From the Archives:
New Narratives About Wilhelm Reich, M.D.
Opening Remarks at the
2009 Summer Conference at Orgonon
July 15, 2009
Good morning. And thank you all for coming. On October 29, 2007--five days before
the 50th anniversary of Wilhelm Reich's death--The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust posted
the Index of The Archives of the Orgone Institute on our Museum website, a website
which currently averages close to 300 hits per day. An announcement and a link to this
Index was, and continues to be, prominently featured on our Home Page.
The archive Index itself is 141 pages long, and lists the contents of 282 archive boxes
which contain a total of approximately 1,735 individual files, plus photographs, plus films,
plus audio recordings, plus physical objects. Each one of these individual 1,735 files can
contain anywhere from a single page, to dozens of pages, to hundreds of pages in just
one file. These thousands upon thousands of original documents comprise a mixture
of typewritten pages and handwritten pages in the following categories of material:
- Orgone Institute
- Orgone Institute Press
- Personal Files
- Published Work and Unpublished Translations.
Thousands of these typed and handwritten pages are in German, and thousands of these typed
and handwritten pages are in English. All of these materials are housed at "The Center for
the History of Medicine" at the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard University, one
of the world's premier medical libraries. Comprising a total of 98 cubic-feet of material,
The Archives of the Orgone Institute is one of the Countway Library's largest collections.
Along with our website posting of the Archive Index are the Access Policies & Procedures
through which scholars and researchers tell us about their backgrounds, about the nature
of their research which warrants access to Reich's Archives, and which specific files in
the Archives they're interested in studying. The studying of these materials takes place
in "The Holmes Reading Room" at the Countway Library, where staff members bring out
one file at a time of the researcher's requested materials.
These Policies & Procedures were developed after extensive discussions that The Wilhelm
Reich Infant Trust had with scholars, archivists, and librarians well versed in best practices
governing the management of archives. Any scholar, researcher, archivist or librarian
involved in serious archival work is well aware that not all archives are open to the general
public, that not all archives allow anyone to simply walk in off the street to peruse original
and rare and irreplaceable resources.
Any scholar, researcher, archivist or librarian knows that Access Policies & Procedures for
any Archive reflect the preferences of the donor of the collection and the facility in which
the collection itself is deposited. Consequently some archives are open to the public-at-large
and many are not; and specific Access Policies & Procedures vary from one collection to
And so it is with "The Archives of the Orgone Institute." The Access Policies & Procedures
governing this collection are a combination of the preferences and guidelines of both the
Countway Library and The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust. And within the collection itself,
there are a few additional guidelines and restrictions on certain materials. But restrictions
within a collection are also standard operating procedure in the management of reputable
For example, Federal regulations regarding "Protected Health Information" have established
specific restrictions on the access and use of patient files, of which there are many in Reich's
Archives. So all archival collections in America containing medical patient information need
to comply with these Federal regulations. Furthermore, because the Countway Library has
no facilities for viewing archival films or listening to archival voice recordings, these resources
in Reich's Archives are not currently accessible.
And finally, the Trust itself restricts access to several files containing what we consider
sensitive, unpublished scientific materials. These sensitive materials pertain to Reich's
orgone motor research and orgonomic equations, some of which require further discussions
and decisions involving patent and copyright law.
And today--more than 50 years after Reich's death--nothing in these original materials in
Reich's Archives has been changed in any way. Nothing whatsoever in any of the archival
manuscripts, correspondence, diaries and journals, laboratory notebooks, organizational
materials, translations, personal papers of any kind, films, voice recordings--nothing in
any of these or any other archival materials has been changed, falsified, or destroyed in
any way. And since November 2007, these materials have been accessible to scholars and
researchers--with the exception of the films and recordings, materials containing private
health information, and several files containing sensitive, unpublished scientific content.
Last year--instead of our regular summer conference--we held a small Archive Workshop
here in the Conference Building. To this Workshop, the Trust brought together a small
group of scholars and researchers to peruse and discuss these sensitive, unpublished materials
and to identify scientific and legal issues regarding these resources. These materials included
documents, laboratory notebooks, journal entries, and audio recordings of some of Reich's
experiments. And we'll be presenting many of these same materials to you this week.
You'll also be hearing from a handful of individuals whose specific projects require
significant research in Reich's Archives:
Professor Jim Strick, now working on a new book--his third book--this one about Reich's
bion experiments in Oslo in the 1930s, and how these experiments fit into the broader
context of the history of science and medicine.
