A Skeptical Scrutiny of the Works and Theories of WILHELM REICH

As related to

The Orgone Energy Hypotheses

By Roger M. Wilcox

Last modified 27-April-2001

Orgone energy started out as Reich's explanation for orgone radiation.  Reich quickly expanded this theory to encompass practically any phenomenon known to him which had not been explained by conventional "mechanistic" science, and even some which had been explained.  Orgone energy was omnipresent, was the stuff out of which all matter was made, was fundamental to all biological processes, and was released in great quantities during a healthy orgasm; the "damming up" of the flow of orgone energy within an organism gave rise to many diseases and all neuroses.

As I mentioned at the start of my critique of orgone radiation, Reich did not always make the distinction between observed phenomena and the theories he used to explain the observed phenomena.  Orgone radiation was an observed phenomenon.  Orgone energy was Reich's theory to explain the observed phenomenon of orgone radiation.  However, Reich often referred to his observations of orgone radiation as orgone energy, and sometimes even referred to demonstrations of one of his orgone energy theories as orgone radiation.  Some of his theories about orgone energy, though, were not testable, and thus do not even qualify as "theories" in the scientific sense of the word.  And, worse, with some of the qualities Reich ascribed to orgone energy which were testable, Reich's descriptions of these qualities were inconsistent and contradictory.

Organic and metallic substances

Of the few concrete hypotheses Reich came up with about the properties of orgone energy, by far his most pervasive and most often-cited is that orgone energy is attracted to and absorbed by organic substances, but is attracted to and instantly re-radiated by metallic substances.  This hypothesis forms the basis of the orgone accumulator (which I describe in a separate critique).  Reich's inspiration for this hypothesis seems to have come from his first experience building a box in Norway which allegedly allowed him to isolate orgone radiation from its environment.  As a throwaway sentence in his description of building the box, Reich wrote:

"Organic matter could not be used because it absorbs radiation."
    — The Cancer Biopathy, ch. III, sec. 3 (p. 90, 1973 trans.)
As I pointed out in my critique of orgone radiation, this is not entirely accurate.  Organic matter can absorb some kinds of radiation (e.g. radioactive particle emissions), but not others.  Reich took this principle as gospel, however, and decided that orgone radiation — and, hence, orgone energy — would therefore also be absorbed by organic substances.

Reich even built a device in an attempt to "prove" the hypothesis that organic matter absorbs orgone energy but metals re-radiate it.  In addition to the orgonoscope and the orgone field meter, Reich described another apparatus, which he did not name, that supposedly detected the existence of orgone energy fields in The Cancer Biopathy, chapter IV, section 4 (pp. 110-112, 1973 trans.) [emphasis in original]:

"Under a glass hood, used to protect the arrangement from air currents, a metal sphere is placed on a cork or rubber plate.  We suspend a small piece of cork on one side of the equator of the sphere, at a distance of 2-3 mm., and a small piece of tinfoil on the other side, at the same distance.  Neither the cork nor the tinfoil should be touching the iron sphere; both should hang freely.  The sphere is connected to an electroscope by a wire."
A picture of the apparatus, labelled Figure 9, appears on the facing page.  I cannot copy figure 9 directly from the book, but I have attempted to reproduce it as faithfully as possible here:
Figure 9
O: organic material
M: metallic material
OF: orgone energy field
IS: iron sphere
Attr.: attraction
S: spark to tip of electroscope
Rep.: repulsion
E: electroscope (orgonometer), grounded or not grounded
W: wire connection
OC: orgone carrier (polystyrene rod)
<---: direction of deflection
FIGURE 9.  Demonstration of the orgonotic attraction of organic material and the repulsion of metallic material in the orgone energy field of a metal sphere.
An electroscope is a simple apparatus used in some of the demonstrations of static electricity given in undergraduate physics courses.  It consists of a metal plate, to the base of which is attached a metal rod that goes inside a glass-enclosed chamber. Within the glass chamber, the rod either attaches to a needle via a pivot, or ends in two very very thin strips, or "leaves," of metal foil.  A simplified picture of an electroscope can be found on the following webpage which describes Grounding a Positively-Charged Electroscope.  Whenever any of the metal parts of the electroscope are electrically charged (positively or negatively), the needle or leaves will deflect.  The greater the degree of deflection, the greater the magnitude of the static electric charge.  High atmospheric humidity tends to drain off static electric charges, and thus demonstrations with the electroscope are best performed on dry days.

