Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Vitalism

Vitalism

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Vitalism'
Start a new discussion about 'Vitalism'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Vitalism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is
  1. a doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from biochemical reactions
  2. a doctrine that the processes of life are not explicable by the laws of physics and chemistry alone and that life is in some part self-determining
    Self-determination
    Self-determination is the principle in international law that nations have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or external interference...



Where vitalism explicitly invokes a vital principle, that element is often referred to as the "vital spark", "energy" or "élan vital
Élan vital
Élan vital was coined by French philosopher Henri Bergson in his 1907 book Creative Evolution, in which he addresses the question of self-organisation and spontaneous morphogenesis of things in an increasingly complex manner. Elan vital was translated in the English edition as "vital impetus", but...

", which some equate with the "soul".

Vitalism has a long history in medical philosophies: most traditional healing
Traditional medicine
Traditional medicine comprises unscientific knowledge systems that developed over generations within various societies before the era of modern medicine...

 practices posited that disease results from some imbalance in the vital energies that distinguish living from non-living matter. In the Western tradition founded by Hippocrates
Hippocrates
Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles , and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine...

, these vital forces were associated with the four temperaments and humours; Eastern traditions posited similar forces such as qi
Qi
In traditional Chinese culture, qì is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts...

 and prana
Prana
Prana is the Sanskrit word for "vital life" .It is one of the five organs of vitality or sensation, viz. prana "breath", vac "speech", chakshus "sight", shrotra "hearing", and manas "thought" Prana is the Sanskrit word for "vital life" (from the root "to fill", cognate to Latin plenus...

. It is often contrasted to reductionism
Reductionism
Reductionism can mean either an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can...

, the more mechanistic approach.

Development


Vitalism is an ancient doctrine found throughout many ancient cultures, a pure vitalistic doctrine however can be traced back to Galen
Galen
Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus , better known as Galen of Pergamon , was a prominent Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher...

 of the second century, a physician
Physician
A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

 who became a surgeon for gladiators
Gladiators
Gladiators is a British television series produced by LWT for ITV on Saturdays nights from 10 October 1992 to 1 January 2000. It is an adaptation of the United States game show American Gladiators. An Australian spin-off and a Swedish one followed...

 at Pergamum. When studying the anatomy
Anatomy
Anatomy is a branch of biology and medicine that is the consideration of the structure of living things. It is a general term that includes human anatomy, animal anatomy , and plant anatomy...

 of the human body he did not believe that the living organisms could be explained by mindless interplay of atoms, he believed there was a vital force that powered the human body. Like Erasistratus
Erasistratus
Erasistratus was a Greek anatomist and royal physician under Seleucus I Nicator of Syria. Along with fellow physician Herophilus, he founded a school of anatomy in Alexandria, where they carried out anatomical research...

 he believed a vital force was absorbed through the lungs from the air.

The notion that bodily functions are due to a vitalistic principle existing in all living creatures has roots going back at least to ancient Egypt. While vitalist ideas have been commonplace in traditional medicine, attempts to construct workable scientific models date from the 17th century, when it was argued that matter existed in two radically different forms, observable by their behavior with regard to heat. These two forms of matter were termed organic and inorganic. Inorganic matter could be melted, but could also be restored to its former condition by removing the heat. Organic compounds "cooked" when heated, transforming into new forms that could not be restored to the original. It was argued that the essential difference between the two forms of matter was the "vital force", present only in organic material.

Aided by the development of the microscope
Microscope
A microscope is an instrument used to see objects that are too small for the naked eye. The science of investigating small objects using such an instrument is called microscopy...

 in the Netherlands in the early 17th century, the germ theory of disease eventually challenged the role of the four humours in Western medicine, while the cellular composition of the organs of human anatomy
Anatomy
Anatomy is a branch of biology and medicine that is the consideration of the structure of living things. It is a general term that includes human anatomy, animal anatomy , and plant anatomy...

 and the ensuing molecular analysis of the maintenance of life slowly became better understood, reducing the need to explain things in terms of mystical "vital forces".

Nevertheless, various quasi-vitalist concepts were still employed by many scientists to explain many matters of human life, development and mind. Jöns Jakob Berzelius
Jöns Jakob Berzelius
Jöns Jacob Berzelius was a Swedish chemist. He worked out the modern technique of chemical formula notation, and is together with John Dalton, Antoine Lavoisier, and Robert Boyle considered a father of modern chemistry...

, one of the early 19th century "fathers" of modern chemistry, though he rejected mystical explanations of vitalism, nevertheless argued that a regulative force must exist within living matter to maintain its functions. Carl Reichenbach
Carl Reichenbach
Baron Dr. Carl Ludwig von Reichenbach was a notable chemist, geologist, metallurgist, naturalist, industrialist and philosopher, and a member of the prestigious Prussian Academy of Sciences...

 later developed the theory of Odic force
Odic force
The Odic force is the name given in the mid-19th century to a hypothetical vital energy or life force by Baron Carl von Reichenbach...

, a form of life-energy that permeated living things; this concept never gained much support despite Reichenbach's prestige. As physiology came to be understood more and more in terms of physical mechanisms, vitalistic explanations for the functioning of the body were refuted one by one. The last holdout for vitalism was the kidney, but it fell into total disrepute after the elegant experiments of Homer Smith
Homer Smith
Dr Homer William Smith was an American physiologist and an advocate for science. His research work focused on the kidney and he discovered inulin at the same time as A.N. Richards. Dr...

 in the 1930s demonstrated clearly the filtration and secretory mechanisms of that organ. Vitalism is now considered an obsolete term in the philosophy of science, most often used as a pejorative
Pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

 epithet
Epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

. Still, Ernst Mayr
Ernst Mayr
Ernst Walter Mayr was one of the 20th century's leading evolutionary biologists. He was also a renowned taxonomist, tropical explorer, ornithologist, historian of science, and naturalist...