Professor Philip Bennett, who has conducted archival research for two articles. One of
them is a work-in-progress about Reich's concepts of "Work Democracy." The other
article "The Persecution of Dr. Wilhelm Reich by the United States Government" will
be published soon in the International Forum of Psychoanalysis. It documents three
overlapping investigations of Reich: by the FBI, by the Food and Drug Administration,
and by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a long but little-known effort to deport
Reich which Philip will speak about tomorrow.
Mary Higgins will discuss the creation of a new manuscript--the sequel to American
Odyssey--drawn from Reich's diaries, journals, and correspondence from 1948 to 1957.
This represents Mary's fourth collection of Reich's diaries, journals, and correspondence
from different periods in his life. I will talk about my work-in-progress: a script I'm
writing for a full-length documentary film about Reich's life and work.
While all of our projects are different, the commonality here is that we are all supplementing
our knowledge of previously published materials by Reich with new information from his
unpublished archives to create new narratives aimed at newer and wider audiences. It's
understandable and desirable that various organizations devoted to Reich's legacy--
including the Trust--have published their own journals and other publications. But the
total readership of all of these publications is painfully small and comprises a huge amount
of overlap among a total of perhaps several hundred people.
In essence, we end up writing for ourselves and for each other, communicating among the
same few hundred readers without any strategy for reaching a broader and newer audience.
This need for new narratives about Reich--strategically directed at newer, wider audiences--
is today more urgent than ever as a way to counter and supplant the distortions and
misrepresentations about Reich that have persisted for decades…and that persist to this day.
For example, in the last year-and-a-half alone we've read distorted and salacious references
to Reich, orgone energy and the orgone accumulator in such mainstream publications as
Forbes Magazine, Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and a handful
Throughout Reich's life--and up until today--the voices against him personally and
against his work have always spoken from platforms larger and more powerful than
Reich's, and from platforms much more influential than ours: voices from psychiatric,
medical, scientific, academic and government institutions; voices on radio and TV;
voices in popular magazines and books. Decades of these voices speaking from these
formidable and far-reaching platforms have created a factually and intellectually
dishonest narrative of Reich.
But it is a narrative of Reich told for so long and so insistently and so loudly that it has
become ingrained and accepted as fact in official and public consciousness. And it is
precisely this cumulative and corrosive narrative of Reich that dominates and constricts
every good and honest effort that all of us make on behalf of Reich's legacy. And in
terms of that legacy, the greatest casualty here is Reich's discovery of a specific biological
and atmospheric energy that he called "orgone," of which the traditional medical and
scientific communities are completely oblivious or completely dismissive.
In Reich's 1950 lecture "Man's Roots in Nature"--which we'll listen to on Thursday--
he declares that: "I am, to begin with, a natural scientist. Not a psychologist, and not
a psychoanalyst, of course. I went into the whole field of psychiatry as a scientist.
This interest was dictated primarily by the problem of energy."
And yet today, almost 52 years after Reich's death--with well over 7000 pages of his
writings publicly available for years, comprising 21 book titles and research journals
and bulletins; a year and a half after his Archives have become accessible to scholars
and researchers--the narrative of Wilhelm Reich as a natural scientist is completely
unknown or unacknowledged in the scientific, medical and academic communities.
Consequently, over two decades of Reich's scientific and medical research--from 1935,
when he begins his bio-electrical experiments in Oslo, until late 1956 or early ‘57--over
two decades of this work continue to be disparaged, distorted and dismissed by people
who have never even taken the time to seriously study it. To the scientific, medical and
academic communities, Reich's discovery and applications of a specific biological and
atmospheric energy that he called "orgone" are, quite simply, fantasy and fraud. And his
principal scientific and medical tool--the orgone energy accumulator--continues to be
misunderstood and ridiculed as either a salacious sexual device or as a worthless medical
device that Reich was allegedly promoting as a cancer cure. None of which is true.
By contrast, the commonplace narrative about Reich's earlier work exhibits, at times,
considerable admiration and intellectual honesty, including rational differences of opinion.
