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2005 Summer Conference:
Wilhelm Reich and Orgone Energy:
Looking Back, Moving Forward
Monday, July 18
On Monday morning James Strick, Ph.D--an assistant professor of science at Franklin and Marshall College who has published two books of note, Sparks of Life: Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation and The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology--opened the conference with a presentation entitled "The Historic Context of Reich's Laboratory Work: From Biomedical Research of the 1930s to the Present Day". Dr. Strick introduced his talk with a question: Why do Reich's theories sound so foreign in the context of mainstream biology and medicine? He answered this by describing the context in which Reich's theories emerged and the various approaches scientists were taking toward biology and medicine at that time.
According to Strick, by the late 1920s the casual observer (with an eye toward Reich's work) would note three approaches:
- That of the mechanistic mainstream which was already emerging as the dominant approach. This approach looks at the body, basically, as a machine, i.e., it is governed by chemical and biological processes in which all things are explained in mechanistic terms in the same manner that mainstream science explains nonliving systems.
- Neo-vitalism which was then dominated by theories of Driesch and posited that living things are governed by an "entelechy", i.e., a force not accessible to mechanistic laboratory investigations.
- Reich's approach which was looking to develop a synthesis of the mechanistic mainstream and neo-vitalistic approaches.
In time, the gap between Reich's approach and that of the mechanistic mainstream widened. Dr. Strick pointed out two major discoveries of Reich's which led to this: the discovery of bions in 1939 and the discovery of atmospheric orgone in 1940. In light of these discoveries, the connections between Reich's approach and that of the mechanistic mainstream had become difficult to see. This gap widened even further in 1953 with the publication of Watson and Crick's paper on the structure of DNA and the turn toward overwhelmingly molecular approaches by the mainstream.
At this point, Dr. Strick backed up a bit and explained the foundations of Reich's approach--which, in time, developed into the science of orgonomy. Dr. Strick stated that Reich had drawn upon the following research approaches:
- Freud's libido theory, i.e., the idea that there is a specific biological sexual energy.
- The theories of various schools that represent non-mechanistic versions of materialism (especially dialectical materialism).
- Opposition to over-simplistic Mendelian genetics, i.e., the idea that everything--including behavior and disposition--is inherited, and inherited by simple Mendelian patterns. Dr. Strick argued that Mendelian genetics was strongly influenced by the eugenics movement which was strong not only in Nazi Germany but also in the United States (e.g. Margaret Sanger successfully courted the eugenics movement in order to gain support for the birth control movement which she championed).
Dr. Strick also remarked on neo-Lamarckianism, whose last prominent advocate of was Paul Kammerer, an instructor of Reich's at the medical school in Vienna. It was noted that neo-Lamarckianism was more popular with the Left in Austria (as opposed to the eugenics movement which tried to tie--via Mendelian genetics--sloth, alcoholism, prostitution, etc. to inherited genetic traits). Paul Kammerer's ideas were later bastardized in the theories of the Soviet geneticist T.D. Lysenko--a scientist basically ignored in the West after denouncing Mendelian genetics as "reactionary and decadent" at a Russian conference in 1948, i.e., he was espousing dialectical materialist biology.
- Energeticist "field" theories in embryology, especially for the understanding of cell mitosis. Dr. Strick pointed out that Gurvitch had proposed that mitosis is governed by a type of radiation which he called "mitogenetic radiation." (These theories later came into play when Reich experimented with bion cultures, specifically the SAPA-bion cultures). Gurvitch's theories greatly influenced Reich's theories of bioenergetics. The theory of "relative sexuality," developed by Max Hartmann, provided further support for his view that sexual attraction was a bioelectric phenomenon. Hartmann had published a paper on the subject in 1931 which Reich read in 1933.
Dr. Strick argued that Reich's interest in energeticist theories was further bolstered by the concept of conservation of energy. Reich wondered that if heat can be converted to electricity, then what was going on at the biological level. Was there some other type of energy, perhaps something analogous to libido energy that Freud had described? However, although there had been early advocates of a specific biological energy (i.e. Kammerer and Benjamin Moore), by 1939 Reich was one of a very small minority interested in understanding these energetic phenomena.
