Excellent New Book on Wilhelm Reich’s Bion Research
BOOK REVIEW: Wilhelm Reich, Biologist, by James E. Strick, PhD
Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2015. 487 pages, index, bibliography, illustrated.
A new book, Wilhelm Reich, Biologist by James Strick, PhD was recently published by Harvard University Press. It has been mentioned as a forthcoming work several times on OBRL-News, but it is available now for several weeks, and having finally read it, I’d like to give it my personal endorsement and impressions.
Wilhelm Reich, Biologist provides an accurate and serious scholarly accounting of Reich’s 1930s discovery of the microscopic vesicles he came to call the bions, and the processes of bionous disintegration and re-organization, which are fundamental to many disease processes, including cancer. It is a discovery which also solves the riddle of the origins of life question, indicating a here-and-now natural process rather than something which happened invisibly in aeons past, either by mechanistic "lightning bolt in a pool of mud at the edge of the primordial sea", coupled with an equally mechanistic and speculative "DNA creationism", or by a metaphysical "finger of God" replacing the lighting bolt. The contemporary conundrum reminds me of the attached Sidney Harris scientific cartoon.
Reich’s discovery is nothing so flashy or spectacular as lightning bolts, nor does it make appeals to deity, though his discovery is fairly earth-shaking, so far as scientific matters are concerned, and no less important for humanity to learn about than for example the far less important work of Louis Pasteur. Reich should have got a Nobel Prize for his work. Instead, he got slandered and attacked, eventually dying in prison, his books banned and/or burned by Nazis, Communists, and by the High and Mighty US Food and Drug Administration.
Strick recounts the details of Reich’s discovery, which is what must concern the natural scientist. He covers Reich’s exacting laboratory control procedures and observations, and also the social conditions of that time in Scandinavia, when Reich was on the run from both Hitler’s and Stalin’s henchmen. He describes how Reich was chronically under attack by gossiping scientists of that day, whose bad words often appeared in the newspapers. Reich was supported and helped in his investigations by other groups of professionals who considered him a valued colleague, but they had little in the way of social connections or political power. To accomplish the task of doing justice to this difficult period in Reich’s life, author Strick dug into Reich’s archives, private letters, research journals and diaries of the period, including materials written by Reich’s critics, unearthing new material which gives us a more complete picture of his struggles against serious and deadly opposition, in a period just before the Nazis and Communists plunged the world into global war.
In a few short years, while on the run, Reich discovered how tissues and cells, under stressful conditions, lost their cohesive forces and disintegrated into smaller biological units or vesicles, which he called the bions. Decades later, modern biology would rediscover this observable process and call it "apoptosis", giving it a purely mechanistic and obscure genetic explanation. Reich’s bions are visible and objective things, roundish or slightly oval forms about 1 micron in diameter, and in pure forms look like small robin’s eggs, with a light blue color. They can be photographed and, in the right culture media, potentially develop and grow, to the point of changing general shape and expressing the a living motion well beyond ordinary mechanical motions, as typically mis-represented also as "Brownian" motions. And the bions aren’t merely products of dying or dead organic matter. Bions can also develop out of dead mineral material, such as coal, soot, iron filings, clay, rock or sand, if allowed to slowly disintegrate in solution. More, one could speed the process of bionous disintegration by intensive sterilization procedures, such as use of the autoclave, or heating materials to red-hot incandescence over a torch flame, or freezing materials in solution, or a combination of all those methods. Those procedures would kill existing living microbes and spores, but also very quickly yield an abundance of the bion vesicles, which Reich came to understand as a transitional form between non-life and living material. And indeed, with the proper chemistry in nutrient solutions, bions so formed from disintegration could cross the barrier to life, showing growth and motility in bion cultures. Further organization was then possible, as Reich demonstrated, where bions would aggregate into heaps, after which new membranes would form around the heaps. Organized internal motions would appear, such as a slow coordinate rolling motion of bions inside the membranous heap. After some hours, ameba or paramecium or vorticella would develop from such processes, which Reich directly observed and also captured on films.
