vitalism (word scramble)
A vitalism word scramble (Ѻ), showing all the telltale signs of defunctness associated with this term, namely: bioenergetics, teleology, emergent, immaterial, posited, pejorative, animus, mesmerism, etc.
In science, vitalism supposes there exists a hypothetical type of vital energy innate in living structures or vital force peculiar to life itself. [1] The vitalism theory was popular during the years circa 1830s to 1880s, but slowly began to replaced the thermodynamic view of living things.

American neurological anthropologist Terrence Deacon argues that Greek philosopher Aristotle's concept of "entelechy", or active principle to intrinsic to the material substance of an organism, was a precursor or forerunner so to say of vitalism. [15]

The so-called "neo-vitalisms" are those varieties of vitalism in the post 1842 years, i.e. years following the Reymond-Brucke oath.

Among vitalism theories in general, according to 1970 views of French philosopher Jacques Monod, one is, supposedly, able to distinguish between two categories: "metaphysical vitalism", French philosopher Henri Bergson being the prime example, and "scientific vitalism", German embryologist Hans Driesch, German-born American physicist Walter Elsasser, and Hungarian polymath Michael Polanyi, being representative examples. [13]

Vital force
In 1774, German physician Friedrich Medicus (1736-1808) introduced the term “vital force” (lebenskraft) as the force responsible for processes such as digestion and respiration.

In 1795, German physician Johann Riel (1759-1813), in his article “On the Vital Force”, posited five types of forces: physical force, vital force, vegetative force, animal force, and mental force. [8]

In 1845, German chemist Hermann Kolbe commented: [10]

“If the concept, however, is extended to include the assumption that the vital force, pushes out and replaces the original forces of matter, so that the latter cease to operate, then one has gone too far; for at times it is possible by experimentation to unite the lifeless fundamental substances into compounds identical with those that are formed through vital processes.”

French chemist Marcellin Berthelot has been described as the official executioner of the vital force theory, a concept about which he had an expressly philosophical bias against: [5]

“It is the object of these researchers to do away with life as an explanation, wherever organic chemistry is concerned.”

His aim here, although this seems to have have a feel of the defunct theory of life in it, according to chemistry historian Forris Moore (1918), was to show that all the transformations of the organic world are due to the play of simple chemical and mechanical forces acting in a mechanical way. [11] In his 1860 "Organic Chemistry Founded on Synthesis", his so-called masterpiece, Berthelot described his breakthrough insight, in his introduction, of how he obtained a first organic compound (formic acid): [5]

"Solely by a combination of time and ordinary affinities."

This seems, in some way, to be a forerunner to the debate that will eventually surround the premise of the synthesis of a human molecule (person), a large animate 26-element organic compound (see: human free energy of formation).

In the early 19th century, Swedish chemist Jacob Berzelius, author of Animal Chemistry (1806), held the view that organic atoms, in contrast to inorganic atoms, were responsive to vital force (see also: Vladimir Vernadsky’s conceptional divide of the of the elements in regards to life or the biosphere). [5]

From 1806 into the 1820s, Berzelius argued for a modified chemical affinity theory in living beings. [9]

In the 1827 edition of his Textbook on Chemistry, he wrote: [6]

“In living nature the elements seem to obey entirely different laws than they do in the dead … The essence of the living body consequently is not founded in its inorganic elements, but in some other thing, which disposes the inorganic elements … to produce a certain result, specific and characteristic of each species.”
Molecular structure of the organic compound urea, CO(HN2)2, synthesized by Friedrich Wohler in 1828 from "inorganic" components, thus disproving the vital force theory of organic chemistry.

Urea synthesis
Berzelius held tight to this view up until his student Friedrich Wohler famously after which Berzelius’ views on the matter began to synthesized urea in 1828, thus disproving the then-dominate theory that only organic matter could produce organic matter,ange. In 1831, to exemplify, Berzelius flatly rejected the premise of vital force:

“To suppose that the elements are imbued with other fundamental forces in organic nature than in the inorganic is an absurdity … the fact that we cannot rightly understand the conditions prevailing in organic nature gives us no sufficient reason to adopt other forces.”

