Early educational experiences that shaped Emil du Bois-Reymond’s career in science
One of the important educational milestones for Bois-Reymond had been the experimental course he did in Berlin in 1838. His interactions with Jons Jacob Berzelius and other eminent scientists of the day shaped his formative mind. The exchanges he had with Johannes Muller served as an added apprenticeship for the young Bois-Reymond. Reading Carlo Matteucci’s essay “On the Electrical Phenomena of Animals” in 1841 had a profound influence on his ever inquisitive scientific mind. In 1843 Du Bois-Reymond was fortunate to have correspondence with and be appraised by Alexander von Humboldt. This culminated in his dissertation presentation to the French Academy of Sciences. Bois-Reymond’s academic life was thus filled with numerous fortuitous interactions with the leading scientific lights of the day.
Bois-Reymond’s personality, preferences and personal life
Since 19th century Paris was an epicenter for scientific debate and invention, Bois-Reymond fell in love with the city. He was so enamoured by the facilities for scientific experimentation that the city offered to dilettantes and professionals alike. Even public spaces life cafés and salons were vibrant with discussions on emergent scientific theories and ideas. Bois-Reymond’s attachment with this great city is so deep that he fell into depression upon separating from it. His return to Germany in early 1850s is an illustration of what Paris meant to him. He especially abhorred the new religious revival witnessed in Germany and Prussia in the aftermath of the Revolution. Even king Friedrich Wilhelm IV resorted to Christian mysticism for seeking solutions to problems of the polity. Bois-Reymond found this regression into religious superstitions intolerable.
Even in his personal life, Bois-Reymond displayed an element of Parisian romanticism. For example, the letters he wrote to his fiancé Jeannette Claude during their year of engagement were some of the most poetic and thorough. They were rich in tone, appropriate in choice of subject and elaborate in treatment. These letters brought out Bois-Reymond’s mastery over the written word, to go along with his well-recognized mastery over scientific thought. Bois-Reymond’s personal life was as satisfying as his professional achievements, having cherished his family life and his role within it as husband, father and head.
Components of Bois-Reymond’s lasting fame?
Bois-Reymond had won enormous reputation as a public speaker. Much like Richard Dawkins of our own times, he tried to bridge the barrier between esoteric scientific ideas and the general public. There are glowing reviews of his speeches as Dean and Rector of the Academy of Sciences. His deliveries at the Congress of German Scientists and Physicians were also very well received. His active involvement with the theatre of science in Berlin, Urania, served as an example for subsequent generations of scientists. Far from being a specialist in his domain of research, Bois-Reymond proved himself to be a veritable polymath.
His discourses integrated subjects as far removed as literature, art, politics and history with science. This showed that Bois-Reymond had a deep concern for humanity and its prospects. He never viewed his scientific pursuits as divorced from the socio-political institutions that interacted with them. This is most evident in his citations of Goethe and Darwin in his speeches and papers. His proposal for the creation of an imperial Academy of Germany is so negate the effects of business influence over the academia.
Gabriel Finkelstein. Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany. The MIT Press, 2013. Project MUSE. Web. 29 Jul. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.