And so, for the most part, we don't see the same scorn and ridicule heaped upon Reich for
his early accomplishments as a gifted psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and clinician. There is,
by and large, a more reasoned tone to discussions and criticisms, to agreements and
disagreements regarding such issues as:
- Reich's repudiation of Freud's "Death Instinct"
- his elucidation of therapeutic techniques in Character Analysis
- his identification of character armor and muscular armor
- his political activism as a physician in Socialist and Communist
organizations to counter the authoritarian institutions and governments
in Vienna and Berlin
- his theories on the nature of fascism as the expression of irrational
But these are not the issues that concerned the Food and Drug Administration here in
America. There's nothing about these issues in either the original 1954 Complaint or
in the Decree of Injunction against Reich. These are not the reasons why Reich's books
were banned and burned in the United States in the 1950s. And these are not the reasons
why Reich's scientific and medical research was, and continues to be, maligned and
marginalized to this day.
The Food and Drug Administration's official narrative about Reich in the 1940s and ‘50s
was fueled by the active cooperation and resources of the American Medical Association,
the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, as well
as numerous state chapters and affiliations of these three professional organizations. It was
a distorted narrative of Reich and his work that was, and continues to be, replicated and
disseminated in hundreds of articles in magazines, newspapers, and professional journals.
Boiled down to its essence the official, legal narrative--as stated in the 1954 Complaint
for Injunction against Reich--was this:
"...the alleged orgone energy, as claimed to have been discovered
and its existence proved by the said defendant Reich as stated for
the labeling for said devices, is not a powerful form of energy,
--leading to the logical assertion later in the Complaint that the orgone accumulator:
"...is not a preventive of and beneficial for use in all diseases
and disease conditions, is not effective in the cure, mitigation,
treatment, and prevention of the diseases, conditions, and
symptoms hereafter enumerated..."
And until this distorted legal, official and public narrative about Reich begins to change
significantly, Reich's reputation as a pioneering, although controversial, psychoanalyst
will remain assured, while 22 years of his scientific and medical legacy--from 1935 to
1957--will continue to be misunderstood, ridiculed or rejected.
In terms of crafting new narratives about Wilhelm Reich as a research physician and
natural scientist, some of the most valuable materials in his Archives are his laboratory
notebooks and daily journals. These resources document contemporaneously and with
raw data Reich's experiments in his laboratories in Oslo; in Forest Hills, New York;
and here at Orgonon--in this very space which was the Student Laboratory--as well as
in his other laboratory up in the Orgone Energy Observatory. And last October,
Professor Strick had the distinction and pleasure of being the first researcher to look
at Reich's laboratory notebooks of his bion experiments in Oslo during the 1930s.
When Reich first published these experiments in the 1930s, he was publicly criticized
and personally vilified. And for decades these same criticisms of his work have been
regurgitated ad nauseum, without any serious study and evaluation, so that today Reich's
bion experiments are virtually unknown in the scientific community.
Because Reich first discovered orgone energy in a specific bion culture in early 1939,
new narratives about Reich for new audiences need to clearly explain the bion experiments.
And, perhaps more important, to explain how these experiments are not the anomalies
portrayed by his critics and detractors, but, rather, how they fit squarely into existing
traditions of scientific and medical research of the time.
Without an understanding of the fundamentals and historic context of Reich's bion research,
the subsequent discovery of orgone energy--several years into this research--cannot be
adequately grasped. And if the discovery of orgone energy cannot be adequately grasped,
its empirical existence devolves into the stuff of mysticism, fantasy and delusion, which
has been the fate and reputation of orgone energy for far too long. Furthermore, what would
later become the Reich Blood Tests--as diagnostic medical tools for detecting systemic
disease processes--cannot be comprehended by new audiences without an underlying grasp
of Reich's bion experiments.
Reich's first-published results of these experiments ran to perhaps a couple hundred pages
and appeared in a limited German edition in 1938 under the title Die Bione. The result was
a massive newspaper campaign against him in Oslo, which was one of the factors leading
to Reich's decision to emigrate to America in August 1939. Condensed results of these
experiments appeared in his early research journals in America, and in The Cancer Biopathy
in 1948. And an English version of Die Bione appeared in the 1970's under the title
The Bion Experiments on the Origins of Life.
That Reich's original laboratory notebooks are now accessible, that they are completely
unaltered, and that Professor Strick recognizes their intrinsic value should not for a moment
be taken for granted. In "History of Science" research, this has not always been the case
with original laboratory notebooks.
In his 1995 book The Private Science of Louis Pasteur, the author--Professor Gerald
Geisen of Princeton--tells us this rather surprising fact: "For some reason laboratory
notebooks were long overlooked by historians of science, but their virtue as a strategic
site of inquiry have become evident in recent years."
