History of Physiology

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 b.c.) speculated on the function of the human body, but another ancient Greek, Era-sistratus (304-250? b.c.), is considered the father of physiology because he attempted to apply physical laws to the study of human function. Galen (a.d. 130-201) wrote widely on the subject and was considered the supreme authority until the advent of the Renaissance. Physiology became a fully experimental science with the revolutionary work of the English physician William Harvey (1578-1657), who demonstrated that the heart pumps blood through a closed system of vessels.

However, the father of modern physiology is the French physiologist Claude Bernard (1813-1878), who observed that the milieu interieur ("internal environment") remains remarkably constant despite changing conditions in the external environment. In a book entitled The Wisdom of the Body, published in 1932, the

Chapter One

American physiologist Walter Cannon (1871-1945) coined the term homeostasis to describe this internal constancy. Cannon further suggested that the many mechanisms of physiological regulation have but one purposeā€”the maintenance of internal constancy.

Most of our present knowledge of human physiology has been gained in the twentieth century. Further, new knowledge is being added at an ever more rapid pace, fueled in more recent decades by the revolutionary growth of molecular genetics and its associated biotechnology, and by the availability of ever more powerful computers and other equipment. A very brief history of twentieth-century physiology, limited by space to only two citations per decade, is provided in table 1.1.

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