higher in-
stinctive levels were too inadequately developed, or the level of conscious
insight too poor to allow for true moral judgment. 115
The increasingly powerful, cumulative conclusion of this Swiss neurobiol-
ogist-turned-prophet was clear: not more technology or complex social plan-
ning, but rather trust in one's deepest biological impulses was all that was
necessary to heal humanity and set it back on its true evolutionary course. All
the wisdom and goodness any individual needed to live a moral life was al-
ready pulsing in the protoplasm of his or her cells. It was in this sense that
Monakow could look out at the modern world and declare that "every tiny
living fiber in us [is] so much more wonderful than all the wonders of technol-
ogy and a thousand times more clever."116


In a commentary on Monakow, the holistic neurologist Walther Riese as-

serted that "one has to have a certain intellectual courage to withstand the
adventure of [Monakow's] anthropology; for owing to the fact that the know-
ing consciousness is itself subject to becoming, that is to say, to change, a
certain relativity of our knowledge is inevitable."117 Certainly, Monakow was
quite explicit that his goal was to thoroughly naturalize the human soul within
the framework of vitalistic evolution. But what would it mean finally to throw
the net of neurobiology over the knowing scientist himself, to imagine not
only a natural history of morality, but a natural history of science as well?
Monakow's starting point for addressing this question was the Kantian in-
sight that all human knowledge is mediated and phenomenal. He began by
inviting his readers to imagine the universe on its own terms, as the Kantian
thing-in-itself. No idealist, Monakow was clear that this unknowable universe
had an independent reality that operated according to deep and necessary prin-
ciples that Monakowadopting a phase from Confuciuscalled the princi-
ples of "root-branch causality." These were the truths of the universe as they
would appear free of human error or distortion: "If one imagines things with-
out the human, then all that remains . . . in the cosmos are self-evident

The problem was that although root-branch causality represented absolute
truth, the limited constitution of the "giant protoplasm human" meant that the
fruits of this tree of knowledge hung forever out of our reach. Instead, the
rational capacities of the human nervous system were able to access absolute
root-branch reality only in a distorted, piecemeal fashion. For this reason,
every scientific discovery was filled with contradictions and large gaps in
understanding that the scientist automatically papered over with guesses and
assertions based on prejudice and instinctual bias.
At its best, then, scientific knowledge consisted of fragments of genuine
discoveries about reality pieced together by the mind and ordered with various
unwarranted additional assertions via a process Monakow called "agglutinated
causality." This was a concept that bore some resemblances to the work of the
Gestalt psychologists in Berlin, who were also exploring the ways in which the
human mind seemed to organize perceptions into something more than the sum
of their empirical contents. "Our knowledge is more subjective persuasion than
objective truth," Monakow noted as early as 1917. He continued:
[E]ven the most persuasive and unanimous experiment that can be retested for its
reliability at any time forms just a tiny part of the powerful, immeasurable pro-
cesses in the world. . . . Because the establishment of a fact requires, without
exception, utilization of a belief system (it fills in the gaps), it turns out that every
one of our truths is endowed, even if only to a small degree, with a subjective
component (belief, wish).119
Still the full tale of Monakow's naturalization of knowledge is not yet told.
In addition to the self-standing causality of the universe and the imperfect
reconstruction of that causality by human reason, there was also a third form
of causality: one that was created not by the rational faculties of the higher
nervous system, but by the secretory (biochemical) world of the instinct hier-
archy: "This form of causality . . . is concerned with securing the personal
success of the individual in the present and the future and with bringing the
syneidesis (biological 'conscience') in harmonious connection with the con-
scious phases of feeling."120 That causal process drew on, but was not limited
to, the piecemeal "objective" truths derived from reason and perception, but
it then combined those truths with the promptings of inner experience to pro-
duce a categorically new form of truth: what Monakow called "personal" or
"subjective" truth. Subjective truth was a form of truth whose validity lay not
in the objective realm of empiricism or logic, but rather in the correspondence
between any empirical perception and the harmonious functioning of the in-
stinct hierarchy.
This conclusion led at once to a warning and a declaration of liberation
from the Du Bois-Reymonds of Monakow's time, who would limit all reliable
knowledge of reality to observations of causal relations in time and space. In
a series of lectures in 1924 that reviewed the past fifty years of neurology,
Monakow had directly defied Du Bois-Reymond's "ignorabimus"no, "we
know and will know."121 Now he went a step further: not only were certain
questionssuch as those that concerned the human soulfair game, but sci-
ence also had no authority to challenge the higher truths of "subjectivity."
And this was not only because science was itself limited and human, but be-
cause the truths of subjectivity were the truths of the horme itself. To chal-
lenge the epistemological authority of inner conviction was to set one's ener-
gies against the life force and the goals of the evolutionary process itself.
Monakow's final defiant message was underscored in the last lines of Bio-
logical Introduction to the Study of Neurology and Psychopathology, in
which he and Mourgue had written:
With the notion of horme on the one hand, and that of value on the other hand, we
have both introduced a metaphysical term into neurobiology and introduced a
notion which, according to current opinion, had no right to enter science. A dou-
ble heresy that we will not try to defend with any subtle arguments! The history
of science is there to reassure us, in case we should have need of such comfort,
since concepts that were previously forbidden in the name of positivistic science
. . . less than half a century ago today are favored by certain physicists. . . . Biol-
ogy should not to fall prey to mysticism, but if it would be obvious to us that
[mysticism] could help to shed some light into an area still this obscure, we would
not hesitate to use it!122

Monakow died on October 19, 1930. In 1936, the Schweizerische Medizi-

nische Wochenschrift published an evaluation of his late contribution to bio-
logical theory-building that approvingly stressed the relationship between the
hormic principle and the antimechanistic conceptions of both Hans Driesch
and Jakob von Uexkull (chapter 2). The article also drew attention to the con-
ceptual parallels between Monakow's holism and that of his younger col-
league Kurt Goldstein (chapter 5). The article concluded that Monakow's
work ultimately promised to make current habits of distinguishing among
physiological, philosophical, and theological-anthropological1 approaches
In the years following Monakow's death, Rudolf Brun (1885-1969), a man
who achieved some prominence during the interwar years for his work in
fostering cross-fertilization between psychoanalysis, biology, and "school"
psychiatry, used Monakow's principles to bring Freudian theory into a dia-
logue with evolutionary biology.124 Others emphasized the relevance of Mo-
nakow's work for developing a dynamic biological approach to personality
theory.125 Eugen Bleuler, Monakow's old friend and colleague, advocated the
use of the horme as an explanatory principle in psychopathology while reject-
ing what he saw as its creator's tendency to see it as a metaphysical entity; in
his eyes, it was much more usefully conceived as a holistic physicochemical
process operating in the nervous system.126
From the outset, people tended to respond to Monakow's postwar work
with emotions ranging from high enthusiasm to outright irritation, and very
few (with the exception of his women disciples) were prepared to swallow the
potion whole in its original recipe. A 1926 American reviewer liked Mo-
nakow's ideas about the biology of the emotions but complained about the
man's tendency to engage in metaphysical twaddle.127 A German-language
reviewer of the Monakow and Mourgue volume liked the concept and devel-
opment of the idea of dissolution (Abbau) but warned dryly that "if one wants
to enjoy the book, one had better find a 'dynamic vitalism' appealing."128
Many disliked Monakow's neologisms, but others defended them as funda-
mentally necessary to his enterprise. Georg Theodor Ziehen, the well-known
German psychiatrist from Halle, praised the anatomical drawings in Mo-
nakow and Mourgue's jointly authored volume but spoke disapprovingly
about the authors' "very peculiar theories about causality" and suggested that
Monakow had reached beyond his competence in the realm of functional
physiology and especially psychology.129
Yet others were inspired and even passionate about this later work. Walther
Riese in Germany, who devoted more effort than anyone else in Germany to
interpreting and defending the importance of Monakow's concepts, called the
Monakow and Mourgue volume "a comprehensive system of nature" rather
than merely an "introduction to biology."130 A French-language review of
Monakow's "Emotions, Morality, and the Brain" praised the author for hav-
ing shown that the "intensive" and "extensive" life was the true foundation of
morality, and morality was a necessary consequence of life: "That which had
been intuition in philosophy has been demonstrated by the biologist-neurolo-
gist who has penetrated as far as the most modern investigative means of
science will permit."131 And another reviewer, from Geneva, vigorously de-
nied that there was anything mystical about the horme, since Monakow had
been clear that this was a secretory system with a primary representation in the
choroid plexus (in the lateral ventricles) of the brain.132
In Zurich, the spirit of the mystical Monakow was still being honored as
late as 1953, the anniversary of his one-hundredth birthday.133 The Swiss
Neurological Society had organized an elaborate conference in his honor,134
and lecture after lecture saluted a man who had integrated neurobiological
empiricism with mysticism, who had brought into his science a "cosmic intu-
ition for . . . the totality of creation [and] the pan-psychic nature of all phe-
nomena," who had dared to transform himself from a garden-variety natural
scientist to a "human biologist" in the broadest sense of the word, and whose
understanding of his life's purpose had been informed by a Russian Orthodox
perception of the world as suffering and in need of healing.
At the same time at this international meeting, only those from Zurich were
prepared to celebrate Monakow's more mystical interwar contributions to
human biology, psychopathology, and Bergsonian vitalistic philosophy: the
few invited foreign speakers (Oscar Vogt, Lhermitte, MacDonald Critchley)
at this centenary celebration focused on Monakow's prewar anatomical and
clinical contributions. Unlike Carl Gustav Jung, with whom Monakow has
several intriguing parallels,135 the later Monakow never became a phenome-
non for the masses but seems to have remained a largely "local prophet."
His mystical message certainly had appeal, although the density and opac-
ity of his writing doubtless turned off some prospective disciples. A more
serious impediment, however, to his capacity to spread his mystical biological
message may have been the relentless ambiguity of the accompanying politi-
cal one. Different pieces of his vision could have appealed to so many audi-
ences: the idealistic youth movements, whose members' dedication to higher
natural principles so encouraged him; the Nietzschean devotees of the strug-
gle principle; the advocates of "Life" as the first principle of politics; the
conservative decryers of modernity; the race hygienists concerned with de-
generation; and even the cosmopolitan internationalists.
At the very end of his life, Monakow had begun to question his initial
understanding of the Great War as a phenomenon of purely negative dimen-
sions. It was just possible, he now suggested, that the Great War had been a
necessary violent eruption with cleansing powerthe "stormy preliminary
stage (convulsive disruption) of a powerful spiritual world movement." 136 He
found cautious hope in the idea that now "the day may be dawning, at least
among the youth (youth movement), of a future that has better grasped the true
biological goals of the race and a new ethical attitude for humanity, [with
dimensions that are] still unclear today."137
There is, of course, no way to decide how Monakow would have reacted to
the dramatic political events that would soon transpire beyond the neutral
borders of his adopted Switzerland. His pacifist commitments might have led
to a swift rejection, but it is clear that there are tensions in his psychobiologi-
cal vision that could have pushed him in a variety of directions.
A remark near the end of Maria Waser's (1933) biography of Monakow
leaves us, appropriately, with the question hanging. Monakow had taught her
that "when the Fiihrer sins against Nature, then she takes her revenge on the
entire Volk. Pestilence spreads over the land." Waser reflected: "What a shat-
tering impact such truths have for us especially today!" 138 But in 1933, which
Fiihrer and which pestilence, of those present and those lurking over the hori-
zon, did this disciple of Monakow's holistic vision mean to condemn?

' A P e a c e f u l l y B l o s s o m i n g Tree":
T h e Rational Enchantment of
Gestalt P s y c h o l o g y

IN A SPEECH before the American Psychological Association in 1959,

Wolfgang Kohler told a story about the revelation he and his peers, as young
people in Germany, had experienced upon being exposed to a new approach
in psychology and philosophy, known then in the United States as Gestalt
There was . . . a great wave of reliefas though we were escaping from a prison.
The prison was psychology as taught at the universities when we still were stu-
dents. At the time, we had been shocked by the thesis that all psychological facts
(not only those in perception) consist of unrelated inert atoms and that almost the
only factors which combine these atoms and thus introduce action are associa-
tions formed under the influence of mere contiguity. What had disturbed us was
the utter senselessness of this picture, and the implication that human life, appar-
ently so colorful and "so intensely dynamic, is actually a frightful bore.1
Gestalt psychology (or Gestalt theory, as its practitioners called it) has been
one of the most enduring international legacies of German interwar holism.
To hear Kohler describe it to his American audience, it had burst onto the
German scene as a breath of fresh aira vision that had succeeded because it
had been able to combine philosophical sophistication with ingenious experi-
mental strategies. While this origin myth doubtless captured a certain emo-
tional truth for Kohler and his audience, it hardly does justice to the far more
interesting story of Gestalt theory's iconoclastic and ambivalent position in its
native Germany. In fact, the legitimacy and agendas of Gestalt theory were
contested in Germany from the beginning. Instead of being hailed as new, this
approach to the human mind was attacked by some for having misappropri-
ated the vocabulary of older illuminated German traditions in ways that be-
trayed the fundamental spirit of those traditions.
Founded by Max Wertheimer before the First World War and then further
advanced in collaboration with Wolfgang Kohler, Kurt Koffka, and others
through the Weimar years, Gestalt theory argued for the possibility of retain-
ing a place for human significance in nature but without sacrificing rigorous
experimental standards of traditional natural science. It was not an approach
everyone would find congenial. At the time Wertheimer and his colleagues
began developing their ideas, the idea of Gestalt (which can be literally trans-
lated as "form" or "configuration") had already been identified in the broader

Figure 18. Max Wertheimer (1880-1943).

Michael Wertheimer "Max Wertheimer: Gestalt
prophet," Gestalt Theory, 2 (1980):3.

holistic literature with a range of more quasi-mystical cultural values and

goals, few of which had much to do with either rigor or with science. In this
literature, Gestalt worked as an ordering principle in partnership with whole-
ness. It was a partnership that allowed writers to speak of the world as a plu-
rality of connected wholes rather than as one undifferentiated whole; it reas-
sured people that community, nation, and culture need not be swallowed up in
an all-embracing cosmopolitanism. Gestalt's presence in holistic discourse
also implied that individuals were not just engulfed by the whole but found a
natural position and logic within it. Gestalt, in short, worked with wholeness
to give muscle and focus to the German efforts at political, cultural, and spiri-
tual renewal.
On its own, Gestalt also extended the imaginative scope of holistic dis-
course in new directions. Where the primary enemy of wholeness was the
machine, the enemy of Gestalt was chaos, an image with ancient mythological
associations that would take on fresh meanings for many Germans in the years
both before and after the First World War.2 Clearly, these two enemies were
different: the Machine offered a type of unnatural, pseudo-order built up out
of sums of atoms, while Chaos represented pure non-order. Still, both were
perceived as alike in tending to level everything into meaninglessness, disso-
lution, and fragments. For those Germans who saw themselves fighting for the
salvation of culture and the human soul, the differences between the false god
of Machine-order on the one side, and the frank devil of Chaos on the other
does not seem to have been so very great.
Evoking Gestalt in this greater fight against Chaos did not marshal just
intellectual resources but also stirred a whole range of powerful emotions and
associations. In their classic 1945 essay on Nazi uses and abuses of language,
linguists Sternberger, Storz, and Siiskind explained:

[Gestalt] sounded like the language of the Luther Bible, within which it not rarely
appeared, or the language of poetry. Indeed "Gestalt " had the weight of a key
word in one illustrious area, namely in Goethe's works: it is no exaggeration to
say that Goethe's use of the word marked a new epoch. [In Goethe's works] . . .
"Gestalt" emerges as the glorious endpoint of entelechetic developments snatched
from the danger that is given in the continual emergence of Chaos and the de-
monicGestalt is the supreme serendipity of being and appearance, the most
certain thing that can be perceived, and the clearest thing that can be thought. The
single and highest goal of pure intuition is Gestalt.3

In the mid-nineteenth century, developments in the physical sciences gave

new urgency and concreteness to this older German image of a struggle be-
tween Gestalt and Chaos. The concept of entropy, or the second law of ther-
modynamics, predicted a universe marked by increasing randomness culmi-
nating finally in "thermal death," in which temperatures dropped to levels too
low and uniform to permit life to continue. As the British physicist Ernest
Rutherford put it: "[S]cience offers no escape from the conclusion . . . that the
sun must ultimately grow cold'and this earth become a dead planet moving
through the intense cold of empty space."4
Science may have spoken, but not all German academics were prepared to
accept this meaningless vision of apocalypse without a fight. In a 1925 lec-
ture, "The Holy Reich of the Germans," the philosopher Leopold Ziegler was
repelled, not so much by the fact that the second law of thermodynamics pre-
dicted the universe's demise, but by the fact that this demise promised to be
so ignominiously modern, so devoid of mythic grandeur. In his lecture, he
called upon his audience to take "heroic action" against such an "asphalt cos-
mos," declaring:

We consider the doctrine of the unavoidable end of the world by thermal death to
be a contemporary and scientific, consequently unheroic and insufficiently tragic,
version of the gloomy twilight vision . . . from the northern lands.5

The socialist author Joachim Schumacher noted in 1937 that, in Germany,

the law of entropy "sheltered a particularly duplicitous variety of a chaos delu-
sion. Chaos no longer announced its presence as an erupting catastrophe, but
rather as the beginning of an unstoppable, forward-creeping levelling pro-
cess."6 From this initial assumption, translations between cosmic chaos (en-
tropy) and political chaos (random rule of untutored masses) could be made
with little strain; thus Jakob von Uexkiill could write in 1920 that with the
establishment of the parliamentary Weimar Republic government in 1918, the
"world-ideal of the materialists, Chaos, had passed itself onto the state."7
Schumacher suggested that for people like Uexkiill (he mentioned no names),
the physicists' law of entropy would begin to look suspiciously like "Jewish-
communist egalitarianism and subversion."8



With the chaos principle in science thus identified with political wreckage,
modernism and apocalypse, any answering principle of Gestalt in science had
its work cut out for it. Prior to World War I, the writings of Houston Stewart
Chamberlain would emerge as one of the more potent attempts within the
German holistic literature to imagine such an answering principle and to out-
line the tasks of salvation that would be asked of it. Having come to Vienna
in the 1880s to pursue plant physiology (a career goal he was forced to aban-
don owing to ill health), Chamberlain had absorbed Goethe's fascination with
the morphology of plants and the larger implications of such morphological
regularities. According to Chamberlain's Lebenslehre (Theory of Life) of
1896, the presence of Gestalt was what distinguished life from nonlife: "Ev-
erything that lives has GestaltLife is Gestalt."9 This was an identification
that would persist over time. In his best-selling Decline of the West (1918),
Oswald Spengler also declared Gestalt the epistemological category of life
and history and contrasted it with the dead, exact "law" of modern physics.
Gestalt was concerned, Spengler said, not with "the dead nature of Newton"
but with the "living nature of Goethe."10
Chamberlain certainly agreed, but for him the most important attribute of
Gestalt was its role in morphologically defining different species of organisms.
Life could find expression only through the stable blueprints that science called
"race" and "species." The fact that Darwinian evolution failed to understand
this basic Goethean insight and supposed that species were perpetually trans-
forming themselves in response to chance events, made that theory, for Cham-
berlain, the most abominable and misguided doctrine of his time:
If one could not say that this craze is only the belated straggler of Romanticism
and Hegelism in alliance with flat English utilitarianism, and that a hundred years
will not have passed before it will bejudged as men today judge alchemy . . . [I]f
we could not hope for a race of creatively great German biologists; if we did not
see around us in a few individual investigatorsat any rate in Germanyan
energetic shaking off of this "English sickness"... we might abandon all hope for
science and culture."

But Chamberlain's attempts to beat back the intellectual chaos of Darwin-
ism with his concept of Gestalt was just the beginning. To his mind, chaos
threatened humanity also on a much more immediate, practical levelthat of
race. Race, as he defined it, was an intensified form of Gestalt, a particularly
tight ordering of physical and spiritual attributes that differed for different
human groups. Its reality as a basic principle of biology was, in the language
of the time, anschaulich, requiring no evidence beyond itself. As Chamberlain
proclaimed: "Descartes pointed out that all the wise men in the world could
not define the color 'white'; but I need only to open my eyes to see it, and it
is the same with 'race.'" 12
Defining the integrity of race by the integrity of its Gestalt allowed the
conclusion that a key priority of every people or species must be to preserve
inner coherence. For this reason, interbreeding between races, or even the
acceptance of alien racial values, was a recipe for what Chamberlain called
"racial chaos": an upsetting of the delicate balance of natural virtues and at-
tributes properly belonging to individual racial groups.
In his most influential work, Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899),
Chamberlain emphasized how the undoubted intellectual accomplishments of
Roman antiquity had first been compromised and then almost fatally de-
stroyed by a steady drift into a state of raceless and nationless "folk chaos"

The inherited culture of antiquity . . . was not transmitted to us by a definite peo-

ple, but by a nationless mixture without physiognomy . . . in which Mongrels
held the whipTiand, namely . . . by the raceless chaos of the decaying Roman

In the midst of that ancient racial chaos, Chamberlain explained, the Jews
were the one people who had chosen purity of blood, but their goal was never
to save or preserve European civilization but always to undermine it. The
Teutonic racegolden-haired, blue-eyed, and virilethen entered history
from out of the North as a high-minded opposing force to the fundamentally
low Jewish race. Salvaging all that they could out of the near-wreckage of the
Roman imperium, the Teutons regenerated Western civilization and created a
new culture"beyond all question the greatest that has hitherto been
achieved by man." In other words, the Teutonic race actually proved them-
selves in history to be what the Jews had claimed to be themselves: a "chosen
people," upon whose survival Western civilization depended. The Jews,
meanwhile, persisted as an inferior race, but one whose strict marriage laws,
which maintained blood purity, nevertheless invested them with an unfortu-
nate knack for survival. In the modern era they emerged as an alien race whose
inordinate political influence, alien ideas, and even alien blood (in shocking
cases of Jewish-Aryan intermarriage) were having a chaotic, disintegrative
effect on the high culture of modern German society.14 Chamberlain's reading
of the struggle between the Gestalt-bearing Teutons and the chaos-sowing
Jews won him great fame and served as the source for some of the key imagery
used in such National Socialist books as Alfred Rosenberg's Mythos of the
Twentieth Century (finished in 1925 and published in 1930) and Adolf
Hitler's Mein Kampf (published in two volumes in 1925 and 1927). Both of
these books were broadly dominated by images of a German struggle for order
(Gestalt) against Jewish chaos.15 Indeed, after his famous 1923 meeting with
Hitler at Bayreuth, Chamberlain affirmed the resonances between their vi-
sions of salvation through order and spoke of his faith in Hitler's ability to
impose such order on Germany: "You know Goethe's distinction between
force and force! There is a force which originates in chaos and which leads to
chaos, and there is a force, whose characteristic it is to shape the cosmos."16
It would not be the last time that Hitler and National Socialism would be
identified with the creative ordering powers of Gestalt.



During his years in Vienna (where he lived from 1889 through 1909), Cham-
berlain became friendly with the philosopher and musician, Christian von
Ehrenfels (see figure 19), an important teacher of Max Wertheimer. Chamber-
lain and Ehrenfels shared a love of Wagner, a preoccupation with a perceived
leveling of human excellence, and a fascination with the saving power of Ge-
stalt. To his credit, Ehrenfels consistently eschewed the anti-Semitism so pro-
nounced in Chamberlain's work. At the same time, he went further than virtu-
ally all his peers, Chamberlain included, in using the imagery of Gestalt and
chaos to tell a story of cosmic struggle with repercussions both for the immedi-
ate crisis of his time and for the future of humanity at large. Born in Rodaun
near Vienna, Ehrenfels studied at the University of Vienna under Franz Bren-
tano and Alexius Meinong and received his doctorate at Graz in 1885. He
taught at Vienna from 1888 to 1896, then moved to the German university of
Prague, where he was a full professor from 1900 to 1929. It was in Prague that
he would become Max Wertheimer's primary teacher of philosophy.17
His Czech colleague, Felix Weltsch, described him as:
a philosopher, who came into life thinking. He did not philosophize through con-
tact with books, but rather through direct intuition of cosmic actualizations. He
did not sit at his desk; he wandered through city and countryside. This professor
of philosophy did not conform to the stereotype of a professor, let alone of a great
learned man. He resembled much more a genial hermit, a man who had been
awakened by music and who was driven by Eros, who struggled with all his
strength to raise life and the world into a better state.18
In 1890, while still in Vienna, Ehrenfels had published a landmark paper,
"On Gestalt Qualities,"19 in which he pointed out that in contrast to the claims
of associationism, we perceive phenomena not in terms of the specific ele-
ments of which they are composed, but in terms of the relationship, the pat-

Figure 19. Christian von Ehrenfels (1859-1932).

Christian von Ehrenfels: Leben und Werk, R. Fabian,
ed., (Amsterdam: Rodopi., 1986). Courtesy of R. Fabian
as authorized by Mrs. Abeille-Ehrenfels.

terned whole (Gestalt) into which they fall, either in time or in space. Thus,
the essence of a melody lies not in its specific notes, but in the meaningful
unity that emerges out of those notes. This is why a melody can be transposed
to a variety of keys and still be recognized. As Ehrenfels saw it, our human
perception of such ordered wholeness in a sum of elements was not evidently
either a sensation nor a judgment (to draw on the categorical distinctions of
his time) but "an X, an unknown factor,"20 that was something wholly differ-
ent again and that Ehrenfels called the "Gestalt quality."
For Ehrenfels, the question remained whether Gestalt was merely a mental
factorsomething the mind imposed onto realityor an independent princi-
ple of order that the mind discovered in reality. Ehrenfels waited about
twenty-seven years to affirm the latter position on this critical issue. His Kos-
mogonie (1916), written in the shadow of the First World War, elevated Ge-
stalt into a cosmic principle of psychic or spiritual order that was mankind's
only defense against chaos, entropy, and racial degeneration. Ehrenfels had
long been an impassioned eugenicist (though, again, without any particular
racist bias). Even before the war, he had argued at length that the ill-effects of
modernism and technology (which artificially prolonged the lives of the unfit)
could only be stemmed through the legalization of polygamy for the fit and
restrictions on reproduction for the inferior.21 Now, for him, the greatest hor-
ror of the war lay in its "counterselective" effects that systematically cut down
the brightest, youngest, and strongest of the race. Kosmogonie was his attempt
at an explanation and a vision of renewed hope.
A great deal of existential urgency, building over several decades, also ani-
mated the writing of Kosmogonie. A growing crisis of faith had already led
Ehrenfels to abandon the Catholicism of his youth (sometime in 1880) but had
not stilled a religious hunger that led him to seek solace and a different level
of religious truth in the music and aesthetic philosophy of Richard Wagner.22
Kosmogonie was to be an instantiation and articulation of those effectively
inarticulate truths. It began with a theory of the origin of the world as the result
of the interaction of two metaphysical principles, Chaos and Gestalt. Chaos,
or utter randomness (entropy), was the original state of the universe. Gestalt
had emerged as an ordering, unifying principle out of this randomness (an
infinitely improbable but possible occurrence within a frame of infinite time).
It had then persisted because Chaos was not capable of continuous destruc-
tion, even in infinite time.23 Gestalt was described in Kosmogonie as an imma-
terial force, "either of a direct spiritual nature or . . . hardly distinguishable in
its essence from the phenomena of human consciousness."24 Its slow but ulti-
mately triumphant striving to overcome the material principle of chaos or
entropy resulted in the cosmic process science had recognized as "evolution."
While this vision of dualistic struggle certainly reflected a widespread intel-
lectual tendency of his time, with complex social and political motivations,25
the only earthly inspiration Ehrenfels was himself prepared to credit in Kos-
mogonie was "German music."26 From besieged and politically tumultuous
Prague, he wrote:
German music is still a religion for me today in the sense that, should all my
arguments in this work [Kosmogonie] be refuted, I would nevertheless not sink
into despairyes, would remain persuaded, with the trust in the universe out of
which this work grew, that I had pursued the essentially right path,persuaded,
because there is German music. For a world in which such a thing could come to
be, must be in its most inner essence good and worthy of trust.27
Many Germans in these years were attracted to the idea that artperhaps
especially Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerkcould serve as a means of "overcom-
ing" a mundane or unpleasant earthly reality: "Bayreuth became a shrine to
the transcendence of life and reality by art and the imagination, a place where
the aesthetic moment was to encapsulate all the meaning of history and all the
potential of the future."28 With the coming of the war, this tendency to aesthet-
icize existence would, if anything, intensify dramatically until even destruc-
tion and death could be celebrated as aesthetic experiences, paradoxical
sources of life and liberation.
Yet, even as Ehrenfels jointed his cohort in seeking transcendence in a dark
time within "German music," he was nevertheless not prepared completely to
make art the measure of all things. As one reads Kosmogonie, it becomes clear
that Gestalt, insofar as it was a philosophical articulation of the truths of Ger-
man music, was also incompleteincomplete because it was a pure aesthetic
principle without reason or ethical goals and with no end beyond the increas-
ing perfection and purity of itself.29
Human purposea child of human reasonwas the necessary leaven to
the endlessly creative aesthetic impulses of the cosmos. In the eternal fullness
of time, Ehrenfels concluded that Gestalt had managed to produce something
new and, in a certain sense, better than itselfhuman beings capable of "pur-
posive desiring"30and the universe has not been the same since.
Purposive consciousness is . . . a recent cosmic blossom. It is equally today
already a powerful earthly power. Can one assume that the Universal Gestalter
stands alienated from, perhaps even totally unaware of this blossom created
through its own working? Is it credible that we humans in and with our purposive
consciousness have risen above the Universal Gestalter?With the problem
raised here, we are confronted with the . . . question concerning the ontological
relationship between the Unifying Principle and its creations.31
The rise of human beings capable of planning and reason was a turning
point in cosmic evolution. Since humans, like all of creation, are not separate
from the Gestalt principle that created them, but part of God-Nature, the birth
of human consciousness meant that the universe now knew purpose. What
Ehrenfels called the Allgestalteror Goditself took on the attributes of
self-consciousness and purposiveness. "It is . . . probable that God thinks with
our brains and wills via our willing."32 Working through his creation, "God
searches for a guiding idea that would be capable of channeling what has been
so far the instinct-driven processes of Gestalt-creation into the track of pur-
posive consciousness. This idea has not yet been found."33
But the gist of what that idea might turn out to be was already clear: to
speak of a need for a purposive channeling of evolution was just another way
of describing a need for the development of a rational eugenics, now discov-
ered as a cosmic rather than just a human imperative. In Kosmogonie, Ehren-
fels thus offered an image of God and humanity in cosmic partnership that
made clear that his own eugenicist activism had been his way all along of
working to advance the higher causes of the cosmos.34 This was a drama that
may have lacked the uncompromising comfort of the Christian religion, but
somewhat like the dramas of Wagner himselfoffered in its stead an adren-
alin shot of heroism that felt better suited to the urgent times.



Ehrenfels and Chamberlain exemplify a cultural tradition that by World War

I had clearly established Gestalt as a concept both with a uniquely German
lineage (Luther, Goethe, etc.) and with quasi-mystical and (usually) politi-
cally conservative resonances.35 Only with these powerful original meanings
in mind can we appreciate all that was at stake when Max Wertheimer made
the decision to use this same culturally and politically loaded word, Gestalt,
to describe his socially liberal, Jewish-dominated, and empirically oriented
research program in Berlin.
Born in Prague on April 15, 1880, Wertheimer was the younger son of a
religiously conservative, intellectual Jewish family. In Prague, he was intro-
duced to German culture by monks at the Piarot Grammar School and to Jew-
ish intellectual and mystical traditions by his grandfather Jakob Zwicker, "the
Shamas [sexton] of the Altneuschul and of the Old Cemetery, as well as Su-
pervisory Nurse of the Jewish Hospital."36 It was the grandfather who secretly
introduced Wertheimer to Benedict Spinoza's heretical holism, whichhis fa-
ther had forbidden him to read. For orthodox Jews, the heresy of Spinoza lay
in his rejection of two critical premises: the idea of God as the first, efficient
cause of the world; and the idea that God had purposes and desires for man-
kind and the rest of creation.37 Arguing that Jews need not observe the laws of
the Torah, Spinoza had advocated a type of holistic pantheism that made no
distinction between God and his created world. Wertheimer was profoundly
influenced by his early exposure to this philosopher. The metaphysician not
only gave him a framework through which to question traditional Jewish in-
junctions, 38 but also provided him with resources to conceive of the problem
of order (Gestalt) and mind in a nondualistic way.
Wertheimer's extraordinary love and talent for music, especially piano,
were universally remarked upon and also came to infuse his intellectual work.
Later students of Wertheimer noted that music was a type of religion for him
and that improvising on the piano was "akin to a form of worship."39 Wert-
heimer's older brother, Walter, wrote in a journal in 1895: "There is some-
thing daemonic in his improvisations, a wonderful strength which erases all
other thoughts; you just follow the melodies, which are now wild and mighty,
now gentle and quiet, as though sounding from far, far away. When 1 hear him
play, I can't tear myself away until he stops."40
Max Brod, one of the key figures of the Prague Circle, which promoted and
experimented with literary Expressionism in the 1920s, described Wertheimer
in the years just before the First World War as "a wise, temperamental young
Gnome . . . a mysterious, fascinating person, small, energetic, stubborn,
[with] beautiful eyes; he was bound with me also through our love of music,
of piano playing." Later, visiting Prague as a young experimental psycholo-
gist, Wertheimer was a novelty to his literary friends: "He condemned our
speculative rnethods, [and] was full of the tricks of his craft, of practical,
sometimes humorous ideas that were intended to pull the leg of his victim, the
experimental subject, [and which] enlivened his work with earthy joviality."41
Yet, even as he chided and challenged, Wertheimer's warm relations with the
Prague Circle (Max Brod, Franz Werfel, Felix Weltsch, Julius Klein, Hans
Kauders) also underscores his sympathy with their aesthetic and romantic
Portraits of Wertheimer in his prime further attest to his personal charisma
and subtle capacity to command influence. As the Mandlers noted in their
1969 study of immigrant psychologists:
"Some saw him as 'impatient, dogmatic, but very powerful.' Others describe him
as 'charming, almost retiring.' N. R. F. Maier in his Oral History tells of his visit
to Berlin and relates the impression that Wertheimer was the high priest, although
Kohler seemed to be. Wolfgang Kohler was the director of the laboratory, but he
always listened to Wertheimer, and if Wertheimer disagreed with something,
Kohler would back down. Of the three, Wertheimer was the most philosophically
and romantically oriented.43
Having launched his experimental research program some few years be-
fore, Wertheimer served in World War I as a research psychologist with the
Prussian Artillery Testing Commission, a center for the development of new
artillery invention. It happened that the center was located in a civilian area in
Berlin (the so-called Bavarian Quarter), not far from Albert Einstein's house.
Wertheimer's friendship with Einstein began during this time, nurtured by
lengthy visits in which he attempted to understand the Gestalt-like psycholog-
ical processes employed by Einstein to conceive the theory of relativity.44
Wertheimer's chief formal contribution to the war was an instrument, de-
veloped in collaboration with his friend Erich von Hornbostel, that could de-
termine the direction of a firing gun or a submarine by exploiting the time
difference with which the sound wave from a firing reached a soldier's two
ears.45 He received the Iron Cross from the German government for this work
but remained ambivalent about the whole affair. Hornbostel recalled that
when Wertheimer "was given the honor of firing the first torpedo of the first
submarine of the enemy" identified using his methods, he fainted on firing
"because of his strong feelings against killing."46
It was during the war years that Wertheimer also became a great friend of
the physicist Max Born, who recalled him as "a deep thinker, but of a different
type from any I had known before: skeptical in the extreme, inclined to take
nothing for granted and to regard any observation as a deception of the senses
or the mind, until its truth was shown by correct psychological experiment."47
Shortly after the end of the war, with the declaration of a people's government
in Germany under socialist leadership, Wertheimer teamed up briefly with
Born and Einstein. The three men successfully negotiated the release of the
rector and several professors at the University of Berlin who were being held
by revolutionary student rebels and soldiers demanding socialist concessions
from the university. In later correspondence with Born, Einstein wryly rem-
inisced about how pleased they had all been with their accomplishments that
day and how naively they had viewed it as an omen of a bright future for a
newly democratic Germany.48
Politically, Wertheimer was a staunch democratic socialist committed to
the promise of Weimar. One friend recalled him as being "very interested in
Marx, but by no means a Communist." 49 Another described him as "an im-
passioned democrat with a small d."50 Eschewing academic hierarchy and
elitism in the academy as much as in politics, he was also remembered by
friends as always "more the Czech provincial than the German professor."51
And always he retained his romanticism and aesthetic view on the world.
Rudolf Arnheim has compared him in his later years to "one of the old rabbis
in the mysterious city of Prague, where he was born . . . [with] his attentive
eyes . . . deeply embedded in his tired, soft face," wearing a "little woollen
cap," playing "old German folk tunes in [a] minor key" and telling "the curi-
ously meaningful fables that life staged for him wherever he went." 52 Gestalt
psychology was both shaped by and served as a most important source of
inspiration for his "meaningful fables," both before and after the Hitler years
and his immigration to the United States. Here follow some of the ways in
which this was so.


From 1898 to 1901, Wertheimer attended the University of Prague, where

Gestalt psychology would find an important source of its intellectual inspira-
tion in the fin de siecle atmosphere of philosophical theorizing. Though origi-
nally enrolled as a law student, from the beginning he studied psychology,
music, philosophy, and the history of art. By 1900, he had switched to the
philosophy faculty, where Ehrenfels was one of his most important teachers.53
Wertheimer resonated, not only with Ehrenfels' philosophical and psycholog-
ical concerns with Gestalt and ordering principles in perception but also with
his love of music and "allegiance to the primacy of aesthetic over technologi-
cal values in science and philosophy."54
At the same time, it was not Ehrenfels but other mentors who would pro-
vide Wertheimer with the tools for creating his iconoclastic research program:
psychologist-philosophers like Oswald Kulpe and Karl Marbe in Marburg
(with whom he formally completed his doctorate) and especially Carl Stumpf
in Berlin. It was Stumpf who had inspired him to believe that a psychology
firmly rooted in the experimental method could, even must, be used to tackle
fundamental questions of philosophy.55
Although he had actually first explored the problem of Gestalt in an early
study of the principles of counting and number among primitive people,56 the
experiments that were critical for Wertheimer's experimental research pro-
gram were the 1912 studies on the so-called phi phenomenon. This referred to
the apparent continuous movement produced by two different stimuli sepa-
rated from each other in space and illuminated successively at brief intervals:
One sees a movement; it is not the case that the object moved, is now in a place
other than where it was before, and hence that one knows that it has moved....
But one saw the movement. What is given here psychologically?57

Wertheimer concluded that this perceived "motion" was a genuine percept
that was not dependent on individual sensations (since there was in fact no
actual motion). That is to say, an overarching form was created out of in-
coming pieces of information that had an independent psychological reality.
If Wertheimer had said that grins could exist apart from their Cheshire-cat
owners, he would hardly have sounded more radical to contemporary ears.
Mitchell Ash has the following to say about the wider significance of these
For Wertheimer, this was not merely one kind of apparent motion among others,
but clearly the essence of motion itself. He drew two implications from this. First,
the notion, derived from traditional logic, that a process must necessarily be a
process of something, "is not founded on pure psychological data"; there were,
indeed "pure dynamic phenomena." . . . To explain theseand this was the sec-
ond pointit would be necessary to break with the conventional dichotomy be-
tween sensation and judgment. Here was a phenomenon that appeared, under
appropriate conditions, with sensory immediacy and total clarity, but that could
not be described as a sum of contents, or as a series of isolated events combined
by a process external to them. . . . Bergson . . . had made a similar claim about
motion in general a decade before. However, he had presented it as evidence of an
unbridgeable gap between scientific method and the claims of intuition, while
Wertheimer's aim was to show that such a gap need not exist.58
Wertheimer called the principles underlying orderly perception "Gestalt
laws," and believed they were fully researchable using experimental methods.
A range of simple paper-and-pencil studies were developed to make the point.
Many of these took advantage of the Gestalt principle of "figure-ground" per-
ception in which the mind perceives lines, dots, or filled regions on a page as
either figure or background, depending on the total arrangement of cues. (In
one classic formulation, two possible interpretations of an ambiguous draw-
ing are equally compelling and may appear to flip into each othere.g., a vase
turns into a pair of faces and back again). Exploiting this simple technology,
it was found that lines on a page set at varying distances from one another will
be perceived as either "separate" or as "belonging together"; that people tend
to perceive organization in a line drawing that interrupts the fewest other lines
in the total field (the law of good continuation); and, that an enclosed region
in a field tended to be perceived as a figure (the law of enclosedness). Other
studies found that as an object moves in a field of view, its perceived shape
and size remain constant (the law of constancy); and that there was a tendency
for the mind to see figures in ambiguous or imperfect fields that were as
"good" (simple, regular, symmetrical, etc.) as the prevailing conditions al-
lowed (the law of Pragnanz; see figure 20).59
Wertheimer's major colleagues in these early years were Wolfgang Kohler
(1887-1967) and Kurt Koffka (1886-1941). Koffka, who emigrated to the
United States in the 1920s, always remained one of Gestalt theory's most
vigorous proselytizers while also extending its reach into developmental psy-

* c
Fie. ;.

Figure 20. Wertheimer's illustration of various

"Gestalt laws," 1921. Max Wertheimer, "Principles of
Perceptual Organization," Readings in Perception,
Michael Wertheimer, ed., 1958.
chology.60 Kohler became particularly well known after World War I as an
ape researcher who had used principles of Gestalt theory to illuminate prob-
lem-solving skills in an ape colony at a research center on the Canary Is-
lands.61 It was actually Kohler, rather than Wertheimer, who succeeded in
giving Gestalt theory its first stable institutional base when he was appointed
director of the Psychology Institute in Berlin in 1921.62 That same year, he,
Wertheimer, Koffka, Kurt Goldstein, and Hans Gruhle founded the journal
Psychologische Forschung {Psychological Research), which served as a pub-
lication vehicle for Gestalt theory until 1938. Students and visitors began
coming to Berlin and the reputation of Gestalt theory grew.
Its experimental reach also began to extend beyond Berlin and beyond psy-
chology per se. In Berlin, Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) joined the team and found
in Gestalt theory a framework for studying the dynamics of groups and social
conflict. In Frankfurt, holistic neurologist Kurt Goldstein and Gestalt psy-
chologist Adhe"mar Gelb studied loss of Gestalt-like perceptual principles in
brain-damaged soldiers (see chapter 5). Other researchers in neurology found
that Gestalt laws provided an explanation for the mysterious processes of re-
covery and compensation in cases of brain damage. Writing in 1917, W. Pop-
pelreuter noted that when certain brain-injured patients with visual field defects
were shown a geometric figure in such a way that the image fell partly in the
"blind" area, their minds "filled in" the missing area, and they reported seeing
a complete figure. He called this phenomenon "the totalizing Gestalt view."63
Finally, attempts were made within the inner circle of Gestalt theory to
strengthen its philosophical and scientific rigor by making a case for concep-
tual continuity between it and new developments in the physical sciences. In
a major statement, Physical Gestalts at Rest and in a Stationary State,64
Kohler suggested that "field" theory in physics was actually concerned with
the problem of Gestalt as wellwith phenomena he called "physical Ge-
stalts" in which the whole or "field" determined the state of the parts. Exam-
ples he discussed included the distribution of particles in a fluid body and the
distribution of a current of electricity in a network of wires. Kohler also
pointed out that such systems, like their counterparts in psychology and biol-
ogy, tended to be self-regulating, returning more or less rapidly to a state of
equilibrium after disturbance.65 If physical Gestalts existed, then the next ob-
vious step was to ask about the relationship between those Gestalts and the
Gestalts that shaped conscious experience. It was likely, Kohler felt, that sci-
ence would ultimately show that every psychological Gestalt mapped isomor-
phically onto a physical Gestalt state within the brain.66
The implications of all this work went beyond its varied effects on institu-
tionalized experimental psychology. Wertheimer stressed that in fact Gestalt
theory was attempting nothing less than a reformulation of basic principles of
knowledge. By asserting that the vivid world of color and coherence experi-
enced by humans must in fact serve as the first court of appeal in questions of
reality, it aimed a direct challenge at the stifling epistemology of mechanistic
science that, since the late seventeenth century, had considered nature (in Al-
fred North Whitehead's famous formulation) "a dull affair, soundless, scent-
less, colourless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaning less ly."67
In that old philosophy of knowledge, only matter and motion were real, the
rest was fantastical window-dressing dreamt by an erring consciousness. Ge-
stalt theory aimed to give back to people the integrity of their consciousness.
In so doing, this epistemology also affirmed what Goethe, in his way, had long
known: that the basis of lived reality was not meaningless particles but rather
"immanent structuralism," order, and wholeness.68



But what did this new epistemology mean for Germanyespecially for young
Germans, who were searching after the lost war for answers about human
existence but were largely unpersuaded by the pious pronouncements of the
churches and the sterile nonanswers of modern science? On December 17,
1924, at an evening meeting of the Kant Society at the University of Berlin,
Wertheimer delivered a major presentation on Gestalt theory in which he at-
tempted to make clear just how he saw the matter.
In examining his speech, we can benefit from revisiting Max Weber's fa-
mous talk, "Science as a Vocation," which had been given about five years
earlier at the University of Munich and had dealt with some of the same
themes that were to occupy Wertheimer. Lecturing directly in the wake of the
lost war and the collapse of the old regime, Weber had known that the major-
ity of students listening to his speech were deeply disillusioned with the val-
ues and priorities of their elders. Many, feeling themselves particularly op-
pressed by the dry and impersonal reality proclaimed by natural science, were
demanding to know its relevance to pressing human concerns. In his talk,
Weber had tackled this issue straight on. He had noted that the modern sci-
ences were of a specialized character and inextricably bound to instrumental-
ist concerns. Science did not ask questions to provide humanity with answers
to the burning questions of life but in order to dominate the world pragmati-
cally. Indeed, the ultimate effect of "rational empirical knowledge" was to
make questions of human meaning seem irrelevant and childish:
Who, aside from certain big children who are indeed found in the natural sci-
ences, still believes that the findings of astronomy, biology, physics, or chemistry
could teach us anything about the meaning of the world? If there is any such
"meaning," along which road could one come upon its tracks? If these natural
sciences lead to anything in this way, they are apt to make the belief that there is
such a thing as the "meaning" of the universe die out at its very roots. . . . Tolstoi
has given us the simplest answer, with the words: "Science is meaningless be-
cause it gives no answers to our question, the only question important for us:
'What shall we do and how shall we live?'" That science does not give an answer
to this is indisputable.69
With its impersonal atoms and forces, science had turned humans into emo-
tional orphans scrambling to recreate a meaningful space for themselves in the
inadequate and artificial constructions of "culture" and "art. " As Weber noted:
[C]ivilized man, placed in the midst of the continuous enrichment of culture by
ideas, knowledge, and problems, may become "tired of life" but not "satiated with
life."... [W]hat he seizes is always something provisional and not definitive, and
therefore death for him is a meaningless occurrence. And because death is mean-
ingless, civilized life as such is meaningless; by its very "progressiveness" it gives
death the imprint of meaninglessness.70
Yet, Weber was not prepared to advocate retreat into any "life philosophy"
or other form of "intellectual mysticism" that denigrated reason. In the end,
the message he preached to German youth was one of cosmic resignation
coupled with accountability for personal choices. He well knew that the real-
ity of the modern situation was a bitter pill to swallow, and for those who
could not bear such a world, well, the doors of the churches were still open.
Others might find solace, Weber thought, in the lives of small communities
(including the communities of the youth movement) and in intimate circles of
friends where something still "pulsated."
Five years later, Wertheimer took the theme of scientific disenchantment to
another student audience. Without any explicit reference to Weber's lectures,
he nevertheless asked whether a Weberian attitude of stoicism and resignation
was entirely necessary, suggesting it was actually based on a certain amount
of misunderstanding. He acknowledged the apparent human poverty of the
scientific world view and the efforts that had subsequently been made to af-
firm a radical separation of science and life:

Science, it is said, has nothing to do with all these lovely things, science is sober
and you must not demand of it what it cannot fulfill. You will recall the historical
period of despair in science, when it was felt that by precise demarcation of the
realms of science one would escape the "rationalism" and "intellectualism" of
science. . . . And this attitude was manifested by its strongest and best advocates
with a truly grandiose resignation.71

Yet Wertheimer was not prepared to join the "grandiosely resigned" just
yet. He suggested that the apparent dissociation between knowledge and
meaning, science and life was not inherent in physical reality but was instead
an artifact of an outmoded epistemology and methodology. For most of his
audience, Wertheimer knew, scientific knowledge was synonymous with
piecemeal knowledgeknowledge that was content only when it had reduced
a phenomenon down to dry, invisible particles interacting in accordance with
the ironclad logic of some impersonal law: "Who would dare, scientifically,
to attempt to grasp the rushing stream?" Wertheimer asked his audience.
Then, in his next sentence, he deftly turned the tables on them: it was their
understanding of science that was limited, not science itself: "And yet physics
does it all the time! It is merely an outworn epistemological prejudice to sup-
pose that physics deals merely in particles. On the contrary, physics has for
many decades dealt just with what is flowing, streaming, controlled by whole-
processes." 72
This was the good news of Gestalt theoryit showed that the scientific
study of mind and consciousness, no less than of the physical world, could
reconnect with the dynamic, whole-processes that people cared about because
such processes corresponded to their lived experiences. Wertheimer argued
that those who had fled from science into "idealism," denigrating the former
as "materialistic," had been confusing a poor, washed-out map with a rich and
complex territory; an incompetent portrait with a vital and beautiful subject.
Whereas Weber argued that science had disenchanted the physical world for
us, Wertheimer insisted that there was nothing unlovely or alienating about
"material reality" when science was properly done:

People speak of idealism as opposed to materialism, thereby suggesting some-

thing beautiful by idealism and by materialism something gloomy, barren, dry,
ugly. Do they really mean by consciousness something opposed to, let us say, a
peacefully blossoming tree? When one considers what one finds repellent in ma-
terialism and mechanism, and what seems great in idealism, does one find the
material properties of the elements to be the issue? Frankly, there are psycholog-
ical theories and even plenty of psychological textbooks which, though they
speak continuously only of conscious elements, are more materialistic, dryer,
more senseless and lifeless than a living tree which has probably no consciousness
in it at all. It cannot matter of what materials the particles of the universe consist;
what matters is the kind of whole, the significance of the whole, the meaning of
the whole, the nature of the whole.73

This was more than just a professorial call for reforming the prevailing
scientific epistemology and methodology. It was also a profoundly personal
invitation to come home to a natural world governed not by alienating, sense-
less laws, but by principles of beauty. When Wertheimer proposed later in his
talk that the world, looked at through the lens of Gestalt theory, might be
compared to a Beethoven symphony, he was certainlyas Mitchell Ash has
stressedproposing that natural science could work in harmony with essen-
tial German cultural values.74 However, the connection he chose to make in
this talk between laws of music, laws of consciousness, and laws of physics
was not just an attempt to "overcome the sterile opposition of humanism and
science" and to enhance the appeal of the natural sciences in the crisis atmo-
sphere of Weimar.75 It was also an affirmation of a credo that declared the
sufficiency of aesthetic experiencewith music as the paradigmfor a
meaningful human life. Years later, Rudolf Arnheim would recall that, for
Wertheimer, "order, harmony and lawfulness [were] the fundamental facts of
nature and . . . all deviations from them are secondary. . . . That is why he
objected so passionately whenever what is wrong, evil or deformed was pre-
sented as the rule. His use of the word 'ugly' had the same metallic precision
and objectivity that a low correlation has for the statistician."76
It is evident that the cultural story Wertheimer attempted to share with the
students that evening in Berlin engaged as much the aesthete and musician in
him as the scientist: it celebrated an epistemologically liberated world gov-
erned by laws that at once organized human thought, rushing streams, blos-
soming trees, and Beethoven symphonies. Scientific experimentation, carried
out within the epistemological framework of Gestalt theory, became not
something alienated from life, but an existentially satisfying way of under-
standing the principles governing the richly aesthetic reality in which human
beings were rooted. As Wolfgang Kohler put it in an unpublished memorial
talk for Wertheimer in 1943: "It was as though Saint Francis, whom Wert-
heimer so much resembled, had said, not only: 'My brother the fish or the
bird,' but also: 'my great brother that majestic rock,' or 'my sister, that peace-
ful tune."' 77
Although at least one reviewer of Wertheimer's lecture suggested that he
was attacking a caricature of an atomistic, piecemeal psychology that scarcely
existed in the current day,78 many others resonated to the promise of a psy-
chology that would restore meaning and existential immediacy to the study of
human mental processes. A young Herbert Marcuse attended Wertheimer's

