- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Siegmund Exner

Born  1846
Died  1926

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Austrian physiologist, born April 5, 1846, Vienna; died February 5, 1926. First name also commonly spelled Sigmund.

Biography of Siegmund Exner

Siegmund ExnerSiegmund Exner was the son of Franz Serafin, professor of philosophy and a school reformer, and Charlotte Dusensy. Like himself, his brothers Exner, Karl Exner and Franz-Serafin Exner later became famous professors.

Siegmund Exner attended the Akademische Gymnasium and began his medical studies in 1965. He first studied in Vienna under Ernst Wilhelm Ritter von Brücke (1819-1892), then in Heidelberg under Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821-1894). He received his doctorate on December 23, 1870. From 1871 he was an assistant at the physiological institute at the University of Vienna, becoming professor extraordinary there in 1875.

At the physiological institute Exner met the neurologist Josef Breuer (1842-1925) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who conducted important neurophysiologic investigations there between 1876 and 1882. Both these two neurologists turned psychologists are said to have influenced Exner greatly.
In 1891 he succeeded Ernst von Brücke as professor of physiology and leader of the hygienic institute. In 1894 he was called to the ministry of culture and education, and in 1898 received the title of k.u.k. Hofrat, while retaining his chair. Exner remained head of the physiological institute at the University of Vienna until 1917. He received honorary doctorates from the universities of Leipzig and Athens.

From 1910 Exner was president of the Medical Society of Vienna – die Gesellschaft der Ärzte in Wien. In 1917 he was raised to the nobility for his contributions to medical-physiological education.

Siegmund Exner was married to Emilie, née von Winiwarter (1850-1909), who became an accomplished writer, publishing under the name of Felicie Ewart. They had two sons: Alfred von Exner Erwarten (1875), surgeon and university professor; and Felix Maria von Exner-Ewarten, meteorologist and university professor.

Siegmund Exner is remembered for his important contributions to comparative physiology, brain research and perception psychology from a physiological viewpoint. One of his main fields of research was perception psychology with studies of the olfactory organs, on the sensitivity of retina regeneration, on colour contrast and on the vision of compound eyes. Especially important were his investigations on the localisation of behavioural functions in the brain, as well as his work on the functional architecture of the optical cortex.


  • Leitfaden bei der mikroskopischen Untersuchung thierischer Gewebe.
    1873. Zweite, verbesserte Auflage. Leipzig 1878. VIII + 96 pages.
  • Untersuchungen über die Localisation der Functionen in der Grosshirnrinde des Menschen.
    With Conrad Eckhard (1822-1905). Vienna, W. Braumuller, 1881. 180 pages.
  • Die Physiologie des Fliegens und Schwebens in den bildenden Künsten: Vortrag gehalten im Österreichischen Museum für Kunst und Industrie am 5. Januar 1882.
    Wien: Braumüller, 1882.
  • Die Physiologie der facettierten Augen von Krebsen und Insekten.
    With Conrad Eckhard. Leipzig : F. Deuticke. Vienna, 1891.
    English translation: The Physiology of the Compound Eyes of Insects and Crustaceans: A Study.
    Springer Verlag, February 1989.
  • Entwurf zu einer physiologischen Erklärung der psychischen Erscheinungen.
    Vienna, 1894.
    Also published in the series “Ostwald Klassiker” by O. Breidbach. Harri Deutsch, Thun, Frankfurt am Main, 1999.
    In this work, Sigmund Exner first formulated the concept of a neural network, a concept later used in computer design.
  • Über das „Schweben” der Raubvögel. Archiv für die gesammte Physiologie des Menschen und der Thiere, 1906, 114: 109-142. Reprinted in 2004. Biographical etc.
  • August Hirsch (1817-1894), publisher:
    Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker.
    2nd edition. Berlin, Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1929.
    First published in 6 volumes 1884-1888. 3rd edition, München 1962.
  • O. Breidbach:
    Bemerkungen zu Exners Physiologie des Fliegens und Schwebens.
    In: O. Breidbach: Natur der Ästhetik - Ästhetik der Natur. Volume 1, pp. 221-223. Springer Verlag Wien, 1997.
  • Deborah R. Coen:
    Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism and Private Life.
    University of Chicago 2007.
  • Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia.
We thank Rudolf Kleinert, Bad Reichenhall, Germany, for information submitted..

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