, co-founder of the modern evolutionary synthesis
Modern evolutionary synthesis
The modern evolutionary synthesis is a union of ideas from several biological specialties which provides a widely accepted account of evolution...

 and a critic of both vitalism and reductionism, writing in 2002 after the mathematical development of theories underlying emergent behavior, stated:

Foundations of chemistry


The concept of vitalism in chemistry can be traced back to Berzelius
Berzelius
Berzelius is a secret society at Yale University named for the Swedish scientist Jöns Jakob Berzelius, considered one of the founding fathers of modern chemistry...

 who suggested that in the division of organic and inorganic that a mysterious vital force exists in organic compounds.

Vitalism played a pivotal role in the history of chemistry since it gave rise to the basic distinction between organic and inorganic substances, following Aristotle's distinction between the mineral kingdom and the animal and vegetative kingdoms. The basic premise was that organic materials differed from inorganic materials fundamentally; accordingly, vitalist chemists predicted that organic materials could not be synthesized from inorganic components. However, as chemical techniques advanced, Friedrich Wöhler
Friedrich Wöhler
Friedrich Wöhler was a German chemist, best known for his synthesis of urea, but also the first to isolate several chemical elements.-Biography:He was born in Eschersheim, which belonged to aau...

 synthesised urea
Urea
Urea or carbamide is an organic compound with the chemical formula CO2. The molecule has two —NH2 groups joined by a carbonyl functional group....

 from inorganic components in 1828 and subsequently wrote to Berzelius
Jöns Jakob Berzelius
Jöns Jacob Berzelius was a Swedish chemist. He worked out the modern technique of chemical formula notation, and is together with John Dalton, Antoine Lavoisier, and Robert Boyle considered a father of modern chemistry...

, that he had witnessed "The great tragedy of science, the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact." The "beautiful hypothesis" was vitalism; the ugly fact was a dish of urea crystals.

Further discoveries continued to marginalise need for a "vital force" explanation as more and more life processes came to be described in chemical or physical terms. However, contemporary accounts do not support the claim that vitalism died when Wöhler made urea. This Wöhler Myth, as historian of science Peter J. Ramberg called it, originated from a popular history of chemistry published in 1931, which, "ignoring all pretense of historical accuracy, turned Wöhler into a crusader who made attempt after attempt to synthesize a natural product that would refute vitalism and lift the veil of ignorance, until 'one afternoon the miracle happened'". However, in 1845, Adolph Kolbe succeeded in making acetic acid from inorganic compounds, and in the 1850s, Marcellin Berthelot
Marcellin Berthelot
Marcelin Pierre Eugène Berthelot was a French chemist and politician noted for the Thomsen-Berthelot principle of thermochemistry. He synthesized many organic compounds from inorganic substances and disproved the theory of vitalism. He is considered as one of the greatest chemists of all time.He...

 repeated this feat for numerous organic compounds. In retrospect, Wöhler's work was the beginning of the end of Berzelius's vitalist hypothesis, but only in retrospect, as Ramberg had shown.


In fact some of the greatest scientific minds of the time continued to investigate the possibility of vital properties. Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur was a French chemist and microbiologist born in Dole. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. His discoveries reduced mortality from puerperal fever, and he created the first vaccine for rabies and anthrax. His experiments...

, shortly after his famous rebuttal of spontaneous generation
Spontaneous generation
Spontaneous generation or Equivocal generation is an obsolete principle regarding the origin of life from inanimate matter, which held that this process was a commonplace and everyday occurrence, as distinguished from univocal generation, or reproduction from parent...

, performed several experiments that he felt supported the vital concepts of life. According to Bechtel, Pasteur "fitted fermentation into a more general programme describing special reactions that only occur in living organisms. These are irreducibly vital phenomena." In 1858, Pasteur showed that fermentation only occurs when living cells are present and, that fermentation only occurs in the absence of oxygen; he was thus led to describe fermentation as 'life without air'. Rejecting the claims of Berzelius, Liebig, Traube and others that fermentation resulted from chemical agents or catalysts within cells, he concluded that fermentation was a "vital action".

Developmental biology


With the rise of mechanism
Mechanism
Mechanism may refer to:*Mechanism , rigid bodies connected by joints in order to accomplish a desired force and/or motion transmission*Mechanism , explaining how a feature is created...

 in science in the 16th century there were few vitalistic scientists left. One exception was Francis Glisson
Francis Glisson
Francis Glisson was a British physician, anatomist, and writer on medical subjects. He did important work on the anatomy of the liver, and he wrote an early pediatric text on rickets...

 (1597–1677) an English anatomist and an Italian doctor Marcello Malpighi
Marcello Malpighi
Marcello Malpighi was an Italian doctor, who gave his name to several physiological features, like the Malpighian tubule system.-Early years:...

 (1628–1694).

Caspar Friedrich Wolff
Caspar Friedrich Wolff
Caspar Friedrich Wolff was a German physiologist and one of the founders of embryology.-Life:Wolff was born in Berlin, Brandenburg. In 1230 he graduated as an M.D...

 (1733–1794) is considered to be the father of epigenetic
Epigenesis (biology)
In biology, epigenesis has at least two distinct meanings:* the unfolding development in an organism, and in particular the development of a plant or animal from an egg or spore through a sequence of steps in which cells differentiate and organs form;...

 descriptive embryology
Embryology
Embryology is a science which is about the development of an embryo from the fertilization of the ovum to the fetus stage...

, that is, he marks the point when embryonic development began to be described in terms of the proliferation of cells rather than the incarnation of a preformed soul. In his Theoria Generationis (1759), he endeavored to explain the emergence of the organism by the actions of a "vis essentialis", an organizing, formative force, and declared "All believers in epigenesis are Vitalists."

