Catalysing neurobiological research: Jacques Loeb (1859-1924), the Stazione Zoologica di Napoli and a growing network of basic neuroscientists, 1900-1930

Institute for History, Philosophy and Ethics of Medicine, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany
stahnisc AT

Already after his medical studies at the universities of Berlin, Munich and Strasburg and his M. D.-graduation - 1884 - under Friedrich Goltz (1834-1902), the experimental biologist Jacques Loeb had become interested in de- and regenerative problems of the brain. It is likely that he addressed these questions out of a growing dissatisfaction with leading perspectives on cerebral localisation as they were advocated by the Berlin physiologists. Instead he followed Goltz and late Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-1887) in developing a dynamic model of brain function in perception and coordinated motion.

To further pursue his scientific aims, Loeb moved to the Naples Zoological Station between 1890 and 1891, where he conducted various experimental series on regenerative phenomena in sea animals. And he deeply admired the Italian marine station for its overwhelming scientific liberalism as well as for its technical and intellectual support. Here, he hoped to advance his research investigations on tropisms as basis for clarification not only of the behaviour of lower animals, but as a mechanism for space perception and general intellectual capacities. He sought to show a tight interdependence of the centres of the brain and he was convinced of regenerative phenomena as being a general mechanism for neural plasticity in animal and human behaviour. This new perspective and his astonishing successes in the experimental research on hydroids brought him into close contact with a number of contemporary neuroscientists. Yet, it is impossible to conceive of Loeb's groundbreaking experiments without taking the wider scientific network of teachers, colleagues as well as local milieus into account, in which he worked in, as they also exerted a strong influence on a growing group of collaborators, neuroscientific peers and research pupils.

The proposed paper shall explore various intellectual and organisational influences, which developed out of Loeb's early experiences at the Naples Zoological Station in Italy. The main focus will be laid on questions of the structure of scientific institutions, the development of research networks of basic neuroscientists as well as on the establishment of an interdisciplinary research style, which later exerted a strong influence on the make-up of a number of research units of the German Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft and on the American Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.

Session VIII.  The Stazione Zoologica of Naples and the Neurosciences
Saturday, 24 June 2006, 10.30 - 11.00 am

11th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Pavia, Italy, 2006