In his 5th and last edition of his Textbook on Chemistry (1847), Berzelius is said to have upgraded his view of vital force in a way analogous to 20th century ideas on the origin of life. [7]

Italian physician-physicist Luigi Galvani's 1771 theory of "animal electricity" used to explain the observed twitching of the muscles of dead frog legs struck by a spark, and the followup 1800 invention of the "voltaic pile" (battery) by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, built specifically to disprove Galvani's animal electricity theory, can loosely be said to be the start of the vitalism debate.

The synthesis of urea, in 1828 by German chemist Friedrich Wohler, as mentioned above, a so-called organic chemical, thought to be a product unique to life, from inorganic starting products, is often cited as being the first blow to vitalism. [3]

German physiologist Johannes Müller’s had dominant theory of vitalism so-much-so that the Helmholtz school of thermodynamics originated as a result of a 1842 pact (Reymond-Brucke oath) between Muller's medical students Emil Du Bois-Reymond, Ernst Brücke, and Hermann Helmholtz who vowed to overthrow their mentor's theory, by proving that all physiological process operated by purely physical means. [1]

Another theory of vitalism is said to have been the product of the work of German zoologist Hans Driesch, who, in objection to the 1888 views of German embryologist Wilhelm Roux that frog embryos developed by pure physical mechanical methods, conceived that living organisms must contain a ‘vital force’, peculiar to life itself. [2]

The circa 1905 work of German-born American physiologist Jacques Loeb on artificial parthenogenesis (virgin generation) based on pure physical chemistry mechanism, is said to have been a blow to vitalism. [3] Loeb’s follow-up books on the mechanical, dynamical, or physical chemical view of the organism seem to be indicative of this. [4]

Neo-vitalism and modern vitalism
See main: Neo-vitalism
Into the 20th century, according to English biologist James Johnstone, a hue of residual or covert vitalism remained. As explained in his 1921 chapter on the nature of life: [3]

“Into the last generation there has been a recrudescence of vitalism—‘neo-vitalism’ it is now called—being obviously something that seems to be different from the Cartesian speculations about the sensitive soul. At its best this is seen in the ‘psychoids’ and ‘entelechies’ of Driesch and others, concepts which are applicable to living things only, and not to chemical and physical phenomena. At its worst modern vitalism is exhibited in the crude and even grotesque ‘spiritualism’ which has attained such a vogue with the less resolute thinkers of our own generation. This, then, is the modern impasse to which biology has come. Purely physico-chemical explanations of life are not satisfactory, and the immaterial and non-energetic agencies that are being invoked in their place have no interest for science, since they cannot be the objects of investigations.”

In modern times, a shade of this type of vitalism is found in works of the new-agers, energy medicine practitioners, and various new types of science-religious blend theories. Even to modern hardened scientists, debates over the question of the "origin of life" seems to evoke types of physics-disguised vitalism, or scientific-based explanations for what supposedly constitutes "life". An example of the latter, is found in the last sentence of Johnstone's book:

“Life probably itself has existed on earth for 1,000 million years [and] in living processes the increase of entropy is retarded—this is our ‘vital’ concept.”

Here, Johnstone is invoking a contrived thermodynamic argument, i.e. entropy reversal (or entropy reduction), to salvage the view that certain types of matter can be considered alive.

In 1966, English geneticist Francis Crick, in his Of Molecules and Men, defined a so-called neo-vitalist as “one who holds vitalistic ideas but does not want to be called a vitalist.” [14]

Anti Vitalism Conference (2011)
A 2011 poster for an anti-vitalism conference in Zagreb. [12]

In 2011, there was a 3-day symposium, Jun 17-19, at the Multimedia Institute, Zagreb, organized by Nathan Brown (UC Davis) and Petar Milat (MaMa), on the subject of addressing vitalism and antivitalism in contemporary philosophy, the synopsis of with is: [12]

“‘Life’ is the site of a formidable lacuna. There is no firmly established scientific account of its constitutive properties or the process of its genesis. Varieties of “vital materialism” prone to describing physical forces in terms of an inherent “life of things” have done little to clarify the problematic nature of the concept, and insofar as “life” functions as an empty signifier concealing an absence of theoretical coherence we might be better to have done with it.”