1 1924 Kant Society lecture and wrote the older man an appreciative letter the
following day. Although he questioned whether Gestalt theory would ever be
able to engage more than phenomenologically given facts in a scientific man-
ner, he concluded nevertheless that the lecture "was for both me and my friends
the most beautiful philosophical experience we have had as students."79
Some people also found in that promise a direct response to certain cultural
and political themes of the Weimar years. The writer Robert Musil was a peer
of the Gestaltists at the University of Berlin during the time they were all
studying under Carl Stumpf and retained an interest in Gestalt theory long
after he had left the psychology laboratory. For him, this approach to the mind
continued to suggest a way toward a "vision of wholeness" that could avoid
the anti-intellectualism and political extremism so often associated with such
visions.80 As he wrote in 1922: "It is not the case that we have too much
reason and not enough soul. . . . We don't think and take action with regard to
our own [psychological] nature."81 For this reason, he applauded the rational
holism of Gestalt theory: whoever "has the knowledge to understand it," he
declared, "will experience how, on the basis of empirical science, the solution
to ancient metaphysical difficulties is already implied."82
In the complicated debates of the time that looked to science to resolve
questions about the "naturalness" of different political systems, Gestalt the-
oryat least in Wertheimer's formulationsseemed to tilt gently to the left.
Mitchell Ash has found "suggestive remarks about the self and society" in
Wertheimer's 1924 Berlin lecture that Ash feels suggest an attempt to use
Gestalt theory to promote more collectivist thinking in politics. "For example,
'man is not only a part of a field, but a part and member of his group'; the
notion of a separate ego only 'develops under very special circumstances.'
Hence, just as elementary sensations are 'a late cultural derivative,* so too is
possessive individualism. It is more natural, he implied, for people to work
together for a common goal than to be in opposition to one another."83
At the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt, leading
Marxist critical theorist and Institute director, Max Horkheimer, actually en-
tered into a sustained dialogue with Gestalt theory as part of his larger attempt
to find a psychology in which to root social theory. Indeed, Horkheimer began
his university career with the goal of becoming a Gestalt psychologist. He
began doctoral work in 1921 with patients at the rehabilitation institute run by
Kurt Goldstein and Gestalt psychologist Adhemar Gelb (see chapter 5), study-
ing the orderly breakdown of function in the visual system. In the spring of
1922, however, Horkheimer's adviser, Friedrich Schumann, informed him
that a project dealing with the topic of his dissertation had just been published
in Copenhagen. Showing considerable grace under fire, Horkheimer switched
his dissertation to a topic on Kant that he had pursued earlier in a seminar with
the philosopher Hans Cornelius. He completed his doctorate under Cornelius
in 1923.84
Even as he moved from experimental research to philosophy, however,
Horkheimer maintained intellectual continuity with his initial interests.85
Cornelius was an ideal mentor for a frustrated Gestalt theorist. At the turn of
the century, he had himself persistently argued for the presence of Gestalt-like
qualities of the mind that he believed shaped incoming sensory data into co-
herent wholes.86 Horkheimer's friend Theodor Adorno was also impressed
with Cornelius' views on these matters, and wrote his own doctorate under
Cornelius on Husserl's phenomenology.87
However, it was not until 1933, in a paper entitled "Materialism and Meta-
physics," that Horkheimer looked explicitly to Wertheimer and his colleagues
to help him defend dialectic materialism over the contemplative metaphysics
of both positivism and idealism or intuitionism. He argued that positivism,
which currently dominated the natural sciences, had a great deal in common
with idealism and intuitionism, which the natural sciences overtly scorned.
Specifically, positivism had "in common with intuitionism the subjectivist
claim that immediate primary data, unaffected by any theory, are true reality."
The only substantive distinction between the two was that positivism asserted
in addition a "metaphysics of the elements, the interpretation of reality as a
sum-total of originally isolated data, the dogma of the unchangeableness of
the natural laws, [and] the belief in the possibility of a definitive system."88
Dialectical materialism, which Horkheimer wished to defend, agreed with
positivism that reality was "only what is given in sense experience." At the
same time, it eschewed the naive tendency of positivism to "absolutize" sen-
sation into a totalizing framework for knowledge. The sophisticated dialecti-
cal materialist knew:
Theory is always more than sensibility alone and cannot be totally reduced to
sensations. In fact, according to the most recent developments in psychology, far
from being the elementary building blocks of the world or even of psychic life,
sensations are derivatives arising only through a complicated process of abstrac-
tion involving the destruction of formulations which the psyche had shaped.89
Here followed an extended footnote crediting the Gestaltists with having
demonstrated that perception, far from being a sum of sensations, was in fact
initially "given" to consciousness as a flowing totality. The analytic act that
permitted the dissection of such a holistic perception into what "we call sen-
sations" (to use Wertheimer's words) came later, if at all. In other words, the
analytic form of elemental perceiving (again, after Wertheimer) was merely a
"cultural product" that had "little to do" with what was "really fundamental."
"[T]he whole literature on Gestalt theory," Horkheimer concluded, was not
just "an unsupported philosophical rejection of the doctrine of psychic ele-
ments," but offered "strict proofs of the nonindependence of sensations."90
All this not only challenged the "absolutism" of sensation fetishized by
positivism, but also affirmed what Stanley Aronowitz has termed "the core of
dialectical theory": "that the world of perception is a 'product of human ac-
tivity.'" 91 Earlier, Horkheimer had criticized Marxism's rejection of psy-
chology, which it had explained away as an invention of bourgeois idealism.
Horkheimer argued in contrast, that the insights of psychology were essential
to effective historical theorizing. But what kind of psychology would do? In
his 1932 paper, Horkheimer had spoken approvingly of a psychoanalysis that,
like the work of his colleague Erich Fromm, would focus on humanity's less
rational ideological and psychological motivations.93 As is well known, the
Frankfurt school's interest in synthesizing Marxism with psychoanalysis
would, if anything, intensify throughout the 1930s.
At the same time, in "Materialism and Metaphysics," Horkheimer recog-
nized an additional need in critical theory for the insights of something like
Gestalt psychology. In emphasizing how reality emerged out of a dialectic
between "theories" (categories, Gestalts) and sensation, Gestalt psychology,
far more clearly than psychoanalysis, validated the intellectual and social sig-
nificance of the-Frankfurt school in the world. In the early 1930s, it was the
only psychology that offered any reason for believing in theory as an active,
constructive force in material history and therefore a needed partner in the
struggle to produce a more equitable, humane society. No wonder, then, that
Horkheimer welcomed Wertheimer's appointment in 1929 to the faculty of
Frankfurt University with what Mitchell Ash has called "remarkable praise."
In a letter to the dean of the Natural Sciences Faculty, Horkheimer wrote:
The emergence of a new science of life, which strives to unify physiological and
psychological investigation has greater importance for real knowledge than all
hasty "syntheses" of cultural totality. But I have nowhere found a higher concept
of the philosophical and general weight of such strivings than in the writings of
Gelb and Wertheimer.94


At the same time, the effort to unite psychology and physicsmind and mat-
terin a common holistic framework, would also disappoint, even repel,
many who had hoped to glean a more "enchanted" and personal message from
holistic science. Walter Riese, who became holistic neurology's first histo-
rian, late in life spoke disparagingly of the watered-down version of Gestalt
used by the "so-called Gestalt psychologists," for whom all psychological
experience was just an impersonal "field" and who had no conception of the
Goethean synthesis of joy and suffering that bring experience together into a
meaningful whole or Gestalt.95
For many others, it was Gestalt theory's monism, with its explicit courting
of the physical sciences, that especially rankled. For advocating this aspect of
the theory, Wertheimer's colleague Wolfgang Kohler came under particular
fire, and one of his most spirited debating partners was the vitalistic biologist
Hans Driesch. The Gestaltists, in their turn, had from the outset expressed a
united scorn for the "vitalistic" solution-to mechanism that Driesch had been
advocating since before the First World War (a solution that introduced a
nonmaterial "added factor," the entelechy, to explain the ways in which the
whole shaped and directed its own parts). As Wertheimer put it in an unpub-
lished lecture (probably given in the early 1930s), Gestalt theory and vitalism
were both interested in the way in which the whole related to its parts, but the
introduction of such Drieschian dualistic concepts as psychoid and entelechy
had been obscurantist and pernicious. Wertheimer concluded by noting (in
parenthesis) that Driesch "had gone over to the camp of the spiritualists." The
message was clear.96
Driesch, for his part, was not a man to shrink before an argument of princi-
ple. In a feisty article published in Annalen der Philosophie (Annals of Philos-
ophy) in 1925, he took on Wolfgang Kohler's concept of "physical Gestalts"
and set out to prove it an oxymoron. Stressing his high respect for his "adver-
saries (and I must . . . call them 'adversaries')," he made the point that the
physical systems identified by Kohler in fact proved that inorganic structures
never are and cannot become true holistic systems "from themselves," "out of
their own nature":
They are out of their own nature only functional unities, and all "holism" . . . is
forced on them through something external, namely the "topography." The latter
may indeed be whole . .. [but it], the physical form, is also a product of intelli-
gence, something that has been constructed by the physicista Machine, if we
wish to use the word very broadly.... What does all this have to do with biolog-
ical wholes and holistic organizations? Nothing at all.97
In other words, a living human mind could impose intelligent order on an
inorganic object, but this in no sense endowed the object itself with any innate
ordering capacities. "So Kohler himself at bottom uses the concept of the
Machine for his inorganic physical structures, the same concept which accord-
ing to him, when used in biology, must end in vitalism!"98 A year later,
Driesch reiterated his case, this time largely in reference to Kurt Koffka (who
had critically reviewed Driesch's book The Crisis in Psychology): "Koffka
returns perpetually to the point that, beside vitalism and mechanism . . . there
is a third option, the doctrine of 'physical Gestalts.' But this doctrine cannot
exist, because there do not exist any physical Gestalts.... Kohler and his
school falsely equate unity with wholeness."99
The Gestalt theorists were also sharply criticized within academic psychol-
ogy itself.100 The most prolonged and bitter attack (enduring into the 1950s)
was developed by Felix Krueger and his Leipzig school of Ganzheitspsycho-
logie, an alternative holistic psychology (see figure 21).101 They claimed that
everything original to their Berlin rivals was ideologically tainted and short-
sightedeverything not in dispute had been long known to other psycholo-
gists. For example, Krueger complained that the Berlin researchers seemed
unaware that their claim "the whole is more than the sum of its parts" had been
central to the work of his predecessor Wundt, and that of others, for many
years. Wertheimer and his cohort had no right to turn the idea into what
Krueger interpreted as a political party slogan.102

Figure 21. Felix Krueger (1874-1948). Felix

Krueger, Zur Philosophie und Psychologie der
Ganzheit: Schriften aus den Jaren 1918-1940,
(Berlin: Copyright Springer-Verlag, 1953).

As to what was offensive about the Berlin program, Albert Wellek, one of
Leipzig's sturdiest proponents, recalled the official points of contention as
(1) The Gestaltists had focused narrowly on Gestalt experiences as com-
pleted events given in "the intellectual realm of consciousness" and had
wholly neglected the "pre-gestalt" developmental processes that actually cre-
ate Gestalts and that occur in the "pre-logical" and "irrational" domains of
(2) The Gestaltists were "decided epiphenomenologists, not to say materi-
alists," who ultimately hoped to bring psychology into a common framework
with physics. This "monistic" goal had the reductionistic effect of subordi-
nating the whole realm of the mental to a mindless nonorganic principle.103
The terms of abuseintellectualist, epiphenomenologist, materialist,
monisticwere loaded with overtones, for those with the ears to hear. Mitch-
ell Ash has stressed how the Leipzig school, by charging the Gestalt theorists
with neglect of the "pre-logical" irrational role of feeling and will in experi-
ence, "reproduced the dichotomy between German Kultur and Western civili-
zation that was central to conservative thought at the time." 104 Identification
with the values of Zivilisation impugned the Berlin school with lack of Ger-
manness, superficiality, liberalism, rationalism, Americanism, and soulless-
ness. Elsewhere, Wellek asserted that the Gestalt theorists' monism further
allied them with the hated scientistic agenda of logical positivists like Moritz
Schlick and Rudolf Carnap, who dreamt of a "unity of the sciences" rooted in
physics.105 There was more than one way to "hear" the common complaint
that Gestalt theory was a "psychology without a soul" because it had no theory
of the experiencing subject.106 And it was no surprise to at least some critics
that Gestalt theory, like psychoanalysis, seemed a product of essentially Jew-
ish (materialistic, rationalistic, unrooted) thinking and decadent big-city
life.107 As the Austrian holistic psychologist Ferdinand Weinhandl remarked
in the 1940s: Gestalt psychology, "is just as much a product of authentic Jew-
ish spirit as Husserl's phenomenology."108
Like Horkheimer, Krueger had been a student of Hans Cornelius. Probably
under his influence, he concluded that all atomistic approaches to psychologi-
cal experience were misguided because subjective processes were necessarily
of an holistic nature.109 Later, as Wertheimer and his colleagues began argu-
ing for the structured nature of psychological processes, Krueger would stress
how much more encompassing was the Leipzig school's understanding of
holistic psychological processes, how it incorporated an appreciation for the
many diffuse experiences that did not (or did not yet) possess structured Ge-
stalt. In Krueger's view, such diffuse "total experiences" were characterized
by their associated affect-color or feelings: what he came to call the Komplex-
quaiitaten (complex qualities) of all holistic experiences.
One of the major research objectives of the Leipzig school was to explore
these diffuse realms of feeling, and especially to unmask the normally uncon-
scious steps through which they slowly coalesced into conscious Gestalts (a
process the school called Aktualgenese, sometimes translated as "microgene-
sis"). In one series of experiments developed by Leipziger Friedrich Sander,
a person's effective processing of a particular stimulus was undermined by the
introduction of a range of impediments (dramatically reducing presenta-
tion time, miniaturizing or enlarging the stimulus, distorting it, darkening it,
etc.). The claim was that as the number of impediments to effective processing
were increased stepwise, subjects found themselves becoming conscious of
the normally unconscious "complex qualities" that characterized perceptual
processing leading to Gestalts. Asked to describe their perceptual experiences
under these degraded conditions, they used terms like "exotic," "general-
humanoid," and "animal-like-dynamic." Sander also recorded that his sub-
jects experienced an uncomfortable sensation of "hanging," or incompletion;
they felt themselves impelled to struggle toward a "cooler," more impersonal
perceptual resolution or Endgestalt.uo The finished Gestalt, in other words,
was the product of a powerful interaction between emotion and will. And this
entire drama had been completely neglected by the Gestalt theorists, who, in
a sense, only stood up and took notice at the point that perception was taking
its final curtain call!
The final importantand in a sense, most opaqueconcept introduced by
the Leipzig school was "Structure." This was Krueger's term to describe the
Gestalter behind the Gestalt, the unconscious force that actually created all
the subjective phenomena experienced (but not produced) by consciousness
itself. Geutcr describes Krueger's Structure as "something Iying-behind, that
which can only be inferred, something that manifests itself in the coloring of
experience, becoming especially pronounced in the depth of feelings but nev-
ertheless which has a dispositional existence. Structure was not just an ex-
planatory model but direct Being."" 1
Operationally, Structure was the holistic pattern of a person's dispositions,
capabilities, habits, and inclinations and so on. It endowed every individual
with an innate urge toward wholeness and meaning and thus explained why
phenomenological experience should have a holistic character. At the same
time, it was the source of every person's personal identity. As the Leipzigers
saw it, Structure could address, in a way that Gestalt theory could not, the fact
of individual differences in perception and experience. Structure, in other
words, united the study of holistic perception and cognition with the concerns
of personality typology or characterology. In a society increasingly preoccu-
pied with "racial" traits and differences, this part of the Leipzig program was
particularly attractive. Initially, Leipzig focused on identifying a spectrum of
perceptual and cognitive styles into which people in general could be sorted:
on one end were the rational "analytic" types; on the other end were the "feel-
ing-holistic" types driven by intuition. Transcending these two extremes and
combining the strengths of both was the rare synthesizer able to combine the
insights of intuition with the insights of analysis into new creative Gestalts.
Wellek, recalling Nietzsche's discussion of a "strong type, in whom our [col-
lective] strengths are synthetically united," proposed calling such synthesizers
"super types." Friedrich Sander spoke of them as "Gestalt-productive" indi-
viduals, while Krueger called them "Gestalt imaginative geniuses."112
In Weimar's discontented final years, these images and metaphors allowed
Leipzig to emphasize increasingly racist and conservative themes. At the
Twelfth Congress of the German Society for Psychology, held in Hamburg in
1931, Krueger could suggest, to the general gratification of his audience, that
the Germans as a race possessed a peculiar genius for Gestalt construction,
endowed as they were with an innate capacity to synthesize holistic intuition
with analytic rigor: "We Germans are actually gifted in grasping the inner
reality of the world as such with our souls, and at the same time we rigorously
reflect on it, scientifically research it, and simultaneously describe it in didac-
tic terms." 113
Krueger's nationalistic tale had an increasingly apocalyptic side as well:
the increasing infiltration of alien traditions into Germany meant that a people
with a genius for Gestalt thinking and perception were in danger of succumb-
ing to soulless, fragmented thinking and of losing their bonds with authentic
community values. In a 1932 paper, Krueger acknowledged openly that his
own scientific concerns were stamped by a preoccupation with the "dangerous
crisis" of his time: "Life itself in this time, especially on German soil, drives
our inquiries beyond normal borders, out of a more than theoretical neces-
sity."114 In this particular paper, Krueger pointed out the dangers not only of
the soulless lie of liberalism, but also (although more sympathetically) of the
diffuse, frightened irrationalism of "life philosophy." Calling for hardness of
vision, he found in the Leipziger tropes of Wholeness and Structure the ingre-
dients for a synthesis that could provide direction for a crisis-laden society.
Only when wholeness was tempered with order, he believed, did Germany
stand a chance of defending itself against Western chaos, machine technol-
ogy, a factory society, and racial degeneration. And he went on to say, in an
apparent allusion to the rising National Socialist party, that philosophers, sci-
entists, and other defenders of Kultur must cooperate with politicians for the
greater good of the whole:
The West will fall prey to chaos, and the less noble races will win the upper hand,
unless one makes way for a reformation from top to bottom. This is what human
existence needs now. Everything must be worked out new down to the last detail,
so fundamentally that the political and the economic will at last be encompassed
in it....
The sciences and philosophy alone will not be able to accomplish what is now
mandated. Even the arts, left to themselves, are capable of little in face of the
needs associated with such an historical turning point. But the greater the danger,
the more necessary are these forces of order, of symbol building, of spiritual
leadership [found in science, philosophy, and art]. And all the more decisively
must they, in working unity with remaining events, orient themselves toward that
place where everything bearing the stamp of life and all spiritual community finds
its roots; that is to say, they must look toward the Whole that is constrained by
inner Form.115



AS the conservative domestic attacks on the Berlin school grew more strident,
Wertheimer's belated 1929 call to the "Jewish" and "red" university of Frank-
furt (bound by charter mandate to racial nondiscrimination) afforded him only
a fragile security. In a 1928 letter to Wertheimer, Adh^mar Gelb, the Gestalt
psychologistalready on the faculty at Frankfurtadmitted how he himself,
as a Jew, had "suffered terribly" over many years "out of sheer ideology," but
nevertheless found hope in Wertheimer's appointment: "You will see how
quickly, with due account for the personalities of the German psychologists,
there will follow a radical [positive] change toward you personally and toward
the entire Gestalt psychology."116
Yet Wertheimer himself seems to have sensed that time was working
against this vision of reconciliation. Even as he set about strengthening Ge-
stalt psychology's international ties, offering exciting interdisciplinary semi-
nars, and cultivating his relationships with Frankfurt intellectuals like Max
Horkheimer, Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, and socialist Protestant theo-
logian Paul Tillich, he was also palpably uneasy with the gathering political
clouds.117 One former student, Wolfgang Metzger, recalled how, in 1931, he
was advised by Wertheimer to hurry up and complete his Habilitationsschrift
(an advanced thesis necessary for German university teaching), if he wished
to continue working under Wertheimer's sponsorship: "Certainly you have
not forgotten that I am a Jew. Next March there are the Prussian state elec-
tions, and you do not know whether I, Mr. Wertheimer, can still sponsor you
after those elections."118
Wertheimer left Germany voluntarily in 1933, almost as soon as the new
political situation had become clear. Going first to Marienbad, Bohemia, he
wrote to the University of Frankfurt and requested a leave of absence. He
seriously considered, then ultimately declined, an opportunity urged on him
by Buber to take up a position at the newly formed University of Jerusalem
(today the Hebrew University). Wooed also by the fledging "University in
Exile" at the New School in New York, Wertheimer arrived in the United
States on September 13, 1933. Twelve days later, he received formal no-
tice from the University of Frankfurt of his enforced termination as a non-
The so-called University in Exile, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation
and directed by the energetic Alvin Johnson, aimed at once to offer employ-
ment to scholars fleeing National Socialism and to recreate on American soil
the kind of free, interdisciplinary scholarship that Americans associated with
the best of the German universities during the height of the Weimar years.
Based at the Institute for Social Research in New York City and soon recon-
ceived as the Graduate Faculty of that school, this unique European oasis
helped support 178 of the almost 2,000 exiled academics who settled in the
United States between 1933 and 1944, more than were sponsored by any other
American university.120
Wertheimer was passionately committed to the success of this German
faculty-in-exile, calling it "the most intensive, modern and interesting expres-
sion of the solidarity which modern science and civilization ever demon-
strated."121 His involvement in the institute's interdisciplinary general semi-
nar had, according to his old friend Edwin Newman, "an almost religious
flavor."122 Wertheimer offered German and English classes and lectures that
attracted eager students from all over New York City, including the psycholo-
gist Abraham Maslow (who attended Wertheimer's first seminar in exile,
given in the fall of 1933).123
A number of historians and psychologists have examined ways in which
Gestalt psychology was forced to adapt to American research agendas and
values.124 At the most basic level, certain subtleties of the Gestaltists' argu-
ment necessarily suffered in the course of their translation into English. The
problem, in the dry words of an anonymous reviewer of Kohler's book Gestalt
Psychology, was that the word "Gestalt" simply had "too much significance in
German, in English too little."125 Perhaps even more distressing, German in-
tellectuals from various fields found their American colleagues to be "naive
fellows, pedestrian, commonsensical, down-to-earth, and hypnotized by
facts."126 When, for example, Karl Dallenbach asked the American psycholo-
gist E. B. Titchener what color theory he believed in, Titchener replied: "Why,
I believe in none of them. Facts are all important. Carry your theories
Kurt Koffka, who had come to the United States in 1927 to take up a posi-
tion at Smith College, was blunt about the way in which Gestalt psychology
had downplayed its philosophical concerns in order to enhance its Yankee
When the first attempts were made to introduce Gestalt theory to the American
public, that side which would most readily appeal to the type of German mentality
was kept in the background, and those aspects which had a direct bearing on
science were emphasized. Had the procedure been different, we might have in-
curred the danger of biasing our readers against our ideas.128
A more pragmatic message was emphasized instead. Given the dominance
of an aggressive behaviorist psychology in the American universities during
this period, the Gestaltists concentrated their energies on pointing out the
empirical wrongheadedness of a psychology that rejected consciousness as an
object of inquiry.129 They coupled these critiques with attacks on a range of
other American pernicious ideologies: materialism, physical reductionism,
naturalism, various biologically oriented doctrines like social Darwinism, and
psychoanalysis, whichthough it had central European originsWert-
heimer abhorred for its piecemeal view of mind and its degrading focus on



In the context of this general, not always comfortable process of immigrant

adjustment and intellectual tuning, Wertheimer's colleague Wolfgang Kohler
soon emerged as a voice to be reckoned with. Kohler, who was not Jewish,
had been one of the few German professors with the courage officially to
protest academic "coordination" under the new order. Although not dismissed
for this, his institute was denounced for continuing to favor Jews at the ex-
pense of "Germans," while an increasingly Nazified student body accused
junior researchers in the institute of communist activities.131 When it became
clear that his institute would not be left in peace, Kohler left Berlin in 1934 for
a position at Swarthmore College in the United States.
Colleagues recalled Kohler as having been the most "German," the most
arrogant, and the least accessible of the Gestaltists who emigrated to the
United States. The Mandlers noted how he, at one point, referred to his book,
Gestalt Psychology, as having been written for "the American children"rrthat
is to say, American academics and graduate students.132 Frederick Wyatt, a
Viennese-born psychoanalyst, recalled how Kohler in America "struck [him]
like a Prussian officer . . . [or] a Colonel. . . . A little bit strutting, quite gentle-
manly withal, but also imperious. It was very discuss anything with
him; he knew the answers."133 A
Nevertheless, Kohler's aloofness toward his American colleagues should
not be confused with cynicism. On the contrary, his years in America after his
emigration from Germany were active and impassioned. Drawing on the Ger-
man existential preoccupations and tropes of crisis from the 1920s, he repack-
aged them in a form fit for American readers in the 1930s and beyond. In his
classic text, The Place of Value in a World of Facts (first published in 1938),
Kohler looked to Gestalt theory to reclaim a place for "value" in a harsh,
empty world dominated by the reductionist, positivist spirit of what he called
"Nothing But" (that defined humans as "nothing but" products of chemistry
and mechanics). Positivism, which had spread with the growth of natural sci-
ence, had resulted in an existential crisis and loss of values so profound that
people felt robbed of all "stable convictions beyond their personal interests."
Under the influence of positivism, life itself had begun to seem cheap since,
according to the pernicious philosophy of Nothing But, "the corpse and the
living adult have the same value."134
Such a dark picture of humanity had in turn social consequences. As Kohler
saw it, positivism threatened the world, not merely with the amorality of self-
interest (illustrated in capitalist America) but also with irrational fanaticism
(seen in Nazi Germany). Fanaticism resulted from the fact that "most people
are unable to live without a frame of reference . . . which would make their
existence meaningful in spite of so much misfortune." If competent people
like professors and scientists were unwilling to provide hungry souls with a
credible world view, then (as Kohler put it) "people will naturally turn to
surrogates, to Ersatz. Strange food will be eagerly swallowed in times of fam-
ine. 135 A nutritionist for his times, Kohler believed that Gestalt theory could
provide the basis for a renewed belief in the objective existence of value with-
out sacrificing rationalism and natural knowledge. Positivism was the enemy,
not science.
In explaining the ways in which this was so, Kohler argued that studies in
perception had shown that psychological experience was not just an arbitrary
creation of subjectivity projected onto external and ultimately unknowable
objects ("subjectivism"). Perception, rather, was made up of Gestalts that re-
sulted as much from the external world as they did from internal processes.
When an object awakened a conviction of value within us (emotional, aes-
thetic, ethical), this value was, at least in part, an attribute of the object in
question, not just a projection from ourselves. In other words, experiences of
value (something is beautiful, an act is morally elevating) were direct percep-
tual experiences with external references, no less than impressions of round-
ness, wetness, and so on. If this was the case, then it followed that there ex-
isted something in the physical world that corresponded to percepts of value.
Kohler used the term "physical" here with great deliberateness. His final argu-
ment was that "value" was a special case of the Gestalt law of "requiredness"
(where objects were "pulled" to relate to other objects in a certain way). Re-
quiredness had been shown by Gestalt theory to exist in phenomena ranging
from visual ordering of objects to melodies to the physical force fields de-
scribed by Maxwell. In this sense, the same basic Gestalt laws could be sup-
posed to guide the activities of electrons and the ethical interactions of human
This said, Kohler noted that science, up to the present time guided by posi-
tivism, had actually been inconsistent in its attempts to defend a value-free
reality. While asserting that objective reality was without inherent value, it
admitted that at least one animal species (human beings) could perceive value
relationships in the world. Confronted with such an embarrassing Trojan
horse,136 science was forced to gloss over a key contradiction in Darwinian
theory, the cornerstone of all modern biology: If humans had evolved from a
reality devoid of value, then why would they have emerged with normative
perceptual capacities? Why should one portion of objective reality consis-
tently discover values and norms in various other portions of objective reality
when, according to science, values did not objectively exist?
Kohler concluded on a note of high optimism and practicality. Guided by
Gestalt theory, science could finally discard "the thesis that the functional
characteristics of value are absent from nature." The world would begin to
make sense again, and humanity would rediscover its existential moorings:
"[T]he inconsistency [between science and experienced reality] would disap-
pear, the unity of knowledge would potentially be established, and evolution
would become a principle which [made] sense."137



Like Kohler, Wertheimer was preoccupied after 1933 with the universal im-
plications of the historically specific dilemmas of his time. Between 1934 and
1940, he produced four major papers: one on truth, one on ethics, one on
democracy, and one on freedom.138 He thought that these four concepts were
under grave threat from the spread of such fashionable attitudes in academia
as positivism, pragmatism, and cultural relativism as well as from the rise of
fascism in Europe. In fact, as he saw it, these scholarly fashions had helped
prepare a field in which it became possible for the Nazis to succeed.139
The problem was not, as people like Freud were declaring, that human be-
ings were fundamentally instinct-driven, nasty animals for whom ethical b e - ^
havior was just a matter of pragmatics, or as neo-Freudians like Erich Fromm
were arguing, herd-creatures terrified of freedom. Wertheimer's cool religion
of aesthetics that bound human thought with elegantly blooming trees and
Beethoven symphonies recoiled before such unsavory ideas. The problem,
rather, was that developments of the modern age had crippled humanity's
ability to think well. The enemy was not human evil or even human loss of
nerve; it was "piecemeal" thinkingstrings of propositions torn from their
original living context and wielded by demagogues and clever intellectuals in
such a way so as to seduce basically decent people into embracing uncon-
scionable political positions.
Some years earlier, in 1912, Wertheimer had analyzed the number systems
of "primitive" people and, in the process, had cast a cold, critical eye on-the
classical principles of Western logic. It had long been recognized that so-
called primitive people had difficulty understanding an arithmetical system
that abstracted numerical units from concrete questions about the object to be
counted (i.e., a system in which a unit was counted the same whether it re-
ferred to a pineapple, a grain of rice, or someone's mother). For "natural,
realistic thinking people," such distinctions were in fact central to "correct"
counting and logical classification. Wertheimer considered this approach to
sorting out the world no less logical or intelligent than that demanded by
abstract Western systems; indeed, Wertheimer saw in it the workings of a
living logic rooted in the way human minds spontaneously work, and there-
fore perhaps truer and less artificial than the system of the West. "Naturally"-
thinking people did not simply shuffle through arbitrary logical operations
using abstract "units" but instead operated within a larger framework of "bi- ,
ological relevance." They reasoned in terms of the structural logic or Gestalt
of the living situation.140
There is more than a hint of a romantic Wandervogel-style critique in this
early defense by Wertheimer of "natural" Gestalt logic against Western se-
quential logic. Now, more than twenty years later and in a greatly altered
political climate, he could discover a new set of cultural imperatives in the
basic arguments of that 1912 essay. Teaching people to think in "structural
truths" according to "Gestalt logic" was society's best defense against ethical
relativism and "piecemeal" thinking run amok and was therefore its best hope
for reclaiming and protecting principles like truth, freedom, democracy, and
universalist ethics.
The argument can be reconstructed as it developed across the four essays.
In "On Truth" (1934), Wertheimer aimed to clarify the distinction between
Truth on the one hand and mere factsmere summations of accurate individ-
ual propositionson the other: "[I]f our world were in every instance nothing
more than the sum of isolated facts, if we had to do only with 'atomic facts,'
then the old definition of truth, the t and f, would be adequate." As things
were, though, the world was constructed of wholes and patterns of relation,
something that traditional logic failed to recognize. For this reason, facts
about the world were necessary, but they were not in themselves sufficient
guarantors of Truth. Instead, Truth turned out to be a matter of grasping the
significance of different facts in terms of their relationship to one another and
to a larger whole: "A thing may be true in the piecemeal sense, and false,
indeed a lie, as a part in its whole."141
The implications of this were more than merely academic. Hypnotized by
the hegemony of positivism, the public had been sold on the erroneous belief
that factual information was necessarily trustworthy and was unaware of the
way in which facts could be displaced from their authentic context and made
into willful untruths. Germany saw this kind of deception during the First
World War when newspapers, "compelled to give out reports in the exact
words of the general staff," nevertheless "achieved what they wanted by the
use of heavy type for some parts." By thus "shifting the emphasis, displacing
the center of gravity," the newspapers were able to create a false figure-ground
effect that left an impression in readers' minds "entirely opposite" to that
intended by the original reporters.142
A year later, in his essay "Some Problems in the Theory of Ethics," Wert-
heimer pursued his argument a step further. He began by looking critically at
the currently popular thesis of ethical relativity, which denied the existence of
ethical universals. Ethical systems were instead regarded as "mere historical
facts . . . changing with place or time." 143 For Wertheimer, this thesis was
contradicted by "experience," indicating that most people, "when faced with
clear, actual injustice," responded spontaneously in ways that human beings
would universally consider decent and ethical: "[T]he conditions often are not
so difficult, if the situation is clear, transparent, simple and actual, and if there
are not conditions of blindness, etc." 144 While it was true that the "outer shell"
imposed by different cultures held a considerable grip on people under most
circumstances, these tended to fall away "in a serious moment," and the fun-
damentally "simple, good" person tended to emerge:
There seem to be layers in men, and it is a question of fact what the inner layers
of men really are.... I would believe that the optimistic thesis [i.e., the thesis that
human beings are fundamentally good] is the right one, however difficult . . . it
may be at times to penetrate to this layer.145
To engage the inner, ethical core of a person, Wertheimer continued, one
must help that person analyze situations structurally and relationally with an
emotional "will to do justice to the material." Ethical action of a universally
recognized type, Wertheimer believed, followed spontaneously from a grasp
of the Truth of the situation, as he had defined the word in his paper of 1934.
Conversely, problems resulted when a person's capacity to see a situation
truly (in its Gestalt or structural interconnectedness) was distorted or con-
strained. Wertheimer did not have to search far for an example of how such
distortion might function:
A young, idealistic party member is passionate in the negative evaluation of mem-
bers of a certain race. It is not sufficient in such cases to give the formulation: in
one system of evaluations, members of this race are positively evaluated, in an-
other negatively. This young man perhaps behaves thus only because he has been
brought to this state through suggestion, propaganda, through the wanton slander
that this race is a poisonous snake. He does not really behave with respect to A
(members of this race) but to a B which he has been taught to identify with this
race. The real problem here lies not only in the behavior of the young man, but in
the enforcement of the blind identification. . . . To take away by artifice the possi-
bility of seeing the true situation, through the enforcement of blind judgments, of
improper narrowing of the mental field, induction of blind centering, deprives
man of the prerequisites for our problems.'46

Here Wertheimer comes close to suggesting that Germany's embrace of

anti-Semitism and National Socialism was due to profound misunderstanding
based on "piecemeal" reasoning rather than convictionit was a sickness of
logic rather than, as so many of Wertheimer's peers were saying, a phenome-
non driven by powerful feeling and unleashed instinct. Similarly, in his essay
of 1937 on the idea of democracy, he indicated that the widespread rejection
among Germans of the Weimar government could also have been avoided if
people had just been taught to look at democracy, not in terms of its isolated
trappings, but in terms of the role it played in the larger Gestalt of society. For
example, tackling one of the features of democracy most despised by conser-
vative Germansrule by brute numbershe wrote:

In order to understand such an item as the majority principle we must not

be satisfied with stating it by itself. We must go on to the role it plays in the
hierarchical structure of the whole. Without this, we fail to understand it at
What was this role, and that of democracy in general? For Wertheimer, it
was less to create a "form of government, a sum of institutions" and more to
create an atmosphere in which individuals were free, fair, and tolerant of one
another, and in which honesty and the pursuit of truth could proceed unfet-
tered. Democracy was therefore the only thinkable form of government. In a
passionate lecture given shortly after his arrival at the New School, Wert-
heimer affirmed his understanding of the intimate relationship between the
collective imperative to preserve democracy and the individual imperatives to
honor truth, universal ethics, and freedom. He made a commitmenthe called
it his "holy task"to direct all the power of Gestalt logic (relational thinking)
toward preserving these principles:

We know that we are not remote from the world, even as scholars. We are not
naive enough any more to hide from ourselves the dependency of our thinking on
the purposes that we are aiming at, and also on the interests in which we are
The more we realize this fact, the greater our responsibility to be on our guard, to
keep our eyes clear and our minds honest... . [F]acts are always arguments, and
[we must]... understand and . . . criticise fairly all arguments put to us from the
point from where they originated [i.e., not isolated from their natural context or
. . . Looking at our task in this light we realise that our work is not merely a
matter of logical [i.e., sequential] thinking. Logical thinking might be misled. We
have to guard all our steps, in order to retain our independent minds and to meet
the expectations laid upon us.
. . . [T]hough tolerance and freedom cannot be proved by science as the only
possible aimsstill it goes without saying that there is no science beyond the
realm of freedom, tolerance, and independence. And all those who obey the strict
command of any authority in their thinking, who do not believe in liberty and
freedom, forfeit their character and ability as scholars, however heroic, sincere
and fair their conviction or spirit may be. . . . [T]hey have not the right to call
themselves scholars, but rather defendants of a creed bound by human powers, not
able any more to go their way in freedom. . . . They forfeit the right of thinking,
that eternal right, that duty entrusted to mankind, that sole guarantee for enlight-
enment and progress.148

With the Second World War in Europe spreading and Germany in the grip
of a demagogic leader bent on world conquest, Wertheimer made good on his
commitment by turning yet again to the analytic power of Gestalt to help him
defend the concept of "freedom" against its many enemies. His essay on the
topic, "A Story of Three Days," the last and probably the best of the quartet,
brings together the key insights and perspectives of his earlier essays. The
essay is an autobiographical parable, steeped in religious rhetoric suggestive
of a Paul Bunyan-style narrative of a pilgrim's progress and final revelation.
It bears all the earmarks of being Wertheimer's final affirmation of faith in the
power of Gestalt to lead the world into a post-Hitler era of freedom:

I shall report what happened in the course of three days to a good man who, facing
the world situation, longed for a clarification of the fundamentals of freedom.
He saw: ideological devaluation of freedom had spread; freedom in the humane
meaning of the word was proclaimed false, outworn, useless; and the radiance of
the old idea was often exploited for other ends. . . . Even men who loved freedom
deeply often felt helpless in the face of actual arguments. So it was with our man;
not that he felt uncertain in many or most of the concrete issues but he felt im-
pelled to reach a fundamental clarification. What at bottom is freedom? What
does it require? Why is it so dear to me?149

In Wertheimer's story, this good man begins his quest for understanding by
visiting a sociologist, who tells him that "ethical standards are relative." Does
this mean, replies the man, that "our ideas of freedom [are] merely the histori-
cal standards of a certain time, now perhaps outworn? Are there no fundamen-
tal standards; are the requirements of freedom a fairy tale?" 150
The sociologist has to concede that, yes, there are no "axioms" that would
allow him "to speak of fundamental standards." The man is appalled: wasn't
this "one of the factors that paved the way for political leaders proclaiming new
and other national or racial ethics, willfully and efficiently?" Hard-pressed to
reply, the sociologist finally proposes that freedom might have something to do
with "absence of restraints, of compulsions, of external hindrances."
Leaving the sociologist, the man next reads a book on culture written in
1928 "by a famous psychoanalyst" a clear reference to Civilization and Its
Discontents, by Sigmund Freud. Here it is suggested, in line with the sociolo-
gist's thought, that freedom is indeed absence of restraint on "instinctual im-
pulses." Yet the "famous psychoanalyst" concludes from this that freedom is
therefore impossible in a civilized society, since "every culture must be built
up on coercion and instinctual renunciation." The man, growing increasingly
impassioned, knows that matters must be otherwise. In despair, he pays a visit
to a philosopher, who informs him that science and modern philosophy had
demonstrated that freedom was an illusion since everything occurred under a
principle of determination or causal necessity.
Bewildered by this last revelation and having already spent three days in
search of wisdom from the cultural authorities of his time, the man reviews
what he has learnt and suddenly finds it "strange, narrow, inadequate, superfi-
cial, . . . blind."151 Looking anew at the problem, he decides that freedom was
not a thing "to be viewed piecemeal in terms of a choice, of a wish, of an
'instinctual impulsion,' etc.," but in terms of a total situation. The slave whose
whole being changes upon coming to live in a new, free social environment
shows that freedom involves "one's whole attitude." In this sense, understand-
ing freedom required returning to the living situation and studying the intel-
lectual and social conditions that made it possible, much like a "biologist
studying health conditions":152
[Hje felt as if the scales had fallen from his eyes. The real question was, what
kind of attitude, what rules, what institutions make for the free, what for the
unfree? The real problem is not . . . that all determination, all causes and influ-
ences are factors against freedom, the problem is which ones are? This is a mat-
ter of causes and consequences; some make for freedom in men, some for

These were the real issues: that people were forced to tolerate and even
collude with injustice and evil; that individuals, even children, were being
blinded with willfully distorted information and thus made incapable of free
judgment, "robbed of what in man and society is humane." Freedom needed
to be understood not in the abstract, but in terms of its living manifestations:
"What matters is how men are and how they develop, how society is and how
it develops. Freedom is a Gestalt quality of attitude, of behavior, of a man's
thinking, of his actions" that can only emerge under appropriate, that is, dem-
ocratic, social conditions.154
Wertheimer died in 1943, less than two years before the Allied forces tri-
umphed over the armies of the country of his birth and brought fascist rule
in Germany to a close. His final work, Productive Thinking, was published
in 1945. A practical blueprint for the application of Gestalt thinking in the
service of a free society, it attempted to show in concrete ways how think-
ing well (Gestalt thinking) is the starting point for all freedom and ethical
justice: 155
Here lie great tasks for democracy. Critical attitudes, skepticism, do not suffice.
What is needed is structural clearness. There is the hope that productive methods
will be improved, not merely for gathering information about piecemeal facts, but
also for gaining clear insight into the great lines, the basic structures of crucial

In appropriating the language of Gestalt to describe and promote their re-

search program, Wertheimer and his colleagues Kohler and Koffka might
have well anticipated considerable misunderstanding and resentment. Gestalt
came laden with historical associations and mystical resonances of a sort con-
siderably different from those that they would attempt to summon from it.
Indeed, when Wertheimer was carrying out his first experiments, he appar-
ently had some misgivings about using the old Goethean term Gestalt to de-
scribe the structural regularities in perception that were at the heart of his
research program. In their discussion of the famous 1912 phi experiments,
Luchins and Luchins note:
[Wertheimer] once said that he had purposely used the term "phi phenomenon" in
order that the reader will face the results without the metaphysical and theoret-
ical concepts that have been used in the discussion of Gestalten and of Gestalt
If this was a concern, then why did Wertheimer and his colleagues ulti-
mately choose to locate their research program in the cultural discourse of
Gestalt, which was largely dominated by so many values they rejected: intui-
tionism, idealism, political and social conservatism, even anti-Semitism? Is it
possible that the use of the Goethean vocabulary by the Gestaltists signalled
a desire both to profit from the power of a noble term and to rechannel that
power into new directions?
The Leipzig school was not wrong in its claim to have remained far more
faithful to the original tradition of Gestalt than those in Berlin and Frankfurt
ever did. With their empirical orientation, monistic metaphysics, largely Jew-
ish "outsider" social status, and socialist-democratic politics, Wertheimer and
the other Gestaltists were attempting to yoke together old and new in a way
that may only have stood a chance of success during that brief flowering of
relative tolerance in the Weimar years. There is a certain poignancy in the fact
that, during the same years that former colleagues in Germany were using
Gestalt to promote mystical racism and fascist politics, Wertheimer was
defining the term as a principle of clear thinking that would help defend
threatened values of freedom and democracy. The fact that he developed his
arguments in exile, though, shows just how much of an "outsider" creation
Gestalt theory really was, and just how compelling the message of the "other"
Gestaltthat of Spengler, Chamberlain and Kruegerhad remained for
many Germans. 158

The Self-Actualizing Brain and the

Biology of Existential C h o i c e

WITH Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965), we are introduced to a long strain in the

history of German holism that extends into the United States and almost to the
present time. Goldstein's vision of the "organism"a creature driven to
achieve coherence (wholeness) and prepared to confront anxiety and vulner-
ability to do sowas forged in the traumas of World War I. It was (i.e. the
"vision") further shaped by Goldstein's ambivalent views on the effects and
simultaneous inevitability of modernization and sharpened its political accent
under the pressures of the rising political unrest in Germany. It then survived
imprisonment and flight in 1933 and underwent a final transformation in an
American exile under the shadow of Hiroshima.
Like Wertheimer, Goldstein was born a Jew, and like Freud, he avoided a
social identification with the spiritual traditions of his faith, regarding his Ju-
daism more as a "destiny" than as a "mission."1 Culturally, however, he came
close to embodying the realization of a central European Jewish intellectual
type.2 He was bom in Katowice, a town in Upper Silesia that was then a part
of Germany but has since become part of Poland. His mother was Rosalie
Cassirer (an aunt of the future philosopher Ernst Cassirer), and his father,
Abraham, was a prosperous owner of a lumber yard, a man with little formal
schooling himself but who revered education as a means to prosperity. Ac-
cording to Goldstein's later friend and student Marianne Simmel, the house-
hold in which Goldstein spent his boyhood fostered considerable respect for
egalitarian values: the workmen in the lumber yard regularly joined the family
for the midday meal, and their conversations may have been an early source
for Goldstein's later interest in socialism. There was also a strong sense
of family. Goldstein was the seventh of nine children, and the family also
played host to a steady stream of visiting relatives. Among these was Gold-
stein's cousin, Ernst Cassirer, who remained a close friend and inspiration for
Goldstein until his death in 1945. Finally, what little that has been recorded
about Goldstein's childhood conveys a sense of his secular family's ambiva-
lent, ironicized awareness of the limits of reason and the dark face of exis-
tence. Although they were practical-minded "agnostic Jews," there were
rooms in their house that no one ever entered because they were said to be
The young Goldstein was quiet, serious, and bookish, earning himself the
nickname "professor" from his classmates at the local public school. Indeed, a
former Goldstein student, Aaron Smith, remarked later that he "never could

Figure 22. Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965). M. Simmel, ed

The Reach of Mind; Essays in Memory of Kurt Goldstein,
(New York: Copyright Springer Publishing Company, Inc.,
1968). Used by permission.
imagine [Goldstein] as a child" and "never saw him laugh heartily."4 By the
time the serious young student had completed the classical education of the
Humanistische Gymnasium in Breslau, he had become fascinated with philos-
ophy, particularly Kantian theory, but his father opposed the economic folly of
his becoming a philosopher, calling the profession a brotlose Kunst ("breadless
art"). A period of time followed in which Goldstein worked in a relative's
business "wrapping up packages." When his father relented, he took off for a
year of study at Heidelberg, focusing on literature and philosophy (especially
the southwest German school of Geisteswissenschaft and neo-Kantianism).
When Goldstein returned to Breslau with the resolve to study medicine, he
focused on neurology and psychiatry. In later years, he explained that he had
wanted to help the mentally ill, whom he perceived as the "unhappiest of all
people."5 Probably, however, he was also attracted by the philosophical issues
raised by the breakdown of mind and brain.
Introduced to neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, he discovered, some-
what to his surprise, that he enjoyed working in a pathology laboratory. In
1903, he received his M. D. at Breslau under the supervision of that guardian
of classical mechanistic brain science, Carl Wernicke. Although others would
later suppose that their perspectives must necessarily have been antithetical,
Wernicke in fact remained an important lifelong mentor for Goldstein.6 Dur-
ing the prime of his career as a biological holist, Goldstein even went so far as
to cite his former teacher as a forerunner of his own attempt "to understand the
symptoms of the patients psychologically and to combine this understanding
with the findings of their brains."7
Yet even as Goldstein moved into medicine and then further into neurol-
ogy, his attachment to the humanistic insights of literature and interest in
idealistic philosophy remained undiminished: a close colleague of Goldstein,
Hans Lukas-Teuber, later recalled that one of the accomplishments that Gold-
stein always remained proudest of was his membership in the International
Pen Club.8 Much of Goldstein's efforts over four decades to reformulate basic
principles in neurology and human biology grew out of a need to find some
way of making the sciences, whose methodological ways he had learned to
respect, do justice to the richer vision of human beings and human motivation
found in literature and philosophy.


A little-known monograph Goldstein published in 1913 on the topic of race

hygiene provided an early public forum for him to work out tensions between
his different internal allegiances. While it seems Goldstein never referred to
this monograph after 1920 and later attacked the prejudice and hubris inherent
in all race hygienic thinking,9 the race hygiene monograph is nevertheless
very revealing of the complex loyalties and cultural concerns that would, over
time, weave themselves into his neurobiological theories.
There is, incidentally, apparent irony only in hindsight that a Jewish physi-
cian with socialist political leanings should have participated, however
briefly, in German debates on race hygiene. Before World War I, medical
racial hygiene "was less anti-Semitic than nationalist or meritocratic." During
those years, a number of socialist physicians and medical men of Jewish back-
grounds were active in the movement. 10 In his 1913 work, Goldstein reviews
and comments on certain standard themes of race hygiene in a relatively con-
ventional way: the alleged racial dangers posed by women's emancipation,
the declining birthrate of white Europeans, the "yellow threat," and the need
to prevent the reproduction of the genetically inferior (alcoholics, the men-
tally ill, people with tuberculosis, even people from socially depressed back-
What sets his monograph apart, however, is the way it ultimately looks
beyond questions of bad hereditary material to consider what one could de-
scribe as the cultural and spiritual causes of current degenerative trends. For
decades, Goldstein believed, the German population's sense of security, ca-
pacity for idealistic belief, religious feeling, and spontaneous joy had been
steadily eaten away by the new materialism. Hence the widely noted increase
in nervous and mental diseases, suicides, and social unrest.
In intellectual life, Goldstein also argued that a widespread fascination with
the instrumentalist, practical methodologies of the natural sciences were un-
dermining the future of German culture:
[PJreoccupation with natural science especially has wielded a further disastrous
influence, in that the whole of thought has become predominantly directed to-
wards external nature. This has led to an overvaluing of the external, the material
and to an undervaluing of the intellectual and the spiritual."
Goldstein especially condemned the tendency among his colleagues to
apply the atomizing, cause-and-effect thinking of natural science to realms of
the human spirit where they were not appropriate. Such tendencies had turned
history, philosophy, literature, and the plastic arts into materialistic carica-
tures of their former selves. "It is clear," he concluded, "that the life of feeling,
that had already been given short shrift under the increasing valuation and
practice of pure intellectual skills, would have also and especially suffered
from these materialistic tendencies [pervading] the entire culture."12
Having found the chief sources of current degenerative trends in the mecha-
nistic thinking and sterility of modern life, Goldstein warmed to his uncon-
ventional conclusion. He proposed that race hygiene should aim, not so much
to regulate reproduction (although that remained important), but to facilitate
the population's adjustment to the unprecedented stresses of rapid industriali-
zation and modern living.13
Goldstein was thus prepared to accept the inevitability of modern trends out
of a sense of pragmatics and realism. However, steeling himself for accep-
tance was far different from condoning the basic values and ideology of mod-
ernism (progress through rationalization, secularization, technological inno-
vation, etc.). His resigned acceptance of modernism expressed itself plainly in
the following passage:
[S]o-called nervous degeneration has its source in a mismatch between our capac-
ities and the demands made on us by the progress of culture.... Either we must
change ourselves or change the culture.... [0]n the whole, we will be able to
intervene relatively little in the powerful mechanism of culture. To abandon cul-
ture on the other hand is also an absurdity. Looked at logically, the demand for a
return to Nature is a Utopia. Thus, there is nothing else we can do but change
ourselves, adapt ourselves to the new conditions.14

Two pages after making this stoic declaration, Goldstein's lingering roman-
ticism broke through as he suddenly suggested that perhaps the worst time of
adjustment was already past. There were suggestions, he felt, that the "wing-
beat of a new age," an age of the spirit, was now emerging on the horizon.15
And he urged race hygiene to do its part to nurture that emerging new age:
The domination of intellectualism is subsiding, having outlived its usefulness.
The culture of the body is being proclaimed anew; so much sport is being prac-
ticed as hardly ever before. Already the sun of a new idealism is shining over
all.... Along these lines, I remind you of the quite different ideal breeze of the
last century that blew through our literature and art in opposition to the basic
direction of the '80s and '90s. I remind you of the renewed growth of interest in
philosophy, of the ardent wish for new positive religious visions. We [physicians]
must consciously accommodate these spiritual needs, support, and promote them.
A great task of race hygiene, as I see it, is to take advantage of this powerful
motivating force of human action.16
This monograph by Goldstein was based on a set of public lectures given at
the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Konigsberg, where he had been
working for about six years. His own autobiographical notes suggest that his
experiences at this clinic had heightened the romantically tempered distrust of
intellectual formalism and scientism that is so pronounced in the race hygiene
monograph.17 He recalled how, while working as a psychiatrist, he had felt
increasingly frustrated by the hegemony of the intellectually elaborate and
allegedly "scientific"but therapeutically barrenapproach to understand-
ing mental disorders developed by the Munich psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin.
Kraepelin's emphasis on inherited constitutional factors in psychoses had en-
couraged many medical men to abandon questions of therapy and rehabilita-
tion and to focus on diagnosis and prognosis as ends in themselves. Most
believed that if they managed to classify each patient in accordance with
Kraepelin's symptom-based nosology and then arranged for proper custodial
care, they had done all that could reasonably be expected of them.18 Those
who were especially ambitious might take a further interest in a particularly
intriguing patient at his or her postmortem, but that was about all.
The indifference to therapy that so troubled Goldstein at Konigsberg was,
moreover, not a disease of psychiatry alone. With intellectual roots in the
clinical schools of nineteenth-century Viennese medicine, "therapeutic nihil-
ism" (as it was called by its critics) had become endemic through German-
speaking fin de siecle society generally. Whether in the sickbed or in society
at large, there was a tendencycynical in some cases, resigned in othersto
regard disease, injustice, and suffering as an inevitable part of life. The rule of
thumb was: leave well enough alone and do not seek to meddle with natural
processes; it was enough to understand them.19
One witness to the "nihilistic" medical scene at the turn of the century
recounted the following vignette:
A doctor who visited the hospital told me he saw a party of students sounding a
woman who was dying of pleurisy or pneumonia, in order that they might hear the
crepitation in her lungs as her last moments approached. She expired before they
left the ward. He said something about treatment in another case to the professor
who was lecturing these young men. The reply was, "Treatment, treatment, that
is nothing; it is the diagnosis that we want."20
Goldstein's own desire to create an alternative to this therapeutic nihilism
seems to have been a powerful (if generally unspoken) shaping force behind
many of his later biological ideas. At a major conference on holistic trends in
medicine held in 1932, he would go so far as to portray the holistic approach
to medicine generally as a reaction against what he called the "therapeutic
pessimism" of the late nineteenth century.21
But that is not all. The truths and imperatives that Goldstein discovered
uniquely in his holistic biology represented his hard-wrought alternative to
the passivity and nihilism of materialistic modern society generally. There are
no easy cosmic consolations buried in Goldstein's holistic narrative, but the
natural world he discovered through his science did mandate an ethic that
stressed, above all other values, courage of action in the service of personal
meaningfulness. The remaining sections of this chapter will attempt to dem-
onstrate the way in which this was so.