Reich was of the opinion that an orgone energy "charge" would deflect an electroscope's leaves just like an electric charge would.  Using the apparatus he'd built in the paragraph above with the electroscope wired to an iron sphere (and a piece of cork and a piece of tinfoil dangling from wires near the iron sphere), he went on:

"We then charge a polystyrene rod (a rubber rod produces too weak a charge) by stroking our hair with it once or twice, without rubbing.  After having been charged with orgone energy in this way, the rod is now brought close to the glass hood of the experimental apparatus or, better still, to the metal point of the electroscope connected to the sphere.  If the orgone charge is strong enough and the relative humidity does not exceed 50 percent, the cork will move toward the metal sphere and adhere to it for a period of time.  This reaction means that the energy transferred from the hair to the rod has enabled the metal sphere to form around itself a field of energy in which organic matter is attracted and held.  Other experiments show that the converse of this statement is equally true: organic matter attracts orgone energy and absorbs it."
Reich did not say what these "other experiments" are, so we cannot scrutinize them.  We, can, however, scrutinize the experiment he did describe.  Reich seemed to be implying that this effect, the attraction of the suspended cork to the iron sphere (with the iron sphere being on one end of a wire, the other end of which is very close to the polystyrene rod), is caused entirely by an orgone energy "charge" and has nothing whatsoever to do with the known properties of electrostatic charging.  This is because the polystyrene rod was allegedly stroked across a person's hair without rubbing it.  But how does one stroke ones hair without rubbing?  Even rolling a cylindrical rod along the hair is bound to cause a little friction.  And even if there were no friction whatsoever, hair is notorious for picking up and storing electric charges on its own, especially on dry days.  If hair (or any other insulator) is already electrically charged, it is not necessary to rub a polystyrene rod (or any other insulator) across it for the charged insulator (the hair) to transfer some of its charge to the uncharged insulator (the rod).  Reich does not make a good case for there being no electrical charge on the rod — even figure 9 on the facing page, which shows a picture of Reich's apparatus, shows the electroscope leaf deflected, indicating an electric charge.  (Reich, of course, also believed that this deflection of the electroscope leaf was caused by orgone energy rather than static electricity, because his SAPA bion cultures would cause an electroscope's leaf to deflect after a few minutes of exposure, thanks to all the orgone radiation they were emitting.  Apparently, it didn't seem at all fishy to Reich that a concentrated orgone radiation source should take several minutes to affect an electroscope, while a simple plastic rod stroked across the hair would affect an electroscope immediately.)

It is known from conventional, mainstream physics that when an electrically charged object is brought near a conductor (such as a metal wire, or an iron sphere, or a metal wire connected to an iron sphere) — but not so close that a spark can leap across the gap between the charged object and the conductor — the like charges in the conductor will move away from the charged object while the opposite charges will move toward the charged object.  That is, if you have a metal wire laying east-west (say), and you bring a positively charged glass rod near the west end, it will draw the negative charges inside the wire close to its west end, while pushing the positive charges inside the wire away toward its east end.  Like electrical charges repel each other, while opposite electrical charges attract each other.  Thus if, in the experiment Reich just described, the polystyrene rod really was electrically charged (which seems likely), the iron sphere at the other end of the wire would have a "local" net electrical charge of the same type as the electrical charge on the rod.

So then, why did the cork swing toward the iron sphere?  Was the cork carrying an electrical charge opposite to the electrical charge on the rod?  Maybe.  But not necessarily.  Even an uncharged insulator will be weakly attracted to a charged object.  This effect is often demonstrated in introductory physics courses with the "pith ball pendulum" experiment.  Cork is an insulator.  As with conductors, an insulator brought near an electrically charged object — or brought near the part of an object that carries a "local" electric charge, such as the iron sphere on the other end of the metal wire from the polystyrene rod — will tend to get its opposite charges pushed toward the side facing the charge and its like charges pushed toward the side away from the charge.  This means the side of the cork carrying the opposite charge is closer to the iron sphere than the side carrying the like charge.  Hence, there will be a weak net attraction between the cork and the locally-charged iron sphere.  Were the iron sphere and wire physically in contact with the charged polystyrene rod, some of this charge would quickly flow into the cork once it touched the iron sphere, which would immediately make the cork fly rapidly away from the iron sphere (since both would now carry the same charge); however, since the polystyrene rod is not actually touching the wire attached to the iron sphere, no electrical charge can flow, and the cork will "stick" to the iron sphere until such time as the rod's electrical charge bleeds off into the atmosphere.  This is exactly the effect Reich saw.