Reich further argued, with impeccable logic and other new experiments, that the process of bionous formation of protozooans in living nature was functionally identical to a similar bionous processes by which cancer cells developed in living tissues of mammals. Underlaying both processes were a general energy loss, poor respiration and motility resulting in anoxia. And as his work indicated, a pulsatory life energy — the bluish orgone — which when present and motile supported the life-process, but when depleted and stagnant, led to degeneration into the less-complex bions, or ever further to degenerate into t-bacilli, which could cause cancer when injected into laboratory mice.
Modern biologists are not fully ignorant of such processes, but almost always give them other terms and theoretical explanations in keeping with existing theory. For example, today we know there are microbes which thrive in thermal hot springs at the boiling point of water. Thermophilles they are called, heat-loving microbes. We also know about deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, where entire ecosystems thrive at temperatures so high they can melt lead. Likewise, the great ice sheets over the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans. These are not sterile zones, but thrive with life that is sustained by food chains founded upon bion-like organisms that arise from intensive heat, or freeze-thaw processes similar to what Reich was duplicating, unknowingly, in his laboratory.
As Strick points out, Reich’s methods of observing living material gave him an edge over others. He viewed living tissues and blood cells, and other preparations of microbes, at high magnification (2000x to 5000x) in the light microscope with the most excellent color-compensated optics then available. That was highly unusual in Reich’s time, and still is given the propensity of biologists to look at primarily dead preparations. One could hardly learn much about the behavior and development of birds by only looking at stuffed dead ones in a museum glass case, as Reich argued. It is a good argument, valid today, but still neglected and scorned. On this I can testify from an early experience at the university. I was once hysterically laughed at in an anxious prolonged manner by the instructor and 30 different students in a university microbiology classroom, for daring to "waste time" using my microscope to look at living pond water, with all its myriad pulsating and spinning life forms — didn’t I know, everything must be killed, fixed and stained before you view it in the microscope!
Reich’s publications and arguments on these findings were greeted with intensive scorn and attack. And his prior work on emotions and sexuality, on bioelectrical investigations of sexuality and anxiety, only added fuel to the bonfires his enemies were preparing. All this happened before late 1939, when Reich finally departed Scandinavia for the USA.
Bions from autoclaved sterilized grass (from DeMeo, Heretic’s Notebook, 1996)
For the modern scientist, Wilhelm Reich, Biologist will revive older and long-dormant questions in the natural sciences. It will also remind them how social conditions can easily degenerate and threaten serious research into controversial subjects, a problem we increasingly see today. It should also impress upon scientists, that there is old business to address in our understandings of basic biological processes, as well as in necessary reforms to the scientific reception process. Today’s science is increasingly driven by demands for "political correctness", where certain basic scientific questions have become seriously "taboo", and cannot be openly investigated without risking employment and professional standing. For example, the end-all, be-all concepts of genetic determinism have become sacred objects, a spiritualized "DNA Creationism" and well-funded Sacred Cow, characterized by large claims but far less defendable evidence. It is hardly different from Bible creationism in its unproven foundational assumptions, and in how critics are at risk of abuse or being kicked-out of institutions if they dare ask the "wrong" questions. Criticisms of the CO2 theory of global warming is another example where one takes professional or even personal risks to speak against it, as angry fist-shakers and media attacks against dissenters tend to dominate the public microphone. The same is true for the still-unproven claim of "infectious HIV", which has advocate groups heavily funded by the drug companies, as are the scientific and medical journals which forbid asking the "wrong" questions. Likewise, one risks professional destruction, legal prosecution and even your life and limb, for daring to question the shaky claims of a genetic or biological origins for homosexuality, or that Islam might have structural problems that render it significantly more violent than other cultures. All of those are serious open questions for rational scientific investigation, but "activists" and politicians, whose opinions are parroted by mainstream media, do their best to shout-down or erase dissenting voices, literally advocating that dissenters to certain PC views should be imprisoned to shut them up. "Hate speech" laws now exist in many nations, to stifle both political and scientific opinion and speech, which then extends to block scientific study or publication of critical research findings. One can easily go from being a darling Star of the National Academy of Science, to an isolated and unfunded nobody, at risk for job termination, as happened to Peter Duesberg for daring to criticize the infectious-HIV theory of AIDS.
