What we know and what we think is not a new fountain gushing fresh from the barren rock of the unknown at the stroke of the rod of our intellect, it is a stream which flows by us and through us, fed by the far-off rivulets of long ago.
– Michael Foster, Lectures on the History of Physiology (1901)
Words have lives of their own, and life has words of its own. “Physiology” is a word that fits both statements. Today, physiology belongs to the lexical realm of the life sciences, purporting to encompass the investigation of “how life works.” A mystic might argue that physiology is just where it should be, for it has always been about the “study of life” in Western philosophy. The Greek conception of physis – commonly translated purely as “nature” – incorporated metaphors and analogies of “life” from its prehistoric origin. Nature was deemed as “alive”; as birthing, generating, and begetting; as a mirror reflection of humankind’s “self” – the macrocosm of cosmic nature and the microcosm of the earthly living being. Nature’s laws – seen or unseen – constituted the causative principles at work in the living realm. Medicine and natural philosophy went hand-in-hand from ancient times onward, as medicine was regarded as the rational (“scientific”) connection between nature’s operation and the understanding (and treatment) of human health and well-being. Whence, physiology emerged as the “handmaiden” to medicine. Though modern-day medicine still claims a privileged relationship to it, physiology rightfully belongs to biology...
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