And Reich would have seen exactly the same effect had he used an inorganic insulator, such as a small wad of glass wool, instead of a piece of cork.

Continuing on to the next short paragraph in The Cancer Biopathy, Reich gave further evidence that the rod was indeed electrically (rather than just "orgonotically") charged:

"A non-charged polystyrene rod will not influence a small piece of tinfoil.  An orgone-charged rod, on the other hand, will attract the tinfoil and hold it fast."
An electrostatically charged polystyrene rod will also attract small, free-standing scraps of tinfoil and hold them fast.  But that didn't stop Reich from proclaiming, in the very next paragraph:
"From this we draw the conclusion that orgone energy and organic substances attract each other, as do orgone-charged organic and metallic substances."
Now mind you, there is always the tiny tiny super-remote chance that our current model of static electricity is dead wrong, even though we've been building this model over hundreds of years from millions of observations.  And there's a chance, in that case, that Reich's assertion that orgone energy is instead responsible for the attraction of the cork to the iron sphere is right.  But even if that were the case, this experiment still doesn't demonstrate whether orgone energy is attracted to the cork, only that the cork is attracted to the orgone energy on the polystyrene rod.  Reich claimed he did "other experiments" that demonstrate this, but he did not describe any of those "other experiments."

And what of the other half of this organic/metallic orgone energy hypothesis?  What of Reich's allegation that orgone energy is attracted to, but then instantly re-radiated by, metallic substances?  Remember, there was a second thread suspended near the iron sphere, from which dangled a small piece of tinfoil.  Reich wrote:

"On the other side of the sphere, where the tin foil is suspended, the effect is different.  The tin foil is first attracted to the metal sphere but then immediately repelled and kept at a distance.  The effect upon each other of the two metallic substances in the orgone energy field is one of repulsion.  A further conclusion to be drawn is that metal, especially iron, attracts orgone energy.  However, it does not absorb it but repels it.  (The experiments I have outlined can be carried out only with low humidity.)"
It does not make logical sense that metal would attract orgone energy and repel orgone energy at the same time.  However, what if Reich were not careful to keep his polystyrene rod from touching the wire attached to the iron sphere, or from getting close enough that a spark could leap across the gap?  Even figure 9, which shows a diagram of the apparatus, has a little "X" drawn between the tip of the wire and the polystyrene rod, labelled "spark to tip of electroscope."  If that happened, the actual electrostatic charge on the polystyrene rod would conduct down the wire and into the metal sphere.  Then, an uncharged object touching the metal sphere would pick up some of its electric charge.  When the tinfoil touched the sphere under this circumstance, both the sphere and the tinfoil would be carrying a like charge, and this would cause a strong repulsion between them — just as would have happened if the polystyrene rod had touched the tip of the wire when the cork was in contact with the sphere.  Again, the behavior of the suspended tinfoil, like the behavior of the suspended cork, is completely predicted by conventional static-electric theory.

Reich's apparent knowledge of electrostatics in this experiment was abyssmal.  Had he bothered to read a freshman physics text, he would have understood that his "discovery" was nothing of the sort, and he wouldn't have continued by writing these two laughable sentences:

"These findings are fundamentally new.  They do have a relation with the confused concept of 'friction electricity' and with the equally confused theory of 'static electricity.'"
    — The Cancer Biopathy, ch. IV, sec. 4 (p. 112, 1973 trans.)

Raised temperature

Reich claimed that the air temperature within a strong orgone energy field would always be a couple of degrees warmer than the air temperature outside the orgone energy field.  I deal with this claim in my critique of orgone accumulators.

Orgonotic pulsation in non-living matter

In The Cancer Biopathy, chapter IV, section 5, Reich described two experiments which, he claimed, demonstrate that orgone energy "pulsates" even if it's not part of a living creature.

