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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/825

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THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES AND MEDICINE.

that one half of a modern text-book of physiology consists of applied physics and chemistry; and that it is exactly in the exploration of the phenomena of sensibility and contractility that physics and chemistry have exerted the most potent influence.

Nevertheless, Bichat rendered a solid service to physiological progress by insisting upon the fact that what we call life, in one of the higher animals, is not an indivisible unitary archæus dominating, from its central seat, the parts of the organism, but a compound result of the synthesis of the separate lives of those parts.

"All animals," says he, "are assemblages of different organs, each of which performs its function and concurs, after its fashion, in the preservation of the whole. They are so many special machines in the general machine which constitutes the individual. But each of these special machines is itself compounded of many tissues of very different natures, which in truth constitute the elements of those organs" (loc. cit., lxxix). "The conception of a proper vitality is applicable only to these simple tissues, and not to the organs themselves" (loc. cit., lxxxiv).

And Bichat proceeds to make the obvious application of this doctrine of synthetic life, if I may so call it, to pathology. Since diseases are only alterations of vital properties, and the properties of each tissue are distinct from those of the rest,' it is evident that the diseases of each tissue must be different from those of the rest. Therefore, in any organ composed of different tissues, one may be diseased and the other remain healthy; and this is what happens in most cases (loc. cit.,;xxxv).

In a spirit of true prophecy, Bichat says, "We have arrived at an epoch, in which pathological anatomy should start afresh." For as the analysis of the organs had led him to the tissues, as the physiological units of the organism; so, in a succeeding generation, the analysis of the tissues led to the cell as the physiological element of the tissues. The contemporaneous study of development brought out the same result, and the zoölogists and botanists exploring the simplest and the lowest forms of animated beings confirmed the great induction of the cell theory. Thus the apparently opposed views, which have been battling with one another ever since the middle of the last century, have proved to be each half the truth.

The proposition of Descartes that the body of a living man is a machine, the actions of which are explicable by the known laws of matter and motion, is unquestionably largely true. But it is also true that the living body is a synthesis of innumerable physiological elements, each of which may nearly be described, in Wolff's words, as a fluid possessed of a "vis essentialis," and a "solidescibilitas"; or, in modern phrase, as protoplasm susceptible of structural metamorphosis and functional metabolism; and that the only machinery, in the precise sense in which the Cartesian school understood mechanism, is that