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach was a German physician, physiologist and anthropologist, one of the first to explore the study of mankind as an aspect of natural history, whose teachings in comparative anatomy were applied to classification of what he called human races, of which he determined...

 established epigenesis
Epigenesis
Epigenesis may refer to:* Epigenesis , describes morphogenesis and development of an organism* By analogy, a philosophical and theological concept, part of the concept of spiritual evolution* The Epigenesis, a 2010 album by Melechesh...

 as the model of thought in the life sciences in 1781 with his publication of Über den Bildungstrieb und das Zeugungsgeschäfte. Blumenbach cut up freshwater polyps and established that the removed parts would regenerate. He inferred the presence of a "formative drive", an organic force, which he called "Bildungstrieb". But he pointed out that this name, "like names applied to every other kind of vital power, of itself, explains nothing: it serves merely to designate a peculiar power formed by the combination of the mechanical principle with that which is susceptible of modification". Therefore early vitalists were aware that the vital forces that they proposed were not capable of standing as positive scientific theories.

Vitalism was revived in the early 18th century by the physician Marie François Xavier Bichat
Marie François Xavier Bichat
Marie François Xavier Bichat , French anatomist and physiologist, was born at Thoirette .Bichat is best remembered as the father of modern histology and pathology. Despite the fact that he worked without a microscope he was able to advance greatly the understanding of the human body...

, and the physician John Hunter
John Hunter (surgeon)
John Hunter FRS was a Scottish surgeon regarded as one of the most distinguished scientists and surgeons of his day. He was an early advocate of careful observation and scientific method in medicine. The Hunterian Society of London was named in his honour...

 who recognized a "living principle" in addition to mechanics.

Between 1833 and 1844, Johannes Peter Müller
Johannes Peter Müller
Johannes Peter Müller , was a German physiologist, comparative anatomist, and ichthyologist not only known for his discoveries but also for his ability to synthesize knowledge.-Early years and education:...

 wrote a book on physiology
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

 called Handbuch der Physiologie, which became the leading textbook in the field for much of the nineteenth century. The book showed Müller's commitments to vitalism, he questioned why organic matter differs from inorganic then proceeded to chemical analyses of the blood and lymph. He describes in detail the circulatory, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, nervous, and sensory systems in a wide variety of animals but explains that the presence of a soul makes each organism an indivisible whole. He also claimed the behavior of light and sound waves proposes that living organisms possess a life-energy for which physical laws can never fully account.

Vitalism was also important in the thinking of later teleologists
Teleology
A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos; root: τελε-, "end, purpose...

 such as Hans Driesch (1867–1941).

In 1894, after publishing papers on his experiments on sea urchin
Sea urchin
Sea urchins or urchins are small, spiny, globular animals which, with their close kin, such as sand dollars, constitute the class Echinoidea of the echinoderm phylum. They inhabit all oceans. Their shell, or "test", is round and spiny, typically from across. Common colors include black and dull...

 eggs, Driesch wrote a theoretical essay entitled Analytische Theorie der organischen Entwicklung, in which he declared that his studies in developmental biology pointed to a "blueprint" or teleology
Teleology
A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos; root: τελε-, "end, purpose...

, an Aristotelian entelechy, a scientific demonstration of Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

's notion that the organism develops as if it has a purposeful intelligence;

Development starts with a few ordered manifoldnesses; but the manifoldnesses create, by interactions, new manifoldnesses, and these are able, by acting back on the original ones, to provoke new differences, and so on. With each new response, a new cause is immediately provided, and a new specific reactivity for further specific responses. We derive a complex structure from a simple one given in the egg.


His main argument was that when one cuts up a sea urchin embryo after its first division or two, the parts do not become parts of sea urchins, but complete sea urchins. However, later research on cell fate determination
Cell fate determination
Within the field of developmental biology one goal is to understand how a particular cell develops into the final cell type , essentially how a cell’s fate is determined. Within an embryo, 4 processes play out at the cellular and tissue level to essentially create the final organism...

 has led to some successful mechanistic hypotheses, like growth factor
Growth factor
A growth factor is a naturally occurring substance capable of stimulating cellular growth, proliferation and cellular differentiation. Usually it is a protein or a steroid hormone. Growth factors are important for regulating a variety of cellular processes....

s influencing cells. The embryo's cells remain totipotent stem cells for the first few cell divisions, only becoming specialized later.

The vitalists strongly rejected Darwin's theory of natural selection. Because of their teleological leanings, they strongly rejected his selectionism. As Darwin's theory of evolution denied the existence of any cosmic teleology, the vitalists saw Darwin's theories as too materialistic to explain the complexity of life. Driesch was a strong anti-Darwinian.

Driesch's reputation as an experimental biologist deteriorated as a result of his vitalistic theories. He moved to Heidelberg and became a Professor of Natural Philosophy.

Other vitalists included Johannes Reinke
Johannes Reinke
Johannes Reinke was a German botanist and philosopher who was a native of Ziethen, Lauenburg. He is remembered for his research of benthic marine algae....

 and Oscar Hertwig. Reinke used the word neovitalism to describe his work, he claimed that it would be eventually verified through experimentation and wanted an improvement over the other vitalistic theories. The work of Reinke was an influence for Carl Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

.

Alfred Russel Wallace
Alfred Russel Wallace
Alfred Russel Wallace, OM, FRS was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist...

 believed qualitative novelties could arise through the process of evolution, in particular the phenomena of life and mind, like the vitalists Wallace attributed these novelties to a supernatural agency. Later in his life, Wallace was advocate of spiritualism
Spiritualism
Spiritualism is a belief system or religion, postulating the belief that spirits of the dead residing in the spirit world have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living...

 and believed in a non-material origin for the higher mental faculties of humans, he believed that evolution suggested that the universe had a purpose, and that certain aspects of living organisms are not be explainable in terms of purely materialistic processes, in a 1909 magazine article entitled The World of Life, which he later expanded into a book of the same name.