On page 143 (1973 trans.), Reich described an "orgone pendulum":

"A metal sphere of iron or steel, about 4 to 6 cm. in diameter, is placed on a stable surface, a solid table for instance.  A much smaller sphere, about 1 cm. in diameter, is suspended pendulum-wise at about 0.5 cm. from the equator of the larger sphere.  For definite reasons the length of the pendulum thread should be exactly 16 cm.
[Reich did not say what these definite reasons are.]
My experience is that the best results are obtained by making the pendulum sphere out of a mixture of soil and iron filings (i.e. a combination of organic and metallic material) molded together in water and then put into an extremely thin-walled glass sphere.  The bigger sphere and the pendulum sphere are then covered with a cellulose cover to protect them against air currents."
A picture of this pendulum appeared on the next page as Figure 17.  It looked something like this:
Figure 17 - orgone pendulum
M: metal sphere
P: pendulum
MO: pendulum sphere (metal and organic matter)
<==>: direction of oscillation
FIGURE 17.  Demonstration of orgonotic pulsation in the atmosphere
What is missing from Reich's description of the orgone pendulum is any mention of what the top of the pendulum thread is anchored to.  If it's attached to the wooden ceiling beam of a house, any minor Earth tremors, or even the normal shifting of the house from the daily changes in temperature and humidity, can be enough to set a lightweight pendulum swinging ever-so-slightly.

Reich observed that the pendulum would spontaneously start swinging toward the metal sphere on dry, sunny days, would slow down and stop if it got humid or rainy, and would start swinging again when good weather returned.  He also found that the oscillations would become more pronounced "if the observer's own organism has a strong and far-reaching orgone energy field."  (He did not say how he determined the strength of his own energy field in this instance; he may have gauged how "alive" or "vibrant" he felt, or he may have used an electroscope.)  From this experiment, he concluded that the iron sphere had a pulsating orgone energy field around it capable of inducing oscillations in a nearby pendulum.  Other explanations, such as minisule movements of the pendulum's anchor point, or the weak magnetic properties of iron filings near an iron sphere, or any static electric effects, did not even merit a mention in his writing.  In fact, if Reich did indeed measure his orgone energy field with an electroscope to determine how "strong" or "far-reaching" it was, then he would have been measuring his static electric charge; an electrostatically charged observer can "leak" a little of his charge to apparati he is near, which, if they were picked up by the glass-walled pendulum sphere, would provide a tiny attractive force toward the iron sphere whenever the iron sphere was uncharged, and a slightly stronger repulsive force away from the iron sphere whenever the iron sphere was like-charged.  We have no proof that any "orgone energy" was responsible for these "spontaneous" oscillations.

And even if orgone energy really did exist, and really was responsible for the movement of the pendulum, this would in no way bolster the notion that orgone energy "pulsates."  Pendulums oscillate back and forth according to well-established laws of mechanics.  A quick, tiny nudge on the pendulum, either toward the iron sphere or away from it, would set it in motion, and it would continue to swing for a little while without any outside help.  True, it would take lots of nudges to keep it swinging for a long time, but these nudges need not occur at regular intervals.  If orgone energy operated in quick, irregular bursts — such as by Reich getting up and moving around near the apparatus during the day — it would be enough to keep the pendulum swinging.  And of course, occasional microvolt discharges of static electricity picked up by the pendulum on a dry day, or occasional shifting of the house due to warming, would also be enough to keep a small, light pendulum in motion.

The second experiment Reich discussed in section 5 was even more nebulous.  It involved the observation of:

Ripples in the air

Reich set up a 3½" telescope on one shore of Lake Mooselookmeguntic in Maine during two consecutive summers, and, during the daytime, peered through it toward the opposite shore of the lake 4-8 miles away:

