January 14, 2023

1. Airy Nothings & Solid Somethings:
Notes on Modern Physics

A. A World of Shadows

Philosophers and poets have often said that life is a dream, that the world is an airy nothing, but we never really believed it. Berkeley, a leading English philosopher, said that matter doesn’t really exist. When Boswell and Johnson discussed Berkeley’s theory, Johnson said, “I refute it thus,” and then kicked a rock.

Today, however, it’s possible to demonstrate the shadowy nature of matter, and the ability of mind to impact matter. Is it possible that the most solid thing in the world is mind/will/intention? Can we achieve positive effects by having a positive mind?

The materialist says, “The only reality is matter.” We seem to be moving toward a non-materialist position that says, “Matter is illusory, the only reality is mind/will.”

It seems that Berkeley was right, matter doesn’t really exist. But perhaps Johnson was also right, perhaps the world is both an airy nothing and a solid something. Perhaps the world has complementary aspects, and we need to take both of these aspects into account.

The shadowy nature of particles is the subject of Arthur Eddington’s parable of the two writing desks:

One is the antique piece of furniture on which his elbows solidly rest while writing; the other is the desk as the physicist conceives it, consisting almost entirely of empty space, sheer nothingness, sprinkled with unimaginably tiny specks, the electrons whirling round their nuclei, but separated from them by distances a hundred thousand times their own size. And in between — nothing: apart from those few forlorn specks, the interior of the atom is empty.

Eddington concluded: “In the world of physics we watch a shadowgraph performance of familiar life. The shadow of my elbow rests on the shadow-table as the shadow-ink flows over the shadow-paper.... The frank realization that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is one of the most significant of recent advances.”1

As scientists looked more closely, these “tiny specks” of matter became even more shadowy. They “turned out to be not ‘things’ but processes — rather analogous to the vibrations of wind instruments.” They were called “matter waves” by de Broglie, expressed mathematically as “wave mechanics” by Schrodinger, and “given its final form” by Dirac.

Since particles seem like “airy nothings,” the materialist viewpoint is in retreat, and there’s an anti-materialist trend in physics. In an essay on physics, Arthur Koestler quotes a Yale professor named Henry Margenau, who said that at the end of the 1800s, “the view arose that all interactions involved material objects. This is no longer held to be true. We now know that there are fields which are wholly non-material.”2

Since I started writing philosophy in 1984, I’ve been advocating anti-materialist positions. My theory of history emphasizes things that are invisible and intangible, such as the life-instinct, the death-instinct, and instincts that are shared by the people in a particular society. I’ve emphasized the importance of Paired Particles — particles that communicate with no apparent material connection (like the people in a particular society who share an instinct). So my philosophy has always been non-materialist, non-mechanical.

Koestler quotes James Jeans: “The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.” Perhaps Berkeley was right when he denied the existence of matter, and stressed the importance of mind. But Berkeley said that God holds everything together, while I emphasize mind, will, instinct, non-material connections. Eddington summed up the new approach when he said, “The stuff of the world is mind-stuff.”3

Koestler says that the non-materialist approach is common to Einstein’s theories and quantum theories: “Both in Einstein’s cosmos and the sub-atomic micro-cosmos, the non-substantial aspects dominate; in both, matter dissolves into energy, energy into shifting configurations of something unknown.”

In the quantum realm, Koestler says, “causal determinism” breaks down. According to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, we can’t know both the location and the velocity of a particle. Particles are inherently “ambiguous and elusive,” airy nothings. We can’t even make a model of them. Heisenberg said, “The very attempt to conjure up a picture [of particles] and think of them in visual terms is wholly to misinterpret them.”

B. Complementarity

I frequently mention the paradox that light is both a wave and a particle. Koestler says the same about particles in general. He says that particles

behave under certain circumstances like hard little pellets, under different circumstances, however, like waves or vibrations.... As Sir William Bragg put it, they seem to be waves on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and particles on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

If viewed one way, particles are waves; if viewed another way, they’re hard bits of matter. To understand them completely, we need to view them from both perspectives. “This dualism, which is fundamental to modern physics, Bohr called ‘The Principle of Complementarity.’”

One can apply this principle to the mind/body problem, the freedom/determinism problem, etc. I’ve often argued that man is both fated and free, depending on our perspective. When I discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I said it was Putin’s decision, Putin’s free choice, but it was also fated, and predicted before Putin came to power. To understand history, to understand life, we need to use the Principle of Complementarity, we need to see man as both fated and free.

The world around us is an “airy nothing” but also a solid something. Heisenberg said,

The concept of complementarity is meant to describe a situation in which we can look at one and the same event through two different frames of reference. These two frames mutually exclude each other, but they also complement each other, and only the juxtaposition of these contradictory frames provides an exhaustive view of the appearances of the phenomena.

C. Physics and the Occult

Koestler says that the mind is outside space and time, just as the airy nothings of quantum physics are outside space and time (I’ve often argued that occult phenomena are outside space and time):

The contents of conscious experience have no spatio-temporal dimensions; in this respect they resemble the non-things of quantum physics which also defy definition in terms of space, time and substance — or, to quote Jeans again, can only be described “by going outside space and time.”

Occult phenomena often defy linear time, they often anticipate the future or recall the past, as if the future already existed, or the past still existed. Likewise, quantum physics often reverses time, or goes outside time. Koestler discusses Feynman diagrams, in which “particles can move forward and backward in time.... The philosopher of science, Hans Reichenbach, wrote that Feynman’s theory represented ‘the most serious blow the concept of time has ever received in physics.’”

