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On the teaching of anatomy.

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Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, New York
The writer of this article has from time to time (while discussing the methods of teaching anatomy with anatomists) taken
occasion to speak critically of the methods in general use. At
their suggestion the views expressed are here given.
The study of anatomy was originally identified with the search
for the nsture of life. One can understand that. the first attempts
towards the unravelling of the mechanism of life should have been
directed to an investigation of the organs of the human body and
their functions. The desire for the understanding of the functions
and not the desire for morphological description was uppermost in
the minds of the older anatomists. This condition lasted until the
middle of the nineteenth century. Even at that time the anatomists were primarily physiologists. Johannes Miiller still wrote
a text book of physiology; Henle wrote fascinating articles and
books on physiological topics; the Webers, who taught anatomy
made discoveries of fundamental importance in physiology and
even Helmholtz was at one time, if I am not mistaken, a teacher
of anatomy. Anatomy at that period was a thrilling topic full
of vital interest, since it was devoted to. the understanding of
the functions of the human body and the nature of disease. An
example of the text books of the premorphological period of Anatomy is Charles Bell’s, “The Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Body.’’
The change in the character of anatomy came i n Germany with
the death of Johannes Miiller-but was prepared within his lifetime. According to the biography of Johannes Muller, written
by Du Bois-Reymond, Johannes Miiller’s dominating ambition
seems to have been to become the German Cuvier. His produc306
tivity in purely descriptive morphology was enormous. Du BoisReymond states that on the average for a number of years Johannes
Muller published over forty-eight pagzs of dzscriptive morphology
not including the plates. There is a law of mass action in the
development of the sciences as well as in chemical reactions tnd
if a man as influential and famous as Johannes Muller pours out
such quantities of purely descriptive material into the biological
flask, it must determine the character of the product. The product was, at the death of Johannes Muller, a neat division of his
chair into one for purely descriptive morphologg-anatomjand one for purely experimental science-physiology.
Was the result ideal or desirable ? Thewriter doubts it. An Jtomy is a real science if it contributes to the solution of the riddle
of life or if i t arouses in the student a desire to look for a solution
of this riddle. The purely descriptive and technical way of teaching anatomy which is iri use today cannot and does not arousesuch
such a desire in the student. If the writer is creditably informed
there are offered at the present time courses in osteology lasting
for sixteen weeks, consisting, in addition to regular lectures and
quizzes, of two or three afternoons a week of ‘laboritory work’
in osteology devoted to tht. modeling of bones in clay. These
efforts are often preceded by a ‘grinding’ course of equal length
in descriptive embryology. The scientific interest left in the students after such courses are completed, could certainly no longer
be directed towards the ideal of a search for the nature of life.
These things are not said with the purpose of critizing individual teachers; the anatomists of this generation find an esttblished
tradition of a purely morphological way of presenting Anatomy
instead of presenting it in a physiological way. Would it not
be natural for the anatomist to give the mechanism of the heartbeat in connection with the anatomical description of this organ;
or to discuss the neurogenic theory of the heartbeat and the
experiments which prove it, when he describes the ganglia of the
heart? Would it not be natural to connect the experimental
investigation of the functions of the spinal cord and the brain
with the anatomical description of these organs? As a matter
of Fact most of thesc experime its, especially those on localiza-
tion are in reality of a purely' anatomical character since they
merely show the path of fibres. Would it not be natural for the
anatomist to discuss the essential experiments on secretion or give
the results of the experiments on internal secretion in coanection
with the description of the organs and their work? I n this way its
original character of a real science would be restored to anatomy
instead of its continuing as a purely technical study.
A reaction against this latter condition of anatomy has already
begun, in this country especially under the leadership of Mall.'
Mall, himself is a pupil, not only of His, but also of Ludwig,
and almost every one of his assistants and followers have entered
the field of experimental embryology or biology. On the other
hand, courses in osteology have disappeared from the curriculum
of anatomy in Baltimore. If I am not mistaken a return to the
functional or physiological mode of teaching anatomy would
exactly correspond t o the ideals of Professor Mall.
The objection will be raised, what is to become of physiology
if such a change is inaugurated? I think physiology could only
benefit by it. The real subject of physiology is the dynamics
,of protoplasm or the constitution of living matter. If viewed
in this light the physiological laboratories have been for some
time in danger of becoming sterile. Enzyme physiology, the
phenomena of immunity, the experimental study of heredity,
of fertilization, etc., have either been investigated outside of the
laboratories of animal physiology or if they have been studied in
a physiological laboratory, such work has been condemned as
unphysiological, not only by the practitioners of medicine but
b y the so-called medical physiologists themselves. What today is called medical physiology proper, is in reality mostly anatomical physiology and should be taught by properly trained
anatomists. If this were done, the physiological laboratory
could again take its place in the vsnguard of science as it once
did in the days of Schwann, Pasteur, Ernest Heinrich Weber and
In Germany the opposition is led especially by Roux in Halle and his followers.
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