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The Vis Vitalis Triumphant

    written by Dr William.E.Thomas MD

The founder of homeopathy, Dr.Samuel Hahnemann (1755 - 1844), considered the cause of a disease to be disharmony of the Vital Power - "Verstimmung der Lebenskraft", untuning of the life force.

Hahnemann thought the origin of a disease to be in the changes inside the human body: "It is only the pathologically untuned Vital Force that causes diseases" (Organon, #12).[1]

Hahnemann's definition of a disease is given in Organon, #15: "In the invisible interior of the body, the suffering of the pathologically untuned spirit-like dynamis (Vital Force) animating the organism and the totality of perceptible symptoms that result and represent the disease are one and the same."[2]

Vitalistic concept of life and diseases had its origin in the first half of the 18th century. The so called vital force - Vis Vitalis - was a hypothetical life principle. The theory of special Vis Vitalis started to be abandoned when chemical compounds, produced by organisms, had been artificially created. However there was a resurrection of vitalism in the Soviet Union, supported and sanctioned by Joseph Stalin himself.

Olga Borisovna Lepeshinskaya[3], born in Russia in 1871, claimed to observe formation of cells in eggyolks of birds and fish and also during the processes of wound healing. Lepeshinskaya published a book in 1945 "Formation of Cells from Living Matter" in Moscow[4], where she described new cells formed through a Vital Substance and not through division of preexisting cells. This was contrary to the Wirchowian theory "all cells come from cells", but somehow considered to be in accordance with the materialistic dialectic philosophy of Marxism-Leninism of the Soviet State.

There were other so called scientists, as Boshian, who claimed that he had established the laws governing transformation of viruses into microscopically visible bacteria, and their change into crystalline form capable of further life. This 'discovery' was officially accepted in the Soviet Union as ideologically correct, as a revolution in microbiology.

Lepeshinskaya claimed that any matter could form a cell, as long as it contained the Vital Substance. She reversed to the old humoral theory of Galen, which held that the development of a disease was the result of a change in the organism's 'juices.' Rudolf Virchow (1821 - 1902) in his book "Cellular Pathology" (published in 1858) replaced this view with the cellular theory of diseases. A disease was not the result of a change in the organism's humors, juices, or miasma, but change in cell functions. Virchow altered the direction of medical thinking towards the concept that diseases were produced by disturbances in the structure and function of the body cells.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union decided that a conference should be held to discuss Lepeshinskaya's work. It happened after Lepeshinskaya, an old Communist Party member, sent her book to Stalin, who regarded it with favour, and gave his support to its ideas. This determined the subsequent course of event.

The Soviet Academy of Sciences held a 'Conference on the Vital Substance and the Development of Cells' in Moscow on May 22 - 24, 1950. It was a comedy presided by Academician Alexander Oparin. Only specially invited persons participated. The Academy of Sciences published the proceedings. The paper delivered by Lepeshinskaya was full of abuse of Virchowianism, and endless references to Marxist-Leninist teaching, in particular Stalin's work.

Trofim Lysenko, an agronom, who claimed he could produce barley from wheat, wheat from rye, and change oats into wild oats, stated: "Lepeshinskaya's work shows that cells need not be formed from other cells but can also be formed from noncellular matter, helps us construct a theory of species transformation ... In the body of a wheat plant, under the influence of definite growing conditions grains of rye are formed ... In the depth of the plant body of the given species, out of a substance that is not cellular in structure (the Vital Substance), grains of another species are engendered. Of these, subsequently, cells and embryos of another species are formed. This is the contribution of Olga Lepeshinskaya's work to the development of the theory of species formation."

Formation of cells from non-cellular material containing the Vital Substance was ideologically desirable for the Soviet science. No one was interested in facts and scientific evidence. Ideological opponents were not tolerated. The carefully staged farce of collective ecstasy for the 'great scientific discovery' - the role of the Vital Substance in cell formation from non-cellular matter - proved stronger that reason. Lepeshinskaya was awarded the Stalin's Price and elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences.

This triumph of Vis Vitalis occurred in 1950, sanctioned by Stalin, and led the Soviet biological sciences into a blind alley. Later on, of course, the pseudoscientist Lepeshinskaya's Vis Vitalis theory has been quietly consigned to oblivion.[5]

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[1] Hahnemann, S: 'Organon of Medicine', J.P.Tarcher Inc., Los Angeles, 1982, p.19.

[2] In [1], p.20.

[3] Zetkin, M and Schaldach, H: 'Worterbuch der Medicin' VEB Verlag Volk and Gesundheit, Berlin 1956, p.501 - Lepeschinskaja, Olga Borissowna.

[4] Lepeschinskaja, Olga: 'Proischozdenije Kletok iz Zhivogo Veshscestva.', Pravda Publisher, Moscow 1951. - This slim booklet (about 50 pages) has been translated into the languages of all the satellite countries of the former USSR, as for example in Czech: Lepesinska, O.B; 'Co vime o vzniku bunek.' Nase Vojsko Praha 1953.

[5] Rapoport, Yakov: 'The Doctor's Plot - Stalin's Last Crime.', Fourth Estate, London 1991.

Page last modified 4th March 2002