See: defunct theory of life (2009), for more on this direction.

Defunct theory of life
Into the 21st century, most non-religious scientists do not consider themselves to be adherents to the vitalism view, most readily aligning with the views of the Helmholtz school, but nearly all consider themselves to be "alive", which a view found to be defunct, as of 2009 (see: defunct theory of life), particularly when attempting to search for the chemical thermodynamics location and explanation of the so-called origin of life, wherein a molecule came to life.

The following are noted quotes:

“All vital phenomena can be explained in terms of physics and chemistry.”
— Wilhelm Kuhne (1898), anti neo-vitalism talk in England (Ѻ)

“Exact knowledge is the enemy of vitalism.”
Francis Crick (1963), Of Molecules and Men (vii)

1. Hunter, Graeme K. (2000). Vital Forces: the Discovery of the Molecular Basis of Life (keyword: vitalism, pgs. 54, 59, 65, 155). Academic Press.
2. (a) Fisher, Len. (2004). Weight the Soul: the Evolution of Scientific Beliefs (ch. 7: What is Life?, pgs. 109-30). Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
(b) Hans Driesch – Eric Weisstein’s World of Scientific Biography.
3. Johnstone, James. (1921). The Mechanism of Life in Relation to Modern Physical Theory (pg. 159, 193). Longmans, Green & Co.
4. (a) Leob, Jacques. (1906). The Dynamics of Living Matter. Columbia University Press.
(b) Leob, Jacques. (1912). The Mechanistic Conception of Life: Biological Essays. The University of Chicago Press.
(c) Leob, Jacques. (1916). The Organism as a Whole, from a Physicochemical Viewpoint. Putnam.
5. Scott, George P. (1985). Atoms of the Living Flame: an Odyssey into Ethics and the Physical Chemistry of Free Will (pgs. 67, 92, 95). University Press of America.
6. Hunter, Graeme K. (2000). Vital Forces: the Discovery of the Molecular Basis of Life (pgs. 54-59). Academic Press.
7. Benfey, Otto T. (1964). From Vital Force to Structural Formulas (pg. 25). Chemical Heritage Foundation.
8. (a) Hunter, Graeme K. (2000). Vital Forces: the Discovery of the Molecular Basis of Life (pgs. 55). Academic Press.
(b) Teich, Mikulas. (1970). “The Historical Foundations of Modern Biochemistry” (pg. 172), in: The Chemistry of Life: Eight Lectures on the History of Biochemistry (editor: Joseph Needham) (pgs. 171-91). CUP Archive.
(c) Johann Christian Reil – Wikipedia.
9. Klein, Ursula and Lefevre, Wolfgang. (2007). Materials in Eighteenth-Century Science (pg. 253). MIT Press.
10. Scott, George P. (1985). Atoms of the Living Flame: an Odyssey into Ethics and the Physical Chemistry of Free Will (pg. 92). University Press of America.
11. Moore, Forris J. (1918). A History of Chemistry (pg. 204). McGraw-Hill.
12. Brown, Nathan and Milat, Petar. (2011). “Symposium: To Have Done with Life: Vitalism and Antivitalism in Contemporary Philosophy”, Multimedia Institute, Zagreb, Jun 17-19.
13. Monod, Jacques. (1970). Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (Le Hasard et la Nécessité: Essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie moderne) (English translator: Austryan Wainhouse) (pgs. 34-35). Vintage, 1971.
14. (a) Crick, Francis. (1967). Of Molecules and Men. University of Washington Press.
(b) Gatlin, Lila L. (1972). Information Theory and the Living System (pg. 16). Columbia University Press.
15. Deacon, Terrence W. (2011). Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (pg. 55). W.W. Norton & Co.

Further reading
● Driesch, Hans. (1914). The History and Theory of Vitalism. MacMillan and Co.
● Wheeler, L.R. (1939). Vitalism: its History and Validity. Wittherby.
● Packham, Catherine. (2012). Eighteenth-Century Vitalism (abs). Palgrave MacMillan.
● Mitchell, Robert. (2013). Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature. JHU Press.

External links
Vitalism – Wikipedia.

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