Koestler notes the kinship between modern physics and parapsychology (I usually refer to parapsychology as “the occult”). Both modern physics and parapsychology deal with things that are impossible — impossible according to common sense, impossible according to the Western-rational-scientific worldview. By proving that the impossible is possible, by proving that the rational worldview is false, physics makes us more open-minded, more receptive to the occult. Koestler writes,

It is not by chance that so many leading physicists appear among the Presidents and Council members of the Society for Psychical Research. For the deeper the physicist intruded into the realms of the sub-atomic and super-galactic dimensions, the more intensely he was made aware of their paradoxical and commonsense-defying structure, and the more open-minded he became towards the possibility of the seemingly impossible. His own world, based on relativity and quantum theory, is in fact a world of impossibles.

Koestler speaks of the

rapprochement between quantum physics and ESP, in so far as the surrealistic concepts of the former make it easier to suspend disbelief in the latter; if the former is permitted to violate the “laws of nature” as they were understood by classical physics a century ago, the latter may claim the same right. [Quantum physics and ESP have] a shared disregard for ancient taboos, for a mechanistic world-view which has become an anachronism.

Koestler tries to provide a physical explanation for occult phenomena. I would skip over this, and just admit that we don’t know how occult phenomena happen, as Newton admitted he didn’t understand how gravity worked. Koestler criticizes Jung and Kammerer for trying to find a cause for the acausal, but then Koestler does the same thing, or at least discusses scholars who did the same thing.4

Koestler reminds us that a psychologist with a strong interest in the occult (Jung) wrote a book with a leading physicist (Pauli). Koestler speaks of, “the Jung-Pauli theory of ‘Synchronicity,’” and calls it “the most radical departure from the worldview of mechanistic science in our time,” even more radical than ESP. Here’s an example of synchronicity from Pauli’s own life:

For many years, Pauli tried to determine the “fine structure constant,” eventually deciding that it was 1/137. When Pauli was dying of pancreatic cancer, his assistant visited him in the hospital, and Pauli asked, “Did you notice the room number?” It was 137. An inter-connected world indeed.

I agree with Koestler that synchronicity is even more revolutionary, even more difficult to accept than ESP. We can’t be certain whether “Room 137” was chance or synchronicity. As I said in an earlier issue, “you can’t prove synchronicity,” you can always say, Maybe it’s just chance. On the other hand, telepathy and other branches of the occult are quite easy to prove.

One of the themes of modern physics is that there’s no solid matter, and therefore mind, will, emotion might be the most solid things in the universe. Koestler quotes Heisenberg: “Atoms are not things.... When we get down to the atomic level, the objective world in space and time no longer exists.” This is how I feel about the occult: when we deal with occult phenomena, the objective world in space and time no longer exists. Like quantum experiments, occult phenomena give us a glimpse of reality.

Academia keeps knowledge in separate silos, and it doesn’t see the kinship between physics and psychology. We should take a holistic approach, and acknowledge that the world operates in a holistic way. We should move past the common-sense view, the Newtonian view, that sees absolute space and time. We should consider Kant’s view that space, time, and causality are merely categories of the mind, they don’t exist in the thing-in-itself. The world isn’t a machine, it’s an organism where everything is connected. It’s not a world of linear causality, it’s a magical world where things arise together.

2. Paul Kammerer

A. Lamarck vs. Darwin

Kammerer was born in Vienna in 1880. When he was in college, most biologists were followers of Darwin, but some were attracted to the views of Lamarck, a French biologist who was born about 65 years before Darwin.

The Darwinian view was that you passed to your offspring what you had inherited from your parents, and only what you had inherited (unless you had a genetic mutation). Lamarck’s view was that your learning and striving, your habits and pursuits, left their mark on you, and were sometimes passed to your offspring. In other words, Lamarck’s view was that your offspring sometimes inherited your acquired characteristics. Darwin himself, as he grew older, was increasingly attracted to Lamarck’s view.

Arthur Koestler wrote a lively biography of Kammerer called The Case of the Midwife Toad. Koestler says that an example of Lamarckian inheritance is the thick skin on the bottom of our feet, sometimes called a “callosity.” Other species have callosities, too. Callosities are present even in the embryo, so they must be inherited.5

A Darwinian would say that a callosity was originally a random mutation, then it spread through the population by natural selection — a preposterous argument. A Lamarckian would say that a callosity was originally acquired by usage, by habit, and then was passed to the next generation. The process might take place over thousands of years, but the key elements can be demonstrated in a few years by experiments. A Darwinian couldn’t demonstrate his theory by experiments.

One prominent critic of Lamarck was C. D. Darlington. Koestler calls Darlington a “passionate anti-Lamarckian.” Darlington described his preferred theory, Neo-Darwinism, as “hard particles, microscopically visible and mathematically predictable, incorrigibly deterministic and resistant to the interference of any divine purpose.”6

We saw above that materialism has been demolished by modern physics, that “hard particles” are an illusion. Why would the biology establishment put its faith in materialism, in “hard particles,” in an old, worn-out, debunked worldview? Perhaps because biologists don’t pay attention to what’s happening in physics, perhaps because materialism is consistent with their education, their common-sense, perhaps because they’re uncomfortable with things that can’t be seen or touched or counted, such as will and instinct.

I said above that the world around us is an airy nothing but also a solid something. So when biologists talk about hard particles, they’re half-right. But they shouldn’t dismiss the other half, they shouldn’t dismiss the view that “the stuff of the world is mind-stuff,” as Eddington put it.

Biologists shouldn’t forget the quantum experiments that show things happening with no physical cause. They shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that a species under great pressure can change its physical structure, including its DNA, through the power of will, or through some sort of synchronicity, through some acausal means. Biologists should pay attention to the parapsychology researchers who demonstrate the power of mind/intention/will to do things that Blockhead Rationalism says are impossible.

