Vitalism: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vitalism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary,[1] 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

Where vitalism explicitly invokes a vital principle, that element is often referred to as the "vital spark," "energy" or "élan vital," which some equate with the "soul."

Vitalism has a long history in medical philosophies: most traditional healing practices posited that disease was the result of some imbalance in the vital energies which distinguish living from non-living matter. In the Western tradition founded by Hippocrates, these vital forces were associated with the four temperaments and humours; Eastern traditions posited similar forces such as qi and prana. Vitalistic thinking has also been identified in the naive biological theories of children.[2]



Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael. Aristotle gestures to the earth, representing his belief in knowledge through empirical observation and experience, whilst Plato points up to the heavens showing his belief in the ultimate truth.

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.[3] While vitalist ideas have been commonplace in traditional medicine,[4] attempts to construct workable scientific models date from the 1600s, 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.[citation needed]

Aided by the development of the microscope 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 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".[citation needed]

Nevertheless, various quasi-vitalist concepts were still employed by many scientists to explain many matters of human life, development and mind. Jöns Jakob Berzelius, 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 later developed the theory of Odic force, 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 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 epithet.[5] Still, Ernst Mayr, co-founder of the modern evolutionary synthesis and a critic of both vitalism and reductionism, writing in 2002 after the mathematical development of theories underlying emergent behavior, stated:

It would be ahistorical to ridicule vitalists. When one reads the writings of one of the leading vitalists like Driesch one is forced to agree with him that many of the basic problems of biology simply cannot be solved by a philosophy as that of Descartes, in which the organism is simply considered a machine…..The logic of the critique of the vitalists was impeccable. But all their efforts to find a scientific answer to all the so-called vitalistic phenomena were failures.… rejecting the philosophy of reductionism is not an attack on analysis. No complex system can be understood except through careful analysis. However the interactions of the components must be considered as much as the properties of the isolated components.[6]

Foundations of chemistry

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.[7] 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 synthesised urea from inorganic components in 1828[8] and subsequently wrote to Berzelius, 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.[9]

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'."[10]

Louis Pasteur in his laboratory, painting by A. Edelfeldt in 1885.

In fact some of the greatest scientific minds of the time continued to investigate the possibility of vital properties. Louis Pasteur, shortly after his famous rebuttal of spontaneous generation, 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".[11]

Developmental biology

Caspar Friedrich Wolff (1733-1794) is considered to be the father of epigenetic descriptive embryology, 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 endeavoured to explain the emergence of the organism by the actions of a "vis essentialis", an organizing, formative force, and declared that "All believers in epigenesis are Vitalists."

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach established epigenesis as the model of thought in the life sciences in 1781 with his publication of Über den Bildungstrieb and 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 also important in the thinking of later teleologists such as Hans Driesch (1867-1941).[12] In 1894, after publishing papers on his experiments on sea urchin 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, an Aristotlean entelechy, a scientific demonstration of Immanuel Kant'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."

Driesch's reputation as an experimental biologist deteriorated as a result of his vitalistic theories.[12] He moved to Heidelberg and became a Professor of Natural Philosophy.

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 processes; 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.[13][14]

Whether emergent system properties should be grouped with traditional vitalist concepts is a matter of semantic controversy.[15] In a light-hearted millennial vein, Kirshner and Michison call research into integrated cell and organismal physiology “molecular vitalism.”[16]

According to Emmeche et al. (1997):

"On the one hand, many scientists and philosophers regard emergence as having only a pseudo-scientific status. On the other hand, new developments in physics, biology, psychology, and crossdisciplinary fields such as cognitive science, artificial life, and the study of non-linear dynamical systems have focused strongly on the high level 'collective behaviour' of complex systems which is often said to be truly emergent, and the term is increasingly used to characterize such systems."[17]

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, 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."[18]


A popular vitalist theory of the eighteenth century was "animal magnetism", 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 which were 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"[citation needed] meaning "the person is back in a natural mental state where she/he recovers his/her most primitive part of the mind".[citation needed]

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, the other, led by Benjamin Franklin, included Bailly and Lavoisier. The commissioners learned about Mesmeric theory, and saw its patients fall into fits and trances. 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.[19] It is sometimes claimed[11] 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

Group photo 1909 in front of Clark University. Front row from left: Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung. Back row from left: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sandor Ferenczi.

