Origins and development of a scientific fact: notes on the theory and history of aplasic phantoms


Neurologische Klinik, Neuropsychologische Abt., Universitätsspital, 8091 Zürich, Switzerland


Despite multiple case reports over a period of more than 150 years, phantom sensations of congenitally absent limbs (aplasic phantoms) are not accepted as a scientific fact. Current theories of phantom phenomena following amputation and spinal or cortical lesions are the main reason for this neglect: phantom sensations are regarded as perceptuo-motor "memories" of previously present limbs. Consequently, reports of aplasic phantoms are either neglected or adapted to fit this current scientific view. The terminology provided in Ludwig Fleck's Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache (1935) is employed to illustrate this "harmony of deceit" among neuroscientists. "Inertia of opinion formation" is a powerful force which must be circumvented to establish scientific insights as scientific "facts". This inertia not only delays the appreciation of novel findings, but it also protects science from a flood of spurious results. It is argued that the continued documentation of clinical cases referring to aplasic phantoms will not bring about a "paradigm shift". Only hypothesis-driven experiments with relevant patients will lead to a revision of the conception of phantom sensations as mere "re-membering". We would thereby gain the rare opportunity to be contemporary witnesses of the origin and development of a new scientific fact.


Plenary 1   (Jean Dubuffet Lecture)
Tuesday, 14 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999