And finally, biologists should admit it’s very unlikely that you can create something as complex as the human brain by random mutation, even over billions of years. (One biologist, C. H. Waddington, “compared the theory of evolution by chance mutations to ‘throwing bricks together in heaps’ in the hope that they would ‘arrange themselves into an inhabitable house.’”7)

Darwinians believe in hard particles, in matter, while Lamarckians believe in will. Lamarckians say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Lamarckians would be attracted to the idea that matter is illusory, an airy nothing, and the most solid thing in the world is mind/will.

One early critic of Darwinism was Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon and The Way of All Flesh. In his Evolution Old and New, Butler wrote, “Lamarck has been so systematically laughed at that it amounts to little less than philosophical suicide for anyone to stand up on his behalf.”8 The leading champion of Lamarck, Paul Kammerer, committed suicide in 1926, at the age of 46. He left a letter in his pocket, asking that his body be given to science for dissection. “Perhaps my worthy academic colleagues,” Kammerer wrote, “will discover in my brain a trace of the qualities they found absent from the manifestations of my mental activities while I was alive.”

B. Love and Death

Kammerer was a famous, if controversial, biologist. His lectures were well-attended, his books sold well; Koestler calls him “an international celebrity.”9 After his death, the Soviets made a movie about him — a rare honor for a salamander specialist.10 A few of Kammerer’s books have been translated into English, but many haven’t been translated.

Like most deep thinkers, Kammerer was wide-ranging. He would agree with Max Weber, who said, “I’m not a donkey, and I don’t have a ‘field.’” Kammerer’s book The Law of the Series interested Einstein and influenced Jung. The Law of the Series is nothing less than a new theory as to how the world works. Kammerer’s piece on genius shows a grasp of psychology, and of the humanities in general; it could have been written by William James or Henri Bergson.11

Before becoming a biologist, Kammerer studied music and wrote songs. His scientific ideas are expressed in an attractive, poetic way. Like Koestler, Kammerer had multiple marriages and numerous romantic liaisons. Alma Mahler, widow of Gustav Mahler, “relates that Kammerer fell madly in love with her, subsequent to a ‘reluctantly granted kiss,’ and threatened to shoot himself on Gustav Mahler’s grave unless she married him.”12

This account may be embellished, but I think it points to a romantic streak in Kammerer — perhaps I should say, “a romantic-suicidal streak.” At the time of his suicide, Kammerer was heading to the Soviet Union, where Lamarck was popular, to take charge of a new biology institute. The Soviet Union had a good reputation at that time, and Kammerer was a socialist, so he had every reason to anticipate a good experience in the Soviet Union.13 Two days before his suicide, Kammerer visited the Soviet Legation in Vienna, and “with much zest”14 arranged the transportation of his equipment to the Soviet Union.

So why did he take his own life? Perhaps we should ascribe his suicide, not to the unpopularity of his ideas, not to accusations of fraud made by his critics, but to his “romantic-suicidal streak.” Koestler writes, “His fatal decision to end his life may have been influenced by the fact that a Viennese artiste [Grete Wiesenthal], who was close to his heart, could not make up her mind to follow him to Moscow.”15

A few years before, Kammerer and his wife (Felicitas) divorced, and Kammerer married a painter named Anna Walt. “The marriage lasted only a few months. After one of their deadly rows [Kammerer] swallowed an overdose of sleeping pills, but vomited them out.” Again we see a connection, in Kammerer, between love and suicide.

Koestler says that Kammerer was attractive to women; Kammerer’s daughter spoke of, “the magnetic effect he had on women.”16 But Koestler thinks we should compare Kammerer, not to the playboy Casanova, but to the suicide Werther. “He did have affairs, but they were charged with an intensity on his side which led to self-torture — Werther’s Leiden [suffering].”17

So it’s a mistake to say, “Kammerer committed suicide because he was caught doctoring his experiments.” His suicide may have had little to do with his scholarly disputes. Koestler mentions five causes of Kammerer’s depression:

  1. poverty (after World War I, there was high inflation in Austria, and this destroyed the value of Kammerer’s paycheck and of his family’s wealth)
  2. the ruin of the biology institute where he worked, and the death of the animals he’d spent so many years breeding
  3. the smear campaign against him, conducted by William Bateson and others
  4. sensational press coverage about his work, coverage that damaged his reputation in the scientific community
  5. “an unhappy love affair”

Any of these factors, or all of them together, could have prompted him to commit suicide. Kammerer himself may not have known what prompted him to commit suicide; as Shaw says, “I doubt if we ever know why we do things.”18 Koestler says, “It would be futile to look for a single cause [of Kammerer’s suicide]. He wrote four farewell letters... and in each of them he seems to have given different reasons for his suicide.”19

C. The Origin of Species

One problem Kammerer faced is that he was so good at managing amphibians that no one could duplicate his experiments, no one could breed amphibians in captivity as well as he could. His bond with animals reminds me of Thoreau. Koestler speaks of Kammerer’s

peculiar gift for establishing rapport with all kinds of animals, from dogs to snakes and lizards, down to frogs and toads. Years later, at the height of his fame, when Kammerer was a guest at a castle in Moravia, he picked up a rare variety of Kröte — toad — in the garden and kissed it tenderly on the head. The old châtelaine, who was present, almost fainted, and henceforth called him der Krötenküsser.

Kammerer showed that if you have a black salamander with yellow spots, and you rear it on black soil, the yellow spots will diminish. On the other hand, if a member of the same species is reared on yellow soil, the yellow spots will expand and become “large stripes.”20

This part of the experiment [Koestler writes] was repeated by others, and is not contested. It is also established that these color changes were not caused by the direct chemical [action] of the environment on the animal’s skin; they were mediated by its central nervous system, reacting to the color perceived through the animal’s eyes.