As stressed in previous chapters, the psychological impact of the First World

War gave a heightened political and cultural urgency to the work of many
holistic scientists. In the case of Goldstein, the effects of the war were, in the
first instance, more pragmatic. During the war, the special difficulties associ-
ated with the assessment and care of patients who had suffered a service-
related brain injury had led to the founding of a series of special military
hospitals for those purposes.22 Soon after the war began, Goldstein was given
the opportunity to organize one of these hospitals, which was to be run under
military auspices. The comparative neuroanatomist Ludwig Edinger, who had
become Goldstein's chief in 1914 and had counted on Goldstein's assistance
in his laboratory, immediately released his assistant to take up this war-related
project, saying (as Goldstein liked affectionately to recall), "Your work with
human beings is of much greater importance than my theoretical work in the
laboratory."23 The Institute for Research into the Consequences of Brain Inju-
ries was founded in 1916 in the liberal city of Frankfurt, remaining in operation
until Hitler came to power in 1933. As an institution, it was prominent for its
vigorous efforts to develop programs for the rehabilitation of the brain-injured,
toward whom the therapeutic nihilism of medicine at the time was otherwise
virtually totalizing. Based in a hospital, it (in Goldstein's description)

consisted of a ward for medical and orthopedic treatment, a physiological and

psychological laboratory for special examination of the patients, and theoretical
interpretation of the observed phenomena, a school for retraining on the basis of
the results of this research, and finally workshops in which the patient's aptitude
for special occupations was tested and he was taught an occupation suited to his
The fundamental charge to the institute was highly practicalto get the
soldiers back into a state of at least semi-independent occupational function-
ing. Results seemed to be promising. In a 1919 report on the wartime effort,
The Treatment, Care and Evaluation of the Brain-Damaged, Frankfurt Insti-
tute claimed that 73 percent of its patients were able to return to their old
professions or to some related job, 17 percent had to start a new kind of job,
and only 10 percent remained unemployed. This would have been welcome
news for the economically strapped and weak government that had just been
instated, but Goldstein followed up this good news with several, potentially
more contentious assertions. He insisted that no soldier with a brain injury,
even of the mildest sort, should ever be sent back to the front, because the full
consequences of brain injury often first made themselves apparent only after
a year or more. In addition, he advocated generous governmental compensa-
tion for injurylife-long pensions rather than lump paymentsand sug-
gested that the authorities take into account not just the extent of disability in
some abstract sense, but the effect such a defect would have on the patient's
capacity to practice his previous chosen profession.25
Goldstein's closest collaborator at Frankfurt was the Gestalt psychologist
Adhdnar G d b (1887-1936), who initially helped him develop the tests for
evaluating the soldiers and then worked with him to transform that practical
task into a framework for more ambitious research. The two men worked
together until 1933, when Goldstein fled Germany. Gelb's health, which had
never been good, fatally broke in 1935 or 1936 under the strain and anxiety of
living as a Jew in Hitler's Germany. He died before he could receive the visa
that was to bring him to America on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship.26
Throughout the period of his own exile, Goldstein always kept a memorial
picture of Gelb above his desk, beside his favorite portrait of Goethe.
In the 1920s, however, while collaborating with Gelb, Goldstein's under-
standing of the behavior of the young soldiers at the institute slowly acquired
the status of iconoclastic truths about human biological functioning. The sol-
diers' struggles and experiences just did not seem adequately captured in the
reigning "atomistic" principles of nineteenth-century medical science and bi-
ology. As he grew in stature in his profession, Goldstein also grew increasingly
outspoken about his perception that "atomistic" neurology and physiology suf-
fered from basic methodological and conceptual problems. He was no longer
willing to accept that the only way to understand a patient with a presenting
pathology was to match some behaviors to a short list of preselected symptoms
and disregard everything else. He began to ask in fact whether medical diagno-
sis actually pointed to "a basic problem in our scientific approach to under-
standing the behavior not only of patients but of living beings in general."27
An alternative, he began to think, would be to make no prejudgments about
the greater importance of one symptom over another but simply to study every
patient "phenomenologically" or without an imposed theory. In proposing
this approach, Goldstein seems to have allied himself with the broader philo-
sophical school of "phenomenology" and its argument to "return to the
things."28 He would, however, work things out his own way. His extended
dialogue with the potential "to return to the things" in clinical work began
with the case of a 24-year-old soldier called Schneider. Gelb and Goldstein's
painstaking analysis of Schneider would have such a lasting impact on all
their future thinking that this soldier may fairly be considered the "Anna O."
of holistic neurology.
In 1915, Schneider had suffered two wounds to the back of his head that
penetrated into the occipital lobes of the brain. Once his wounds had healed
and his physical condition had improved, Goldstein and Gelb subjected him
to a battery of psychological tests to check for deficits. The test results failed
to reveal any obvious perceptual defects, and the classical neuropsychological
approach of the nineteenth century would probably have stopped with that.
Goldstein and Gelb looked beyond the mere scores, however, and considered
Schneider's total behavior during the tests. As soon they began to take a
broader look, they discovered that actually Schneider was seriously handi-
capped in his perceptual capacities; he had, however, learned to compensate
for his disorder in a variety of elaborate ways. For example, Gelb and Gold-
stein noted that he was able to read almost any text that was given to him by
means of "a series of minute head and hand movementshe 'wrote' with his
hand what his eyes saw. . . . If prevented from moving his head or body, the
patient could read nothing whatsoever"all he saw were individual lines and
tracks without any overall pattern or meaning.29 Strikingly, the patient was in
no sense conscious of having modified his accustomed reading habits; in some
unknown way, his injured brain had established global compensatory strate-
gies of which "he" himself was ignorant.30
Goldstein and Gelb drew a number of conclusions from this case. First of
all, it was clear that Schneider's disorder was something that was very poorly
captured using a classical categorization such as alexia, or loss of capacity to
read. While it was true that his reading capacity was disrupted, his trouble, in
fact, lay on a much deeper level, one that did not map onto any of the classic,
mosaic approaches to loss of function. Simply put, it seemed to Goldstein and
Gelb that Schneider had lost the capacity to see the world holistically. His
brain could no longer create and experience the unified, organizing patterns
that gave coherence to the onslaught of stimuli actually entering his retina. For
example, Gelb and Goldstein tested him for his ability to perceive an object in
apparent motion (by flashing a set of lights at different spots over a trajectory).
The patient reported seeing "only a series of isolated places in space," and
"could not even understand what we meant by visual perception of motion."31
Goldstein came to call this disturbance loss of the "figure-ground function"
and began to argue that it will always be disturbed "wherever damage of the
brain is located," even though the exact way in which the symptoms present
themselves will vary depending on what part of the brain was directly dam-
aged.32 In other words, where Wernicke's brain model had emphasized inde-
pendent psychological functions without any overarching coordinating prin-
ciple, Goldstein argued that the brain, regardless of the modality in which it
is working, was set up to synthesize the chaos of its experience into organized
wholes. Disease and damage to the brain led to a breakdown in this capacity
to create Gestaltsa term Goldstein purposively borrowed from Gestalt
theoryresulting in uncoordinated behavioral patterns isolated from a larger
pattern or plan.
As he now pursued his analysis with other cases in the clinic, the holistic
principles learned from studying Schneider's perceptual disabilities would be
extended by Goldstein to language and cognitive disorders. He began to teach
that language was also not an isolated skill, as classical neuropsychology sup-
posed, but functioned to synthesize and organize experience in ways that per-
meated the individual's total mental orientation. Above all, healthy language
use allowed for the holistic, synthesizing activity that Goldstein called "cate-
gorical behavior," the capacity to see the abstract category to which individ-
ual, concrete events could be sorted. Patients lacking the capacity to use lan-
guage in the service of categorical behaviorwho had regressed to what
Goldstein called a more primitive "concrete" mental attitudemight still
have words at their disposal but could not "unstick" them from the concrete
things with which they were associated at any particularly moment. For exam-
ple, in an extensive psychological study of color-naming, Goldstein and Gelb
described how patients might accurately describe a certain object as "cherry-
colored," and another as "crimson." They would deny, however, or fail to see
that both these specific hues could be grouped under the more overarching and
abstract category "red." 33 As Goldstein put it:
He has only individual words, belonging to an object like other properties, e.g.,
color, form, etc., but he cannot use the word if it merely represents the abstract
class or category under which the object in question may be classified. He cannot
use the words as symbols. The words have lost meaning in themselves.34
Even more significantly, it turned out that such patients were at the mercy
of the actual, of what in fact, was. The merely possible became for such pa-
tients inconceivable:
One especially interesting consequence of the modified character of speech is the
fact that the patients have the greatest difficulty in speaking so-called senseless
sentences, or even to repeat them on request.... One of my patients was unable
to repeat the sentence, "It is raining today," on a day of sunshine; or to repeat,
"The snow is black," or "2 + 2 are 5." Such patients cannot understand how to say
so-called senseless things because it is possible to understand senseless sentences
only if one can abstract from the given situation or from experienced facts.35
Goldstein's formulations here show the unmistakable stamp of the think-
ing of his cousin, Ernst Cassirer, who by the 1920s, had become a leading
representative of the so-called Marburg school of neo-Kantian transcendental
philosophy. This school had dedicated itself to elaborating the means or prin-
ciples whereby objects come to be known or constituted in consciousness.
Indeed, intensive correspondence between the two men through the 1920s
shows that not only was Goldstein writing his material with a pen dipped in
the thinking of the Marburg school, but that Cassirer was granting Goldstein's
brain-damaged soldiers a distinct paradigmatic status in his own thinking.36 In
one long letter to Goldstein in the spring of 1925, a time when he was in the
later stages of producing his own three-volume Philosophy of Symbolic
Forms, Cassirer wrote:
The normal person behaves to a very high degree in a "symbolic" fashionsome-
thing usually much too little recognized in my opinionnot just in his thinking,
but in his behavior, his perception, even in his actions. For him, the "being"
[Dasein] of individual sensory facts is secondary to what they "mean" to him.
Therefore, he can step by step move his thinking towards the "ideal"he can
transform the given "Reality" of the sensory stimuli into one of the merely "Pos-
sible." This transformation into the Possible not only grounds the main part of his
thinking (because the "idea" is, as [Hermann] Cohen always used to emphasize,
"hypothesis"!), but alsoand your cases show this so beautifullythe main part
of his perception. [The normal person] treats the present as representative, and the
representative as present. In contrast, in a person with soul-blindness, it is just this
transformation [of sensation into representation] that is dysfunctional, if I see it
right.... Thus he is only able to react to stimuli that are immediately present. As
the patient does not possess . . . symbolic ideation, he sticks to the common, the
given, the presentand therefore he cannot manage a free "re-presentation" fin
his mind] of something not present.37
Fascinated as he was by Cassirer's formulations of his clinical material,
Goldstein was also careful to stress the older clinical roots of the contrast
between abstract (symbolic, categorizing) intellectual function and concrete
(sensory-driven) intellectual function. He called attention in particular to the
teachings of the nineteenth-century neurologist Hughlings Jackson, who more
than fifty years earlier had discussed the difference between healthy people
who use words as symbols to build prepositional statementsand brain-
damaged patientswho may automatically "use" words without "knowing"
their symbolic significance.38
In a significant break with Jackson, however, and in a clear gesture to the
cultural preoccupations of his own time, Goldstein stressed that a patient's
stabilization at a reduced, concrete level of functioning was not simply a prod-
uct of mechanistic pathophysiology. It was also an adaptive reaction to un-
bearable existential anxiety.39 To confront the fact one was no longer fit to
carry out tasks of which one was formerly capable, that one was a diminished
personalityno longer one's selfwas the ultimate horror for patients, often
producing a crisis of severe anxiety and disordered behavior that Goldstein
called a "catastrophic reaction."40
Understandably, patients were powerfully motivated to do anything they
could to avoid the existential anxiety of catastrophe and to maintain some
semblance of coherence and competence, sometimes even at the price of self-
knowledge. The original case of Schneider, with his extraordinary and quite
unconscious ways of compensating for his disorder, had provided the first
clues about the importance of this aspect of brain damage. Goldstein, how-
ever, also began to see how other typical "symptoms" could actually be un-
derstood as adaptive "strategies" unconsciously selected by the organism to
avoid being overwhelmed by anxiety: the typical compulsive orderliness,
avoidance of change of any kind, a preference for undemanding tasks and
environments, a tendency toward inflexible perseveration in actions, and a
frequent lack of insight into the nature or extent of the brain damage suffered
("anosognosia"). In Goldstein's words, "The symptoms that we observe are
. . . not simply the effect of the damage alone but also of the reaction of the
organism to this defect in its attempt, despite this defect, to come to a new
order which guarantees its existence"that is, guarantees some genuine ex-
pression of inner being.41
Thus, the laboratory of brain damage provided Goldstein with a framework
for integrating an antimechanistic vision of the human brain with the concerns
of authenticity and anxiety that would come to define the agenda of early-
twentieth-century existentialist philosophy. The patient's struggle to discover
some matter or means of existential equilibrium showed that the human brain
had a basic drive "to actualize itself according to its inner essence." Every
organism, even a sick and damaged organism, needed "to realize its inborn
nature as much as possible."42 For the most severely disabled, efforts at actu-
alization were necessarily largely defensive, with an emphasis on avoiding
anxiety-provoking situations: a "defective organism achieves ordered behav-
ior only by a shrinkage of its milieu in proportion to the defects."43
Nevertheless, a meaningful new existence could be created for such pa-
tientsas the rehabilitation efforts at the Frankfurt Institute were showing.
This optimistic conclusion was to become Goldstein's clearest answer to the
therapeutic nihilism of his nineteenth-century heritage. It was now evident
that even when a patient obviously could not be "cured" (returned to his pre-
injured state), that did not mean he could not be helped back to health. Becom-
ing healthy had, however, to be understood in a new wayas a series of steps
taken to help the individual recover a sense of self, to reorder his relationship
to the milieu in such a way that life once again had value for him.44 Under-
stood as such, it was also clear that becoming healthy always involved a
choice on the part of the patient to accept certain environmental restrictions as
the price he must pay for the privilege of regaining what Goldstein called his
"essence"a highly individual biological and subjective state of inner coher-
ence. Because human organisms had "essence" as well as organs, sickness and
health were not simply issues of malfunction and function. They became is-
sues of free choice and value. As Goldstein explained:

[HJealth is not an objective condition which can be understood by the methods

of natural science alone. It is, rather, a condition related to a mental attitude by
which the individual has to value what is essential for his life. "Health" appears
thus as a value; its value consists in the individual's capacity to actualize his
nature to the degree that, for him at least, is essential. "Being sick" appears as a
loss or diminution of value, the value of self-realization, of existence. The central
aim of "therapy"in cases in which full restitution is not possibleappears to be

to achieve transformation of (he patient's personality in such a manner as to en-
able him to make the right choice; this choice must be capable of bringing about
a new orientation, an orientation which is adequate enough to his nature to make
his life appear to be worth living again.45
But that was not all. Recognizing the existentialist dimension of disease
had in turn implications for thinking about what kind of "knowledge" was
required to heala point to which I return later in this chapter. Increasingly,
Goldstein became convinced that the healing process through which doctor
and patient together identified and reestablished the latter's "essence" in-
volved a special "holistic" process of understanding that, in the final analysis
"[could] not be gained by the methods of natural sciences alone":
The knowledge we need can be comprehended only by a special mental proce-
dure which I have characterized as a creative activity, based on empirical data,
by which the "nature" comes, as a Gestalt, increasingly within the reach of our



Thus radicalized by this work in the clinic, Goldstein began to call for a major
overhaul of basic principles of physiology and biology. Some fifteen years
later, he recalled the state of thinking he was up against at that time:
According to the fundamental philosophy within which we seniors came to
maturity, the organism was seen to consist of mutually independent and only
secondarily connected apparatuses with performances consistent with the activi-
ties of the apparatuses. The apparatuses were conceived, as were the performance
processes, according to the reflex scheme.... To this view, the influences to
which the organism is exposed seemed like a sum of stimuli, to which it reacted
in a lawful manner.47

The nineteenth-century deterministic and piecemeal view of the organism

appeared to have empirical support only because data had been obtained in
misleading, faulty ways. Scientists, already laboring under the influence of
"atomistic" thinking, artificially constrained animals in order to isolate as-
pects of their total behaviorfor example, scratching behavior. They then
supposed that the stimulus-bound, tension-reducing "reflexive" results they
obtained could serve as basic principles for explaining the animal's behavior
under free, natural conditions. In fact, Goldstein began to argue, these re-
sponses were artifactuala pathology of the testing situation: "If it some-
times appears that the organism is under the influence of reflexes, then the
relation of the organism to the world is not in a normal condition. The reflex
and similar theories cannot be based on experimental results because we are
confronted, as in pathology, with the results of phenomena going on in iso-
lation."48 In other words, the mechanistic animal defended by nineteenth-
century physiology had natural analogues only in the realm of pathology. In
contrast, the free and healthy organism, outside of the experimental setting,
responded to a field of demands in its environment in a creative fashion char-
acterized by holistic flexibility.49
If the reflex model of central nervous system function needed drastic over-
haul, its theoretical and methodological cousinpunctate localization of cer-
ebral functiondid so no less. Here Goldstein found inspiration in the spir-
ited critiques of the Zurich neurologist Constantin von Monakow, becoming
one of German neurology's most vigorous advocates of Monakow's perspec-
tives. In a 1926 letter to his Swiss colleague, Goldstein admitted that many of
his more traditional neurological colleagues in Germany, such as Hugo
Liepmann and Karl Kleist, did not really understand why he, Goldstein, was
so fiercely committed to Monakow's ideas, but he had no intention of backing
Building on Monakow's example, Goldstein began to warn in his own writ-
ings against taking the "terrible fateful step from the localization of symptoms
[asserting a connection between a damaged brain area and lost function] to the
localization of function [asserting that the same brain area mediates a particu-
lar lost function in the intact brain]."51 He stressed the way in which syn-
dromes caused by local lesions can be affected by "the condition of the rest of
the brain, and even of the whole organism."52 And he paid close attention to
the significance of recovery from and compensation for damage, concluding
that "the classic assumption of specific, separate losses of individual perform-
ances cannot be maintained. We found, rather, that a systematic reduction . . .
results, a dedifferentiation which can be evaluated properly only in relation to
the whole organism."53
If Goldstein found inspiration in Monakow's iconoclasm, he was also very
much attracted to the insights and conceptual possibilities in the Gestalt psy-
chology of the Berlin school. Throughout the 1920s, he enjoyed close colle-
gial and personal ties with the Berlin Gestalt theorists, especially Max Wert-
heimer and Wolfgang Kohler.54 The affinities between his work and theirs
found a more permanent institutionalized form in Goldstein's appointment
(which lasted until 1933) as one of the coeditors of the Gestalt theory journal
Psychologische Forschung {Psychological Research),,55
For Goldstein, a chief appeal of Gestalt psychology lay in the way it pro-
vided a framework for doing simultaneous justice to the claims of the organ-
ism to wholeness on the one hand, and the continuing methodological need in
science for some kind of analytic approach on the other. Borrowing and adapt-
ing the Gestalt concept of figure-background, Goldstein argued that it was
perfectly legitimate to isolate a performance or a symptom as a figure or Ge-
stalt, so long as one did not lose sight of the fact that there remained always
a background. Holistic understanding must always be reestablished through a
continual resetting of each successive figure (or partial understanding of func-
tion) in its immediate background (or whatever had been temporarily brack-
eted out of analysis). The idea was to continue this process until one had
reconstructed the whole organism itself in its Umwelt (a term Goldstein took
over from Uexkiill).56 Analysis thus became a series of heuristic moments in
the scientist's dialectic movement toward greater holistic understanding.
For Goldstein, however, Gestalt theory did more than just provide a sugges-
tive language for imagining what "holistic analysis" could look like. It also
gave him a way of understanding some basic principles of organismic life. If
scientists could learn to approach their subject using a method that constantly
reinserted a provisional Gestalt back in a larger field, they would find that they
were doing what came "naturally," because it was the essence of organismic
life itself to create "good Gestalten"to actively pattern its reactions in such
a way as to establish an orderly holistic "fit" between itself and its Umwelt.
Understanding this allowed one to realize that one of the great dangers of
pathology lay in the fact that it caused organismic behavior to become rigid
and unnatural and in this way brought about a breakdown of the organism-
Umwelt Gestalt "fit."57
In health, Goldstein made clear that the patterned dance of "adequacy" be-
tween an organism and its Umwelt was highly flexible; there was no single
right solution. As he explained in Der Aufbau des Organismus {The Organ-
ism) (1934):

What will turn out to be a Gestalt for an organism depends predominantly on

the organism's structure. To be sure, the structure of the world is not indifferent
to it.... It seems that the variety of possibilities, which the world in its entirety
offers, are of such a sort that the greatest variety of creatures can find adequacy.
If this were not the case it would not be possible that so many different creatures

This bountiful vision of organisms creatively establishing their own reali-

ties or orderly ways of relating to the world is strongly reminiscent of
Uexkiill's Goethean vision of the "orchestra" of life. At the same time, Gold-
stein explicitly renounced the open-ended epistemological relativism implied
in Uexkull's biology, in which no knowledge of reality is possible beyond that
learned by studying the total of subjective realities generated by every species.
For Goldstein, in contrast, reality had an independent structure that actually
could be known in part by looking at the range of ways free organisms man-
aged to "achieve [environmental] adequacy" or "fit" within it:

[I]t certainly is probable... that corresponding to the inherent properties of the

world, only a limited number of Gestalt possibilities (potentialities of patterning)
really exist, i.e., that only creatures of definite organization can "be." Since, for
many creatures, certain characteristics of the "good Gestalt" are qualitatively the
same, it is to a certain extent possible to deduce the Gestalten from the structural
organization of nature.
Thus, investigation of the Gestalten does not merely teach us something about
the functional patternings of the organism, but teaches us also about essential
features of nature.59


AS the 1920s progressed, Goldstein became more explicit about the ways in
which his views on biology, healing, and holism had the potential to function
in a larger forum. Although unlike many of his peers, he never turned to writ-
ing popular pieces, he did ask what light could be cast on the human condition
in general by studies of brain-damaged patients. More and more, his vision of
the self-actualizing brain functioned not just as an explanatory model for neu-
rology, but also as an existentialist philosophy and blueprint of personal poli-
tics; a politics that seems to have been at once his ego ideal and a reflection of
his own liberal hopes for Germany.
At the center of this larger vision was the Goldstein concept of "abstract
attitude"the capacity (generally lost in brain damage) to sort and organize
experience into logical categories. Increasingly, Goldstein stressed that losing
this capacity did not just involve a loss of a particular intellectual skill. It
involved a basic loss of one's capacity to act as a free agent in the world. The
individual lacking the ability to abstract from his experience suffered a dra-
matic "shrinkage of freedom" and was in "bondage to the demands of envi-
ronment" and helpless to exercise choice:60
Choice is a decision based on the consideration and evaluation of the whole situa-
tion, which in turn presupposes a definite mental capacity, the capacity to abstract,
particularly in the sense of being able to assume the category of possibility. Pa-
tientssuch as severely brain-damaged oneswho are impaired in this capacity
cannot make choices.61
In a cultural climate where "life philosophers" like Ludwig Klages were
condemning conscious intellect for its inauthenticity and atomization of real-
ity, the idea that something called the "abstract attitude" might support central
values of Life such as freedom would have been far from self-evident. Yet
here Goldstein was allying himself with the rationalist counterbeat of the time
and declaring this capacity to actually be the bedrock of creativity, "a trait
without which human culture is inconceivable":62
[A] comparison between the normal and the brain-diseased individual again
offers insight into the structure of man, and into the special position which con-
sciousness imparts to man within the whole of living nature. No matter how many
performances the patients are capable of accomplishing, actually they lack every
creative activity. . . .
It is exactly this factual material that impresses us with the enormous signifi-
cance of consciousness. This insight compels us to refute that romantic doctrine
which has spread, especially under the leadership of Klages, who attempts to
discredit the mind by contrasting it with the impelling "vital" forces. Klages may
be right in so far as he fights against the "overgrowth" of the intellect. But he
overlooks completely the fact that the "vital" forces, in the form they are charac-
teristic for human organization, cannot even become manifest, save in reference

to consciousnessthe very consciousness that Klages tries to root out. Indeed,
what remains after the impairment of consciousness is no longer equivalent to the
nature of man at all.63
Not only was categorizing consciousness the heart and soul of humanness,
but far from being a form of atomizing cognition, as Klages and others like
him supposed, it was a holistic process. Indeed it was the highest holistic,
synthesizing function of the brain. Organisms acting concretely could act
holistically in the sense of being able to respond in an orderly fashion to im-
mediately given stimuli. However, they were incapable of going one step fur-
ther and seeing the larger Gestalt, the patterned connections between those
stimuli. There was no doubt about it: human reason, to the extent that it in-
volved seeing such connections, was a holistic capacity. It was a startling
equation in the context of the times.
Goldstein, however, was not yet finished. Having redefined reason (the "ab-
stract attitude") as a holistic reshuffling of gestalts that served individual free
will and choice, he next sought to link it to two other values dear both to him
and to many other romantically inclined German intellectuals of the time: (1)
the value of Bildung or individuation (what Goldstein called actualization);
and (2) the value of personal courage.
How did he do it? The rhetorical starting point was again the work on brain-
damaged patients and their efforts to avoid the total disorganizing state of
anxiety Goldstein called "catastrophe." Goldstein had stressed how healing
for such patients consisted of working in dialogue with them to help them
achieve a stable reordering of their relationship to the world: one that both
avoided catastrophe and gave their lives meaning. It was critical that some
sort of "essence"the inner soul or personalityfind expression (actualiza-
tion), but in a way that limited and contained, that avoided pushing patients
into a state of acute anxiety: again, a "defective organism achieves ordered
behavior only by a shrinkage of its milieu in proportion to the defects."64
The insights learned from the clinic had implications for understanding the
healthy brain. In healthy people, the innate drive to achieve "essence" was no
less powerful, but a great many more options were available for doing so. For
example, instead of closing in on itself out of fear, the healthy brain had the
capacity to reach joyfully beyond itselfto realize "essence," not by the im-
position of limits, but by expansion and mastery:
[W]e call that behavior normal and healthy which is produced from within by the
tendency towards actualization, and which overcomes the disturbance which is
generated by conflict with the world, not out of anxiety, but out of the joy of
Yet Goldstein was far from making anxiety a pathological phenomenon
alone. On the contrary, although it could be an impediment to actualization,
the existentialist in him was more inclined to see it, under the right circum-
stances, as a creative catalyst; "in normal life . . . the individual [also] has to
go through such states of disorder or catastrophe."66 Rather than being fully
incapacitated by such states, however, the normal individual had the potential
at least to rise to the challenges they posed; to confront and move through his
or her crisis. A human being in a state of health, in other words, had the
capacity for courage. In Goldstein's ringing formulation: "Courage, in its final
analysis, is nothing but an affirmative answer to the shocks of existence,
which must be borne for the actualization of one's own nature." Here Gold-
stein liked to quote Kierkegaard: "To venture causes anxiety, but not to ven-
ture is to lose oneself."67 And yet even the affirmative act of courage did not
mean that anxiety was thereby conquered: the more original a human being
was, the deeper was his anxiety; but if he could stand it, he had preserved his
freedom and stood a chance of achieving his highest actualization.68
What made courage in the face of anxiety possible? The answer returns us
to the insistent place of human reason within Goldstein's cultural story of
wholeness and authenticity. Courage we are told, was made possible through
the "ability to view a single experience within the larger context, that is, to
assume the 'attitude toward the possible,' to have freedom of decision regard-
ing different alternatives."69 This freedom, as we have already seen, was a gift
made possible only by the abstract attitude.
There is something quintessentially "Weimar" about this story told by
Goldstein, that drew together such varied values and pulls both out of his own
biography and out of the confused time in which he lived. During the years of
fragile democratic rule in Germany, when overt anti-Semitism had been made
illegal, Jews who identified with portions of the German Romantic tradition
(even when that tradition might want to exclude them) often lived an exis-
tence marked by conflicting loyalties and continuing attempts at reconcilia-
tion. The "organic" architect, Erich Mendelsohn, for example, "insisted that
the architect must unite what he called analysis and dynamics, reason and
unreason."70 In Goldstein's case, the task was to find a home for the demo-
cratic values of reason and individual freedom in the holistic, antimechanistic
universe of Goethe.
At the same time, Goldstein's vision of reconciliation was mediated by a
certain recognition that success was not guaranteed. His strong awareness of
the limits of both human reason and human potential connected him in this
sense to some of the darker strains of late Weimar culture. In contrast to, say,
Monakow, who had promised his readers ultimate reconciliation with the
Worldhorme, Goldstein was unable to find any principle in his reality that
could guarantee an individual's success in achieving perfect wholeness.71
Every organism gave its best shot at achieving Wholeness and Gestalt in rela-
tion to the larger Whole, but all efforts were only as good as the organism
could manage and therefore necessarily imperfect and incomplete. In Gold-
stein's words:
Considered in isolation, the organism is in itself perfect, patterned [gestaltet], and
vital; in regard to the whole [of Being] it is imperfect in varying degrees. The
individual creature manifests the same kind of being in respect to the whole of
Being that an isolated process in the organism exhibits in respect to the whole of
the organism. [In both cases], there is displayed imperfection and rigidity. [The
organism] may exist only in the whole, borne by the whole as a reflex, and as soon
as that support ceases, it is doomed to death. On account of this, the creature is
transitory in its essence and on the road to death.72

Yet the fact that human beings ultimately fell short in their efforts to
achieve perfect harmony with the cosmos gave Goldstein's narrative a heroic-
tragic rather than a nihilistic or simply pessimistic cast. For him, imperfection
was at once the price of freedom and an opportunity for exercising courage.
There was glory in the free individual's ability to confront and bear the neces-
sary limits and imperfections of life, while persisting nonetheless in the
human task of actualization and adaptation. Suffering, Goldstein said at one
point, was "the characteristic of human nature, and reveals the very highest
form of life in the phenomenon of freedom."73
Goldstein's philosophy of action in the face of necessary imperfection and
action was to become for him a defining characteristic of the human condition.
It was a philosophy that would deepen in its nuances over the 1930s and into
the years of exile. It was also one that would come to serve him as a more
personal justification for his own risk-taking behavior as a scientistfor his
willingness to challenge fundamental principles of medicine and physiology
knowing that he had no certain alternatives to offer in their stead:
[T]o be aware of incompleteness does not hinder human action.... [MJore-
over,... it is this very incompleteness which imbues such action with the respon-
sibility characteristic of human nature. Thus our scientific procedure is apparently
commensurable with the character of the human being in general, manifesting
itself mainly in three phenomena: in the potentiality of complete devotion to [the
whole of] Being, in the potentiality to keep modestly at a distance from it [the
"abstract capacity"], and in the potentiality to act with free decision in placing the
personality at stake.74

Goldstein's broader philosophy of the human task did not merely embody
many of the contradictions and ambiguous hopes of Weimar culture; it also
contributed significantly to that culture. The psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-
Reichmann, who first met Goldstein at Konigsberg and followed him to
Frankfurt, owed Goldstein her concept of the "hindrance of self-actualization"
that would become the focus of the intensive psychotherapy she advocated
and practiced.75 Erich Fromm, her husband, who helped her establish a private
psychiatric sanitarium in Heidelberg in the late 1920s, would also find later
inspiration for Man for Himself (1947) in Goldstein's existentialism.
Phenomenological philosophy, already attracted to Gestalt theory, now
found added inspiration in the clinical studies going on in Frankfurt. The Rus-
sian-born phenomenologist Aron Gurwitsch, who had published his Gottin-
gen dissertation in the Gestalt journal Psychologische Forschung,76 also stud-
ied under Goldstein in Frankfurt in the 1920s and became impressed with the
apparent empirical confirmation he witnessed at the Institute for some of
Husserl's ideas about the texture of the immediate experienced world {Lebens-
weli). Gurwitsch's Theory of the Field of Consciousness was an attempt to
organize the insights of Goldstein, the Gestaltists, William James, and Jean
Piaget within a common "phenomenological framework."77
In the 1930s, Gurwitsch called Goldstein's work to the attention of the
French Hegelian-Marxist-cum-phenomenologist, Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
Merleau-Ponty arranged for a French translation of Goldstein's Der Aufbau
des Organismus to be published as the second volume in the Bibliotheque de
Philosophie series of phenomenological works, edited jointly by Merleau-
Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre.78 The Goldstein text followed directly on the
heels of a translation of Husserl's Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology. Merleau-
Ponty intended this ordering to show the fruitfulness of combining "pure"
philosophy with "positive" knowledge.79 Indeed, Merleau-Ponty had already
attempted himself to demonstrate the fruitfulness of such synthesizing work
by drawing extensively on Goldstein's concepts in Phenomenology of Per-
ception (1945).
Goldstein's own concern with essence as a key feature of organismic life
suggest that, to a certain extent, the currents of influence between phenome-
nology and the brain clinic ran in both directions. The term "essence" had
been a key principle of phenomenology as originally elaborated by Husserl.
In it, "essence" had been defined as that which was directly and intuitively
grasped by the mind, prior to any acts of analysis or judgment..In perceiving
"essences," critical analysis held its breath, so to speak, and let phenomena
enter consciousness without distortion. This form of receptive perception was
called "displaying essence" {Wesenschau) or ideation.80
For Husserl, then, the question had been: What kind of reality revealed
itself when all biases, judgments, and analytic itches were silenced and one
simply looked^ Goldstein also asked this question in his attempts to develop
a methodology for a theory-free, undistorted encounter with organismic exis-
tence. He went beyond Husserl, however, in his understanding of the type of
knowledge gained through such an encounter. Husserl had seen "essential"
reality as a value-neutral realm of being, since values were something human
judgment imposed on reality and were therefore "nonessential." Goldstein
saw things differently. His view was that an encounter with "essence" did
more than just expose the scientist or physician to a "purer" perception of an
organism or patient. Such an encounter acted as a revelation of the original
Kantian proposition that mechanistic categories of causality fall short in the
real of the organicthat organisms must be understood in terms of their teleo-
logical reasons rather than merely their proximate causes:
This, [the organism's] being, is its raison d'etre, in line with the Goethean propo-
sition: "the purpose of life is life itself." All individual processes take their mean-
ing from and are determined by this being. We describe this as [the organism's]
Within the larger world of existentialist philosophy, Goldsteinian princi-
ples were taken up and developed by the liberal Protestant theologian Paul
Tillich in a range of ways, many of which have not been widely recognized.
During their years together at Frankfurt, between 1929 and 1933, Tillich and
Goldstein attracted some of the university's best students with several semi-
nars that they organized together, and the collaboration and friendship con-
tinued in exile. 82 In 1959, Tillich reviewed in print the importance that Gold-
stein had had on his own thinking over the years, emphasizing in particular
how Goldstein's analysis of the "attitude toward the abstract" had taught him
how to imagine a biological grounding for the human ability to "transform
everything into a 'possible,' into something which 'could not have been,' and
then to ask the question of that which cannot not be, the "ground of being."
Not the religious question itself, he said, but the possibility of that question
ensued from this. "Kurt Goldstein is not a philosopher of religion," he con-
cluded, "but there are few to whom philosophy of religion owes more than to
him." 83 Theologian Kent Alan Meyer has suggested that the debt may even be
greater than Tillich was prepared there to admit, noting how both men focused
on the ultimate existential anxiety of what Tillich called "non-being" and
Goldstein called "catastrophe" the necessity of courage in (re)affirming
being, the significance of "essence" as the source of ultimate identity and
meaning, and the connection between actualization and suffering in human
existence. 84

In a 1956 letter to Tillich written on the occasion of the latter's seventieth

birthday, Goldstein himself noted the surprisingly deep spiritual kinship he
and his friend had developed over the years:
As I sit myself down to write you birthday greetings, so much comes into my head
in regard to our relationship: memories that I regard as belonging to the truly
valuable [ones] of my life. How I first encountered you at a Kant congress .. . ;
how I rejoiced when you were called to Frankfurt [in 1929]; the beautiful days in
Davos where we grew closer and closer, not only personally but alsoin spite of
our so different starting positionsin our work as well, in our basic ideas about
life and the human condition. So close indeed in this respect that I could present
your theology students in New York with my "biological" concepts, and could
bring them to a better appreciation of the deep relationships between theology and
biology (as I see them!).85


Although most of Goldstein's work focused on the individual human task, he

also interwove a series of supporting themes into his work that were more
explicitly professional and social: Ever since his wartime studies with Gelb,
he had recognized that wholeness-seeking organisms could not be understood
or helped by a medical science and biology that was locked into mechanistic,
atomistic metaphors and methodologies. He called, then, upon his profession
to adopt an idea of "wholeness" that could not only capture the deeper truth of
every organism's functioning and striving, but also could frame a new ap-
proach to therapy capable of understanding and serving that same organism's
Goldstein launched this crusading dimension of his work during a time of
perceived crisis in the professional credibility of German medicine. Ringer is
one of many historians who have noted how, by the Weimar period, "the
theme of crisis was . . . a ritual and an obsession. . . . After announcing the
crisis in their discipline, speakers tended to follow immediately with an attack
upon the overspecialization and positivism of the nineteenth century. An ar-
gument in favor of new methods and concepts generally completed the pattern
of these crisis proclamations."86 Thus, when Oswald Bumke, rector of the
University of Munich, spoke in 1928 on the "crisis in medicine," he went so
far as to declare that the profession had never been so under siege. And true to
the formula of the time, he found the roots of the credibility problem in the
view of the human being as a "reflex machine" that had made it impossible "to
understand [the patient] with empathy." Bumke believed, though, that a
movement was underway in medicine to replace the old atomistic or special-
ized approaches with an approach that "strives for larger perspectives, for
synthesis, and for a unified image of the world." 87 Now at the height of
his career, Goldstein had committed himself to acting as a significant player
in the Weimar era search for synthetic and holistic solutions to the crisis of his
Beginning in the late 1920s and continuing until his forced exile in 1933,
Goldstein was increasingly active in an effort within medicine to overcome
Cartesian dualism and articulate a psychosomatic approach to medical diag-
nosis and therapy.88 Spearheaded by men like Viktor von Weizsacker in Hei-
delberg and Theodor Brugsch in Halle (Saale), attempts were made to reintro-
duce the unified "person" into medicine.89 Although a neurologist by training,
Goldstein showed his commitment to a multidisciplinary, psychosomatic vi-
sion of human distress by participating in the founding of the International
Society for Psychotherapy in 1927.90 He was also a prominent contributor to
the German medical journal Der Nervenarzt, founded in 1928 and bearing the
subtitle "with special attention to psychosomatic relations."91
In 1931, Goldstein produced an important programmatic statement for the
psychosomatic cause that was published in the medical journal Therapie der
Gegenwart. Significantly, an introduction to this paper by the editor Georg
Klemperer located it in the context of the thickening "dark clouds over the
medical profession's horizon" and the "steadily worsening . . . troubles and
battles of the physician's situation, as he wrestles against injustice and under-
valuation."92 Entitled "The Significance of the Mind-Body Problem for Medi-
cal Practice," the paper began by evoking the familiar specter of the crisis of
confidence in "scientific" (somatic) medicine and blamed this discontent for
the growing market strength of alternative therapies, especially the therapeu-
tics of Freudian psychoanalysis. In the end, though, the paper found both ap-
proaches inadequate and, ironically enough, inadequate in the same way:
"[S]omatic medicine and psychoanalysis are both the result of the atomistic-
materialistic thinking that dominated medicine at the turn of the century."93
Although Freud had rebelled against the ruling somaticism of his day and
had dared to interpret somatic symptoms as symbolic expressions of psychic
distress, ultimately he had done no more than perpetuate the deeper errors of
the somaticism he believed himself to have transcended.94 On closer examina-
tion, both psychoanalysis and somatic medicine turned out to share these un-
tenable assumptions:
(1) that organisms were made up of autonomous parts or regions (brain
regions for the somaticists; psychic entities such as the ego and the id for the
psychotherapists); and,
(2) that the psychic and the physical were ontologically distinct, mutually
interacting processes, with now the one, now the other dominating.
Since two such opposing theoretical and therapeutic positions had managed
to emerge out of such similar first principles, questions as to which side was
"right" seemed rather premature, if not beside the point. What needed exam-
ination, rather, were the problems in the basic assumptions common to both.
For Goldstein, both somatic medicine and psychoanalysis fell short in their
failure to realize that "mind" and "body" did not point to genuine entities but
were just "symbols" (human abstractions) of a holistic organismic reality that
was itself inviolable. (The emphasis on the symbolic nature of these cate-
gories probably owed a debt to Ernst Cassirer.) Although the physician may
not be able to avoid using words like "mind" and "brain," the only genuine
ontological category he was permitted to recognize was that of the unified
organism. In Goldstein's words:
The mind neither acts on the body, nor the body on the mind, however much this
may seem to be the case to superficial observation. Instead, we are always dealing
with the reaction of the organism, the effect of which we refer at one time to
something we call mental, at another time to something we call physical. [In other
words], we describe the workings [of the whole organism] according to the index
of the so-called psychological or physical.95
In light of this, one could even doubt the clinical wisdom of making a
fundamental distinction between disorders of behavior and personality with
"organic" causes (traditionally seen by neurologists) and disorders with '-'neu-
rotic" causes (seen by psychoanalysts). Both types of disorders called for
helping the organism adapt to disordered functioning. Thus, anxiety might be
treated equally well with opium or with hypnosis. The choice of treatment did
not depend on deciding whether the condition was a psychological or a phys-
ical problem because it was neither and both: it was a problem of the whole
organism in relation to its milieu. Goldstein even concluded that many of the
phenomena deemed so important in the psychotherapeutic process (transfer-
ence, for example) could actually be seen more clearly in cases involving
organic patients than in those involving so-called neurotic disorders.96
Goldstein's 1931 article also had a more general, if somewhat guarded po-
litical message for the German medical profession. The opening paragraph of
the article had warned about the tendency of the time "toward the irrational
and the mystical, fed by enormous dissatisfaction and doubt regarding the
possibility of a rational ordering of life."97 This dissatisfaction, the paper went
on, was not unwarranted; there was no question that somatic medicine did
inappropriately split organismic existence into artificial dichotomies, barring
from its reality the whole crucial existential and spiritual dimensions of health
and disease. At the same time, all popular alternatives to classic natural sci-
ence that resorted to irrational "added" principles in order to explain life were
dangerous and incoherent and to be thoroughly rejected. What was the solu-
tion to medicine's professional crisis then? It was neither irrationality nor
more scientific rationality of the old sort, but rather holistic rationality, an
approach to health and disease that did justice to the nonmechanistic, value-
rich reality of organismic existence while simultaneously remaining rigor-
ously critical and empirical.98 Both the political message here and its timing
are highly telling: a Jewish intellectual who in a 1913 monograph on race
hygiene had considered the greatest danger to German society to lie in the
fetishism of scientific rationality and utilitarian, mechanistic values had by
1931 become at least as sensitive to the dangers lurking in "the irrational and
the mystical."


One year later, in 1932, Goldstein joined a group of twenty prominent medical
specialists at a congress in Marienbad, Czechoslovakia. The goal of the meet-
ing was to address the crisis of medicine by establishing a consensus on the
unifying principles of medicinea professional Weltanschauung that would
transcend the narrow interests of the individual specialities. In the words of
one of the conference organizers, M. Sihle from Riga, "the great discontent
that plagues medical circles in all cultured countries can be traced back to the
lack of a truly appropriate medical Weltanschauung."99
Sihle was hopeful, however, that the era of crisis in his profession was in
fact giving way to a period of renewed hope. In the 1930s, he looked forward
to "not only a new historical, but also a new spiritual epoch, one which, like
a dawn after the Sturm und Drang of the analytical epoch, reveals the coming
of true scientific ripeness. The urge toward synthesis can be powerfully felt on
all medical horizons."100
The proceedings of this optimistic conference, Einheitsbestrebungen in der
Medizin, were published one year later with the financial support of the Josiah
Macy Foundation in the United States under the editorial supervision of a
leading advocate for psychosomatic approaches in internal medicine, Theodor
Brugsch.101 In Goldstein's contribution, entitled "The Holistic Perspective in
Medicine," he clearly outlined for the first time his own professional vision
not only of a,holistic approach to clinical practice, but also of a holistic ap-
proach to knowledge of organismic life in general.102 This epistemology can
fairly be considered the culmination of his cultural offering to Weimar.
The guiding idea of his proposal was that biologists and physicians did not
stand outside of the reality they sought to understand but were part and parcel
of it. Their methodology and means of knowing therefore necessarily reflected
the structure and dynamic character of their own organismic natures. Indeed,
their struggles to achieve true biological knowledgeto arrive at an accurate
"fit" between symbolic representation on the one hand and lived reality on the
otherhad itself an intimately "biological" character. It corresponded to the
struggle of organismic life generally to achieve an "adequate" fit, a "true" or
life-enhancing Gestalt, between itself and its milieu.103
In both science and lived existence, the quest for adequacy began with a
rough idea of the desired Gestalt, which was then refined repeatedly in re-
sponse to resistances from the milieu. A concept of the "whole," initially inad-
equate but increasingly more accurate, guided one's efforts, giving order and
significance to isolated facts or experiences. Adequacy or knowledge was
never achieved through a simple "adding up" of all the isolated acts or obser-
vations of which the organism was capable. Instead, there came finally a mo-
ment of creative "seeing"a Goethean Schauwhen all the pieces fell into
place and became intelligible in light of a final revised Gestalt.104
Goldstein was under no illusions as to how such talk about holistic seeing
and Goethe could be understood by his audience; the rhetorical resonances
with the romantic irrationalism of life philosophy were unmistakable. He pro-
ceeded, therefore, to mock the lofty pretenses of his own language. Far from
being mystical, he said, holistic seeing figured in the most prosaic of activi-
ties, including the common act of learning to ride a bicycle:
We make purposeless movements with our body for so long until we suddenly
achieve equilibrium and can correctly ride. All the [awkward] efforts before have
nothing to do directly with the actual performance. They are of course necessary;
we arrive at the correct performance first through the continual modification of
movements, but these false movements never lead directly to the right ones. The
right ones appear suddenly, when a state of adequacy between the actions of the
organism and the conditions of the milieu is achieved. This adequacy is [subjec-
tively] experienced by us [as] . . . knowledge of the proper actions necessary for
bicycle riding.105
By talking about such ordinary things as bicycles, Goldstein divested the
Goethean Schau of its irrationalist associations, and simultaneously, deftly
reclaimed it for his own biological epistemology and research program rooted
in "holistic rationality."



