The Birth of Modern Biology. The New Anatomy

The year which is usually considered as marking the beginning of what is called the "Scientific Revolution" is 1543. In that year, Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, published a book describing a new view of the solar system, one in which the sun was at the center, and the earth was a planet that moved in an orbit like any other. This marked the beginning of the end of the old Greek view of the universe (in which the earth was at the center), though a century's hard fighting remained before the victory of the new view was manifest.

In that same year, 1543, a second book was published; one as revolutionary for the biological sciences as Copernicus' book was to prove for the physical sciences. This second book was De Corporis Humani Fabrica ("On the Structure of the Human Body") and its author was a Belgian anatomist named Andreas Vesalius {1514-64).

Vesalius was educated in the Netherlands in the strict tradition of Galen, for whom he always retained the greatest respect. However, he traveled to Italy once his education was complete and there he entered a more liberal intellectual atmosphere. He reintroduced Mondino de' Luzzi's old habit of doing his own dissections, and did not allow himself to be influenced by old Greek views when his eyes disagreed with those views.

The book he published, as the result of his observations, was the first accurate book on human anatomy ever presented to the world. It had great advantages over earlier books in two respects. First, it came in an age when printing had been discovered and was in use, so that thousands of copies could be broadcast over Europe. Second, it had illustrations. These illustrations were out-standingly beautiful, many having been done by Jan Stevenzoon van Calcar, a pupil of the artist, Titian. The human body was shown in natural positions and the illustrations of the muscles were particularly good.

Vesalius' life after the appearance of his book was an unhappy one. His views seemed heretical to some and certainly his public dissections, openly advertised by his book, were illegal. He was forced to undertake a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and was lost in a shipwreck on the way back.

Vesalius' revolution in biology, however, was more immediately effective than Copernicus' revolution in astronomy. What Vesalius' book maintained was not some-thing as incredible (on the surface) as the movement of the huge earth through space. Rather, it presented in an attractive manner, the shape and arrangement of organs that (however much it might run counter to ancient authority) anyone might see for himself if he troubled to look.

Greek anatomy was obsolete and a new Italian anatomy flourished. Gabriello Fallopio, or Gabriel Fallopius (1523-62), was one of Vesalius' pupils and carried on in the new tradition. He studied the reproductive system and described the tubes leading from the ovary to the uterus. These are still known as Fallopian tubes.

Another Italian anatomist, Bartolommeo Eustachio, or Eustachius (c.1500-74) was an opponent of Vesalius and an upholder of Galen, but he, too, looked at the human body and described what he saw. He rediscovered Alcmaeon's tube, running from ear to throat; this is now known as the "Eustachian tube."

The refreshing new look in anatomy spread to other branches of biology. The Hippocratic belief in the physician's light hand had, in later centuries, given way to harsh remedies indeed. So crude did matters become, in fact, that surgery, in early modern times, was not considered the concern of the physician but was left to the barbering profession, which thus cut flesh as well as hair. Perhaps because the barber-surgeons were weak on theory, they relied heavily on drastic treatment. Gunshot wounds were disinfected with boiling oil and bleeding was stopped by charring the vessels shut with a red-hot iron.

The French surgeon, Ambroise Pare (1517-90), helped change that. He began life as a barber's apprentice, joined the army as a barber-surgeon, and introduced startling innovations. He used gentle ointments (at room temperature) for gunshot wounds and stopped bleeding by tying off the arteries. With an infinitesimal fraction of the earlier pain, he effected far more frequent cures. He is sometimes called, therefore, "the father of modern surgery."

Pare also devised clever artificial limbs, improved obstetrical methods, and wrote French summaries of the works of Vesalius so that other barber-surgeons, unlearned in Latin, might gather some facts concerning the structure of the human body, before hacking away at random.

And before long, just as the anatomists had to step down from the lecture platform and perform their own dissections, so physicians doffed their academic disdain and stooped to perform operations.

 






Date added: 2022-12-11; views: 261;


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