Another scientist who influenced Reich's thoughts on energeticism was Otto Warburg who had studied how energy is released from food. Later Warburg studied cancer cells and posited that cancer develops when cells produce energy anaerobically instead of aerobically.
Finally, Dr. Strick mentioned Friedrich Kraus's "fluid theory of life" described in a hard-to-find book published in 1926. All of the scientific thought mentioned above--which was coming out of Germany--was basically quashed with the rise of Nazi fascism or lost in WWII and its aftermath.
- Origin of life studies and theories relevant to spontaneous generation would have a tremendous impact on the bion experiments. Reich had been led to this field of thought--most famously championed by Bastian in his debates with Pasteur in the late 1800s--by his own work with the bions in 1936-39.
In terms of opposition to Reich, his investigation into the origin of life--compounded with his earlier advocacy of abortion rights and contraceptive rights--did little to endear Reich to the mainstream. And if the above was not enough to make Reich's theories unpopular, consider the rest of the equation: the study of the function of the orgasm.
Next, Dr. Strick distributed a handout in which he had sketched a flow-chart detailing the progression of Reich's thought and that of mainstream mechanistic materialism. Of significance, Strick pointed out, was the influence of the Rockefeller Foundation on the direction that research into biology and medicine would take in the early 20th century. Warren Weaver, director of the Natural Sciences Division at the Rockefeller Foundation, basically sat on the only substantial pot of money available to scientists for research funding following the stock market crash in 1929. This meant that during the Depression years, unless you were able to convince Warren Weaver that your research was worth funding, you either had to finance scientific research on your own (as Reich was forced to do via his therapeutic practice) or go without. Weaver's allegiances did not align with the type of work Reich was doing. He was more interested in physics, chemistry, and mechanistic biology, especially the theory of macromolecules, which led to molecular biology--an area of research with which Reich was not necessarily in tune. As a result, the mechanistic mainstream became the de facto mainstream, and scientists like Reich, Pijper, Kraus, and Gurvitch were marginalized.
By 1939 or soon afterward, Reich came to the realization that he was doing something totally original--a notion reinforced by the fact that he was no longer being acknowledged by those who had influenced his thought. As Reich moved further from the mainstream with the discovery of atmospheric orgone in 1940, his subsequent experiments--involving the orgone energy accumulator, the 1951 Oranur Experiment and the discovery of DOR, and the invention of the cloudbuster--placed him in a position that went well against the grain of conventional biology and medicine.
With the subsequent FDA injunction, the destruction of Reich's printed works in a New York City incinerator, and Reich's imprisonment and death, Reich's discoveries and scientific approach were left to be championed by a handful of his students--a fact further complicated by the squabbles that plagued the orgonomic community after Reich's death.
Strick definitely provided those of us in attendance with a context for understanding Reich's work. As the conference would progress, many would share thoughts as to how orgonomy and those interested establishing its relevance within the mainstream (and in alternative medicine circles) might best move forward at this moment in time.
On Monday afternoon, Dr. Bernard Grad--a biologist who had studied bions with Reich--gave a presentation entitled "Memories of Working with Reich: Opportunities and Obstacles for the Future of Reich's Biological Work". Dr. Grad first met Reich in September of 1949. Impressed, Reich had asked Grad to stay on for a time and observe the research being conducted at Orgonon. Grad watched as the T – To experiment was replicated and made his first observations of atmospheric orgone energy. Still somewhat skeptical, Dr. Grad approached the fledgling science of orgonomy cautiously.
He stated that he would often compare the conflicting perspectives of orgonomy and mechanistic science. For example, he pointed out that mechanistic science claimed the sky was blue due to the refraction of light in the atmosphere (blue being the shortest wavelength and thus the color that the eye sees); whereas orgonomy stated that the sky was blue due to the presence of orgone energy which had demonstrated a blue glow in orgone-charged vacuum tubes and in the orgone accumulator. After a year of observations, Dr. Grad eventually came down on the side of orgonomy.
Dr. Grad explained that he last met with Reich in 1954 or 1955. However, his interest in the work pioneered by Reich continued. He was most taken by Reich's work with the bions and he set about attempting to replicate Reich's experiments. Much of this experimental work was undertaken during "free time" at the lab at which he was employed. Working alone for fear of being ostracized by his colleagues, Dr. Grad carried out a number of experiments with bion cultures. He began by adding and subtracting different variables to the basic bion culturing experiments.