The offspring of the salamanders inherited their parents’ acquired characteristics, as Lamarck predicted. The mostly-black salamanders had mostly-black offspring, and the more-yellow salamanders had more-yellow offspring. The third generation of the more-yellow group, again reared on yellow soil, had backs of “uniform canary-yellow color.”21 Koestler speaks of Kammerer’s “pioneering experiments which rightly ‘stirred Europe’s biologists.’”22

To repeat these experiments wasn’t easy; raising three generations of salamanders might take fifteen years. The experimenter must be “willing and prepared to devote a large part of his lifetime to the work.”23 When he began his experiments, Kammerer wasn’t a Lamarckian, he was a follower of Darwin, Weismann, and Mendel. He was only drawn to Lamarck when he saw the results of his experiments.24

Other experiments might take less time than the salamander experiments. Kammerer experimented with Ciona intestinalis, a sea-squirt “which lives on the sea bottom and has two tube-like extensions, or siphons.”25 If the siphons are cut off repeatedly, they grow back longer, and these longer siphons are passed to their offspring.

Shortly before his death, Kammerer published The Transformation of Species on Islands, which deals with lizards on Dalmatian islands. Koestler says, “even his detractors admitted [that this book was] a classic contribution to evolutionary biology.”26 The lizards on a particular island were often isolated from other lizards, and new varieties popped up (as Darwin found in the Galapagos). Koestler says,

The problem is once more whether these new varieties are due to random mutations and natural selection, or to the direct influence of the environment. [Kammerer] came to the conclusion — as one would expect — that not chance but the nature of the environment, its temperature, humidity, lighting, fauna, etc., were responsible for the changes which started as individual adaptations and ended up by becoming hereditary. To prove his point he experimentally induced color changes in his specimens — black to green or green to black — by altering their environment, much on the lines of his salamander experiments, and claimed to have shown that the changes did become hereditary.

Kammerer spent much time on hikes in Central Europe, looking for amphibians. He felt that amphibians he caught himself made better lab animals than those purchased from a dealer.

D. The Toad Affair

Kammerer became embroiled in a dispute with an English biologist, William Bateson. The dispute was carried on in the pages of an English periodical, Nature. In 1910, before the dispute began, Bateson visited Kammerer in Vienna. Bateson wrote,

Kammerer is not an ordinary man. There is something inclining to the artistic about him, and I understand at one time he thought of being a musician.... He has certainly done a very fine lot of things, and he comes uncommonly near showing that an acquired adaptation is transmitted. I don’t like it.

When Bateson says “I don’t like it,” it sounds like he’s biased against Kammerer, and he’s admitting his bias. At any rate, Bateson criticized the toad experiments, even though Kammerer’s case rested primarily on his other experiments.27 Bateson admitted that he was looking for weaknesses in Kammerer’s case, writing, “I have hit on a weak spot there [i.e., in the toad experiments].”

One of Bateson’s allies was a Belgian-British zoologist named G. A. Boulenger. Boulenger cast doubt on Kammerer’s report of breeding the Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans), more specifically, he doubted that Kammerer had hatched tadpoles from eggs kept under water. Boulenger said that he “repeatedly tried to rear Alytes eggs in water, but without success.”28

Kammerer responded, “Young Alytes eggs lying in water, are in an unnatural condition which have to be compensated by artificial means — by keeping them under sterile conditions in boiled and artificially aerated water. Nevertheless some fungus spores always do get at them, and each infected egg has therefore to be carefully eliminated.”29 This shows that Kammerer’s critics, diligent and knowledgeable as they were, weren’t as diligent or as knowledgeable as Kammerer. Their insinuations of fraud were baseless, and they did a grave injustice to a great scientist.

E. Lamarckism Inconceivable

As a young man, Bateson saw problems in Darwinism, as did many of his contemporaries. In 1900, Bateson heard about Mendel’s work, and he was thrilled. He felt that Mendel answered all the lingering questions about evolution. He was so enthusiastic that he named his son Gregory, after Gregor Mendel. (Kammerer named his daughter Lacerta, after a genus of salamanders.)

Eventually Bateson realized that Mendel didn’t answer the question, How do mutations occur? Mendel didn’t rescue Darwinism from the quagmire of random mutation. “Two years before his death in 1926, [Bateson] told his son Gregory that it was a mistake to have committed his life to Mendelism, that this was a blind alley which would not throw any light on the differentiation of species, nor on evolution in general.”30

In 1910, when Bateson clashed with Kammerer, Bateson was an avowed enemy of Lamarckism. Bateson said that the inheritance of acquired characters was “a process frankly inconceivable.”31 Yes! Exactly! Lamarckism is inconceivable just as quantum physics is inconceivable, just as psychic phenomena are inconceivable. That something is inconceivable isn’t an argument against its existence.

We saw above that the behavior of particles was inconceivable; Heisenberg said you can’t even draw a picture of particles. And life may well be more complicated than matter, so it’s not surprising that evolution is inconceivable, mysterious, mind-boggling. The establishment insists on making evolution comprehensible, and in doing so, they distort it.

As George Bernard Shaw said, Darwin was popular because Darwinian evolution is “easier to understand, more visible and concrete, than Lamarckian evolution.” All sorts of gardeners and animal-breeders understood Natural Selection before Darwin was born. “Pigeon fanciers, dog fanciers, gardeners, stock breeders, or stud grooms, can understand [Natural] Selection, because it is their business to produce transformation by imposing on flowers and animals a Selection From Without.”

