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Kekulé, Friedrich August – The Origins of the Structure of Benzene



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

From a Speech made at the celebration in Berlin’s City Hall in 1890, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the formula for benzene

This speech was subsequently published in a major German chemistry journal and were translated into English in 1958

"During my stay in Ghent, Belgium, I lived in elegant bachelor's quarters in the main thoroughfare.  My study, however, faced a narrow side alley and no daylight penetrated it…..

I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere.

I turned the chair to the fireplace and sank into half-sleep.  The atoms were gamboling before my eyes again, smaller groups holding modestly in the background. 

My spiritual eye, sharpened by repeated visions of a similar kind, now distinguished a great variety of many forms: long series, often more densely composed, all in motion, snake-like twisting and twirling, and, behold, what was that?

One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes.  As if by a lightning flash I awoke. This time I spent the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis. " (Anschütz 1929, II, p. 942, also Benfey, Journal of Chemical Education Vol 35 1958)

The source of the experience

Kekule, August

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