Loewi, Professor Otto – Loewi’s dreams - The Discovery of the Chemical Transmission of Nerve Impulses
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
An Overlooked Parallel to Kekule’s Dream: The Discovery of the Chemical Transmission of Nerve Impulses by Otto Loewi – Ulrich Weiss and Ronald Brown
Loewi himself has published two concordant accounts of the [inspirational dreams]. Both of them describe how he awoke in the early morning hours with a clear idea for a crucial experiment to solve a fundamental problem of neurophysiology – a problem, incidentally in which he was not interested at the time. He jotted down the brilliant thought and went back to sleep.
The next day he remembered that he had had a most important idea the night before but was quite unable to recall during that most ‘desperate day in my whole scientific life’ what that idea had been or to decipher the hasty notes he had made. The idea did, however, recur the next night; this time, Loewi did not take any risk, got up at once in the small hours of the morning, walked the few blocks to his Institute and performed the ‘simple experiment’. When his co-workers arrived at 8 am, the normal starting time, the work had been successfully completed…..
Loewi was very fond of telling about these events, and he willingly complied with the frequent requests to do so. One of us has often heard the story from him during a period of more than 20 years [1938 to 1961] and can testify that it was always told in essentially the same way, without major variations. The same fact is stressed by Loewi’s lifelong friend, Henry H Dale, in his memorial tribute to Loewi.
Even more significant, Loewi’s daughter [Anna Weiss] clearly recalls to this day how her father told her about his dreams and their consequences on the day after these events. She also adds a piece ofinformation often repeated verbally by Loewi later on but omitted from his published account – presumably as not being significant enough to get into print; that his co-workers when they arrived in the laboratory that day, predicted that that morning’s results would get him a Nobel Prize. To his daughter , he added ‘Wouldn’t that be something?’ The prediction was fulfilled when Loewi and Dale shared a Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1936.
To reassure those who insist that hard work in the laboratory gathering data, with subsequent interpretation, is the only possible, indeed the only permissible way to scientific progress, we may add that for Loewi and his associates the years 1921 to 1938 were filled with intense experimental work to secure the results of the first experiment, to explore its further consequences, to identify the chemical agents that had been proven to be involved, and to develop the filed of neurobiochemistry based on these results.
The enormous importance of this field is too well known to need special comment. This work was documented in a series of 14 major papers, until non scientific events put an end to these studies…..
Cases of this kind do not seem to be all that exceptional. Whilst writing this note, we came across a number of examples, including a statement by Hermann von Helholtz that fruitful ideas ‘often came in the morning when waking, as Gauss also noted’.
The source of the experienceLoewi, Otto
Concepts, symbols and science items
Activities and commonsteps
SuppressionsDreaming and lucid dreaming
- Loewi O – From the Workshop of Discovery Porter Lectures, Series 19, University of Kansas, Lawrence KS 1953
- Loewi O. An Autobiographical Sketch, Perspect Biol Med 1960
- Segre E – From Falling Bodies to Radio Waves 1985