Darwin was popular because he stuck to the visible and tangible. “That was the secret of Darwin’s popularity. He never puzzled anybody. If very few of us have read The Origin of Species from end to end, it is not because it overtaxes our mind, but because we take in the whole case and are prepared to accept it long before we have come to the end of the innumerable instances and illustrations of which the book mainly consists.”31B One might say that Darwin was popular for the same reason that Marx was popular: materialism is easy to understand, people can grasp what is visible and tangible without much effort.

F. Lectures in England

In 1923, Kammerer came to Cambridge University, specimens in hand, and gave a lecture. The lecture “created such a stir” that he was asked to repeat it at the Linnean Society.

Bateson, Kammerer’s nemesis, didn’t attend the Cambridge lecture, didn’t seize this opportunity to examine Kammerer’s evidence. Bateson seemed more interested in smearing Kammerer than evaluating his arguments.

When Kammerer spoke to the Linnean Society, “Bateson, who was a prominent member of the Linnean, could not refuse [i.e., Bateson attended the lecture].... [Bateson] completely withdrew his charges of bad faith on the part of Dr. Kammerer,” and “apologized” to Kammerer. “But no sooner had Kammerer left England than Bateson resumed his hardly veiled accusations of fraud.”32 Imagine how you’d feel if you spent fifteen years on an experiment, came up with revolutionary results, and someone accused you of fraud!

In 1970, when Koestler was writing Midwife Toad, he contacted people who were at Cambridge in the 1920s, asking them if they remembered Kammerer. He also looked at what people had written immediately after Kammerer’s visit.

A woman who attended Kammerer’s Cambridge lecture wrote,

I did not in the least know what kind of man to expect. I had never been particularly interested in him or his experiments. I was most favorably impressed by his personality. I thought him delightful and he appeared quite sincere, genuine and very much in earnest. He read a straightforward account of his experiments in quite good English. I thought it a praiseworthy effort to prove his hypothesis.33

One man, J. H. Quastel, who had gone to Austria to arrange Kammerer’s visit to England, wrote, “I remember meeting Kammerer in Vienna very well and feeling that he was a man of great charm and integrity.” Quastel says that, after Kammerer’s Cambridge lecture,

The general feeling among my friends was that the demonstration was a success and I, personally, at that time could not have believed that we were all being hoodwinked. Moreover, Kammerer’s personality was such that those of us who knew him, even for only a short time, could not believe that he would deliberately deceive us.

Another man, who met Kammerer at the train station, wrote,

Kammerer struck me as a frank, open-hearted man, intensely interested in his experiments, and ready to have them subjected to any scrutiny or test. His personal appearance was in his favor, for he was a handsome chap, with a most friendly manner.... I have always found it difficult to believe that [Kammerer] was a charlatan.... From what I saw of him I feel sure that he was sincere and really believed what he said.

Another man wrote, “I was at the [Cambridge] lecture and it has remained one of the strongest impressions of my undergraduate career.” Another man said that when Kammerer spoke German, it “was the first time that I realized how beautiful the language could be.” As Koestler puts it, “nearly fifty years after the event,” the memory of those who heard Kammerer was “vivid and unanimous.”34

G. The Ink Scandal

In 1926, ink was found in the foot of Kammerer’s toad specimen. Did Kammerer inject the specimen with ink? It has never been proven that he did, and he shouldn’t be presumed guilty, especially in light of his high reputation. True, someone injected the specimen with ink. But Kammerer took the same specimen to Cambridge University and the Linnean Society in 1923, three years before the ink was discovered. The specimen was examined by many reputable scientists, taken out of its jar, put under a microscope, photographed, etc. No one observed any irregularity.

In 1926, the ink was readily apparent; it had probably been injected shortly before it was discovered. The specimen was then in a “dilapidated state”35 from traveling and handling. Perhaps someone injected it with ink to “freshen it up,”36knowing that the black pad had been there.”37 More likely, someone injected it with ink to discredit Kammerer. At any rate, Kammerer had already made his case before the world, the specimen had served its purpose; what was done to the specimen after the England visit is of secondary importance.

The chief of Kammerer’s institute, Hans Przibram,

remained convinced of the genuineness of Kammerer’s observations, and repeatedly said in private conversations that he thought he knew who committed the forgery to discredit Kammerer, but could not make a public statement for lack of sufficient evidence.

The man whom Przibram suspected was probably a man who had been a colleague of Kammerer’s at the Institute. In 1918, this man “had falsely claimed to have refuted” some of Kammerer’s work. Later on, this man was “temporarily locked up in a mental asylum.”38 That such a person would inject ink into a specimen to discredit Kammerer is plausible. That Kammerer himself would inject ink, and thereby risk his career and reputation, is implausible. Evidently the Russians didn’t believe Kammerer was guilty because they didn’t rescind their offer (they had offered Kammerer a position in a new biology institute).

We do know that Mendel, whom Bateson championed, almost certainly doctored his evidence. Koestler writes,

Mendel’s published experimental results gave the actual ratio so close to the expected 3:1 that it was far too good to be true.... Ronald Fisher, the greatest statistical mathematician of his time... proved that the detailed figures in Mendel’s paper could not have been true.39

The scientific establishment is quick to forgive Mendel, and quick to dismiss Kammerer as a fraud, though the evidence against Mendel is at least as strong as the evidence against Kammerer. So the real scandal is that Kammerer was smeared on flimsy evidence. The real scandal is that, if the establishment doesn’t like your ideas, they’re quick to charge you with fraud, and dismiss all your work. Instead of accusing Kammerer of fraud, his critics should have tried to reproduce his experiments.