Two Systematic
Systematic
Systematic is an American hard rock band from Oakland, California. They were one of the first signings to Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich's record label, The Music Company, via Elektra Records. The band released two studio albums before disbanding in 2004....

 scientists Guy Coburn Robson
Guy Coburn Robson
Guy Coburn Robson was a British zoologist, specializing in Mollusca, who first named and described Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, the Colossal Squid....

 and Owain Richards, rejected both Mendelism
Mendelian inheritance
Mendelian inheritance is a scientific description of how hereditary characteristics are passed from parent organisms to their offspring; it underlies much of genetics...

 and Darwinism
Darwinism
Darwinism is a set of movements and concepts related to ideas of transmutation of species or of evolution, including some ideas with no connection to the work of Charles Darwin....

 and suggested that differences between species are non-adaptive and have nothing to do with natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

. Robson and Richards examined all the major known examples of evolution by natural selection in their book Variation of animals in nature (1936), and concluded that none were sufficient to account for any significant taxonomic characters. They supported a non-adaptive interpretation of taxonomic differences. Robson and Richards have both been described as vitalists who supported a vitalistic attitude to nature.

According to Robson and Richards:
A number of physicists began to advocate vitalism. Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

 was one of the first to suggest that special laws not found in inanimate matter might operate in organisms. He thought of these laws as analogous to the laws of physics except for their being restricted to organisms. Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist and theoretical biologist who was one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and is famed for a number of important contributions to physics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933...

 supported similar ideas, as well as the physicists Walter M. Elsasser
Walter M. Elsasser
Walter Maurice Elsasser was a German-born American physicist considered a "father" of the presently accepted dynamo theory as an explanation of the Earth's magnetism. He proposed that this magnetic field resulted from electric currents induced in the fluid outer core of the Earth...

 and Eugene Wigner.

John Scott Haldane adopted an anti-mechanist approach to biology and an idealist philosophy early on in his career. Haldane saw his work as a vindication of his belief that teleology
Teleology
A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos; root: τελε-, "end, purpose...

 was an essential concept in biology. His views became widely known with his first book Mechanism, life and personality in 1913. Haldane borrowed arguments from the vitalists to use against mechanism, however he was not a vitalist and he insisted that Hans Driesch’s view of entelechy was unacceptable as it was inconsistent with the law of conservation of energy. Haldane treated the organism as fundamental to biology, "we perceive the organism as a self-regulating entity" he argued and "every effort to analyze it into components that can be reduced to a mechanical explanation violates this central experience". The work of Haldane was an influence on organicism.

By the 1930s vitalism had fallen out of favour by most biologists. In 1931 John Scott Haldane stated:
Haldane also stated that a purely mechanist interpretation can not account for the characteristics of life. Haldane wrote a number of books in which he attempted to show the invalidity of both vitalism and mechanist approaches to science. Haldane explained:
The demise of vitalism instead of leading to a victory of mechanism lead to a number of new approaches to science. These new approaches to science included holism
Holism
Holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone...

, organicism
Organicism
Organicism is a philosophical orientation that asserts that reality is best understood as an organic whole. By definition it is close to holism. Plato, Hobbes or Constantin Brunner are examples of such philosophical thought....

, and emergent evolution
Emergent evolution
Emergent evolution is the hypothesis that, in the course of evolution, some entirely new properties, such as life and consciousness, appear at certain critical points, usually because of an unpredictable rearrangement of the already existing entities...

.

Early in the 20th century Conwy Lloyd Morgan united both vitalism and mechanism in his theory of emergent evolution
Emergent evolution
Emergent evolution is the hypothesis that, in the course of evolution, some entirely new properties, such as life and consciousness, appear at certain critical points, usually because of an unpredictable rearrangement of the already existing entities...

, according to Morgan the emergence of life and the emergence of mind were both miracles and could not be explained by physics or chemistry or from biological interpretation alone. Another scientist who held a similar view to this was Jan Smuts
Jan Smuts
Jan Christiaan Smuts, OM, CH, ED, KC, FRS, PC was a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader and philosopher. In addition to holding various cabinet posts, he served as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948...

 who took a holistic approach to science and offered a compromise between mechanism and vitalism with his theory of holism
Holism
Holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone...

, which he explained in his 1926 book, Holism and Evolution.

A modern day example of a biologist and an advocate of vitalism is very rare, however the work of the biochemist
Biochemist
Biochemists are scientists who are trained in biochemistry. Typical biochemists study chemical processes and chemical transformations in living organisms. The prefix of "bio" in "biochemist" can be understood as a fusion of "biological chemist."-Role:...

 Rupert Sheldrake
Rupert Sheldrake
Rupert Sheldrake is an English scientist. He is known for having proposed an unorthodox account of morphogenesis and for his research into parapsychology. His books and papers stem from his theory of morphic resonance, and cover topics such as animal and plant development and behaviour, memory,...

 has been described as vitalistic. In 1981 in his book A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation he developed the idea of nonlocal and nonphysical morphogenetic fields. Sheldrake has however rejected both materialism and vitalism (although he admits he has had an influence from vitalism) and claims his work fits into organicism
Organicism
Organicism is a philosophical orientation that asserts that reality is best understood as an organic whole. By definition it is close to holism. Plato, Hobbes or Constantin Brunner are examples of such philosophical thought....

.

James Le Fanu
James Le Fanu
James Le Fanu is a British physician, medical journalist and author of several books. He is best known for his weekly columns in the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph.-Life:...

 has recently defended a form of vitalism in his book Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves
(2009), According to a review of the book by the New Scientist
New Scientist
New Scientist is a weekly non-peer-reviewed English-language international science magazine, which since 1996 has also run a website, covering recent developments in science and technology for a general audience. Founded in 1956, it is published by Reed Business Information Ltd, a subsidiary of...

