Is there a specifically biological form of energy? This apparently simple
and innocuous question has caused the loss of reputation of more scientists
than any other in the past two hundred years.
Chinese and Indian medicine have for centuries involved the central idea of
meridians running through the human body along which biological energy
travels, and energy centers through which this bioenergy passes and is
Just why established medical science should be so firmly opposed to the idea
of energy meridians in the human body is a mystery, especially as there is
considerable strong experimental evidence for acupressure and acupuncture,
published in journals such as The British Medical Journal and the British
Journal of Anaethaesia.
The first Western scientist to take the ideas of Eastern medicine seriously
and to conduct experiments with them was Austrian psychotherapist Wilhelm
Reich. Among the many professional scientists who have paid the price of
investigating biological energy, none has paid more dearly than Reich.
Wilhelm Reich and Orgone
On the night of 4 November 1933, members of Adolf Hitler's personal guard,
the SA, lit bonfires in the main squares of Germany's leading cities. The
flames that disfigured the gothic architecture of Munich and Stuttgart,
Hamburg and Hanover with grotesque shadows of a grotesque future were
started with a unique fuel: the published work of many of Germany's leading
scientists, philosophers, and medical men and women -- books by Jews.
Among the many thousands of titles burned in public on that bitter November
night were Character Analysis and The Function of the Orgasm by a young
Austrian psychiatrist, Wilhelm Reich. Reich had many crimes against the Nazi
state to answer for. He was a Jew. He was a Communist who fought against
fascism. He was a prominent junior colleague of Sigmund Freud and an
exponent of the 'jewish science' of psychoanalysis -- fraudulent in Nazi
eyes. Reich had founded street sex clinics for unmarried working class men
and women. He talked and wrote of orgasms and other sexual topics. He was
starting to talk and write about something called 'Orgone' energy. As the
Nazi stormtroopers gathered round the flames, Reich started packing his bags
for a haven from intolerance and persecution in the US.
Twenty seven years later, On 17 March 1960, a convoy of official trucks
rolled along 25th street on New York's lower east side and came to a stop
outside the City public incinerator. Officials of the federal Food and Drug
Administration carried armfuls of the books contained in the trucks into the
incinerator where waiting workmen cast them into the flames. The books thus
burned included such titles as The Sexual Revolution (virtually the
blueprint for the swinging sixties), together with some familiar sounding
titles: The Function of the Orgasm and Character Analysis.
Wilhelm Reich had been dead for more than two years but he had achieved the
unique double distinction of having his books burned by both the Nazis and
the American Government. He had died in the Federal Penitentiary at
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, sent there by a Federal court for refusing to
delete a word from his books: the word 'Orgone'. He died refusing to recant
his belief in a biological form of energy.
Reich is one of the most extraordinary scientific figures in a century
notable for scientific geniuses and charlatans. He was in his lifetime, and
is still today, called by both titles. A hero of the libertarian left, he is
also a villain of the authoritarian right. Whatever title is finally
bestowed on him by history, he will unquestionably be seen by the future as
having fathered some of the most original and influential psychological
ideas of the twentieth century.
He is personally largely responsible for the whole shape and direction of
non-Freudian psychotherapy as it is practiced today. And while the
authoritarian ideas and talk-oriented approach of Freud are questioned and
largely abandoned, Reich's democratic, libertarian body-oriented style of
empowering the patient to heal himself is recognizably the dominant approach
in psychotherapy today. Reich more than any other single individual gave
rise to the revolutionary atmosphere of the 1960s and the revolutionary
aspirations of the 1960s generation; politically, socially, sexually,
But another, darker part of the received image of Reich is his obsessional
belief in 'bions' -- corpuscles of energy that he believed to exist
everywhere -- and his conviction that his black box 'orgone accumulators'
could cure cancer -- beliefs that took him far beyond the limits of
credibility both of his own time and of ours too. It is sometimes hard to
remember that one is reading about the same man: the passionate young
shirt-sleeved Viennese physician, helping young men and women take control
of their own sexuality: the cantankerous older man, refusing to bow to the
Federal courts of his adopted country, convinced that his courageous
pioneering vision alone could save a blind world.
From a scientific standpoint, the question is: did Reich's theories have any
experimental evidence to support them?
Interestingly, Reich was an indefatigable experimenter who kept and
published detailed notes on his experiments. Not surprisingly no serious
conventional scientist today who expects to receive research grants for
their work cares to admit to repeating Reich's experiments. But at least one
medical man has had the courage to do so, and has found evidence that Reich
One of Reich's claims was that elementary forms of life such as protozoa
assemble themselves spontaneously from decaying organic material -- even
decaying vegetable material. He claimed that this process was governed by a
bioenergy field which informed the developing individual cells, the energy
he called 'orgone'.
In 1987, Reich's experiments were replicated by Dr Robert Dew. Dew's
published paper contains detailed color photographs clearly showing
protozoa forming from decaying vegetable material just as Reich had
Not so surprising is the response of conventional biologists to these
experiments: it is to ignore them and hope they will go away.
And in case anyone imagines that scientific book-burning is a thing of the
past and couldn’t happen today, consider the response of John Maddox,
of the world's most prestigious scientific journal, Nature, to publication
of A new science of Life by Rupert Sheldrake.
Dr Sheldrake's 1981 book was the first serious attempt by a scientist to
question the ruling mechanistic paradigm of biology. The editor of Nature
called for the book to be burnt.