CLARENCE WILLARD BUTLER, M. D.
It is my purpose in this paper to trace the evolution of the idea of a “vital force” to the time of Hahnemann. the Hahnemannian idea and its relation to the medical philosophy of our own time I hope to make the subject of another essay.
While the term is perhaps an unfortunate one, I shall retain it because by long use and constant association of ideas it has come to convey as definite and perfect idea of that philosophical concept, which is the subject of this paper, as it is possible to have of anything which is in its essential nature unknown, and the existence of which is more than doubtful. The idea of a vital force is as old as the beginning of civilization, has grown with its growth and developed with its development.
When in the evolution of man he emerged from the lowest forms of barbarism, mere animal existence, and began to think, the first and greatest of all the facts connected with his welfare which forced itself upon him, was being and not being- life and death.
Wide speculation upon these great problems was impossible to him, but when suddenly the forked lightning, the rude implement of barbarous warfare, or slowly the wasting of disease had caused what we call death, that a change had taken place greater than he could estimate and the nature of which was beyond his comprehension, was specific, awe-compelling fact no less patent to his clouded brain than it is to the enlightened intellect of the nineteenth century.
What was it that had caused this great change? Was it the loss of something which he could not see or know? And it the loss of something, what was its nature? Was it from without, or a part of man? Was it material, or was it immaterial?.
To these and similar questions, with the rashness which has always characterized and still characterizes man in his dealings with the unknown, more or less definite answers were made-answers which were as we should expect them to be, a curious mixture of the prevailing superstition and materialism of the age.
Perhaps the earliest trace of the idea of a life-giving principle – a vital force -dates to at least 3,000 years before the beginning of the Christian era. The living body, according to the Egyptian belief, contained portion of the Great Intelligence,” a divine spark called, chu.
This chu, since it would of itself destroy the body, was enveloped in the soul, ba, from which it was freed at death, and, being immortal, converted into a demon. Even after death, the freed spirit might still exert an evil influence over the living, for mental diseases were supposed to be caused by these demons. The soul, the ba, remained with the body, however, as a phantom.
This Egyptian theory is chiefly noticeable in that it recognized in that it recognized a vital spirit wholly separate from the soul-a vivifying principle which was different from man’s immortal part, and whose only office was to give life to the body.
This as a philosophical concept is of a higher order than that of any contemporaneous nation, except, perhaps, the Indians, whose physicians recognized vital spirits which animated every part of the body, but which were known only by their effects. The Persians and Phenicians seem to have had to theory of a vital force at all, while the Jewish idea, based upon their legend of the origin of man (vide Genesis II., 9), made the soul and the vital force identical.
When from these opinions held by the nations earliest advanced in civilization we turn to Greece, whose philosophy moulded and directed medical theories and practice, and indeed the metaphysics and the physics of the world through many centuries, we find ideas of life in its ultimate nature difficult to understand and even more difficult to express. Whatever the opinions held by individual philosophers of the psyche-the soul, in respect of its immortality, its origin or its offices, they seem almost, if not altogether without exception to have considered it the vivifying principle of the body.
Connected with it, as in some way necessary to life, was the pneuma-the spirit, but just what was this relationship I confess myself unable to comprehend. It seems, however, to have been secondary the psyche which was the vital force per se. This psyche, the soul (and vital force also) of man, was conceived to be a portion of the great ultimate vivifying principle; of the cosmos. Anaxagoras held two ultimate principles of the universe-matter and spirit. All objects, animate and inanimate, were matter converted into their present from by spirit, which, coexistent and coextensive with matter, is in this way the vital and creative power.
Of the essential essence of spirit, we can now nothing but it was immaterial and intangible, and intelligent in the exercise of its great functions. Not very different was the thought of Pythagoras in so far as his idea of the vital principle is concerned. The animal soul, he says, consists of the intellect, the soul proper, an the reason is an emanation from the anima mundi -the world soul.
True he holds the basis of life to be heat, but this is rather a condition of life than life itself. So, too, Plato, though using other names to express his ideas, does not differ materially from the ideas already given. He, too, recognizes two ultimate principles of all things viz: God like reason, absolute intelligence, God,S and matter. The soul was an emanation from the former, duel in its nature, its mortal part dwelling in the head, and its mortal part below the diaphragm. It is the life- giving principle and death in its separation from the spinal marrow.