, Le Fanu argues for the existence of an immaterial
Immaterial
Immaterial may refer to* The opposite of matter, material, materialism, or materialistic* Incorporeality* Immaterialism, or subjective idealism* Immaterial , a 2002 short story collection by Robert Hood...

 "life force". Le Fanu is not a creationist; he does not argue for God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, instead he argues for a non-physical cosmic force, which he claims could explain where consciousness originates from; he also claims it may explain many of the other mysteries
Mysteries
Mysteries may refer to:* Sacred mysteries in ancient esoteric religions* Mysteries , a 1975 jazz album* Mysteries , an 1892 psychological novel* The Mysteries, a 1977 English play cycle...

 unexplained by material science.

Relationship to emergentism


A refinement of vitalism may be recognized in contemporary molecular histology in the proposal that some key organising and structuring features of organisms, perhaps including even life itself, are examples of emergent process
Emergence
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems....

es; those in which a complexity arises, out of interacting chemical processes forming interconnected feedback cycles, that cannot fully be described in terms of those processes since the system as a whole has properties that the constituent reactions lack.

Whether emergent system properties
Emergence
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems....

 should be grouped with traditional vitalist concepts is a matter of semantic controversy. In a light-hearted millennial vein, Kirschner and Mitchison call research into integrated cell and organismal physiology "molecular vitalism".

According to Emmeche et al. (1997):
Emmeche et al. (1998) state that "there is a very important difference between the vitalists and the emergentists: the vitalist's creative forces were relevant only in organic substances, not in inorganic matter. Emergence hence is creation of new properties regardless of the substance involved." "The assumption of an extra-physical vitalis (vital force, entelechy, élan vital
Élan vital
Élan vital was coined by French philosopher Henri Bergson in his 1907 book Creative Evolution, in which he addresses the question of self-organisation and spontaneous morphogenesis of things in an increasingly complex manner. Elan vital was translated in the English edition as "vital impetus", but...

, etc.), as formulated in most forms (old or new) of vitalism, is usually without any genuine explanatory power. It has served altogether too often as an intellectual tranquilizer or verbal sedative—stifling scientific inquiry rather than encouraging it to proceed in new directions."

Mesmerism


A popular vitalist theory of the 18th century was "animal magnetism
Animal magnetism
Animal magnetism , in modern usage, refers to a person's sexual attractiveness or raw charisma. As postulated by Franz Mesmer in the 18th century, the term referred to a supposed magnetic fluid or ethereal medium believed to reside in the bodies of animate beings...

", in the theories of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815). However, the use of the (conventional) English term animal magnetism to translate Mesmer's magnétisme animal is extremely misleading for three reasons:
  • Mesmer chose his term to clearly distinguish his variant of magnetic force from those referred to, at that time, as mineral magnetism, cosmic magnetism and planetary magnetism.
  • Mesmer felt that this particular force/power only resided in the bodies of humans and animals.
  • Mesmer chose the word "animal", for its root meaning (from Latin animus = "breath") specifically to identify his force/power as a quality that belonged to all creatures with breath; viz., the animate beings: humans and animals.


In Mesmer's time the word "animal" had different mental associations than today. Specifically there were practitioners of the technique that said of a mesmerized person "the person is back animal" meaning "the person is back in a natural mental state where she/he recovers his/her most primitive part of the mind".

Mesmer's ideas became so influential that King Louis XVI of France appointed two commissions to investigate mesmerism; one was led by Joseph-Ignace Guillotin
Joseph-Ignace Guillotin
Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was a French physician who proposed on 10 October 1789 the use of a device to carry out death penalties in France. While he did not invent the guillotine, and in fact opposed the death penalty, his name became an eponym for it...

, the other, led by Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, included Bailly
Bailly
Bailly may refer to:* Jean Sylvain Bailly , French astronomer and orator, one of the leaders of the early part of the French Revolution* Joseph Bailly , French-Canadian fur trader and pioneer...

 and Lavoisier. The commissioners learned about Mesmeric theory, and saw its patients fall into fits and trance
Trance
Trance denotes a variety of processes, ecstasy, techniques, modalities and states of mind, awareness and consciousness. Trance states may occur involuntarily and unbidden.The term trance may be associated with meditation, magic, flow, and prayer...

s. In Franklin’s garden, a patient was led to each of five trees, one of which had been "mesmerized"; he hugged each in turn to receive the "vital fluid", but fainted at the foot of a 'wrong' one. At Lavoisier’s house, four normal cups of water were held before a "sensitive" woman; the fourth produced convulsions, but she calmly swallowed the mesmerized contents of a fifth, believing it to be plain water. The commissioners concluded that "the fluid without imagination is powerless, whereas imagination without the fluid can produce the effects of the fluid." This was an important example of the power of reason and controlled experiment to falsify theories. It is sometimes claimed that vitalist ideas are unscientific because they are not testable; here at least is an example of a vitalist theory that was not merely testable but actually falsified.

Psychology and consciousness


Perhaps more than any other area of science, psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 has been rich in vitalist concepts, particularly through the ideas of Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

 and Carl Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

. Freud was a student of the notable anti-vitalist Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science...

, and initially struggled to express his concepts in strictly neurological
Neurology
Neurology is a medical specialty dealing with disorders of the nervous system. Specifically, it deals with the diagnosis and treatment of all categories of disease involving the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems, including their coverings, blood vessels, and all effector tissue,...

 terms. Abandoning this effort as fruitless, he became famous for his theory that behaviour is determined by an unconscious mind
Unconscious mind
The unconscious mind is a term coined by the 18th century German romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling and later introduced into English by the poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge...

, of which the waking mind is unaware. In 1923, in The Ego and the Id
The Ego and the Id
"The Ego and the Id" is a prominent paper by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. It is an analytical study of the human psyche outlining his theories of the psychodynamics of the id, ego, and super-ego, which is of fundamental importance in the development of psychoanalytic...