In 1930 Goldstein resigned his professorship in Frankfurt to accept a position

as head of a new department of neurology at the state hospital, Moabit.
Moabit's director, Georg Klemperer, was the son of a liberal rabbi and an
active social democrat. Under the republic's benevolent supervision, he had
devoted his energies since the end of the World War into making Moabit a hub
for socially responsible and psychosomatically oriented medicine.106 Wooing
a leading senior physician like Goldstein away from Frankfurt to Berlin
(where Goldstein was immediately made a professor at the university of Ber-
lin) had been a great triumph for Moabit.
Within three years, though, the promise of a new chapter in Goldstein's life
work was rudely broken. The hospital was seen as both "Jewish" and "red."
About 70 percent of the physicians were of Jewish ancestry; some 10 percent
of the members of the staff had organized themselves into unions. On March
21, an article appeared in the Volkischer Beobachter attacking Moabit for its
role in the "Jewish infestation" of the Berlin municipal hospitals. The journal
also listed the names of all Moabit medical staff members, including that of
Goldstein, who were now to be removed from their positions because they
were Jews, foreigners, or members of "Marxist" organizations. On April 1,
1933, a truckload of Sturmabteilung (SA) troops drove onto the hospital
grounds, marched into the wards, and began seizing the designated staff mem-
bers on the spot, wherever they happened to be. People were forcibly removed
from offices, consulting rooms, and operating rooms and led away, still wear-
ing their white lab coats. Edith Thurm, a technical medical assistant at the
hospital at the time, recalled how the SA barged into Goldstein's examining
The SA men stood there, and he sat at his desk. He was told to come along. At this
he still said: "Will you permit me at least to turn my patients over to my attending
physician?" The latter was not in the room. Then they said to him: "Every person
can be replaced, including you!"107
It turned out that Goldstein was in particular trouble, having been singled
out for "denouncement" in the style of the time by an unidentified National
Socialist colleague. This colleague had declared that Goldstein was not only
Jewish but also a dangerous leftist: he had, the colleague insisted, given pref-
erential treatment to patients in the clinic with Russian background or leftist
sympathies. Indeed, Goldstein was a member of the Democratic Socialist
Party (SPD) and active in the Association of Socialist Physicians.108 Some
sense of the nature of his leftist agenda can be inferred from a lecture, "Dis-
ease and Social Standing," that he had recently given to that association.109
The SA troops took Goldstein to one of their prisons for alleged enemies of
the state, located on General-Pape-Strasse in Berlin. Goldstein was placed in
a cell with a surgeon from another Berlin hospital, Dr. Erich Simenauer. Pris-
oners here were subjected to episodes of both random and organized sadism.
Simenauer would later tell how his own life was saved at that time by a note
reading "Don't mistreat" scrawled on his protocol by a storm trooper who felt
some indebtedness to Simenauer for an appendix operation the doctor had
performed on him a short time before.' 10 Goldstein fared somewhat less well:
during the week of his imprisonment, he was taken down to a basement where
he was flogged with sand-filled rubber hoses.
The psychiatrist Eva Rothmann (a colleague who later became Goldstein's
second wife) saved him at this point by soliciting the help of the psychiatrist
and Adlerian psychotherapist Matthias Goring. Goring was an erratic, occa-
sionally soft-hearted Nazi, much of whose influence as director of a psycho-
therapy center in Berlin known as the Goring Institute came from exploiting
links to his cousin, Hermann Goring.111 Responding now to Rothmann's ap-
peals, Goring declared that "he would find Goldstein 'wherever they had
dragged him' and have him set free." Goldstein was released after signing a
paper in which he agreed to leave Germany forever.112 Abandoning most of
his possessions (including a valuable library), he went alone to Switzerland.
Although he remained there only briefly, he found time to help establish the
Emergency Society of German Learning, which aimed to help all German
academics who had been forced, like he, to leave their homeland.113 From
Switzerland, he went on to Amsterdam, where friends created a temporary
position for him in the Pharmacological Institute of the local university, and
even found a secretary to take dictation for The Organism. A year later, a visa
finally arrived granting him entry to the United States. Supported by the
Rockefeller Foundation, he arrived in New York City in 1935.
Goldstein secured a position at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and
became a clinical professor of neurology (without salary) at Columbia Uni-
versity. He was able to establish a clinical laboratory at the Montefiore Hospi-
tal in New York, where he worked with Martin Scheerer, also a German immi-
grant, on refining methods for testing abstract versus concrete attitudes in
brain-damaged patients (see figure 23).' 14 On the recommendation of Harvard
neuropsychologist, Karl Lashley, he became William James Lecturer at Har-
vard from 1938 to 1939.115 From 1940 to 1945, the Rockefeller Foundation
funded a clinical professorship for Goldstein at Tufts Medical School in Bos-
-ton. He then returned to New York City, where he established a private prac-
tice and taught in various capacities at the City College of New York, Colum-
bia University, and the New School. Later he served as a visiting professor at
Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. At this point in his life, he was also
partly sponsored by the Jungian Bollingen Foundation. Over the years he
maintained collegial relations with such fellow exiles as Max Wertheimer,
Max Horkheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, Kurt Koffka, Paul Tillich, Ernst Cas-
sirer, Walther Riese, Aron Gurwitsch, Ludwig Binswanger, Karen Homey,
Charlotte Biihler, Niels Bohr, and Albert Einstein.116 New American friends
were made largely in the growing humanistic branch of American psychology
and included such figures as Gordon Allport, Gardner Murphy, Abraham
Maslow, Floyd Matson, Rollo May, and Carl Rogers.117
Although in these ways he was able to recover at least some success and
respect, Marianne Simmel (who had met Goldstein in Boston in 1942) believed
that the forced emigration had nevertheless ruined Goldstein's career. During
the Depression years, she noted that Goldstein hesitated to demand proper fees
from his private patients and for this reason, he suffered under quite severe
financial hardship at times.118 In addition, although Goldstein became an
American citizen in 1940, he never quite felt at home in his new country. En-
glish always remained an awkward language for him, and he suffered under
his loss of connection from the Kultur that had grounded his identity for so
many decades. Simmel tells the story of how she once told Goldstein that
all the tradition in the world would not help anyone to even the tiniest hamburger,
be it here or in Europe. His immediate reply was "Ach was" followed by "The
younger generation thinks only of its stomach," and,finallyby, "You are probably
right, and that is just what is so awful." I never could argue him out of that final
There were also other, less tangible wounds. A friend and fellow exile,
Harvard Professor Robert Ulich, later reflected that the forced emigration
wounded [Goldstein] beyond recovery, not only personally, but also as a reflec-
tion of the dark abyss in the depth of humanity. He spoke of the eternal human
problems of sin and guilt which appeared in every man's life, and of the incapac-
ity of even those closest to one another to help in times of distress.120
Late in life, Goldstein himself would tell an interviewer that his disappoint-
ment in the Germany he had loved was so great as a result of his experiences
that he would never contemplate returning. As he put it, "The people who
have such hate that they do not return, they are the ones who love."121
In 1936 Goldstein had published his first and only paper to deal directly
with the problem of fascism, "Remarks on the Significance of Biology for
Sociology, with Particular Attention to the Problem of Authority."122 This
was a contribution to a massive, multiauthor project, "Authority and the Fam-
ily," organized by the Frankfurt School, itself now largely regrouped at the
Institute for Social Research in a building on Morningside Heights provided
by Columbia University. One of the guiding hypotheses of their study was
that a "crisis of the family" had made it possible for totalitarian societies to
step in and take over the socialization and educational functions previously
carried out within the home. 123 Goldstein's argument set a different emphasis:
The sociological phenomena [sic] with which we want to deal first is the strange
fact that a social group is not able to recognize how the rulers they brought into
power may possibly use this power in a manner completely directed against the
interests of this group. . . . [T]he question how is [it] possible that people do not
see apparently obvious matters or react to them in such a changed way.124
Goldstein began his analysis by looking at a clinical analogue: the behavior
of the organism in a state of catastrophe. Clinical studies had shown that the
first impulse of such an organism was to flee from the perceived danger, but

Figure 23. Goldstein's toolbox that tested brain-damaged patients for loss of holistic
"abstract capacity" (separate tests for men and women), 1941. Goldstein and Scheerer,
"Abstract and Concrete Behavior: An Experimental Study with Special Tests,"
Psychological Monographs, John Dashiell, ed., 53:2 (1941): 80.

if flight was impossible, then the organism was "forced to come to terms with
an environment it cannot master." The usual strategies included rigidity, nar-
rowing of attention, abnormal dependence on outside authorities (such as the
physician), emotional "clinging to the past" that avoids the need for any deci-
sions or choices, seclusion from the world, abnormal seriousness and a lack of
humor or sense of irony. "We may say that he is brought down to a lower level
of his former self."125
For Goldstein, the patient's dependence on his physician after succumbing
to a state of catastrophe was particularly relevant for understanding the politi-
cal relationship currently operative between Germany's citizens and the Nazi

Devotion without criticism makes him not only adore the protector and "leader"
in a dangerous world, but causes him . . . to undertake dangerous tasks for his
sake; he knows, of course, that he [the protector] will protect him of the conse-
quences [H]e does not fear anything as much as to lose this relationship of
dependency. For him the helper is absolute authority, obedience towards him a
matter of fact.126
In other words, the people of fascist Germany, and particularly the bour-
geois classes, were currently acting in a fashion comparable to the inferior
behavior of a brain-damaged patient in a catastrophic state of disorganization:
In our description of the patient lacking security we may recognize an image of all
peculiarities wefindespecially, in certain layers of the middle classes. We note the
narrowness and rigidity of their world their blindness towards . . . criticism.
their rigid clinging to modes of life and to ideals of time past; their inaccessibility
to new forms or ideas, especially if they could involve insecurity; the uniformity
of behavior; their being proud of everything "owned," from their own farm to
their own country, coupled to a complete lack of comprehension for everything
foreign; the fight against other opinions and other persons, waged with a fanatic
passion and cruelty, especially under the protection of a "great man." Obedience,
sacrifice, subordination, which in fact are an expression of looking for protection
under another man's orders, become ideals. Authority has to become an absolute
value; only then can it guarantee necessary security. We might add to all this the
lack of genuine contemplation, an almost inhuman seriousness, the lack of sense
of humor and of irony.127
More than just a "medical diagnosis" of a political crisis, this description is
an extended insult leveled by a man betrayed by his colleagues and country.
Goldstein's old political and existential idea of striving for balance, synthesis,
and tolerance in a necessarily imperfect world, is forgotten here. Instead, quite
suddenly, he turns to the standard hero of socialists and communists: the
"worker." If any hope at all is to be expected, Goldstein tells us, it will come,
not from the middle class but from the "most progressive layers of the prole-
tariat." Unlike the bourgeois, the workers of the world were not invested in
winning the support of those in power, and therefore were freed for radical
They do not strive for security at any price, as they feel this to be impossible; they
strive for a new organization of the entire social body, an organization in which
they have possibilities of existence like anybody else. Their actions are deter-
mined by a principally meaningful perception, like the reaction of an organism in
the course of a meaningful transformation . .. The life of the proletarian in his
special situation tends necessarily toward motion, not toward rest.128
The Marxist rhetoric of this essay, so different from the rest of Goldstein's
published writings, impresses the reader as a liminal moment of disjuncture in
Goldstein's thought as he turned his back on Germany and prepared to begin
a new life in exile. Perhaps he resorted to available socialist categories of
heroism and action because his own, more ambiguous Weimar categories
were so clearly inadequate to the crisis at hand. The 1930s were no longer a
time for a German Jew to preach the virtues of individual actualization and
philosophical accommodation to a necessarily imperfect world.
By the 1940s, Goldstein's polemicism seems to have mellowed somewhat;
with distance and a certain amount of renewed personal security, he could
again afford to become rather more magisterial. His old friend Hans Lukas-
Teuber recalled an evening spent at Goldstein's home in Boston in the last
years of the war (Goldstein lived with his wife and children in Boston from
1940 to 1945):
[W]e were among the youngest guests at one of the Goldsteins' soirees on Com-
monwealth Avenue in Boston, with many of the other guests being senior faculty
members, mostly at Harvard; the majority of those present were German emigres.
THE S E L F - A C T U A L I Z I N G BRAIN * 169
The talk turned, as it often did in those days, to the question of "what should be
done with them," meaning the retribution to be meted out to Germans after the
war. At that point Kurt Goldstein astounded everyone by saying, quite solemnly,
that he did not like the drift of our talk; we were dealing with a sickness that might
easily infect some other nation in its turn. To prevent a recurrence, hate should not
be allowed to engender hate; those responsible should be treated as if they were
patients. There was profound silence. On the wall was the portrait of Goethe, near
the place where Goldstein sat. We looked across the room, and the two profiles
seemed to resemble each other more than ever before.129


Although its larger resonances were clearly different in America than in Ger-
many, the role of "abstract capacity" in human psychological and neurological
functioning continued to preoccupy Goldstein during his years in exile. With
Martin Scheerer, he began to lay more emphasis on the hierarchical nature of
the relationship between a "primitive" concreteness on the one hand, and an
evolutionarily more advanced capacity to detach and abstract on the other. He
also began to downplay the role of language in abstract conceptual capacity:
"By no means do we imply that the conscious and volitional factor involved in
abstracting operations must be inevitably accompanied by verbalization."130
Simultaneously, he came close to compromising his globalist approach to brain
functioning by admitting a localized link between abstract capacity and intact
frontal lobe functioning.131 This emerging interest in the relationship between
abstract capacity and the frontal lobe drew him into debates over the effective-
ness and safety of the then-popular psychosurgical procedure, prefrontal lobot-
omy and leucotomy.132 His article warning against these operations (even as it
denounced the exaggerations that described all lobotomized patients as
"human vegetables") was published in Scientific American in 1950.133
Goldstein now also made a distinction between the compulsive concrete
behavior of the brain-damaged patient and the ability of every healthy human
being to surrender to concreteness under appropriate circumstances. Much of
routine life was carried out "concretely." From this principle, Goldstein was
moved to deny that the alleged concrete attitude of many "primitive" people
indicated an inherently lower mentality. The concreteness of primitives was
instead a product of a hierarchical society which invested one or a few individ-
uals with authority for the entire group. The others, although capable of ab-
straction, rarely made use of their capacity, relying instead on their leaders for
all decisions.134
In other ways, the last years of Goldstein's life may have been ultimately a
time of mellowing. His publications in the 1950s saw the use of striking new
metaphors of wholeness: "encounter," "communion," "sphere of immediacy."
The stoic hero of the Weimar yearsstriving to actualize his nature in spite of
inevitable imperfection and deathwas now supplemented, if not replaced,
by a new imagedrawn from a study of mother-infant interactionsof an
infant smiling at its mother.135 Actualization, Goldstein began to stress, was
always actualization in relation to others.
Goldstein formalized this line of thinking in the late 1950s with the intro-
duction of a new concept: the "sphere of immediate unity" or sphere of im-
mediacy. This "sphere" was conceived by him as a space of connectedness
created by a direct emotional encounter with another, trusted human being. It
contained the wholeness born of an "I-thou" encounter or state of "commun-
ion" with a fellow organism whose reality resonated in a state of "adequacy"
with one's own.136 Such experiences of "immediacy" and "communion" were
usually a result of interpersonal contact, but not exclusively; Goldstein also
believed that the sphere of immediacy was the foundation for religious experi-
ences; moments of awe and existential belonging when the universe became
a "thou" to the wondering organism.137 Goldstein credited this new develop-
ment in his thinking to the encounter concept of the Dutch phenomenologist
Frederik J. J. Buytendijk, the anthropology of Martin Buber, and the existen-
tial concepts of Ludwig Binswanger.
Spiegelberg has stressed that Goldstein's sphere of immediacy aimed to
describe not only a social and existential phenomenon, but an epistemological
one as well. In addition to the dialectic of analysis and synthesis that had
defined his understanding of knowing up to that point, Goldstein now de-
fended a third way of knowing: that which was born through the heart's en-
counter with reality. This means of knowing was both "more direct and less
articulate than the usual objectifying scientific approach. It widened the di-
mension of intuitive givenness in the context of or approach to the world."138
To put the matter in its greeting-card simplicity: Goldstein had concluded that
love, too, was a means of knowledge.
It is true that in Germany, Goldstein had always recognized the importance
of the doctor-patient relationship. There, though, he had emphasized its sig-
nificance for the patient's healing process and the high character and'courage
needed by the physician who was being asked to bring not only his skills but
also his whole personality to the therapeutic process. Now exiled in the United
States and approaching the final years of a life whose trappings of security had
been irrevocably shaken, Goldstein saluted the doctor-patient relationship as an
end in itself, a moment of human wholeness through communion. Courage in
the face of adversity was heroic, but over a long life, a man still grew lonely:139

The help we give patients in therapy is not an external, merely practical, activity but
something that originates in the most characteristic property of man, the tendency
to help and the desire to be helped. This is the expression of the original unity of
man, which man has lost and must try to regain. Only if he achieves this is he able
to realize himself. Man can be an individual only in this unity with the other....
[With patients] unity will be effective only if it is not a pseudo-unity, a merely
external relationship, but if it is a real renewing of a lost communion. This is ulti-
mately the value which guarantees human existence, i.e., its essential nature.140




In his final years, Goldstein not only bore an "amazing similarity in appear-
ance" to Goethe,141 but was increasingly vocal about his sympathy with Goe-
the's passionate attacks on the moral and aesthetic sterility of the Newtonian
world view. He remarked once about the Farbenlehre, Goethe's phenomeno-
logical alternative to Newton's physics of color optics: "Obviously, Goethe
was scientifically wrong, but ultimately he was right in his protest against New-
ton's mechanical picture of the world. The future may show that both were
In 1949. Goldstein had read a short paper in German to the Rudolf Virchow
Medical Society in New York that casts some light on what he may have
meant by the above remark.143 Commenting on a lecture by a colleague, Otto
Meyerhof, that had discussed Goethe's methods of scientific inquiry, Gold-
stein proposed to ask some questions about the implications of that method for
the modern situation. He was particularly interested in the implications of the
current tendency to isolate scientific knowledge from human concerns, a ten-
dency that Goethe had already detected and deplored in his own time. Invok-
ing the grim background of Hiroshima and the prospect of future nuclear dec-
imation, Goldstein declared:
We have experienced this danger [of isolating science from human values], and
researchers who have contributed significantly to the development of atomic the-
ory see the danger, and have warned [us]. The fear that the man of today feels
towards the enormous success of a science, that seems more suited to destroying
the world than to helping humanity achieve a better life, is consistent with the
Goethean critique.144

Goethe had the solution: it lay in a vision of scientific method and episte-
mology that found room in naturalistic discourse for human values and expe-
rienced human reality. He himself, Goldstein claimed, had early adopted a
Goethean approach to nature and, like Goethe, had been forced to struggle
against the incomprehension and prejudice of colleagues. Nevertheless, his
view of science that saw human values and human morality as part and parcel
of the living natural world was, he felt, "particularly important [now], because
apparently suitable to confront the dangers of the atomistic natural scientific
approach, and to promote a fruitful synthesis." More specifically, the holism
he and Goethe advocated just might be in a position to "prevent the perspec-
tive of the physical natural sciences from leading mankind towards self-
Two generations and an ocean away from his roots, Goldstein in old age
had come almost full circle in his long struggle against the Machine: back to
the frank distrust, so pronounced in his 1913 race hygiene monograph, of
every tendency to overvalue the means and the products of natural science
over human values and experience. In a fragment of text written in 1964 or
1965 and intended for his proposed final book, which was never completed,146
Goldstein wrote (in English):
[Pjeople were mostly not aware that the dangerous consequences of the discover-
ies of science were not an accidental effectits use for politicsbut unavoid-
able. . . . The progress by the application of science to all fields, also those which
are related to the spiritual side of man, as education, psychology, sociology, etc.,
seems to be so enormous that somebody who today dares to oppose even a little
this trend and warns against the fateful consequences for human existence is con-
sidered either stupid or uneducated, irresponsible or prejudiced.147
In New York, a small group of devotees in search of alternatives to the
self-destructive, shallow mechanistic society of middle-class America, began
to see in Goldstein the visage of a seer and spiritual leader. I present only one
piece of evidence in support of this claim: the "Open Letter to Dr. Kurt Gold-
stein in Commemoration of His Eightieth Birthday, November 6,1958," writ-
ten by Ruth Nanda Anshen, then editor-in-chief of the well-known Credo
publication series.148 The letter, a minor masterpiece of kitsch and affixed
with more than thirty signatures from friends and colleagues, reads in part:
We are aware in you of what might almost be called an archaic world wherein
the metaphysical concepts are not always formulated in theoretical language but
rather in symbol, myth or rite, all of which express . . . a complex system of
coherent affirmations about the ultimate reality of things....
. . . [B]ecause you refuse to split the Godhead, you seem to us to dwell unmis-
takably on a height where everything is known. . . . There is a reassuring harmony
within youa harmony of nature and man, that quality which is sometimes ech-
oed in the music of Bach who listened to the universe speak while he as mediator
let this universe sing. . . .
Through your intuition and knowledge, through your recognition of the limita-
tions of scientific method, history and progress, and the need for transcendence,
you introduce a new doctrine of organism which may be said to be taking the
place of the materialism with which, since the seventeenth-century, science has
enmeshed philosophy....
Like the water of Thales, you show us the meaning of nature, grasped in its
essence, and the meaning of the psyche as well... . We thank you, Kurt, above all
for your dedication to the truth that nothing will be moral or personal in ideas or
in reality except what is infused in them by a secret circulation from the enduring
There have been various hagiographic interpretations of Kurt Goldstein's
striking transformation over the decades from clinical researcher to Wise Man
possessed of deep truths in matters of the human spirit. In 1959, for example,
Frederick Weiss, president of the Association for the Advancement of Psy-
choanalysis, found a simple explanation for the "steadily widening horizons
of [Goldstein's] life and work" in the steady commitment of the man himself
to a Goethean quotation he claimed had inspired Goldstein throughout his
career: "If you want to stride into the Infinite, move but within the Finite in all
A more historically sensitive explanation can, however, be constructed. At
the height of Goldstein's career in the 1920s, a confluence of intersecting
scientific, clinical, philosophical, professional, and cultural concerns in Ger-
many made his organismic biology a persuasive framework for addressing
simultaneously a crisis in both intellectual life, politics, and medical profes-
sional credibility. Because German science, philosophy politics, and culture
were guided by certain common images and spoke a broadly common rheto-
ric, his work could function simultaneously as a fruitful research paradigm
and a prescriptive narrative.
As Americans naturally had different intellectual, political, and cultural
concerns, the "adequacy" between his transplanted vision and indigenous col-
lective need was less precise, and certain resonances and nuances were simply
not "heard" or understood in the new context. Indeed, for some psychologists
not identified with that mid-century movement in the United States to recap-
ture psychology's "lost soul," Goldstein's approach and preoccupations could
seem alien at best, and irritating at worst. Behaviorist psychologist B. F. Skin-
ner, for example, had the following harsh reaction to The Organism:
In spite of protestations to the contrary, the book is metaphysicalin the sense
that the principal questions which it raises cannot be answered by experiment.
The aim of the science which Goldstein propounds is to "understand the essential
nature of the organism." Such statement would be avoided like the plague by most
contemporary scientists. . . . [Goldstein] rejects the scientific practices responsi-
ble for our present body of biological knowledge and, in complete devotion to
Being, dispenses with most of the logical devices as well.151
In American neurology, even where there was no deliberate rejection of
Goldstein's project, many of his central concepts, such as the emphasis on
subjective and existentialist aspects of brain disorder, simply began to seem
less relevant. New technological and disciplinary developments in the
1960sassociated with the animal work of scientists like Torsten Wiesel and
David Hubel on the one side, and the clinically based studies of scientists like
Norman Geschwind and Roger Sperry on the othergradually turned the at-
tention of that field back to more "hardwired" and localizable dimensions of
cognitive and behavioral functioning. At the same time, Goldsteinian psycho-
logical concepts such as actualization, which would resonate with the more
rebellious and romantic faces of the 1960s context, became largely decoupled
from their origins and made to serve new masters in new contexts (e.g., that of
American "Third Wave" humanistic psychology).152
All this may help explain, more persuasively than hagiographies can, the
gradual personalizing and spiritualizing of Goldstein's core metaphors as they
reproduced themselves over the decades in exile. No longer speaking for a
distinct cultural collectivity and historical moment, Goldstein's sole option as
a man who had elected (as Rudolf Arnheim wrote him in 1958) to "preserve
the living spirit of the 1920s" within him 153 was to stress the "infinite" level
of that living spirit: that which stood above the flux of time. In this way alone,
perhaps, could he escape becoming an anachronisma man whose insights,
both cultural and scientific, had been outstripped by history.

Life S c i e n c e , N a z i W h o l e n e s s , and the

" M a c h i n e " in G e r m a n y ' s M i d s t

"National Socialism is politically applied biology"

Hans Schemm

IN THE 1930S, while German exiles like Goldstein and Wertheimer were
adapting holism to new audiences and new needs, holism in the life and mind
sciences "at home" was undergoing its own transformations and adaptations.
When Hans Shemm in 1935 declared National Socialism to be "politically
applied biology," things began to look up, not only for holism, but for the life
sciences in general. After all, if the good National Socialist citizen was now
seen as the man or woman who understood and revered what were called
"Life's laws," then it seemed clear that the life scientists had a major role to
play in defining a National Socialist educational program that would transmit
the essence of these laws to every family in every village in the country.1
Obviously, certain "racially" oriented disciplines like genealogy, popula-
tion genetics, race hygiene, anthropology, and (more ambivalently) Darwin-
ian evolution2 were critical resources for National Socialism because they
appeared to provide scientific validation for the eugenicist and racist doctrines
enshrined by the party. But this was not the whole story. There was also a
widespread feeling, especially in the early years, that what the National So-
cialists were saying, many holistic life and mind scientists had been affirming
all along as nature's own truths.3
So much seemed familiar: the calls among the National Socialists to return
to authentic "German" values and "ways of knowing," to "overcome" the
materialism and mechanism of the "West" and the "Jewish-international lie"
of scientific objectivity; the use of traditional volkisch tropes that spoke of the
German people (Volk) as a mystical, pseudobiological whole and the state as
an "organism" in which the individual was subsumed in the whole ("You are
nothing, your Volk is everything");4 the condemnation of Jews as an alien
force representing chaos, mechanism, and inauthenticity. Hitler himself had
even used the stock imagery of conservative holism in Mein Kampf when he
spoke of the democratic state as "a dead mechanism which only lays claim to
existence for its own sake" and contrasted this with his vision of statehood for
Germany in which "there must be formed a living organism with the exclusive
aim of serving a higher idea."5 Alfred Rosenberg came even closer to sound-
ing like a brother in the cause when he attacked the nihilism and callous indi-

Figure 24. National Socialist workers with shovels salute en masse, photograph
supervised by Leni Riefenstahl, Nuremberg, 1934. (Courtesty of the Library of
Congress, Washington, D. C.)

vidualism of the old mechanistic scientific worldview, personified in figures

like Jacques Loeb, and called on the good spirits of Houston Stewart Chamber-
lain, Kant, Plato, and Goethe to restore a purer vision of nature to Germany.6
After the Nazi seizure of power in January 1933, the volkisch-holistic rhet-
oric of National Socialism increased. Thus, party member Karl Zimmerman
(who would be appointed Reich representative for policy concerning racial
education) declared early on:
All in all, the National Socialistic conception of state and culture is that of an
organic whole. As an organic whole, the vblkisch state is more than the sum of its
parts, and indeed because these parts, called individuals, are fitted together to
make a higher unity, within which they in turn become capable of a higher level
of life achievement, while also enjoying an enhanced sense of security. The indi-
vidual is bound to this sort of freedom through the fulfillment of his duty in the
service of the whole.7
Given all this, it is not hard to see why certain conservative holistic biolo-
gists and psychologists would have celebrated the coming of the Nazis as their
own coming of age and good luck. "The Whole has ceased to be a dark, in-

comprehensible principle, and has become a universal natural phenomenon
like gravitation or quantum effect," exulted Hamburg philosopher of biology,
Adolf Meyer-Abich. Biologist Bernhard Diirken agreed: "We are presently
experiencing a spiritual revolution of powerful proportions, and this revolu-
tion affects biology also; its pivot point is called Wholeness."8 The Nazi zool-
ogist Heinrich Jacob Feuerborn tried to translate this triumph of Wholeness
into practical policy, proposing in 1935 that the "core" of all biological edu-
cation in the Nazi schools could be found in three basic principles: the doc-
trine of biological wholeness (the whole as greater than the sum of its parts),
the theory of biological development (the dynamic creation of organismic
wholes), and the teachings of heredity (the transmission of the qualities of the
whole across generations). Education in these principles, he argued, was train-
ing in citizenship: "When you put the person in the community of his family,
his clan, his race, his Volk, then the teachings of biological holism, develop-
ment and heredity reveal the whole problem of his racial and volkisch nature
and duty."9
Variations on this theme would be sung by men like Freiburg entomologist
Hermann Weber, Halle morphologist Wilhelm Troll, and Tubingen botanist
Ernst Lehmann, founder and editor of the official journal of Nazi teachers of
biology, Der Biologe. Lehmann's case is particularly worth noting since he
had early committed himself and the resources at his disposal to championing
the holistic perspective as the banner under which a more authentic "volkisch"
or "Aryan" biology in his country could be created.10 Lehmann's Biology in
Present Life included somewhat hand-waving chapters on "individual whole-
ness," "transindividual wholeness," "the cosmos of life," and "volkische
wholeness."11 In Biological Will: Means and Goals of Biological Work in the
New Reich, he proclaimed:
We have realized that a detachment of man from Nature, from the Life-Whole
leads to his annihilation and to the death of the Volker. Only through a reintegra-
tion of man in the Wholeness of Nature can our Volk be restored to strength. That
is the deepest purpose of the present biological task. No longer does man alone
stand in the centerpoint of thinking, but rather Life as a Whole does, as it reveals
itself in all living things on earth. At the same time, no reasonable biologist will
overlook the significance of all that which raises men above the other organisms.
Still, this striving for connectedness with all of life, indeed with Nature in general
into which we are born-that, so far as I can see, is the deepest purpose and true
essence of National Socialistic thinking.12
Holistic experimental psychologists, emphasizing their new status as part
of biology,13 also sought to capture a piece of the Weltanschauung pie under
the new regime. In 1933, speaking at the opening of the Thirteenth Congress
of the German Society of Psychology, Felix Krueger praised Hitler as a
Volksmann who knew that his noble people could not live on bread alone;
they needed to nourish their souls as well, and he thought psychology could
help. In a 1937 public lecture, "German psychology and the National So-
cialistic world philosophy [Weltanschauung]," Friederich Sander (professor
of psychology at Jena; formerly at Krueger's Institute at Leipzig) went even
He who, with believing heart and thoughtful sense, intuits the driving idea of
National Socialism back to its source, will everywhere rediscover two basic mo-
tives standing behind the German movement's colossal struggles: the longing for
wholeness and the will towardss Gestalt... . Wholeness and Gestalt, the ruling
ideas of the German movement, have become central concepts of German psy-
chology. .. . Present-day German psychology and the National Socialistic world
view are both oriented towards the same goal: the vanquishing of atomistic and
mechanistic forms of thought: vanquishing through organic thinking, in the struc-
ture of volkisch life here, in the researching of psychological reality there.... In
this way, though, scientific psychology is on the brink of simultaneously becom-
ing a useful tool for actualizing the aims of National Socialism.15


It is no accident that Frederich Sander, in allying psychology with Nazism,

should have hailed "Wholeness and Gestalt" as "the ruling ideas of the Ger-
man movement."16 The concept of Gestalt, understood in the Goethean sense
as the primal set of forms underlying all creation, had been critical to bio-
holistic principles since the early nineteenth century. In the Nazi era, it now
became available as a politicized metaphor of German authenticity and return
to roots. In the words of Nazi scientific popularizer Arthur Neuberg, "The cry
was raised throughout the biological world: Back to morphology, back to
Goethe and his typology teachings!"17 Under the strength of the Goethean cry,
biological disciplines like morphology and ecology gained prestige.18 Racial-
ist typologies of character and ability promoted by men like Jaensch, Lersch,
and Klages rose to ascendancy in psychology and anthropology. Houston Ste-
wart Chamberlain's Goethean variation of Gestalt as the basic law of life and
race was also revived and enjoyed some popularity.19 Wilhelm Troll, the
Halle morphologist, and Karl Lothar Wolf, the Gestalt-chemist,20 two leaders
in the Goethean vanguard, waxed exuberant in their praise of Gestalt, declar-
ing in their 1942 monograph, Goethe's Morphological Task, "Wherever Na-
ture is, Gestalt is; just as nothing is without substance, so is nothing without
Gestalt. Substance and Gestalt first united create the essence of the alternation
of growth and decay of-subjected natural things."21 In the 1940s, these two
men (with Wilhelm Pinder) launched a monograph series Gestalt: Contribu-
tions to a General Morphology that would attempt ultimately to demonstrate
the fruitfulness of a Goethean-Gestalt perspective for virtually every disci-
pline in the natural sciences.22
For some people, however, the importance of Gestalt went beyond the older
volkisch desideratum (here self-consciously infused with a defiant national-
ism) of "more Goethe and less Newton." Certain conservative aristocratic in-
tellectuals, while in principle applauding the triumph of the "biological" per-
spective over the old mechanistic, atomistic ways, nevertheless feared a certain
potential for all of this talk about "wholeness" to degenerate into undiffer-
entiated mysticism. For example, Felix Kruegereven though he had declared
his readiness in 1933 to help his Fiihrer provide the people with the spiritual
food of holistic psychologysoon came to deplore the empty-headed way in
which "nebulously mystical" concepts of wholeness and similar ideas like
Volksgemeinschaft (Volk community) and the totale Staat (total state) were
being bandied about by the masses in newspapers and at mass gatherings. It
was high time, he declared, for expert science to reclaim the high ground and
enforce discipline over this discourse.23 Similarly, Theodor Haering, professor
of philosophy at Tubingen, warned in the pages of Der Biologe in 1935 that it
was crucial that people not exaggerate the romantic idea of the state as some
irrationalist organismic expression of a racial whole. "[E]very true state," he
said, is "never just an organic-natural creation" but is controlled and given
direction by "a purposeful ruling mind." "Next to the Race principle," he con-
cluded, "stands the Fuhrerprinzip [fiihrer principle]."24
And here, perhaps, was the crux of the matter. The fuhrer principle or
"leader principle" declared that, since Adolf Hitler embodied the will of the
people, his authority over them was absolute and incontrovertible. Under the
Third Reich, this principle of absolute dictatorship was further extended to
a "corps" of assistant leaders in a variety of governmental positions and
hierarchical levels, each of whom answered to the fuhrer at the next higher
level, and all of whom submitted to the will of the supreme Fuhrer, Hitler
For some, the conclusion here was clear: a truly Nazified biology and psy-
chology must be able to accommodate the values of discipline and order in-
herent to the fuhrer principle no less than it embraced the values of whole-
ness inherent to volkisch thinking. And here is where the concept of Gestalt
stepped in as a seemingly ideal analogue: a form of natural order that, like the
Fuhrer, had emerged out of the whole but then, in turn, controlled that whole
(see figure 25). The Austrian Nazi Ferdinand Weinhandl, in an early 1931
article, was quite confident: the fuhrer as a natural principle was "nothing
other than the Gestalt quality that determines and rules the whole; [it is] the
new, perhaps just developing physiognomy of the whole." 26 While others
were perhaps not quite so explicit as Weinhandl, the ubiquity of discus-
sions in the post-1933 holistic literature about the centrality of form and order
in holistic processes leave little doubt about a preoccupationwhether an
author used the term "Gestalt" or some allied term such as Krueger's Struc-
ture, Driesch's entelechy, or Spemann's organizer.21 The medical historian
Owsei Temkin recalled how, during a 1935 visit to Baltimore, Adolf Meyer-

1 J - M R
M R !
Figure 25. Poster of the Fuhrer Principle, "March 13, 1938. One Folk,
One Reich, One Fuhrer." Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, Volume 2:
Male Bodies: Psychoanalyzing the White Terror, (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, p. 85, 1989 by the Regents
of the University of Minnesota Press).

Abichwithout a trace of ironyshowed the company a film meant to dem-

onstrate a fuhrer principle in the activities of bacteria colonies (the film was
entitled 'The Life-Cycle of Dictyostelium mucoroides Br. [Arndt's Phenome-
non]").28 All in all, there are a number of levels on which we can and should
read Arthur Neuberg's fervent assertion, reiterated through many editions of
his book The Present-Day Scientific World Picture: "Where Order is, you find
Spirit, you find Logos." 29



Since the late nineteenth century, the rhetoric of Gestalt and Wholeness had
been dominated by images of struggle against an enemy, sometimes identified
with "mechanism" and sometimes with "chaos." Under National Socialism,
this quasi-militaristic dimension of holism's self-image would intensify in
directions that more or less explicitly equated the holistic fight to reform sci-
ence with the Nazi fight against everything racially foreign. In 1935, the Mu-
nich mathematician M. Casper spoke of science's history as a Manichaean
conflict between men who sought to conceive "the world as a whole" and men
who tried to reduce that wholeness to mechanistic first principles. "Is it coinci-
dence," he asked disingenuously, "that within the first rank only German
names appear?"30 Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Metzger (who stayed on in
Germany after his superiors fled or emigrated) spoke of holistic science as
locked in a battle against the "chaotic," "mechanistic" spirit of the West. The
violence of the present war, he declared in 1942, was a "visible and tangible
sign" of this "spiritual struggle" that would ultimately lead to the rise of a
"new world age."31
This intensification of militaristic language in the literature was accompa-
nied by an increasing explicit tendency to superimpose the terms of the holis-
tic struggle against mechanism onto the idea of a racial struggle between Ger-
mans and Jews, a conceit that had been popularized in the early decades of the
century by people like Chamberlain and subsequently adopted by Rosenberg
and Hitler himself. The rhetoric used here went beyond the familiar strategy
of denouncing this or that example of "Jewish science" (psychoanalysis, Ein-
steinian relativity, etc.). Rather, Jewishness as a racial condition became a
flesh-and-blood metaphor for the only apparently divergent ideas of chaos and
mechanism; a force at once disorganizing and sterilizing, to be contained and
conquered by the answering racial power of German-Aryan Wholeness.
This way of thinking had a number of consequences. It was increasingly
said, or implied, that the very capacity to think and see nature as a "whole"
(the art of so-called Ganzheitsbetrachtung) was a trait peculiar to the "Indo-
Germanic" mind, while the Jewish mind was fundamentally analytic, dissolu-
tive, and materialistic. One study, for example, claimed to have discovered
evidence of inferior spatial and compositional ("holistic-perceptual") skills in
the drawings of Jewish schoolchildren as compared to their Aryan peers (see
figure 26).32 Another analyzed the evidence that Jewish scientists suffer from
a lack of spatial perceptual capacity, as evidenced by their failure to develop
roentgen stereoscopy.33 The "psychological anthropologist" Erich Jaensch
whose influence in German psychology may have been unparalleled before
his death in I93934developed a bio-psychological typology that opposed a
superior "Northern integration type" (the "J" type) to an inferior "Jewish-
liberal dissolution type" (the "S" type).35 The "S" type, which after 1933 he
also called the Gegentyp ("anti-type"), was described as intellectually rigid
and abstract, yet with a tendency to become easily fragmented. In addition, it
was artificial, untrustworthy, and biologically soft (with a tendency toward
tuberculosis and schizophrenia).36
A number of conclusions could be drawn from all these converging asser-
tions. If it were the case that the German and the Jewish races had radically
different ways of experiencing and interacting with the natural worldways
apparently rooted in their different biologiesthen one possible conclusion
was that no objective standard of truth could exist to which all peoples must
submit; truth by definition always carried the stamp of a particular Volk and
Blut and served that Volk's "political reality" and "fateful struggle."37 Indeed,
as Heinz Wolff, Nazi student leader, put it, the very notion that there could
exist an "objectivity" that transcended national and racial needs was a self-
serving ideology in itself, rooted in a (Jewish) scientific liberalism, whose
devious aim was to encourage people to forget that science was actually made
by "living men," by "men of flesh and blood." Writing in 1935, the prominent
Nazi holistic physician Karl Kotschau agreed:

The freedom of science cannot exist in the right to concern one's self with things
that are fully alien to the thinking of one's own Volk, and that possibly even serve
the interests of another Volk. To be dependent on an international Weltan-
schauung alien to one's own Volk is intellectual slavery, not freedom.38

This was not, however, a relativism that was prepared to let a thousand
flowers bloom. The truth of a science was to be judged by its capacity to
promote what National Socialists, vaguely and grandly, referred to as "Life."
And because National Socialism as a political movement allegedly embodied
life principles, science under the Third Reich gained in authenticity and verac-
ity to the extent that it consciously oriented itself in accordance with the poli-
tics and precepts of the movement. It followed that scientists "who failed to
adhere to National Socialist precepts could be viewed, as the Fuhrer himself
put it, as 'degenerate' representatives of a 'degenerate science,' as 'estranged
from life.'" 39
But the "racializing" of holism's struggle against mechanism did not stop
with such "biologies of knowledge" such as these. Nazis like Alfred Rosen-
berg had long advocated the idea that the struggle between Teuton and Jew
corresponded in some ill-defined way to a struggle between the principles of
life and death.40 However, it took an article written in 1935 by the physician
Alfred Bottcher to make further connections and claim that the holistic strug-
gle to overcome mechanism in science could be understood as a struggle be-
tween an Aryan life principle and a Jewish death principle; between nature
and something unnatural whose "blood came out of Chaos":

The Jewish way of thinking carries, like his blood that came out of Chaos, a
dissolutive character. For this reason, the Jew is always attempting to split all
things, to break them down to their atoms and in this way to make them compli-
cated and so incomprehensible that a healthy person can no longerfindhis way in

Figure 26. Drawings demonstrating
evidence of inferior perceptual depth
capacity and spatial-compositional
skills (holistic "seeing") in Jewish
school children as compared to their
Aryan peers ("Jewish" drawings are
middle-left and bottom-left). From
Ziel und Weg, 1935. Alexander von
Senger, "Erganzungen zu meiner
Arbeit, 'Rasse und Baukunst'", Ziel
und Weg Zeitschrift des National-
sozialistischen Deutschen Arzte-
Bundes, 5: 564-69.

Sec 3 u 6 i StupooflT

L ee rtfi0t f*hi e*ert pent! u edjlodjfea fdtffise,

Pcnn Iclnc gPofftn tin fttwttofttif, Ztttg_imj> CflBf
Figure 27. Anti-Semitic cartoon from Julius Streicher's Der Sturmer
representing "the Jew" as "chaos." The caption reads: "The Jewish
War God. He carries no sword forfightinghis battles, for his weapons
are vulgarity, deception, and lies," 1934. Randall h. Bytwerk, Julius
Streicher, (New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1983).

the jumble of contradictory theories. Thus does the Jew dissolve the miracle of
creation, leaving behind him a pile of rubble, a "chaos" everywhere he penetrates
with his corrosive mind.
The healthy non-Jew, in contrast, born out of creation, thinks simply, organi-
cally, creatively. He unifies, builds uphe thinks in terms of wholes. Briefly
summarized, the blood law of the Jew advances: chaos, world revolution, death!
And the blood law of the creative-heroic man advances: the organic worldview,
world pacification, life! [See figure 27.J41
From rhetoric like this, it seems only a short step to the pronouncement of
the holistic psychologist Friedrich Sander that all races that are inherently
alienated from the German values of Wholeness and Gestalt must be "elimi-
nated." The German word he used was ausschalten, the same euphemism later
used to refer to the genocide of the Jews under the terms of the Final Solution.
In his words:
Whoever would lead the German Volkafter the perversion of its being, which
it had to bear, defenselessback to its own Gestalt, whoever wants to help the
Volk soul achieve the goal it longs for: to purely express its own beingthis
individual must eliminate everything alienated from Gestalt; above all, he must
nullify the power of all destructive foreign-racial influences. The elimination of a
parasitically proliferating Jewry has its deep ethical justification in this will of the
German essence to pure Gestalt, no less than does the sterilization, within their
own Volk, of carriers of inferior genetic material.42


As Sander reminds us here, the Jews were not the only perceived blot on the
Volk community under Nazism: the congenitally weak, sick, and mentally
disabled were also singled out as "ballast" and "parasites" within the organ-
ismic body of the nation; these people were to be sanitized out of the German
social body through mass sterilization and, in later years, through "euthana-
sia" or enforced "mercy" killings. The Law to Prevent Hereditarily Sick Off-
spring (July 14, 1933) ordered sterilization for certain classes of people, and
via its notorious Paragraph 12permitted the use of force against those who
refused to submit voluntarily.
Holistic rhetoric would offer support to Nazi eugenicist policies like these
in at least two ways. The first and more straightforward of these used the trope
of the supremacy of the whole over its parts to counter anti-eugenicist argu-
ments that relied on the putative rights of individuals to reproduce or live their
lives as they saw fit. Thus holistic psychologist Felix Krueger declared sternly
in 1935:
The state's defense and jurisdiction cannot function without harshness. Imperi-
ously it demands the sacrifice of one's own will and even one's own life, in its
capacity as a Whole that must continue to exist over all else, and to which even its
noblest parts are subordinated. It is given to people that they may recognize that
which is un-whole in their being, that is to say, opposed to life and hostile to
development. They must make a sacrifice of their imperfection, by obeying their
state and freely recognizing the ordered power above them.43
The attack of educator and scientific popularizer Bernhard Bavink on
"Christian concerns against eugenics" is another case in point:
On the Christian side, it is not recognized, or only half, that a Volks-body is an
organic whole, and like all wholes has its own laws of life that extend beyond
those of the parts. The basic principle of Christian ethics is "brotherly love" that
sees in another person . . . an equally valued child of creation, and grants every
"human soul" an "infinite worth." . . . To the eugenicistto the extent that he
himself is not just oriented towards the well-being of future individuals but rather
thinks much more of the whole hereditary material of a Volkthere remains
no alternative but to present these Christians with the very serious question:
whether they could justify to God endangering the existence of their Volk in its
cultural integrity through their consideration of the (alleged) "human worth" of
the individual. The general acceptance of an "organic" worldview in place of a
"mechanistic" one, that the Church has otherwise so welcomed up to this point,
should henceforth really lead to some healthy restrictions against Christian
In addition to affirming the superiority of the community over the individ-
ual, some holistic rhetoricians asserted their support for eugenicist goals by
further suggesting that the "un-whole"the infirm, disabled, and genetically
inferiorrepresented in their own way no less an offense to the values of
Wholeness than did the Jews. In this rhetoric, such individualssomewhat
like the Jewswere themselves transformed into metaphors of mechanism.
Machine-people was the disdainful term used by Nazi physician Karl
Kotschaua reference to the fact that such individuals owed their survival to
medical technology and were incapable of surviving outside the shelter of an
artificial environment. Again the metaphorical links made the final conclusion
relatively easy to draw: if such people were "machines," then their existence
was clearly not in the service of Life. It followed that such people need not
indeed, should notbe protected under the life-affirming ethic of a holistic
Nazi medical practice. Kotschau was very clear:
Our time does not need externally controlled machine-people, but rather self-
controlled people who have developed their own powers schooled in battles with
a healthy Nature. Our time needs the heroic man, the man who is up to the chal-
lenges of the time, and who does not have to rely on the doubtful protection of an
all too artificial environment. 45
Kotschau was a man potentially in a position to translate such grandiose
proclamations into practical policy. In 1935, he had been appointed director
of a new Reich working group to create a "New German Therapy" {Neue
deutsche Heilkunde) that aimed to synthesize scientific medicine with various
naturopathic and homeopathic approaches. Underwritten by Gerhard Wagner,
Reich Physician, the movement also sometimes called itself "biological med-
icine," both to emphasize its commitment to that which was "natural" and its
dedication to the principles of Life. Holism was to provide the theoretical
umbrella under which this new synthesis of the best of the scientific and the
traditional was to be developed. Thus Kotschau declared (and his views
would be echoed and developed by such allies in holistic circles as the philos-
opher Adolf Meyer-Abich, the zoologist Friedrich Alverdes, and the anato-
mist Hans Boker):46
Biological medicine does not cast the person out of Nature, does not dissect and
atomize him, but rather always examines the person in his holistic functioning and
reacting.... Biological research methods impart understanding and application
possibilities from old medicine and folk medicine. When we set the biological
research methods by the side of the exact natural scientific methods, we arrive at
that synthesis of medicine that one can properly describe as Hippocratic "com-
plete medicine." . . . It is a contribution of the National Socialist revolution to
have freed the doctor from . . . [the former] mechanistic-materialistic imprison-
ment [Einmauerung]. The medical profession accordingly moves more and more
away from the former overly fastidious and one-sided mechanistic thinking that
. . . must have devastating consequences for the health of the Volk.47

What happened when Nazi medical doctors were freed from their "one-
sided mechanistic thinking" and began to consider "health and disease in the
context of the Nature-whole?" To begin with, they discovered that the princi-
ples of Life were served only in the crucible of honest struggle, not when the
sick and weakly were allowed to survive in an artificial world.48 They discov-
ered that their primary concern should be, not those who were already sickly
and useless, but rather the healthy who had the most to contribute to the Volk.
And they realized that prevention and education {Vorsorge) rather than care
{Fursorge) must dominate its policies. In keeping with this insight,
Kotschau's "New German Therapy" worked vigorously throughout the 1930s
to discourage the use of "genetic poisons" such as alcohol and tobacco, to
fight environmental toxins in the workplace, and even to encourage bakeries
to produce more whole-grain bread rather than less nourishing white varieties
(see figure 28).49
In addition, when some form of intervention proved unavoidable, the pro-
ponents of the new therapy encouraged all physicians under the Third Reich
to consider the use of supposedly natural, folk therapeutic approaches, such as
herbal remedies, massage, fasting, and special diets of raw vegetables and
fruits. The wisdom of Hippocrates, "the doctor does not heal; Nature heals,"
was widely cited.50 The medieval Swiss physician and alchemist, Philippus
Aureolus Paracelsus, the man who had rebelled against the stultifying scho-
lasticism of his day and had sought means to stimulate the natural healing
powers of the body, was consecrated as the official folk hero of the new thera-
peutic attitude. As historian Robert Proctor has put it, "Paracelsean medicine
was said to embody the natural, earthbound, experimental nature of German
medicinemedicine that was 'close to the people' and not based on 'a lot of
complicated theories.' It embraced 'the whole man,' not just particular organs
or ailments."51 A showcase hospital that combined scientific diagnostic tech-
niques with naturopathic therapeutics, the Rudolf Hess Hospital, was even set
up in Dresden in June 1934 to demonstrate the clinical feasibility of the new
therapeutic philosophy.52
Ultimately, as will be discussed later in this chapter, the systematic attempt
to reorient Nazi biology and medicine in holistic directions would founder
under opposition from other medical leaders within the party, and especially
within the SS. Yet certain fragments of the original holistic medical vision
would persist to the end of the Nazi regime, albeit in increasingly perverse
forms. SS Reichsftihrer Heinrich Himmler had a long-standing interest in ho-
meopathy, herbalism, and mesmerism, and he supported some continuing re-
search into herbal remedies on into the war years. Thus, the 1940s saw the
founding of a huge plantation for growing herbs and experimental testing
herbal remedies at the Dachau concentration camp. From 800 to 1,200 prison-

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Figure 28. Cover from holistic medical journal
Der Heilpraktiker during the Nazi years, extolling
"earth-water-light-air" as "sources of healthy life,"
1936. Der Heilpraktiker: Das Organ der Deutschen
Heitprakitker (May 15, 1936) no. 10.

ers (many of them clergy, after the Jews were selected out for extermination
in 1941) labored and died under the supervision of brutal SS officers acting
officially in the name of Paracelsus and other healers (see figure 29). 53


If parts of holism were relatively easy to ally with the Nazi cause in the 1930s,
this was partly because holism offered "a fund of metaphors" that proved
highly malleable to the needs of totalitarian, antidemocratic thinking.54 Yet, in
the end the Nazification of German holism still happened, not through some
process of intellectual determinism, but because peopleboth opportunisti-
cally and out of convictioncame to "see" and argue that certain political
conclusions must be drawn from the antimechanistic impulses of the interwar

Figure 29. "Priests on the Plantation": priests working on the herbal plantation at
Dachau concentration camp, part of the holistic-naturopathic vision of Nazi
medicine, early 1940s. P. Johannes Maria Lenz, Christus in Dachau
(Wien: Libri catholici, 1971), p. 358.

years. Moreover, even under Nazi "coordination," the basic cultural trope that
saw Wholeness Jocked in combat with the Machine would continue to be an
algebraic system that could be used to good effect by both defenders and
opponents of the new government. In 1933, for example, the Marxist psycho-
analyst Wilhelm Reich could attack fascism through the lens of the same bi-
nary oppositional system used by his enemies but locate the fascist world
view on the other side of the equation: fascism was not about Wholeness (not
even of a perverse or deadly type) but rather was the culmination of modern
civilization's mad worship of the Machine. It was possible because fascist
man had let himself be transformed into a machine that was alienated from all
authentic biological impulses (identified in this discourse with Wholeness)
and hence capable of "machine murder":
What is called civilized man is in fact angular, machine-like, without spontaneity;
it has developed into an automaton and a 'brain machine'. Man not only believes
that he functions like a machine, he does in fact function like a machine.55
In short, a high level of vigilance and motivation was required to keep the
rhetoric and metaphysics of Wholeness safely contained within the politics of
Nazism and the rhetoric of the Machine safely banished outside. This point is
clearly illustrated in the important case of vitalistic embryologist and philoso-
pher Hans Driesch. During the early, most influential years of Nazi holism,
Driesch was a consistently useful resource for a range of holistic scientists
with Nazi nationalist leanings. Even those who rejected his vitalism could still
hail him as a midwife to the new era of "German wholeness." Thus, the phi-
losopher of biology, Adolf Meyer-Abich, who played an active role in defin-
ing the significance of holistic biology for National Socialism, declared in
1935: "Holism stands . . . on the shoulders of [Driesch's] vitalism."56 Arthur
Neuberg, in his Nazified review of the "present-day world picture," was no
less emphatic and was even more politically suggestive: "[T]he conviction
triumphed with Driesch and [Hans] Spemann that . . . [n]o part exists pre-
formed . . . everything can become anything and the whole determines the
function that the part must undertake."57 In a 1936 letter to Driesch, the phi-
losopher P. Gast told his friend how his terminology had been adopted in
some National Socialist discussions of the Volk as a vital, biological whole.
Some were arguing, he reported, that "Driesch's vitalistic, holistic-philosophy
would be a splendidly appropriate scientific underpinning for National Social-
ist terminology."58 All in all, Driesch's prominence and resonating concepts
were such that he could not be overlooked.
What makes the case of Driesch unusual, however, is that this political
interest in his work arose in the face of his own emphatic opposition to the
Nazi regime, and his own attempts to make the language of wholeness and
vitalism serve, not a fascist ideology, but a pacifist, democratic, humanist poli-
tics. The roots of his convictions went back many decades. As a self-conscious
cosmopolite opposed to all forms of hypernationalism and "cults of state-
hood,"59 Driesch had been a member of the German section of the Pan-Euro-
pean and pacifist Human Rights League, whose founding group had made its
base in Heidelberg.60 After the First World War, he traveled through China and
Japan on a sort of diplomatic mission to restore contacts with the intellectual
elite there, and (in his words) "to contribute to understanding between nations
and races."61 He believed that studying foreign cultures could be an important
avenue for discerning transcendent principles that united and guided all indi-
vidual human communities, regardless of their surface differences.62
In the waning years of Weimar, he raised his voice repeatedly in opposition
to the growing nationalistic mood of the time, arguing, both in scholarly tracts
and in a series of popular newspaper articles, that his entelechy recognized no
state boundaries and that therefore the only biological "whole" to which one
could rightfully belong was "humanity." He opposed rising militarism in
equally biological language, declaring that the militaristic actions of nation
against nation needed to be recognized for what it was: "the most terrible of
all sins" against the vitalistic principles of life, holistic cooperation and higher
development.63 As Scheerer has summarized:

[H]is Entelechy hypothesis . . . made it possible for him to fill his theoretical
biological-holistic world view with humanistic spirit. [In a 1931 article he] . . .
characterized the fact that living beings kill other living beings as a mistake of
Nature, as "the raging of the instinct-driven life principle against itself . . . and
deduced from that the biological necessity of reason.64