Courtrooms then become Star Chambers for prosecuting the dissenter, and where non-conforming scientific evidence is forbidden to be brought into testimony. That certainly happened in Reich’s case, back in the 1950s, and it continues today, as scientists or physicians are sometimes dragged into courtrooms to defend their ideas and activities against various modern consensus-driven PC dictatorships. The media and scientific societies generally go along with such things, expelling dissenting members who then get slandered in the media. I’ve written papers on this, not merely how the process destroyed Reich’s professional standing, but many other similar cases, including a few similar assaults directed at myself for daring to stand up for Reich.
The history of science, meanwhile, informs us how genuine scientific discovery primarily advances when lone-wolf inventors and scientists make discoveries that rattle the establishment, precisely because they can think outside the box of rigid social or academic conformity.
And so it was with Reich, who resolved basic problems in sexual science and biology, but the scientific reception process which greeted him in both Europe and America utterly failed, and his enemies reacted like Medieval inquisitors, to the point that he became a hunted and hounded man. Reich’s books were burned on both continents, and American courtrooms all the way up to the US Supreme Court forbade his testimony on the actual science, or on the fraud and malfeasance of his critics, even while having no objections to book-burning. Is there any wonder, with such outrages in prior years, never acknowledged by even "constitutional scholars" of left or right, that there is such a serious deterioration of mainstream science and medicine into Medieval constructs, referencing invisible hidden causes not too different from the "demons" or "devil" of old?
Reich’s story has much to teach us, in both the actual discoveries, but also the pestilent social reactions to his pioneering work, a phenomenon he called the Emotional Plague of Mankind. The period which Strick covers is an essential starting point for Reich’s work, including the later hotly-controversial work on the orgone energy, and orgone energy accumulator. It should arouse the community of biologists to investigate.
James Strick’s book is a scholarly, emotionally neutral but open and in-depth treatment of Reich’s microbiological discoveries, revealing and documenting the man to be an authentic and serious natural scientist, with bona fide new findings that were verified by others. Those others included Roger duTeil, Reich’s collaborator who confirmed much of the bion discoveries, and with Reich presented the findings to the French Academy of Sciences, for publication in Comptes Rendus. The French editors accepted much of Reich’s analysis and findings, but demanded that critical details showing the life-like qualities of the bions be censored from publication, with insertion of a denigrating reference to "Brownian motion" by one of his critics, conditions which Reich refused. We have Strick to thank for digging out that material, and additional detail. But there are many others who have replicated Reich’s bion experiments, in part at least.
As a classically-trained science historian with skills in microbiology, Strick was well prepared for this historical investigation, and biology-minded scientists and students would be well served to read his book, particularly if they got their "information" about Reich from mainstream media or internet, which is typically thick with distortions and falsehoods.
There are a few small points I would raise questions with Strick about, and others may have their own questions on this or that point. For example, a separate listing of published papers replicating Reich’s work would be helpful for the novice, as otherwise some readers might think nobody outside of duTeil had replicated the experiments. But that discussion can come later. Even at 487 pages, not every point could be covered. And that is a hallmark of good scientific investigations, to open the doors for new questions and debate, to stimulate our imaginations with new facts and findings we previously did not think possible. WR Biologist will be a major starting point for those who have overcome their skepticism sufficiently to take an unbiased look, and be a valuable resource with much new detail for those who already know Reich’s work more generally. The publication itself is comfortable, high-quality and easy-to-read, with some photos, full index and bibliography, accessible to both professional biologists and educated laypeople. One hopes WR Biologist will penetrate into the academic biology departments, and make a difference.
I highly recommend James Strick’s new book.
James DeMeo, PhD
Ashland, Oregon, USA
"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
– George Orwell
Weekend Seminar on:
Wilhelm Reich’s Original Orgonomic Discoveries:
Foundations and Science
Emphasizing New Research Supporting Reich