Baron Dr. Carl (Karl) Ludwig von Reichenbach (full name: Karl Ludwig Freiherr von Reichenbach) (1788, Stuttgart - 1869 Leipzig, Germany) was a notable chemist, geologist, metallurgist, naturalist, industrialist and philosopher, and a member of the prestigious Prussian Academy of Sciences. He is best known for his discoveries of several chemical products of economic importance, extracted from tar, such as eupione, waxy paraffin, pittacol (the first synthetic dye) and phenol (an antiseptic). He also dedicated himself in his last years to research an unproved field of energy combining electricity, magnetism and heat, emanating from all living things, which he called the Odic force.
As von Reichenbach was investigating the manner in which the human nervous system could be affected by various substances, he conceived the existence of a new force allied to electricity, magnetism, and heat, a force which he thought was radiated by most substances, and to the influence of which different persons are variously sensitive. He studied neurasthenia, somnambulism, hysteria and phobia, crediting reports that these conditions were affected by the moon. After interviewing many patients he ruled out many causes and cures, but concluded that such maladies tended to affect people whose sensory faculties were unusually vivid. He named this vitalist concept Odic force. Proponents say that Odic force permeates all plants, animals, and humans.
Believers in Odic force said that it is visible in total darkness as colored auras surrounding living things, crystals, and magnets, but that viewing it requires hours first spent in total darkness, and that not everyone has the ability to see it. They also said that it resembles the eastern concepts prana and qi. However, they regarded the Odic force, not as associated with breath (like India's prana and the qi of Eastern martial arts), but rather mainly with biological electromagnetic fields.
Von Reichenbach did not tie Odic force into other vitalist theories. Baron von Reichenbach expounded the concept of Odic force in detail in a book-length article, Researches on Magnetism, Electricity, Heat and Light in their Relations to Vital Forces, which appeared in a special issue of a respected scientific journal, Annalen der Chemie und Physik. He said that
(1) the Odic force had a positive and negative flux, and a light and dark side.
(2) Individuals could forcefully "emanate" it, particularly from the hands, mouth, and forehead.
(3) Odic force had many possible applications.
The Odic force was conjectured to explain the phenomenon of hypnotism. In Britain an impetus was given to this view of the subject, following the translation of Reichenbach's Researches, by a professor of chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. These later researches tried to show many of the Odic phenomena to be of the same nature as those described previously by Franz Mesmer, and even long before Mesmer's time by Swedenborg.
Von Reichenbach hoped to develop a scientific proof for a universal life force, however his experiments relied on perceptions reported by individuals claimed to be psychically sensitive or psycho-kinetically adept. The "sensitives," young women recruited from the poorer social classes, worked in total or near-total darkness, and were forerunners of the Spirit Mediums who appeared all over Europe 10 years later, in the 1850s.
Reichenbach stated that through experimentation possibly 1/3 of the population could view the phenomenon, but far less otherwise. Author Sydney Billing claimed to have witnessed it, as well as colleagues who were medical doctors in England who viewed it through experimentation, and discussion on the subject matter continues into the present-day, with some claiming to be able to see it on sunny days with clear skies naturally.
Scientists have abandoned concepts such as Odic force. In western popular culture, the name is used similarly to qi or prana in reference to spiritual energies or vital force associated with living things. In Europe, Odic force has been mentioned in books on dowsing, for example.