In other articles, Driesch spoke out against the infusion of politics and cul-
tural life with mysticism and the irrational thinking of life philosophy, neither
of which had anything to do with his own rational and reasonedas he saw
itcommitment to vitalism and interest in the claims of the paranormal.65
And he condemned the role that glorification of unreason in recent philosophy
and academic life played in the growing agitation of student youth, preoccu-
piedin his wordswith "'Feeling,' 'Drive,' 'Instinct' . . . Slogans rule and
not reason."66
In Leipzig on April 4, 1932, Driesch participated in a huge rally for the
coalition centrist candidacy of incumbent Reich President Paul Hindenburg,
who was running against challengers Adolf Hitler and Communist politician
Ernst Thaelman. 67 The Monday report in the Leipzig newspaper, Leipziger
Neuester Nachrichten, recorded Driesch's exhortations in defense of reason
and moderation, and against the hyperemotionality that he feared was driving
the citizenry into the arms of political extremists on both sides:
If emotion is also often the motivating force behind important political pro-
cesses, nevertheless reason, clear and cold and without affect, must illuminate
political actions and problems. In the present time, feeling has become popular,
while reason has been denigrated. This kind of contempt of the intellect is, how-
ever, incredibly one-sided. All progress in culture is indebted to properly applied
After Hitler and the Nazis came to power in early 1933, Driesch was one of
the first non-Jewish German professors to be forcibly retired.69 This discipli-
nary action, which took effect in the fall of 1933 when Driesch was sixty-six
years old, had its immediate source in university politics. Specifically,
Driesch refused to retract his support of a Heidelberg junior faculty member
{Privatdozent) and radical pacifist E. Gumbel, as well as to reverse his earlier
vocal defense of the Jewish, social-democratic philosopher Theodor Lessing.
In the mid-1920s, Lessing had been persecuted and defamed by volkisch stu-
dents at the Hannover Technical College for protesting rising anti-Semitism
in Germany. Lessing was also attacked for having gone on record with a critic
cism of then presidential candidate and war hero, Paul Hindenburg. At that
time, Driesch had declared Lessing's persecution to be Germany's own ver-
sion of the French "Dreyfus case." Where, he asked, would his own country
find its "German Zola"? 70
After his forced retirement, Driesch received no more invitations to speak
or hold seminars within Germany; however, he continued to hold occasional
lectures abroad until the spring of 1935, when all public speaking and travel
privileges were taken away from him.71
One of his final public appearances took place in 1934 at the Prague Inter-
national Congress of Philosophy, where his defense of vitalism, "holistic"
causality, and metaphysics aroused the ire of Viennese logical positivists
Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, and Moritz Schlick. Reichenbach accused
Driesch of mysticism and Carnap suggested that the concept of the "organ-
ism" lacked the law-like character needed to qualify it as scientific. Schlick,
in a lecture of his own entitled "On the Concept of Wholeness," attempted to
turn the problem of "wholes" into a mere linguistic or pragmatic issue; he
argued that one could just as readily chose to speak of "sums" as of "wholes"
in all relevant cases.72
At this meeting, it is clear that Driesch was being attacked by the positiv-
ists, not only for his flawed epistemology, but for the totalizing, mystifying
fascism these philosophers believed his philosophy was defending. Moreover,
Driesch's enemies were not the only ones to "hear" in Driesch's rhetoric poli-
tics that he actually vigorously rejected; some who applauded his philosophy
also failed to understand his bottom line. Hence, the discussion of Driesch's
remarks by Viennese Nazi philosopher Johann Sauter (that appeared in the
"Congress Report" for the Blatter fiir Deutsche Philosophie) celebrated him
as a leader among the life philosophersone of those who philosophize "with
their blood."73
In Vienna, they could perhaps be excused for being out of touch. But those
in the party in Germany who knew Driesch's record better were more inclined
to use his case as a warning example of the factas one professor put it in a
1935 letter to the rector of Hamburg Universitythat a "holistic-planful view
of life must in no sense inevitably lead to conclusions that are consistent with
National Socialistic basic principles."74 One can only speculate why Driesch
at Prague allowed such misinterpretations of his position to stand, although
the fact that the politics of this debate all took place on an unspoken level
almost surely complicated his options. His own brief report on the Prague
conference, recalled in his 1938 autobiography, says nothing about his clash
with the positivistsall he said here was that the German participants at the
congress were all highly "tense" and that the mood was "cautious."75
Occasionally, during the 1930s and early 1940s, people would plead with
Driesch to use his influence to free one or another scientist from a concentra-
tion camp, but there was little that Driesch felt he could do. 76 Indeed, one
historian has, rather reproachfully, looked at Driesch's preoccupation after
1933 with natural philosophy and the claims of parapsychology and found in
it evidence for the "silencing" of Driesch the politician.77 This interpretation,
however, may miss a more basic opportunity for understanding. Certainly,
after 1933, Driesch may have seen few options for actively opposing the Nazi
government. At the same time, there is reason to believe that his heightened
efforts during the Nazi years to validate the claims of parapsychology actually
functioned for him, among other things, as a form of oppositional politics
a means by which the metaphysical groundwork for cosmopolitanism and
pacifism could be laid, even in the midst of a regime that deplored such ideals.
In his autobiography, he made the connections clear. He recalled how in
1928 he had gone to the Paris International Congress for Parapsychology
and had listened to the Nobel-prize-winning physiologist Charles Richet give
a talk
in which he pointed to the weltanschauliche significance of psychical research,
and expressed his great trust in its future; he then turned to general questions,
professed himself a committed pacifist, and attributed a great role specifically to
parapsychology in maintaining peace between nations. Each time, he closed with
the words: "L'avenir est a nous." [The future is in our hands]. After consulting
with my German colleagues, I took it upon myself to reply; I professed my com-
plete accord with everything that Richet had said, and closed with the same confi-
dent words that he had used."78



The holistic perspective in the life and mind sciences functioned most vigor-
ously and effectively in the early years of the Nazi regime as what Mehrtens
has called "a vehicle of transport of ideology." Nevertheless, that ideology
also saw several more pragmatic implementations. For example, Ute Geuter
has analyzed ways in which the holistic theory of Felix Krueger's psychology
would inform new standardized psychological tests developed to assess the
"total character" of an individual. These tests would be used by the military in
its selection of officers and by industry in its selection of "willing" workers.
Geoffrey Cocks has explored ways in which the Goring Institute in Berlin
provided holistically oriented psychotherapy services during the Nazi years
that were designed to promote the psychological health and efficiency of the
elite members of German society. Walter Wuttke-Groneberg has documented
ways in which the theoretical impulse of holistic medicine both supported and
was itself reinforced by the industrial development and clinical use of various
naturopathic therapies in Nazi society.79
In the years following Germany's defeat in World War II and the revela-
tions of Nazi atrocities, a number of articles and books were published which
earnestly asserted that a fundamental incompatibility had existed between the
holistic approach to life and mind and National Socialist principles.80 Some
authors asserted that they or their colleagues had been actively persecuted by
the Third Reich government because of the perceived threats their holism
posed for Nazi policies. A 1970 article entitled "Painful Awakening," for ex-
ample, reported how the creator of the "New German Therapy," Karl Kot-
schau "was forced overnight to leave the University of Jena" owing to "con-
siderable and threatening clashes between a research direction in medicine
and biology that was monomaniacally natural scientific in its leanings, and
one that was holistically oriented."81 The philosopher and historian of biology
Adolf Meyer-Abich would similarly declare in 1948 that his holistic views
had made him a victim of "Nazi mechanists cavorting in the Rosenberg De-
partment [that established and oversaw training in National Socialist ideol-
ogy] and the Ministry of Propaganda." 82
What are we to make of statements like these? To begin with, we should
unequivocably reject the conclusion of innocence and even martyrdom im-
plied in such accounts, given that the authors wholly fail to mention their own
active efforts to "coordinate" aspects of their own holistic biological "truths"
with the political "truths" of National Socialism. That said, we should not
overlook an opportunity to discover a genuine historical irony in such self-
serving narratives. All along, holism had visualized itself locked in battle with
mechanism. Now, within the hothouse atmosphere of Nazi Party politics, such
a battle finally more or less literally transpiredand holism was forced into
retreat, enfeebled, if not completely beaten.
To understand why things unfolded the way they did, it is first important to
realize that the Nazi state was never a truly monolithic entity (as earlier schol-
arship on its "totalitarian" nature once suggested). New, more nuanced re-
search has instead emphasized its "polycratic" power structure in which dif-
ferent powersthe Nazi Party itself, big business, the armycooperated with
one another and with the dictator but also competed for influence.83 To play a
high-level role in the policies and activities of the Third Reich, scientists were
compelled to stake their fortunes with one or another of these cartels. It was a
delicate game. Although high-ranking members of the state obviously needed
the status, knowledge, and technical skills of university professors and scien-
tists to promote and implement Nazi policies, they were more than a little
ambivalent about the idea that such scientists should in any sense dictate pol-
icy of the Third Reich. For example, Rosenberg's department would increas-
ingly indicate that it "did not want to have scientists going around providing
support where they saw fit." Presumably this office "felt that establishing the
day-to-day nuances of Nazi ideology was its prerogative and may well have
found it inconvenient to have positions supported in a scientific paper that at
the time of publication might no longer be current."84
In a somewhat similar vein, Giinter Hecht, spokesman for the party's De-
partment of Race Politics, warned the scientific community in no uncertain

National Socialism is a political movement, not a scientific one . . . Therefore

neither Lamarck, Darwin, and Ernst Haeckel . . . nor all of their many, in part
scientifically equally significant followers and opponentsare in any sense op-
ponents, precursors, let alone founders of the basic political principles of National
Socialism. In addition, we cannot equate any teachings of a living biologist with
the movement, since such a person as a researcher presents his teachings as scien-
tific problems, whereas the principles of the movement serve political-weltan-
schaulich tasks alone, and become actualized alone through the Fuhrer and his
political soldiers.... The professors do not carry volkische responsibility for the
future; the movement does, whose Fuhrer is fully accountable and who therefore
possesses as a result of this high responsibility the primal right of a political
Fuhrer to sweep away anything that endangers the inner health of the Volk.85
Now, from the beginning of the Nazi era, there had been two major factions
of scientists and physicians with some influence within the government but
which had mutual and long-standing disciplinary and methodological internal
antagonisms. The first faction was an ideologically driven group that was
sympathetic to holistic thinking and largely motivated by volkisch anti-Semi-
tism and Aryan racial ideals.86 Drawing most of its political support from
old-timers within the party, this group included people like ideologue Alfred
Rosenberg; Gerhard Wagner, head of the Nazi Doctors' League; anti-Semitic
propagandist Julius Streicher;87 Hitler's Deputy Fuhrer, Rudolf Hess; and,
holistic biologist, Ernst Lehmann, editor of Der Biologe. The second faction
was made up of more pragmatic medical technocrats who wanted to use a
hard-nosed form of Mendelian genetics, Darwinism, and racial biology as the
basis for Nazi social policy and military strategy. This group had found a
home for itself under the jurisdiction of Himmler's SS and its daughter racial
organizations, the Lebensborn and Ahnenerbe.8^ It included men like human
geneticist Karl Astel and his assistant Lothar Stengel von Rutkowski, at Jena;
the botanist Heinz Briicher; and professor for law and race Falk Ruttke, who
later took over SS training on race in occupied Poland. It was Astel who in
1935 would encourage Himmler to mastermind a takeover of university posts
in racial hygiene by the SS. Following his appointment as rector of Jena Uni-
versity in 1939, Astel devoted his energies to transforming Jena into a leading
organ for SS teachings and policies.89
When Karl Kotschau was appointed to a chair in "nature therapy" at Jena in
1934and received the party go-ahead a year later to develop his "New Ger-
man Therapy"Astel and his technocratic colleagues were outraged by this
explicit challenge to their own research orientation and political aspirations.
A plot was hatched to topple Kotschau and the holistic views he stood for.
Because Kotschau had hoped to bring Adolf Meyer-Abich to Jena, the Ham-
burg philosopher also became a prime target of the Astel group. But the ulti-
mate scope of the attack on holism extended far beyond these two men. Other
scientists who would find themselves suddenly denounced and suspect on
account of their holism included biologist Bernhard Diirken, holistic animal
psychologist Friedrich Alverdes, psychologist Felix Krueger, botanist and
Gestalt-enthusiast Wilhelm Troll, physiologist Wolfgang Lintzcl, neurologist
Armin Muller, paleontologist Karl Beurlen, "Goethean" anatomist Hans
Boeker, and biologist Hans Andrethe last who, it was disapprovingly noted,
had written a positive evaluation of Meyer-Abich in connection with his pro-
posed appointment at Jena. 90
Basically, the idea of the Astel group was to "expose" holism as a form of
cleverly disguised Roman Catholic dogmatism, the goal of which was to sub-
vert the empirical, factual approach to nature that was declared by this group
to be central to the ethos of National Socialism. Nazi ideologues like Alfred
Rosenberg had long reserved their utmost contempt for the Roman Catholic
Church, painting it as a powerful, pitiless institution run by popes and Jesuits
in which alien, "Oriental" dogmas and voodoo practices were employed to
undermine Teutonic ideals of heroism and racial purity.91 In an article pub-
lished in a confidential number of the Party's Mitteilungen zur weltanschauli-
chen Lage (November 27, 1936),92 prepackaged tropes like these were ram-
pant as the authors revealed the startling "truth" about holistic science and its
anti-Nazi goals:
It is the essence of Teutonic science and science whose direction has been
determined by the Nordic race, to research the facts of nature and reality, in a
manner that is uncorruptible and free from occult ideas, dogmas and theories....
The Roman Church and its holistic Catholicism have always endeavored to
label this striving "heretical," "materialistic," or "mechanistic," and to shackle it
through church dogmas and the "Index" of forbidden books. When that was no
longer effective, a number of well-camouflaged Catholic-Jesuitic scientists, who
were particularly well schooled in particular disciplines, were sent out. Their aim
now was to use clever counterslogans and apparently scientific arguments to di-
vert Teutonic science from the facts, and to steer it onto speculative and purely
theoretical tracks that did not threaten the Church....
Now Catholic science has once again undertaken a skillfully organized and
well-camouflaged attack on the entire exact sciences, including genetics and ra-
cial hygiene.
The rallying call of this attack is "Holism" [Holismus]; in German "Ganzheits
The holism that is being advocated in Germany is . . . a new, dogmatic and
presumptuous doctrine with multiple close connections to Catholicism. It skill-
fully uses uncritical and muddled scientistswhen possible those who superfi-
cially appear close to the Party and had avoided suspicion up to this pointwho
then theorize away, twist and distort all the solid German natural science, biology,
genetics and racial theory that has become dangerous to the Church. In so doing,
"holism" and its Jesuitic advocates make full intentional use of words that sound
National Socialistic, like "wholeness" [Ganzheit], "organic," "biologic," and so
on, so as to be able, as long as possible, to practice their mischief under the cover
of "desired National Socialistic [teachings]."93
It is no accident that, in developing such charges of conspiracy, the Astel
report deliberately eschewed the familiar German term for holism, Ganz-
heitslehre, and spoke instead throughout of Holismus (a term translated out of
English that actually none of the accused German holists used, with the nota-
ble exception of Meyer-Abich).94 This rhetorical strategy helped subtly to
enhance the impression that the object of concern was a foreign doctrine,
hostile to authentic German values. The authority of a distinctly paranoid out-
side researcher, Ren6 Fiil op-Mi Her, was also called upon to further buttress
the case for holism as a type of camouflaged Jesuitic sophistry. In 1929 Fiilop-
Miller had published a passionate, wide-ranging book, The Power and Secrets
of the Jesuits, that, among other things, had accused the Jesuits of attempting
to consolidate their power by undermining the authority of the exact natural
sciences. Summing up, the Astel report was unequivocal: a triumph of ho-
lism would be a victory for those who denied the supremacy of genes, race,
and heredity and worked to advance the false doctrines of Lamarckian envi-
ronmentalism and the "symbiotic" collectivism of both Bolshevism and the
Catholic state. "It is nothing other than the old battle of Spirit against Blood,
Church against Race expressed here in modern form." 96
With the publication of this incendiary article, tenuous alliances and posi-
tions of influence exploded, just as the "Nazi mechanists" at Jena had hoped.
Although Kotschau wrote a number of urgent confidential memos to Rosen-
berg's department, denying any links between Catholicism and holism, com-
plaining bitterly about the injustice of this attack, and demanding a formal
rehabilitation in the party journals, 97 nothing seems to have come of his ef-
forts. Things went from bad to worse and finally Kotschau fled Jena in the
night, much as he had said. It would be a stretch, however, to suggest that his
is a story of martyrdom. By morning he had arrived in Nuremberg, where he
sought and received the protection of his old friend Julius Streicher. Here,
although out of the central loop of power, Kotschau would experience a sort
of local rehabilitation as director of Streicher's own Paracelsus Institute.98
Adolf Meyer-Abich found it possible to remain in Hamburg, but his work was
now carried out under a continuing shadow of suspicion.99
With this first significant success behind them, the mechanistic factions
within the regime moved to consolidate their influence on other fronts. Ernst
Lehmann's public criticism of the work of several important hard-line Nazi
biologistsincluding Kaiser Wilhelm Institute director, Fritz von Wettstein,
and racial theorist Hans Giintherprovided both a motivation and a pretense
for the SS to resurrect rumors of Lehmann's Freemasonry connections.100 In
1938, this holistically oriented botanist was suddenly accused of having ne-
glected his teaching duties in Tubingen and was summarily suspended from
the university position he had held since 1922. Insiders would later identify
his rival at Tubingen, Robert Wetzel, as the man behind the scheme to oust
Lehmann; Wetzel, an anatomist, was a member of the SS, and an active re-
searcher in its organization for racial culture, the Ahnenerbe.101 By October
1938, he and his allies, including Fritz von Wettstein, had further colluded to
expel Lehmann from the Biologen Verband (Biologists' Organization), which
he had headed since 1931, and to remove him from his position as editor of the
journal Der Biologe.
A new organization within the SS was now created to replace Lehmann's:
the Reichsbund fiir Biologie (Reich Division for Biology). Under the direct
supervision of the Ahnenerbe and ultimately of Himmler himself, this organi-
zation immediately took over the editorship of Der Biologe. A 1939 article in
Der Biologe by the new editor, SS biologist Walter Greite, briskly explained
the altered state of affairs and informed readers that they were all expected to
become members of the Reich Division"within our ranks, everyone simply
has to belong." 102
An imperative 1939 editorial, "Biology is research about facts!" also made
very clear that Der Biologe would hold no further truck with the mystical,
holistic views of men like Lehmann and "volkisch-political" anthropologist
Ernst Krieck:103
Life's laws are not legends about some submerged past. They reveal themselves
only to the researcher who is willing to recognize the facts and is prepared to draw
the binding conclusions from them. Empirical research takes its starting point
from the reality of Nature and extends the [resulting] concepts over and above, as
far as the human spirit can go. Whoever, though, primarily sees in "Life" a "prin-
ciple of Weltanschauung and a dilemma for science" [a citation from Krieck], can
easily cut the ground out from under himself, fail to respect the laws of life and
find the aim of his work in anti-life mental constructions.104
Now, if it is a fact that the Nazi holists effectively succumbed to their mech-
anistic rivals within the party, it is still not fully clear why this should have
been the case. After all, the holists were not without their own political back-
ers and were no less committed to fighting for their political lives. Why, then,
were the SS "Nazi mechanists" so successful in stifling their voices?
The timing of the mechanistic offensive was key here. As a number of
scholars of Nazi science have stressed, the process of "coordination" across all
the sciences went through two broad phases. During the early 1930s, as the
Nazis focused on consolidating their ideological power base, a scientist
tended to win influence and support for himself within the party by emphasiz-
ing the ideological and political messages of his science. These were, there-
fore, the years that saw the peak of the various "Aryan science" movements,
including Ernst Lehmann's efforts to consecrate holistic biology as the "Ger-
man biology" of Nazism.
Beginning around 1936, however, with the acceleration of rearmament, the
balance of power among the different cartels of power within the Third Reich
increasingly shifted toward the army and SS police corps, while the original
party ideologues declined in influence. Little by little, the practical uses of a
science became more important than its ideological value. This shift had the
effect of sharply increasing the influence of the so-called scientific technocrats
who had allied themselves within the SSmen less concerned with ideologi-
cal correctness than with efficiency and instrumentalist pragmatism. By the
early 1940s, for example, as the groundwork was being laid for government-
sponsored nuclear research, "Aryan physicists" were forced formally to ac-
knowledge the facticity of previously deprecatedbut now plainly useful
"Jewish" achievements like relativity theory.105
The growing displacement of Nazi "holists" by Nazi "mechanists" within
the life and mind sciences followed this same basic historical trajectory from
ideology'to pragmatics. Although both holists and mechanists were, in their
different ways, equally dedicated to the goals of racial "cleansing" and
strengthening the "Master Race," in the end the worldview of "organicism,"
the calls for a return to Volk community, and even the few practical imple-
mentations of the holistic perspective associated with developments in psy-
chology and medicine under the Third Reich were no match for the militaristic
Darwinian ethic and the practical technologies of racial management which
the technocrats could offer (racial screening, sterilization, castration, and ulti-
mately methods of mass "euthanasia").
If it is the case that a kind of mechanistic or technocratic pragmatism "won"
the battle for influence within the Nazi regime, we must still be careful not to
impose a simplistic understanding of "technocratism" onto all the tensions
and contradictions of Nazism that were likely contained and mediated within
that pragmatism. The career of Colonel Joachim Mrugowsky of the SS, chief
of the Institute of Hygiene in the Waffen-SS, is a case in point. The Institute
of Hygiene was, among other things, responsible for maintaining and distrib-
uting the Zyklon-B gas used at Auschwitz.106 At Auschwitz and Sachsen-
hausen, Mrugowsky sent countless prisoners to their deaths, carried out "re-
search" that involved injecting healthy people with lethal tubercular cultures,
and executed Russian prisoners using poisoned bullets.107 At Nuremberg in
1946, he was found guilty of war crimes and condemned to death. Yet this
same physician considered himself as someone vigorously opposed to the
mechanizing tendencies of modern medicine and deeply committed to a holis-
tic bio-medical perspective. After hours at Auschwitz, he was fond of retiring
to his extensive private library, filled with books revering the age of Goethe
and Alexander von Humboldt. 108
Was Mrugowsky's common devotion to Zyklon-B gas and the high ideals
of Goethe simply an example of what psychohistorian Robert Jay Lifton
would call psychological "doubling"a situation in which a person responds
to the intolerable stresses and paradoxes of living with competing ideals by
"splitting" his beliefs and actions into separate spheres?109 Or, alternatively,
is it possible that a case like Mrugowskyor, to take another potent example,
the anti-Semitic rabble-rouser and naturopath devotee Julius Streichertells
us something important about the actual logic of Nazi medical policy, in
which healing and death, the use of pesticide gas on children and Goethean
holistic ideals of nature could in fact find higher reconciliation? This is the
view of German historian Christian Pross, who has suggested that Lifton's
theory of doublingdeveloped on the basis of interviews with old men who
had had years to perfect their alibismay tell us something about how doctors
involved in Nazi medical crimes developed psychological strategies after the
war to convince themselves and others that they had "no idea" how they could
have acted as they did. To treat such assertions by old men as transparent
accounts of their psychological state at the time, however, obfuscates rather
than clarifies the actual politics that sustained so much Nazi criminal medi-
cine. According to Pross: "[TJhe doubling theory psychologizes political phe-
nomena by projecting the contradiction between healing and killing into the
psyche of the individual Nazi doctor. Healing and killing, however, were an
integral part of [Nazi] selective social policy."110


Men like Mrugowsky would not survive the lost war long enough to explain
the logic of their holism. But homegrown German holistic medicine and life
science (as opposed to that which had continued to develop in exile) did not
wholly disappear in the flames of the Allied victory. After the war, the work
of neurologist and pioneering psychosomaticist Viktor Freiherr von
Weizsacker (1886-1957) seemed to have survived the Nazi years unsullied
by moral compromise or intellectual degradation. In 1945 a special chair
was created for Weizsacker in General Clinical Medicine at the University of
In 1947 the Heidelberg Clinic, and the holistic perspective it represented,
accrued additional moral authority when one of Weizsacker's most prominent
students and younger colleagues, Alexander Mitscherlich, along with his col-
league Fred Mielke, attended the "doctors' trial" at Nuremberg and published
a courageous and devastating report of the proceedings.111 The book, trans-
lated into English in 1949 under the title Doctors of Infamy, argued that a
certain technocratic, instrumentalist attitude within German medicine under
the Third Reich had led to a perversion of the medical research ideal, while
allowing physicians to wield efficient tools of mass murder. In the words of
the authors:
There is not much difference whether a human being is looked on as a 'case,' or
as a number to be tattooed on the arm. These are but two aspects of the faceless
approach of an age without mercy. . .. This is the alchemy of the modern age, the
transmogrification of subject into object, of man into thing against which the
destructive urge may wreak its fury without restraint.112
The idea that Nazi medical crimes involved a type of fetishizing objectiv-
ism that made people into "things" certainly found ample support in the hor-
rifying documentation made available at Nuremberg. At the same time,
Mitscherlich's relationship with Weizsacker and the Heidelberg clinic of psy-
chosomatic medicine was probably not irrelevant to his inclination to make a
mechanistic, "objectifying" epistemology and methodology responsible for
the crimes of Nazi medicine. If the epistemology of scientific, technocratic
medicine had in some important sense made the medical crimes of the Third
Reich possible, then it followed, at least implicitly, that the-holistic and psy-
chosomatic emphasis on the "whole person" might represent an alternative to
and protection against such crimes in the future. In this context, it is not sur-
prising that in the postwar years, Weizsacker, even more than Mitscherlich,
should have emerged as a powerful moral voice in German medicine, protest-
ing "objedification" of patients and arguing for the introduction of more hu-
mane and relational forms of clinical practice.
Before the war, in the 1920s and '30s, Weizsacker had established connec-

Figure 30. Viktor von Weizsacker (1886-1957).

Viktor von Weizsacker, Vber Medizinische anthropologic,
Gessamelte Schriften in 10 Banden (Suhrkamp
Verlag, 1986), frontispiece.

tions with a wide circle of the German-speaking intellectuals and scientists

who had been leaders in the holistic movement. Constantin von Monakow
was a revered senior colleague whom Weizsacker respected particularly for
his views on how Freudian psychoanalysis might be brought into dialogue
with neurology." 3 Hans Driesch was an old Heiddberg colleague as well as
a close friend; it was he who introduced Weizsacker to the woman who would
become his wife, Olympia Curtius.114 Jakob von Uexkull was another Hei-
delberg colleague, and his Umwelt concept would later be an important inspi-
ration for Weizsacker's own idea of the patient's "Gestalt circle." The work of
Wertheimer and his colleagues in Berlin would serve as the starting point for
experimental work in perception that Weizsacker pursued in the 1920s l l 5
Finally, Weizsacker's clinical analyses and aspects of his existentially ori-
ented "anthropological medicine" were significantly indebted to Kurt Gold-
stein; indeed, the Goldstein debt was probably greater than Weizsacker was
prepared to admit.116
All of these interwoven traditions added up to a rich postwar legacy for
Germany. Of greatest importance was Weizsacker's concept of the "Gestalt
circle," which envisioned disease and physiological malfunctioning as encom-
passing not only inputs and outputsperceptions and reactionsbut also a
"third variable": the subject and his or her direct experience of illness.-As
Weizsacker conceived things, a patient's understanding of the symbolic or
practical meaning of a disease shaped its actual course in a circular dialectic
that brought biology and biography together into an indivisible, dialectic unity.
Taken seriously, this meant that medicine ultimately had to become more
than a natural science: it had to embrace also what Weizsacker called an "an-
thropological" perspective. Diseases with a known organic etiology were per-
ceived as having not just a physiological but also a biographical significance,
the final nature of which could only be elucidated through empathic dialogue
with the patient. From the beginning, Freudian concepts like unconscious,
repressed, and defensive would be central tools for illuminating these dynam-
ics of disease, even though Freud himself had never attempted to apply such
tools to the understanding of organic disorders.117
In a 1927 essay, Weizsacker told the famous story of how the French neu-
rologist Jean-Martin Charcot had privately admitted to a young Freud that, in
cases of hysteria, there was "always" a sexual issue at stake. In his autobio-
graphical account, Freud recalled how he had said to himself: "If he knows
that, why doesn't he say so?" Weizsacker then described an encounter he had
himself had with Freud, many years later, in which the old man admitted that
the sudden intrusion of an accident or organic disease in the life of a patient
can cure that patient of his or her neurosis. Weizsacker had then said to him-
self, "If he knows that, why doesn't he say so?" Weizsacker concluded it was
up to him to "say so" and to develop the full clinical implications of the in-
sight that (as he would later put it) "nothing organic is without meaning." In
his 1927 essay he concluded, "It seems as if, in science, there is almost a law
whereby one epoch only says the one thing, while remaining silent about the
other thing, that it also knows."118
There is a deep unintended irony in Weizsacker's comment here when it is
considered in light of what was to come. For here was a holism that the Ger-
man postwar community had embraced as uncorrupted and probably inher-
ently incorruptible. German interest in Weizsacker's rich corpus of clinical
and medico-philosophical teachings has been on the uprise in Germany in
recent years.119 Yet there was and is something incomplete still about our
understanding of certain potentialities in those teachings.
At a historic 1980 public forum on "Medicine and National Socialism" held
in Berlinthe first of its kind in Germany120Tubingen sociologist Walter
Wuttke-Groneberg took on Weizsacker's past in a hard-hitting paper entitled
"From Heidelberg to Dachau."121 The paper began with a brief discussion of
the Dachau herbal plantation project and then turned to Weizsacker, a man
whom Wutte-Groneberg asserted had differentiated himself from the SS-
physicians of the concentration camps "not in his aim, but [only] in his
Wuttke-Groneberg found cause for these shocking claims in two profes-

sional occasions in Weizsacker's life: a lecture series on "medical profes-
sional questions," which the psychosomaticist had offered at Heidelberg in
1933, just after Hitler's seizure of power (published 1935123); and a 1947
essay entitled "Euthanasia and Human Experimentation," which was written
in reaction to the Nuremberg doctors' trial.124 In this latter essay, Wuttke-
Groneberg pointed out that Weizsacker, although he certainly did not try to
absolve the convicted physicians of responsibility for their crimes, neverthe-
less failed to condemn outright the concept of physician-as-exterminator. In-
stead, he went out of his way to defend both euthanasia and human experi-
mentation as a necessary part of medicine and to paint a picture of violence
and human sacrifice as a necessary part of the tragedy of human history. The
atrocities of Auschwitz and Dachau were caused, he said, not by the idea in
itself that physicians may rightly destroy the lives of their patients, but by an
indiscriminate technocratism that had led physicians to exercise their power in
the absence of any rational ethic that could have guided decisions about ap-
propriate extermination.
What would such an ethics of extermination have represented for
Weizsacker? Wuttke-Groneberg pointed now to the above-mentioned 1933
lecture series in which Weizsacker had for the first time defended the medical
appropriateness of extermination in cases of lives judged "not worth living."
At that time, Weizsacker seemed to suggest that physicians making such judg-
ments may want to consider whether the lives in question were capable of
productive work. At any rate, the physician's aim, Weizsacker argued in 1933,
should not and could not be life "at any price." Instead, the medical profes-
sionworking in cooperation with the statemust develop a rational "policy
of extermination" by which to guide its practices.
At the Berlin conference, Wuttke-Groneberg's presentation provoked con-
siderable heated discussion and protest, but with no consensus or clarity. The
speaker was accused of having deliberately conflated Weizsacker's intellectu-
ally sophisticated and humane attempt to reintroduce the "subject" into med-
icine with the vulgar, subjectivist New German Therapy of the Nazis; of citing
Weizsacker's discussions on death and euthanasia selectively and in a manip-
ulative manner; and of glossing over the significance of central Weizsacker
concepts like "mutuality" and "solidarity" that dictated that the extermination
of any patient that was anything other than a therapeutic release would leave
deadly traces on the other party.125
Yet these counterarguments were not fully successful in dispelling a gen-
eral sense of unease in the audience. In his formal rebuttal to Wuttke-
Groneberg, Heinrich Huebschmann, one of Weizsacker's former students at
Heidelberg, spoke of his admiration for the clinical compassion of the teacher
he had known since 1939 but then conceded that some of Weizsacker's pro-
nouncements from the early 1930s "deeply frightened" him. Since none of the
pronouncements in question were actually entered into the record at the 1980
Berlin conference, I digress briefly from my account of this conference in
order to provide a representative excerpt. In 1935, Weizsacker had argued:
[I]n concrete decision-making itfirstbecomes clear that a social politics that tries
to practice a mere politics of preservation is surrendering to an illusion. It takes
over from the physicians an attitude that even they are incapable of maintaining:
that of preservation at any price. As physicians we also are responsibly involved
in the sacrifice of the individual for the collectivity. It would be illusory, indeed
it would not be fair if the German physician thought that he need not contribute
his responsible portion to a necessary politics of extermination.
In the past, he was also involved in the extermination of unworthy life or un-
worthy reproductive capacity, in the elimination of the unworthy through intern-
ment, in a state-political policy of extermination.... B u t . . . there did not exist
then (and still does not exist) a comprehensive theory of extermination to supple-
ment the medicine that developed as a pure theory of preservation.126

In his comments, Huebschmann went on to suggest that remarks like the

abovethat, in his view, worked "like foreign bodies" in Weizsacker's total
written corpuswere made either "opportunistically" or else in the first flush
of an enthusiasm for National Socialism that would quickly fade.127
Huebschmann's bet-hedging argument may or may not have seemed fully
plausible to everyone familiar with Weizsacker's work (Weizsacker continued
to write about and develop his views on the place of necessary euthanasia in
medicine for many years),128 but it seems to have ushered in a fragile truce on
the question of Weizsacker's "brown past" that would hold for several years.
Then the plot thickened. At a 1986 symposium in Heidelberg celebrating
Weizsacker's one-hundredth birthday, Mechthilde Kiitemeyer, a clinician at
Cologne who had helped edit Weizsacker's collected writings, was one of the
invited speakers. In her presentation, she took the opportunity to declare that
evidence recently unearthed in the military archives of Poland raised troubling
new questions about Weizsacker's brief career as director of the Neurological
Clinic and Research Institute at the University of Breslau from 1941 to 1945.
In her words:

In the military archive of Katowitz, Poland, over 200 patient files stemming from
the years 1942 and 1943 were found, along with an explicit accompanying note
containing the following content: "Neurological Research "Institute, Prof, von
Weizsacker, Breslau, Neudorfer Street 118-120. Please find enclosed the fixed
brain and spinal cord of child . . . (name and birthdate) that I am sending you in
accordance with your letter from 25.3.1942, requesting an opportunity to investi-
gate it neuropathologically. An excerpt from the case history is included. The
supervising physician (Hecker), Province Medical Chief, Privy Councillor." We
are dealing here with antisocial and handicapped children and youths from the
Children's Division of the Loben Psychiatric Clinic for Youth (Lubliniec). The
patient files make unmistakably clear that the brains in question were products of
child euthanasia.129

Other sources supplement and confirm the gist of Kutemeyer's disturbing

claims. In 1982, the Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes
in Poland reported that between August 1942 and November 1944, the Lu-
bliniec Hospital of Upper Silesia fatally injected 221 children on Ward B (94
percent of the patients) with the barbiturate Luminal. 13 The Ward B children
were those with problems deemed "incurable" (epilepsy, mental retardation,
Down's syndrome, "asocial" behavior). There is no indication that Weiz-
sacker played any direct role in the selection and extermination of these chil-
dren, but another researcher has independently corroboratedusing com-
pletely different archival material located in Dortmundthat Professor Von
Weizsacker's Neurological Research Institute in Breslau regularly collected
the murdered children's brains from the Loben hospital (what the author
called the Loben "death institute").131
At the 1986 Heidelberg conference, Kutemeyer's revelations were met with
palpable discomfort. Discussion.moderator, Peter Hahn, joked feebly that
Kutemeyer's contribution suggested women might be "perhaps more concrete
and less illogical than Viktor von Weizsacker had thought."132 The attention
of the audience was quickly deflected in other directions.
At least for a while. Finally, Frau Penselin, Weizsacker's daughter, gained
the floor and demanded to know more about the documents discussed by
Kiitemeyer. Most of all, she demanded to know how she was supposed to
understand the significance of these documents, what role her father had
played in all this, and what it all had to do with his work? Before Kiitemeyer
could open her mouth, the moderator, Peter Hahn, again moved in, "Unfortu-
nately, I must now at this point interrupt. I think these questions are so impor-
tant that they must be further discussed and clarified elsewhere." When a
member of the audience shouted his protest with "Let the questions be an-
swered!" Hahn chose to deal with the interruption as a disciplinary issue, and
the unruly outsider eventually quieted down. 133
Ultimately, it was another, more senior physician, Dieter Janz, rather than
the unpopular Kiitemeyer, who would return to Frau Penselin's question just
before Hahn declared an end to the overall discussion. He was emphatic: the
shipments of brains to the Breslau Neurological Research Institute (which
Janz identified as having been founded by Otfried Foerster, while managing
to avoid mentioning Weizsacker's name in connection with it at all)had
nothing to do with Weizsacker's work. Weizsacker had never published any
neuropathological investigations and was not interested in neuroanatomy and
neuropathology. The man who actually worked with the brains at Breslau was
a "politically persecuted" physician from Belgium, whom Weizsacker may
have been trying to protect by "covering" him with his own name. Hence,
Janz concluded, Weizsacker's role in this story might be best understood as a
form of local resistance'to the Nazi government.134 After reaching this con-
clusion, Janz went a step further and declared (without providing evidence)
that Weizsacker had actually been linked during the war years to the civilian
aristocratic resistance to Hitler, the so-called Kreisau Circle.135
While Janz's claims cannot be disproved at this point, it is difficult to hear
a belated Persilschein [whitewashing] like this and not be tempted to respond
skeptically, even in the absence of all clarifying details. On the face of it, it
seems the worst of sophistry to declare that because Weizsacker merely initi-
ated contact with a "death institute," gave a stamp of routine respectability to
its activities, facilitated the resulting brain researchbut was not actually in-
terested in the neuropathological results himselfhe escapes all culpability.
It seems equally disingenuous to be told that, to the extent that Weizsacker
was involved, it was in a selfless, even heroic capacity, since he was "cover-
ing" for a physician who had fallen out of favor with the Nazisbut who was
apparently still prepared to while away his time by performing research on the
brains of their victims until the political winds had shifted again.
The full story has yet to emerge, but one thing seems clear: Weizsacker's
commitment to a holistic, subject-oriented medicine was not enough to save
hima man capable in certain settings of deep compassionfrom succumb-
ing in some capacity to the temptations and perverse logic of a terrible time.
Less clear is whether these still emerging revelations of Weizsacker's "brown
past" must somehow alter or devalue the final meaning of his intellectual
legacya question that has also been raised in different ways in the cases of
Martin Heidegger,136 literary analyst Paul de Man,137 and ethologist Konrad
Lorenz.138 The pained words of Weizsacker's daughter, "What does all this
have to do with my father's work?" ask a question that ultimately is less about
the "objective" historical record than it is about how we interpret certain his-
torical revelations for ourselves and our own intellectual attractions and alle-
giances. In this sense, the question is important not because we insist on a
reckoning of the deeds of the dead for its own sake, but because our awareness
of the partially bad consciences of our legacies gives us the opportunity to
become more responsible about possibilities that we foster in the world today.
Today, for example, a grandson and namesake of the archconservative behav-
ioral biologist, Jakob von Uexkull, is an active representative of the German
Green party and founder of an ecologically oriented "alternative" Nobel Prize,
awarded yearly by the Right Living Foundation at Bradford University in
England.139 In a 1987 interview in the Oxford journal Green Line, the younger
Jakob von Uexkull was frank in his admission that the Greens in Germany had
made a conscious decision to seek out allies in minority groups because critics
had pointed out that ecological-holistic statements had historically been made
by Nazi and Fascist governments.140 The decision by certain leaders in the
German Green Party to seek common cause with groups that had historically
been oppressed by holistic thinking is of course no guarantee that the. current
German Green movement (or its equivalents in other countries) will not ulti-
mately "discover" a more repressive political agenda in its own imagery and
rhetoric.141 That such a decision could be made, however, does underscore
what has, in some sense, been a fundamental message of this book: that there
is nothing "natural" about the political imperatives people at different times
hear in nature. We are both creators and consumers of the stories we ask the
natural world to tell us about how we should live our lives; and, working
within the constraints imposed by our partial knowledge of things both natural
and political, we may make honest choices about what we would like to hear.

Words became emotional stimuli. They trailed ever larger

clouds of implicit meaning.
Fritz Ringer

BOTH GERMAN life and mind science and the politics that sustained them
would begin to look different after 1945at least in the Western bloc coun-
triesas both began the onerous task of rebuilding themselves in a more or
less American image. This process of retooling was, of course, not total or
immediate, and the postwar German literature did continue to produce isolated
examples of the older habits of thought. One 1947 German medical editorial,
for example, still thought the moment opportune to deplore the "one-sided
rationalism" and "intellectualism" of modern medicine, which; the author
blamed on the French Revolution. "Holism" (presumably German holism in
particular) was then offered up as a needed countermeasure to such excesses.1
Vienna in the 1950s even saw the founding of a new Society for Holism Re-
search, an event that former Leipzig holist Albert Wellek (who had been reap-
pointed to a new chair in Mainz after the war) welcomed for its "boldness."
The terms "Ganzheit" and "Gestalt" may have been tarnished by their use in
the sloganistic trends of the times, he said, but modern psychology still had the
right to embrace them for their revolutionary methodical promise and the
wealth of research questions they raised.2
In general, though, after 1945, continuing calls by German scientists to
wholeness and antimechanistic methodology could not fully ignore the previ-
ous twelve years of "sloganeering" and its consequences. Admittedly, a scholar
such as Alexander Mitscherlich, whose postwar politics were unimpeachable,
needed to make no apologies for using broadly holistic analytic categories to
frame his psychosocial attempt to make sense of the tragedy of National Social-
ism.3 Others had to be more careful. For example, a 1954 volume entitled The
Organic: Contributions to the Culture of Our Time, rehearsed many of the
familiar old themes about the nihilistic effects of mechanism and the need for
Wholeness and Synthesis. However, the authors (all scientists and scholars
previously sympathetic to the Nazi regime) were careful also to emphasize that,
among other things, individual freedom must be reckoned an essential value of
both Wholeness and the organic perspective.4
During this same time, it became common for outside critics and commen-
tators to speak derisively of fascism and irrationalism as if they were more or
less interchangeable terms.5 Even those who avoided overly simplistic elisions
of this sort did not hesitate to warn about the ways in which a fascination with
mystical, totalizing, worldviews could lead people to exalt intuition and feeling
over reason and clear thinking, readily playing into the hands of demagogues.6
If we were simply to accept the perspective of (his first generation of fascist
analysts, it would be relatively easy to conclude that, to the extent that German
holistic science was nourished by an 'irrational' German hunger for Whole-
ness, so far did it also abdicate its right to be called "real" science at all and
became merely a dangerous reflection of (largely rightist) politics. Certainly,
the cultural logic that prevailed in the German-speaking countries, especially
after World War I, did make it easier for holism to "speak" with a conservative,
antidemocratic accent. However, I have stressed that the history of German
holism is a history of many stories, and the prominent cases of Goldstein, Wer-
theimer, and Driesch show that other political relationships were possible and,
in various ways, persuasive.
More problematic, though, than the idea that holistic scientific thinking take
one down an inevitable slippery slope to fascism is the tempting corollary as-
sumption that German holistic science was not "real" science because it failed
to stand above all politics, culture, and emotionin a sense, failed to stand
above the taint of human history altogether. The premise of this book, as well
as the thrust of a quarter century.of scholarship in science studies, is that we
need alternatives to the premise (still assumed by many lay people, but rather
fewer working scientists) that "real" science speaks a cool, transcendent lan-
guage of necessary truth, while only "pseudoscience" or "corrupt" science be-
trays the mark of human interest. To deny this to be the case is not to embark
on a polemical argument for a cultural or sociological deconstruction of science
that in the end evaporates "nature" altogether. It is rather to defend a position
grounded in theoretically informed empirical study of human history and the
role of science within it.
To me, it has been obvious that the holistic science produced during the
1920s was both "real" science and a profoundly cultural discourse. That is to
say, it "looked" the way it did in part because laboratory embryos, invertebrate
physiological reactions, damaged human brains, and human perceptual pro-
cesses made claims and imposed resistances on what could be said. However,
I have argued that it was not by chance that the German-speaking scientific
community's interest in holistic aspects of mind and life functioning peaked
when and where it didnot by chance that questions were framed in the ways
they were and results analyzed in the terms that they were. Above all, I have
emphasized that this was science that could continue to do the work of "real"
investigation (sometimes more persuasively, sometimes less) even as it proved
to be highly "porous" to the larger concerns of its time. In an unusually intense
and therefore instructive sense, German holistic science swelled with multiple
The generative capacities of metaphor have been central to my understand-
ing of how to write about a science that so clearly did the work of "nature" and
"culture" simultaneously.8 German holistic science "worked" as a multilevel
discourse in part because its scientists found ways to craft their most certain
truths out of words and images rich with cultural resonances, thus enabling
those truths to function in culturally meaningful ways.9 In this book, I have said
a great deal about the historically specific ways in which this process happened.

However, I also believe that the dramatic case of German holistic science chal-
lenges us to ask more basic questions about how language and metaphor trans-
form and extend the authority and reach of science in general. I agree with
Evelyn Fox Keller that "part of what it means to think about the force and
efficacy of scientific knowledge is to think about the force and efficacy of lan-
guage."10 The scientific adoption of normative language and culturally sugges-
tive metaphor may be one key way in which science in its practice destabilizes
a distinction it then officially and vigorously defends in its rhetoric and self-
representations: a distinction between what is sometimes called "fact" versus
"value," between the world of natural necessity on the one side and the world
of social choice and cultural meaning on the other.
There may be another way in which the history of German holistic science
up to 1945 makes demands on our own self-consciousness. In the immediate
postwar years, the argument was often made that, because humanity had lived
through a time that had almost succumbed to madness, its Iodestone must now
be the unfettered rationality of free science as practiced in a democratic society.
Science was both a source of material strength and a bedrock of fact upon
which we could build a sane new world.
When the countries allied against Hitler won a clear victory over a clear evil,
however, it turned out that actually many of their citizenry had not confronted
all the ambiguities in their own hearts about the technologies and scientific
"can-do" attitude that had helped make them winners. As the mushroom cloud
over Hiroshima burned a permanent image in the public imagination, some
could not quell a suspicion that all was not well with "us" alsocould not
wholly quell their own anxieties about the existential and social costs of living
"at home" with the Machine.
In other words, a large segment of the postwar generation came to recognize
both its own continuing preoccupation with "reenchantment" and "wholeness"
and its own ambivalence about a science that still seemed indifferent to those
hungers. In the United States, the 1960s-generation of New Leftists and hip-
pies, traumatized by Vietnam and alienated from their elders' world, discov-
ered a "machine" in their midst, not in the atomistic, decentralized industrial
society deplored by German youth in the 1920s, but in the hypercentralized
authority of an advanced capitalist "military-industrial complex." During these
years, there were hopes that a way to wholeness could be found in a lifestyle
that combined "consciousness expansion" with a politics that claimed, perhaps
naively, to be at once charismatic and democratic in the most authentic sense
of the word. As Theodore Roszak, an early sympathetic historian of this period,
described the vision:

In a world which more and more thinks of society as a subordinate adjunct of a

gigantic technological mechanism requiring constant and instantaneous co-ordi-
nation from the center, the young begin to speak of such impracticalities as "com-
munity" and "participatory democracy." Thus they revert to a style of human
relations that characterizes village and tribe, insisting that real politics can only
take place in the deeply personal confrontations these now obsolete social forms
allow. .. . [They] assert the primacy of the non-intellectual powers [and] . . . deny
that the true self is this small, hard atom of intense objectivity we pilot about each
day as we build bridges and careers.11
The 1960s also witnessed the rise of a new chorus of attacks on science,
both as a basically oppressive institution in the service of the military and big
business, and (even more radically) as an epistemology with a fundamentally
inadequate approach to reality. Roszak wrote in the New York Times in 1973:

I have insisted that there is something radically and systematically wrong with our
culture, a flaw that lies deeper than any class or race analysis probes and which
frustrates our best attempts to achieve wholeness. I am convinced it is our in-
grained commitment to the scientific picture of nature that hangs us up. . . . It is
our reality principle, and as such the governing mystique of urban industrial

As in the 1920s, a frequent conclusion since the 1960s has been that good
new science is needed to conquer bad old science. Consequently, in the en-
suing years, our society has been witness to various scattershot efforts to
visualize more holistic, postmodern, "New Age" sciences of life, mind, the
cosmos, and the earth: sciences characterized by presumably more nurtur-
ing, relational, and "authentic" forms of knowledge. 13 In this literature, the
values and epistemologies of a (good) "wholeness" are again frequently set
up in opposition to those of a (bad) "mechanism." This, in spite of the fact
as Donna Haraway noted in the mid-1980sthat our imaginative under-
standing of the "machine" is also in the process of changing, destabilizing our
capacity to use it as a self-evident contrast to the "organic." In her wry words:
"Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves are frighteningly
Nevertheless, the binary opposition is apparently still sufficiently robust to
do useful cultural work for our time. The 1970s, for example, saw an elaborate
articulation of the machine/wholeness trope emerge from the work of (mostly
American, mostly West Coast) neuropsychology laboratories concerned with
the differential functioning of the human brain's two cerebral hemispheres. In
this iteration of the basic opposition, the right (lateral) side of the brain be-
came the site of neglected and undervalued "holistic" modes of knowledge
and being, and the left half was made the site of allegedly mechanical, piece-
meal, and abstract modes of information processing, all favored in what was
condemned as our logocentric, rationality-obsessed culture. "Liberating" the
right brain from left brain "dominance" was, for a time, a favorite theme of
paperback self-help literature.15
Significantly, as "we" lost our faith that science and reason would preserve
us, we also reconstructed our memories of the sort of threat and evil that
Nazismstill the ultimate morality tale of our centuryhad actually repre-
sented for us. Increasingly, we became less horrified by the "irrationality" of
this movement and more fascinated and appalled by its cold, technocratic
instrumentalism (of course, also an important part of a larger truth).16 "With-
out utterly dispassionate, utterly rational technicians and administrative au-
tomatons like Adolf Eichtnann," Roszak wrote in 1969, "it is impossible to
imagine the Nazi state lasting a year. Those who blame Nazism on the cor-
rupting influence of the Romantic movement surely mistake the propagandis-
t s surface for the underlying political reality."17 In 1979, a German psychol-
ogy article published in Gestalt Theory went so far as to suggest that the
essence of National Socialism had actually lain in its neglect of the "whole"
and its alternate cultivation of what were basically "left hemisphere" values
and habits of thought:
[T]he Nazis with their calculating, book-keeping rationality were trained in piece-
meal thinking to an extreme degree and viewed people as cogs [Stiicke]. It is
simply false to dismiss the other form of thinking, the thinking mode of the non-
dominant brain half as irrational; thinking holistically is not irrational.18
In drawing attention to the persistence of concerns with wholeness and
mechanism in the social discontents of the past several decades, I am not
suggesting that German holistic science and our own society's experiments
with holism in science are of a kind, in substance, style, or focus. I am also far
from proposing that the history of German holistic science finds some sort of
natural "conclusion" in the holistic science of the Western countries in the
1990s. This is not to deny the rather different question of whether any of the
proposals developed by German holistic science in.the 1920s have served as
resources (perhaps, in some cases, unrecognized) for one or another experi-
ment in New Age holistic and postmodern science during our own time. Here,
there is a story to be told; although I have not really tried to reconstruct it
myself. It is clear that left-leaning, holistically oriented German immigrants to
the United States, like Kurt Goldstein, Herbert Marcuse, and Fritz Perls,
helped teach a new generation of American youthful discontents to speak an
individualistic language of wholeness, human potential, and inner transforma-
tion, and that this tutelage would bear new fruit in the 1960s and beyond.
Several historians have also called attention to the ways in which, in Germany
itself, some advocates of holistic and vitalistic biology responded to the dis-
ruption of their partial alliance with the Third Reich by finding a new sort of
political and scientific life after the Second World Warthis time, in the
agendas of ecologically oriented groups like the Green Party.19 More broadly,
it is evident that the epistemological critiques of science that were ubiquitous
during the first interwar "crisis" of modernity bear considerable family re-
semblance to the critiques of postmodern theorists today; Nietzsche is hardly
less important to our own critics of science and modernity than he was to the
generation that had witnessed World War I. Less happily, perhaps, critics like
Jean-Pierre Faye have called attention to ways in which key words of the
vocabulary of postmodernism ("deconstmction," "logocentrism") actually
had their origins in antiscience tracts written by Nazi and protofascist writers
like Ernst Krieck and Lugwig Klages.20
Yet, even as details of intellectual indebtedness and continuity are impor-
tant and should be clarified, I propose that we should pay more attention to a
different kind of reason for our capacity to "recognize" aspects of our own
rhetoric and concerns in the writings of an earlier era. Whether we like it or
not, questions about the existential, cultural, and social adequacies of sci-
encewhat it means to be named a "machine," what it will take to become
"whole"remain part of the unfinished business of our time. The technolog-
ical triumphs of World War II and the material successes of science in the
decades that followed, could distract us from these questions for a while but
could not indefinitely postpone them.
Because we ourselves have not satisfactorily resolved the questions, past
arguments about them seem to matter more. And our attention may be particu-
larly arrested when we appear to discover echoes of our own habits of thought
in debates that then turned out to have been involved, in ways both subtle and
crude, in National Socialist politics and policy, one of the great episodes of
institutionalized evil of this century.
Yet for us to (re)discover such connections does not mean that we must
return to the point at which we beganwhere any holistic science, or indeed
any sort of challenge to the epistemological, existential, and moral sufficiency
of traditional science is branded "irrationalist" and potentially "fascist." That
defense was tried, and the unrest of our own times shows us it did not work.
We need to know about the history of German holistic science, not because it
shows us the futility or wrongheadedness of considering alternatives to
"mechanism," but because it provides us with a field in which multiple alter-
native versions of holistic science competed for existence. Some of these ver-
sions came out on the "right" side of history while others burned in the flames
of 1945. Understanding the varying logic and influences that shaped such a
range of variously compelling scientific stories will not necessarily help us bet
on our own future; however, such study could challenge us to think more
carefully about stories we ourselves are currently writing at the borders be-
tween our own "nature" and "culture." As we attempt to diagnose and over-
come disenchantment in our souls and social arrangements, to rediscover
"wholeness," we may want to better understand the ways in which we too
necessarilymingle a range of cultural meanings and goals into our own
scientific dialogues with nature.


