The Organism / Edition 1

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with an introduction by Oliver Sacks

Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965) was already an established neuropsychologist when he emigrated from Germany to the United States in the 1930s. This book, his magnum opus and widely regarded as a modern classic in psychology and biology, grew out of his dissatisfaction with traditional natural science techniques for analyzing living beings. It offers a broad introduction to the sources and range of application of the "holistic" or "organismic" research program that has since become a standard part of biological thought.

In the course of his studies of brain-damaged soldiers during World War I, Goldstein became aware of the inability of contemporary biology and medicine to explain both the impact of such injuries and the astonishing adjustments that patients made to them. He began to challenge atomistic approaches that dealt with "localized" symptoms, insisting instead that an organisim must be analyzed in terms of the totality of its behavior and interaction with its surrounding milieu.

Goldstein was especially concerned with the breakdown of organization and the failure of central controls that take place in catastrophic responses to situations such as physical or mental illness. But he was equally attuned to the amazing powers of the organism to readjust to such catastrophic losses, if only by withdrawal to a more limited range which it could manage by a redistribution of its reduced energies, thus reclaiming as much wholeness as new circumstances allowed.

Goldstein's theses in The Organism have had an important impact on philosophical and psychological thought throughout this century, as can be seen in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Georges Canguilhem, Ernst Cassirer, and Ludwig Binswanger. In the words of Oliver Sacks: "All that Goldstein observed and brooded over -- levels of organization of the nervous system, health, disease, adaptation, reconstruction -- has once again come to the fore, with the advent of new conceptual and technical tools to approach these. The global theory that Goldstein and Lashley and the Gestaltists sought may now have emerged in Edelman's theory of neural Darwinism and his concept of the brain as a sort of society, in which every part is dynamically connected with every other."

Zone Books

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this age of computer-based, reductionist models of the human mind, Goldstein's (1878-1965) pioneering statement on holistic health, written in 1934 in Holland, where he emigrated to escape Nazi Germany, is welcome, especially since the U.S. edition has been out of print for decades. An influential German neurologist and psychologist who taught and practiced medicine in the U.S., where he settled the following year, Goldstein stresses the seamless activity of the whole organism, arguing that there is no independent realm of ``body'' or ``mind.'' Disease, in his system, is an expression of the disturbed relationship between an organism and its environment; recovery is a newly achieved adaptation, not merely a return to a previous equilibrium. Using illustrative material ranging from brain-damaged soldiers to repression of childhood memories, this dense, philosophically informed study reevaluates such concepts as anxiety, dread, instinct, drives, the unconscious and the nature of physical and mental illness. (June)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780942299977
  • Publisher: Zone Books
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, is the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, Musicophilia, and other books.

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Table of Contents

Foreword 7
Preface to the German Edition 15
Author's Preface 17
Introduction 23
I Method of Determining Symptoms. Certain General Laws of Organismic Life. Observations on Persons with Brain Injuries 33
II The Organism Viewed in the Light of Results Obtained Through Atomistic Method. The Theory of Reflex Structure of the Organism 69
III Theoretical Reflections on the Function of the Nervous System as Foundation for a Theory of the Organism 95
IV Modification of Function Due to Impairment of the Organism 115
V The Nature of Partitive Processes 133
VI On the Conception of the Organism as a Whole 173
VII Certain Essential Characteristics of the Organism in the Light of the Holistic Approach 229
VIII On Gestalt Psychology and the Theory of the Physical Gestalten 285
IX The Nature of Biological Knowledge 305
X On Norm, Health, and Disease. On Anomaly, Heredity, and Breeding 325
XI On Life and Mind. The Problem of Organismic Hierarchy 353
XII Knowledge and Action 377
XIII Concluding Remarks 383
Notes 395
Index 413
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