At this point in his presentation, Dr. Grad shared a number of slides with the attendees. Of especial interest were those of bions he had cultured via the combination of chemical compounds. Many in attendance were impressed by the bions Dr. Grad had cultured from calcium carbonate, i.e., the idea that chemicals in solution could produce bions that exhibited the same characteristics Reich had observed when working with grass infusions.
All in all, it was wonderful to hear about Reich and the activities at Orgonon during Reich's day from someone who was there. It was also very interesting to see how one of Reich's students moved forward with the pioneering bion experiments after Reich's death.
Tuesday, July 19
On Tuesday afternoon, Morton Herskowitz, D.O., gave a talk entitled "Remembering Reich". Dr. Herskowitz is a practicing orgone therapist in the Philadelphia area, President of the Institute for Orgonomic Science, and author of Emotional Armoring: An Introduction to Psychiatric Orgone Therapy. He began his presentation by describing his first encounter with Reich's writings: as a young medical student he had been lent a copy of The Sexual Revolution; profoundly impressed that he had discovered a thinker who was addressing many of the questions he had about psychoanalysis and was providing elucidation and thoughtful answers, Herskowitz sought out Reich with the intent of entering into therapy with him. At this time Reich was still living in Forest Hills, a somewhat affluent suburb of New York City. Herskowitz recounted with humor his first impressions of Reich, of his home in Forest Hills, and how he had hoped that their interaction would focus squarely on psychoanalysis since he had doubts about Reich's theories of orgone energy. Of course, he stated, this was a fruitless wish, for when Ilse answered the door, Reich appeared in his lab coat and almost immediately asked him what he thought of orgone energy.
Dr. Herskowitz said that Reich was very serious during therapeutic sessions. There was no small talk. He charged fifty dollars a session. And Herskowitz shared many humorous anecdotes about Reich. When Reich moved permanently to Rangeley, Maine in 1950, Herskowitz began making the 14-hour drive from Philadelphia to continue his therapy.
Herskowitz commented on Reich's effective use of metaphors. As an example, he referred to the metaphor Reich used in his essay "The Emotional Plague," which Reich included as Chapter 16 in the third edition of Character Analysis (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1972):
The circulation of steam in the steampipes of a factory is an unquestioned precondition of the factory's operation. However, the workers in a factory hardly give a moment's thought to the circulation of the steam. Their attention is completely concentrated on their work. The energy engendered by the steam is "not everything" in the factory. There are other important interests, e.g., the manufacture of machines and similar things. Let us imagine that all of a sudden one or more steam valves became clogged. The flow of energy engendered by the steam would cease immediately. The pistons would stop; the wheels would no longer turn; work would be out of the question. All the workers would have to direct their attention with dispatch to the obstructed flow of steam in the pipes. All thinking would be centered on one question: how a regulated circulation of steam could be reestablished in the quickest way. Let us further imagine that some workers began to argue about this situation as follows: "This confounded theory of heat exaggerates the role of steam. Sure, it's true that steam is necessary, but it's far from being everything in this factory. Don't you see that there are other things to worry about? What about the economy?" In a breakdown like the one described, these "brainstorms" would merely be laughed at, and one would quickly attempt to eliminate the basic disturbance in the circulation of the steam before turning one's thoughts to "other things". It would serve no purpose to consider the interests of economy when the steam valves are clogged.
This example illustrates the nature of the sexual problem in our society. The flow of biological energy, i.e., sexual energy, is disturbed in most people. The biosocial mechanism of society therefore functions poorly and sometimes not at all, and we have irrational politics, irresponsibility on the part of masses of people, biopathies, homicide--in short, the emotional plague. If all people fulfilled their natural sexual needs in a natural way, there would be little talk of the sexual problem; there would be no sexual problem. Then one would be justified in contending that there are "also other things". [pp.532-533]
One attendee asked Dr. Herskowitz about Reich's enthusiasm for treating psychological problems via the body, i.e., by sometimes choosing to treat the physical manifestations of character armor rather than the psychic root. This person wondered if orgonomy would reach a point where it was no longer necessary to talk through problems, if everything could be addressed through "body work". Dr. Herskowitz replied that some things simply must be talked though--he specifically mentioned guilt. He did, however, attribute some of Reich's enthusiasm for body work to the reliance of the Freudian school of thought on "excessive talk".
