The Organism

Kurt Goldstein

with an introduction by Oliver SacksKurt 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 organism 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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