Aristotle, whose writings embody the highest thought in Greek philosophy, regards the soul as the vital principle. Of course in saying that the soul was regarded as the vital principle, I do not mean to convey the idea that it was this alone. it was much more then mere vital force, but our present inquiry concerns only this latter.
Of the opinions of Galen little needs to be said. Although the founder of a medical system which for more than a thousand years held undisputed sway over medicine, he was rather an encyclopedist than an original thinker. The soul he divided into three modalities to vivify the three fundamental faculties, the animal, the vital and the natural,S and held fanciful notions of its method of entering the body (in the respiration) and of its function therein. But it was the vital force and derived from the world soul-the anima mundi.
One name, that of the greatest of ail ancient physicians, has not been mentioned, nor his theories quoted. Hippocrates was distinctively a practical physician, not indulging himself in theories or speculations except such as were immediately connected with disease or its treatment. Wherever incidental hints of his opinions in respect of these matters are to be found in is writings they are but a reflection of the general ideas of his time. Of the opinions held by other ancient writers nothing need be said.
The Alexandrians, a later Greek school,were medical scholastics. Rome had no medicine worth moment’s consideration except such as was of Greek origin. Even the far famed Arabian physicians, however skilful as practitioners and however much they may have added to medical practice, were Greek in their theoretical and speculative medicine.
The Greek idea was then that the soul, or some portion of it to which was delegated the office of vivifying the body, was the vital force. As necessary, also, to physical existence was the pneuma, the breath of life, the spirit. But just how these two-the psyche and the pneuma, acted conjointly to cause life, we can not now say. Certain it is, however, that the vital force was a very definite something, not gross matter, perhaps not pure spirit, but a thing having form, intelligence and activity and partaking of the nature of both matter and spirit. Something like the Astral of the Buddhists, or what in our own day Prof.
Cones calls biogen-“soul stuff.” “Spirit in combination with the minimum of matter necessary to, its manifestation.” [Blogen, or a Speculation on the Origin and Nature of Life, by Prof. Elliot Coues.] Indeed, the Greeks, the originators and masters of abstract thought, did not seem able to carry it into this field of speculation. And this soul, which was the vital force, was an emanation from the ultimate creative principle.
Even Leucippus and Democritus, the original pantheists, (and after them AEsclepiades), consistently formed the soul from certain forms of the minute, indivisible and infinitely numerous ultimate atoms which in their various forms and arrangement make up the entire universe. With all, the vital force was identical with the soul. for although by certain ones heat (e.g., Pythagoras) or motion (Democritus, Aristotle) are spoken of as life, it will, i think, appear to the careful reader that these were considered (as Hippocrates says) as necessary conditions of life, rather than s life itself.
Through all the dark ages one seeks in vain for any advance upon the Greek idea of a life force. Medicine, under the rule of the Jewish idea, had become theurgic in its character, and the influence of the times upon medical practice and medical philosophy was no less disastrous than it was upon other scientific pursuits. Independent thought and investigation were practically unknown, while authority in science, as in theology, reigned supreme.
Nor was it until the later years of the 15th century that signs of rebellion against this paralyzing influence were manifest, nor so far as medicine was concerned, until the sixteenth, that any decided advancement was possible.
Then However, did Pare, Brissot, Linacre, Kaye and others, the greatest of whom was Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, commonly called Paracelsus, by casting side authority and inaugurating original research and speculation, lay the foundation for the great advances in medical science which happily still progresses with increasing momentum. it is in the teachings of Paracelsus that we find the first decided advanced in respect of our subject, upon the Greek ideas.
Now I do not know that I shall be able to give you a very definite idea of Paracelsus” conception of the vital force. Indeed, I doubt if his most devoted admirer and ablest expounder, Rademacher himself, could do this, but we may get some knowledge of it, and we shall see that in important particulars it is in advance of the Greek idea.
With the Greek, he he held that all life was an emanation from God which transformed itself into the primitive force, Yliaster, from God which transformed itself into the primitive force, Yliaster, from this by further transformation we have the Limbus major and Limbus minor.
In the former of these is contained all the elementary bodies of the cosmos, viz, salt, sulphur and mercury, and from various combinations of these three bodies, thus flowing out of the L. major originated the four common elements: air, water, earth and fire. Each of these has an Archaeus or active principle, which possesses a creative formative power of its own.-(Baas.) While from a union of these elements all material objects and all beings took their origin.
This Archaeus was something personal, present in all bodies as a living active agent.
