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Physiology: The Language of Life and Nature


George Rick Welch

This book paints a flowing picture of the relationship beween life and nature, through the evolution of a word – physiology. Today, it denotes a scientific discipline at the intersection of biology and medicine, signifying the «study of life». Yet, physiology manifests a split personality in the course of history. It came down to us from the ancient Greeks, where it represented the «study of nature», or «natural philosophy» – the precursor of modern-day «science». Physiology originates from an older Greek root, physis – meaning «nature» itself – that stretches far back to the birth of Greek thought. How did this word generate two such disparate meanings? What does this word tell us, historically, about humankind’s grasp of the essence of nature and the essence of life – and the interrelationship between the two? The author follows an etymological path into the distant past, in writing the biography of the word «physiology». The book delves into linguistic pre-history, in search of the primordially interwoven views of life and nature – and the words that symbolized those views. It tracks the evolving meaning of those words in Western civilization across time, space, language, and culture.
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I wish to extend my sincere appreciation to Peter Lang International Academic Publisher, for their interest in my monograph for the series on “Nature, Science, and the Arts.” In particular, I owe a big debt of gratitude to Angelica Scholze, the editor at Peter Lang who has guided my book through the publication process with great care, skill, and patience. I should also like to thank the kind and helpful staffs at the British Library, the Cambridge University Library, and the Whipple Library, where much of my literature research was conducted. I am grateful to the Wellcome Trust (Medical Humanities section) for a grant in support of this work.

I would like to thank the Department of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for accepting me into its fold (jointly with my position in the Department of Biological Sciences) some years back, as I began a serious “turn” to the history of science. I am especially grateful to Profs. Sandra Herbert and Joe Tatarewicz, for their camaraderie and for their tutelage in the teaching of the history of science.

I am especially grateful to the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, for hosting me as an Affiliated Research Scholar during these past six years. The academic and support staffs there have been incredibly helpful and supportive on so many levels. I should particularly like to thank Drs. Andrew Cunningham and Lauren Kassell, for their advice and...

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