"When the telescope is pointed south, it is possible to observe against the background of the opposite shore of the lake, at a magnification of only 60x, a wavy, pulsating movement travelling, with few exceptions, always from west to east.  The west-east movement is constant, whether the lake is rough or smooth, whether or not there is wind, and whether the wind is from west to east or south to north, strong or weak.  The further the telescope is turned toward the west or east the more difficult it is to see the movement.  It can no longer be seen when the telescope is trained due west or east."
    — The Cancer Biopathy, ch. IV, sec. 5 (p. 145, 1973 trans.) [emphasis in original]
From the fact that the sideways movement of the air-ripples shown in his telescope always disappeared when he stared west or east, Reich concluded that the phenomenon never moved north-south.  This seems of great significance, until you begin to wonder just where on the shore of the lake Reich was positioned.  If Reich's observation point was on the northernmost shore, then he would be staring out across more lake surface if he looked straight south than if he looked in any other direction.  He may have been staring out across little or no lake surface when looking east or west.  The ripples may have in fact been moving in all directions, but Reich would have only seen the east-west component of their movement.

But not necessarily.  Reich described this motion as almost always moving from west to east, not east to west.  Later on in the passage, he mentioned that this movement disappeared or reversed direction when a thunderstorm formed in the west.  This does seem consistent with an overall west-to-east movement.  Was Reich on to something?  I mean, he did say that the motion was west-to-east whether the wind was blowing west to east, blowing south to north, or calm, right?  Yes — but, from which points did Reich measure the wind speed and direction?  From points spaced one mile apart around the perimeter of the lake?  From the center of the lake?  No; I am willing to bet that Reich determined the wind direction and wind strength only at the place he was making his observations from.  It is entirely possible, in fact likely, that the wind blowing over the surface of the lake could blow in a different direction, and with a different strength, than the wind blowing near Reich.  It is also significant that Reich only mentioned west-east winds and south-north winds, never east-west winds.  Even with a generally south-north wind, there may still be a slight west-east component to the wind, if it's not blowing directly northward.

Incidentally, the wind, at least at Maine's latitude, does tend to blow from west to east.  These winds are called "westerlies," because they appear to come out of the west.  However, the wind does not tend to blow from west to east in the tropics, but from east to west.  There is a solid meteorological reason for this, involving heat from the sun and the rotation of the Earth.  Orgone energy is not required to describe the "easterly" motion of the wind in the tropics or the "westerly" motion of the wind at the mediterranean latitudes.

And what else besides atmospheric orgone energy could be causing the pulsations in the air?  Elsewhere in the passage, Reich said that the wavy movement was also supposedly independent of the air temperature.  This sounds like it would defy description as the conventional kind of "heat shimmer" one sees hovering over a road or a desert in the distance on a hot day.  Except for one thing: heat shimmer doesn't depend on the general air temperature, but on the air temperature gradient near the heated surface.  Even on a cool day, direct sunlight can heat any surface — particularly a dark-colored surface — much more rapidly than sunlight can heat the air.  This hot surface will then heat the thin layer of air sitting on top of it, which will then convect upwards in little rippling cells which can be blown sideways by the wind.  This sounds very much like the "wavy, pulsating movement" that Reich described seeing as he looked out over the lake.

Strengthening the possibility that Reich was seeing only heat shimmer, he added:

"This telescopic observation is supported by an observation that can be made with the naked eye when there is absolutely no wind or breeze, and the surface of the lake is completely smooth: a pulsating of an infinite number of separate sections is perceptible over the water, while the 'whole' moves in more or less rapid pulsations from west to east."
    — The Cancer Biopathy, ch. IV, sec. 5 (p. 146, 1973 trans.)
Despite the obvious similarities between these observations and the heat shimmer visible over a desert landscape or a paved road, Reich supposed that they were an orgone energy phenomenon.  Since he almost always saw the phenomenon move from west to east, he concluded that not only did atmospheric orgone energy pulsate, but also that the Earth is enveloped in an orgone energy envelope that rotates from west to east faster than the Earth rotates.  Again, these conclusions were both predicated on the assumption that the "wavy, pulsating movement" visible through the telescope, and the sectional pulsations over the still water, were in fact caused by orgone energy and not by the known, conventional mechanism of heat shimmer — an assumption which is highly questionable.

