Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine

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Overview


Clear and penetrating presentation of the basic principles of scientific research from the great French physiologist whose contributions in the 19th century included the discovery of vasomotor nerves; nature of curare and other poisons in human body; functions of pancreatic juice in digestion; elucidation of glycogenic function of the liver.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486204000
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 6/1/1957
  • Series: Dover Books on Biology Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,026,207
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt

An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine


By Claude Bernard, Henry Copley Greene

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1957 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15131-1



CHAPTER 1

OBSERVATION AND EXPERIMENT

ONLY within very narrow boundaries can man observe the phenomena which surround him; most of them naturally escape his senses, and mere observation is not enough. To extend his knowledge, he has had to increase the power of his organs by means of special appliances; at the same time he has equipped himself with various instruments enabling him to penetrate inside of bodies, to dissociate them and to study their hidden parts. A necessary order may thus be established among the different processes of investigation or research, whether simple or complex: the first apply to those objects easiest to examine, for which our senses suffice; the second bring within our observation, by various means, objects and phenomena which would otherwise remain unknown to us forever, because in their natural state they are beyond our range. Investigation, now simple, again equipped and perfected, is therefore destined to make us discover and note the more or less hidden phenomena which surround us.

But man does not limit himself to seeing; he thinks and insists on learning the meaning of the phenomena whose existence has been revealed to him by observation. So he reasons, compares facts, puts questions to them, and by the answers which he extracts, tests one by another. This sort of control, by means of reasoning and facts, is what constitutes experiment, properly speaking; and it is the only process that we have for teaching ourselves about the nature of things outside us.

In the philosophic sense, observation shows, and experiment teaches. This first distinction will serve as our starting point in examining the different definitions of observation and experiment devised by philosophers and physicians.


I. VARIOUS DEFINITIONS OF OBSERVATION AND EXPERIMENT

Men sometimes seem to confuse experiment with observation. Bacon appears to combine them when he says: "Observation and experiment for gathering material, induction and deduction for elaborating it: these are our only good intellectual tools."

Physicians and physiologists, like most men of science, distinguish observation from experiment, but do not entirely agree in defining the two terms.

Zimmermann expresses himself as follows: "An experiment differs from an observation in this, that knowledge gained through observation seems to appear of itself, while that which an experiment brings us is the fruit of an effort that we make, with the object of knowing whether something exists or does not exist."

This definition embodies a rather generally accepted opinion. According to this definition, observation would be noting objects or phenomena, as nature usually presents them, while experiment would be noting phenomena created or defined by the experimenter. We should set up a sort of contrast, in this way, between observers and experimenters: the first being passive in the appearance of phenomena; the second, on the other hand, taking a direct and active part in producing them. Cuvier expressed the same thought in saying: "The observer listens to nature; the experimenter questions and forces her to unveil herself."

At first sight, and considering things in a general way, this distinction between the experimenter's activity and the observer's passivity seems plain and easy to establish. But as soon as we come down to experimental practice we find that, in many instances, the separation is very hard to make, and that it sometimes even involves obscurity. This comes, it seems to me, from confusing the art of investigation, which seeks and establishes facts, with the art of reasoning, which works them up logically in the search for truth. Now in investigation there may be activity, at once of the mind and of the senses, whether in making observations or in making experiments.

Indeed, if we chose to admit that observation is characterized by this alone, that men of science note phenomena which nature produces spontaneously and without interference by them, still we could not conclude that the mind, like the hand, always remains inactive in observation; and we should be led to distinguish under this head two kinds of observations, some passive, others active. I assume, for instance, what often occurs,—that some endemic disease appears in a region and presents itself to a physician's observation. Here is a spontaneous or passive observation which the physician makes by chance and without being led to it by any preconceived idea. But after observing the first case, if the physician has an idea that the appearance of this disease may well be related to certain special meteorological or hygienic circumstances, he takes a journey to other regions where the same disease prevails, to see whether it develops under the same conditions. This second observation, made in view of a preconceived idea of the nature and cause of the disease, is what we must obviously call an induced or active observation. I should say as much of an astronomer who, in watching the sky, discovers a planet passing, by chance, before his telescope; in this case he makes a fortuitous or passive observation, i.e., without a preconceived idea. But, if the astronomer, after noting the aberrations of a planet, goes on to make observations, to seek a reason for them, then I should say that he makes active observations, i.e., observations produced by a preconceived idea of the cause of the aberration. We might multiply instances of this kind ad infinitum, to prove that, in noting natural phenomena that present themselves, the mind is now passive, now active,—which means, in other words, that observations are made, now without a preconceived idea and by chance, and again with a preconceived idea, i.e., with intention to verify the accuracy of a mental conception.

