Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Johann Müller (the physiologist)

And today we have Johann Müller, the physiologist.

From Father Kneller:

The greatest physiologist of the first half of the nineteenth century is admitted on all hands to have been Johannes Müller (born July 14th 1801 at Coblenz, died April 28th 1858 at Berlin, where he had occupied the Chair of Anatomy and Physiology). "The first physiologist not merely of our day but of our century, indeed one of the greatest of all time", R. Wagner, calls him; "the Haller of our generation, the Cuvier of Germany", says Du Bois-Reymond. The extent and variety of his scientific works are simply astounding. It has been calculated that in 37 years he published papers amounting in all to 950 sheets, i. e. about 3-1/2 sheets of hard and original scientific work every five weeks! And of these publications there is "not a single one that can be called weak". "The mass of facts which Müller's labours brought to light is simply incalculable, and in all his research work we hardly ever find an inaccurate or incomplete observation. On the contrary we find many instances in which his conclusions, although at first disputed, ultimately forced their way to acceptance."

Müller was snatched suddenly away in the very fullness of his activity. In a brochure published in 1899, on the occasion of the erection of a memorial to him in his native city, we find the following extract from the Berlin "Nationalzeitung" of May 2 1858:

"The funeral of Dr. Johannes Müller took place this morning with full religious service. A great procession of mourners followed the coffin from the Professor's residence to the cemetery. The Minister Von Raumer was present together with many of the leading members of his Council, as also others of prominence in the official world. The deceased had been a member of the Hedwig Guild of this city, and the Episcopal Legate Pelldram, Prior of the Guild, took part in the service and preached the funeral sermon. He dwelt on the brilliant and amiable qualities of Dr. Müller, and spoke of him as a man of stainless honour, a loyal friend a loving and beloved husband and father, a master and pioneer of science. Unspoiled by the glory and renown which were his, he never wavered for a moment from the firm and humble faith of his boyhood; in public and in private he was the most religious of men, and the deeper he pierced into the secrets of science, the more ardently he cried out in praise of the wisdom and greatness of God....

The funeral proceeded by the Lust-Garten, up the Linden, and Friedrichstrasse, to the Catholic Churchyard in Liesenstrasse, where all that was mortal of the great scientist was interred with the full ceremony of the Catholic Church."
[Kneller, Christianity and the Leaders of Modern Science]

[Müller's] special researches of the Bonn epoch are those of the minute structure and anatomy of the glands. They put an end to the controversy which had existed so long between adherents of Malpighi and Ruysch, concerning the sacculated extremities of the glandular follicles, and obtained for us a correct knowledge of these important organs throughout the whole animal kingdom. Perhaps his most important work is that of the Ducts of Müller, the structures (named after him) which form so important a part of the genito-urinary system in the embryo."Not long after his appointment to the chair of physiology at the University of Berlin Müller completed the well-known "Hand-book of Physiology," which established his reputation. The book is sometimes spoken of as an experimental physiology, but this is not correct. Müller was no more a mere experimentalist than Haller,and he, himself, heartily detested the tendency which experimental physiology had assumed in France, especially under the influence of Magendie. Part of Müller's aversion to experimental physiology was aesthetic. He could not bear the idea of inflicting so much pain as many of his colleagues inflicted without a thought. In his panegyric of Rudolphi, Müller says: "Rudolph) looked upon physiological experiments as having no relation to anatomical accuracy, and it is no wonder that this admirable man, who had at every opportunity expressed his abhorrence of vivisection, took up a hostile position against all hypotheses and conclusions insufficiently established upon physiological experiments." Müller adds: "We could not have failed to share his righteous indignation, had we seen how many physiologists were using every effort to reduce physiology to an experimental science by the live dissection and agonies of innumerable animals, undertaken without any definite plan, and yielding often only insignificant and imperfect results."

Müller shared these views of Rudolphi with regard to vivisection. The uncertainty of the conclusions, the amount of suffering inflicted, and the indefiniteness of the conditions of experiment, so that the conclusions could not have any very great weight, or any special accuracy of information, made him consider such experiments, unless very carefully conducted by trained investigators, as largely a waste of time and infliction of unnecessary pain and a leading astray of physiological advance because of the uncertainty involved.

The qualities in Müller's "Hand-book of Physiology," which gave it its greatest value, are the thorough review of all of the physiological literature of the world which it contains, and the greatest number of original observations it details as the basis of the principles enunciated.

It is as a teacher that Müller did his best work. He was not by nature a good talker and never said much, but he was very direct; and, as he spoke from the largest possible and most progressive knowledge of the subject, his lectures were always interesting to serious students.

Müller was buried with all the rites of the Church, and as in Germany the ecclesiastical authorities are very strict in this matter, there can be no doubt that the great physiologist had been a faithful Catholic. He was known for his edifying attendance at Mass on all the Sundays of the year. Many years afterward, in the midst of the Kulturkampf in the early seventies, a monument was erected to him in his native Coblentz, and the occasion of its unveiling was taken by the Catholic Rhineland for a celebration in honor of their great scientist.
For a time, in his younger years, Müller appears to have been not all unaffected by the materialistic tendencies so rife in the science of the time. His early anatomical investigations seem to have clouded somewhat his faith in things spiritual. One of the expressions attributed to him before his twenty-fifth year is that nothing exists in the human being which cannot be discovered by the scalpel. It was not long, however, before Müller repudiated this expression and came back to a realization of the importance of the immaterial. Another expression attributed to him, "Nemo psychologus, nisi physiologus," "No one can be a psychologist, unless he is a physiologist," has been often repeated as if Müller meant it in an entirely materialist sense. As a matter of fact, however, it is intended to convey only the idea that no one can really exhaust the science of psychology unless he knows the physiology of the brain, the organ which the mind uses in its functions in this life. The expression is really the foundation of the modern physiological psychology, which is by no means necessarily materialistic in its tendency, and has become a favorite subject of study even with those who appreciate thoroughly the importance of the immaterial side of psychology.
[from Walsh, Makers of Modern Medicine]

Also see the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which was also written by Dr. Walsh.


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