The debate shouldn’t have focused on the nuptial pads of the Midwife Toad. It should have been a broader debate about all of Kammerer’s work, and about Darwin vs. Lamarck. As Koestler says, “The battlefield was of Bateson’s choosing, and he managed to narrow it down more and more until it became a trap. The debate on the origin of species was reduced to the case of the nuptial pads of the Midwife Toad.” Since Kammerer was espousing a heresy (Lamarckism), an attack on him, by fair means or foul, was certain to be met with widespread approval.

Kammerer was a great scientist — a gifted experimenter, an original thinker, and a diligent scholar who wrote a biology textbook that was a standard text in its day. To dismiss Kammerer as a fraud would be like dismissing Mendel as a fraud. Kammerer is more original than Mendel, and the evidence for fraud is weaker in Kammerer’s case than in Mendel’s.

Bateson’s smear campaign against Kammerer succeeded, while Mendel’s reputation is unblemished. This shows that the establishment is hostile to heretical ideas, and will use any means to attack them, while embracing ideas that fit its narrow, materialistic worldview.

Bateson died a few months before Kammerer. Przibram died in a Nazi camp. At the end of World War II, the Soviet army shelled Vienna, and the Vivarium, the Institute where Kammerer and others tried to unravel the secrets of life, burned to the ground. Kammerer’s reputation remained under a cloud, his name a byword for scientific fraud.

3. Name Change

The name of this e-zine is changing from Phlit to Ultracrepidarianism. Wikipedia defines ultracrepidarianism as “the giving of opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge,” i.e., going beyond one’s specialty.

Pliny tells how a shoemaker saw a painting by Apelles, and found fault with the depiction of a shoe. Apelles accepted the criticism, and changed the shoe. Then the shoemaker began criticizing other aspects of the painting, prompting Apelles to say, A shoemaker should not judge of more than the shoe (ne ultra crepidam sutor iudicaret). The painting below shows the shoemaker pointing out the mistake to Apelles.

A philosopher is like Pliny’s shoemaker, he doesn’t stay within a specialty, he goes ultra crepidam, beyond the shoe. His motto is Schiller’s Nur die Fülle führt zur Klarheit (Only wholeness leads to clarity). I write about biology, physics, literature, politics — everything. And what did Aristotle write about? Aristotle wrote about biology, physics, literature, politics — everything. So today’s philosophers do what ancient philosophers did: we go ultra crepidam.

© L. James Hammond 2023
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1. Eddington is quoted in Arthur Koestler’s Roots of Coincidence, Ch. 2 ==> “The Perversity of Physics,” p. 53. Koestler shows his usual consideration for the reader by warning him, “this chapter is rather tough going.” I found it to be, on the whole, clear, concise, and illuminating. back
2. Roots of Coincidence, Ch. 2, p. 57 back
3. See The Roots of Coincidence, Ch. 2, #3, p. 59. While Eddington and Koestler put mind foremost, materialists deny the existence of mind, and try to reduce everything to matter, chemistry, brain. Koestler speaks of “the positivist argument that while ‘brain’ is a reality, ‘mind’ is a fiction — a ghost in the machine.” (Koestler wrote a book on mind/brain called The Ghost in the Machine.)

The everyday functioning of our mind, our mind’s ability to act on our body, can be seen as an occult phenomenon. Koestler discusses the views of John Eccles, who said that “ESP and PK are weak and irregular manifestations of the same principle which allows an individual’s mental volition to influence his own material brain, and the material brain to give rise to conscious experiences.”

Eddington said that when mind and matter interact, the particles of matter become “correlated.” Does this help us to understand how a person can influence dice, or influence an RNG, and how a group of people meditating can make a society calmer — lower the crime-rate? back

4. See Roots of Coincidence, p. 98. Koestler quotes Whitehead on “misplaced concreteness,” but Koestler is too concrete himself. back
5. See Koestler, Janus, Ch. 10, #4 back
6. Quoted in Koestler’s Case of the Midwife Toad, Ch. 2, #2, p. 37

Let’s return to the thick skin on the sole of the foot. Darwinians could strengthen their argument if they can demonstrate that thick skin is controlled by one gene; a mutation in one gene is more likely than coordinated mutations of several genes. But even if thick skin on the sole of the foot is controlled by one gene, that still wouldn’t answer the question, “How would thick skin confer such a significant survival advantage as to perpetuate the mutation, and make it widespread in the species?”

I mentioned that a Lamarckian like Kammerer can demonstrate his theory by experiments, but a Darwinian can’t. Donald Fleming argues that natural selection was demonstrated in England by experiments with moths. When a particular city became polluted, and the trees darkened, the moths would darken in order to blend in with the tree.

It’s worth remembering, however, that Darwinism isn’t just natural selection, it’s also random mutation. Does the moth experiment prove that the moth’s darker color was a random mutation? Or could it have been an adaptation, like the color-change that Kammerer demonstrated in salamanders?

Could the adaptation, the acquired characteristic, have been passed to the next generation, as in Kammerer’s salamanders? Meanwhile, the lighter-colored moths, who failed to adapt, stood out against the dark trees, and were being eaten by birds. So there was natural selection, but perhaps not random mutation.

I read somewhere that fair-skinned Jews from northern Europe became dark-skinned if they moved to the Arabian peninsula (Oman or Yemen). If the dark complexion is inherited, it might be an example of Lamarckian inheritance. It certainly isn’t random mutation or natural selection.

