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Thursday, 23.03.2017

Reply by Barry Blackwell

Thudichum by Barry Blackwell

Blackwell’s reply to Edward Shorter’s comment

Thanks so much for your cogent and critical analysis of the Thudichum paper. The point you make about the lack of any substantive findings relevant to how the brain works or how to treat it are, I believe accurate. All of what he did was strictly chemical. Like Freud, he believed in a biology of the brain, but had no tools adequate to explore that. His hypotheses were in advance of evidence. But I began this biography, not so much to support the posthumous title others bestowed on him, but simply to better understand who he was and what he did. The poem with which I start the biography says that in so many words. Neither Freud nor Thudichum were helpful in understanding or treating a difficult patient. For all that, he was an energetic, determined and courageous searcher after truth with the means available at the time. That he did not found a 'school', speaks not so much of what he accomplished but of the enmity and rivalry he (unwittingly?) aroused. The German school did its best (sans Liebig) to bury or refute his findings. He was posthumously revived by biochemists, far more knowledgeable than I, to assess his accomplishments (Drabkin, Himwich and Rosenheim). I skimmed the surface of the area you rightly question but, in my own defence, my goal was to enlighten others who, like me, had cited a title he never bestowed on himself but who knew nothing of him. If you read my memoir, you will discover that I flunked organic chemistry three times and would never have become a physician if my Cambridge tutor had not turned a blind eye to the fact that my name was falsely placed in the "pass" column. "Blackwell, I know you failed but I shall say nothing. I think you will make a good doctor"! A year later, he died at a young age from a cerebral hemorrhage, taking my secret to the grave with him. Who am I to adjudicate the validity of claims made for Thudichum by my betters?!

 

Barry Blackwell
October 8, 2015