On the other hand, if we concede, as we said above, that experiment is characterized by this alone, that men of science note phenomena which they have produced artificially and which would not naturally have presented themselves, even then we could not find that the experimenter's hand always actively interfered to bring about the appearance of these phenomena. In certain cases indeed we have seen accidents where nature acted for him; and here again, from the point of view of manual intervention, we shall be forced to distinguish between active experiments and passive experiments. Let me assume that a physiologist wishes to study digestion and to learn what happens in a living animal's stomach; he will divide the walls of the abdomen and stomach according to known operative rules and will establish what is called a gastric fistula. The physiologist will certainly think that he has made an experiment, because he has interfered actively to make phenomena appear which did not present themselves naturally to his eyes. But now, let me ask, did Dr. W. Beaumont make an experiment when he came across that young Canadian hunter who had received a point-blank gun-shot in the left hypochondria, and who had a wide fistula of the stomach in the scar, through which one could look inside that organ? Dr. Beaumont took this man into his service and was able to study the phenomena of gastric digestion de visu for several years, as he shows in the interesting journal which he has given us on this subject. In the first case, the physiologist acted on the preconceived idea of studying digestive phenomena and made an active experiment. In the second case, an accident produced a fistula of the stomach, and it presented itself fortuitously to Dr. Beaumont. According to our definition, he made a passive experiment. These examples therefore prove that, in verifying the phenomena called experiments, the experimenter's manual activity does not always come in, since it happens that the phenomena, as we have seen, may present themselves as fortuitous or passive observations.

But certain physiologists and physicians characterize observation and experiment somewhat differently. For them, observation consists in noting everything normal and regular. It matters little whether the investigator has produced the appearance of the phenomena himself or by another's hands or by accident; he considers them without disturbing them in their natural state and so makes an observation. Thus, according to these authors, observations were made in both examples of gastric fistula cited above, because in both cases we had under our eyes digestive phenomena in their natural state. The fistula served only for seeing better and making observations under the most favorable conditions.

Experiment, according to the same physiologists, implies, on the contrary, the idea of a variation or disturbance that an investigator brings into the conditions of natural phenomena. This definition corresponds, in fact, to a large group of experiments made in physiology, which might be called experiments by destruction. This form of experimenting, which goes back to Galen, is the simplest; it should suggest itself to the minds of anatomists wishing to learn, in the living subject, the use of parts that they have isolated by dissection in the cadaver. To do this, we suppress an organ in the living subject, by a section or ablation; and from the disturbance produced in the whole organism or in a special function, we deduce the function of the missing organ. This essentially analytic, experimental method is put in practice every day in physiology. For instance, anatomy had taught us that two principal nerves diverge in the face: the facial (seventh cranial) and the trigeminal (fifth cranial); to learn their functions, they were cut, one at a time. The result showed that section of the facial nerve brings about loss of movement, and section of the trigeminal, loss of sensation, from which it was concluded that the facial is the motor nerve of the face, and the trigeminal the sensory nerve.

We said that, in studying digestion by means of a fistula, we merely make an observation, according to the definition which we are examining. But after we have established the fistula, if we go on to cut the nerves of the stomach, in order to see the changes which result in the digestive function, then, according to the same way of thinking, we make an experiment, because we seek to learn the function of a part from the disturbance which its suppression involves. And this may be summed up by saying that in experimentation we make judgments by comparing two facts, one normal, the other abnormal.

This definition of experiment necessarily assumes that experimenters must be able to touch the body on which they wish to act, whether by destroying it or by altering it, so as to learn the part which it plays in the phenomena of nature. As we shall later see, it is on this very possibility of acting, or not acting, on a body that the distinction will exclusively rest between sciences called sciences of observation and sciences called experimental.

But if the definition of experiment which we have just given differs from the definition examined in the first place in that it admits that we make an experiment only when we can vary or can dissociate phenomena by a kind of analysis, still it resembles the first in that it also always assumes an intentional activity on the experimenter's part, in producing a disturbance of the phenomena. Now it will be easy to show that the operator's intentional action can often be replaced by an accident. Here too, as in the first definition, we might distinguish between disturbances occurring intentionally and disturbances occurring spontaneously or unintentionally. Indeed taking again the example in which a physiologist cuts the facial nerve to learn its function, I assume that a ball, a sabre cut or a splinter of stone, has cut or destroyed the facial nerve; there will result fortuitously a paralysis of movement, i.e., a disturbance, exactly the same as that which the physiologist caused intentionally.