1. For details on the background leading up to this invitation, see Gtinther Roth and
Wolfgang Schluchter, 1979, Max Weber's vision of history: Ethics and method (Berke-
ley: University of California Press), 113-16.
2. Weber (1919, 129-56).
3. For an excellent sense of the immediate response of a number of Weber's con-
temporaries to his lecture, see the collection of translated essays edited by Lassman and
4. The above quote is from a German socialist analyst, Erich Wittenberg, writing
from abroad in 1938. Wittenberg went on to identify the drama of the Great War as a
"high-point" of rationalistic, technological thinking, and the defeat of Germany "the
hour of reversal":
They found themselves at the end of the world war at the graveyard of their hopes .. . Never
before had a youth experienced such a total destruction of all values, sciences and arts; never
before was the distance between the naive hope with which the youth were pulled into the
field and the hard and cold reality so great and so unbridgeable. (Wittenberg [1938, 4:
5. In this book, I will be translating German-language references to ganzheit.
ganzheitlich, ganzheitlichkeit, etc., as "holism," "wholeness", "the whole," etc. The
German word Holismus (a translation out of the English) was rarely used in the litera-
ture analyzed for this study.
6. Berman 1984.
7. I am indebted to comments by Peter Galison and to Keith Anderton's 1993 doc-
toral dissertation, The limits of science: A social, political, and moral agenda for epis-
temology in nineteenth-century Germany, for helping me to a better understanding of
both the intellectual rationale and the larger sociopolitical motivations for the episte-
mological "limits" nineteenth-century German mechanistic scientists imposed on the
life and mind sciences. I discuss Anderton's work at more length in chapter 1.
8. The elaboration of this piece of the Kantian legacy into a research program in
early nineteenth-century German biology is described in Lenoir (1982).
9. A fourth contemporary meaning of holism, only briefly explored in this book,
may be called clinical holism. This holism was less overtly concerned with discovering
new ways to visualize life and mind processes and more withfindingways to integrate
or synthesize the theory and practice of so-called "scientific medicine" with "alterna-
tive" or traditional therapeutic practices such as herbalism and homeopathy. This holis-
tic perspective also sometimes went under the name of Hippocraticism. For an intro-
duction to the issues in Germany during this time, see Bothe (1991); also chapter 6 of
this study.
10. Fritz Ringer (1969) is still an excellent source for getting a sense of these
broader debates as they developed in the universities, even though Ringer did not in-
clude the natural sciences in his study.
11. Tonnies (1887).
12. TSnnies (1887), cited in Wise (1987, 1:398).
13. For a valuable introduction to these issues, see Frisby (1993).
14. In Theodor Lessing's classic Untergang der Erde am Geist (Downfall of the
Earth through Mind), cited in Schnadelbach (1984, 145).
15. Erich von Kahler, 1920, Der Beruf der Wissenschaft (Berlin: Bondi) was an
important monograph of the time that made a great deal of this presumed distinction
between "old" and "new" science. Portions of this book were translated and reproduced
in the volume edited by Lassman and Velody (1989).
16. See Forman (1971). Beyond the case of quantum physics, there have been stud-
ies looking at holistic trends in chemistry and engineering. See Bechstedt (1980); and
17. Heilbron (1985, 38(3/4): 230). Even as it has been very influential, this broad
argument for a causal relationship between cultural discontents and conceptual devel-
opments within modern physics (often referred to as the "Forman thesis") has also been
criticized on a variety of fronts: some historians have questioned Forman's rather un-
differentiated view of Weimar culture as "andmodernist," others have objected to his
characterization of quantum mechanics as a "German" intellectual creation; still others
are at pains to either challenge or refine Forman's way of understanding science as part
of cultural history. For an introduction to the issues, see Kraft and Kroes (1984); Rad-
der (1983); and Hendry (1980). The Heilbron article cited above also lays out evidence
for a broad cultural agenda within modern physics but downplays the specifically "Ger-
man" nature of this phenomenon.
18. Paul Forman himself came close to conceding this point in his 1971 study of
Weimar physics:
[IJn the Weimar period it was the biologist who could most easily adapt his ideology and
values to those of his intellectual milieu. Life, that central symbol, was his own subject. . . .
Paraphrasing a spokesman for the discipline, [biology's] . .. mission is to counter the alien-
ation from na"ure in our technical age; it provides the link between Ihe Naturwissenschaften
and the Geisteswissenschaften because it works in part with the concept of scientific law, but
also with the technique of understanding and imparting of meaning; it brings us to the edge
of the irrational and leaches us to respect lhat which is beyond rational investigation. (For-
man [1971, 40|)
19. Jonathan Harwood. March 2, 1995. Weimar culture and biological theory: A
study of Richard Woltereck (1877-1944). Unpublished manuscript. On the German
debates over "cytoplasmic inheritance," see Deichmann (1992, 88-92).
20. For an introduction to this extensive scholarship, see Science in Germany: The
intersection of institutional and intellectual issues, ed. by Kathryn M. Olesko. Special
issue: Osiris, 2d series, vol. 5 (1989).
21. Chamberlain (1928, 90).
22. Gilman(1991, 136-37).
23. Alfred Bottcher, 1935, Die Losung der Judenfrage, Ziel und Weg 5: 226.
24. See, for example, Lukdcs (1955); Stern (1961); Mosse (1961); Viereck (1965);
and Sondheimer (1968).
All of this scholarship suggesting a direct relationship between "irrationalist" direc-
tions in German intellectual thought and the rise of Nazism is closely related to the
so-called Sonderweg thesis of Germany history. This is a perspective that essentially
argues that, because Germany failed in 1848 to establish an enduring liberal politi-
cal tradition, her subsequent history took a "special," (i.e., "deviant") path into the
twentieth century, different from the presumably "normal" path followed by the west-

em democratic countries. The fact that very rapid economic and industrial moderni-
zation in the late nineteenth century took place within a social structure that remained
basically feudal and antidemocratic is supposed to have produced unbearable ten-
sions that were predestined to collapse into dictatorship and tragedy. For an example
of this argument, see Helmuth Plessner, 1959, Die verspatete Nation: iiber die
politische Verfuhrbarkeit biirgerlichen Geistes (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer). One of
the first and most important critiques of this thesis was launched by Blackbourn and
25. Peukert(1993, 187).
26. Although I do not use the term "national style" in this book, there is clearly a
sense in which I am working in that broad scholarly tradition. The literature associated
with this concept goes back to Ludwik Fleck in the 1930s and has been developed in
recent years by, among others, Gerald Geison and Jonathan Harwood. See Ludwik
Fleck, 1935, Entstehung und Entnicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache: Ein-
fiihrung in die Lehre vom Denkstil und Denkkollectiv (Basel: B. Schwabe); Geison and
Holmes (1993); Harwood (1993); and Daston and Otte (1991).
27. In much the same way that the literature produced in all the German-speaking
countries of central Europe is, by common consent, called "German." Among many
examples, see Michael Hamburger, 1985, A proliferation of prophets: Essays on Ger-
man writers from Nietzsche to Brecht (Manchester: Carcanet Press).
28. Smuts (1926).
29. Bergson (1911); Alfred North Whitehead, 1925, Science and the modern world
(New York: Macmillan Co.); Alfred North Whitehead, 1929, Process and reality: An
essay in cosmology (New York: Macmillan Co.)
30. Sharon Kingsland, (1991) Toward a natural history of the human psyche: Char-
les Mannings Child, Charles Judson Herrick, and the dynamic view of the individual at
the University of Chicago, in The expansion ofAmerican biology, ed. by Keith Benson,
Jane Maienschein, and Ronald Rainger (New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University
Press); Nadine Weidman at Cornell University has recently completed doctoral re-
search on Karl Lashley, including a discussion of his relationship to such German
holistic traditions as Gestalt psychology.
31. Cross and Albury (1987). For an introduction to the scholarship on the general
problem of the machine, pastoralism, and antimodernism in the Anglo-American tradi-
tion, see T. J. Jackson Lears, 1981, No place of grace: antimodernism and the transfor-
mation of American culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon Books); Leo Marx,
1964, The machine in the garden: Technology and the pastoral ideal in America (Ox-
ford: Oxford University Press); and Herbert Sussman, 1968, Victorians and the ma-
chine (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).
32. An international conference on "holistic medicine" held at the University of
Montreal, Quebec, May 4-6, 1995, made an ambitious effort to engage in such cross-
national comparative work; a proceedings volume of the meeting is being prepared. In
the introduction to his study of German genetics, Styles of scientific thought, Jonathan
Harwood discusses both the promise and the enormous difficulties involved in projects
such as this. See especially pp. 1-5.
33. Peukert(1992, 188).
34. I resonate here with Charles Rosenberg who, in a recent article, noted that the
relentless realities of AIDS have effectively undermined the persuasiveness of all total-
izing "social constmctivist" or "discourse-theory" views of disease. He calls for sci-
ence studies to move towards a "postrelativist" perspective that would reject "the clari-
fying simplicity" of either extreme objectivism or extreme relativism. See Rosenberg,
1992, Disease and social order in America: Perceptions and expectations, in Explaining
epidemics and other studies in the history of medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press), 261. In a somewhat similar vein, Evelyn Fox Keller has repeatedly insisted
that, even as she is emphatically committed to elucidating the substance of Steven
Shapin's provocative claim that "there is as much society inside science as outside,"
nevertheless the material, implacable, and nonhuman phenomena we call "natural"
cannot be simply "named out of existence." See Keller, 1987, The gender/science sys-
tem: Or, is sex to gender as nature is to science, Hypatia 2 (2): 33-44; Keller (1992);
Keller, June 1994, Science and its critics, manuscript.
35. For accounts of the holistic life and mind sciences in the interwar period that
emphasize empirical discovery and theoretical necessity, see Murphy (1968); Riese
(1959); Hermann (1976); Entralgo and Tenlon (1978).
36. An interest in language and metaphor has also characterized recent attempts to
bring the tools of literary criticism to the study of scientific texts, often in the service
of an explicit antifoundationalist positionthat doubts the reality of anything behind
science other than a trail of endlessly regressing textual references. Evidently, this is
not the position of this book, even as my own thinking has been shaped and stimulated
by my encounter with the "literacy turn" in the history of science. An introduction to
these developments is told by Peter Novick (1988, 1-85, 522-629). For other defenses
and explanations, see, among others, Dominick LaCapra, 1983, Rethinking intellectual
history and reading texts, in Rethinking intellectual history: Texts, contexts, language
(Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press); LaCapra, 1985, Rhetoric and history, in His-
tory and criticism (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press); and David Harlan, 1989,
Intellectual history and the return of literature, The American Historical Review 94
(June): 581-609.
37. Compare Wohl (1979).
38. With regard to the challenges that face recent attempts to make biography a
viable vehicle for serious scholarship in the history of science, Cathryn Carson and
Silvan S. Schweber have observed: "In many areas of history the past decades have
marked a shift away from attendance on great statesmen and thinkers, and toward the
study of popular culture and broad social phenomena. The parallel movement in the
history of science has been the rise of social history and, more broadly social studies of
science. What is of interest here is no longer the particularity of the individual career,
but the structures and interactions that situate and shape it. The individual focus of
biography, then, with its emphasis on paths taken and choices made, might distract
attention from what are seen as the real forces, institutional, social, and disciplinary,
that have framed those options." See Carson and Schweber (1994).
39. Schorske (1980, xxii).
40. Other recent examples of collective biography in the history of science, under-
taken from a range of methodological perspectives, include Steven J. Heims, 1980,
John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener: From mathematics to the technologies of
life and death (Cambridge: MIT Press); Sam S. Schweber, 1989, John Herschel and
Charles Darwin: A study in parallel lives, Journal of the History of Biology 22: 1-71;
Gerald Holton, 1984, Success sanctifies the means: Heisenberg, Oppenheimer, and the
transition to modern physics, in Transformation and tradition in the sciences: Essays
in honor of I. Bernard Cohen, ed. by Everett Mendelsohn (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press). I am indebted to Skuli Sigurdsson for referring me to these studies,
and for his thoughtful discussion of the challenges and promise of group biography as
an approach in the history of science. See Sigurdsson (1992).


1. For an introduction to the Romantic response to Newton's work, see Cunningham

and Jardine (1990); Compare also Burwick (1986).
2. Friedrich Schiller, The Gods of Greece, cited (in original German) in Virchow
(1859, 125).
3. For example, Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs has explored ways in which Newton con-
nected his work on universal gravitation to his religious beliefs and immersion in occult
and alchemical thinking. See Dobbs, 1991, The Janus faces of genius: The role of
alchemy in Newton's thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
4. Reddick (1990, 331).
5. Ibid., 333.
6. One of the few book-length treatments of this aspect of Kant's thinking has been
provided by Zumbach (1984.) Timothy Lenoir also reviews the basic Kantian position
in the opening sections of his monograph (1982).
7. The full quotation from Goethe, from which I quote only a fragment, reads: "Nun
aber kam die Kritik der Urteilskraft mir zu Handen, und dieser bin ich eine hochst frohe
Lebensepoche schuldig. Hier sah' ich meine disparatesten Beschaftigungen neben
einander gestellt, Kunst- und Natur-Erzeugnisse eins behandelt wie das andere, aes-
thetische und teieologische Urteilskraft erleuchteten sich wechselweise" (Goethe,
"Einwirkung der neueren Philosophie," cited in Gross (1913, 124).
8. Goethe's theory of colors was developed in self-conscious opposition to the New-
tonian model, which stressed the physical, quantitative aspects of color over its phe-
nomenological, sensual dimensions. Newton, using a prism (a technology Goethe dis-
trusted), had argued that white light contains the spectrum of all colors. To Goethe, for
whom light was an Ur-element of the world, this seemed absurd. His theory of colors
envisioned it as the response of the eye to gradated encounters between the polar oppo-
sites of darkness and light. Mark Schneider notes that "by insisting on phenomenologi-
cal attention to the secondary qualities of nature, Goethe hoped to make a place in
science for the 'sensuous concrete' upon which Keats, for instance, saw the charm of
nature to be based and which the Newtonian reduction to primary qualities (the 'touch
of cold philosophy') threatened to destroy." See Mark Schneider, 1979, Goethe and the
structuralist tradition, SiR (Fall): 453-478, especially pp. 469-70. See also Frederick
Burwick's analysis of the Goethean Farbenlehre (1986).
9. Knight (1990, 16).
10. Cited in Meyer-Abich (1960, 297). The original citation reads: "In jedem le-
bendigen Wesen sind das, was wir Teile nennen, dergestalt unzertrennlich vom Gan-
zen, daB sie nur in und mit demselbem begriffen werden kdnnen, und es konnen weder
die Teile zum MaS des Ganzen noch das Ganze zum MaB der Teile angewandt werden,
und so nimmt... ein eingeschranktes lebendiges Wesen teil an der Unendlichkeit, es
hat etwas Unendliches in sich."
11. Lenoir (1982), especially pp. 12-14, and 103.
12. Anderton (1993, 7).
13. Cited in Leichtman (1979, 70 n).
14. Virchow (1858, 115).
15. Reddick (1990, 335). Reddick goes on: "much later, Liebig pronounced on
Naturphilosophie in more moderate, but more devastating, terms: 'We look back on
German Naturphilosophie as though on a dead tree that bore the most beautiful foliage
and the most magnificent flowersbut no fruit.'"
16. This is a point stressed by Lenoir (1982).
17. von Helmholtz (1847).
18. The simultaneity of this discovery was the subject of an influential essay by
Thomas Kuhn, 1959, Energy conservation as an example of simultaneous discovery,
reprinted in The essential tension: Selected studies in scientific tradition and change
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
19. Hermann von Helmholtz, 1863, (On the) conservation of force, in Popular lec-
tures on scientific subjects, trans, by E. Atkinson (New York: D. Appleton).
20. Virchow (1858).
21. Rabinbach (1990,66).
22. Ringer (1969, 221).
23. Virchow (1855, 82-83, 84).
24. The turn of the twentieth century, however, would prove to be something of a
crisis for Darwinism, because the means by which individual variation occurred and
were passed on to offspring remained elusive. See Bowler (1983).
25. Cited in Freyhofer (1982).
26. Allen (1978,29).
27. In Roux's words: "[T]he older, more restrictive concept of mechanics in the
physicist's sense as the causal doctrine of the movement of masses, has been extended
to coincide with the philosophical concept of. mechanism, comprising as it does all
causally conditioned phenomena, so that the words 'developmental mechanics' agree
with the more recent concepts of physics and chemistry, and may be taken to designate
the doctrine of all formative phenomena" (Ibid., 34).
28. This is a partial simplification. For a more comprehensive discussion of these
issues than I can pursue here, see Frederick Gregory, 1989, Kant, Schelling, and the
administration of science in the Romantic Era, in Science in Germany: The intersection
of institutional and intellectual issues, ed. by Kathryn M. Olesko, Osiris (2d sen) 5:
29. Timothy Lenoir, Social interests and the organic physics of 1847, in Science in
reflection, ed. by Edna Ullmann-Margalit, vol. 110 of Boston Studies in the Philosophy
of Science; The Israel colloquium: Studies in History, Philosophy, and Sociology of
Science, vol.3 (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988), p. 169-191; Anderton
30. Cited in Anderton (1993, 111).
31. Wise (1987, 396).
32. Virchow (1855, 85).
33. Their story is told in Gregory (1977).
34. Ibid., 64. Gregory notes that this remark, taken out of context, does Vogt some-
thing of an injustice (Ibid., 229 n. 47). The analogy was drawn in the course of an
extended discussion on the nature of glandular secretions, in which Vogt had been
using the kidney as an example throughout.
35. Ibid., 196.
36. Ibid., 196.
37. Anderton (1993, 143-^15).
38. Ibid., 28.
39. This is an interpretation of Kant's critique of reason that could and was made,
butas I hope is clear by this pointit was far from a necessary interpretation. As
Robert Pippin has noted, "Kant can be understood as having inaugurated, having 'made
room for,' a renewed understanding of religious faith and moral life in the face of the
official Enlightenment program; as having initiated a new form of apriorism in philoso-
phy, potentially wildly speculative and anti-empirical; as having succeeded in mount-
ing a skeptical-empirical challenge to philosophy so sobering as to leave philosophy
only tasks which Kant himself had finally and decisively resolved; or as having pre-
pared the way for a consistently naturalistic, or psychological, or physiological account
of the faculties and subjective activities without which experience could not be possi-
ble." It is this final interpretation that the mechanists had targeted for their purposes
(Pippin, 1993, review of The rise of neo-Kantianism: German academic philosophy
between idealism and positivism, by Klaus Christian Kohnke, The Philosophical Re-
view 102 (4): 594-95).
40. See Lenoir (1993).
41. Carlyle, cited in Marx (1978, 168). Actually, Locke's theory of mind did include
certain ideas about reflection, abstraction, and the "self as the possessor of ideas and
sensations. Later David Hume would eliminate the "self from sensationism following
his failure to discover any such creature through introspection.
42. Thomas Carlyle, 1933, Sartor Resartus, excerpted in vol. 2 of The Norton an-
thology of English literature, 3d ed., ed. by M. H. Abrams, (New York: W. W. Norton
& Co., 1974), pp. 926, 949. In this essay, half autobiography, half satirical fiction, the
protagonista German professor to whom Carlyle gives the grotesque name Diogenes
Teufelsdrdckh (God-begotten Devil's Dung)recounts the story of his spiritual tra-
vails and his ultimate triumph over the false appearances of the Machine universe.
43. Wilhelm Wundt occupies a peculiarly unstable position in partisan writings and
rewritings of the history of German associationist psychology. At the turn of the cen-
tury, he would be seen as the central representative of the new experimental psychol-
ogy which, with its emphasis on elementary sensations linked by association, was felt
by some critics to be turning psychology into a field "without a subject"as William
Stern put it in 1900 (see Ash [1990, 291-92]). Then, in the interwar years, we see his
rehabilitation by such men as Felix Krueger (Wundt's successor at Leipzig). In sharp
contrast to his earlier image as a dangerous "atomizer" out to deprive psychology of its
soul, he was now saluted as a man who anticipated many of the key principles of the
holistic program of the Berlin Gestalt psychologists and others (see Krueger (1924);
compare also chapter 4 of this study). As late as 1967, Krueger's former student Albert
Wellek would salute Wundt as a man who "fought against British and French sensa-
tionalism and materialism" and promoted ideas "transitional to the modern . . . psy-
chology of totalities, psychology of wholes" (Wellek [1967, 350]).
Adrian Brock in the Department of Psychology at York University (Canada) is un-
dertaking a thorough overhauling of the traditional image of Wilhelm Wundt as an
atomistic experimental psychologist. Brock focuses in this context particularly on
Wundt's neglected Vblkerpsychologie. I am grateful to Brock for the opportunity to
read a number of his interpretations in manuscript form.
44. See Harrington (1987, 35^9); also F. Schiller, 1979, Paul Broca: Founder of
French anthropology, explorer of the brain (Berkeley: University of California Press);
Walther Riese, 1947, The early history of aphasia, Bulletin of the History of Medicine
45. This is not to overlook the fact that certain leading German psychiatrists at this
timeWilhelm Griesinger, Theodor Meynert, to name only two of the most promi-
nentwere committed generally to the concept of cerebral localization as a goal that
would ultimately permit the creation of a comprehensive somatic model of mental
activity. I am here speaking only of the lukewarm German response to France's localiz-
ation of a "language faculty" in the cortex and the tendency to draw consistently on
homegrown traditions and discoveries. I see nothing surprising about this response,
given the growing nationalistic sentiment and anti-French feeling in the German states
at this time. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and the unification of Germany under
Bismarck came less than a decade after Broca, in Paris, opened up the cerebral localiz-
ation issue with his clinical work on the patient 'Tan."
46. Fritsch and Hitzig (1870).
47. See, for example, David Ferrier, 1876, The functions of the brain (London:
Dawson of Pall Mall); and Munk (1881).
48. Cited in Robert M. Young, 1970, Mind, brain and adaptation in the nineteenth
century: Cerebral localization and its biological context from Gall to Ferrier (Oxford:
Clarendon Press), p. 129.
49. Meynert is another example of a nineteenth-century neurologist who was clearly
more complex and subtle in his thinking than his holistic critics were able (or wanted)
to see. On the one hand, he stands accused by them (with Griesinger) of being a "ma-
chine" clinician of the worst kinda man narrow-mindedly fascinated with gross brain
anatomy as he attempted, among other things, to reduce all mental illness to diseases
of the "forebrain." On the other hand, we also have here a man whom Sigmund Freud
would consistently revere as "the most brilliant genius he had ever encountered"a
man who tried to translate Schopenhauer's concept of an essential conflict between will
and intellect into the language of physiologyand a neurologist who found in his
results a complex philosophical-political Weltanschauung that called upon the ego to
free itself from the illusory world of appearance and individual self, and to realize its
holistic oneness with all others (what Meynert called mutualism). He is clearly a figure
who would reward more careful study and contextualization (Freud reference is cited
in Johnston (1972, 232). See also McGrath (1974, 44).
50. Wernicke (1874).
51. The aphasias are a group of disorders associated with loss or disturbance of
speech and language comprehension resulting from brain damage; the agnosias involve
loss of the capacity to recognize the significance of objects perceived (originally, and
more eloquently, called "soul-blindness"); the apraxias involve disruptions of the ca-
pacity to carry out volitional acts.
52. Lichtheim (1886, 433-84).
53. For a thoughtful discussion, see Mandelbaum (1971), especially pp. 289-310,
entitled "Ignoramus, Ignorabimus: The positivist strand."
54. See Wehler( 1985, 24-31).
55. Cited in H. Kohn, 1960, The mind of Germany: The education of a nation,
(London: Macmillan), p. 181. The original text here reads:
O wie liebt ich dich einst, jetzt so gewaltiges Volk,
Als uneinig du noch traumtest von Einigung.
56. Cited in Gasman (1971).
57. Wehler(1985, 55).
58. For a detailed discussion of Langbehn, see Stern (1961).
59. How far Rembrandt resonated with the collective spirit of the time can be
gauged from the fact that, a year after publication, Langbehn's book went into its 37th
edition (Thomas [1983, 109 n.])
60. Langbehn (1890).
61. On this theme, see Pick (1993).
62. Wehter(1985, 17).
63. Ibid., 35.
64. SeeFrisby (1993, 88-111).
65. Hood (1989, 193, 196).
66. Schorske (1980, 131, 133).
67. Wehler(1985, 106).
68. Roger Martin du Gard's French novel Jean Barois became one of the more
uncompromising European reactions to the existentialist implications of the sciences of
the "human machine," notably in its ironic scene where the hero recites a kind of
"mechanistic" credo of faith:
"I do not believe that mind and matter are mutually exclusive entities. ... I know that my
personality is but an agglomeration of particles of matter, whose disintegration will end it
"I believe in universal determinism; that we are conditioned by circumstances in all re-
spects. .. ."
"Good and Evil are mere arbitrary distinctions . . ."
(Roger Martin Du Gard, 1913, Jean Barois, trans, by Stuart Gilbert [New York: Viking
Press, 1949], pp. 255-56)
. 69. Cited in Ringer (1969, 258).
70. This is the title of a chapter in George Mosse, 1988, The culture of western
Europe: The nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 3d ed., (Boulder: Westview Press).
71. For a sampling of the diverse literature on this theme, see Hughes (1958);
George Mosse (1964); Masur (1966); Mandelbaum (1971); McGrath (1974); McGrath,
(1986); Pick (1989); Teich and Porter (1990); Ascheim (1994).
72. McGrath (1974, 60-61).
73. Cited in Thomas (1983, 3).
74. Ibid., 24. Eisner was editor of the socialist journal Vorwdrts from 1896 until his
dismissal in 1905 (for revisionism). Later, he was an outspoken opponent of the war,
and became head of the short-lived Bavarian Republic until his murder in 1919.
75. This point has been stressed by Ringer (1969) but with an explicit focus on the
humanities and cultural sciences.
76. A second, so-called "decadent" form of Wagnerism, less relevant to this story,
made Wagner a central part of a general preoccupation with sexuality, perversion,
experimental art, and occult belief and practice. See Erwin Koppen, 1973, Dekadenter
Wagnerismus: Studien zur europaischen Literatur des Fin de siecle (Berlin/New York:
de Gruyter).
77. See Winfried Schuler, 1971, Der Bayreuther Kreis von seiner Entstehung bis
zum Ausgang der Wilhelminischen Ara; Wagnerkult und Kulturreform im Geiste
volkischer Weltanschauung, vol. 12 of Neue Miinstersche Beitrage zur Geschichts-
forschung (Munster: Aschendorff).
78. "Der Idealismus der Bayreuther Gemeinde ist 'Weltanschauung' in dem Sinn,
dass sich ein Gedankengebaude nicht auf die Strukturen der Wirklichkeit einlaBt, um
sich an ihr zu bewahren, wie es Aufgabe von Philosophie ware, sondern dass sich
Philosopheme um einen Grundgedanken zum System zusammenschlieBen, primar von
dem Bedurfniss getragen, das Subjekt vor ' transcendental er Obdachlosigkeit' zu be-
wahren und inmitten einer sinnlos gewordenen Welt eine Oase der Sinnprasenz zu
bieten" (Winkler 1986, 185).
79. McGrath (1974, 59-61).
80. In his 1888 Ecce Homo, he would say of this early work, "It smells offensively
Hegelian, and it is only in a few formulas affected by the cadaverous perfume of
Schopenhauer" (cited in Walter Kaufmann, 1967, "Nietzsche, Friedrich," in The En-
cyclopedia of Philosophy. (New York: Macmillan & The Free Press), 5: 507.
81. Jay (1984, 78).
82. Cited in Michael Ermarth, 1978, Wilhelm Dilthey: The critique of historical
reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 24.
83. Dilthey (1921), cited in Hermann (1976, 593).
84. Wilhelm Dilthey, 1910, Selected writings, ed. and trans, by H. P. Rickman
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 170.
85. Du Bois-Reymond was singled out as the paradigm of the cold scientist-profes-
sor, an arrogant no-knower who would limit knowledge to mechanistic explanation. Of
course, the bad guys are emphasized in such tracts, not to be praised but to be buried.
Still, there is a certain irony in the fact that Du Bois-Reymond turns out himself to have
publicly warned, in language not that different from Langbehn's, against Europe's
capitulation to excessive realism and technology, coining an epithet to describe this
process that would later be widely used: Amerikanisierung, or "Americanization"
(F. Stern [1961, 131 n.]).
86. See note 8, above.
87. Cited in F. Stern (1961, 125).
88. Ehrenfels (1890, 249-92). Although Ehrenfels would be thefigurebest remem-
bered for these insights, several others in German psychology would later complain
that Ehrenfels had been given too much credit for originality and that they had antici-
pated key aspects of the Gestalt view of mind before him.
89. Decker (1977, 216-19).
90. After an egg has been fertilized, it experiences cleavage or cell division. One
cell divides into two and the daughter cells are called blastomeres. These two cells then
each cleave into four; the new cells cleave into eight, and so on.
91. Driesch (1899).
92. Riese (1959, 126-27). Compare also the arguments set out by Riese (1960, 71)
and (1963, 21).
93. Cited in Bertalanffy (1951, 81-82). In this context, compare also the historical
tale told inNeuberg (1944, 132-36), the section entitled "Back to Goethe" ("Zuruckzu
94. Cited in Wyatt and Teuber (1944, 231 n).
95. Eksteins (1989, 70-73).
96. Cited in James Webb, 1976. The occult establishment (La Salle, III.: Open Court
Publishing Co.), p. 110.
97. Cited in Ringer (1969, 181).
98. The above quote is from a German socialist analyst, Erich Wittenberg, writing
from abroad in 1938. Wittenberg went on to identify the drama of the Great War as a
"high-point" of rationalistic, technological thinking, and the defeat of Germany "the
hour of reversal":
They found themselves at the end of the world war at the graveyard of their hopes. ...
Never before had a youth experienced such a total destruction of all values, sciences and
arts; never before was the distance between the naive hope with which the youth were pulled
into thefieldand the hard and cold reality so great and so unbridgeable. (Wittenberg [1938,
99. New weapons developed, improved, or significantly exploited by the Germans
included the Zeppelin dirigibles used for high-altitude raids on Paris and London and
for transport of supplies; the first truly effective military submarines that were used
against the British fleet; new lightweight machine guns that brought out this weapon's
offensive potential, after they had been used for some time in a defensive capacity in
the trenches; long-range artilleryfieldguns and explosives; and electronic communica-
tions, including field telephones and the newly invented radio.
100. Johnston (1972, 391).
101. Compare Gay (1968).
102. J. v. Uexkull (1920, 43).
103. Peukert(1993, 178).
104. Cited in Herf (1984, 29); for other perspectives on the continuing attraction of
technology in the postwar years, see Prinz and Zitelmann (1991); Eksteins (1989).
105. For a thoughtful discussion of this trend, see Schnadelbach (1984).
106. Other popular titles arguing variations on this basic theme included Theodor
Lessing's Untergang der Erde am Geist (Downfall of the Earth through Mind); and
A. Seidel's Bewufitsein als Verhangnis (The disaster of consciousness).
107. Schnadelbach (1984, 150).
108. Jay (1984, 179-80).
109. Cited in Forman (1971, 18).
110. Uexkull, letter to Chamberlain, 24 April 1921, Uexkiill-Chamberlain corre-


