A Skeptical Scrutiny of the Works and Theories of WILHELM REICH

As related to

Vegetative Currents

By Roger M. Wilcox

Last modified 28-February-2002

"Vegetative currents" was Reich's early term for strong sensations, similar to those of an electric current, felt in the bodies of patients that had progressed to a certain point in Reich's therapy.  After Reich became convinced that these sensations were caused not by electricity but by the movement of orgone energy within the patient, he started calling them "orgonotic streamings" instead of vegetative currents.

Reich was convinced, very early on, that vegetative currents were more than just a subjective sensation.  He believed that there really were electric currents (or, as he later believed, currents of orgone energy) moving through the bodies of his patients whenever they were experiencing the sensation of vegetative currents.  At the outset of his bioelectrical experiments, Reich wrote:

"Above all else, we had to discover experimentally the nature of 'vegetative current,' which is so important for sex-economic clinical practice and which is at the root of sexual excitation."
    — The Bioelectrical Investigation of Sexuality and Anxiety, part 3 (p. 73, 1982 ed.)
Bodily sensations are complex, and can be difficult to analyze.  To do justice to the sensation of vegetative currents would require an understanding of hyperventilation syndrome, muscle physiology (especially the action of calcium and ATP needed for muscle relaxation — rigor mortis occurs because these actions cease at the time of cell death), blood acid-base balance, nerve action potentials, the effect of respiratory alkalosis on nerve autonomous firing, the emotional and instinctive reactions these various effects cause in the brain, and who-knows-what other physiological topics.  It is a daunting task.

We do know, however, that there is no "extra" electrical current in the nerves above and beyond that produced by the normal firing of electrochemical impulses.  Every milliJoule of electric energy measured in the human nervous system can be accounted for by counting the number of nerve impulses going through it and multiplying this by the electric energy of one such impulse.  The sensation of an electric current in the body, when no outside source is delivering a real electric current, is entirely subjective, and nothing in Reich's biolelectrical experiments demonstrated otherwise (Reich's insistence to the contrary notwithstanding).

— Remainder of article yet to be written. —

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