Was Reich right?
Sunday, July 15, 2007
RANGELEY - Wilhelm Reich was a scientist. A physician. An inventor. An inmate. A much-studied man who remains something of a mystery, now 50 years after his death in a federal prison.
This man who gained acclaim and, to some degree, notoriety for his research will be the focus of a conference here at the end of July. More than 85 doctors, scientists and researchers from Europe and the United States, and others interested in Reich, will gather to discuss what his work means today and how it should be advanced.
The conference is expected to be more of a call to action than a simple memorial to a man whose devotees consider him a persecuted genius ahead of his time. Critics, including the Food and Drug Administration, have called him a "crackpot" and a "quack."
Today Reich and his research should be given new consideration, especially in a country where alternatives to traditional medicine are rapidly gaining acceptance, said Dr. Ron Maio, a professor of emergency medicine and the director of the Office of Human Research Compliance Review at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.
"The way the FDA (claims to have) disproved him, especially in today's standards, is not scientific at all," said Maio, who will participate in a panel discussion on how to possibly get FDA approval for clinical trials for treating burn victims with orgone-energy blankets, one of Reich's experimental medical instruments.
Anecdotal evidence from a doctor in Germany, who will also attend the conference, has shown remarkable results with the blankets, Maio said. "So to go back and to say what the FDA did 60 years ago proved Reich was wrong is totally erroneous," Maio said. "I think the issue was that people thought he was a communist, people didn't like the fact that his theories were somewhat controversial and they concentrated on this idea of sexual energy and thought he was some kind of perverse old man or something."
Contrary to the view that led to Reich's work being dismissed and discredited, Maio said he sees merit in orgone energy research, examining the natural energy of the atmosphere.
"I don't think these people are a bunch of goofballs, that's for sure," Maio said. "I think it merits an objective scientific look as much as any of the other types of alternative therapies out there that are being evaluated."
This year is significant for those who study Reich, said Kevin Hinchey, associate director of the Wilhelm Reich Museum in Rangeley and a board member of the Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust. The museum sits on 160 acres, the site of Reich's former home and laboratory overlooking Dodge Pond and the place where his body is entombed.
According to the scientist's will, his archives were to be, "put away and stored for 50 years to secure their safety from destruction and falsification by anyone interested in the falsification and destruction of historical truth." The half-century release date comes in November.
"When we say there's interest in Reich, there's really no interest in Reich in the traditional medical and natural scientific and psychiatric communities in this country. There isn't any. He's a peripheral figure, he's dismissed, he's ridiculed or he's unknown," Hinchey said. And most of Reich's critics have never even bothered to read any of his books, Hinchey said.
"So any interest in Reich and his archives and commemorating 50 years of his death is really a relatively small, loosely knit community of several thousand people throughout the world, and that's the problem," Hinchey said.
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Reich ended up in federal prison after nearly two decades of researching what he believed to be a previously unknown energy that exists in all living matter and in the atmosphere. Reich called this energy "orgone" and believed it could be collected, harnessed and used for a variety of purposes. He was particularly interested in using orgone for the experimental treatment of illness and disease and developed methods to do so.
His Orgone Energy Accumulator was originally developed as a small box. This box was comprised of alternating layers of organic and metallic materials, that could contain orgone radiation, from microscopic cultures, for observation and measurement. Later, accumulators were used in experiments on cancer mice. Finding promising results in this research, Reich built larger accumulators for the experimental treatment of and prevention of diseases in human subjects.
Ultimately, his use and distribution of accumulators led to an FDA investigation which Hinchey said was sparked by a 1947 article in the New Republic magazine which falsely stated Reich was, "building accumulators of orgone energy which are rented out to patients who presumably derive orgastic potency from it." An FDA inspector showed up at Orgonon with a copy of the article in 1947 at the onset of the inquest.
Convinced accumulators were worthless devices that Reich was promoting for both sexual and medical purposes, the FDA launched a seven-year investigation into his work.
The FDA charges led to a complaint for injunction in 1954 that declared that, "orgone energy is non-existent," and ordered Reich to stop distributing accumulators and literature on orgone. The complaint also ordered Reich to appear in court to respond, which he refused to do.
By entering into a court case with the FDA he would, in effect, be agreeing that the agency had authority over natural science research.
The federal court in Portland, with Judge John D. Clifford on the bench, also refused in 1954, according to Associated Press reports from the time, to allow a group of doctors to testify on Reich's behalf and demonstrate that orgone energy was not a "pseudo science."
"If Dr. Reich's works are destroyed we as physicians and this nation and its people will suffer irreparable harm," said James A. Willie, a New York doctor, testifying on behalf of the demonstration. "If accumulators are not employed, a great many patients who need this type of therapy will be retarded in their recovery."
The complaint for injunction was then issued on default and ordered the destruction of accumulators and literature. The FDA forced the dismantling of accumulators in Rangeley and also oversaw the burning of Reich's books, some outside his lab there. Another several tons of his literature were burned in a New York City incinerator.