Perhaps more than any other area of science, psychology has been rich in vitalist concepts, particularly through the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud was a student of the notable anti-vitalist Hermann von Helmholtz, and initially struggled to express his concepts in strictly neurological terms. Abandoning this effort as fruitless, he became famous for his theory that behaviour is determined by an unconscious mind, of which the waking mind is unaware. In 1923, in The Ego and the Id, he developed the concept of "psychic energy" 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.[20] Although research within cognitive neuroscience has made substantial progress in explaining mental processes such as perception, memory and motivational states such as anger and fear,[21] larger concepts such as mind and intelligence, remain essentially higher level constructs, with observable neural correlates distributed throughout the brain.

The neuroscientist Roger Sperry, in his Nobel Prize lecture in 1981, described modern scientific concepts of the nature of consciousness and its relation to brain processing as follows:

The events of inner experience, as emergent properties of brain processes, become themselves explanatory causal constructs in their own right, interacting at their own level with their own laws and dynamics. The whole world of inner experience (the world of the humanities) long rejected by 20th century scientific materialism, thus becomes recognized and included within the domain of science."[22]

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'."[23]

Complementary and alternative medicine

While contemporary conventional medicine has distanced itself from the less reductionistic and more vitalistic approach of traditional 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:[24]

  • alternative medical systems, 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;
  • manipulative and body-based methods, such as chiropractic and massage therapy; and
  • energy therapy;
  • Esoteric healing.

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, Reiki, external qi, chakra healing and SHEN therapy.[25] 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..."[25]

Acupuncture and chiropractic 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. says that "Innate Intelligence" in chiropractic can be used to represent four concepts: a synonym for homeostasis, a label for a doctor's ignorance, a vitalistic explanation of health and disease, and a metaphysical premise for treatment.[26]

The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, 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

Bechtel and Richardson[11] 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, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, 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 cranks will believe tomorrow.”[27]

While many vitalistic theories have in fact been falsified, notably Mesmerism and the phlogiston theory (see above), the pseudoscientific retention of untested and untestable theories continues to this day. Alan Sokal published an analysis of the wide acceptance among professional nurses of "scientific theories" of spiritual healing. (Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?).[28] Use of a technique called therapeutic touch 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.”[28]

In his book "Kinds of Minds", philosopher Daniel Dennett 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).[29]

Joseph C. Keating, Jr., PhD,[30] discusses vitalism's past and present roles in chiropractic and calls vitalism "a form of bio-theology." He further explains that:

Vitalism is that rejected tradition in biology which proposes that life is sustained and explained by an unmeasurable, intelligent force or energy. The supposed effects of vitalism are the manifestations of life itself, which in turn are the basis for inferring the concept in the first place. This circular reasoning offers pseudo-explanation, and may deceive us into believing we have explained some aspect of biology when in fact we have only labeled our ignorance. 'Explaining an unknown (life) with an unknowable (Innate),' suggests philosopher Joseph Donahue, D.C., 'is absurd'.[26]

Keating views vitalism as incompatible with scientific thinking:

Chiropractors are not unique in recognizing a tendency and capacity for self-repair and auto-regulation of human physiology. But we surely stick out like a sore thumb among professions which claim to be scientifically based by our unrelenting commitment to vitalism. So long as we propound the 'One cause, one cure' rhetoric of Innate, we should expect to be met by ridicule from the wider health science community. Chiropractors can’t have it both ways. Our theories cannot be both dogmatically held vitalistic constructs and be scientific at the same time. The purposiveness, consciousness and rigidity of the Palmers’ Innate should be rejected.[26]

Keating also mentions Skinner's viewpoint:

Vitalism has many faces and has sprung up in many areas of scientific inquiry. Psychologist B.F. Skinner, for example, pointed out the irrationality of attributing behavior to mental states and traits. Such 'mental way stations,' he argued, amount to excess theoretical baggage which fails to advance cause-and-effect explanations by substituting an unfathomable psychology of 'mind'.[26]

According to Williams,[31] "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[32] states that the term "bioenergetics" "is applied in biochemistry to refer to the readily measurable exchanges of energy 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."[33]

Such a field is sometimes explained as electromagnetic(EM), though some advocates also make confused appeals to quantum physics.[25] Joanne Stefanatos states that "The principles of energy medicine originate in quantum physics."[34] Victor Stenger[33] 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".[35] 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.[33]

See also


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster definition
  2. ^ Inagaki K, Hatano G (2004) Vitalistic causality in young children's naive biology. Trends Cogn Sci 2004 8:356-62 PMID 15335462
  3. ^ Jidenu, Paulin (1996) African Philosophy, 2nd Ed. Indiana University Press, ISBN 0253210968, p.16.
  4. ^ e.g. Zarrilli PB. (1989) Three bodies of practice in a traditional South Indian martial art. Soc Sci Med 28:1289-309. PMID 2660283, Noll R (1989) What has really been learned about shamanism? J Psychoactive Drugs 21:47-50 PMID 2656952 and Merchant J. (2006) The developmental/emergent model of archetype, its implications and its application to shamanism. J Anal Psychol51:125-44 PMID 16451325
  5. ^ "Other writers (eg, Peterfreund, 1971) simply use the term vitalism as a pejorative label." in Galatzer-Levy,RM (1976) Psychic Energy, A Historical Perspective Ann Psychoanal 4:41-61 [1]
  6. ^ Mayr E (2002) The Walter Arndt Lecture: The Autonomy of Biology, adapted for the internet, on [2]
  7. ^ see Schummerr J (2003) The notion of nature in chemistry. Stud Hist Phil Sci 34:705-736 for this account within an extensive review on vitalist notions in the foundations of chemistry [3]
  8. ^ Vitalism and Synthesis of Urea
  9. ^ cited by Schummerr J, op cit, [4]
  10. ^ The Real Death of Vitalism: Implications of the Wöhler Myth
  11. ^ a b c Vitalism. Bechtel W, Richardson RC (1998). Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. E. Craig (Ed.), London: Routledge.
  12. ^ a b Developmental Biology 8e Online: A Selective History of Induction
  13. ^ see Berg EL, Kunkel EJ, Hytopoulos E. (2005) Biological complexity and drug discovery: a practical systems biology approach. Syst Biol 152:201-6 PMID 16986261 and see Schultz SG. (1998) A century of (epithelial) transport physiology: from vitalism to molecular cloning. Am J Physiol. 274:C13-23. PMID 9458708 This also contains the following account, relating to the pejorative nature of vitalism as an epithet.
    Reid had clearly and, to the best of my knowledge, for the first time unambiguously demonstrated and recognized "active transport" by an in vitro preparation; that is, the flow of matter in the absence of an external (conjugate) driving force that was dependent upon a source of metabolic energy!
    ...However, what should have been a clarion call heralding a major conceptual breakthrough in epithelial biology turned out to be barely a whimper. ...
    Why? Could it be because he used the phrase "vital force" to describe his observations, a phrase that was perhaps the naughtiest in the naturalist's lexicon during that era?
  14. ^ e.g. see Gilbert SF, Sarkar S. (2000) Embracing complexity: organicism for the 21st century. Dev Dyn 219:1-9 for explicit discussion of relationship to vitalism. PMID 10974666
  15. ^ see "Emergent Properties" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. online at Stanford University for explicit discussion; briefly, some philosophers see emergentism as midway between traditional spiritual vitalism and mechanistic reductionism; others argue that, structurally, emergentism is equivalent to vitalism. See also Emmeche C (2001) Does a robot have an Umwelt? Semiotica 134: 653-693 [5]
