To start, we need an understanding of the term ‘Romantic’. This term is uniquely English, born in the mid-1600’s (just after Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Age), then taken into German culture and given a dynamic meaning. Its appearance “ is an indication of a change in human thought,” namely, as regards nature, increasingly seen less through the lens of fancy and more through the creative power of the human imagination (what Coleridge termed the ‘secondary imagination), which sought to penetrate to nature’s dynamic, living essence (natura naturans) – its phenomenal manifestation, not a fanciful or fantasy image projected onto her, or restricted to her outer appearances (natura naturata). Our argument is that what sets the West and Western culture apart from what came before, essentially East and Eastern, is its romantic foundation and nature.
The Romantic mind is one that is romantic with respect to both sensible and super-sensible things, what Reich termed closed and open orgonomes. The fundamental unit of mind, Adam, is an antithetical unity of masculine and feminine, a unity sundered at the same time to allow for the evolution of mind and consciousness, but a unity that must eventually be restored for us to be of ‘sound mind’ and not be of ‘two minds’ or only have ‘half a mind’ to act. The basic unit of Romantic science and medicine is not the individual, but the romantic ‘couple’, a resonant relationship in which each is the necessary condition of the other, a true marriage in which both remain distinct, yet are integral parts of a whole, at the physical level in terms of things (closed orgonomes) and at the level of mind in terms of ideas and conceptions (open orgonomes). The very condition of being able to know beyond the outer appearances (ken/kennen versus wit/wissen), to participate and have a living experience (Erlebniss) of anything is to have a romantic relationship, not a ‘platonic’ one. This relationship is sexual in nature, the power of what Reich termed super-imposition of mind as well as body, a power grounded in and derived from the new generative power of the Christ mind and consciousness. And life and health are dependent not only on this interaction between ourselves and the world, Brown’s excitation theory, but also on such relationships being resonant (‘agreeable’), that is, romantic, based on true love, and not ego principles of attraction, which serve to diminish and weaken. All of physic and medicine are based on ensuring a right, that is, loving, resonant relationship between individuals and with things, sensible and super-sensible. Love really does make the world go round and is the basis for health.
All of the outer stimuli we are exposed to and take in, excitants, can either support life or undermine it, can enhance our internal power of imagination to create generative conceptions (incitants) and promote life, or diminsh our living power. The very basis of life and health is the overarching function of superimposition, of creating antithetical unions between ourselves and the world, the archetype of the particular function of the orgasm in resonant union between male and female. When this function is disturbed or blocked, we are weakened, leading to disorders of the sustentive (sustaining – homeostasis) side of the living power, which make us susceptible to disease, specific impingements of the generative (creating – palingenesis) side of that power.
The Crisis in Science: Details
The crisis in Western science involved both the methodological basis for studying vital nature (‘question of life’) and the epistemological grounds for any knowledge gained (‘question of how do I know, that what I know is valid’). This crisis was most acute in the case of the legitimacy of medicine itself and came to a head in a famous article published in 1795 which critically undermined any pretensions to scientific rigor and validity by the then prevailing approaches to medicine, whether the blind tradition or empiricism of the country healers, dogmatic application of the Aristotelean humoral pathology of the Old School practitioners, or the barren postulating of the small but influential group of academic doctors. The article, written anonymously by a German physician clearly inspired by Kant’s philosophical critiques, devastatingly exposed the lack of any scientific foundation for medicine as then taught and practiced, but offered nothing by way of an alternative. It is this critical spark that falls on the pile of kindling that has been accumulating over the previous half century, and causes it to burst into flame, providing an impetus to and opportunity for the emergence of what becomes Romantic medicine.
Let’s look at the various pieces of kindling. First, it became clear that life could not be reduced to physical laws and mechanistic forces, and that the possibility of forces and laws going beyond those prevailing in inert nature had to be entertained. Second, the focus on the question of life, of increasing concern after the advances of science concerning inert nature, initially arose around two questions: what distinguished ‘living matter’ from ‘dead matter’, involving the idea of nerves and irritability, and how did embryos (or foetuses) form, leading to the idea that organism rather than mechanism was the key to the science of life. As one observer of Romantic science notes, this laid the foundation for the fall of the twin pillars of the Enlightenment, mechanism and the primacy of body over mind (the latter being an epi-phenomenon of the former).
On the matter of embryology, two main theories of human embryo formation and development prevailed: one, that the egg already contained the adult form, and was simply activated by the sperm (preformation); the other, that the embryo was initially a formless mass and progressively formed and articulated (epigenesis). Von Haller (1708-1777), the famous Swiss anatomist, supported the first hypothesis, which stimulated a young German doctor, Caspar Wolff (1734-1794) to support the concept of a ‘principle of generation or essential force’ which carried out epigenesis. This was followed by a small, but influential book by the young Göttingen physician and physiologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840)…Über den Bildungstrieb und das Zeugungsgeschäfte (On the formative force and the operations of reproduction, 1781). This brief treatise would ignite a sequence of small explosions concerning the nature of the force called ‘life’… In England, John Hunter, the famous surgeon and anatomist, put forward the idea of a ‘life principle’ derived from close observation, arguing that matter and form were the outer expression of a vital dynamics, not the other way around. In Germany, in addition to Blumenbach, the chief figure amongst the old school of physicians, Hufeland, also endorsed the idea of a Lebenskraft.
On the first matter, as to what constituted ‘living matter’, Von Haller was also a key initial figure, putting forward the mechanical-material hypothesis of irritability, just then being extensively studied. While the hypothesis persisted, proving attractive to academic researchers, it could not adequately explain life, nor was it compatible with the old humoral pathology of the practicing physicians, who clung to this tradition long after the noetic capacity to effectively apply it had waned, resorting to a random, blind empiricism based on bed-side experience. In both cases, the guide was the authority of shifting ‘principals’ rather than of unchanging scientific ‘principles’.
The struggle of science to understand life shifted the emphasis from the initial focus on outer forms (natura naturata) and mechanical movement (e.g., Brownian motion) to the living essence (what Bacon termed natura naturans) and dynamic movement, that is life as the resultant and emergent of the interplay of polarities of powers, forces and energies within a certain unity or function, which formed the basis for a dynamic physiology. While living organisms contained a degree of a mineral, material nature amenable to being approached via the laws of material physics and chemistry, life itself could not thereby be satisfactorily explained.
In addition, as part of the kindling being piled up ready to be set alight with the right spark, the Brunonian system, set forth by Dr. John Brown, was published in England and translated into several German editions. Initially, Brown’s theory of the nature of life, health, illness and therapeutics had little impact, but would soon provide the foundation for a medical revolution, along with the works of a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann, providing what we could term the General Theory and Special Theory of Romantic Healthcare.
The challenge of Romantic science and medicine was to establish a true natural science, one that accounted for vital nature on the basis of living functions or physiology, and then for inert nature through that understanding (rather than trying to explain the living through a study of the dead – anatomy, tissue change, chemistry, fluid mechanics, etc.). To do this, it also had to distinguish a real idea of a life force or living power, one that could do effective therapeutic work, from the notion of a vital force, simply posited to oppose materialism, but not grounded scientifically, nor able to actually be applied therapeutically (vitalism).
The scientific challenge through the 1700’s was to render the idea of life and the various terms used to point to it, scientific, both in its quantifiable and qualitative aspects, and use this understanding to advance life (health), by means of a rational, systematic and comprehensive therapeutics (healthcare). The Romantic thinkers sought a science of vital nature to match the science of inert nature, and a system of healthcare grounded in natural law and principles. The effort of the academics and practicing physicians to build on the foundation of inert science had been a failure.