Paul Ferdinand Schilder

Born 1886-02-15
Died 1940

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Austrian-American neurologist, born February 15, 1886, Vienna; died 1940.

Biography of Paul Ferdinand Schilder

Paul Ferdinand Schilder attended the University of Vienna, graduating in medicine in 1909. He was influenced by the philosopher Laurenz Müller and the physiologist Siegmund Exner (1846-1926). Although of strong philosophical bent, his first paper, published as a student, was in neuropathology.

From 1909 to 1912 Schilder was assistant to Gabriel Anton (1858-1933) at Halle. In this period he analyzed choreic and athetoid movements. He noted, for instance, that athetosis complicating hemiplegia was probably caused by a lesion in the dentate nucelus of the cerebellum. During this period he also made his first observations on encephalitis periaxialis diffusa, since known as Schilder’s disease. His philosophic and psychologic interests found expression in the study of language, aphasia, and states of consciousness.

From 1912 to 1914 he worked in Leipzig, where he conducted extensive neurophysical studies. During this period he published a paper on symbolism in schizophrenia and a book on self-consciousness.

Schilder received the doctorate of philosophy from the University of Vienna in absentia in 1917, while he was on active service in the First World War. After the armistice he pursued an academic career working with Wagner von Jauregg (1857-1940) in Vienna from 1918. He was made Privatdozxent in 1921 and professor extraordinarius in 1925.
Schilder's interest in neurology and psychiatry led him to the field of psychoanalysis, becoming an active member of the Psychoanalytic Society and a friend and colleague of Sigmund Freud. However, he did not accept established psycho-analytic dogma, particularly that of the death instinct, and published his own concepts in a series of papers and monographs.

In 1930 Schilder moved to New York to become director of clinical psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry of the New York University Medical School. Working in conjunction with his wife, Lauretta Bender, he pursued his research into consciousness in children.

Schilder was an articulate lecturer with a high pitched voice and a penchant for gesticulation in the grand manner. In the Vienna faculty he was a noted figure, medium-sized, swarthy and handsome, his scholarly appearance accentuated by a dense, close-cropped beard. In the true professorial manner Schilder could be distracted by his inner thoughts to the extent that he became unaware of his surroundings, a quality that may have contributed to his early death.

Schilder was killed in 1940 at the age of 54 years when he was struck by a motorcar in New York. He had always been disdainful of traffic signals and was known to cross Times Square in the rush hour in spite of the red light, with books piled to eye level on one arm and the other held aloft motioning the speeding cars to come to a halt.

Schilder was an indefatigable writer. The story goes that when he heard that Wagner von Jauregg was to receive the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine he was one of the first to congratulate him. Wagner von Jauregg remarked: “Dont’t worry; you will receive the Nobel Prize, too – but in literature.”

    The behaviour of the child can only bee understood as a continuous process of trial and error, which leads to construction and configuration as a basis for action . . . Human beings drive into the future by trial and error and thereby find their happiness . . .
    In a biography written in 1940.

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