1. Letter from Biirger-Prinz to Rektor, Hamburg University, dated 24 February

1944, In: Akte: Goethe Preis, Hamburg Staatsarchiv (HSA).
2. Lorenz, cited in Schmidt (1980, 18).
3. Heidegger (1983, 315).
4. Hiinemorder(1979, 116).
5. Jennings (1909); Horderand Weindling (1986. 216); Loeb (1916).
6. Jennings (1909); Goldstein (1939); Meyer-Abich (1935); Thomas A. Sebeok,
"Jakob von Uexkull. Neglected figures in the history of semiotic inquiry," lecture,
Wiener Kongress fur Semiotik, 27 August 1976, cited in T. v. Uexkull (1980, 32);
Ludwig von Bertalanffy, 1968, General system theory: Foundations, development, ap-
plications, rev. ed. (New York: Braziller).
7. Goldschmidt (1956, 70).
8. Horderand Weindling (1986, 216).
9. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 29 September 1913, Uexkiill-Chamberlain Correspon-
dence; for a considerably more positive assessment of Boveri, see V. Hamburger
10. G.v. Uexkull (1964,34).
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid., 30.
13. Compare the letter of evaluation (signature illegible) written to the Prorector of
the University of Hamburg, 29 October 1934 (Akte: Uexkull and Institut fur Umwelt-
forschung [K.20.1.501]. Vol. II.): "My closer colleagues in the field are, to a large
extent, not on particularly good terms with Uexkull. This has perhaps also hurt him in
Hamburg. He is a typical outsider, and definitely lacks a thorough, general training in
the field. It therefore happens that he is often wide of the mark, especially when dealing
with theoretical considerations such as Darwin's evolutionary theory that he rejects."
("Meine engeren Fachkollegen stehen sich zum grossen Teile mit Uexkuell nicht be-
sonders gut. Dies hat ihm vielleicht auch in Hamburg geschadet. Er ist typischer Out-
sider und es fehlt ihm ohne Zweifel eine allgemeine fachliche Durchbildung. Es kommt
daher vor, dass er, besonders bei theoretischen Erwagungen, z.B. iiber die von ihm
abgelehnte Darwinsche Entwicklungslehre, sehr danebengreift.")
14. Stackelberg (1981); For a more nuanced evaluation of the link between Cham-
berlain and Nazism, see Field (1981, 447-58). Uexkiill-Chamberlain correspondence.
Signature 196 (r) NachlaB HSC. Richard Wagner-Gedenstatte der Stadt Bayreuth, Ger-
many. For his part, Chamberlain felt intellectually close enough to Uexkull to make the
Baron the fictional recipient of the autobiographical letters on science and nature that
he wrote for Lehenswege meines Denkens (Life paths of my thinking). He also made a
number of efforts to use his personal influence to advance Uexkiill's career. These
included a passionate letter in 1913 to the theologian Adolf von Harnack, then presi-
dent of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, that compared the "Archimedean" significance of
Uexkiill's key ideas to those of Faraday and suggested that biology should properly
speak of a new science of "Uexkullogy" (cited in Schmidt [1975, 125]). After Cham-
berlain's death in 1927, Uexkull was appointed editor of an unpublished manuscript
that Chamberlain had been working on since the 1890s. This was published in 1928,
with an appreciative introduction by Uexkull, as Natur und Leben (Nature and life).
15. G.v. Uexkull (1964).
16. T. v. Uexkull (1980b); Stossel (1988).
17. G.v. Uexkull (1964, 17).
18. J. v. Uexkull (n.d.). Loose reprint, Uexkiill-Chamberlain Correspondence,
NuchlaB HSC.
19. Ibid., 56-57.
20. J. v. Uexkull (1923a).
21. J. v. Uexkull (1936a, 25).
22. G. v. Uexkull (1964, 24).
23. Uexkull, cited in ibid., 36.
24. Ibid., 36.
25. Nevertheless, von Baer was almost certainly an influence on and inspiration for
Uexkull. For a discussion of von Baer's critique of Darwinism and construction of an
alternative evolutionary model, see Lenoir (1982, 246-75).
26. Uexkull, cited in Brock (1934, 195).
The self-referential nature of this obituary is underscored by the wry comments of
the physiologist Albrecht Bethe (1872-1954), who published with Uexkull in 1899.
Bethe recalled how his relationship with Uexkull cooled as Uexkull became too philo-
sophical for his tastes, and he became, in Uexkiill's eyes "too much of an 'apparatus
physiologist' and 'microscope devotee': indeed, I even saw some value in mathemat-
ics, which he despised" (in G. v. Uexkull [1964, 47]). Uexkiill's friend, Houston Ste-
wart Chamberlain, was considerably blunter, going so far as to declare Bethe to be
Uexkull's counterimage in biological research, someone who wanted to make mathe-
matical measure the "religion" of science (Schmidt [1975, 125]).
27. Goldschmidt (1956, 70).
28. J. v. Uexkull (1903, 1904a, 1904b, 1905).
29. Uexkiill had received the inferior cand.zool. degree from the university of
Dorpat, but never actually received a doctorate in his field, having learned physiology
from Kiihne without taking an advanced degree. In the 1890s, Uexkull did attempt to
seeJf the zoology faculty at Heidelberg would be prepared to award him a doctoral
degree on the basis of his scientific accomplishments as a private scholar.
Goldschmidt's uncharitable but entertaining account of this episode has the aristocratic
Uexkull (whom Goldschmidt misnames a count rather than a baron) visiting the zoolo-
gist Otto Butschl:
He pointed to his many publications and hinted at his expectation of being given the degree
without bothering much with the requirements. I suppose that Butschl was already preju-
diced because of the [arrograntj attitude of . . . [the group with which Uexkull was associ-
ated, that had gathered around Hans Driesch]; in addition he was not fond of counts, and
especially if they considered themselves entitled to special treatment. Thus Uexkull's de-
mand for special consideration appeared to Butschli as an insult, a kind of attempt to bribe
himself into a degree. Butschli actually blew his top and literally threw the Count out.
(Goldschmidt [1956, 71])
30. J. v. Uexkull (1900a, 73).
31. Jennings (1909, 327).
32. cited in Lenoir (1982, 76-77).
33. J', v. Uexkull, cited in translation in Jennings (1909, 333).
34. J. v. Uexkull, cited in Schmidt (1980, 10).
35. "Dies ist nicht eine Buche, sondern meine Buche, die ich in alien Einzelheiten
mit meinen Sinnesempfindungen aufgebaut habe. Was ich von ihr sehe, hore, rieche
oder taste, sind nicht Eigenschaften, die ausschlieBlich der Buche zu eigen sind, son-
dern es sind die von mir hinausverlegten Merkmale meiner Sinnesorgane" (Ibid.).
36. J. v. Uexkull (1922d, 265).
37. J. v. Uexkull (1926b, 29).
38. J. v. Uexkull (1902, 228).
39. See Beer, Bethe, and J. v. Uexkull (1899).
40. Dzendolet(1967).
41. J. v. Uexkull, cited in G. v. Uexkull (1964, 163-64). Italics added.
42. J. v. Uexkull (1909).
43. J. v. Uexkull (1922b, 244).
44. In human beings, Uexkull admitted the further existence of what he called a
Vorstellungswelt, or set of collective concepts.
45. J. v. Uexkull and Kriszat (1934, 137).
46. Ibid., 28-29.
47. The history of this institute is documented in the Harhburg State Archives. See
also Hunemorder (1979); Heinrich Kiihl, "Zwei Hamburger Jubilaen," Abhandlungen
und Verhandlungen des naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins in Hamburg 9 (1965): 4-15;
J. v. Uexkull and Brock (1930).
48. Schmidt (1980, 266).
49. During these years, Uexkiill's work would have a major influence on another
pioneer of ethology, Konrad Lorenz. In a 1934 publication, Uexkull discussed Lorenz's
tame jackdaw 'Tschock" and called attention to the fact that the bird's innate tendency
to respond to some organisms in its Umwelt as "companions" ("mother companion,"
"mate companion," "flight companion," etc.) was not fixed to a certain object in itself
but could be elicited by the Merkmale of a variety of unconventional objects, including
Lorenz. He therefore suggested that it was the combination of Merkmale possessed by
the chosen objectsnot the object in itselfthat had a so-called companion tone
(Kumpanton) for the bird, and that thus produced the real ity "companion" (or "enemy")
for the bird. See J. v. Uexkull and Kriszat (1934, 79-83).
Stimulated by this discussion, Lorenz a year later addressed the problem of the
"companion" himselfin an article he dedicated to Uexkiill:and focused on the fact
that the "companion" within a bird's Umwelt (a term he used) need not be a member of
its own species. To explain this, Lorenz introduced his important concept of Pragung
or "imprinting." The paper thus represented a critical stepping stone towards Lorenz's
most influential contribution to ethology: the idea that animals possess inborn, species-
specific "releaser schemas" that are set into play by signals in the environment. That
concept in turn drew directly on Uexkiill's "functional circle" concept. See Lorenz
(1935); Lorenz (1943); compare also Schmidt (1980, 115); and Hermann (1976, 640).
50. J. v. Uexkull and Sarris (1931b); Sarris (1935); J. v. Uexkull (1932);
J. v. Uexkull (1933b); J. v. Uexkull (1934a).
51. The details of this time can be reconstructed from the documentation and corre-
spondence in the files, "Familie-Kiep-Altenloh-25," and "Korrespondenz 1943-44,"
Uexkull and Institute fur Umweltforschung, Hanseat Hamburg Staatsarchiv.
52. Cited in Schmidt (1975, 122).
53. "Ich schreibe an einer theoretischen Biologie, die auch kein leicher Bissen sein
wird. Aber der Krieg hat das Verstandnis fiir die Organisation auBerordentlich ge-
weitet, so daB man hoffen darf, so werde das Zeitalter der Zahl uberwunden (Letter to
Chamberlain, 22 November 1915, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspondence). Indeed,
upon publication, this book would be perceived as so difficult and counterintuitive in
many of its claims that an American reviewer of the 1926 English translation of Theo-
retical Biology would find it remarkable that it had actually found a publisher "in these
times of books on science made easy." Valuable as the book was, he felt most Ameri-
can readers would either fail to understand it or would find it anathema (Louis Wirth,
1928, review of Theoretical Biology, by J. v. Uexkull, American Journal of Sociology
(May) 6: 995-98.
54. In reading an early draft of this chapter, Professor Robert Richards at the Uni-
versity of Chicago reminded me that Muller had used the term Energie, not in the blind,
materialistic sense that would be defended by the later biophysicists, "but in the Ar-
istotelian sense of actualized capacity. " In this sense Energie referred to the "quality"
of the sensory information entering the special senses (R. Richards to author, 19 Sep-
tember 1993).
55. Compare T. v. Uexkull (1980c, 48-49); J. v. UexkUll (1923b, 255).
56. "Die Naturwissenschaft teilt sich in Lehre und Forschung. Die Lehre besteht aus
Lehrsatzen, die eine eindeutige Aussage iiber die Natur enthalten. Die Form dieser
Lehrsatze erweckt oft den Anschein, als stiitzten sie sich auf die Autoritat der Natur
"Dies ist ein Irrtum, denn die Natur erteilt keine Lehren, sondern weist nur
Veranderungen in ihren Erscheinungen auf.
"Diese Veranderungen konnen wir dazu benutzen, um sie als Antworten auf unsere
Fragen zu deuten. Um das richtige Verstandnis zur Natur zu gewinnen, mussen wir
einen jeden Lehrsatz in eine Frage verwandeln und uns iiber die Veranderungen der
Naturerscheinungen Rechenschaft geben, die die Forscher als Beweismaterial fiir ihre
Antwort benutzt haben.
"Die Forschung kann gar nicht anders vorgehen, als daB sie in ihrer Frage eine
Voraussetzung (Hypothese) macht, in der die Antwort (These) bereits enthalten ist. Die
endgultige Anerkennung der Antwort und die Aufstellung eines Lehrsatzes erfolgt,
sobald der Forscher eine ihm geniigend diinkende Zahl von Erscheinungen in der Natur
aufgefunden hat, die er im Sinne seiner Hypothese positiv or negativ deuten kann."
"Die einzige Autoritat, auf die sich ein Lehrsatz stiitzt, ist nicht die Natur, sondern
der Forscher, der seine eigene Frage selbst beantwortet hat "(J. v. Uexkull [1920b, 3]).
57. J. v. Uexkull (1933a, 1935, 1936b).
58. J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 22 November 1920, cited in Schmidt (1975, 124).
59. In a review of Theoretical Biology for the journal Kant Studies, the neo-vitalisl
biologist Hans Driesch praised it warmly and recommended it as a needed corrective to
the "dogmatic mechanism" of neo-Kantian philosophy of his time that "hampered
every unitary world view [hemmt jede einheitliche Weltauffassung]" (Driesch
60. "Ob nun alle ubrigen Behauptungen die Einstein iiber den zentrumlosen koordi-
natenlosen Vorstellungsraum aufste! It, kann ich nicht nachprufen - interessiert mich
auch gar nicht, da dieser Raum, je weiter er sich vom Anschauungsraum entfernt, umso
mehr an Wirklichkeit einbiiBt.
"Wirklich ist allein der Anschauungsraum.
".. .Was jenseits unseres Horizontes, jenseits unseres Hitnmelsgewolbes liegt, ist
uns fiir immer verschlossen. Wir vermogen wohl uns einen Vorstellungsraum zu
bauen, indem sich Sonne und Sterne in unerhiirten Entfernungen und in undenklicher
Zeit bewegen. Aber dieser Vorstellungsraum ist nur eine Abschwachung unseres An-
schauungsraumes, den wir gewinnen, indem wir einige wichtige Elemente des An-
schauungsraumes fallen lassen, die Grundelemente namlich One und Richtungs-
schwritte willktirlich zu einer neuen Einheit umgestalten, die bald ein Zentrum besitzt,
bald nicht. Der Blick iiber unseren Anschauungsraum jenseits des Hitnmelsgewolbes
tst uns versperrt. Die dort waltende hohere Wirklichkeit bleibt fiir uns unerkennbar,
mogen wir sie nun "Natur" oder "Gott" nennen.
" . . . Ich fiirchte, man wird noch, wenn ich diese Ansicht offentlich ausspreche, a la
Galilei behandeln und mich entweder in ein Irrenhaus sperren oder als Uberreaktionar
unmoglich machen.
"Aber einmal werde ich doch reden mussen. Vielleicht wird mich auch niemand
verstehen. Aber Tatsache bleibt es doch: 'Epur non si move.' Nicht ich bewege mich
um die Sonne, sondern die Sonne geht an meinem Himmelsbogen auf und unter. Das
Gleiche geschieht an hunderttausend anderen Himmelsgewblben. Immer ist es eine
andere Sonne, immer ein anderer Raum, in dem sie sich bewegt.
"In die anderen Umweltraume ist uns die Aussicht nicht versperrt, wenn wir richtig
zu beobachten verstehen. Durch die abertausend verschiedenen Umwelten wird das
Universum so unendlich reich, daB wir Narren sind, wenn wir nicht davon ablassen
wollen, nach der anderen Seite zu schauen, wo wir doch nur uns selbst in verzerrter
Form entdecken konnen.
"Dieser Brief ist fast ein Bekenntnis geworden, das ich Ihnen gegeniiber ruhig
ablegen darf, ohne miBverstanden zu werden. (J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 23 Octo-
ber 1923, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspondence), NachlaB HSC.
61. Stackelberg(1981, 112).
62. Lukacs (1955, 557).
63. "Besser unsre dickste Finsternis als euer stinkend Licht!" (Schumacher [1937,
64. Compare T. v. Uexkull (1980c, 29); Stackelberg (1981, 33).
65. Driesch (1951, 67).
66. Freyhofer(1982, 27).
67. Ibid., 28.
68. Driesch (1899).
69. Driesch (1900).
70. Driesch (1901, 1903).
71. Uexkull, cited in Jennings (1909, 316).
72. M. Lightfoot Eastwood, 1910, review of The science and philosophy of the
organism by Hans Driesch: The Gifford lectures, delivered at the University of Aber-
deen in the year 1907. Vol. 2 (London: A.&.C. Black, 1908), International Journal of
Ethics, 20: 494-98.
73. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 10 December 1921, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspon-
dence, NachlaB HSC.
74. Driesch (1934). In interviews that took place in Freiburg, Germany, in 1989,
Uexkull's son, the psychosomaticist Thure von Uexkull, repeatedly denied that his
father was a vitalist and was highly critical of the historical judgment that would set his
father in the same camp as such self-proclaimed neo-vitalists as Hans Driesch. Rightly
or wrongly, contemporary judgments and habits of thought were clearly differentthe
two men were frequently paired, by critics and supporters alike, as Germany's two
leading twentieth-century defenders of vitalism in biology.
75. J. v. Uexkull (1922b, 242).
76. Compare J. v. Uexkull (1922a, 176-77).
77. "Um sich das Verhaltnis zwischen Protoplasma und Struktur eindringlich deut-
lich zu machen, stelle man sich vor, daB unsere Hauser und Maschinellen nicht von uns
erbaut wiirden, sondern selbsttatig aus einem Brei herauskristallisierten. Jeder Stein
des Hauses und jeder Maschinenteil bewahre noch eine Portion Reservebrei bei
sich, der die ndtig werdenden Reparaturen und Regulationen vornehme, auBerdem
besitze jedes Haus und jede Maschine eine grOBere Anhaufung von Urbrei, die zur
Erzeugung neuer Hauser oder neuer Maschinen diene" ("Das Protoplasmaproblem" in
J. v. Uexkull [19091; reprinted in T. v. Uexkiill [1980b, 165-66]).
78. "[NJicht die gewiss richtige [Auffassung]," Julius Schaxel, 1922, review of
Umwelt und Innenwelt der Ttere by J. v. Uexkull, Deutsche Medizinische Wochen-
schrift 48 (9) (March 3, 1922).
79. Loeb (1916, 4).
80. "[Zjwei entscheidende Schritte, die Biologie vollzogen hat" (Heidegger 1983,
379, 380).
81. "[W]obei dessen Ganzheit nicht durch die Leibesganzheit des Tieres erschbpft
ist, sondern die Leibesganzheit erst selbst auf dem Grunde der urspriinglichen Ganzheit
verstanden wird, deren Grenze das ist, was wir den Enthemmungsring nannten (Ibid.).
82. Ibid., 311-33, 379-85.
83. J. v. Uexkull (1937, 199).
84. G. v. Uexkull (1964, 88).
85. "Hatten die Balten bisher ein Sonderdasein gefuhrt als Wanderer zwischen Ost
und West, zwischen Deutschland und RuBland, so war der schmale Steg, auf dem diese
Wanderung moglich war, plotzlich hinweggeschwemmt. Es gab keine Balten mehr,
sondern nur Deutsche und Russen. An die Stelle des alten Lehnseides und der Treue
zum Kaiser (dem in Petersburg oder dem in Berlin) trat der Anspruch der Nation . ..
Jakob nahm leidenschaftlich Parteifiir Deutschland" (Ibid., 101).
86. "Warum hat dieser Krieg selbst auf alle Fremde, die in Deutschland weilten, den
Eindruck eines heiligen Krieges hervorgerufen? Weil das deutsche Familienleben sich
plotzlich vor aller Welt offenbarte, weil das heilige Feuer des Idealismus, das die ein-
zelnen Heimstiitten erleuchtet und erwarmt, wie eine einzige machtige Flamme gen
Himmel schlug" (J. v. Uexkull [1915, 66]).
87. "Weder die russische noch die franzosische Regierung Camorra hat das min-
deste menschliche Recht, der Welt ihren Stempel aufzudriicken. Wie kommt England
dazu, mit diesen kulturfeindlichen Banditen gemeinsame Sache zu machen? Die wahre
menschliche Kultur kann nur durch England und Deutschland gemeinsam getragen
sein" (J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, II August 1914, Uexkull-Chamberlain Corre-
88. See, for example, the venom in J. v. Uexkull (1920a, 51).
89. Eksteins (1989, 200-201).
90. "Der deutsche Imperative Kants macht jeden Einzelnen zum selbstherrlichen
Gesetzgeber im moralischen Dingen Darwin dagegen entlastet mit seinem engli-
schen Imperativ den Einzelnen von dieser Verantwortung.... Darwins Standpunkt
kann man kurz dahin zusammenfassen: Je groBer die Herde, um so hoher die Moral"
(J. v. Uexkull [1917, 225, 223]).
People from a range of political perspectives had made similar suggestions. Karl
Marx had also once observed that Darwin had simply discovered in the natural world
a version of bourgeois society writ large. "It is noteworthy," he wrote in a letter to
Engels, "how Darwin rediscovers his English society with its division of labor, compe-
tition, the opening of new markets, 'inventions' and the Malthusian 'struggle for exis-
tence' among the animals and plants" (cited in Gasman [1971, 110]).
91. "[I]ch habe bemerkt, daB die biologische Ausdrucksweise unserem Zeitgenos-
sen naher liegt als die abstrakte philosophische" (J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 21
October 1921, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspondence).
92. "[D]er Schopfer steht hoher als das Geschaffene" (J. v. Uexkull [1915,66]).
93. "[D]er Urbestandteil des Volkes in alien Fallen . . . ist die Familie. Eltern und
Kinder gemeinsam bilden eine Zelle, die in Verbindung mit tausend andere Zellen den
Volkskorper aufbaut" (Ibid., 54).
94. Ibid., 59-65.
95. "[S]uchte Uexkull vergebens nach dem 'Plan', den er tiberall in der Natur am
Werke sah. Die Methoden der Menschen schienen ihm unorganisch und planlos"
(G.v. Uexkull [1964, 104]).
96. Ibid., 107-11.
97. "In RuBland ist der langersehnte Augenblick eingetreten, das Protoplasma der
Riesenamobe ist in voller Zersetzung begriffen, und niemand kann diesen NaturprozeB
mehr aufhalten. Sinnloses Rauben und Morden hebt an, und zugleich erhebt sich das
Gespenst der riesigsten Hungersnot, das die Welt gesehen. Im Fruhjahr, versicherte
noch ein sehr zuverliissiger Beobachter, der eben aus RuBland kam, wird man Men-
schenfleisch fressen. Welch schemes Thema fiir die russische Literatur" (J. v. Uexkull
to Chamberlain, 20 November 1917, Uexkiill-Chamberlain Correspondence).
98. "Die nach dem Wahlgesetz erwahlten Manner sind weder Volksvertreter noch
Staatsvertreter. Das Wahlgesetz behandelt Volk und Staat wie einem gleichfbrmig aus
lauter gleichen Einheiten bestehenden Brei und lUBt diesen seine Vertreter entsenden."
In a further colorful metaphor intended to demonstrate the absurdity of letting the
masses vote on questions of state policy, Uexkull went on to ask why book reviewers
should not simply count the words of any particular book in order to establish the value
of the work in question (J. v. Uexkiill [1918,202]).
99. This letter reads in the original as follows:
Londorf - Oberhessen, 30.12.1918
Sehr verehrter Herr Chamberlain!
Ihnen, sehr verehrter Freund drangt es mich, einen NeujahrsgruB zu senden. Denn ich
hege die Hoffnung, daB wir den dunkelsten Tag mit der schwarzesten geistigen Nacht eben
iiberslehen. Mit Ihnen allein kann ich wahrhaft biologisch reden. Sie besitzen Kraft und
Oberblick genug, um dem schwer erkrankten Staat den Puis zu fiihlen, obgleich gerade Sie
die Verwesungsprozesse am bittersten empfinden miissen.
"Eines halt uns trotz alledem aufrecht: Der deutsche Genotypus ist gut und mag der
Phaenotypus noch so mangelhaft gewesen sein. Das was wir heute erleben, ist aber auch
nicht die AuBerung des Phaenotypus sondern eine akute Erkrankung des Staates als
Ich kann heute nichl mehr die Ahnlichkeit aller Revolulionen als etwas AuBerliches
beiseile schieben. Die Symptome geben ein allzu einheitliches Krankheitsbild in alien
Fallen. Es ist immer Krebs, d.h. das Wuchem der Einzelzellen und damit Hand in Hand
gehend die Zerstorung der Organe. Das Merkwiirdigste bleibt fiir mich der Wahn der De-
mokraten, die in der Massenbildung eine normale Erscheinung sahen, obgleich sie bereits
den Beginn der Krankhcit bezeichnete.
"Infolge dieses Irrtums ist auch die Kur, die sie anwenden, verfehlt, durch erneute Mas-
senbildung wie die Nationalversammlung kann der Organismus nicht geheilt werden. Auch
durch Aufklarung der einzelnen kann nur geringer Nutzen gestiftet werden. Der einzelne
kann namlich gar nicht aufgeklart werden. Der gemeine Mann denkt nicht mit Begriffen
sondern mit ganz primitiven Gefiihlen und Anschauungen. Fiir ihn ist Freiheit entweder die
Moglichkeit zu rauben und zu pliindern oder bestenfalls die Moglichkeit, ungeniert vom
Staat zu leben.
Es ist auch gar nicht gerecht, von ihm zu verlangen, daB er in seiner Merkwelt ein Bild des
Staates mit all seinen verschlungenen Beziehungen der Teile besitzt. Das einzige, was man
erwarten darf, ist, daB er ein geniigend klares Bild seiner nachsten Aufgaben in sich tragt und
den Willen, sie zu erfiillen.
Und hier selzt der Genotypus ein, der ihn zu einem tiichtigen Berufsgenossen formt.
Diese gesunde Urkraft ist im Deutschen vorhanden und es wird auch niemals an geistigen
Fiihrern fchlcn, die aus diesem Material einen Staatsorganismus erwachsen lassen. Wenn
die Krankhcit ausgetobt hat und der Infektionssloff neutralisiert ist; kann ein neues Wach-
stum beginnen. Fiir mich ist der Schrei nach Ordnung, der sich jetzt aus dem Herzen losringt
das erste Zeichen beginnender Widerstandskraft. Von Ihnen als dem erfahrendsten Arzt in
der Volkergeschichte erhoffe ich ein Wort iiber die Prognose. Halten Sie diesmal den Krebs
fiir todlich oder glauben Sie an eine Genesung? Ich hoffe vom kommenden Jahr vor allem
Ihre eigenc Genesung und sehnc mich dem Tage entgegen, da es mir mbglich sein wird, Sie
persiinlich aufsuchen zu diirfen. Ihren Damen empfehle ich mich aufs Beste.
In steter Freundschaft und Bewunderung
Ihr sehr ergebener
J. v. Uexkull"
J. v. Uexkiill, Chamberlain NachlaB.
100. In 1923 Chamberlain would decide that Adolf Hitler represented one of the
"spiritual leaders" that Uexkull and many of his conservative colleagues desperately
wished for Germany. At that time, Uexkull was one of the people to whom Chamber-
lain would write to share personally his enthusiasm for Hitler. Uexkull's view, then and
later, of Hitler is unclear, although one suspects that he would have found a badly
educated, former street artist from Vienna a bit too common for his tastes. In a March
1924 letter to Chamberlain, Uexkiill penned a few friendly but slightly jocular lines in
which he expressed his pleasure over Chamberlain's enthusiastic portrayal of Hitler but
hoped that the man would ultimately find himself some reliable lieutenants and staff
(J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 21 March 1924, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspon-
dence). His letter seems to be a response to an open "Letter to Adolf Hitler" that Cham-
berlain had published in the journal Deutschlands Erneuerung in January 1924. A
second version of that portrait would appear in the Deutsche Presse in April (it is also
possible that Uexkull read the second portrait in manuscript and was responding to
101. Houston Stewart Chamberlain to J. v. Uexkull, 8 January 1919, in Chamber-
lain (1928a, 2: 68-71).
102. J. v. Uexkull (1919, 79-110).
103. Mann (1982, 112). I am grateful to S. Silvan Schweber for bringing this refer-
ence to my attention.
104. "Daraus ergibt sich, daB notwendigerweise die einzige Organisationsform, die
jeder Staat aufweisen muB, die Monarchic ist" (J. v. Uexkull [1920, 18]).
105. "Es ist somit ein Zustand eingetreten, der auch in unserem Korper eintreten
wiirde, wenn an Stelle der GroBhirnzelle die Mehrzahl der Kbrperzellen zu beschlieBen
hatte, welche Impulse den Nerven zu iibermitteln sind. Einen solchen Zustand nennt
man 'Blodsinn'." (J. v. Uexkull [1920, 46]); compare J. v. Uexkiill [1918]).
106. "Liebermann hat einmal ausgefiihrt, daB derjenige, der eine gute Riibe malt,
ein titchtigerer Maler ist, als derjenige, der eine schlechte Madonna malt. So ist auch
ein guter Sattler ein tiichtigerer Staatsdiener als ein schlechter Minister" (J. v. Uexkull
107. Ibid., 42,46. The second quote cited in this paragraph reads: " 'Warum soil der
eine eine Kanalreiniger sein, der andere Minister? Beides sind doch Menschen.' Die
ganze Lacherlichkeit dieser Klagen springt in die Augen, wenn man sie auf einen be-
liebigen anderen Gegenstand anwendet. Jeder Stuhl zum Beispiel zeigt die gleiche
Ungerechtigkeit.' Warum mussen seine FiiBe dauemd auf dem schmutzigen Boden
stehen, wahrend seine Lehne sich frei in die reine Luft erhebt? Beide sind doch aus dem
gleichen Holz geschnitzt."
108. Ibid., 40-41.
109. Ibid., 51.
110. Ibid., 50.
111. Field (1981, 387).
112. "Bewundernswert ist dieCohasionskraft beim Judenvolk. DafOr sind die Juden
vollig unfahig, einen Staat zu bilden. Was sie hervorbringen ist nur ein parasitares
Netz, das iiberall die staatlichen Gebilde zersetzt und die Vblker in gahrende Stoff-
haufen verwandelt" (J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 10 April 1921, Uexkull-Chamber-
lain Correspondence).
113. Scheerer ("l985, 28-29).
114. Herf(1984).
115. The main critic here was H. G. Holle, who first reviewed Uexkiill's work in the
volkisch journal Deutschlands Erneuerung in 1920. That review opened with the terse,
unequivocal sentence: "Biology of the statea false concept" (H. G. Holle, 1920,
review of Staatsbiologie [1920] by J. v. Uexkull, Deutschlands Erneuerung. Monatss-
chriftfur das deutsche Volk 4: 468). Holle pursued the quarrel further in General biol-
ogy as the foundation of world view, life orientation, and politics (1925). I have not
actually seen the latter book; it is discussed in Paul Krannhals (1928/1936, 1: 58-60).
116. "DaB sie Staaten schaffen kann, macht die Menschheit als Ganzes in gewissen
Sinne zu einem 'Organismus,' die empirischen Einzelstaaten aber sind Gebirgen ihrem
logischen Wesen nach viel ahnlicher als einer Sonderbildung im Rahmen des Organi-
schen" (Driesch [ 1921b, 573, cited in Scheerer [1985,42]; compare also chapter 6, this
117. J. v. Uexkull (1920a, 77-78).
118. Ibid., 75.
119. Ibid., 76
120. J. v. Uexkull (1933c, 71).
121. For example, J. v. Uexkull (1922c).
122. For the history of this document, see Cohn (1981).
123. J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 17 May 1920, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspon-
dence. For his part. Chamberlain had once written to Uexkiill that "one can certainly
say, without exaggeration that what we are experiencing today is the rule of the Jews.
When newspapers speak of 80 to 100 Jews in government, that doesn't
capture the range, for among the remaining 20 there are many mixed breeds [Man darf
gewiB ohne Ubertreibung behaupten, was wir heute in Deutschland erleben, ist die
Herrschaft der Juden; wenn die Zeitungen erzahlen von 80 bis 100 Juden unter den
sogenannten Regierenden, so langt das noch nicht, da unter den iibrigen 20 sehr viele
Mischlinge sich befinden]" (Chamberlain to J. v. Uexkull, 9 January 1919, in (1928a,
124. "Es ist sehr moglich, daBan einem-ganz gemeinen biologischen Fehler die
Jahrhundert alte Weisheit der Juden zerschellt und sie nicht zur Herrschaft sondern zur
Ausrottung der Juden fuhrt" (Uexkull to Chamberlain, 17 May 1920, Uexkull-Cham-
berlain Correspondence).
125. "Aber ich denke, es wird dafiir gesorgt sein, daB selbst die jiidischen Baume
nicht in den Himmel wachsen. Die Zeit der Massenherrschaft, in der die Juden ge-
deihen, wird auch' voriibergehen und nun haben wir sie erkannt" (J. v. Uexkull to
Chamberlain, 4 July 1922, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspondence).
126. "Ich befurchte, daB der krasse Rassen-Antisemitismus zur Starkung des
Ghetto-Staates dient, indem er auch diejenigen Juden, die nicht mehr von einem Juden-
staate wissen wollen, diesem in die Arme treibt" (J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 3 April
1923, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspondence).
127. "Die Juden haben einen sehr feinen Riecher fiir kommende Zeitstromungen.
Der Materialismus hat abgewirtschaftet, jetzt machen sie ihre Geschafte mit dem Ideal-
ismus.. .. Wieviel dumme Deutsche werden wohl darauf hineinfallen? Deshalb habe
ich es ubernommen, das Buch in der Deutschen Rundschau zu besprechen, was recht
schwierig sein wird, da ich die Karten nicht einfach aufdecken kann" (J. v. Uexkull to
Chamberlain, 12 February 1921, Uexkiill-Chamberlain Correspondence).
128. For example, J. v. Uexkull (1928b, 9-13).
129. Cited in Schmidt (1975, 127).
130. Goldschmidt (1956, 70).
131. Field (1981, 323-24, 397). Before World War I, Gross worked as Uexkull's
research assistant, helping him complete several of his key studies on tonus in inverte-
brate animals. Geoffrey Field discusses his case, noting that he was a half-Jew deeply
ashamed of being the product of a "mixed marriage" and who, on the eve of 1933, was
"still writing tracts about the Germanic ideology and urging Jews to . .. assimilate to
the heroic Teutonic ideal" (Field [ 1981,324]). Gross himself wrote about Uexkull in an
article for the conservative Wagnerian crowd at Bayreuth, that called for a return to a
Goethean view of natural science as "systematic art." See Gross (1913, 124-36).
Field identifies Trebitsch as a self-hating Viennese Jew and disciple of Chamberlain.
He notes how Trebitsch's "blond appearance made him the center of a sick cult in
Vienna" even as his writings publicized the dangers of Jewry. He was also inordinately
proud of his physical resemblance to Chamberlain himself. In the 1920s, he struggled
hard to convince party officials that he could be a valuable ally in the Nazi struggle. He
committed suicide in 1927, the year of Chamberlain's death (Field [1981,498 n. 8]).
Field mentions that Trebitsch was convinced that Chamberlain's long years of illness
were the result of "foul play," but goes no further (Field [1981, 397]). A letter by
Uexkull to Chamberlain in 1926 fills in some of the details:
Recently A. Trebitsch, who lives in a state of delusion, visited me, resembling you in
appearance so much that one might confuse the two of you. His further claims were fantas-
tic: all people with long skulls [a supposed Aryan physical trait] possess iron in their brains
that is dispersed throughout the bodies of the rest of humanity. Now the Israeli Alliance has
discovered special rays with which it can selectively treat these iron-rich brains. Both you
and he are supposed to have fallen victim to these rays. He called this a scientifically proven
fact. (J. v. Uexkiill to Chamberlain, 18 August 1926, Uexkiill-Chamberlain Correspon-
132. J. v. Uexkull (1926a; 1943).
133. Chamberlain (1921).
134. "[D]ie geistige Organisation des Menschen im Gegensatz zu der der Tiere als
Gegenpol sum eigenen Subjekt eines Gottes bedarf" (J. v. Uexkull [1926a, 235]).
135. Ibid. 236.
136. "Es i s t . . . fiir den einzelnen Menschen nicht gleichgiiltig, ob ein moralisches
oder amoralisches Prinzip die Welt beherrscht. Einmal kommt auch fur den einge-
fleischtesten Atheisten der Tag, an dem er sich mit dem Weltregiment auseinanderset-
zen muB. Findet er dann anstatt eines Geistes, der, iiber den Subjekten stehend, ihn
selbst und seine Mitmenschen erzeugt hat, und der zugleich das Gewissen zu ihm
spricht, nichts als eine leblose Maschine, die all seiner Herzensnote spottet, so begirint
diese Maschine ein satanisches Leben zu gewinnen. Eine scheuBliche Fratze grinst ihm
entgegen. Das ist, was Bryan als Gorilla bezeichnet hat. Die Allmacht ist in die Hande
eines affenahnlichen Scheusals geraten" (Ibid., 237).
137. J. v. Uexkull (1936a, 76).
138. J. v. UexkUll (1926a, 237).
139. J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 21 October 1921, Uexkull-Chamberlain Corre-
spondence. The full text here reads: "Mit der Ausrottung des Christentums und seines
Gottes hbrt der Mensch auf, Mensch zu sein und wird etwas Schlimmeres als Bestie, er
wird Maschinedas Mitleidloseste von allem. Ich habe bei der LektUre immer wieder
an ihr 'Mensch und Gott' denken miissen. Es war Wort fiir Wort die Bestatigung Ihrer
Lehren. Die Maschine nicht mehr Diener des Menschen sondern sein Herr wird einfach
zum Teufel. So nahe, so greifbar steht er jetzt vor unseren Augen. Wenn die Maschine
regiert, geht die PersOnlichkeit zugrunde. Die Bolschewisten haben keine
Persbnlichkeit, sie sind fast alle seelenlose Juden. Dies seelenlose Volk konnte allein
diese seelenlose Religion hervorbringen, die nur das Diesseits kennt. Und das Diesseits
aller Wunder entkleidet ist eben Maschine und damit Teufel. Sollte Jehova vielleicht
selbst der Teufel sein? Diese Frage drangt sich immer wieder auf."
140. J. v. Uexkiill (1926a, 240); for more on the loss of heaven, and the need to
reclaim it as a human experienced truth, see also Uexkull (1935).
141. J. v. Uexkull (1926a, 242).
142. G. v. Uexkull (1964, 124).
143. J. v. Uexkull, 1946, Der unsterbliche Geist in der Natur (Gesprache) (Ham-
burg: Christian Wegner Verlag).
144. "[A]lle Eigenschaften der Lebewesen finden wir zu planmaBigen Einheiten
vereinigt, und die Eigenschaften dieser Einheiten sind kontrapunktisch mit den Eigen-
schaften anderer Einheiten verbunden. Dadurch entsteht der Eindruck eines allumfas-
senden harmonischen Ganzen, denn auch die Eigenschaften der leblosen Dingen
greifen kontrapunktlisch in den Bauplan der Lebenwesen ein" (J. v. Uexkull [1937,
145. J. v. Uexkull (1923/1924).
146. J. v. Uexkull, Bedeutungslehre (1940 essay originally published in Bios:
Abhandlungen zur theoretischen Biologic und ihrer Geschichte, vol. 10), reprinted as
a supplemental essay in the 1956 edition of Uexkull and Kriszat (1934).
147. "Wenn jemand mir . . . die Behauptung aufstellt, ein toter Mensch sei auch
nichts anders als ein kaputtes Auto, so frage ich ihn, ob er glaube, daB der Erbauer des
Auto sich mit jedem verungliickenden Automobil auch die eigenen Knochen brechen
musse. Und wenn er das verneint, so weise ich ihn darauf hin, daB das Naturgesetz der
menschlichen Personlichkeit, die den Menschen mitsamt seiner Welt erbaute, eben-
sowenig vom Todes des Menschen betroffen sei, wie der Erbauer des Autos
(J. v. Uexkiill [1922a, 183]).
148. Dieser Plan, der unsere gesamte Personlichkeit einschlieBt, i s t . . . eine unver-
tilgbare Wirklichkeit, iiber deren Fortdauer gar kein Zweifel bestehen kann.
(J. v. Uexkull [1923b, 264]).
149. J. v. Uexkull (1922a, 183).
150. J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 20 October 1920, Uexkull-Chamberlain Corre-
151. "[D]er Mensch [ist] nicht zwangslaufig einer Naturregel unterworfen, sondern
von der Natur selbst zum Herren seiner subjektiven Ausbildungsregel gemacht wor-
den" (J. v. Uexkull [1923b, 262]).
152. "Der Pendel, der nach links gehoben wird, schlagt mit unerbittlicher Not-
wendigkeit nach rechts aus. Erbarmen und Gnade wird man bei den Naturgesetzen
vergeblich suchen (Ibid., 265).
153. "Ist die Welt, die uns umgibt und die ihm das Sichtbare schenkt, nichts anderes
als eine Seifenblase, die mit unserem Tode springt; sind wir selbst nichts als ein Teil
des Gesetzes, das unseren KOrper und seine Welt formtewas wird dann aus uns nach
unserem Tode. Wenn wir dem Gesetze unseres Lebens nicht treu gewesen sind, dann
mussen die Folgen katastrophal sein. Das Christentum, das diese Schrecken mildern
kann, ist fur unser gebildetes Burgertum ein leerer Wahn geworden. Die Gebildeten
aber sind es, die die biologische Lehre von der Seifenblase sehr gut begreifen. Die
groBe Masse begreift ja gar nichts. Fiir die Gebildeten wird eine dunkle Zeit kommen
und der Damon, der einst hinter der Himmelsdecke korperlich thronte, wird wieder
hinter der Seifenblase des einzelnen, der nun furchtbar vereinsamt ist, wieder er-
stehennun nicht mehr als Person, aber als gnadenloses Gesetz" (J. v. Uexkull to
Chamberlain, 27 December 1920, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspondence).
154. The reviews are preserved in the Hamburg State Archives (HSA); compare
also Hunemorder (1979).
155. Hiinemorder (1979, 114).
156. Memo, 14 April 1944, Akte: Goethe Preis, HSA.
157. See G. v. Uexkiill (1964, 175).
158. [Ernst] L[ehmann], 1934, review of Staatsbiologie (1933) by J. v. Uexkull,
Der Biologe 1: 25. The article was signed only with initials, but authorship can be
inferred from what is known about Lehmann's own perspective on the holistic ele-
ments of the Nazi biological vision. Lehmann was also editor of Der Biologe at this
time; I discuss him and his journal at more length in chapter 6.
159. Tirala(1934).
160. "Wir nationalsozialistische Studenten werden den Kampf des Herrn von
Uexkull gegen eine alles mechanisierende Biologie nicht vergessen und uns fiir die
Erhaltung und Sicherung dieser Arbeit energisch einsetzen" (letter Nord d.NSDStB-
Fiihrer, 24 October 1934, Akte: Hochschulwesen II, HSA).
161. "Esist indiesem Heft der Versuch gemacht worden, der jungen Generation der
nationalistischen Studenten eine Reihe groBer deutscher Denker, Naturforscher und
Kiinstler vorzustellen, die den jungen Studenten die Moglichkeit geben konnen, die
Aufgaben, die der Universitat im Rahmen der Regeneration des deutschen Volkes
durch die Bewegung Adolf Hitlers gestellt sind, zu erkennen. Wir haben uns die
Freiheit genommen, in diesem Heft auch Ihr Bild und einige Ausschnitte aus Ihren
Werken abzudrucken. Wollen Sie diese Tatsache als einen Ausdruck des Dankes der
jungen wissenschaftlichen Generation betrachten fiir die Anregungen und Klarheiten,
die ihr durch Ihre Lebensarbeit geschenkt wurden" (Drescher, 10 December 1937, du-
plicated in Hochschulwesen II & Personalakte, HSA).
162. Letter, 21 December 1937, Personalakte, HSA.
163. "Die 'Umweltforschung' steht in gar keiner Weise im Gegensatz zur gene-
tischen Betrachtungsweise, sondem sie fordert sie sinngemass; dagegen stehen ihre
philosophise hen und weltanschaulichen Grundlagen in einem strikten Gegenstaz zu
denen der Milieutheorie. Herr v. Uexkiill hat ganz recht, wenn er die milieutheoretische
Denkweise als zur Weltanschauung des Bolschwismus, die Denkweise der Umwelt-
forschung als zur Weltanschauung des Nationalsozialismus gehorig heraustellt" (Deu-
chler, "Gutachten iiber das Institut fiir Umweltforschung," 16 March 1936, Akte:
Uexkull and Institut fiir Umweltforschung, Bd. II, HSA).
164. "Es besteht die Gefahr, daB wir der neues Rassenforschung zum Opfer fallen"
(J. v. Uexkull to H. Driesch, 19 February 1934, Driesch NachlaB (DN), Leipzig).
165. See, for example, J. v. Uexkiill (1937, 200-201).
166. J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 21 Feberuary 1921, Uexkull-Chamberlain Cor-
167. J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain, 21 October 1921, Uexkull-Chamberlain Corre-
168. The letter is reproduced in G. v. Uexkull (1964, 171-73), where it was pre-
sented as evidence of Uexkull's supposed principled opposition to the Nazi regime.
Because of its importance, I attempted to locate the original letter, but the family
claimed to have no knowledge of its whereabouts.
169. Ibid., 174.
170. "Die neue Erkenntnis des Nationalsozialismus ist der totale Staat, der eine aus
gemeinsam arbeitenden Organen aufgebaute lebendige Einheit darstellt" (J. v. Uexkull
(1934b, 195).
171. G. v. Uexkull (1964, 175).
172. Here, as Arnold Davidson points out, Heidegger was deliberately disassociat-
ing himself from a part of the Kantian tradition to which Uexkull-rr-although he other-
wise largely eschewed the "Enlightenment Kant"remained committed. Following
conflicts with the government over censorship of his work Religion within the Limits of
Reason Alone, Kant was moved to argue (in a separate 1798 treatise called Conflict of
the Faculties) that, among the faculties of the university, philosophy should be granted
absolute immunity against any encroachment of government authority: "It is absolutely
essential that the learned community at the university also contain a faculty that is
independent of the government's command with regard to its teachings.... For withr
out a faculty of this kind, the truth would not come to light (and this would be to the
government's own detriment)." Quoted in Davidson (1989, 414). My more general
comparison of Heidegger and Uexkiill's 1933 public pronouncements on academic
freedom was shaped by my reading of this article.
173. For details, see the memos and nominating letters held in the Akte: Goethe
Preis, HSA. After 1945, Uexkiill's reputation as a shrewd and inventive observer of
animal behavior persisted, but the broader metaphysical aspects of his Umwelt theory
began to look rather embarrassing within the self-conscious climate of postwar German
scientific culture. A 1950 symposium on the "problem of Umwelt," organized by, the
philosopher Helmuth Plessner, revealed remarkably little understanding, and even less
sympathy for Uexkiill's principles of research. Although Konrad Lorenz offered a tem-
pered but lively defense of certain key Uexkullian principles, one participant, Erich von
Hoist went so far as to ask bluntly whether the audience thought there was really such
a difference between observing the movements of an amoeba and observing the move-
ments of a bouncing rubber ball; the objective methods of observation employed, he
thought, should differ little in both cases. Others at the symposium picked up on this
notion, arguing in various ways that Uexkull had exaggerated the purposefulness of
animal behavior to the point of eradicating crucial distinctions between human beings
and the rest of the animal world. See Helmuth Plessner, ed., 1952, Symphylosophein.
Bericht iiber den dritten deutschen Kongress fur Philosophie, Bremen, 1950. 8. Sym-
posium: Das Umweltproblem (Munich), 323-353.
174. G. v. Uexkull (1964, 264).


1. Her works include (1913), Die Geschichte der Anna Waser: ein Roman aus der
Wende des 17. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt); (1920) Von der
Liebe und vom Tod: Novellen aus drei Jahrhunderten (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-
Anstalt); (1927) Frauenfeld [Vol. 46/47 in series "Die Schweiz im deutschen Gei-
stesleben"] (Leipzig: Huber); (1930) Land unter Sternen: der Roman eines Dorfes
(Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt); (1936) Sinnbild des Lebens (Stuttgart: Deutsche
2. Waser (1933, 196).
3. Ibid., 14.
4. Ibid., 304.
5. See Head (1926, 1: 84-93); Yakovlev (1970); Katzenstein (1953); Riese (1958;
1959); Minkowski (1931).
6. Indeed, his Russian friend, Pusirewsky, explicitly spoke of two poorly integrated
sides to Monakow's character: what she called his "Russian nature," or natural, spon-
taneous side, and what she called his "German nature," or stiff, systematic side. (Pu-
sirewsky [1953, 12]).
7. Regarding exceptions and partial exceptions: Monakow's 1916 "Gefuhl, Ge-
sittung und Gehirn" was deemed worthy of translation into English in 1925 for the
American neurological community under the title "The Emotions, Morality, and the
Brain." In 1950, the successor to Monakow in Zurich, Mieczylslaw Minkowski, ar-
ranged for the republication (in German) of four major papers from Monakow's later
years; these appeared together in a volume entitled Gehirn und Gewissen (Brain and
moral sense). A slim, almost purely descriptiveand hence not very usefulmono-
graph. Das Gewissen, contains a comparison of the concepts of "conscience" in Mo-
nakow, Freud, and Jung. See Sindel (1984). Riese's 1938 French monograph remains
the only study of Monakow's later thought that truly engages at least aspects of it in a
sustained and thoughtful dialogue.
8. Monakow (1970, 24).
9. Pusirewsky (1953, 108).
10. Minkowski (1931, 2); compare Monakow (1970, 34-35).
11. Monakow recalled: "She . . . no longer wanted to go out and spoke only when
she was spoken to. Most nights were also spent sleepless. One morning, she tried to
poison herself by swallowing watercolor paint, and . . . explained that she no longer
wanted to live, that she was a criminal, responsible for all the misery of the world, with
a heart of stone, etc. She stood around now motionless the whole day long like a painted
column, mostly in front of the window, and remained silent" (See Monakow [1970,
12. Ibid., 76.
13. Pusirewsky (1953, 11,51).
14. Monakow (1980, 102).
15. Compare ibid., 104-7.
16. Waser (1933, 343).
17. Yakovlev (1970).
18. Waser (1933, 367).
19. Minkowski (1950, 85).
20. Monakow (1970).
21. See Minkowski (1950, 34-35); and Monakow's bitter account of the faculty's
shameful behavior (1970, 211-17).
22. The International Brain Commission was founded in 1901 to encourage interna-
tional and interdisciplinary cooperation and coordination of research in the brain sci-
ences. Monakow was appointed a member of this commission in 1904, the only Swiss
representative. Other members of the commission included Flechsig, Edinger, Munk,
Nissl, Waldeyer, and Alzheimer (from Germany, which had the largest representation),
Sherrington and Horsley (from England), Pierre Marie and Jules Dejerine (from
France), Ramon y Cajal (from Spain), and Herrick and Adolf Meyer (from the United
States). See Monakow's brief history of this commission and its goals (1970, 254^59).
23. Ibid., 227.
24. Wehr(1987, 11-12).
25. Pusirewsky (1953, 18).
26. Ibid., 21; Waser (1933, 312).
27. Pusirewsky (1953, 21).
28. For an introduction to degeneration ist thinking at the turn of the century, and the
role played by research into the hereditary effects of alcoholincluding work at Zu-
richsee Gunter Mann (1985), especially pp. 20-24.
29. Goldstein (1931, 2).
30. Monakow (1897).
31. Waser (1933, 204).
32. See, for example, Yakovlev (1970).
33. Monakow (1970, 226-27, 244).
34. Jagella, Isler, and Hess (1994, 45).
35. Monakow (1911,250); Riese (1938b, 4; 1958).
36. E. Bleuler, undated letter, cited in Monakow (1970, 184).
37. "Ich muB Ihnen durch einen Satz ad Hirnfunktion und, wenn Sie wollen, auch ad
Diaschisis schreiben, den ich eben in Goethes Gesprachen fmde. Ad Gall sagt er; Das
den Schadel ein wenig emportreibende kleine Partikelchen Hirn thut's freilich nicht,
sondern der gesamte Theil des Nervensystemes, der in jenem Partikelchen endet, un-
glaublich wie dieser Mann iiberall richtig ahnte" (4 July 1916, cited in Monakow
[1970, 179]).
38. Driesch, cited in Freyhofer (1982, 45 n. 15).
39. Monakow (1914).
40. Monakow (1911,241, 248).
41. Masur (1961, 258).
42. The best single introduction to Jackson's thought are the collected articles in
Jackson (1932). I also discuss Jackson's thought at length in my book. Medicine, mind
and the double brain: A study in nineteenth-century thought (1987).
43. In 1921, Jackson's Croonian Lectures "Evolution and dissolution in the nervous
system" were translated by Miss Pariss into French and published, along with a preface
by Monakow, in the Neurologische und Psychiatrische Abhandlungen aus dem
Schweizer Archiv fur Neurologic und Psychiatric, 8: 283ff; 9: 131 ff. Monakow's final
work (Monakow and Mourgue [1928]), Introduction biologique al'elude de la neurol-
ogic et de la psychopathologie: integration et disintegration de lafonction cites Jack-
son in its index just one less time (14 times) than Sigmund Freud.
44. For example, during the time that he was first exhaustively exploring the litera-
ture for alternatives to classic approaches to brain damage (preparing for a major set of
lectures given in 1910), Monakow very likely looked at Freud's 1891 monograph that
had attacked strict localization ism and pronounced Jackson the chief inspiration for an
alternative, developmental conception. In that monograph, Freud had written:
"in assessing the functions of the speech apparatus under pathological conditions,
we are adopting as a guiding principle Hughlings Jackson's doctrine that all these
modes of reaction represent instances of functional retrogression (dis-involution) of a
highly organized apparatus and therefore correspond to earlier states of its functional
development. This means that under all circumstances, an arrangement of associations
which, having been acquired later, belongs to a higher level of functioning, will be lost,
while an earlier and simpler one will be preserved" (Freud [1891, 87]).
More generally, it is clear that Freud's early attempts to find a more dynamic way to
conceive the nature of breakdown in the brain importantly shaped essential aspects of
his later thinking, some of which in turn influenced Monakow. In this sense, psycho-
analysis, broadly understood, owes a significant debt to Jacksonian evolutionary
perspectives. For a discussion of the link between Jackson's concept of "functional
retrogression" (or "dissolution") and the Freudian later concept of regression, see, for
example, W, Riese, 1958, 'Freudian concepts of brain function and brain disease,'
Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases 127: 287-307; and S. Jackson, "The history
of Freud's concepts of regression," Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Associa-
lion 17 (3): 743-84. For a sampling of discussions on Freud's later use of Jackson's
ideas on "recurrent utterances" to make sense of the "trapped reminiscences" of the
hysteric, see J. Forrester, 1980, Language and the origins of psychoanalysis (London
and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press); E. Stengel, 1963, "Hughlings Jackson's in-
fluence on psychiatry," British Journal of Psychiatry 109: 348-55. Some attempts to
push the case that Freud's conception of the relationship between consciousness and
the unconscious also owes a debt to Jackson can be found in S. P. Fullinwider, 1983,
"Sigmund Freud, John Hughlings Jackson, and speech," Journal ofthe History of Ideas
44: 51-58; and chapter 8 of Harrington (1987), "Freud and Jackson's double brain: the
case for a psychoanalytic debt."
45. "So wird die Localisation . . . in keiner Weise aufgehoben, wie das Monakow
vielfach irrtumlich imputiert wird; sie kombiniert sich nur mit zeitlich, genetischen und
dynamischen Momenten und wird dadurch vertieft und in gewissen Sinne relativiert.
Die raumlichen Faktoren der Funktion verkntipfen sich mit den Zeitlichen in einer
auBerordentlichen engen, organischen und zuletzt kaum noch unterscheidbaren Weise,
wie das auch in der modernen Physik, in der Relativitatstheorie, geschieht" (Minkow-
ski [1950,58]).
46. Hughes (1958,64-65).
47. Waser (1933).
48. Minkowski (1950, 63).
49. Goldstein (1931a, 5).
50. Pusirewsky (1953, 25).
51. Monakow, "7.9.14, Aphorismen und Gedankensplitter," Monakow NachlaB
(MN), Institut fiir die Geschichte derMedizin, University of Zurich, Switzerland.
52. Pusirewsky (1953, 29).
53. Ibid., 39-40, 29.
54. "Viele miihsam im Leben erworbene und sorgfaltig gepflegte und gehiitete,
sogenannte moralische Prinzipien haben nur Bestand in ruhigen, unsere Existenz nicht
erschiittemden Zeiten. Jeder ernste Konflikt im Leben stellt unseren Charakter, uber-
haupt unsere Ethik auf eine harte Probe" (Note, January 1914, cited in Pusirewsky
55. Ibid., 39.
56. Kline, 1967, The encyclopedia ofphilosophy (New York: Macmillan Publishing
& The Free Press), 262.
57. Cited in Wehr(1981, 167).
58. Hughes (1958, 369).
59. Freud, "Thoughts on War and Death," cited in Hughes (1958, 369).
60. Freud (1930, 56).
61. Cited in Monakow (1970, 262).
62. Minkowski (1950, 64).
63. Monakow, October 1914, "Aphorismen und Gedankensplitter," MN.
64. See Monakow (1924).
65. Monakow, letter of 2 June 1930, cited in Pusirewsky (1953, 86).
66. Monakow, cited in Jagella, Isler, and Hess (1994, 42).
67. "Sein Glaube an die regenerativen Krafte war unerschutterlich, durch der
Einblick, den er als Nervenarzt in die Haltlosigkeit der durch iibergroBen Druck und
wilden Taumel zerrissenen Menschen der Nachkriegszeit erheben und iiberall die An-
zeichen des Abbaus feststellen. (Pusirewsky [1953, 48]).
68. See Monakow (1925).
69. Monakow (1916; 1919; 1922; 1927; 1930a; 1930b); Monakow and Mourgue
70. Cited in Pusirewsky (1953, 27).
71. Riese (1938b, 23); for Monakow's own justification of the use of his neolo-
gisms, see Monakow & Mourgue (1928, 7-8).
72. Monakow, Untitled notes dated"Baden, 29.3.23," MN.
73. Monakow and Mourgue, 1930, Biologische Einfuhrung in das Stadium der Neu-
rologic und Psychopathologie (Stuttgart: Hippkrates-Verlage), 37. This book was orig-
inally published in French, and it is noteworthy that the German edition is consistently
more expansive and "Goethean" in its vocabulary choices than the original French
74. Darwin did try to address the issue, with his vagueand never widely em-
bracedtheory of "pangenesis," which proposed that all the cells of the body contain
tiny particles of information that travel into the male and female gametes, where they
are passed on to produce the cells of the next generation.
75. Bowler (1983).
76. Hering (1870).
77. See Bowler (1983, 68-69).
78. Semon (1904); see also Semon (1909).
79. See Daniel L. Schacter, 1982, Stranger behind the engram: Theories of memory
and the psychology of science (Hillsdale, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates);
Schatzmann (1968).
80. Semon was a fascinating embodiment of many of the contradictions and trage-
dies of his culture in his own right. He failed to work out the full potential of his Mneme
theory because, already despondent after the premature death of his wife, he would
react to the news of the last Great War and the end of the German empire by wrapping
himself inside a flag and shooting himself (see Goldschmidt [1955, 168]).
81. Monakow, note, "BewuBtsein, Psyche und Horme. Das Leben. Psychisch und
physisch," 17 May 1918, Monakow Papers.
82. Riese (1958, 135); compare Riese (1938b, 6).
83. Monakow and Mourgue (1928, 33); Monakow and Mourgue, Biologische
Einfuhrung, (1930, 7). Walther Riese elaborated on this piece of Monakow's thinking:
"The evolutionary concept of C. v. Monakow simply contains few of the elements from
the [Darwinian] doctrine of descendance There is [in his thought instead] . . . an
anticipation of the future, the present is not comprised by the past, but by that which is
not yet present; tomorrow determines today" (Riese [1938b, 10]).
84. Monakow (1930a, p. 56).
85. Bowler (1983, 56-57).
86. Compare R. Harre, 1967, "Bergson, Henri," The encyclopedia of philosophy
(New York: Macmillan Publishing & The Free Press), 1: 295.
87. Monakow-Mourgue correspondence (uncatalogued) in MN.
88. Monakow to Mourgue, 17 April 1920, MN.
89. Monakow to Mourgue, 30 December 1919, MN.
90. Another of Monakow's neologisms, Eklisis was opposed to Klisis, and referred
to a reversal of the natural tendency to move in a creative and finalistic way towards a
being or a thing.
91. Monakow to Mourgue, 21 March 1923, MN.
92. Waser (1933, 46).
93. Ibid., 265.
94. "Im allgemeinen kann man sagen, dass die mit festen ortlichen und zeitlichen
Komponenten sowie die mit der subjektiven Kausalitat ausgestattete nervose Tatigkeit
zu der Welt der Empfindung (die Welt als Vorstellung), aus denen unsere Erkenntnis
fliesst, gehort. Die von Raum und Zeit aber an sich unabhangige, dafiir aber durch
subjektive Qualitatswerte und durch blinden Aktionsdrang (Wollen) gekennzeichnete
Tatigkeit muss zur Welt der Geftihle (die (Welt als Wille), Innenspiegelung dieses)
gerechnet werden." (Monakow, cited in Jagella, Isler, and Hess [1994, 44]).
95. Masur (1961, 47-51).
96. "[D]as spatere logische Denken (formale Denkoperation) . . . eine Fortsetzung
jener einfacheren, aber exakt folgerichtigen innervatorischen Prozesse"; "das Gehirn
hat sich selbst erzeugt"(cked in Riese, 1930, review of Introduction biologique a
I 'etude de la neurologie et de la psychopathologie by C. v. Monakow and R. Mourgue,
Zeitschrift fur Psychologie 115: 403^10.
97. Ibid.
98. Monakow (1916).
99. Compare Forman (1973).
100. Compare Riese (1958, 125).
101. Cited in Waser (1933, 309).
102. See Monakow and Mourgue (1928, 309).
103. Waser (1933, 309).
104. Monakow (1930, 371).
105. Ibid.
106. Ibid., 366-67. This long passage consists almost exclusively of one long sen-
tence which could not be translated into readable English without major grammatical
modifications and prepositional bridges. The original passage reads:
Der letzte Weltkrieg sollte eigentlich auch von dem soeben angedeuteten biologischen Ge-
sichtspunkte aus betrachtet werden. Die seit vielen Jahrzehnten fast ins Phantastische ge-
triebene Differenzierung und Spezialisierung der naturwissenschaften Forschung, insbeson-
dere zum Zwecke einer Bereicherung um technische Mittel und Werke (Industrial isierung)
und einer Forderung resp. Verteidigung wirtschaftlicher, auf das gegenwartigeresp. tagliche
Gedeihen des Volkes gerichteter Interessen unter Hintansetzung, ja auf kosten einer wahren,
hohere Gesittung und hohere Lebenziele anstrebenden Erziehung der Menschen (Zukunft
der Nationen im Sinne gerechter Humanitat, der Nachstenliebe und Barmherzigkeit und der
Tugenden uberhaupt), eine solche einseitige, hauptsachlich auf "bkonomische Werte", auf
Machtgewinn, persbnliche Uberlegenheit resp. Prestige einer Nation eingestellte "Pro-
speritat" mufite im weiteren Verlaufe eine tiefe seelische Reaktion im Sinne einer morali-
schen Minderwertigkeit, einer Kollektiven Gefiihlsode und Armut auch an religiosen
Gefiihlen, wie sie zu Beginn des Krieges und spater in Erscheinung trat, herbeifuhren.
His former student Minkowski had these tactful words to say about Monakow's
style: "He struggled with form and verbal expression, his rich associations tumbled
over themselves at times, and could burden a thought to a point where it could no longer
be properly received by an insufficiently prepared listener" (Minkowski (1950, 83).
107. Monakow (1927, 242).
108. Katzenstein, 1954, "Garant der Ganzheit in seiner Humanbiologie," cited in
Jagella, Isler, and Hess (1994, 49).
109. Monakow (1927, 248).
110. Monakow letter, 6.8.1928, cited in Pusirewsky (1933, 62).
111. Kant had called this moral sense the "arbitrium librum," which he had distin-
guished from the "arbitrium brutum," and had described in Critique of Pure Reason as
"that capacity to override the press of our [immediate] sensual desires through ideas of
usefulness or harm that may be even remote [jenes Vermogen durch Vbrstellungen von
dem, was selbst auf entferntere Art ntitzlich oder schadlich ist, die Eindriicke auf unser
sinnliches Begehrungsvermbgen zu iiberwinden]". (cited in Riese, review of Introduc-
tion biologique, (1930, 409).
112. Compare Monakow (1927, 257).
113. Waser (1933, 276)
114. Monakow (1927)
115. Ibid., 282; on the functioning of the Syneidesis in criminals, see Monakow and
Mourgue (1928, 110-13); and Monakow's essay on the "biology" of crime and ac-
countability, (Monakow, 1928, "Recht, Verbrechen und Zurechnungsfahigkeit in biol-
ogischer Beleuchtung," Schweizer Archiv fiir Neurologic und Psychiatric 22 (2):
18 Iff).
116. Cited in Waser (1933, 274).
117. Riese (1938, 5).
118. Monakow (1930b, 340).
119. "Da bei der Feststellung einer Tatsache die Uberzeugung ausnahmslos mit
verwertet wird (sie fiillt die Liicken aus) so ist jede unsere Wahrheit mit einer wenn
auch kleinen subjectiven Componente (Glauben, Wunsch) ausgestattet" (Monakow,
note, "Causalitat," 17 August 1917, MN).
120. Monakow (1930b, 296).
121. cited in Fr. Schultz, Bonn, 1925, review of "Fiinfzig Jahre Neurologic Zwei
Vortrage" by C. v. Monakow, Deutsche Zeitschrift fiir Nervenheilkunde 85: 108-111.
122. "Avec la notion de horme, d'une part, et celle de valeur, d'autre part, nous
avons introduit dans le domaine neurobiologique une notion metaphysique et une no-
tion qui, d'apres Popinion actuelle, n'a pas droit d'entrer dans la science. Double here-
sie, que nous n'essayerons point de deTendre a 1'aide d'arguments subdls! L'histoire
des sciences est la pour nous rassurer, au cas ou nous aurions besoins de l'etre, car tel
concept, tel que celui de la nature intime de la matiere, qui 6tait prohibe au nom de la
science positive il y a moins d'un demi-siecle, fait aujourd'hui les delices de certains
physiciens, et encore choisissons-nous l'exemple le moins audacieux. La biologie ne
doit certes pas tomber dans le mysticisme, mais s'il nous etait demontre que celui-ci
nous aide a y voir plus clair dans un domaine ou regnent encore tant d'obscurites, nous
n'hesiterons pas a l'utiliser!" (Monakow and Mourgue [1928, 394]).
123. Katzenstein (1953, 3^1).
124. Brun (1926b).
125. Compare Kollaritis (1925).
126. Eugen Bleuler, 1923, "Biologische Psychologie," Zeitschrift fiir die gesamte
Neurologic und Psychiatric 83.
127. L. L. Bernard, 1926, review of "The Emotions, morality, and the brain," by
C. v. Monakow, American Journal of Sociology 31 (6): 828-30.
128. "Man muss schon an einem 'dynamischen Vitalismus' Gefallen finden, wenn
das Buch ansprechen soli." M. H. Fischer, 1931, review of Biologische Einfiihrung in
das Stadium der Neurologie und Psychopathologie, by C. v. Monakow und R. Mour-
gue, Journal fiir Psychologie und Neurologie 42: 419-20.
129. G. Th. Ziehen, 1929, review of Introduction biologique a Vetude de la neuro-
logic et de la psychopathologie, by C. v. Monakow and R. Mourgue, Zeitschrift fiir
Psychologie 111: 405-6.
130. Riese, review of Introduction biologique, (1930).
131. "Ce qui etait intuition chez le philosophe est demontre' par le biologiste-neu-
rologiste qui penetre aussi loin que le permettent les moyens d'investigation de la
science la plus recente" (Y. Le Lay, 1929, review of "The Emotions, morality, and the
brain, by C. v. Monakow, Scientia (Rivista di scienza), 45: 124-26.
132. CPaparede], 1930, review of Introduction biologique a Tetude de la neurolo-
gie et de la psychopathologie, by C. v. Monakow and R. Mourgue, Archives de Psy-
chologie 22: 112-14.
133. 1994 also saw the publication of a special historical supplement to the Swiss
Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, the journal founded by Monakow, describing
him as "brain researcher, neurologist, psychiatrist and thinker." See Jagella, Isler, and
Hess (1994). I am grateful to Hansruedi Isler at Zurich for a copy of this journal.
134. Reported in detail by Katzenstein (1953).
135. In his 1918 essay on "The Role of the Unconscious," Jung would stress the way
in which the First World War had revealed humanity's barbarous, shadowy side, which
had been repressed under the yoke of Christian ethics. Like Monakow, he would argue
that only a process of individual renewal through a life lived in closer contact with the
irrational and the instinctual could help Europe recover from its crisis. "Our rationalis-
tic attitude leads us to believe that we can work wonders with international organiza-
tion, legislation and other well-meant devices," he declared. "In reality only a change
in the attitude of the individual" could "bring about a renewal in the spirit of nations"
(Jung, [1918, 27]). Although the two men knew each other in Zurich before the war, I
have found no evidence for mutual influence in the interwar years.
136. Monakow (1930a, 367).
137. Ibid., 367-68.
138. Waser (1933, 358).


