Verworn, Max

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(b. Berlin, Germany, 4 November 1863; d. Bonn, Germany, 23 November 1921), physiology.

The son of a Prussian civil servant, Verworn completed his secondary education at the Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium, occupying his free time with biological experiments. In 1884 he enrolled as a student of zoology and medicine at the University of Berlin, where he attended lectures by F. E. Schultze, Emil du Bois-Reymond, and Rudolf Virchow. He received the Ph.D. in zoology in 1887 and immediately began to study the medical sciences at Jena, where he met Wilhelm Preyer, Wilhelm Biedermann, and Ernst Haeckel, the latter exerting the greatest influence. In 1889, Verworn received the M.D. from Jena, where he remained until 1901, first as an assistant, then as a university lecturer (1891), and finally as associate professor at the physiological institute (1895). His marriage that year to Josephine Huse, whom he had met in Naples, was childless. In 1901 Verworn succeeded Georg Meissner at Göttingen, and in 1910 he replaced Eduard Pflüger at Bonn. In 1911, he gave the Silliman lectures at Yale University. At both Göttingen and Bonn he attracted many young research workers, including Hans Winterstein, August Pütter, and F. W. Fröhlich. He greatly influenced many Japanese students, including H. Nagai and Y. Ishikawa, who spread his teachings in Japan.

During his special experimental investigations Verworn was concerned primarily with the general basic problems of life. This preoccupation can be noticed especially in his biological-physiological studies, where he investigated the basic phenomena of life such as irritation, paralysis, narcosis, biotonus (biological base tension), hypnosis, fatigue, and recovery. In this endeavor he worked with unicellular organisms, such as Protista, or the cells of higher organisms. Verworn was a major advocate of cellular physiology; and his experimental investigations were concerned mainly with the elementary processes of muscle fibers, nerve fibers, and sensory organs. For him each analysis of function always ended with the function of the cells: for secretion, with the glandular cells; for the action of the heart, with the heart muscle cells; for psychical conduction, with the ganglion cells. In general, comparative, and microscopic physiology, Verworn followed the model of Johannes Müller, to whom he dedicated his Allgemeine Physiologie (1895). The book was widely read outside the field of physiology, especially since Verworn included clear statements of the controversies of the time, such as vitalism versus mechanism, psychophysical problems, and monism. In 1902 he founded Zeitschrift für allgemeine Physiologie; many of his articles had previously appeared in Pflügers Archiv für die gessamte Physiologie.

Verworn conducted his first Protista experiments during the years 1887-1891, while on research trips to the Mediterranean and Red seas and working at the Zoological Station in Naples under Anton Dohrn. His studies of one-cell animals encompassed the manifestations of regeneration (1888), the relations between cell nucleus and psyche (1890), the phenomena of stimulation and response by means of galvanic current, and most important, the polar effects of direct current (1894,1897). His work on irritation, irritability, and paralysis was published in 1914. Verwon differentiated spontaneous manifestations of life from the “response of stimulation” by means of various external living conditions. He did not limit his concern only to the problems of cellurly physiology or theoretical biology but, rather, felt strong need to clarify the fundamental issues and therefore also investigated the relation of body and mind. In his Psycho-physiologische Protisten-Studien (1889), Verworn discarded the dualistic point of view in favor of the monistic–not in terms of materialism but of psychomonism. To him the final elements of the being are psychic. “The physical world exists not next to the psychic, on the contrary, within the psychic” (Naturwissenschaft und Weltanschuung [1904], 29).

Like Mach and Richard Avenarius, Verworn advocated the principle of conditional research rather than the usual search for causes. This multi-conditionalism manifests itself especially in the basic phenomena of life, which he made the main subject of his studies (1918). He also did research on primitive cultures and anthropology, collecting artifacts from primitive cultures, specimens of ethnological importance, prehistoric subjects, and coins. Many of these were used in the writing of Die Anfänge der Kunst (Jena, 1909).

In the history of ideas Verworn belongs with such materialists and positivists as Ludwig Büchner, Moleschott, Haeckel, and Mach, Since he did not hesitate to establish new hypotheses– Zellseele, Atomseele, Biotonus–and to expound them in his work, he had many opponents an addition to supporters throughout his life.


I. Original Works. Verworn’s books include Psycho-physiologische Protisten-Studien. Experimentelle Untersuchungen (Jena, 1889): Die Bewegung der lebendigen Substanz (Jena,1892); Allgemeine Physiologie. Ein Grundriss der Lehre vom Leben (Jena 1895); Beiträge zur physiologie des centralnervensystems(Jena, 1898); Die Mechanik des Geisteslebens (Leipzig, 1907); Physiologisches praktikum (Jena, 1907); Die Entwicklung des menschlichen Geistes (Jena, 1910); Narkose (Jena, 1912); Irritability (New Haven, 1913), the Silliman lectures; and Erregung und Lähung. Eine allgemeine Physiologie der Reizwirkungen (Jena, 1914).

Among his articles are “Biologische Protistentudien,” in Zeitshchrit für wissenschaftliche Zoologie, 46 (1888), 455–470, and 50 (1890), 443–468; “Die polare Erregung …,” in Pflügers Archiv für die gesamte Physiologie, 45 (1889), 1–36; 46 (1890), 267–303; 62 (1896), 415–450; and 65 (1897), 47–62; “Die physiologische Bedeutung des Zellkerns,” ibid., 51 (1892), 1–118; “Der könige Zerfall. Ein Beitrag zur Physiologie des Todes,” ibid., 63 (1896), 253–272; “Einleitung” (as editor), in Zeitschrift für allgemeine Physiologie, 1 (1902), 1–18; “Die cellularphysiologische Grundlage des Gedächtnisses,’ ibid., 6 (1907), 119–139; and “Die cellularphysiologische Grundlage des Abstraktionsprozesses,” ibid., 14 (1912), 227–296. He also published articles on the effect of strychnine and on fatigue, exhaustion, and recover in the never center of the spinal column, in Archive für Anatomie und Physiologie Physiol. Abt. (1900), 385-414; and supp. (1900), 152–176.

II. Secondary Literature. See Silvestro Baglioni, “Max Verworn,” in Rivista di biologia, 4 (1922), 126–133, with bibliography; I Fischer, in Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärze der lezten 50 Jahre, II (Berlin-Vienna, 1933), 1616-1617: Friedrich W. Fröhilich, “Max Verworn,” in Zeitschrift für allgemeince physiologie, 20 (1923), 185–192; R Matthaei, “Max Verworn, in Deutsche medizinische Wochenschrift, 48 (1922), 102–103, with portrait; A Püttr, “Max Verworn,” in Müchener medizinische Wochenschrift, 68 (1921), 1655-1656; W. Thörner, “Max Verworn,” in Medizinische Klinik, 18 (1922), 130-131; and R. Wülenweber, Der Physiologe Max Verworn (Bonn, 1968), inaugural M.D. diss.

K. E. Rothschuh