Spinning waves (kreiselwelle)

Reich observed — or believed he observed — moving patterns of orgone radiation that traced out a spiral across his field of vision.  In The Cancer Biopathy, at the beginning of chapter IV, section 1 (p. 96, 1973 trans.), he wrote:

"When we were children the light phenomena we saw with our eyes shut were a constant source of fascination.  Small dots, blue-violet in color, would appear from nowhere, floating back and forth slowly, changing their course with every movement of the eyes.  They floated quite slowly in gentle curves, looping periodically into spirals, in a path somewhat as follows:"
Here, Reich presented a drawing which looked like something one might make with a Spirograph®.  It was drawn with a dashed line, and had arrowheads pointing toward the right at either end.  I cannot copy it directly from the book, but I have attempted to reproduce it as faithfully as possbile here given my limited artistic skills:
Now, personally, I have no recollection of seeing anything like this from my childhood.  I remember closing my eyes and seeing billowing clouds expanding outward from my center of vision, sometimes colored yellow and sometimes colored purple.  I remember chaotic little bright and dark dots jittering about.  I remember patterns that looked like little square bathroom tiles appearing whenever I pressed on my eyes for any length of time.  But I never saw anything with my eyes shut that followed a spiralling path like the one Reich described.

Reich continued:

"It was a delightful game to change the track of the light dots by rubbing the eyes through our closed lids; we could even change the color of the dots, the blue becoming red, green, or yellow."
This, of course, was an instant clue-in that the eyes weren't seeing anything that was really "out there" at a distance.  But Reich didn't think that this necessarily meant the eyes weren't seeing anything real at all.  Two pages later, after railing against the conventional wisdom that these light dots were nothing more than childish fantasies, Reich asked:
"Could it not be that behind the 'subjective' light impressions of our closed eyes there exists a reality after all?  Is it not possible that through our subjective ocular sensations we perceive a biological energy of our own organism?"
Reich certainly thought so.  He even built a device called the orgonoscope to try and prove it.  He was convinced that, since the flickering patters he saw with his eyes closed were different from the flickering patterns he saw with his eyes open, the things he was seeing must be real processes and not simply limitations of the human eye.  And, of course, these processes must be orgone energy phenomena.  The flickering and the streaks of light interested Reich enough by themselves, but Reich elevated the spinning wave shape depicted above — which he christened the kreiselwelle — onto its own shrine.

The path the moon followed around the sun, and the path the Earth followed as the sun moved through the galaxy, were essentially spiralling shapes.  Reich assumed that, since their paths followed the same basic shape as a kreiselwelle, the sun and moon and planets were following a galactic orgone stream that had taken on a kreiselwelle shape.  I discuss Reich's astronomy and cosmology in my critique of Cosmic Superimposition.  Suffice it to say that Reich had a tendency to claim that any two things with the same basic shape must be expressions of the same underlying phenomenon, as evidenced in his notion of orgonomic functionalism — and that that underlying phenomenon was "clearly" orgone energy.

To Reich, the spinning wave shape was central to the interaction of two orgone energy streams.  The two streams would, as they travelled through space, mutually attract one another until they spiralled together and fused, like so:
two superimposing kreiselwellen
He referred to this process as "superimposition."  He claimed that this process was responsible for the creation of matter out of "free" orgone energy, and that two people enjoying an orgasm together were in fact superimposing their orgone energy streams (which was why sex with a partner was supposed to be the only way to have an orgastically-potent orgasm).

Reich also noted that, if you smoothed the spiral lumps out of a kreiselwelle, its overall path looked rather ellipsoidal, like the outline of an egg.  Two superimposing kreiselwellen — or one kreiselwelle bent so that it doubled back on itself — would thus take on a teardrop if viewed from the "front" and a "bent teardrop" shape if viewed from the side.  He called this shape an orgonome, and began seeing it everywhere: in the shapes of plant seeds, eggs, plant bulbs, sperm cells, embryos, internal organs, leaves, and of course the little plasmatic flakes that formed in experiment XX.  Some of the objects he claimed were orgonome-shaped strained his own definition of the orgonome: the trunk of the human torso, the wings of flying animals, arms and legs, cattle horns — in fact, just about anything that either came to a sharp point that was curved in any way, or showed a spiral, or was fatter on one end than the other, qualified as an orgonome shape in Reich's thinking.  If the orgonome-shaped object was biological in origin, that constituted proof of the biological nature of orgone energy; if the object wasn't biological in origin, that constituted proof of free atmospheric or cosmic orgone energy.  There seemed to be no exceptions.  Everything, absolutely everything, that was vaugely orgonome shaped and wasn't man-made was made that way by spinning waves of orgone energy.  There was no test you could devise to demonstrate otherwise, because orgone energy was present everywhere.