The injunction decree also prohibited the moving of accumulators from state to state, so when a student of Reich's did so in 1955 - taking a truckload of accumulators from Maine to New York City, without Reich's knowledge - the court ruled Reich and the student, Michael Silvert, to be in contempt and sentenced them both to prison, where Reich died on Nov. 3, 1957. He was 60 years old.
Reich's imprisonment and the destruction of his work had a chilling effect on medical researchers studying his theories in the U.S., Hinchey said.
"We sort of feel it even today," he said. "One of the purposes of this conference is to gather people from around the world who are involved in practical applications of Reich's work. Because the idea that another 50 years is going to go by in America and people are not going to start exploring and benefiting from Reich's medical and natural scientific work is really appalling. It's just appalling that his work basically came to an abrupt halt in the late 1950s."
Freud, Einstein and Hoover
Even before his controversial battle with the federal government, Reich had gained acclaim as a doctor and researcher.
In the 1920s he worked with Sigmund Freud and was known as one of the finest psychoanalyst of the era. In the 1930s he began his laboratory research in Oslo, Norway where he discovered orgone energy in 1939. In 1941, a little more than a year after emigrating to the U.S. he met with Albert Einstein twice in Princeton, N.J. to discuss his research.
In the 1950s in Maine and eslewheres in the United States, Reich became known for his experiments with the cloudbuster, a scientific invention which he theorized could be used to affect the weather, primarily by the destruction and creation of clouds. He was even widely credited, according to newspaper reports from the time, with saving a Maine blueberry crop from drought in 1953.
Prior to his fatal run-in with the FDA, Reich was the subject of intense investigations by J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation.
For seven years the FBI investigated Reich for his involvement with communist groups in Europe and later over concerns he was dabbling in the development of nuclear devices at his laboratory.
In 2000, the FBI released to the public nearly 800 pages of records it had on Reich, clearing his name to some degree. (The papers are accessible at http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/reich.htm)
"In 1947, a security investigation concluded that neither the Orgone Project nor any of its staff were engaged in subversive activities or were in violation of any statute within the jurisdiction of the FBI," according to the agency.
Reich's own published records are prolific and extensive. Exceeding 7,000 pages, he wrote extensively on politics, science, medicine, his research methodology and even art. Much of his writing has been distributed in book form by his estate via major publishing companies.
A common question for those studying his life is, "When did he sleep?" Hinchey said.
Reich remains an enigma, his medical and scientific legacy vastly misunderstood in the United States, with much of his reputation being based on only his earliest psychoanalytical work, some of which involved the study of the function of the human orgasm.
By the 1950s Reich's newly built Orgone Energy Observatory and the work he was doing there was grabbing the attention of the print media in Maine, but according to a report in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Sept. 7, 1950, his work was already well-known around the world.
Reich came to the United States in 1939 from Oslo, Norway. He taught at the university there and later at the New School for Social Research in New York City, the report stated. It also described a property gated and marked by "no trespassing" signs. One of Reich's associates at the time, Dr. Elsworth Baker, explained the signs and gates were only to "guarantee peace and quiet for intensive scientific non-political research, which could not be carried on successfully with constant interruptions."
Reich's relationship with the press was tumultuous. Hinchey said an article printed in the New Republic in 1947 reported Reich claimed he had discovered a cure for cancer in orgone and that the energy accumulator was actually meant to increase "orgastic potency." Reich made neither claim.
The advent of the Internet and online publishing has further complicated efforts to keep Reich's legacy as an important scientist and medical researcher intact, according to Mary Higgins, who has been the trustee in charge of Reich's estate since just after his death.
That anybody can publish anything without fact-checking or editing and then broadcast it worldwide has complicated the already difficult task of keeping the facts on Reich straight.
Now in her 80s, Higgins remains a tireless defender of Reich's work and his intentions, believing the stance Reich took in the defense of scientific research, and his willingness to go to prison rather than compromise his principles, is only one example of his impassioned character.
"He easily could have saved himself, but he couldn't if he was to protect his work," Higgins said.
Wilhelm Reich in the 21st Century: 2007 International Conference on Orgonomy will be held July 29 to Aug. 1 at Orgonon and Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley. To register, call 864-3443 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to www.wilhelmreichmuseum.org.
|Posted By:kellie at July 15, 2007 7:32 AM (Suggest Removal)|
This is a place that should be visited, not only for the mans work, yet for the ways that his mind worked. I found it interesting to see his art work, the techniques as he began painting, to how it had changed through the years. Also, he was incarcerated due to the communist issues we as America had at that point in time, we need to see how far we have NOT come in 50 years! We still want to jump to conclusions and end any new thinking. Use this mans life and work as a lesson, how to educate ourselves to a different way of thinking without wanting to burning him at the stake- which was basically what was done seeings he died in prison. It is not a fast pace exhibit, yet encouragement to visit this place he called home is most interesting.
