Ernst Haeckel and Emil du Bois-Reymond were the most prominent champions of Darwin in Germany. This essay compares their contributions to popularizing the theory of evolution, drawing special attention to the neglected figure of du Bois-Reymond as a spokesman for a world devoid of natural purpose. It suggests that the historiography of the German reception of Darwin’s theory needs to be reassessed in the light of du Bois-Reymond’s Lucretian outlook.
This biography of Emil du Bois-Reymond, the most important forgotten intellectual of the nineteenth century, received an Honorable Mention for History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at the 2013 PROSE Awards, was shortlisted for the 2014 John Pickstone Prize (Britain's most prestigious award for the best scholarly book in the history of science), and was named by the American Association for the Advancement of Science as one of the Best Books of 2014. -/- In his own time (1818–1896) du Bois-Reymond (...) grew famous for his groundbreaking research in neuroscience and his provocative addresses on politics and culture. His discovery of the electrical transmission of nerve signals, his innovations in laboratory instrumentation, and his reductionist methodology all helped lay the foundations of modern neuroscience. -/- In addition to describing the pioneering experiments that earned du Bois-Reymond a seat in the Prussian Academy of Sciences and a professorship at the University of Berlin, this book also recounts du Bois-Reymond’s family origins, private life, public service, and lasting influence. In talks that touched on science, philosophy, history, and literature, du Bois-Reymond introduced Darwin to German students (triggering two days of debate in the Prussian parliament), asked on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War whether France had forfeited its right to exist, and proclaimed the mystery of consciousness, heralding the age of doubt. The first modern biography in any language, "Emil du Bois-Reymond" recovers an important chapter in the history of science, the history of ideas, and the history of Germany. (shrink)
The German pioneer of electrophysiology, Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818–1896), is generally assumed to have remained silent on the subject of the brain. However, the archive of his papers in Berlin contains manuscript notes to a lecture on “The Seat of the Soul” that he delivered to popular audiences in 1884 and 1885. These notes demonstrate that cerebral localization and brain function in general had been concerns of his for quite some time, and that he did not shy away from these (...) subjects. (shrink)
Triumphalist histories of science are nothing new but were, in fact, a staple of the 19th century. This article considers one of the more famous works in the genre and argues that it was motivated by doubt more than by faith.
This essay recounts a controversy between a pioneer electrophysiologist, Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818–1896), and his student, Ludimar Hermann (1838–1914). Du Bois-Reymond proposed a molecular explanation for the slight electrical currents that he detected in frog muscles and nerves. Hermann argued that du Bois-Reymond's ‘resting currents’ were an artifact of injury to living tissue. He contested du Bois-Reymond's molecular model, explaining his teacher's observations as electricity produced by chemical decomposition. History has painted Hermann as the wronged party in this dispute. I (...) seek to set the record straight. (shrink)
Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896) complicates the historiography of the reception of Darwinism. His presentation of the theory was anti-teleological, a fact that refutes the claim that German Darwinists were Romantic.
Professeur Finkelstein avait posée la question, pourquoi, bien que leurs réalisations scientifiques et leur scientifique approche soient similaires, Bernard était beaucoup plus connu dans son pays, France, et à son époque, que Bois-Reymond en Allemagne? Une question similaire a été posée au sujet du pourquoi Darwin est connu pour la théorie de l'évolution, tandis que Wallace a été remis en arrière-fond dans leur temps et dans l'histoire. Selon Finkelstein, la cause de la differences entre Bois-Reymond et Bernard, peut être trouvée (...) dans la culture et la place de la science dans l'œil public en France contre les memes choses en Allemagne. C'est-à-dire, la rhétorique de la science a été plus respectée en France qu'en Allemagne, ce que Finkelstein a soutenu avec persuasion et éloquence. (shrink)
A ‘late developer’ argument, common to Psychology and Economic History, can be used to explain cultural innovation. It argues that the 19th century theory of natural selection arose in England and not Germany because of – and not in spite of – England’s scientific backwardness. Measured in terms of institutions, communities, and ideas, the relative retardation of English science was precisely what enabled it to adopt German advances in novel ways.
A talk delivered at the conference “Science and Religion: The Religious Beliefs and Practices of Scientists—20th Century,” Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen, 28 May 2002.
This essay considers a long-standing controversy between two nineteenth century pioneers in electrophysiology: the German scientist Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896), and his Italian rival Carlo Matteucci (1811-1868). Historians have generally described their disagreement in du Bois-Reymond’s terms: the product of a contrast in scientific outlook. While not discounting this interpretation, I want to suggest that the controversy was driven as much by the rivals’ similarity as it was by their difference.
This article examines the science of electrophysiology developed by Emil du Bois-Reymond in Berlin in the 1840s. In it I recount his major findings, the most significant being his proof of the electrical nature of nerve signals. Du Bois-Reymond also went on to detect this same ‘negative variation’, or action current, in live human subjects. In 1850 he travelled to Paris to defend this startling claim. The essay concludes with a discussion of why his demonstration failed to convince his hosts (...) at the French Academy of Sciences. (shrink)
The late 19th-century Ignorabimus controversy over the limits of scientific knowledge has often been characterized as proclaiming the end of intellectual progress, and by implication, as plunging Germany into a crisis of pessimism from which Liberalism never recovered. My research supports the opposite interpretation. The initiator of the Ignorabimus controversy, Emil du Bois-Reymond, was a physiologist who worked his whole life against the forces of obscurantism, whether they came from the Catholic and Conservative Right or the scientistic and millenarian Left. (...) Du Bois-Reymond’s doubt that scientists would ever elucidate consciousness must therefore be seen as an endorsement, and not a rejection, of his faith in reason. (shrink)
In 1854 the British East India Company, acting in co-operation with the Prussian Crown, commissioned Hermann, Adolph and Robert Schlagintweit to undertake a scientific expedition to India and High Asia. Despite the mission's outstanding achievements, all the brothers ended forgotten and miserable. This article will discuss (1) how three sons of a Munich eye surgeon attracted and lost so much high-level attention, and (2) what the Schlagintweits' successes and failures tell us about British and German science in the middle of (...) the 19th century. (shrink)