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In Context #22 (Fall 2009, pp. 3-6); copyright 2009 by The Nature Institute
When Holism Was the Future
Back in the autumn of 1999, writing in In Context #2, Craig Holdrege described our discovery of the work of Kurt Goldstein: "It is hard to express the joy and gratitude I experienced in finding a like-minded thinker and scientist, from whom I can learn so much." Born in 1878, Goldstein became a topflight neurosurgeon, and his 1933 book, Der Aufbau des Organismus (published in America in 1939 as The Organism) is a masterwork of rigorous, holistic thought. One testimony to its continuing vital relevance is the 1995 Zone Books reprint, with a foreword by Oliver Sacks.
But Goldstein was not the only such figure. The first half of the twentieth century produced a number of outstanding proponents of biological holism. Those who spoke out against mechanistic and one-sidedly analytic approaches to the living organism included, beside Goldstein, such well-known scientists as D'Arcy Thompson, Sir Charles Sherrington, and J. B. S. Haldane. But one exceptionally far-seeing luminary of this holistic movement in biology is rarely heard of today outside certain specialist circles, and my own meeting with his work has proved as unexpected and inspiring as that earlier encounter with Gol