A Skeptical Scrutiny of the Works and Theories of WILHELM REICH

As related to

Experiment XX

By Roger M. Wilcox

Last modified 30-March-2002

Reich described Experiment XX in The Cancer Biopathy, chapter II, section 6 (pp. 60-73, 1973 trans.).  The name "Experiment XX" refers to the fact that it was the 20th in Reich's rather long series of bion experiments.

Reich began experiment XX in December of 1944 at Orgonon, his laboratory in Rangeley, Maine.  He wanted to investigate the fluoroscopic reactions of "earth bion water" that had been exposed to a variety of orgone energy sources.  Supposedly, the only difference between this earth bion water, and plain water, was that the former had once contained sterilized dirt which had then been filtered out.  To Reich's surprise, he discovered that in some of his samples, little "plasmatic" flakes had formed which had enough biotic-like properties to qualify as bions in their own right.  Reich noted that, unlike in his previous bion experiments, there was supposedly no earth or dried grass or other material in the test tubes that the plasmatic flakes could have formed out of.  He concluded that the material that formed these plasmatic flakes had been created ex nihilo out of "mass-free" cosmic orgone energy, and that therefore orgone energy might be the source of all matter in the universe.

In analyzing this experiment, the nature of this "earth bion water" is crucial.  Reich described the preparation of earth bion water as follows:

"1. Ordinary garden soil is sieved free of stones and lumps of clay.
[ . . . ]
3. Next the sieved garden soil is boiled in distilled water or ordinary tap water for one hour, or autoclaved for half an hour at 120°C. and 15 lbs. pressure.
4. The water is filtered off from the boiled earth, crystal clear.  In contrast with the original colorless water, this fluid is one or another intensity of yellow."
    — The Cancer Biopathy, ch. II, sec. 6 (pp. 63-64, 1973 trans.)
Reich did not specify the kind of filter he used to "filter off" the water from the boiled earth.  It is telling, though, that the water after filtration was clear yellow rather than colorless.  This implies that either soluble products from the garden soil were dissolved in the water, or tiny, submicroscopic particles of garden soil were suspended in the water.

Keep this fact in mind while reading Reich's description of Experiment XX:

"we left several sealed ampoules of earth bion water in the laboratory itself, and put others in a small three-layered accumulator, in the X-ray room, in the open air, and buried in the ground. [ . . . ] After three weeks, we noticed that the ampoules that had been left outside in the open and had frozen contained dense flakes after thawing.  We were about to throw these ampoules away as 'contaminated,' when it occurred to me to look at the flakes under a microscope.  This proved to be a fortunate decision.  To my great astonishment, I discovered that the flakes, which had formed in a crystal-clear, that is to say, an absolutely particle-free, fluid, were, when examined microscopically, intensely radiating particles of bionous matter.  At a higher magnification (3000x), it was possible to observe contracting and expanding bions, with which we were already familiar.  We repeated the experiment, filtering and freezing crystal-clear bion water, until all doubt was eliminated: We had discovered a process by which orgone energy existing freely in water, i.e., not bound up in bionous matter, can organize itself into plasmatic, living substance exhibiting all the criteria of life."
    — The Cancer Biopathy, ch. II, sec. 6 (p. 62, 1973 trans.) [link mine, emphasis in original]
How did Reich leap to the conclusion that the earth bion water had been "absolutely particle-free" prior to the experiment, just from the fact that it was "crystal-clear"?  Recall that Reich described earth bion water as being "yellow" in addition to being "crystal-clear."  To a chemist, this would imply that there may be particles suspended in the water which are too small to see, even with a microscope.  (The existience of sub-microscopic suspended particles can sometimes be verified by shining an ultraviolet lamp on the sample and looking for fluorescence.)  But to Reich, it seems that the only criterion for a fluid to be considered "particle-free" was that Reich couldn't see any particles in the water under a microscope.

The flakes that precipitated out when the "earth bion water" was frozen were almost certainly composed of whatever contaminants were making the water yellow.  In other words, they were made out of material that was already there in the not-perfectly-pure water — not out of material that had been spontaneously created out of "mass-free orgone energy."

Reich's contention that he saw these flakes contract and expand under a microscope was also specious.  He was unable to see any expansion or contraction at magifications below 3000x.  As I pointed out in my critique of Reich's microscopy technique, when you increase the magnification of even the best light-based microscope above about 1400x, you will not see any finer detail — you will only be magnifying the fuzzy blobs visible at the limit of the microscope's effective magnification.  If it's not visible at 1400x, it probably isn't there.  Reich could have been seeing tiny variations in the air density between his sample and his microscope's objective lens, or miniscule non-dampened back-and-forth motions within the microscope's tubing, or any of a number of things.  And even if it turned out that these flakes really were expanding and contracting, this hardly qualifies as "all the criteria of life."  Reich never described these "plasmatic" flakes as undergoing mitosis, or consuming material from their surroundings, for example — although he did say that, after observing the flakes once a week for several months, they "developed into" protozoa that did multiply.  (One suspects that these protozoa were common bacteria that infected his sample from the surroundings when Reich wasn't looking, as was most probably the case in Reich's earlier bion experiments.)

Experiment XX, with its simple precipitation of flakes from yellow water, was all it took to convince Reich that "mass-free orgone energy" could turn into matter under the right conditions.  This contention formed the basis for even wilder theories of Reich's, such as the formation of stars and galaxies through cosmic superimposition, and the creation of Melanor, Orite, Brownite, and Orene from mass-free orgone energy and DOR.

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