Someone else asked if Dr. Herskowitz ever used the DOR-buster in therapy. He replied that he tried using it, but abandoned it because he was a poor judge of its effectiveness.
Finally, Dr. Herskowitz was asked about his impressions of Reich's attitude toward the FDA trial. Dr. Herskowitz stated that he thought that Reich had underestimated the judge and felt that, had Reich addressed the specific charges against him instead of taking issue with the fact that scientific research should not be judged by a court of law but rather by the scientific method, he might have won the case. The fact is that Reich took the stand that he did, and what is done is done. It is for us to move forward upon the groundwork that Reich worked so hard to lay.
The afternoon session ended with one of the attendees asking both Dr. Herskowitz and Dr. Grad to share their thoughts on what it was like to be back in the Conference Building, which, in Reich's day, had housed the Student Laboratory and the Orgone Room in which the Oranur Experiment was carried out.
Dr. Grad recalled coming up to Orgonon after the Oranur Experiment and experiencing the conditions at that time. He mentioned that the 20-ply accumulator--into which the radium needle used in the experiment was placed--had been removed from the Orgone Room and taken to the middle of a nearby field. Grad talked of the negative physical reactions he experienced simply by approaching the 20-ply accumulator.
Dr. Herskowitz mentioned the building's fireplace and recalled other humorous anecdotes. It was truly a treat to hear tales of Reich from those who had enjoyed such rich relationships with the man.
Tuesday evening there was a reception at the Orgone Energy Observatory on top of the hill. Attendees gathered to meet the presenters and to tour the Observatory and view its many exhibits.
Wednesday, July 20
Wednesday morning featured a joint presentation by physicians Conny Huthsteiner, M.D. and Ron Maio, D.O. entitled "A Proposed Clinical Study to Test the Effectiveness of Orgone Blankets in the Treatment of Burns." Dr. Huthsteiner is a psychiatric orgonomist with a private practice in Boston, Vice President of the Institute of Orgonomic Science in Philadelphia, and a member of the staff and faculty at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Maio is a professor and Associate Chair of Research in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, Director of the University's Injury Research Center, and Assistant Dean for Research Regulatory Affairs for the University's medical school.
Dr. Huthsteiner began the talk by describing the principles of ORAC construction. She then read a case history from the recently published book Heilen Mit Orgonenergie [Healing with Orgone Energy] by Jorgos Kavouras, M.D., a presenter at the 2004 Summer Conference. This book includes over 40 case studies, collected over the past 25 years, involving Dr. Kavouras's medical use of the orgone accumulator and medical DOR-buster.
Dr. Maio then outlined their proposed study of the treatment of burns with orgone blankets. He began by describing current social and medical attitudes toward alternative medicine. He attributed the growing openness to orgone research to increased interest in alternative medical treatments. He added that for many years medical practitioners (and members of the scientific community in general) have been opposed to using orgone energy in treatment because there is so little research supporting it. Yet ironically, he stated, the reason there is so little research supporting it is because many are not open to funding or supporting research associated with orgone energy. In short, there is a vicious cycle that must be broken to move orgone research forward. That is one of the goals of the proposed study.
The study, as outlined by Maio and Huthsteiner, will include two groups of 50 burn patients; each patient will be given a blanket in addition to traditional treatment. The blankets given to one group would be orgone blankets; the blankets given to the other would be "sham" blankets. One attendee suggested there be a third group that was not given any blanket to use as a control for any sort of placebo effect. Dr. Maio agreed that this would be a good idea. The groups with the blankets would use them for 30 minutes twice a day. The primary measurement taken would be the length of time it took for the wound to heal. Secondary measurements would include infection rate, pain control, and functional outcomes, i.e., would the use of the orgone blanket lead to increased or decreased motility of the affected region compared with those using no blanket or the "sham" blanket.
Dr. Maio stated that the real challenge lay in explaining the mechanism by which the blankets work. This would require describing the mechanics by which the orgone energy blanket functions. Some of this would come into play in approaching potential funding sources as well as gaining approval for the study from the Internal Review Board at the University of Michigan (if, indeed, the study were to be conducted at the University of Michigan). Dr. Maio also mentioned that, given the ORACs past history with the FDA, steps might have to be taken to earn an exemption--something he felt shouldn't be too much of a problem given the non-invasive nature of the ORAC.