I discussed evolution with a friend, and my friend said, “You haven’t proven your case. It could be Lamarck, or it could be Darwin. With respect to the moths, maybe there was random mutation.” True, Lamarck is hard to prove, but Darwin is also hard to prove. I don’t expect the Establishment to read my essay, and then say, “Case closed. Lamarck was right, Darwin was wrong.” I would be satisfied if biologists said, “We were too hasty in rejecting Lamarckism, just as we were too hasty in convicting Kammerer of fraud. Lamarckism might play a role in evolution. We thought the case was closed, but we should re-open it. The question of how species evolve is an open question, and should be re-examined. Perhaps the Neo-Darwinians and the Neo-Lamarckians are both partly right. Perhaps we’ll never know for certain how species evolve.” back

7. Quoted in Koestler’s Case of the Midwife Toad, Ch. 2, #1, p. 30, footnote back
8. Quoted in Koestler, p. 32 back
9. Koestler, p. 21 back
10. Koestler, pp. 14, 15 back
11. Koestler says, “Einstein, for one, thought highly of Kammerer’s [Law of the Series]; he called it ‘original and by no means absurd.’”(Midwife Toad, Appendix 1, p. 139)
Koestler mentions “Jung’s famous essay, ‘Synchronicity: An A-Causal Connecting Principle.” In that essay, Jung “quotes Kammerer at length, pays somewhat grudging tribute to him, and adopts his Law of Seriality — though he gives it a different name.”(Midwife Toad, Appendix 1, p. 142)
What I’m calling “Kammerer’s piece on genius” is Ch. 52 of Kammerer’s Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics (1924). In that book, Kammerer mentions having dinner at Einstein’s house. They discussed Darwin and Lamarck. Apparently Einstein felt that the establishment preferred Darwinism because it was more physical/tangible/comprehensible. Kammerer writes,
“The non-inheritance of acquired characteristics doubtless suits our slow process of thought better than the opposite opinion voiced here. Einstein recognized the main reason of the opposition in our habit of thinking when I, as a guest at his table, talked this matter over with him. The assumption of the inheritance of acquired characteristics necessitates a much more difficult process of relative thinking.... We, of course, are much more apt to think absolutely, because it is so much more convenient.”(Preface, p. 16)
Unfortunately, Kammerer’s book isn’t well translated. Could it be re-translated? back
12. Quoted in Koestler, p. 21, footnote back
13. On Kammerer’s socialism, see Koestler, pp. 17, 18 back
14. Koestler, p. 17 back
15. Koestler, p. 17, quoting a contemporary newspaper article. See also p. 119. back
16. Midwife Toad, p. 94 back
17. p. 94 back
18. Man and Superman, Preface, #4 back
19. p. 118 back
20. Koestler, p. 42 back
21. Koestler, p. 42 back
22. Koestler, p. 43. While Kammerer was finding evidence of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, others were looking for evidence of evolution-by-mutation — and not finding it. Wilhelm Johannsen, who coined the term “gene,” realized by 1923 that “all mutations ever induced in the fruit-fly... had been either deleterious or trivial; and that to regard chance mutations in the genes as an explanation of the evolutionary process was a highly improbable speculation, not supported by any empirical evidence.”(Midwife Toad, p. 126) One of those who doubted Neo-Darwinism was the biologist and systems theorist Ludwig von Bertalanffy.(Midwife Toad, p. 129) The best way to understand evolution is to take a holistic view, a systems view. The will can influence the whole body, including DNA. back
23. Koestler, p. 25, quoting Kammerer back
24. Koestler, p. 41; Kammerer, Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics, Preface, p. 20 back
25. Koestler, Midwife Toad, p. 45
Kammerer’s Ciona experiments seem to prove Lamarckian inheritance. So why did Weismann get a different result when he cut off the tails of mice? We don’t know. It could be that tails are different, in this respect, than siphons. Or it could be that an invertebrate like Ciona is different, in this respect, than a mouse. At any rate, if Lamarckian inheritance works with one species, one experiment, that’s significant, in my view. back
26. p. 95. I’ve shortened the title of Kammerer’s book, the full title is much longer. back
27. As Koestler says, “Kammerer himself did not regard [the Midwife Toad’s nuptial pads] as proof of the inheritance of acquired characters; to him the Salamandra and Ciona experiments were far more important. The battle of the nuptial pads was not of his own choosing; but he was forced into it.”(Midwife Toad, p. 70) The “nuptial pad” is “a horny pad on the hand, to enable [the male toad] to grasp his slippery partner.”(p. 72) back
28. Midwife Toad, Appendix 3, p. 154 back
29. pp. 154, 155 back
30. Koestler, Janus, Part III, Ch. 9, #5. Long before he said this to his son, Bateson had doubts about orthodox Darwinism. In Problems of Genetics, Bateson wrote, “The many converging lines of evidence point so clearly to the central fact of the origin of the forms of life by an evolutionary process that we are compelled to accept this deduction, but as to almost all the essential features... we have to confess an ignorance nearly total. The transformation of masses of population by imperceptible steps guided by selection is, as most of us now see, so inapplicable to the facts, whether of variation or of specificity, that we can only marvel both at the want of penetration displayed by the advocates of such a proposition, and at the forensic skill by which it was made to appear acceptable even for a time.”(Quoted in Janus, Ch. 9) In 1924, Bateson wrote, “Mendelian analysis... has not given us the origin of species.”(Midwife Toad, p. 126)

The playwright George Bernard Shaw had a keen interest in evolution. He was probably a Lamarckian, and he realized that Lamarckism, like evolution itself, was a mystery. Shaw wrote, “Let us fix the Lamarckian evolutionary process well in our minds. You are alive; and you want to be more alive. You want an extension of consciousness and of power. You want, consequently, additional organs, or additional uses of your existing organs: that is, additional habits. You get them because you want them badly enough to keep trying for them until they come. Nobody knows how: nobody knows why: all we know is that the thing actually takes place.”(Preface to Back to Methuselah) I agree with most of what Shaw says, but I think much evolution is driven by a survival urge, not an urge for “consciousness and power.” The first giraffe probably developed a slightly longer neck because it had an urge to live, to survive.