What experiments could Reich have devised to test his hypothesis that kreiselwelle shapes were caused by orgone energy?  Well, he could have had several randomly-selected subjects look into an orgone accumulator and into a non-accumulator box built to look like an orgone accumulator — without telling them which was which — and count how many kreiselwelle they saw in each box.  If the count was about the same for many subjects, that would mean that orgone energy (if it even existed) probably had nothing to do with seeing kreiselwelle.  He could try to grow plant seeds in an accumulator, and grow the same kinds of plant seeds in a non-accumulator box, then show them to people who didn't know which box they were grown in and have these people say which seeds had a more severely orgonome shape.  If there was no significant difference, that would mean that orgone energy beyond normal "background" levels did not influence the shapes of growing plant seeds.  Reich did no experiments of this sort.  He simply assumed, a priori, that his kreiselwelle and orgonome hypotheses about orgone energy were correct.  And without such experiments, the existence of kreiselwelle and orgonomes as orgone phenomena cannot be disproven any more than the existence of invisible unicorns can be disproven.

Water absorption

Reich mentioned in a few places that water absorbs and holds orgone energy.  This, according to Reich, was why the experiment with the polystyrene rod, iron sphere, and dangling objects described above does not work on humid days: the water in the air draws the orgone energy off the polystyrene rod.  The thing is, it is well known and established by many, many experiments that moist air will also drain off an electrostatic charge.  Individual microscopic water droplets will, when they touch an electrostatically charged object, pick up a teeny tiny amount of its charge — and being thus like-charged, they will then be repelled and carry that little charge away.

Reich's assertion that it was orgone energy, not electric charge, being drawn off by the moisture in the atmosphere formed a partial basis for his cloudbusting hypotheses.  If water vapor holds orgone energy, then, so Reich figured, causing orgone energy to move around should carry the water vapor with it.  I address the efficacy of Reich's application of this hypothesis in my critique of the cloudbuster.


In his description of the cloudbuster in Selected Writings, ch. VII, sec. 1 (p. 441, 1973 ed.), Reich claimed that orgone energy operated in a manner opposite to traditional chemical diffusion and more like particles under the influence of mutual gravity.  Namely, that orgone energy tended to move from regions of lower concentration (low "orgonomic potential") toward regions of higher concentration (high "orgonomic potential").  Orgone energy was thus attracted to itself.

Reich claimed that this movement of orgone energy toward higher orgonomic potential (and thus its tendency toward gathering together all in one place) explained the operation of a lightning rod better than traditional electrostatic models did:

"The lightning rod, too, functions according to OR energy principles, since 'lightning' is a discharge of atmospheric or energy in a very narrow space.  The pointed rod, reaching into the atmosphere, attracts the lightning discharge and conducts it through heavy wires into the ground.  This lightning-rod system functions according to orgonomic and not according to electrical principles.  In the lightning-rod system, the atmospheric charge is drawn from the atmosphere toward the point of the rod and further toward the earth's crust.  It is, thus, the orgonomic potential from weak to strong which is operative in the case of the lightning rod.  If the electrical potential from high to low were operative in the lightning-rod system, the direction of flow would necessarily be the reverse, from the earth's crust toward the atmosphere; the energy would stream off and away from the point of the lightning rod."
    — Selected Writings, ch. VII, sec. 1 (p. 443, 1973 ed.) [emphasis in original]
As a matter of fact, the majority of the energy in a lightning bolt does travel from the ground to the cloud.  The bolt that comes down from the sky and touches the pointed tip of the lightning-rod is relatively weak; its purpose is to establish an ionized trail of air through which the main bolt, or return stroke, can conduct from the ground back to the cloud.  The whole process happens in a tiny fraction of a second, much faster than the human eye can follow, so a lightning strike looks like one big bolt smashing down from the heavens even though it's actually composed of a smaller initial downward stroke and a much larger return stroke.