Professor Geisen then cites only four major scientific biographies from the 1970s to the
and 1990s which were based on laboratory notebooks: one book about Michael Faraday,
two about French physiologist Claude Bernard, and one about Robert Milliken, the
American Nobel Laureate in Physics. Geisen also eloquently describes the intellectual
value of laboratory notebooks, as opposed to scholars simply relying on a scientist's
"… to rely solely on the published record is to distort our understanding
and appreciation of science as it actually gets done. The effect is
impoverishing in several respects. By making the results of scientific
inquiry look more decisive and straightforward than they really are,
the published record tends to conceal the pliability of nature. It
eviscerates science of its most creative features by conveying the
impression that imagination, passion, and artistry have no place in
scientific research. It makes it seem as if scientific achievement and
innovation result not from the impassioned activity of committed
hands and minds, but rather from passive acquiescence in the sterile
precepts of the so-called Scientific Method…The construction of
scientific knowledge is a much more interesting process than its
published record suggests."
I find this eloquent passage by Professor Geisen reminiscent of what Reich himself says
about the importance of understanding the research process. And I'm quoting now from
Chapter One of Ether, God and Devil:
"It is useful not only to allow the serious student of the natural sciences
to see the results of research, but also to initiate him into the secrets
of the workshop in which the end product, after much toil and effort,
is shaped. I consider it an error in scientific communication that,
most of the time, merely the polished and flawless results of natural
research are displayed, as in an art show. An exhibit of the finished
product alone has many drawbacks and dangers for both its creator
and its users. The creator of the product will only be too ready to
demonstrate perfection and flawlessness while concealing gaps,
uncertainties and discordant contradictions of his insight into nature.
He thus belittles the meaning of the real process of natural research."
Reich's open and fresh and honest attitude here is consistent with his attitudes and hopes
for his archives, and his directives regarding these archives in terms of future generations.
To quote from Reich's Last Will & Testament from March 1957, just three days before
being taken into custody and incarceration:
"In order to enable the future student of the Primordial Cosmic Energy
Ocean--the Life Energy discovered and developed by me--to obtain
a true picture of my accomplishments, mistakes, wrong assumptions,
pioneering basic trends, my private life, my childhood, etc. I hereby
direct that under no circumstances and under no pretext whatsoever
shall any of the documents, manuscripts or diaries--found in my library
among the archives or anywhere else--be altered, omitted, destroyed,
added to, or falsified in any other imaginable way."
Could Reich be any more open in wanting future students of his work to study not only
his accomplishments, but also his mistakes and wrong assumptions? All of which makes
perfect sense today in terms of context and intellectual honesty. But "History of Science"
scholarship shows us that not all scientists feel the same way as Reich about their
Returning to Gerald Geisen's book The Private Science of Louis Pasteur, here is the
book's opening paragraph:
"In 1878, when he was 55 years old and already a French national hero,
Louis Pasteur told his family never to show anyone his private laboratory
notebooks. For most of a century those instructions were honored.
Pasteur's notebooks--like the rest of the manuscripts he left behind at
his death in 1895--remained in the hands of his immediate family and
descendants until 1964. In that year, Pasteur's grandson and last surviving
direct male descendant, Dr. Pasteur Vallery-Radot, donated the vast
majority of the family's collection to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.
But access to this material was generally restricted until Vallery-Radot's
death in 1971, and there was no printed catalog of the collection until 1985."
And a bit later on, Professor Geisen tells us:
"… the Pasteur Papers include a meticulously preserved collection of
more than 140 notebooks in Pasteur's own hand, of which more than
100 are laboratory notebooks recording his day to day scientific activities
over the full sweep of his 40 years in research…Until these manuscripts
are deciphered, edited for publication, and subjected to critical scrutiny,
our understanding of Pasteur and his work will remain incomplete…
To produce a detailed account of all of Pasteur's 100 laboratory notebooks,
several decades of work will surely be required…As the contents of these
once private documents find their way into public view, a fuller deeper
and quite different version of the Pasteur story will perforce emerge.
There is, in effect, a new history of Pasteur to be written."
And with Reich's laboratory notebooks available now to scholars and researchers at the
Countway Library, there is also a new history of Reich to be written, a new narrative of
Reich for which we are grateful for Professor Strick's skill, knowledge, and commitment.
A book about bion experiments published by a major academic press--as Jim's two
previous books have been--and dealing with one of the major pillars of orgone research
could go a long way toward correcting the distorted narratives about orgonomic science
and medicine, and toward reaching new audiences.