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|Posted By:David at July 15, 2007 11:28 AM (Suggest Removal)|
I agree with Kellie on the reasons for Reich's incarceration but not on where we stand today. Today the only thing that seems to have standing is "the new", especially in the medical field. That is why we have all these new fad diets and "treatments" for medical issues like obesity. Everyone knows exactly what a person has to do to lose weight, but we all want to find a new easy way to do it. Personally I don't think there is much to this "Orgone Energy" but I see no real harm in studying it. Not that I know a lot about it. The human mind it the most powerful healing tool there is, and if a patient can be simply given a positive attitude by an Orgone blanket, then by all means give them the blanket, and allow this theory to be tested.
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|Posted By:Jamie at July 15, 2007 1:22 PM (Suggest Removal)|
The comment by Maio said. "I think the issue was that people thought he was a communist, people didn't like the fact that his theories were somewhat controversial and they concentrated on this idea of sexual energy and thought he was some kind of perverse old man or something." Is far from the facts. The general populace was not even aware that Reich had been a communist member for a short time. His device the orgone blanket is excellent to use on burns. Only wish I could have been allowed to attend the conference but the museum director associate feels that open discussion on a mail list that has critique of the museum merits banning people from events. The museum has been only friendly to those that cheer them and are not critical. Reich would have been open for discussion and he did not ban people from his conferences. See http://www.orgone.org for more connections of other Reich groups. And proof of banning can be seen at http://www.orgone.org/infantchild/infantchild-aa-00a.htm Be aware that Reich was controversial in supporting adolescents to having contraceptives and have places to go to have sex with another. There is so much more to Reich than talking about the FDA and the FBI waste of time in the courts and US dollars to get the orgone blanket away from the public. He worked with Freud, developed new theories on sexuality and was ahead of his time. He also did make mistakes and as all humans do. I do however highly recommend that given the chance do read Reich and try it out some of the devices for aiding healing of burns. It was an incredible break through..Be careful of the books you read as the Museum has changed the original published words by re-translating his writings. see for examples: http://www.orgone.org/wr-wolfe-trans01a.htm Do read his work instead of some who have written about him. Some controversial writings are listed in bibliographies see: http://www.orgone.org/publish/pubxorg00.htm
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|Posted By:Edward Eichel, LHD at July 22, 2007 6:53 PM (Suggest Removal)|
THE NEW INTERCOURSE - C.A.T. In the early nineteen sixties, Wilhem Reich's book Function of the Orgasm was the touchstone of what became a lifelong mission. Reich was the only disciple of Sigmund Freud that had picked up on his theory that the coital orgasm (penile-vaginal intercourse, and nothing else) is a balancing mechanism of the psyche. Freud advocated that orgasm is an bioelectric-like charge that required regular and complete release, or the trapped energy would be "toxic" and fuel neurotic tendencies. That theory was advanced by Reich, who defined in greater detail the character of a complete sexual response. But for Freud and Reich the nature of the sex act remained enigmatic. Neither of them was able to define the experience enough to provide a pedagogy to make it happen. Hence, the great goal of the terminative coital orgasm got romanticized as an experience on the level of "Enlightenment" or Nirvana, -- for Reich, "Orgastic Potency." Based on my own personal experience I defined a natural anatomic design -- a basic form to the sex act. As a psychtherapist I focused on couples and taught the new intercourse in my practice (1970-1975). I later termed it "the coital alignment technique" (CAT). I did a longitudinal, controlled study of the couples from my practice--"The Technique of Coital Alignment and Its Relation to Female Orgasmic Response and Simultaneous Orgasm"--published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy (Vol. 14, No. 2, Summer 1988). The twenty-two females in the experimental group reported 22.7% reaching orgasm "almost always" or "often" before CAT training, going to 77% after. Of the women 4.5% reported simultaneous orgasm "almost always" or "often" before CAT training, going to 50% after. In the 90's D.F. Hurlbert (et al.) tested CAT reporting significant results in the treatment of female Hypoactive Sexual Desire. In last few years International Conferences were convened by sex therapists to assess the effectiveness of treatment protocols (involving 200 therapists from 60 countries). The CAT technique was cited in the newly launched Journal of Sexual Medicine (SE Althof, et al. 2005;2:793-800). In 2006, Dr. Milan Zaviacic (et al.) published a theoretic paper on the evolution of female sexual response in the homo sapiens, progressing to humans making love in the face-to-face position, citing CAT. In May of 2007 Dr. Stuart Brody published his study "Vaginal Orgasm is Associated with Better Psychological Function," citing Freud and Reich and advocating the CAT as a model for intercourse that could help to "overhall" sex therapy and sex education (Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Vol. 22, No. 2). A video on CAT was previewed at the 15th Congress of the World Association for Sexology (Paris, 2001)that contained the first real-time evidence of the terminative coital orgasm. In conclusion, there is reason for optimism. Wilhelm Reich will have a profound influence in the 21st Century.