It is the same in the case of numberless pathological lesions which are real experiments, by which physicians and physiologists profit, without any purpose on their part to produce the lesions, which result from disease. I emphasize this idea now, because it will be useful to us later, to prove that medicine includes real experiments which are spontaneous, and not produced by physicians.

I will make one more remark by way of conclusion. If indeed we characterize experiment by a variation or disturbance brought into a phenomenon, it is only in so far as we imply that the disturbance must be compared with the normal state. As experiments indeed are only judgments, they necessarily require comparison between two things; and the intentional or active element in an experiment is really the comparison which the mind intends to make. Now, whether the alteration is produced by accident or otherwise, the experimenter's mind compares none the less. It is therefore unnecessary to regard as a disturbance one of the facts to be compared, especially as there is nothing disturbed or abnormal in nature; everything happens according to laws which are absolute, i.e., always normal and determined. Effects vary with the conditions which bring them to pass, but laws do not vary. Physiological and pathological states are ruled by the same forces; they differ only because of the special conditions under which the vital laws manifest themselves.


II. GAINING EXPERIENCE AND RELYING ON OBSERVATION IS DIFFERENT FROM MAKING EXPERIMENTS AND MAKING OBSERVATIONS

The general objection which I make to the preceding definitions is that they give words too narrow a meaning, by taking account of only the art of investigation, instead of considering observation and experiment at the same time as the two opposite extremes of experimental reasoning. So we find these definitions lacking in clearness and generality. To give the definition its full usefulness and value, therefore, I think that we must distinguish what pertains to the method of investigation, used to gather facts, from the characteristics of the intellectual method, which utilizes facts and makes them at once the support and the criterion of the experimental method.

In French the word expérience in the singular means, in general and in the abstract, the knowledge gained in the practice of life. When we apply to a physician the word experience in the singular, it means the information which he has gained in the practice of medicine. It is the same with the other professions; and it is in this sense that we say that a man has gained experience, or that he has experience. Subsequently the word expérience (experiment) in the concrete was extended to cover the facts which give us experimental information about things.

The word observation in the singular, in its general and abstract use, means noting a fact accurately with the help of appropriate studies and means of investigation. In the concrete the word observation has been extended to cover the facts noted; and it is in this sense that we speak of medical observations, astronomical observations, etc.

Speaking concretely, when we say "making experiments or making observations," we mean that we devote ourselves to investigation and to research, that we make attempts and trials in order to gain facts from which the mind, through reasoning, may draw knowledge or instruction.

Speaking in the abstract, when we say "relying on observation and gaining experience," we mean that observation is the mind's support in reasoning, and experience the mind's support in deciding, or still better, the fruit of exact reasoning applied to the interpretation of facts. It follows from this that we can gain experience without making experiments, solely by reasoning appropriately about well-established facts, just as we can make experiments and observations without gaining experience, if we limit ourselves to noting facts.

Observation, then, is what shows facts; experiment is what teaches about facts and gives experience in relation to anything. But as this teaching can come through comparison and judgment only, i.e., by sequence of reasoning, it follows that man alone is capable of gaining experience and perfecting himself by it.

"Experience," says Goethe, "disciplines man every day." But this is because man reasons accurately and experimentally about what he observes; otherwise he could not correct himself. The insane, who have lost their reason, no longer learn from experience; they no longer reason experimentally. Experience, then, is the privilege of reason. "Only man may verify his thoughts and set them in order; only man may correct, rectify, improve, perfect and so make himself every day more skilful, wise and fortunate. Finally for man alone does the art exist, that supreme art of which the most vaunted arts are mere tools and raw material: the art of reason, reasoning."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine by Claude Bernard, Henry Copley Greene. Copyright © 1957 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

AUTHOR'S PREFACE
PART ONE
  EXPERIMENTAL REASONING
  I. OBSERVATION AND EXPERIMENT
  II. THE A PRIORI IDEA AND DOUBT IN EXPERIMENTAL REASONING
PART TWO
  EXPERIMENTATION WITH LIVING BEINGS
  I. EXPERIMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS COMMON TO LIVING THINGS AND INORGANIC BODIES
  II. EXPERIMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS PECULIAR TO LIVING BEINGS
PART THREE
  APPLICATIONS OF THE EXPERIMENTAL METHOD TO THE STUDY OF VITAL PHENOMENA
  I. EXAMPLES OF EXPERIMENTAL PHYSIOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION
  II. EXAMPLES OF EXPERIMENTAL PHYSIOLOGICAL CRITICISIM
  III. INVESTIGATION AND CRITICISM AS APPLIED TO EXPERIMENTAL MEDICINE
  IV. PHILOSOPHIC OBSTACLES ENCOUNTERED BY EXPERIMENTAL MEDICINE
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