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Beyond the Temples of Science - continued...

By 1900 neuroscientists had established the image of a neural-network brain, whereas their knowledge about glial cells was still at the level of 'nerve glue.' Neurons, as dictated by an authoritative manual from the turn of the century, were "the only representatives of the nervous functions." They were the "main factors of mental and nervous activity in general" (Kölliker 1896, p. 808).

However, one person vehemently opposed the accepted scientific opinion about the passivity of neuroglia: the artistically inclined doctor and poet Carl Ludwig Schleich. He declared the neuroglia to be the central switching apparatus in the brain and asserted that an "active function" and consequently "psychological importance" was to be ascribed to the neuroglia (Schleich 1897, pp. 71-112). At that time, the brain research establishment considered such a thesis absurd. Schleich himself was viewed as someone whose own brain must be "turning into glue" (Schleich 1922, p. 139). Both he and his glia theory were ignored by his scientific contemporaries, making the Berlin doctor an "alien of his age" (Jung 1940, p. 4).

The Psychology of the Decadent Individual

Schleich's brain theory was formed outside the world of scientific laboratories, in a milieu of eccentric bohemians who created their own laboratory and forum for discussion in the wine cellars and salons of fin-die-siècle Berlin. Here, the Polish poet, writer, and piano player Stanislaw Przybyszewski, played a crucial role, both as a thinker and as a piano player.

Przybyszewski, who was one of Waldeyer's students, made his literary debut in 1892 with Zur Psychologie des Individuums (The Psychology of the Individual). Taking the psycho-physiological (self-)analysis of exceedingly sensitive and creative individuals as a point of departure, Przybyszewski's essay presented a programmatic demand to replace naturalism, the predominant conception of art in German-speaking countries at that time. Art should not depict the social struggle of life, Przybyszewski argued, but should become a modern study of the soul.

Like Nietzsche, Przybyszewski felt he was living in an age of "herd instincts." He was disgusted by a society in which everything extending "beyond the level of the traditional, usual, and everyday had to be opposed as detrimental and dangerous to the public." In the everyday reality of modern mass society, there was no room for the "individual of today" and slender hope for the "assertion of excessive aptitudes." Therefore an individual who "lacks general consent for his thoughts and actions," will, Przybyszewski declared, become ill due to an "inhibited will." Faced with "inhibited outflow" and "unused nerves," he will be damned to lead the life of the "individuum decadent" (All citations Przybyszewski 1892, p. 101-105).

Reference: Dierig, Sven. 2006. Beyond the Temples of Science: Bohemian Neuroscience in Fin-de-siècle Berlin . The Virtual Laboratory (ISSN 1866-4784), http://vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/references?id=art44&page=p0002