Chapter 8: Physiology: The Word Comes to Life
Chapter 8Physiology: The Word Comes to Life
One of the phænomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery [...] I resolved these circumstances in my mind, and determined thenceforth to apply myself more particularly to those branches of natural philosophy which relate to physiology.
– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)
8.1 Physiology: A Word Apart
There are in nature two classes of beings, two classes of properties, and two classes of sciences. Beings are organic or inorganic, properties vital or non-vital, and sciences physiological or physical.
– Xavier Bichat, Anatomie Générale, Appliquée à la Phyiologie et à la Médecine (1801)
The historical separation of the modern terms “physiology,” “physician,” and “physics” was a piecemeal process, due to the longstanding lexical bridge that physica (and, to some extent, physiologia) had occupied between natural philosophy and medicine since Late Antiquity. As the Renaissance unfolded, Bylebyl (1990) remarks, there was a “demise of medical physica in Latin and the Romance vernaculars [and] a general return to classical usage.” In the wake, we read further from the previous author, the medical connotations of physica and physicus “passed out of currency in continental Europe, stranding the English words ‘physic’ and ‘physician’...
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