Ultimately, however, the greatest value here is this: the combination of closely studying
Reich's laboratory methodology and results, and studying more recent replications by
others will better prepare those interested in this work to engage with members of the
traditional scientific and medical professions--that new, wider audience to which
we must always aspire.
Professor Philip Bennett's two articles are equally promising in crafting new narratives
about Reich aimed at new audiences. Philip was the first scholar to apply for access to
the Archives, although in November 2007--at the Trust's invitation--members of
Reich's family were the first to visit the Countway Library. Reich's concepts about
"Work Democracy," which Philip is researching, are a crucial thread that permeates
Reich's thinking about the nature of work as performed by a group of people coming
together in a common task.
In Reich's own words: "Natural work democracy is the sum total of all functions of life
governed by the rational relations that have come into being, grown, and developed in a
natural and organic way." And Philip's scrutiny and comparison of Reich's published
and unpublished materials over the years will provide a greater understanding of Reich's
model for productive work in general and for productive work in terms of Reich's
research and co-workers.
Philip's other project--the soon-to-published article "The Persecution of Dr. Wilhelm Reich
by the United States Government"--is a true model for new narratives aimed at newer, wider
audiences. First of all, it is a factually accurate and sympathetic article about Reich that is
going to be published in a periodical called the International Forum of Psychoanalysis.
Historically and up until today, the American psychoanalytic community as a whole has been
hostile to Reich. What better evidence of this than their active cooperation with the Food
and Drug Administration in the 1940s and 50s, and their official approval of the legal action
against him? Placing this article in a publication not specifically dedicated to orgonomy,
but rather for a professional audience beyond those interested in Reich, is both strategically
and intellectually appropriate.
Secondly, the subject of the article itself--three overlapping government investigations of
Reich, often feeding off misinformation and distortion from one another--calls into question
the methods and integrity of all three investigations. And today, in the 21st century when
government misconduct is no longer the stuff of doubt or myth, perhaps the facts and themes
of Philip's article will take root and resonate among that new readership, that new audience.
So this week you'll become familiar with a cross-section of the kinds of primary resources
from Reich's Archives that are currently being accessed for these new narratives, as well
as for new narratives by me and by Mary Higgins.
We also hope that over the next few days all of you become familiar with one of the
greatest primary resources of Reich's legacy, which is Orgonon itself: our 175 acres of
fields and forests; our waterfront on Dodge Pond; Reich's two cabins; this building,
the former Student Laboratory; and the Orgone Energy Observatory on the hill, now
The Wilhelm Reich Museum.
In terms of pioneering science and medicine, Orgonon is a unique and historic property,
completely unknown to the traditional scientific and medical communities. Reich moved
his work here permanently because of the low humidity of the area--which was perfect
for his experiments--and because the property's views of the sky, mountains and lakes
were perfect for observations and measurements of atmospheric orgone energy and for
harnessing this energy for a variety of applications.
To become familiar with Orgonon itself and its surroundings here in the Rangeley Lakes
region is to appreciate yet another narrative about Reich: the narrative about the logical
culmination of his work from its psychiatric underpinnings to biology to medicine and
on into bio-physics.
Sixty years ago, in 1949, Reich wrote this to the physicians who were working with him:
"The plan gains momentum that I stay here at Orgonon and do not
return to New York. As you well know, my work during the past
few years has shifted more and more toward biophysics and physics,
away from individual psychiatry. Also, the training of psychiatrists
and educators had to shift more and more in the same direction.
"We realized and could not fail to realize, that we had entered new,
basic, physical territory. Orgone physics is the new basis of our whole,
including our psychiatric, existence. Man to us is today an energy system,
and not merely mind. You all know this.
"You also know that during the past three years, I had to divide
my activities between New York and Orgonon, doing psychiatry
In New York and orgone physics in Maine. The whole biophysical
and physical laboratory has been transferred to Orgonon. No work
in this field can be done any longer in New York, except already
established routine work such as blood tests in Dr. Tropp's office.
I must concentrate all my efforts on physical orgonomic observations.
Nobody can do that for me.
"My remaining years for productive work are beginning to be few.
I must begin to use every minute of it."
And likewise we should now begin to use every minute of our time together this week.
Once again, thank you all for being here. We realize and appreciate that your presence
here represents significant expenditures of interest, time and money, especially those
of you who have traveled long distances to be be here. And we do not take any of your
efforts to be here for granted. Thank you.
The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust