Emil du Bois-Reymond and the tradition of German physiological science: Gabriel Finkelstein: Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, self, and society in nineteenth-century Germany. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013, 384pp, $38.00, £26.95 HB

Metascience 24 (1):85-86 (2014)
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In 1872, Emil du Bois-Reymond delivered an astonishing lecture entitled “The Limits of Science” at a Congress of German Scientists and Physicians in Leipzig. No stranger to polemic and bellicose oratory, and possessing among his generation of physiologists unmatched rhetorical abilities, du Bois-Reymond had already attracted much public recognition and acclaim for his denigration of French culture at a time when belligerence and competition between Prussia and France had peaked. Yet, the topic of his 1872 lecture had a signal significance which not only would inform du Bois-Reymond’s subsequent public lectures on literature, art, civilization and science, and the place of Darwin in the modern world, but would also elaborate a mechanistic and fatalistic view of consciousness, one that denied scientific understanding of the phenomenon as even obtainable. Controversy exploded—and from all quarters. Renowned scientists accused him of pessimism and of failing to apprehend the progress of in ..



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