Auguste Forel

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Auguste Forel
Auguste-Henri Forel towards the end of his life
Born 1 September 1848
Morges, Switzerland
Died 27 July 1931 (1931-07-28) (aged 82)
Yvorne, Switzerland
Nationality Swiss
Fields Myrmecology
Known for Contributions to sexology and myrmecology
Influenced Eugen Bleuler
Hans Hunziker
Adolf Meyer

Auguste-Henri Forel (1 September 1848 – 27 July 1931) was a Swiss myrmecologist, neuroanatomist, psychiatrist and eugenicist,[2] notable for his investigations into the structure of the human brain and that of ants. For example, he is considered a co-founder of the neuron theory.[3] Forel is also known for his early contributions to sexology and psychology.[4]

From 1978 until 2000 Forel’s image appeared on the 1000 Swiss franc banknote.


Born in villa La Gracieuse, Morges, Switzerland, Forel had a diverse and mixed career as a thinker on many subjects. He was appointed professor of psychiatry in 1879 at the University of Zurich Medical School. He not only ran the Burghölzli asylum there, but continued to publish papers on insanity, prison reform, and social morality. Forel named his home as La Fourmilière —the Ant Colony.[5] Around 1900 Forel was a eugenicist.[6] Forel suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side in 1912, but he taught himself to write with his left hand and was able to continue his studies. By 1914 he was a good friend of the eminent British entomologist Horace Donisthorpe, with whom he stayed in Switzerland;[7] his ardent socialist views frequently caused political arguments between the two. After hearing of the religion from his son in law,[8] in 1920 he became a member of the Bahá'í Faith,[9] abandoning his earlier racist and socialist views saying,

This is the true religion of human social good, without dogmas or priests, uniting all men on this small terrestrial globe of ours. I have become a Bahá’í. May this religion live and prosper for the good of mankind; this is my most ardent wish

— Auguste Forel, [10]

In 1921 he received a letter from `Abdu'l-Bahá about the differences between the mineral, vegetable, animal and human worlds, the spiritual nature of man and proofs of the existence of God.[11][12]

He died in Yvorne at age 82.

Scientific work[edit]

The Social World of Ants

Forel's prize essay on the ants of Switzerland was published in three parts in a Swiss scientific journal, beginning in 1874. The work was reissued as a single volume in 1900, at which time it was also translated into English. His myrmecological five-volume magnum opus, Le Monde Social des Fourmis, was published in 1923.

Forel's predilection for finding in ants the analogs of human social and political behaviors was always controversial. In the foreword to his 1927 edition of British Ants: their life history and classification, Donisthorpe opined, "I should wish ... to protest against the ants being employed as a supposed weapon in political controversy. In my opinion an entomological work is not the appropriate means for the introduction of political theories of any kind, still less for their glaring advertisement.[13] But in 1937, the work was excerpted in Sir J.A. Hammerton's Outline of Great Books with praise for its relevance to the study of human psychology and as "the most important contribution to insect psychology ever made by a single student."[14]

Less controversially, Forel first described in 1877 the zona incerta area in the brain. He gave it this name as it a "region of which nothing certain can be said".[15]

Forel International School is named after him.

Partial bibliography[edit]


  1. ^ National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Switzerland (2003). "Swiss Baha'is Celebrate 100 Years of Contributing to World Civilization". Baha'i Switzerland. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Switzerland. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-24. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ 'Neuron theory, the cornerstone of neuroscience, on the centenary of the Nobel Prize award to Santiago Ram´on y Cajal' Francisco L´opez-Mu˜noz, Jes´us Boya, Cecilio Alamoa. Brain Research Bulletin 70 (2006) doi:10.1016/j.brainresbull.2006.07.010 391–405
  4. ^ "Auguste Forel - The First Swiss Sexologist". Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  5. ^ Sleigh, Charlotte (2007) Six legs better : a cultural history of myrmecology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8445-4
  6. ^ The Survival of the Fittest, Chapter II
  7. ^ The Entomologist's Record, vol XXV, Nos 1-2 (1915)
  8. ^ "Miss Martha Root". Bahá'í News. No. 32. June 1929. p. 8. 
  9. ^ National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Switzerland (2003). "Swiss Baha'is Celebrate 100 Years of Contributing to World Civilization". Baha'i Switzerland. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Switzerland. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-24.  Missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  10. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-020-9. p.375
  11. ^ Vader, John Paul (1984). For the Good of Mankind - August Forel and the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. pp. 17–24, 70–80. ISBN 0-85398-172-8. 
  12. ^ "'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet to Dr. Forel". 
  13. ^ British Ants: their life history and classification, 2nd Edition (1927)
  14. ^ J.A. Hammerton, Outline of Great Books, New York, Wise & Co. (1937), p. 470
  15. ^ Forel, A. (1877). "Untersuchungen über die Haubenregion und ihre oberen Verknüpfungen im Gehirne des Menschen und einiger Säugethiere, mit Beiträgen zu den Methoden der Gehirnuntersuchung". Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten. 7 (3): 393–495. doi:10.1007/BF02041873. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Serina Heinen: „Zwischen Evolutionstheorie und Menschheitsreligion - Der Schweizer Monist, Baha'i und Eugeniker Auguste Forel“ in: Das Prinzip Evolution. Darwin und die Folgen für Religionstheorie und Philosophie (hg. Mariano Delgado, Oliver Krüger, Guido Vergauwen), Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer 2010.
  • Bernhard Kuechenhoff, "The psychiatrist Auguste Forel and his attitude to eugenics," History of Psychiatry, 19,2 (2008), 215-223.

External links[edit]