  16. ^ Kirschner M, Gerhart J, Mitchison T (2000) Molecular "vitalism" Cell 100:79-88 PMID 10647933
  17. ^ Emmeche C (1997) EXPLAINING EMERGENCE:towards an ontology of levels. Journal for General Philosophy of Science available online
  18. ^ Dictionary of the History of Ideas
  19. ^ (Best M, Neuhauser D, Slavin L (2003) Evaluating Mesmerism, Paris, 1784: the controversy over the blinded placebo controlled trials has not stopped. Qual Saf Health Care 12:232-3 PMID 12792017 [6]
  20. ^ see Warren HC (1918) Mechanism Versus Vitalism, in the Domain of Psychology Phil Rev27:597-615 [7] and Elkus SA (1911) Mechanism and Vitalism J Phil Psych Sci Meth 8: 355-8 [8] for examples of this debate within psychology
  21. ^ see for example standard cognitive neuroscience textbooks such as Gazzaniga M, Ivry, R and Mangun, G (2002) Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind, 2nd Ed. New York, New York W.W. Norton ISBN 978-0393977776 or Ward J. (2006) The Student's Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience London, UK Psychology Press 978-1841695341
  22. ^ Some Effects of Disconnecting the Cerebral Hemispheres, Roger W. Sperry, Nobel Lecture, 8 December 1981]
  23. ^ Hazards of “Emergentism” in Psychology, Roger K. Thomas, Ph.D.
  24. ^ "Complementary and Alternative Medicine - U.S. National Library of Medicine Collection Development Manual". Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  25. ^ a b c Rubik, Bioenergetic Medicines, American Medical Student Association Foundation, viewed 28 November, 2006, [9]
  26. ^ a b c d "The Meanings of Innate," Joseph C. Keating, Jr., PhD, J Can Chiropr Assoc 2002; 46(1)
  27. ^ Crick F (1967) Of Molecules and Men; Great Minds Series Prometheus Books 2004, reviewed here. Crick's remark is cited and discussed in: Hein H (2004) Molecular biology vs. organicism: The enduring dispute between mechanism and vitalism. Synthese 20:238-253, who describes Crick's remark as "raising spectral red herrings."
  28. ^ a b Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?
  29. ^ Dennett, Daniel C., 1996, Kinds of Minds: Toward an Understanding of Consciousness, BasicBooks.
  30. ^ Joseph C. Keating, Jr., PhD: Biographical sketch
  31. ^ Williams.W. (2000) The Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience. From Alien Abductions to Zone Therapy. Facts on File inc. Contributors: Drs D.Conway, L.Dalton, R.Dolby, R.Duval, H.Farrell, J.Frazier, J.McMillan, J.Melton, T.O'Niell, R.Shepherd, S.Utley, W.Williams. ISBN 0-8160-3351-X
  32. ^ Victor J. Stenger's site
  33. ^ a b c Stenger.V.J., (1999) The Physics of 'Alternative Medicine': Bioenergetic Fields. The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, Spring/Summer 1999 Volume 3 ~ Number 1
  34. ^ Stefanatos, J. 1997, 'Introduction to Bioenergetic Medicine', Shoen, A.M and S.G. Wynn, Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine: Principles and Practices, Mosby-Yearbook, Chicago.
  35. ^ Biley, Francis, C. 2005, Unitary Health Care: Martha Rogers' Science of Unitary Human Beings, University of Wales College of Medicine, viewed 30 November 2006, [10]

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"Three Butterfly" - can the properties of living things be accounted for by their material components?

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Content summary

Vitalism is the idea that living organisms cannot be entirely explained in terms of the same forces and materials that account for the behavior of non-living objects. According to vitalism, there must be some additional "vital force" present in living organisms that distinguishes the living state from the non-living.

Vitalism is a natural philosophical position for humans who have no knowledge of the details of physical matter. Recognition of the molecular basis of life allows for a materialistic philosophical position which adopts the hypothesis that the same physical laws govern both living and non-living objects.


This learning project offers learning activities that review the history of vitalism as a theory of the living state.

Concepts to learn include how conceptual understanding of living organisms has changed through time and how modern science's approach to the study of life differs from pre-scientific ideas about life.

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