, he developed the concept of "psychic energy
Energy (psychological)
Mental or psychic energy or activity is the concept of a principle of activity powering the operation of the mind or psyche. Many modern psychologists or neuroscientists would equate it with increased metabolism in neurons of the brain....

" as the energy by which the work of the personality is performed.

Although Freud and Jung remain hugely influential, mainstream psychology has made a determined effort to rid itself of the most mystical of these concepts in an attempt to appear more like the hard sciences of chemistry and physics. Although research within cognitive neuroscience
Cognitive neuroscience
Cognitive neuroscience is an academic field concerned with the scientific study of biological substrates underlying cognition, with a specific focus on the neural substrates of mental processes. It addresses the questions of how psychological/cognitive functions are produced by the brain...

 has made substantial progress in explaining mental processes such as perception
Perception
Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs...

, memory
Memory
In psychology, memory is an organism's ability to store, retain, and recall information and experiences. Traditional studies of memory began in the fields of philosophy, including techniques of artificially enhancing memory....

 and motivational states such as anger
Anger
Anger is an automatic response to ill treatment. It is the way a person indicates he or she will not tolerate certain types of behaviour. It is a feedback mechanism in which an unpleasant stimulus is met with an unpleasant response....

 and fear
Fear
Fear is a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger...

, larger concepts such as mind
Mind
The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent...

 and intelligence
Intelligence
Intelligence has been defined in different ways, including the abilities for abstract thought, understanding, communication, reasoning, learning, planning, emotional intelligence and problem solving....

, remain essentially higher level constructs, with observable neural correlates distributed throughout the brain.

The neuroscientist Roger Sperry, in his Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 lecture in 1981, described modern scientific concepts of the nature of consciousness and its relation to brain processing and emergent properties as follows:
Around the time of Sperry's acceptance of the Nobel Prize the study of consciousness was considered to be outside the realm of science, and serious researchers risked their credibility by broaching the topic. Sperry changed all that, although it didn't happen overnight. Slowly attitudes changed to embrace the possibility of a physical explanation for consciousness, with symposia devoted to the topic beginning in the mid-1990s and interest growing until now there are whole academic departments devoted to the study of consciousness such as the Center for Consciousness Studies in Tucson.

Some scholars have attacked vitalism in psychology. Thomas (2001) states that "It is now generally considered that biology had to rid itself of vitalism to enable significant progress to occur. It is suggested that psychology will develop as a science only after it rids itself of anti-reductionistic, 'emergentism'."

Complementary and alternative medicine


While contemporary conventional medicine has distanced itself from the less reductionistic and more vitalistic approach of traditional medicine
Traditional medicine
Traditional medicine comprises unscientific knowledge systems that developed over generations within various societies before the era of modern medicine...

, some areas of complementary medicine continue to espouse various guises of vitalistic concepts and worldview. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) classifies CAM therapies into five categories or domains:
  • alternative medical system
    System
    System is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole....

    s, or complete systems of therapy and practice;
  • mind-body interventions, or techniques designed to facilitate the mind's effect on bodily functions and symptoms;
  • biologically based systems, including herbalism
    Herbalism
    Herbalism is a traditional medicinal or folk medicine practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts. Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, herblore, and phytotherapy...

    ;
  • manipulative and body-based methods, such as chiropractic and massage therapy; and
  • energy therapy.


The therapies that continue to be most intimately associated with vitalism are bioenergetic medicines, in the category of energy therapies. This field may be further divided into bioelectromagnetic medicines (BEM) and biofield therapies (BT). Compared with bioenergetic medicines, biofield therapies have a stronger identity with vitalism. Examples of biofield therapies include therapeutic touch
Therapeutic touch
Therapeutic touch , also known as Non-Contact Therapeutic Touch , is an energy therapy which practitioners claim promotes healing and reduces pain and anxiety. Practitioners of therapeutic touch state that by placing their hands on, or near, a patient, they are able to detect and manipulate the...

, Reiki
Reiki
is a spiritual practice developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui. The teaching was continued and adapted by various teachers. It uses a technique commonly called palm healing as a form of complementary and alternative medicine and is sometimes classified as oriental medicine by some...

, external qi
Qi
In traditional Chinese culture, qì is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts...

, chakra
Chakra
Chakra is a concept originating in Hindu texts, featured in tantric and yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Its name derives from the Sanskrit word for "wheel" or "turning" .Chakra is a concept referring to wheel-like vortices...

 healing and SHEN therapy. Biofield therapies are medical treatments in which the "subtle energy" field of a patient is manipulated by a biofield practitioner. The subtle energy is held to exist beyond the electromagnetic (EM) energy that is produced by the heart and brain. Beverly Rubik describes the biofield as a "complex, dynamic, extremely weak EM field within and around the human body...."

Acupuncture
Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a type of alternative medicine that treats patients by insertion and manipulation of solid, generally thin needles in the body....

 and chiropractic
Chiropractic
Chiropractic is a health care profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system and the effects of these disorders on general health. It is generally categorized as complementary and alternative medicine...

 emphasize a holistic approach to the cause and treatment of disease (see main articles on these subjects). However, it should be noted that today many chiropractors no longer adhere to the concept of vitalism to explain the mechanisms at play, and are more mechanistic in their approach. More traditional or "straight" practitioners, however, adhere to a concept of "innate". For example, in a paper named "The Meanings of Innate", Joseph C. Keating, Jr.
Joseph C. Keating, Jr.
Joseph C. Keating, Jr. was trained as a clinical psychologist who spent the majority of his life teaching and researching the chiropractic profession. He is best known for his published works as a historian of chiropractic.-Early life:...

 says that "Innate Intelligence
Innate intelligence
Innate Intelligence is a chiropractic term to describe the organizing properties of living things. It was originally coined by Daniel David Palmer, the founder of chiropractic. This vitalistic concept states that all life contains Innate Intelligence and that this force is responsible for the...