Dr. Maio also made a few suggestions that would help move medical orgonomy forward. These included encouraging more collaboration between orgonomic societies, the creation of international partnerships (e.g. with Dr. Kavouras), the establishment of a national or international congress on medical orgonomy, and the development of a medical network for the discussion of medicinal applications of orgone energy.
The conference attendees were very enthusiastic and offered a number of suggestions to the researchers regarding approaches to the study and how to control for random variables. Some felt that while Dr. Huthsteiner and Dr. Maio should definitely give thought to the numerous variables and control for as many as reasonably possible, what was imperative was that the study move forward, and that if a well-planned study could make it into a mainstream medical journal, this might help to create new opportunities for further follow-up research involving medicinal applications of orgone energy.
The excitement generated by listening to this proposal piqued many attendees' imaginations. Hopefully, Dr. Huthsteiner and Dr. Maio will return to Orgonon to discuss their progress at a future conference.
Wednesday afternoon, conferences attendees were invited to join Kevin Hinchey (Associate Director of the Wilhelm Reich Museum) for a 2-3 hour hike up Bald Mountain. The hike was very enjoyable and afforded the intrepid hiker with a remarkable view from atop the summit tower of the Rangeley Lakes region. This included a magnificent panorama of Mooselookmeguntic Lake, where Reich first observed atmospheric orgone energy in the summer of 1940.
Thursday, July 21
Thursday morning's talk was given by Theirrie Cook. In 1988, Theirrie founded Orgonics, a company that makes and sells orgone accumulating devices. She first encountered Reich's writings in 1971 while working as a Leftist organizer in Berkeley. She had wandered into Cody's Books and noticed a copy of The Mass Psychology of Fascism laying on a display table. From there, her interest led her to other books by Reich, and she eventually entered into therapy with Myron Sharaf, a student of Reich's and author of Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich, and, later, other orgone therapists.
From 1988 to 1992, Orgonics only produced orgone blankets. The company began building orgone accumulators in 1992. Presently, Orgonics produces ORACs ranging from 3-ply to 20-ply, various sizes and strengths of orgone blankets, and a number of other orgone accumulating devices.
In her presentation, Theirrie focused on what she considers the three major research issues to keep in mind when working with orgone accumulators:
- the quality of the charge
- Oranur and DOR
- their use in therapy and for medical applications
With regard to the quality of charge, Theirrie made a number of points. The most important consideration when considering quality of charge is the materials used for construction. For instance, aluminum and copper are not suitable for construction of an ORAC, which Reich noted. The best material is carbon steel; however, since pure carbon steel is prone to rust (and wiping down the metallic surfaces of an ORAC with a damp cloth remove DOR and restores a fresh charge), Theirrie uses galvanized steel--i.e. zinc-coated carbon steel--which will not rust. She stated that there is even some anecdotal evidence that galvanized steel has a positive affect on unwanted skin blemishes--a fact that she attributed to the zinc coating. Theirrie mentioned two other companies that make devices similar to orgone accumulators: Scenar and Nyvatex. Theirrie cautioned against using the devices sold by these companies. The "healing blankets" produced by Scenar are made with palladium which, Theirrie stated, does not work nearly as well as steel; and the Nyvatex Health-Mat is made with aluminum which Theirrie considers a "toxic" metal. To demonstrate the effectiveness of accumulators built with different metals, Theirrie cited experiments on seedlings and suggested anyone interested in "objectifying the subjective" consider doing the same.
Theirrie also shared her thoughts on the different types of organic material she prefers to use in the construction of ORACs and orgone blankets. For blankets she recommends acrylic felt for the outside covers. The inside layering is made with sheep's wool batting and imported, oilless steel wool. Even though wool and cotton can produce a good orgone charge, they also attract and hold moisture (i.e. they are hydroscopic) which can diminish the charge. The acrylic felt does not hold moisture, holds a good "static", or orgone charge, is non-allergenic, and also soft to the touch which is why it makes a good outer cover. She noted, however, that polyesters and vinyls do not seem to have the same positive qualities as acrylic.
