Reading: Claude Bernard

Article: Claude Bernard and the constancy of the internal environment


Claude Bernard is most famous for his idea that the maintenance of a stable internal environment is a prerequisite for the development of a complex nervous system.

Unlike some other prominent scientists, Bernard had received many awards for his contributions. Some of his discoveries include the function of the pancreas.

However, his most important contribution was ignored until around 50 years after his death. It gained attention after Leon Fredericq observed that the body fluids of crabs and lobsters were about as salty as sea water, while those of marine fish were much less salty. This connected Bernard’s idea to evolution and gave it new importance, with many prominent scientists referring to it and extending it even to the social environment.

Some reasons the author gave for it being largely ignored at first was that:

  1. Louis Pasteur’s new bacteriology was dominating the attention of scientists at that time.
  2. The constancy of the internal environment took on new, accessible meaning only after it helped to close the gap between evolution and physiology, bringing it to the attention of a much larger group of scientists.
  3. The tools for measuring the internal environment were not available at that time. For example, the work of Walter B. Cannon, the scientist who helped raise the importance of Bernard’s idea in neurophysiology and psychology, required the development of the cathode-ray tube oscilloscope. This hampered the ability of scientists to prove and expand Bernard’s idea in their fields of science.


Some thoughts:

Scientists often stumble upon important discoveries that go unnoticed in their lifetimes. Many don’t know what impact their discoveries will have on the field of science, and some discoveries go through many scientists before their true value is found, such as in the case of the idea of homeostasis.

Don’t discount your findings. Science is a team effort.


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