" in chiropractic can be used to represent four concepts: a synonym for homeostasis
Homeostasis
Homeostasis is the property of a system that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition of properties like temperature or pH...

, a label for a doctor's ignorance, a vitalistic explanation of health and disease, and a metaphysical premise for treatment.

The founder of homeopathy
Homeopathy
Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine in which practitioners claim to treat patients using highly diluted preparations that are believed to cause healthy people to exhibit symptoms that are similar to those exhibited by the patient...

, Samuel Hahnemann
Samuel Hahnemann
Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann was a German physician, known for creating an alternative form of medicine called homeopathy.- Early life :Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann was born in Meissen, Saxony near Dresden...

, promoted an immaterial, vitalistic view of disease: "...they are solely spirit-like (dynamic) derangements of the spirit-like power (the vital principle) that animates the human body." As practised by some homeopaths today, homeopathy simply rests on the premise of treating sick persons with extremely diluted agents that – in undiluted doses – are deemed to produce similar symptoms in a healthy individual. Nevertheless, it remains equally true that the view of disease as a dynamic disturbance of the immaterial and dynamic vital force is taught in many homeopathic colleges and constitutes a fundamental principle for many contemporary practising homeopaths.

Critical opinions


Vitalism has sometimes been criticized as begging the question by inventing a name. Molière
Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...

 had famously parodied this fallacy in Le Malade imaginaire
Le Malade imaginaire
The Imaginary Invalid is a three-act comédie-ballet by the French playwright Molière. It was first performed in 1673 and was the last work he wrote. In an ironic twist of fate, Molière collapsed during his fourth performance as Argan on 17 February and died soon after...

, where a quack "answers" the question of "Why does opium
Opium
Opium is the dried latex obtained from the opium poppy . Opium contains up to 12% morphine, an alkaloid, which is frequently processed chemically to produce heroin for the illegal drug trade. The latex also includes codeine and non-narcotic alkaloids such as papaverine, thebaine and noscapine...

 cause sleep?" with "Because of its soporific power." Thomas Henry Huxley compared vitalism to stating that water is the way it is because of its "aquosity". His grandson Julian Huxley
Julian Huxley
Sir Julian Sorell Huxley FRS was an English evolutionary biologist, humanist and internationalist. He was a proponent of natural selection, and a leading figure in the mid-twentieth century evolutionary synthesis...

 in 1926 compared "vital force" or élan vital to explaining a railroad locomotive's operation by its élan locomotif ("locomotive force").

Another criticism is that vitalists have failed to rule out mechanistic explanations. This is rather obvious in retrospect for organic chemistry and developmental biology, but this criticism goes back at least a century. In 1912, Jacques Loeb
Jacques Loeb
Jacques Loeb was a German-born American physiologist and biologist.-Biography:...

 published a landmark work, The Mechanistic Conception of Life. He described experiments on how a sea urchin could have a pin for its father, as Bertrand Russell put it (Religion and Science). He also offered this challenge:
... we must either succeed in producing living matter artificially, or we must find the reasons why this is impossible.

(pp. 5–6). He also addressed vitalism more explicitly (pp. 14–15):
It is, therefore, unwarranted to continue the statement that in addition to the acceleration of oxidations the beginning of individual life is determined by the entrance of a metaphysical "life principle" into the egg; and that death is determined, aside from the cessation of oxidations, by the departure of this "principle" from the body. In the case of the evaporation of water we are satisfied with the explanation given by the kinetic theory of gases and do not demand that to repeat a well-known jest of Huxley the disappearance of the "aquosity" be also taken into consideration.


Bechtel and Richardson state that today vitalism "is often viewed as unfalsifiable, and therefore a pernicious metaphysical doctrine." For many scientists, "vitalist" theories were unsatisfactory "holding positions" on the pathway to mechanistic understanding. In 1967, Francis Crick
Francis Crick
Francis Harry Compton Crick OM FRS was an English molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist, and most noted for being one of two co-discoverers of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953, together with James D. Watson...

, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

, stated "And so to those of you who may be vitalists I would make this prophecy: what everyone believed yesterday, and you believe today, only crank
Crank (person)
"Crank" is a pejorative term used for a person who unshakably holds a belief that most of his or her contemporaries consider to be false. A "cranky" belief is so wildly at variance with commonly accepted belief as to be ludicrous...

s will believe tomorrow."

While many vitalistic theories have in fact been falsified
Falsification
Falsification may refer to:* The act of disproving a proposition, hypothesis, or theory: see Falsifiability* Mathematical proof* Falsified evidence...

, notably Mesmerism, the pseudoscientific
Pseudoscience
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status...

 retention of untested and untestable theories continues to this day. Alan Sokal
Alan Sokal
Alan David Sokal is a professor of mathematics at University College London and professor of physics at New York University. He works in statistical mechanics and combinatorics. To the general public he is best known for his criticism of postmodernism, resulting in the Sokal affair in...

 published an analysis of the wide acceptance among professional nurses of "scientific theories" of spiritual healing. (Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?). Use of a technique called therapeutic touch
Therapeutic touch
Therapeutic touch , also known as Non-Contact Therapeutic Touch , is an energy therapy which practitioners claim promotes healing and reduces pain and anxiety. Practitioners of therapeutic touch state that by placing their hands on, or near, a patient, they are able to detect and manipulate the...

 was especially reviewed by Sokal, who concluded, "nearly all the pseudoscientific systems to be examined in this essay are based philosophically on vitalism" and added that "Mainstream science has rejected vitalism since at least the 1930s, for a plethora of good reasons that have only become stronger with time."

In his book "Kinds of Minds", philosopher Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett
Daniel Clement Dennett is an American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the Co-director of...

 wrote, "Dualism...and Vitalism (the view that living things contain some special physical but equally mysterious stuff—élan vital—have been relegated to the trash heap of history...." (Chapter 2).

