Gerd Sommerhoff

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Gerd Walter Christian Sommerhoff OBE (born 13 February 1915, Wiesbaden, Germany – 28 April 2002, Cambridge, England) was a pioneer of theoretical neuroscience and a noted humanist.

A great-grandson of the German composer Robert Schumann, he was living in England at the onset of the Second World War. As a foreign national, he spent at least two years in an internment camp in Canada[1] before returning to England where he took up a post teaching science at the Dragon School in Oxford.[2] While there, he developed what was really an early form of CBT without computers, using boxes of numbered cards, containing questions, answers, tutorial material, or descriptions of experiments, on a variety of different subjects.[3]

Sommerhoff later became a Research Fellow in Systems Theory at University College, London. In parallel with this position, he taught technology at Sevenoaks School. In 1984, he retired from teaching and moved to Trinity College, Cambridge.

Some of his students were Tim Hunt,[4] Alan Macfarlane, John Paul Morrison,[5] and Richard Veryard.

Early life and family[edit]

Gerd Sommerhoff and his twin sister were born in Wiesbaden, Germany, to Elizabeth Ruher and Walter Georg Sommerhoff, a wealthy banker who was born in New York to Elise Schumann, the second child of Robert and Clara Schumann. The Sommerhoff family resided in Haarlem, Netherlands, until the loss of the family fortune in the Wall Street crash and the death of their father "in compromising circumstances".[6] The two younger children moved to Ryde on the Isle of Wight in 1931 with their mother Elizabeth Sommerhoff when she married Major Bernard Francis Anne Vernon-Harcourt, while their elder brother, Walter Hans Sommerhoff, emigrated to Santiago, Chile.

Gerd Sommerhoff studied engineering at Zurich Polytechnic (now ETH Zurich) and philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University. Although Gerda Sommerhoff was exempted from internment as an enemy alien in 1939, Gerd Sommerhoff was interned in Canada until 1942. Gerda Sommerhoff, a model for Vogue magazine, sculptor and photographer, emigrated to Santiago, Chile, where she married Juan Eduardo Subercaseaux and had five children. Upon release from internment, Gerd Sommerhoff taught science at the Dragon School and presented science programmes for the BBC from 1960–1962 before being recruited to Sevenoaks School in 1963 by headmaster Kim Taylor.[7]

Child sexual abuse[edit]

Alice Hemmings reported allegations of sexual abuse dating from 1976 in The Sevenoaks Chronicle. The assault was reported to the Kent Police force by Stuart Neilson in 2012.[8] Gerd Sommerhoff was also alleged to have displayed pornography to pupils and to have made obscene remarks including boasts of bestiality. Sevenoaks School agreed to settle a compensation claim by another pupil alleging sexual abuse by Gerd Sommerhoff at Sevenoaks School when he was 12 years old. According to the plaintiff's lawyer, Tracey Emmett, "Sommerhoff’s abuse may have been suspected by those who worked with him."[9] Several further witnesses and victims have subsequently been identified, indicating that Gerd Sommerhoff was a preferential paedophile attracted to pubescent boys.[10]


  • 1950: Analytical Biology
  • 1974: Logic of the Living Brain
  • 1990: Life, Brain and Consciousness
  • 1994: An Account of consciousness in physical and functional terms: A target for research in the neurosciences. Integrative Physiology and Behavioral Science. With Karl F. MacDorman.[11]
  • 1996: In and Out of Consciousness. The intimate history of a search for certainties.
  • 2001: Understanding Consciousness – its function and brain processes.[12]


  1. ^ Richard Brown Baker family papers
  2. ^ Intellectual Autobiography by Richard Sorabji. In Metaphysics, Soul, and Ethics in Ancient Thought: Themes from the Work of Richard Sorabji, By Ricardo Salles. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-926130-7.
  3. ^ J. Paul Morrison's autobiography. Accessed 16 June 2009.
  4. ^ Autobiography of Nobel Prizewinner Tim Hunt
  5. ^ J. Paul Morrison's autobiography. Accessed 7 July 2016.
  6. ^ Gerd Sommerhoff, Obituary, The Times, Friday 17 May 2002
  7. ^ Brian Scragg, Sevenoaks School, A History (1993)
  8. ^ Hemmings, Alice (8 November 2012). "Dead Sevenoaks teacher Gerd Sommerhoff accused of sexual abuse". Sevenoaks Chronicle. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
  9. ^ Doran, Sean-Paul (7 November 2013). "Sevenoaks School settles sex abuse case out of court". Sevenoaks Chronicle. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
  10. ^ Doran, Sean-Paul (18 November 2013). "Sevenoaks School teacher had 'six more victims' of sex abuse, claims accuser". Sevenoaks Chronicle. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  11. ^ Sommerhoff, Gerd; MacDorman, Karl (1994). "An account of consciousness in physical and functional terms: A target for research in the neurosciences". Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science. 29 (2): 151–181. doi:10.1007/BF02691012. PMID 7947330. S2CID 17193883.
  12. ^ Sage Publishers

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