With regard to Oranur and DOR (i.e. Deadly ORgone), Theirrie said that as a result of the Oranur Experiment, we know that radioactivity irritates orgone energy. As such, she recommended that ORACs and orgone blankets not be stored or used near television and computer screens containing cathode ray tubes (CRTs), fluorescent lights, or any device that generates ionizing radiations. She reported it was John Ott, the pioneering researcher on light, who discoverred the CRTs emit low-dose x-rays. She recommended a book by Ralph Graeub entitled The Petkau Effect which discusses the negative effects of low-level radiation on living things. Theirrie emphasized that orgone is also a living thing. She also warned against using an orgone blanket in conjunction with an electric blanket. Never do it, she implored.
Finally, Theirrie talked about the use of orgone accumulating devices in therapy or medical treatment. First, she reiterated that which Reich had stated numerous times: that it is important to remember that most physical diseases have a psychological component and vice versa. As such, treatment of a physical illness with an ORAC may require concomitant character analytic therapy. Emotions often come to the fore while using the ORAC and may even result in resistance to using the device. In addition, Theirrie emphasized that it is important to detoxify in conjunction with ORAC use--especially when using the ORAC to treat physical biopathies. Theirrie then shared a number of anecdotes and personal testimonies from those who have used the ORAC.
Theirrie concluded her talk by addressing the factionalism within the orgonomic community. She stated that if orgonomy is to move forward, then researchers and proponents of orgonomy need to work to break down the barriers between the various camps and bring an end to the backbiting and rumor mongering. She did not state that the various orgonomic groups would agree on everything, just that, if they didn't agree on this or that point, then differences of opinion should be resolved via healthy debate.
Kevin Hinchey, Associate Director of the Wilhelm Reich Museum, gave the Thursday afternoon talk entitled "Wilhelm Reich and Orgone Energy: A Survey of the FBI and FDA Files". While the FDA files on Reich have been accessible to the public for many years, Reich's FBI file was declassified only recently in February 2002 via the Freedom of Information Act. Although, as one might imagine, many names and addresses mentioned in the documents remain blacked out.
Kevin began his presentation by citing recent articles and book excerpts which--nearly 50 years after Reich's death--continue to repeat distortions about Reich and the orgone energy accumulator, i.e. that the accumulator could cure cancer and/or restore orgastic potency for those who used it.
Kevin then provided some basic background information: Reich left Oslo for the United States on August 19, 1939, on the last ship to leave Norway before WWII broke out. He arrived in New York nine days later on August 28th. The FBI file on Reich (which consists of approximately 800 pages) was begun in December 1939. These records were accumulated somewhat sporadically and reflect the on-again/off-again interest that the FBI had taken in Reich. The FDA file on Reich was opened in August of 1947 in the wake of a Mildred Brady article that appeared in New Republic, which painted an inaccurate and sensationalized portrait of Reich and his work with the orgone accumulator. These records contain thousands of pages, since the FDA's interest in Reich would continue unabated from the time its investigation began.
Kevin discussed the FBI files first. The earliest mention of Reich in the FBI files was on December 7, 1939. State Department interest in Reich had been piqued because of his affiliation with the German Communist Party, and the FBI was asked to investigate. These previous ties to the Communist Party would later become a major issue. Months later, the State Department and the FBI interest in Reich was piqued again when Reich initiated efforts to bring his second wife Elsa to America. Again, Reich's previous ties to the Communist Party were of concern to the FBI as was, to an extent, his involvement with the New School for Social Research in New York City. As a result of these early investigations, Reich's name was placed on a list for possible "custodial detention" in the event that hostilities broke out against the United States.
On December 12, 1941--several days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America's declaration of war against Japan, Germany and Italy--Reich was taken into FBI custody on suspicion of being an "enemy alien". Reich was incarcerated for twenty-four days on Ellis Island. Seventeen pages in the FBI file document the lengthy investigation that took place during his incarceration, which included interviews with well over a dozen people throughout New York City. In these pages, Kevin stated, one first sees the seeds of distortion being planted relevant to Reich's medical work, in particular, the claim that he had bragged of a "cure for cancer"--a claim unsubstantiated in any of Reich's published materials. Reich was eventually released.