Joseph C. Keating, Jr., PhD, discusses vitalism's past and present roles in chiropractic and calls vitalism "a form of bio-theology." He further explains that:
Keating views vitalism as incompatible with scientific thinking:
Keating also mentions Skinner's viewpoint:
According to Williams, "today, vitalism is one of the ideas that form the basis for many pseudoscientific health systems that claim that illnesses are caused by a disturbance or imbalance of the body's vital force." "Vitalists claim to be scientific, but in fact they reject the scientific method with its basic postulates of cause and effect and of provability. They often regard subjective experience to be more valid than objective material reality."

Stenger
Victor J. Stenger
Victor John Stenger is an American particle physicist, outspoken atheist, and author, now active in philosophy and popular religious skepticism....

 states that the term "bioenergetics" "is applied in biochemistry to refer to the readily measurable exchanges of energy
Biological thermodynamics
Biological thermodynamics is a phrase that is sometimes used to refer to bioenergetics, the study of energy transformation in the biological sciences...

 within organisms, and between organisms and the environment, which occur by normal physical and chemical processes. This is not, however, what the new vitalists have in mind. They imagine the bioenergetic field as a holistic living force that goes beyond reductionist physics and chemistry."

Such a field is sometimes explained as electromagnetic(EM), though some advocates also make confused appeals to quantum physics. Joanne Stefanatos states that "The principles of energy medicine originate in quantum physics." Victor Stenger offers several explanations as to why this line of reasoning may be misplaced. He explains that energy exists in discrete packets called quanta. Energy fields are composed of their component parts and so only exist when quanta are present. Therefore energy fields are not holistic, but are rather a system of discrete parts that must obey the laws of physics. This also means that energy fields are not instantaneous. These facts of quantum physics place limitations on the infinite, continuous field that is used by some theorists to describe so-called "human energy fields". Stenger continues, explaining that the effects of EM forces have been measured by physicists as accurately as one part in a billion and there is yet to be any evidence that living organisms emit a unique field.

Vitalistic thinking has also been identified in the naive biological theories of children: "Recent experimental results show that a majority of preschoolers tend to choose vitalistic explanations as most plausible. Vitalism, together with other forms of intermediate causality, constitute unique causal devices for naive biology as a core domain of thought."

See also



  • Dualism
    Dualism
    Dualism denotes a state of two parts. The term 'dualism' was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition, a meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been diluted in general or common usages. Dualism can refer to moral dualism, Dualism (from...

  • Energy (esotericism)
  • Etheric body
    Etheric body
    The etheric body, ether-body, æther body, a name given by neo-Theosophy to a supposed vital body or subtle body propounded in esoteric philosophies as the first or lowest layer in the "human energy field" or aura...

  • Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch
    Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch
    Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch was a German biologist and philosopher from Bad Kreuznach. He is most noted for his early experimental work in embryology and for his neo-vitalist philosophy of entelechy. He is also credited with performing the first cloning of an animal in the 1880s.-Early years:Driesch...

  • Henri Bergson
    Henri Bergson
    Henri-Louis Bergson was a major French philosopher, influential especially in the first half of the 20th century. Bergson convinced many thinkers that immediate experience and intuition are more significant than rationalism and science for understanding reality.He was awarded the 1927 Nobel Prize...

  • Holism in science
    Holism in science
    Holism in science, or Holistic science, is an approach to research that emphasizes the study of complex systems. This practice is in contrast to a purely analytic tradition which aims to gain understanding of systems by dividing them into smaller composing elements and gaining understanding of the...

  • Homeopathy
    Homeopathy
    Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine in which practitioners claim to treat patients using highly diluted preparations that are believed to cause healthy people to exhibit symptoms that are similar to those exhibited by the patient...

  • Irreducible complexity
    Irreducible complexity
    Irreducible complexity is an argument by proponents of intelligent design that certain biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler, or "less complete" predecessors, through natural selection acting upon a series of advantageous naturally occurring, chance mutations...

  • Odic force
    Odic force
    The Odic force is the name given in the mid-19th century to a hypothetical vital energy or life force by Baron Carl von Reichenbach...

  • Philosophy of biology
    Philosophy of biology
    The philosophy of biology is a subfield of philosophy of science, which deals with epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical issues in the biological and biomedical sciences...

  • Prana
    Prana
    Prana is the Sanskrit word for "vital life" .It is one of the five organs of vitality or sensation, viz. prana "breath", vac "speech", chakshus "sight", shrotra "hearing", and manas "thought" Prana is the Sanskrit word for "vital life" (from the root "to fill", cognate to Latin plenus...

  • Qi
    Qi
    In traditional Chinese culture, qì is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts...

  • Rupert Sheldrake
    Rupert Sheldrake
    Rupert Sheldrake is an English scientist. He is known for having proposed an unorthodox account of morphogenesis and for his research into parapsychology. His books and papers stem from his theory of morphic resonance, and cover topics such as animal and plant development and behaviour, memory,...

  • Vis medicatrix naturae
    Vis medicatrix naturae
    Vis medicatrix naturae is the Latin translation of the Greek, νονσων φνσεις ιητροι, a phrase attributed to Hippocrates but which he did not actually use...



External links

  • Preserving Our Vitalistic Philosophy – Joseph B. Strauss, DC. Straight chiropractic philosophy
  • Vitalism at the Skeptic's Dictionary
    Skeptic's Dictionary
    The Skeptic's Dictionary is a collection of cross-referenced skeptical essays by Robert Todd Carroll, published on his website skepdic.com and in a printed book. The skepdic.com site was launched in 1994 and the book was published in 2003 with nearly 400 entries. As of January 2011 the website has...

  • Vitalism vs. Scientific Materialism – diametrically opposed worldview themes from Project Worldview