1. Kohler (1959, 4).

2. Compare the analysis of Joachim Schumacher (1937). See also the contemporary
testaments of Hermann Kesser, 1925, Von Chaos zur Gestaltung (Frankfurt am Main:
Frankfurter Societats Druckerei); and Hermann Hesse, 1921, Blick ins Chaos. Drei
Aufscitze (Bern: Verlag Seldwyla).
3. Sternberger, Storz, and Suskind (1967[1968]).
4. Keller (1995).
5. "Wir nennen die Lehre von dem unvermeidlichen Warmetod der Welt eine
zeitgemasse und wissenschaftliche, folglich unheldische und untragische Fassung des
diisteren Dammerungsgesichtes unserer nordlandischen Voluspa" (cited in Schuma-
cher [1937, 94]).
6. Ibid., 93.
7. Ibid., 43.
8. Ibid., 91.
9. J. v. Uexkull (1928, 9).
10. Spengler (1918).
11. Cited in Stackelberg (1981, 140).
12. Cited in Field (1981, 216).
13. Chamberlain, Grundlagen, cited in Johnston (1972, 330) (italics added).
14. Louis L. Snyder, 1976 (1989), Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (New York:
Paragon House), 50-51.
15. One of the most vivid literary examples of this motif was put forward in the
1921 "Zeitroman" of Arthur Dinter, Die Sunde wider das Blut, which the author dedi-
cated to Chamberlain (the 15th edition, consulted here, was published in 1929 by Mat-
thes und Thost in Leipzig). The novel described a marriage between a pure, idealistic
German young man and a half-Jewish woman whose "bad blood" is initially obscured
but reemerges with a vengeance after the marriage. The child she bears her husband
(while fortunately dying in childbirth) reverts totally back to Jewish stock, and the
contrast between this nasty, conniving little boy and his "pure German" illegitimate
brother (being raised in the same household) drives home the centrahty of the blood
thesis. At the end of the novel, the boys' father, Hermann, risks all in order to bring the
message to the German people of a mass Jewish conspiracy to destroy German values
and culture. Extensively "documented" (with, for example, "evidence" that Jews con-
sidered Aryan woman mere "cattle" for easy copulation), Dinter's novel is a piece of
shocking racist pornography that was one of the bestsellers of the 1920s and, according
to Geoffrey Field (1981) was even read aloud in German high schools as a moralizing
16. Cited in Stackelberg (1981, 118).
17. Ash (1989, 52).
18. "[E]in Philosoph, der vom Leben her zum Denken kam. Er schuf nicht in Kon-
takt mit Biichern, sondern in unmittelbarer Anschauung des Weltgeschehens. Er saB
nicht am Schreibtisch, er durchwanderte Stadt und Land. Dieser Professor der Philoso-
phie war nicht der Typ eines Professors, uberhaupt nicht der eines Gelehrten. Er war
vielmehr ein genialer Einsiedler, ein Mann, den die Musik geweckt hatte und den Eros
trieb, der mit aller Kraft darum rang, Leben und Welt ins Bessere zu heben" (cited in
Brod [1969, 209-10).
19. Ehrenfels, (1890).
20. Wertheimer, undated, untitled lecture, pp. 3-4. Box 2, Max Wertheimer Papers,
New York Public Library (MWP).
21. In the years before the war, he had argued these views, citing the examples of the
Moslems and the Mongols, before the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. His opinions
would attract the cautious interest of his Viennese colleague, Sigmund Freud. The
relationship and conceptual links between the two menincluding some intriguing
parallels between Ehrenfels' concept of "chaos" and Freud's concept of the "death
instinct" or Thanatosare discussed by Rug and Mulligan (1986).
Ehrenfels went to great lengths to get his eugenicist message across; his play Die
Sternenbraut, which deals with the tragedy that result when eugenicist principles are
neglected, played in the German Theatre in Prague, but to only moderate success. The
aging philosopher's reputation was not helped by the fact that he became infatuated
with one of the young actresses in the play and demonstrated his admiration for her
quite publicly.
Although he was a eugenicist, Ehrenfels, did eschew the anti-Semitism that was so
widespread in Prague in these years, and was even prepared to take a public stand on
this issue. At a noisy student gathering about 1910, that had convened to debate (and
mostly condemn) his attacks on monogamy, Ehrenfels noted that one of his own an-
cestors had been Jewish and that he was proud of the factupon which, his youthful
audience broke out into still more divisive and inflamed shouts and counterarguments
(Brod [1969, 214, 211]).
22. Ehrenfels (1916, viii).
23. Ibid., 27.
24. Ibid., 175.
25. "Marcionism" is a phrase adopted by historian William Johnston to describe the
tendency of the beleaguered and anxious German minority in Czech-dominated Prague
to think in terms of dualistic struggles, that projected "racial strife onto the cosmos"
(1972, 265-70). The Christian heresy of Marcionism had taught that the world had its
origins in evil and caprice, having been set into motion by the cruel Creator God of the
Jews. The fundamental evil of creation was opposed in this heresy by the spiritual
principle of love and salvation embodied in Jesus Christ.
26. Ehrenfels (1916, viii).
27. The original reads: "die deutsche Musik ist mir auch heute noch Religion in dem
Sinn, daB ich, wenn mir alle Argumente dieses Werkes auch widerlegt wiirden, doch
nicht der Verzweiflung verfiele,doch iiberzeugt bliebe, mit dem Weltvertrauen, aus
dem dieses Werk erwuchs, den wesentlich richtigen Pfad beschritten zu haben,
iiberzeugt, - weil es die deutsche Musik gibt. Denn eine Welt, die Solches bevorge-
bracht, muB ihrem innersten Wesen nach gut und vertrauenswiirdig sein" (Ibid., viii).
28. Eksteins (1989, 77).
29. "Das Wirken des kosmisches Gestaltungsprinzips gleicht des ktinstlerischen
Genies. Zuerst ist das Werk da'im Anfang war die Tat'und in zweiter Linie erst,
und niemals vollkommen und restlos, stellt sich das Verstandnis ein" (Ehrenfels [1916.
30. Ibid., 175-76.
31. "Das ZweckbewuBtsein ist also eine junge kosmische Bliite. Es ist gleichwohl
heute schon eine gewaltige terrestrische Macht.Darf nun angenommen werden, daB
der Allgestalter dieser durch sein Wirken geschaffenen Bliite fremd, vielleicht gar un-
wissend gegentiberstehe?1st es glaubhaft, daB wir Menschen in und mit unserm
ZweckbewuBtsein den Allgestalter iiberragen?Das hiermit aufgeworfene Problem
stellt uns vor diebisher noch kaum gestreifteFrage nach dem ontologischen
Verhaltnisse des Einheitprinzipes zu seinen Geschopfen (Ibid., 85).
32. Ibid., 86.
33. The original text reads: "in und mit dem Menschen sucht Gott nach einer fiihren-
den Idee, welche fahig ware, sein bisher triebhaftes Gestalten in Bahnen des Zweck-
bewuBtseines zu leiten. Diese Idee ist noch nich gefunden" (Ibid., 207).
34. Compare Johnston (1972, 305).
35. Other important representatives of this tradition who would develop narratives
along somewhat different lines include Oswald Spengler and Ernst Jiinger. For a dis-
cussion see Herf (1984).
36. Luchins and Luchins (1982).
37. AlasdairMacIntyre, 1967, "Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch), in The Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (New York: MacMillan & the Free Press), 7: 533.
38. On June 15, 1895, Max Wertheimer's older brother, Walter, recorded the fol-
lowing confrontation between an increasingly rebellious Max and his orthodox Jewish
Today at dinneras usualthere was again a terrible row, which was so drastic that I am
writing it down immediately after it happened, reconstructing it from stenographic notes I
took during it. Papa, Mama, Max, Walter, and Uncle are conversing. Papa: "Children,
what's the Sidra [prescribed Torah reading] this week?" Walter says nothing. Max: "I don't
know." Mama: "But you learn these things from Hernn Wiesner." Max: "Well, uh . .."
Mama: "Uh! You really should know that. You'll learn it again tomorrow." Max: We al-
ready learned it last Sunday. But why should 1 memorize what the Sidra happens to be?
Mama: "Do you know its meaning?" Max: "No, what for? To be religious you sure don't
have to know what the Sidra is. ... It's completely unnecessary for religion, or for knowl-
edge of the Bible, to know what the Sidra happens to be this week. Demanding that would
be nonsense." Mama is excited; wants to rebut. Uncle shouts louder than she: "And what
.. .?" Papa starts screaming, drowning him out: "Don't argue about it. Someone who firmly
holds his position, who doesn't want to let himself be convinced, can't be convinced."
Mama wants to scream. Papa gets up and goes to his room. Mama: "Now that's the limit,
talking like that. How dare you attack what's said by someone older than you! Knowledge
of the Torah is nonsense, what, that's what you're saying? ... You?!" Max: "Mama, you're
lying; pardon me if I accuse you of lying, but lying won't convince me. I didn't say that
knowledge of the Torah is nonsense, only such an application of itthis business of having
to know just what particular Sidra it is" (cited in Michael Wertheimer [1980, 8]).
39. Luchins and Luchins (1982, 151).
40. Cited in Michael Wertheimer (1980, 8).
41. The original text reads: "Erverwarf unsere spekulativen Methoden, steckte voll
von Handwerkertricks, von praktischen, manchmal humoristischen Ideen, die den
Menschen, das Versuchsobjekt, zu foppen bestimmt waren, murkste mit derber Lus-
tigkeit an seiner Arbeit herum. Ein weiser temperamentvoller fazinierender Mensch,
klein, energisch, eigenwillig, schonaugig, mit mir auch durch Liebe zur Musik, zuim
Klavierspiel verbunden" (Brod [1969, 95-96]).
42. Compare Luchins (1975, 21-44).
43. Mandler and Mandler (1969, 390).
44. See Max Wertheimer, (1959).
45. Born (1978, 174).
46. Von Horbostel, 1963, oral communication; in Luchins and Luchins (1985).
47. Born (1978, 173).
48. Ibid., 184-86.
49. Erika Oppenheimer, cited in Luchins and Luchins (1986, 215).
50. Erwin Levy, cited in Luchins and Luchins (1987, 78).
51. Abraham Aaron Roback, 1952. History of American psychology (New York,
Library Publishers), 318.
52. Rudolf Arnheim, 1989, "Max Wertheimer," a talk originally held at the Memo-
rial Meeting for Max Wertheimer at the New School for Social Research, New York
City, 10 September 1943, Psychological Research 51: 46.
53. Michael Wertheimer (1980, 9).
54. Ash (1989, 52).
55. Ibid., 52-53. Ash also stresses in this article that German psychology's institu-
tional and conceptual links to philosophy in thefirstdecades of this century are critical
to understanding features of Max Wertheimer's career.
56. Max Wertheimer(1910).
57. Max Wertheimer (1912a, 2).
58. Ash, (1985a, 309).
59. Much of this paragraph benefited from the succinct summary of "Gestalt theory"
in Richard L. Gregory, ed., 1987, The Oxford Companion to the Mind (New York:
Oxford University Press), 288-89.
60. Koffka (1924).
61. Kohler (1925).
62. Wertheimer was forced to content himself with an appointment as Aufierordent-
licher Professor at the Berlin Institute. His failure to secure himself a full professorship
before 1929 (at the age of 49) had partly to do with a modest publishing record, but
probably somewhat more to do with his Jewish origins and political associations.
63. O. L. Zangwill, 1963, "The completion effect in hemianopia and its relation to
anosognosia," in Problems of dynamic neurology, ed. by L. Halpern (Jerusalem, Israel:
Dept. of Nervous Diseases of the Rothschild Hadassah University Hospital and the
Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School), 274.
64. Kohler (1920, 1922).
65. Philip W. Cummings, 1967, "Kohler, Wolfgang," in The encyclopedia of phi-
losophy (New York: MacMillan & the Free Press), 4: 355.
66. Cited in Driesch (1925, 10).
67. A. N. Whitehead, Science and the modern world (1925, 55).
68. Compare Ash (1985a, 308).
69. Weber(1919, 142, 143).
70. Ibid., 140.
71. Max Wertheimer (1924, 81-82).
72. Ibid., 91.
73. Ibid., 96.
74. See Ash (1985); "Gestalt psychology under National Socialism: Institutions and
ideas," unpublished talk presented at the Department of History and Philosophy of
Science, Indiana University, 16 February 1989; revised version presented to the Ger-
man Studies Association, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 7 October 1989.
75. Ash, 'Gestalt psychology under National Socialism,' 1989.
76. Arnheim, Max Wertheimer, 45.
77. Wolfgang Kohler, untitled manuscript, p. 8, from the Michael Wertheimer pri-
vate archive (Boulder, Colorado). I am indebted to Richard Held from MIT for access
to this manuscript.
78. H. Kleint, 1926, review of Ueber Gestalttheorie, by Max Wertheimer,
Zeitschrift fur Psychologie 99: 112-13.
79. Marcuse wrote:
"Ich komme von der Phaenomenologie her, aber es waren starke Zweifel, die mir
eine Weiterarbeit auf diesem Gebiet nicht erlaubten. Ich begriisste den endlichen Hin-
weis auf die Tatsache der Gegebenheiten als solche anstelle des ewigen Blickes auf
das masslos verabsolutierte. . . . aber es war mir nicht moglich, auf ein wissenschaftli-
ches Kriterium fiir die Richtigkeit der gesehenen Gegenstande zu verzichten.Ich
glaube, es sind ahnliche Zweifel, die mich schon an der Schwelle der Gestalttheorie
".. .Ich glaube, dass hier ein Problem steckt, das uns Jiingere alle stark bedrangt. Wir
haben die Wendung mitgemacht, wir sehen deutlich den neuen Gegenstandsbereich
aber wir zogern ihn zu erarbeiten, weil uns das Werkzeug aus den Handen fallt. Wir
sehen keine Moglichkeit, die Gestalt wissenschaftlich zu umzirkeln und zu erforschen,
sobald es sich um andere als physikalische, psychologische, mathematische Gegeben-
heiten handelt, sobald also Experiment und Beweis versagen. Wollen Sie die Ge-
stalttheorie einseitig auf diese Falle einschranken, oder gibt es ein Mittel, auch fur die
anderen Gegenstandsgebiete die wissenschaftliche Arbeit zu ermoglichen?" (Letters
"M," Wertheimer Archives).
80. Compare John Marshall, 1985, review of A man with qualities: Robert Musil
and the culture of Vienna, by Hannah Hickman, Nature 313 (31 January): 412.
81. Cited in Hannah Hickman, 1984, A man with qualities: Robert Musil and the
Culture of Vienna:'(London: Croorn Helm; La Salle, 111.: Open Court,), 121.
82. Cited in Ash (1991a, 409).
83. Ibid., 403.
84. Gumnior and Ringguth (1973, 27 125-26); Jay (1974, 6).
85. Gumnior and Ringguth (1973, 25). They fail to provide details of the nature of
this continuing influence.
86. See David D. Lindenfeld, 1980, The Transformation of positivism: Alexius Mei-
nong and European thought, 1880-1920 (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California
Press), 118-19.
87. Jay (1974, 23-24).
88. Horkheimer (1933, 40).
89. Ibid., 42-43.
90. Ibid., 43.
91. Stanley Aronowitz, 1982, Introduction to Critical theory: selected essays, by
Max Horkheimer, trans, by Matthew J. O'Connell et al. (New York: Continuum Pub.),
92. Horkheimer (1932).
93. Jay (1974, 100).
94. Cited in Ash (1991a, 409).
95. Riese to Kurt Goldstein, 4 November 1958, Folder R, Box 1, Goldstein Papers.
96. Max Wertheimer, Box 2, undated lecture, Wertheimer Papers, p. 2.
97. Driesch (1925, 5-6).
98. Ibid., 7. The Gestalt school's critique of Driesch's vitalism as a "Machine" the-
ory with a "ghost" inside was expressed by Wertheimer in his 1924 lecture in the
following way:
Driesch . .. tries to master our basic problem [of whole systems working on parts] in a
different way. Fundamentally the thesis of vitalism springs from the same problems, but
from the point of view of gestalt psychology, it commits the error of trying to solve the
problem by adding to what it considers to be blindly-functioning natural processes, some-
thing which in itself allows of no scientific treatments. It does so without questioning
whether the physical inorganic processes can be generally characterized as piecemeal, blind,
mechanical combinations of elements, which are considered by many episternologists as the
only given data in physics. Koehler made a decisive contribution by demonstrating that there
are processes even in organic physics which are genuine whole processes where what hap-
pens to one part is determined by the intrinsic structure and tendencies of the whole, not the
other way around." (Wertheimer [1924, 92-93])
99. Driesch (1926, 288, 291). Jakob von Uexkull, commenting on these exchanges
from the perspective of his field, wrote to Chamberlain: "[A]nimal psychology again
travels along its favorite dead end [die Tierpsychologie wieder einen ihrer beliebten
Holzwege befahrt]. The holistic theory of Wertheimer, to which the excellent ape re-
search Kohler has fallen victim, seems to be to be in a position to create confusion.
Driesch has already opposed himself to it in his excellent dialectic and has shown that
the psychologists always mix up "sums" and "wholes" (J. v. Uexkull to Chamberlain,
3 August 1926, Uexkull-Chamberlain Correspondence).
100. In the secondary literature, the volume edited by Carl Graumann (1985) pro-
vides some excellent reviews and analyses both of these critiques and of the broader
nature of these other schools of psychology in Germany on the eve of National Social-
ism. Particularly valuable are the articles by Ash, Geuter, Mattes, Prinz, and Scheerer.
101. Wellek (1954).
102. Krueger (1924, 27); compare Adrian Brock from the Dept. of Psychology,
York University, 1990, "Wundt's rejection of methodological individualism," unpub-
lished lecture for Cheiron-Europe, 3. I am indebted to Adrian Brock for the primary
103. Wellek (1950, 297). The original German, reads as follows:
Demgegeniiber [i.e. in contrast to Krueger and his school] hat die (vormals) Berliner
Schule der sogenannten Gestalttheorie wohl hervorragenden Anteil an der Erforschung und
Propagierung der Gestalttatsachen im engeren Sinne, wie sie sich vor allem an den Ge-
schehnissen und Gebilden des Wahrnehmens und Denkens, also in den intellektuellen
Bereichen des BewuBtseins aufweisen lieJJen; aber der Ganzheitscharakter des friihen, vor-
gestaltlichen Erlebens in den 'pralogischen,' irrationalien Phasen und Bereichen des seeli-
schen Lebens ist dort, wie schon betont, verkannt. Vor allem aber sind die 'Berliner' ins-
gesamt entschlossene Epiphanomenalisten, um nicht zu sagen: Materialisten. Sie bezeich-
nen selbst ihre Lehre als Gestalltheorie, nicht eigentliche Gestaltpsychologie weil ihr Be-
griff von Gestalt keineswegs auf den Bereich des Psychischen beschrankt, sondern auf
'physische Gestalten' (Kohler) ausgedehnt und hier schon an Gebilden bestatigt gefunden
wird, die einer strengen Definition von Ganzheit keineswegs genugen. Dementsprechend
aber wird als letzte konsequenz eine Gleichung von Psychologie und Physiologie und
was den Ausschlag gibtvon Physiologie und Physik proklamiert, indem 'unitarisch,' um
nicht zu sagen: 'monistisch'der gesamte Bereich der Natur einschlieRlich des Geistes
dem einen nicht organischen, weil zugleich a/iorganischen Prinzip der 'Gestalt' unterstellt
104. Ash (1990, 294).
105. Wellek (1954, 20).
106. "No Gestalt without a Gestalter!" was the slogan of this critique. See the report
Das Psychologische Institut der Hamburgerischen Universitat in seiner gegen-
wartigen Gestalt. Dargestellt aus Anlafi des XII. Kongresses der Deutschen Ge-
sellschaft fiir Psychologie in Hamburg 12. bis 16. April 1931 von dem Direktor und den
Mitarbeitern (Leipzig: Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1931).
107. Scheerer (1985).
108. Weinhandl (1940, 5).
109. Krueger, 1903 "Differenztbne und Konsonanz," Archiv fiir die gesamte Psy-
chologie 2: 80.
110. Hermann (1976, 600); Wellek (1950, 599).
111. Geuter (1985, 59).
112. Wellek (1954, 35).
113. Cited in Prinz (1985a, 58).
114. "Das Leben selber in dieser Zeit, sonderlich auf deutschem Boden, treibt un-
sere Fragestellungen mit einer mehr als theoretischen Notwendigkeit aus sich heraus"
(Krueger [1932]).
115. "Das Abendland wird dem Chaos anheimfallen und die minder edlen Rassen
werden die Oberhand gewinnen, oder man gibt einer Reformation die Bahn frei, an
Haupt und Gliedern, wie deren das Menschendasein jetzt bedarf. Es muB von neuem
durchgestaltet werden, so aus dem Grunde, daB endlich das Politische und die
Wiftschaft davon umgriffen werden . . .
"Was jetzt nottut, das konnen Wissenschaften und Philosophie allein nicht schqffen.
Auch die Kiinste vermSgen, fiir sich gelassen, wenig gegen die Not einer solchen Zeit-
wende. Aber je groBer die Gefahr, um so notwendiger sind diese Machte der Ordnung,
der Symbolbildung, der geistigen Ftihrung. Und um so entschiedener mussen sie, in
Wirkungseinheit mit dem iibrigen Tatgeschehen, sich dahin ausrichten, wo alles Le-
bendigen Eigentumlichkeit und zugleich alle Wesensgemeinschaft wurzelt, das ist das
Ganzheitliche, welches innere Form fordert" (Krueger [1932, 138-39]. Italics added).
116. Adhemar Gelb to Wertheimer, 30 December 28, MW Papers, New York Pub-
lic Library.
117. The intellectual relationship between Tillich and the Gestalt psychologists (es-
pecially Wertheimer) remains to be clarified but would reward probing. An intriguing
complication here can be found in the fact that Tillich himself was committed early on
to a Gestalt concept that, as I read it, derived not from the progressive traditions of
Berlin and Frankfurt, but from the older Goethean-morphological tradition of Gestalt
carried forward by men like Chamberlain and Spengler. In System of the sciences,
written in 1923, Tillich identifies Gestalt as the defining principle that distinguishes the
life and mind sciences from both the physical sciences (governed by "law") and the
historical sciences (governed by "sequence"). While the language and thrust of the
argument makes me doubtful of Meyer's suggestion that these ideas were indebted to
some way to Gestalt psychology, I do wonder how far Tillich's later retreat from such
an idealist Gestalt concept might owe something to his later extensive contacts with
Wertheimer and Gelb at Frankfurt. See Tillich (1981), especially pp. 99-101; and
Meyer (1989) especially pp. 283-287, 99-101.
118. Cited in Ash (1989, 57).
119. Luchins and Luchins (1986b, 217-19).
120. Rutkoff and Scott (1988, 107).
121. Wertheimer, undated, untitled lecture, p. 1, Box 5 (misc.), MW Papers, New
York Public Library.
122. Newman (1989).
123. Luchins and Luchins (1987, 73).
124. See, for example, Mandler and Mandler (1969); Luchins (1975); Henle (1980);
Ash (1985b).
125. Anonymous, 1931, review of Gestalt psychology, by Wolfgang Kohler, Nature
127: 160.
126. Hughes (1983, 112).
127. K. M. Dallenbach, 1953, 'The place of theory in science," Psychological Re-
view 60: 33-39.
128. Koffka (1935, 18).
129. Compare, for example, Ash (1985b, 327-28).
130. Leichtman (1979, 53). When Wertheimer first arrived at the New School, he let
himself be talked into offering a seminar on the relationship between Gestalt psychol-
ogy and psychoanalysis, which he taught in collaboration with fellow immigrant Karen
Horney and psychiatrist Bernard Glueck, Sr. This seminar was never repeated because
Wertheimer's unremitting hostility towards the theory of psychoanalysis made all dia-
logue essentially fruitless. The fact that the clinical method of psychoanalysis was
based on free association was most irritating. As his friend Erika Oppenheim recalled:
"Association theory was for him what the red cape is for the bull. . . . He charged at
it. . . . This is the more amazing as Wertheimer himself originally invented an associa-
tion test, the same kind of association test that . . . Jung invented, and in the same
year.... Even when I tried to point out to him that there were really great parallels
between Gestalt theory and psychoanalysis, he just would not hear of it " (cited in
Luchins and Luchins [1986b, 215; 1987, 76]).
131. For reprints of relevant primary documents, including Kohler's famous 1933
"Gesprache in Deutschland" and the written accusations against the institute, see Grau-
mann (1985, 305-9).
132. Mandler and Mandler (1968, 398-99).
133. Frederick Wyatt, interview with author, 19 February 1988.
134. Kohler, (1938, 32-33, 28).
135. Ibid., 7.
136. Compare Kohler, 1971, 'The naturalistic interpretation of man," The selected
papers of Wolfgang Kohler, ed. by M. Henle. New York: Liveright), 337-55.
137. Kohler (1938, 210).
138. Hans-Jurgen Walter has recently translated these essays (written in English)
into German and gathered them together (along with a foreword by Albert Einstein and
some analyses of Wertheimer) in a volume entitled Zur Gestaltpsychologie Menschli-
cher Werte (Opladen: Westdeutsche Verlag., 1991).
139. Luchins and Luchins (1986b, 221).
140. Max Wertheimer (1912b).
141. Max Wertheimer (1934, 21).
142. Ibid., 22.
143. Max Wertheimer (1935, 30).
144. Ibid., 40.
145. Ibid., 40.
146. Ibid., 38, Italics added.
147. Max Wertheimer (1937, 45).
148. Max Wertheimer, undated, untitled lecture,p. 4, Box 5 (misc.) Wertheimer
Papers, New York Public Library.
149. Max Wertheimer (1940, 52).
150. Ibid., 54.
151. Ibid., 59.
152. Ibid., 60-61.
153. Ibid., 62.
154. Ibid., 64, Italics added.
155. The extent to which, for Wertheimer, these issues came together at the most
practical level is nicely illustrated in an anecdote, recounted by the Luchins. On a visit
to the psychology laboratories at Yale University, Wertheimer was shown some of the
animal experimentation work that two of the psychologists there were doing on social
learning, Wertheimer's response was to demand to know why the rats were kept in
isolation, like "prisoners," during the times between the learning trials. This kind of
work, he declaredcarried out in such a "prison" settingwas the "learning of pris-
oners" and would have little, if nothing, to teach psychology about the learning that was
possible under "natural" free conditions" (Luchins and Luchins [1987, 91]).
156. Max Wertheimer, Max (1959, 245).
157. Ibid.
158. In the sense used by Gay (1968).


1. Simmel (1968).
2. Murphy (1968, 31).
3. Simmel (1968, 3).
4. Smith to the author, 21 February 1988.
5. Goldstein File [undated] entitled: Husserl, Edmund; Goldstein Papers, Columbia
6. See, for example, Goldstein (1967, 147-60).
7. In contrast, in the 1960s, neurologist Norman Geschwind would point to Wer-
nicke's influence on Goldstein to make another kind of argument: namely, that holistic
neurology was a lot of bombastic rhetoric that sounded radical but that remained, in
practice, rooted in the localizationist principles of the nineteenth century (Geschwind
[1964]; Teuber [1966, 300]). On the other hand, men like holistic neurologist Walther
Riese would deny that the influence of Wernicke on Goldstein could have been sub-
stantive: "It may have been Goldstein's devotion to his teacher which induced him,
generous as he was, to claim Wernicke as his forerunner. But it makes all the difference
whether one merely combines anatomy with symptomatology, as did Wernicke, or
whether one studies and interprets the nature and genesis of aphasia on its own grounds
and in its own terms" (Riese [1968, 24]).
8. Teuber (1966, 300).
9. From exile in Holland in 1934, Goldstein wrote:
"AH theorems hitherto advanced to suggest inferiority or superiority, as peculiar to
a particular group or entity, are based upon a misconception and abuse of what is
factually holistic. Instead of carefully investigating what really belongs to the essential
nature of the groupapart from historic-economic patternsthey introduce unscien-
tific axioms, as for instance the myth of blood, and others."
And further, "The reality of intellect, of self-determination, which even in its most
primitive form represents essential characteristics of man, dooms to failure any breed-
ing experiment of the usual type.
"However, if the regulation of hereditary conditions aims not at specific characteris-
tics, but aspires to meliorate the human race by eliminating the unfit individuals, such
endeavor presupposes a thorough knowledge of the significance of individual peculiar-
ities for human natures. And who would venture any decision in this respect at the
present state of research!" (Goldstein [1939, 455, 461]).
10. See Proctor (1988, 142); Weindling (1989).
11. Goldstein (1913, 52).
12. Ibid., 53.
13. Ibid., 54.
14. Ibid., 66.
15. Ibid., 68.
16. Ibid.
17. Goldstein (1959b, 1967).
18. Decker (1977, 53).
19. Compare Johnston (1972, 223-29).
20. Ibid., 228.
21. Goldstein (1933, 143).
22. Lotmar, 1920, review of Die Behandlung, Fursorge und Begutachtung der

Hirnverletzten, by Kurt Goldstein, Schweizerische Medizinische Wochenschrift Korre-
spondenzblattes fiir Schweizer Arzte 50: 59-60.
23. Goldstein (1967, 148).
24. Goldstein (1959b, 3).
25. Goldstein (1919).
26. Teuber (1966, 302). The exact time and circumstances of Gelb's death are some-
what unclear. Hans-Lukas Teuber, who had known both Gelb and Goldstein, gives
1935 as the year of his final physical breakdown, and seems to indicate that Gelb and
Goldstein had planned to emigrate to the United States together. However, a 1936 letter
from Heidelberg holistic physician Victor von Weizsacker to Goldstein (who was al-
ready in exile in New York) suggests a more lingering end. He wrote: "I recently saw
Gelb; intellectually outstanding, physically [gesundheitlich] I'm not so sure. Naturally,
it should not become general knowledge that he has not yet recovered his health" (24
July 1936, File W, Box 1, Goldstein Papers).
27. Goldstein (1959b, 2).
28. More specifically, the term phenomenology was a term that had become associ-
ated in Goldstein's day with a movement in European philosophy loosely grouped
around the leadership of Edmund Husserl. The aim of this philosophical tradition was
to bracket all metaphysical or epistemological presuppositions and to focus on experi-
ence in its essence, a term also used by Goldstein. (For details, see Spiegelberg [1972,
29. Gelb and Goldstein (1918 [1938]).
30. In everyday life, the patient used other sorts of isolated visual cues to orient
himself in his environment and found nothing extraordinary about his activities. Gelb
and Goldstein, for example, recorded the following conversation with him:
"'How do you distinguish men and vehicles?'
'Men are all alikenarrow and long, vehicles are wide; one notices that at once.
Much wider [spreads out his arms].'
'The shadow of a large tree: 'What is that?'
'The patient looked up at the tree then down at the shadow. 'That is a shadow.'
('How do you know?') 'Well, there is a tree and there it is dark'" (Gelb and Goldstein
[1918(1938), 324]).
31. Ibid., 323.
32. Goldstein (1967, 156); compare Goldstein (1927c, 37).
33. See Goldstein and Gelb (1925).
34. Goldstein (1936b).
35. Ibid., 362.
36. Yet the influence does not appear to be widely recognized. David Lipton's study
(1978) of Cassirer's life and thought, for example, makes no reference to Goldstein at
any point.
37. The following reproduces in German the entire excerpt from Cassirer's letter to
which I am referring, reinserting the elisions in the text made in the English translation
to keep the quote to a manageable size: "Der Normale verhalt sichwas meiner
Ansicht nach viel zu wenig beachtet zu werden pflegtnicht. nur in seinem Denken,
sondern in seinem Verhalten und Wahmehmen, ja auch in seinem Handeln, in hohem
Grade 'symbolisch*. Fiir ihn tritt das 'Dasein' der einzelnen sinnlichen Gegebenheiten
ganz hinter dem, was sie ihm 'bedeuten' zurtick. Daher vollzieht er auch fort und fort
den Schritt ins Tdeelle'er formt die gegebene 'Wirklichkeit' der Sinnesreize ins
bloss 'Mogliche' um. Auf dieser Umsetzung ins Mogliche beruht nicht nur der grosste
Teil seines Denkens (die 'Idee' ist eben, wie Cohen immer wieder betont hat, 'Hy-
pothesis'!), sondern auchund das zeigen Eure Falle so ganz besonders schonauch
der grosste Teil seines Wahrnehmens. Insbesondere unset" raumliches 'Sehen' beruht
geradezu darauf, da unser Gesichtsraum ein Schema moglicher BeziehungenLeibniz
sagt, un ordre des coexistances possiblesist. Kein Inhalt ist als solcher mit seiner
Stelle 'verwachsen,' mit ihr unloslich konkretverkniipft, sondern wir konnen beide
unabhiingig voneinander variieren lassenwir konnen Inhalte ihre Stellen ver-
tauschen, den einen in die Stelle des anderen eingehen lassen. Das geschieht bei jeder
wirklichen Bewegung, die wir anschaulich erfassen, aber es ist die Bedingung auch
jeder ideellen Bewegung, jedes 'Bewegungsentwurfes.' Der 'Entwurf besteht eben
darin, da eine solche Vertauschung in der Vorstellung mbglich ist. Der Normale kann
demgemass ohne Muhe irgendein Objekt in einen bestimmten 'Raumpunkt hinein-
sehen,' in welchem dieses Objekt nicht 'wirklich,' das heisst nicht als sinnlich er-
fahrener Reiz vorhanden ist. Und so sieht er seine Aktionen ebenso gut, wie gegeniiber
einem 'wirklichen' Ding, etwa einem wirklichen Nagel, auch gegeniiber einem 'mogli-
chen' (bloss 'vorgestellten') Nagel aus. Er behandelt das Prasente reprasentativ, das
Representative als prasent. Beim 'Seelenblinden' aber ist, wenn ich recht sehe, eben
diese Umsetzung gestort. Er hat nochbesonders bei der 'assoziativen Seelenblind-
heit'irgendwelche optisch-gegenwiirtigen Eindruckeaber was aufgehoben oder
stark behindert ist, ist die Funktion der mittelbaren 'Vergegenwartigung.' So kann er
nur auf die prasenten Reize hin handelnaber eben Bewegungen, die ihm vorgemacht
werden, stiickweise nachmachen, ein Glied bewegen, wenn er dauerrid darauf hinsieht
usf. Auch Schneider kann sich ja mit Hilfe seiner kinaesthetischen Empfindungen
einen bestimmten 'Hintergrund' fur seine Bewegungen schaffenaber er vermag die-
sen Hintergrund nicht wie wir zu transformieren und zu transponieren. Denn in dieser
Transposition handelt es sich, wie ich dies zu nennen pfiege, um einen Akt 'symboli-
scher Ideation.'" (Cassirer, 24 March 1925, Folder "Cassirer," Box 1, Goldstein
38. Jackson had argued that the difference between what he called a "voluntary" and
an "involuntary" act was that the former was always initially "preconceived" or "repre-
sented in consciousness" (Jackson, quoting Spencer, in "Hemispheral coordination,"
The Medical Times and Gazette (1868a) 2: 3591).
By definition, in other words, actions could be deemed voluntary if they were ac-
companied by consciousness. Conversely, "the more operations are automatic, the less
we are conscious of them." This explains why Jackson could argue that the speechless
man who could still automatically respond to verbal commandsand who could there-
fore instantly hand him a brick on commandnevertheless had no "memory" of the
word "brick," was not "conscious of the word itself. He has no consciousness of it [as
a symbol], but [only] of the [concrete] thing it is a symbol ofa very different thing"
(Jackson [1932,2: 140, 141]).
Similarly, Jackson had rejected an atomistic model of language that found the mean-
ing of an utterance in the summation of the individual words. He drew a strict distinc-
tion between language proper and the automatic, inferior functions "in which words
serve." The essential character of speaking was not the capacity to utter words, but the
capacity to refer words to one another in a particular manner. By themselves, the com-
ponents of speech were insignificant; they took on meaning only by being organized
into logical (in some sense, gestaltet) relationships (Jackson, "Notes on the physiology
and pathology of the nervous systemRemarks on Broadbent's hypothesis" [1868] in
Jackson [1932,2: 527]).

39. Goldstein's distinction between the object-oriented, defensive sense of "fear"
{Furcht) and the objectless, self-arising sense of "anxiety" {Angst) was not original
with him (as he himself acknowledged), but had been discussed at length by such
existentialist philosophers as Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Jaspers. His own understanding
of the distinction was developed in the course of conversations with the theologian Paul
Tillich. He summarized it as follows:
"The basis of fear is threat of the onset of anxiety. As manifold as states of anxiety
may be . . . they all have one common denominator: The experience of danger, of peril
for one's self.... In the state of fear, we have an object in front of us which we can
"meet," which we can attempt to remove, or from which we canflee.We are conscious
of ourselves, as the object, we can deliberate how we shall behave toward it, and we can
look at the cause of the fear which actually lies spatially before us. On the other hand,
anxiety attacks us from the rear, so to speak. The only thing we can do is to attempt to
flee from it without knowing where to go, because we experience it as coming from no
particular place. This flight is sometimes successful, though merely by chance, and
usually fails: anxiety remains with us" (Goldstein [1939, 291, 293]).
40. Goldstein (1940, 91-92).
41. Goldstein (1967, 156).
42. Goldstein, Individuality lecture, Box 1, Goldstein Papers.
43. Goldstein (1939, 86).
44. Goldstein (1933, 155-56).
45. Goldstein (1959a, 183).
46. Goldstein (1959b, 9).
47. Goldstein (1933, 143).
48. Goldstein (1967, 157).
49. In criticizing the "reflex scheme" of his predecessors, Goldstein did not hesitate
to take on even the more flexible model of "reflex integration" developed by Sir
Charles Sherrington. For many in the early twentieth century, Sherrington's views had
presented themselves as a more holistic alternative to the nineteenth-century view of
the organism as a bundle of sensory-motor reflex arcs. In contrast to, say, Pavlov and
the behaviorists in the United States, Sherrington stressed the extent to which sensory
input at one level of the system modifies input at another, leading to a unified, hierar-
chical pattern of biologically purposive behavior.
For Goldstein, however, the work of Sherrington (which he originally admired) was
in the end like late Ptolemaic cosmology: a brave, but ultimately doomed attempt to
stretch and modify a fundamentally flawed theory in the face of stubborn new facts.
Sherrington's introduction of vaguely defined terms like "inhibition," "regulation,"
and "switching" begged more questions than it answered. 'The decision about ques-
tions as to where this inhibition and shifting [Schaltung] comes from leads repeatedly
to the supposition of further apparatuses that are inhibitory in nature, cause shifts, [and]
are regulatory; and so the whole process of questioning proceeds in an endless regres-
sion" (Goldstein [1933, 145-46; compare Goldstein [1927c, 25, 145-46]).
50. Goldstein to Monakow, 27 April 1926, Monakow Papers, Zurich.
51. Goldstein (1927c, 18).
52. Goldstein (1939, 256); italics original.
53. Ibid., 259.
54. Goldstein's relationship with Wertheimer specifically would later become
somewhat strained as a result of a dispute over priority. Early in his career, Wertheimer
had done some work in Vienna with the neurologist O. Potzl and had concluded that the
presenting symptoms of aphasia, alexia, and cortical blindness all suggested a "need for
radically new concepts of neurophysiology." Although Wertheimer never published
his work on these matters, colleagues knew of it and referred to it. Later, Wertheimer
would feel that Goldstein had failed to give him sufficient credit for having worked out
many of the ideas about defects in "Gestalt perception" that would laterfigureso prom-
inently in Goldstein's work. See Luchins and Luchins (1982, 161).
55. Goldstein's name was struck from the editorial board of thejournal immediately
following his forced emigration from Germany in 1933. In the Goldstein archives,
there is a half-apologetic, half-defensive letter from Wolfgang Kohler to Goldstein
about this matter, that reads, in part, as follows:
Dear Herr Goldstein,
For a long time, you have heard nothing from me in regard to your letter. The latter
put me in a bad spot. I could halfway respect your arguments, but halfway found your
position difficult to understand. Probably a person would have to be in your situation
in order fully and truly to understand. In the meantime, I could do nothing, because the
publisher, with whom the matter was to be discussed, was continually away. For the
current volume, I had given the order that everything should stay as it was. I was not a
little surprised when it came out and your name was not listed under the editors. The
behavior of those involved, including the publisher, made it highly probable in my eyes
that this was not a court-ordered act, but rather an attempt to spare me a decision that
truly would not have been easy. I could naturally now refuse [to engage in] any further
editorial activity. That would be the end then of the journal. I will not do this. It is
possible that I will in any case not stay here longthen the fate of the journal will
decide itself. As long as I am here, I will try to keep it running. How I will be able to
stand this work over any length of time, though, I don't know. (Kohler to Goldstein, 21
November 1933, Folder K, Box 1, Goldstein Papers).
56. Wilder (1959, 690-91).
57. Goldstein pointed out that patients whose capabilities had broken down in this
way, actually behaved in a fashion consistent with what the reflex psychologists and
associationists had proposed to be normal behavior. Schneider for example, was unable
to "recognize" pictures of objects but could often figure out what something was by
ponderously adding up the sum of carefully analyzed parts (lines, shadows, and other
cues). In short, the mechanistic psychology and neurophysiology of the nineteenth
century was poor normative biology but did turn out to be a reasonably appropriate
approach to pathological organismic functioning.
58. Goldstein (1939, 370, 372).
59. Ibid., 372.
60. Ibid., 30.
61. Goldstein (1959a, 184).
62. Goldstein (1939, 392).
63. Ibid., 334-35.
64. Ibid., 86.
65. Goldstein (1927d, 249).
66. Goldstein (1940, 86).
67. Goldstein (193, 306).
68. Goldstein (1940, 114).
69. Goldstein (1939, 306). Goldstein made the connection even more definitively in
"Health as value": "Courage . . . presupposes the highest capacity of man, his abstract
capacity through which he differs essentially from all other living things" (Goldstein,
[1959a, 181-82]).
70. Gay (1969, 97).
71. Goldstein's friend, Robert Ulrich, German pedagogue and emigre who became
a professor at Harvard University, noted that Goldstein sought no solace in institution-
alized faith, but spoke of Goldstein's sense of deep religious "awe" before the limits of
human knowledge and the "power of the Great Unknown" (Ulrich [1968, 13-15]).
72. Goldstein (1934, 318).
73. Ibid., 517.
74. Ibid., 506.
75. Fromm-Reichmann dedicated her book, Principles of intensive psychotherapy
(1960) to her "teachers," citing: Sigmund Freud, Kurt Goldstein, Georg Groddeck, and
Harry Stack Sullivan.
76. Gurwitsch (1929).
77. Spiegelberg (1965, 630).
78. Spiegelberg (1972, 301).
79. Merleau-Ponty to Goldstein, 30 April 1950, Folder M, Box 1, Goldstein Papers.
Some indication of Goldstein's further impact on French phenomenological philoso-
phy following this French publication can be seen in a letter to Goldstein (dated April
19, 1954) from one Edouard Thermoz suggesting a French translation of Goldstein's
Human nature in the light of psychopathology (1940). Thermoz went on to ask Gold-
stein, "Would you agree to be placed among the supporters of a phenomenological
actualism which ultimately refuses to 'explain' the organism?" (Folder T, Box 1, Gold-
stein Papers).
80. Spiegelberg (1972, 311).
81. "Dieses, sein Sein, is sein Sinn, entsprechend dem Goetheschen Satz: Der
Zwecke des Lebens ist das Leben selbst. Von ihm aus bekommen alle Einzelvorgange
ihre Bedeutung und ihre Bestimmung. Wir bezeichnen die als sein Wesen, und wenn
wir vom Wesen des Organismus sprechen, so meinen wir das weder im ontologisch-
metaphysisch-noch in einem teleologischen Sinne, auch nicht im Sinne irgendeiner
Forme des Vitalismus. Wir sprechen vom Wesen nur als Erkenntnisgrund" (Goldstein
[1933, 154]).
82. Franz Walter Muller, 2 November 1965, in Albrecht and Hall (1980, 183).
83. Tillich (1959, 20-23).
84. Meyer (1989, 279-344). Meyer does not wish to argue that Tillich "simply 'took
over*" Goldstein's ideas. "The most plausible explanation of the relationship between
the two authors is that they shared a common vision of human nature, each developing
ideas from the German intellectual tradition in their own ways, and having a mutual
and ongoing impact on the development of each other's thought" (Meyer [1989, 343]).
85. Goldstein, 16 August 1956 in Albrecht and Hall (1980, 340).
86. Ringer (1969, 385).
87. Bumke, cited in ibid., 385-86.
88. Indeed, two German scholars have attempted to give belated recognition to
Goldstein's (largely forgotten) role in the early history of the psychosomatic movement
in Germany. See Kiitemeyer and Schultz (1984, 133-39).
89. See Brugsch and Lewy (1926); Weizsacker (1940).
90. Goldstein (1967, 149).
91. Kiitemeyer and Schultz (1984, 134). See also the article, cited by Kiitemeyer
and Schultz by W. v. Baeyer, 1979, "50 Jahre 'Der Nervenarzt.'" Der Nervenarzt 50:
1. Other contributors besides Goldstein in these years included Gustav von Bergmann,
Ludwig Binswanger, Karl Bonhoeffer, Otto Warburg, and Viktor von Weizsacker (dis-
cussed in chapter 6).
92. G. Klemperer, 1931, editorial, Therapie derGegenwart 33 (January): 1.
93. Goldstein (193lb, 4).
94. Goldstein's ambivalent relationship to Freud can be traced over a lifetime of
publications. Clearly, he was not only highly critical of him, but also highly indebted
to him. Even his basic "holistic" approach to brain disease owed a debt to Freud, as he
himself acknowledged, "I would like to stress that I was encouraged in my interpreta-
tion of the 'symptoms* by Freud's assumption that they should not be considered sim-
ple facts, but become understandable only in relation to their meaning for the individ-
ual" (Goldstein [1959b, 11]). For more, see Goldstein (1927a, 1927b, 1937, 1954a,
95. Goldstein (1931b. 6); compare also Goldstein (1939. 335-40).
96. Compare Goldstein (1927a and 1927b).
97. Goldstein (1931b, 1).
98. Ibid., 10.
99. "Das groBe Murren, das durch die Arzteschaft aller Kulturlander geht, ist auf
den Mangel an einer wirklich adaquaten arztlichen Weltanschauung zuriickzufiihren"
(Sihle [1933, 2]).
100. "[NJicht. nur eine neue historische, sondern auch eine neue geistige Epoche,
nach der Epoche des analytischen Sturm und Dranges eine Epoche, die wie eine Mor-
genrote das Nahen einer wirklichen wissenschaftlichen Reife anzeigt. Der Drang zur
Synthese wird machtig fuhlbar auf alien medizinischen Horizonten" (Sihle [1933, 2]).
101. This foundation was started in 1930 by Mrs. Walter Graeme Ladd, daughter of
Josiah Macy, Jr., to support medical research, particularly those aspects concerned with
preserving "the unity of the patient as a psychosomatic being." In 1931, the foundation
supported Dr. H. Flanders Dunbar in an exhaustive survey of the world's literature on
the relation of emotion to disease; this survey led to the publication of the volume
Emotion and bodily changes in 1935. Laboratories run by researchers like Walter B.
Cannon, Stanley Cobb, George Draper, Walter Freeman, Foster Kennedy, and Adolf
Meyer were among those to receive support from the foundation between 1931 and
1936. See the report Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation: A review by the President of Activi-
ties for the six years ended December 31, 1936, with extracts from the treasurer's
reports for the years 1932-1936 (565 Park Avenue, New York, 1937). Besides Gold-
stein's paper discussed here, other papers published in the proceedings included such
titles as: "On the problem of a synthesis between the rational and the irrational from the
physician's perspective" (M. Sihle of Riga); "The physician's relationship to meta-
physics" (Otfried Muller of Tubingen); "On personal norms" (L. R. Grote of Frank-
furt); 'The problem of personality" (W. Enke of Marburg); and "Instinct and intuition
in research, in education and in the medical calling" (E. Starkenstein of Prague).
102. In his 1967 autobiographical sketch, Goldstein identified this conference as a
significant turning point in his intellectual development:
For a considerable time I was nearly alone among the neurologists in my consistently
holistic approach. In 1932 about twenty physicians, famous in their special fields, arranged
a meeting in Austria at which they developed in principle similar holistic ideas in connection
with malerial pertaining to their respective specialties. For the first time at this meeting I
presented my concept and became more convinced that 1 should continue examining and
treating patients in my own way. (Goldstein [1967. 158])
103. Goldstein (1933, 150).
104. Ibid., 149; compare Goldstein (1939, 401).
105. "Wir machen so lange unzweckmaBige Bewegungen unseres Korpers, bis wir
plotzlich das Gleichgewicht zu erhalten imstande sind und in der richtigen Weise uns
fortbewegen. All die Voriibungen haben mit der eigentlichen Leistung direkt nichts zu
tun. Sie sind zwar notwendig, wir kommen zur der richtigen Leistung erst durch dau-
ernde Modification der Bewegungen, aber diese fiihren als falsche Bewegungen nie-
mals direkt zu den richtigen. Die richtigen erscheinen plotzlich, wenn eine Adaquatheit
zwischen dem Vorgehen des Organismus und den Umweltbedingungen eintritt; diese
Adaquatheit wird von uns erlebt, sie enthalt die richtige Erkenntnis des Vorgehens
beim Radfahren" (Goldstein [1933, 150]).
106. Pross (1989, C-721); compare Pross and Winau (1984).
107. Pross (1989, C-723).
108. The Verein Sozialistischer Arzte was founded in 1924 by Ignaz Zadek with the
aim of providing a "united front" of progressive physicians devoted to the cause of
socialist medicine, one that stood above party squabblings. With both social democrats
and communists in its ranks, the association published a journal with offices based in
Berlin, Der Sozialistische Arzt, which addressed the social, political, and economic
concerns of the progressive physician. Political activism, such as support for the fami-
lies of communists and socialists interned by the Weimar Republic, was also a clear
part of the association's agenda. In the spring of 1933, the association was declared
illegal by the National Socialists, and its leading members were either arrested or
forced into exile (Proctor [1988, 256-62J).
109. Pross (1989, C-723).
110. Compare Pross and Winau (1984).
111. This story is told by Geoffrey Cocks (1985).
112. Teuber (1966, 306-7).
113. I. Bach, 1962, Interview with K. Goldstein, June 1958, in Auszug des Geistes.
Bericht iiber eine Sendereihe, ed. by L. Besch (Bremen: B.C. Hege), 93.
114. The co-authored monograph describing their work, Abstract and concrete be-
havior: An experimental study with special tests was published in 1941.
115. These lectures, only a middling success, were published in 1940 under the title
Human nature in the light of psychopathology, with a foreword by Gordon W. Allport,
who had become a close friend.
116. Simmel (1968, 11), "Kurt Goldstein 1878-1965," says that Albert Einstein
was "an old friend" of Goldstein, although I have found no documentation of such a
friendship. There is a brief letter from Einstein to Goldstein, complimenting him on his
article, "The Idea of Disease and Therapy," "which made a great impression on me....
It is seldom that a psychological theory works persuasively on a lay person like me."
(cited in Meyer [ 1989, 138]). In addition, the Estate of Albert Einstein (Otto Nathan,
Trustee) wrote to Goldstein on June 23, 1959, asking whether he "might be interested
in the analysis of Einstein's brain, which was done in Princeton Hospital in the years
after his death" (Folder N, Box 1, Goldstein Papers).
117. Correspondence with all of these individuals can be found in the Goldstein
archives at Columbia University.
118. Simmel, interview 15 May 1983 with Christian Pross; cited in Pross and
Winau (1984, 138).
119. Simmel, "Kurt Goldstein 1878-1965", p. 10.
120. Ulrich (1968, 15).
121. Bach, Interview with K. Goldstein, (1962, 95).
122. Goldstein (1936).
123. Jay (1974, 127).
124. Quotes are from an unpublished English version of the original 1936 article,
which is in the Goldstein archives in New York: Goldstein, "Significance of biology for
sociology," Folder "Social Relations," Box 12, Goldstein Papers, p. 4.
125. Ibid., 7-10.
126. Ibid., 11.
127. Ibid., 14-15.
128. Ibid., 17.
129. Teuber (1966, 308).
130. Goldstein and Scheerer (1941 [1971], 394).
131. Ibid., 388.
132. For details of this period in American psychiatry, see E. S. Valenstein, 1986,
Great and desperate cures: The rise and decline of psychosurgery and other radical
treatments for mental illness (New York: Basic Books).
133. Goldstein (1950). It seems probable that Goldstein was involved in some ca-
pacity with the Leucotomy Research Committee, a division of the Veterans Adminis-
tration (VA) in Washington, D. C. The aim of the committee was to assess the effects
of leucotomy in a coordinated project of five VA hospitals. The archive of Goldstein's
private papers includes a copy of the "preliminary report on the minutes" of this meet-
ing from the spring of 1949 (Folder "Leucotomy Research Committee," Box 8, Gold-
stein Papers).
134. Kurt Goldstein, 1960, Concerning the concept of primivity, in Culture in his-
tory; Essays in honor of Paul Radin, ed. by S. Diamond (New York: Columbia Univer-
sity Press), 99-117.
135. Kurt Goldstein (1957).
136. Meyer (1989, 208-9).
137. Ibid., 379.
138. Spiegelberg (1972, 309).
139. Goldstein's move in later life from metaphors of stoic heroism to ones of con-
solation and communion may have also more immediate biographical origins. Hans-
Lukas Teuber would recall how Goldstein's
unfailing serenity and self-control were severely tested towards the end of the war when his
wife, Eva Rothmann-Goldstein, herself a practicing psychiatrist, began to show signs of
involutional depression, which ended after numerous incomplete remissions with her sui-
cide in I960. The illness and death of this formerly vivacious and incomparably gifted
woman (she was more than 20 years his junior) cast a deep shadow over Kurt Goldstein's
later years. (Teuber [ 1966, 304])
140. Goldstein (1959a, 185-86), italics added.
141. Teuber (1966, 299).
142. Ulrich (1968,14). There is a letter to Goldstein, preserved in his private papers,
from a colleague and friend at Brandeis University, Norbert Mintz (still in private
practice in Lincoln, Mass.) that went further than Goldstein had gone himself, in argu-
ing for a scientific vindication of Goethe's theory of colors or Farbenlehre. The inspi-
ration for this colleague's remarks was a physics lecture on color he had attended, given
by E. Land, the man who invented the Polaroid camera. Mintz wrote:
Land has been able to show that the sensation of color is completely independent of
physical wavelength. By projecting a photograph with a red filter in front of it, and superim-
posing on top of this the same photograph projected with white light only, the person sees

on the screen the photographs in full coloryellows, greens, etc. Even by projecting one in
yellow and one in orange will give an image with all the colors. This is not due to simulta-
neous contrasts, or induction color, etc.... Thus Land concluded that "the dogma given to
us by Newton, Helmholtz, and Maxwell concerning how the eye sees color is wrong, for the
eye sees color independent of the physical stimulus which is necessary to produce color
when using only patches of light." . .. Almost quoting Goethe, Land said, "The mistake we
have inherited from Newton is to think that by allowing a little shaft of light to enter a dark
room, which we then spread out and project on a screen, we will learn how the eye functions
in the normal world. We must learn to talk about how the eye sees, and not about physical
mechanisms or rods and cones." ... I think that his work may create a new era in color
physiology and psychology ("Norby," Mintz to Goldstein, 17 November 1958, Folder N,
Box 1, Goldstein Papers).
For more on this, see Norbert Mintz, 1959, "Concerning Goethe's approach to the
theory of color," Journal of Individual Psychology 15 (May): 33-49.1 am very grateful
to Norbert Mintz for sharing both material and memories with me for this chapter.
143. Goldstein (1949).
144. Ibid., 111.
145. Ibid., 112.
146. A scrap of paper found in Goldstein's private papers indicates that Goldstein
had tentatively titled this final work: From anatomy to philosophy: Late and early
writings in the holistic approach. The book would have been a collection of old and
new writings, thematically ordered from neurology to sociology, with some unifying
metaphysical and epistemological themes (Folder "Obituaries, Condolences," Box 1,
Goldstein Papers).
147. Goldstein, undated fragment. Folder "Material for proposed last book (1),"
Box 8, Goldstein Papers.
148. The Board of Editors of this series included: W. H. Auden, Richard Courant,
Martin C. D'Arcy, Rene" Dubos, Loren Eiseley, Kurt Goldstein, Werner Heisenberg,
Mohammed Zafrullah Kahn, Robert M. Macluer, F. S. C. Northrop, Michael Polanyi,
Sarvepalli Radhakrischna, James Johnson Sweeney, Paul Tillich, and Harry Wolfson.
149. [Anshen], "Open letter to Dr. Kurt Goldstein in commemoration of his eighti-
eth birthday, November 6, 1958," Folder "Album.," Box 16 "Commemor