Furthermore, electricity is not a "single fluid" that flows from high to low potential, like orgone energy is supposed to be.  All electrical current systems consist of two types of particles, the positively charged and the negatively charged.  While like charges do in fact repel each other, opposite charges attract one another.  The notion of an "electrical potential" gradient does not work like Reich's "orgonotic potential."  An area of high electrical potential has considerably more positive charges than negative charges; a region of lower electrical potential has less of an overabundance of positive charges relative to its negative charges.  A region of zero electrical potential has an equal number of positive and negative charges.  A region will have a negative electrical potential whenever it has more negative charges than positive ones — something Reich's orgonomic potential could never have.  Reich's assesment, that conventional electrical theory does not explain the lightning rod as well as orgone energy does, only shows that Reich lacked a good understanding of conventional electrical theory.

Incidentally, Reich also failed to offer an explanation as to why, if orgone energy was in fact attracted to other orgone energy, metallic substances should cause orgone energy to be radiated away from themselves.  Or why, if orgone energy tended to congregate together on its own, orgone accumulators were even necessary.

Blue color

Reich was convinced that orgone energy gave a blue color to everything charged with it.  The sky was blue because of atmospheric orgone energy.  The oceans were blue because water attracts orgone.  Red blood cells glimmered blue under the microscope when they were healthy and thus carried a robust orgonotic charge.  PA bions were blue because they were orgone energy vesicles.  Living plants were green because dead plant matter was yellow, and the blue of the living plants' orgone charge combined with the yellow color of the base material made the plant as a whole green.  Certain species of frogs even turned blue during their mating season because of orgone's intimate connection with sexuality.

These assertions seem to be little more than ad-hoc-ery.  The sky is not blue at night, nor is water blue when light without any blue frequencies mixed in it is shined upon it.  (White light is a mixture of all frequencies of visible light, including the blue frequencies.)  I address the blue "orgone" margin of healthy red blood cells in my critique of the Reich blood tests — and of course, one quickly realizes that de-oxygenated blood cells, which carry no "energy", are blue, and oxygenated blood cells are in fact red.  Living plants are green because their chloroplasts contain chlorophyll and dead plants' don't; chlorophyll removed from chloroplasts is green whether it's alive or dead.  And while some frogs do turn blue during their mating season, this is not a common feature among vertebrates; humans, for example, tend to turn pink, not blue, when they are sexually aroused.

Orgone, biology, and the orgasm

Reich believed that the electrical potential he had measured in his bioelectrical experiments, and whose levels supposedly rose with pleasure and fell with anxiety, were not electrical phenomena at all, but orgone energy.  Reich believed in an inextricable connection between orgone energy and life; in fact, he believed that orgone energy was the very definition of life itself.  He also believed that a healthy organism, whether human or amoeba, normally accumulates orgone energy slowly, then this orgone energy expands outward from the organism's core to its surface and the organism discharges it rapidly in an "orgastic contraction."  The manifestation of this orgastic contraction was supposed to be the orgasm in humans and cellular mitosis in amoebae.

Reich's evidence for this at the microscopic level was the bluish margin color, and the power to kill T-Bacilli at a distance, he claimed to see in PA bions.  Elsworth F. Baker, a colleague of Reich, also claimed that the mitosis of an amoeba increased the total surface area of all organisms involved (the two daughter amoebae have a greater combined surface area than the parent amoeba), and that this was evidence that the amoeba was reducing the concentration of its orgone surface charge by spreading it over a wider area.  Reich's evidence for the presence and importance of orgone energy in humans was the sensation of vegetative currents in patients of Reich whom he considered not to be terribly neurotic.  In fact, he was so certain that the sensation of vegetative currents was an expression of the movement of orgone energy within the body, he renamed them "orgonotic streamings."

The bluish margin color in PA bions was likely the same mild chromatic "lensing" effect Reich saw in red blood cells.  The PA bions' power to kill T-Bacilli at a distance could have been anything or nothing; due to their alleged submicroscopic size, it's questionable whether T Bacilli even existed at all.  The increase in total surface area of an amoeba undergoing mitosis would indeed reduce the "charge" per unit surface area, if any kind of charge were present, but this does not demonstrate that such a charge actually exists.  And, finally, while an internal, subjective sensation of "flowing" certainly matches the poetry of a life-giving energy field moving through the body, it hardly constitutes solid evidence for the existence of such an energy field.

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