Shaw realized that evolution couldn’t be understood by a specialist: “Evolution as a philosophy and physiology of the will is a mystical process, which can be apprehended only by a trained, apt, and comprehensive thinker.”(ibid) Shaw scoffed at “the soulless affirmations and blind negations of the Mechanists and Neo-Darwinians.”(ibid)

Shaw believed that a Life Force pushes evolution forward: “The Old Vitalist, who was essentially a Materialist, has evolved into the New Vitalist, who is, as every genuine scientist must be, finally a metaphysician.... The New Vitalist... will cease to boggle at the name Vitalist, or at the inevitable, ancient, popular, and quite correct use of the term Force to denote metaphysical as well as physical overcomers of inertia.”(ibid)

If we’re always striving for more, do we ever appreciate what we have, appreciate the present? Perhaps Shaw puts too much emphasis on evolving, and not enough on being. Shaw thought “Creative Evolution” should be the religion of the future, but I’m skeptical. Few people today would share Shaw’s dream of creating a superman through evolution. As Wyndham Lewis questioned Bergson’s emphasis on evolving, so I question Shaw’s emphasis on evolving.

Surely Kammerer was aware of Shaw’s views on evolution. When Kammerer was in England in 1923, he was asked, Is there anything you want to do or see before you return to Austria? “He had two wishes: to eat a kipper and to meet Bernard Shaw.”(Midwife Toad, p. 81)

Perhaps Wyndham Lewis (and Goethe?) were right, perhaps too much emphasis on evolution/change is unhealthy. On the other hand, Lamarckism holds out the hope for an improvement of the human race, holds out the hope that our working and striving might mean something for the future, that what we acquire/learn might be passed to the next generation, at least in part. So Lamarckism is a more hopeful, more optimistic view than Neo-Darwinism.

When Kammerer lectured in the U.S., the psychologist J. B. Watson said, “We all want to believe [Kammerer’s] facts if they are true. It means so much to the educator, to society in general, if they are true.”(Midwife Toad, p. 93) Kammerer made the same point: “With the inheritance of acquired characteristics, the proud edifice of humanity’s progress stands and falls.... All progressive measures, at home and in school, private and public welfare endeavors, education, administration and government, are endowed with a new and more far-reaching importance when dealing with the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Only then all these institutions serve not only the fleeting moment and the individual, but also eternity and the generation.”(Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics, Preface, p. 17)

Shaw said that Neo-Darwinism, evolution by accident, offers little hope for the future, but evolution by will offers hope: “What hope is there then of human improvement? According to the Neo-Darwinists, to the Mechanists, no hope whatever, because improvement can come only through some senseless accident which must, on the statistical average of accidents, be presently wiped out by some other equally senseless accident. But this dismal creed does not discourage those who believe that the impulse that produces evolution is creative. They have observed the simple fact that the will to do anything can and does, at a certain pitch of intensity set up by conviction of its necessity, create and organize new tissue to do it with.”(Preface, Back to Methuselah)

How is it possible that a dog is afraid of a bee, though it’s never been stung? Perhaps it has an “inherited memory,” a “race memory,” a “species memory,” a “Lamarckian memory,” perhaps the acquired knowledge of its ancestors has been passed down. When Kammerer discusses genius, he quotes Weininger’s remark, “Genius is memory.” But then Kammerer adds that we should include “the memory of the race,” “hereditary memory.”(See Kammerer, The Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics, Ch. 52, p. 343) This inherited memory may help us to understand myths, archetypes, etc. In other words, this inherited memory may be what Jung called the collective unconscious. Perhaps we should speak of “the inheritance of acquired knowledge,” or “the inheritance of ancestral experience.”

Let’s return to Weininger’s remark, “Genius is memory.” Weininger also said, “Universal remembrance of all its experiences [is] the surest, most general, and most easily proved mark of a genius.”(Sex and Character, II, 5) I don’t think Weininger is interested in inherited memory, as Kammerer is (Kammerer had a special interest in inheritance). Plato would agree with Weininger, though Plato spoke of the philosopher, not genius in general. “A soul which forgets,” Plato said, “cannot be ranked among genuine philosophic natures... the philosopher should have a good memory.”(Republic, #6) Vasari tells us that “Michelangelo was a man of tenacious and profound memory, so that, on seeing the works of others only once, he remembered them perfectly and could avail himself of them in such a manner that scarcely anyone has ever noticed it.”(See my previous discussion of genius and memory.) We associate genius with originality rather than memory. But Weininger makes a valid point, there seems to be a link between genius and memory. back

31. Quoted in Koestler’s Midwife Toad, p. 59. If it’s difficult to imagine how acquired characters can change DNA, isn’t it just as difficult to imagine how something as complicated as DNA could evolve by random mutation? There must be some occult force, some life-instinct or synchronicity, that pushes evolution forward, and creates highly-complex things like DNA. This same mysterious force is doubtless responsible for the inheritance of acquired characteristics. And since this force is active in our everyday life, in psychic phenomena, in telepathy, perhaps we should call it a “familiar force” rather than a “mysterious force.” back
31B. Shaw, Back To Methuselah, Preface, “Why Darwin Converted the Crowd” back
32. Koestler, pp. 83, 84 back
33. p. 75 back
34. p. 76 back
35. p. 105 back
36. “Freshen it up” is my phrase. back
37. p. 106 back
38. p. 114 back
39. Koestler, p. 55 back