So man has his Archaeus, which is the vivifying principle, and which Paracelsus with great definiteness asserts, has its home in the stomach, where, in addition to its office of vital force, it incidentally attends to the minor duties of its domicile, digestion and nutrition. Each member and organ of the body has, too, its Archaeus of man is alone the life-giver. it is not the body, it is not the soul, for these are supplied in generation by the man and the woman, while the Archaeus is from God, and is spiritual.
However fanciful and extravagant is from God, and is spiritual. However fanciful and extravagant this may seem to us, it is a great advance upon former ideas in that although it regards the vital force as a thing, that thing is different from and not connected with the soul; again, although it is a thing personal and self-conscious, it is not a material nor a semi-material thing, but that somewhat indefinite, but certainly wholly immaterial something-pure spirit.
Though an interesting, and indeed an an instructive study, our time will permit us but the briefest glance at the various modifications of the Paracelsian theory of Archaeus, under this (his own) and other names from Paracelsus to Hahnemann. It had a strong influence over, not only his professed followers, but over the whole medical world, nd led gradually to the better ideas of Boerhaave, of Barthez, of Gaul, of Reil and of Hahnemann.
Von Helmont, like Paracelsus, used the name Archaeus to represent the vital principle, and like him, too, believed it to be from God, but he regarded it as the soul degraded in rank through certain gradations because of the fall of man. He grafted upon this certain chemical theories, and thus occupied a standpoint midway between Paracelsus and Silvius.
His system is no advance upon its predecessors except in that he recognizes that by means of various external influences (mental, as anger, passion, etc., etc.), the Archaeus causes some kinds of diseases. It is noticeable that in all the former theories of a life force it has not been thought to be a disease producer nor a disease curer either directly or indirectly, the “nature” of Hippocrates, and the vis medicatrix natures of Paracelsus and other systematists being something different from the life-giver.
Sylvius, to whom we have referred, the founder of the chemical school, introduced the idea of a dynamic, material principle which he called the “vital spirits.” These were produced by the brain, “generated in the brain,” as Willis puts it, or “distilled in the brain,” according to Malpighi, but they are only incidentally connected with our subject, not being the vital force, properly speaking.
They played an important and confusing part in medical theories, however, until they were effectually banished by Haler’s investigations in nervous physiology. Boerhaave, whose electric system was Ran effort to collect and combine what was good [Bass.] in all previous systems, can hardly be side to have added anything to the idea of a vital force which already existed.
Motion he held as the highest principle and identical with life, but the cause of motion was supposed to be an unknown something, neither matter nor spirit and not cognizable by the senses which he called “enormon,”-a word and in part an idea borrowed from the ancients of about the time of Hippocrates, and falsely attributed to him.
Gaul, his contemporary, maintained the idea of a separate and independent vital principle, whose seat was in the solid and independent vital principle, whose seat was in the solid parts, and which was possessed of energy and receptivity.
Stahl, also of the early part of the 18th century, makes the soul the vital force, the creator of the body combatting its tendency to decay, an independent, self-conscious and, indeed, self-creative thing; rather a retrogression than advance upon former or contemporary ideas. We shall gain nothing by giving in detail the opinions held by others of this early part of the 18th century.
Always are found the same general ideas modified, indeed, in minor particulars and bearing different names-the idea of a reasoning, self-conscious personal entity which gives life to the body and governs its vital phenomena. Cullen, the original and earnest Scotch physician (whose “nervous force,” nervous principle, “animal force,” was not the supernatural soul of Stahl, nor material like the “aether” of Hoffman nor semi- material like the psyche of the ancients or perhaps the distilled “vital spirits” of Sylvius), can hardly be said to have advanced the general idea for this “nervous force,” though immaterial and connected with the material body, especially the nervous system, was but a reasoning, self-conscious soul after all.
Something was added by Borden, the “vitalist,” however. General life was, according to him, the harmonious working of the “individual lives of all the organs,” for every organ was supplied (by the brain) with its own vital force, and these working in harmony, under laws not chemical nor physical, but especial vital laws, maintained the existence of the body, as a whole.
Now, while this predicates the existence of special laws, not an unscientific concept, it is a great advance upon the ideas of his predecessors in this line of thought, in that it does not necessarily imply, but rather negatives the thought that the individual vital forces are self-conscious reasoning entities; and in the conception that vital phenomena are manifest according to a regular order of nature, by and under natural laws.