In 1949, following up on complaints from Maine residents, the FBI conducted another investigation into Reich's activities. Another was conducted in 1950. By this point, Reich had already begun corresponding with the Atomic Energy Commission (his first contact with the AEC was in 1947 regarding his discovery of a possible motor power in orgone energy.) But the AEC had concluded rather quickly that Reich's science was unsound. It is disheartening to know that a man who had so much respect for American democracy and who made every effort to keep the government abreast of his research was, ironically, considered a threat and a fraud.
The FDA investigation, as mentioned, was precipitated by an article in the May 26, 1947 issue of New Republic magazine, entitled "The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich". In response to the allegations made in the article, the FDA sent an investigator named Charles Wood to Rangeley. Kevin described Inspector Wood's first visit with Reich in the Student Laboratory. Inspector Wood then talked with a number of Rangeley residents including Clista Templeton, who had taken over the responsibility of building orgone accumulators from her late father, Herman Templeton, the first caretaker at Orgonon. Without Reich's permission, Ms. Templeton gave Inspector Wood a complete list of ORAC users. The FDA would go on to contact many individuals on this list. hoping to find a dissatisfied ORAC user for legal action against Reich.
Kevin then read a number of personal accounts collected by Inspector Wood. These accounts are marred by Inspector Wood's editorializing and insinuation. For example, oftentimes the word ‘disciple' is used when describing Reich's co-workers. And the physical ailments of several accumulator users are sometimes described as probably "imaginary." Also evident is Inspector Wood's drive to uncover negative testimonials to help build up the FDA case against Reich. But there were few negative comments about the accumulator, and none substantial enough to use in court.
Of particular interest is the relationship that developed between Inspector Wood and Ms. Templeton. The two eventually married. Ms. Templeton, of course, stopped building ORACs, but one would have to wonder if this did not constitute a conflict of interest of sorts for Inspector Wood. According to correspondence in the files, Wood's superiors in Washington D.C. saw nothing wrong with him marrying one of his informants.
In 1951, Reich conducted the Oranur Experiment in which he placed a small quantity of radioactive radium into a 20-ply orgone accumulator--which itself was housed in the Orgone Room in the Student Laboratory--in order to study the interaction of the two energies. Reich had informed well over a hundred state and federal government agencies of his intentions prior to the experiment, including the President of the United States, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and the FBI. He did not, however, inform the FDA--although the FDA learned about it shortly afterwards, and apparently called for a meeting with the AEC which was held on August 20, 1951.
The FDA's account of this meeting with the AEC--in which the FDA was provided access to the AEC's file on Reich--allowed Kevin to piece together a detailed chronology about the government's reaction to the Oranur Experiment. In the end, the AEC decided that Reich had either fabricated the Oranur Experiment, that he exaggerated the effects, and/or that he misunderstood the cause of the effects witnessed.
Attendees then asked questions and made comments. Dr. Maio pointed out that research methodology was still in its infancy in the 1950s. This, he posited, might explain the shoddy (at least by today's standards) methodology of the FDA in conducting their own experiments into Reich's claims regarding medicinal applications of the ORAC. It was pointed out by Dr. Huthsteiner (who, as a student, worked at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor) that one of the laboratory's researchers hired to investigate the ORAC was not considered very competent by his peers. And doubts were expressed about the competence of 22-year old young Robert Spitzer who the FDA considered calling as a witness against Reich, according to an FDA report that Kevin Hinchey presented. (Spitzer went on to become a psychiatrist, and was the subject of a January 2005 article in the New Yorker which repeats distortions and slanders about Reich and the orgone accumulator.) Given all of this, one is inclined to draw the conclusion that either there was never any intention of giving Reich's ideas a fair hearing, or that any attempts to replicate Reich's experiments by the FDA were hampered by sub-par research methodology conducted by unqualified or negatively prejudiced researchers.
Thursday evening was devoted to recollections about Reich and life at Orgonon by Kathy Steward, daughter of Tom Ross, the caretaker at Orgonon while Reich was alive. For several years, Kathy and her parents lived at Orgonon in the cabin now known as Bunchberry. Her parents, Tom and Bea Ross, were instrumental in helping Mary Higgins open the property as The Wilhelm Reich Museum several years after Reich's death. For many years, Kathy has been one of the Museum's tour guides.