Barthez, whose theory is a modification of this one, conceives the vital force to be present in every part of the body, but unable to work separately for any considerable time, being speedily transferred by sympathy to all other parts. He distinctly asserts that the vital force is something abstract, although, inconsistently, he endows it with the properties of something real, and even endeavors to demonstrate its existence. His theory is interesting, however, since he refers al diseases to an affection of this vital force.
Now, while his ideas on this subject are indefinite nd indeed inconsistent, and not by any means the modern idea of modification of vital activities, they were a distinct advance upon those of his own time, for he seems to have been the first to refer all diseases back of their local or general manifestations, t the life principle itself. At about the same times or a little later (1800), Reil elaborated his celebrated system. Each organ he held to have its own vital force, united by sympathy with the rest of the body.
This force is inherent in matter and flows out from it. To call forth vital phenomena, however, certain imponderables, as light, heat, electricity, etc., were necessary. These unite with the vital force temporarily, and are here denominated by him accidentia. The idea, that these forces were inherent in, and inseparable from, matter, is worthy of especial notice.
We have thus, as briefly as possible, although I fear with undue prolixity, and, I know very imperfectly, traced the evolution of the idea of a vital force to the time of Hahnemann, for the next step forward is to the theory of the illustrious founder of our school of medicine.
We have seen it, in the conception of the Egyptians, a life-giving principle, though inimical to life and only restrained by the soul from exercising its destructive proclivities; we have seen that the Greek idea was that of a semi-material soul-a spirit, or as J. Rutherford Russell happily calls it, a “ghost” performing the duties of its great office, as an intelligent, reasoning personality; later Paracelsus, while still regarding as a reasoning and personal entity, grants it a divorce from the soul, and gives it separate existence; and then we have found that it regarded as many forces working together under natural law, and finally Reil makes the life forces inherent in, and inseparable from, matter-a foreshadowing of our modern idea of energy.
Dr. Fincke: Hahnemann certainly knew much about the subject of this paper, and I wish to refer you to the Organon, from the ninth to the fifteenth actions of the fifth edition, where you will find what he made of this subject.
He was by no means a theorist, but was eminently of a practical nature; he did not go at all into metaphysical explanations nor did he attempt to explain what spirit was or what life was. He founded Homoeopathy upon the rock of experience and experiment. he lays down the life force as the foundation of the healing art, and there is none in the world who can gainsay or oppose that, without stultifying themselves and making a mistake like the physico-chemical school.
Hahnemann has taught us how by a simple and beautiful process we can evolve a spirit like force of man from crude substances which is able to influence the vital force, and so cure disease. he concluded from observation that they must be similar, and thus arose that beautiful generalization, which no one is able to overthrow.
You can’t see this spirit-like force, you can’t touch it, you can’t feel it, but it is there. Has a force ever been seen by anyone? You see motion, but you do not see force; you see the effect. We can not see this spirit-like force, but we can see its effect in curing disease. According to the laws of motion, philosophers say that matter can not move unless impelled by some force.
Therefore mater is inert and lifeless, and if inert and lifeless, how can it in itself have all these properties and qualities, which the psycho-chemical school claims for the phenomena of life and spirit? All their atoms and molecules and the radiant energy of matter remain far behind our potencies, which in regard to quantity can not be compared to them.
Think of it! The eleven-millionth potency, which has been verified in our practice, must be written with twenty-two millions of cyphers, and there is the end not yet. Surely, homoeopathics can afford to proceed on its own merits in developing the science of medicine, because the psycho-chemical school, according to its nature, does not reach to the conception of a homoeopathic potency.
So there is, besides the physical and chemical force, a medicinal force residing in inert matter which we develop by the simple and beautiful process of dynamization in our potencies and which is able to act upon the life force so as to aid it in curing. There is not a crude substance on the earth that has not a medicinal quality. if we can draw it out. Even the most inert substances will develop enormous medicinal power if we potentiate them.
Dr. Clausen: Where is there a material substance in nature whose particles have not been brought together by some immaterial spirit-like force?.
The soul is that immaterial part of man which clothes itself with flesh; it is that spiritual force which draws and holds the atoms together which make the human form. Just so, but without any self-consciousness, there exists in earth’s soils and plants an immaterial spirit-like force which holds their particles together and gives each kind of earth, soil and plant its individual identity. The force, for instance, existing in Silex is always the same, distinct and individual, and by the process of dynamization we bring that force into an accessible condition, and by the law of similars apply it to the removal of diseased conditions.