Kathy brought along some photos and passed them around the room, photos which provided glimpses of life at Orgonon while Reich was alive and afterward. There was a picture of Reich's original tomb (a cinder block affair that rested next to the museum where one now finds the original prototype of the cloudbuster), pictures of Kathy with Peter Reich, many shots of the Orgone Observatory and Student Laboratory (including one after an enormous snowstorm), and a few shots of Reich's German shepard, Troll.
Friday, July 22
The Conference's final session on Friday morning was a Roundtable Discussion involving those presenters still on hand: Dr. Conny Huthsteiner, Dr. Ron Maio, Theirrie Cook, and Kevin Hinchey. (Dr. Jim Strick, Dr. Bernard Grad, and Dr. Morton Herskowitz had already left.).
Each presenter summed up his or her own feelings and reflections on the future of orgonomy, in line with the overall theme of the conference: Looking Back, Moving Forward. Dr. Huthsteiner spoke first, emphasizing the fact that growing interest in alternative medicine could translate into increased openness to medical application of orgone energy. She also noted the growing interest in the opening of the Reich Archives in late 2007 or early 2008. Now, she said, was the time for orgonomy to become "unstuck," and she stated that she saw the field growing in the next five years.
Theirrie Cook spoke next and emphasized opportunities for new research in orgonomy, citing growing interest in astrobiology, ether science, energy medicine, and issues related to sexuality. To elucidate, she pointed out that the bion experiments have practical applications in the field of astrobiology and that orgone energy has relevance to ether science and energy medicine. Regarding sexuality, Theirrie pointed out that too often it is the first aspect of Reich's work to be abandoned. Which is unfortunate, she said, since sexuality forms the groundwork of our understanding of orgone energy and its study was the avenue by which Reich happened upon the discovery of the orgone.
Theirrie encouraged the physicians and researchers involved in orgonomy to join professional organizations, pursue grants, write articles for publication, and make presentations at appropriate conferences. As an example, she pointed out that Dr. James DeMeo had recently been invited to speak before the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the most prestigious scientific associations in the United States and publishers of the journal Science. She also mentioned the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSEEM) and the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). Finally, Theirrie emphasized the need to establish a presence in the scientific community; to establish networks of and open avenues for communication among orgonomists; to locate sources of funding for level-headed, trustworthy researchers in the field; and to move forward with intent and to be resilient in the face of opposition.
Dr. Ron Maio then spoke. He worried that, in his case, his specialized focus might be an issue--and could be for other researchers as well--especially in light of Theirrie's comments about keeping the big picture in mind. Or, as one attendee eloquently put it, the "red thread" that runs through Reich's work and which ties his psychoanalytic work into his study of the bions, the discovery of the orgone, and the development of cloudbuster, etc. Dr. Maio emphasized his earlier point regarding the need for collaboration, to break down the barriers between the various orgonomic "camps". He stated that there is a need to develop awareness of the ways in which bio-energetic research informs orgonomy--especially when compiling literature reviews for paper submissions.
Dr. Maio also mentioned his concerns about possible reaction to research involving orgone energy from review boards and sources of funding. Specifically, he worried that these individuals and groups might become distracted by the issues of sexuality inherent in orgonomy. Theirrie stated that she felt there was no getting around it and that it was imperative that one have a response ready. Kevin added that while one should have a response ready, the researcher must stay on message and keep the focus on the project at hand--for example, discussion of the proposed study of the treatment of burns with orgone blankets should focus on just that, the treatment of burns with the orgone blanket, and should not devolve into an impromptu evaluation of the role of orgasm in psychic health.
Finally, Dr. Maio mentioned how good laboratory work now would lay the groundwork for openness to future research. This led to a brief discussion of the value of perhaps taking an "indirect" approach, to frame orgonomic research in a language that is not strictly orgonomic. The question then arose as to when this "indirectness" would become subterfuge. It was agreed that the crux of this line of thought lay in the use of the word "orgone".
As the meeting drew to a close, many in attendance--especially those without scientific backgrounds--asked what they could do to help. Mary Higgins pointed out that the best way to support The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust and the Wilhelm Reich Museum is financially. When the Trust and the Museum receive the support, Reich's legacy is enriched via the museum displays, the continued publication of primary materials, the preservation of archival materials, and by providing a logical hub for ongoing discussion of Reich and orgone energy.
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