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What is Anatomy?



What is Anatomy?

What is Anatomy?

Gray's Anatomy

The study of human anatomy has signified many things to different cultures across the ages and has been prompted by diverse motives: the need to cope with injury, disease and death, the generation of images for aesthetic, magical or religious purposes and beside this practical preoccupations a strong element of curiosity about the mysterious nature of human life an 13313e47n d its mechanisms.

The first recorded school of anatomy was in Alexandria (from about 300 BC to the second century AD) where the renowned anatomical teachers Herophilus and Erasistratus dissected the human body and described many of its structures. Before this time, dissection has been practiced at various times in classical Greece, and also as part of the mummification process in Egypt during the previous two millennia, although little is known of how the dissectors interpreted what they found.

The most influential anatomist in the ancient world was Galen (about 130-200 A.D.) a physician and prolific writer who studied anatomy at Alexandria and later worked in Rome. However his anatomy was largely based on the dissection of animals rather than humans. Seriously flawed by many errors and misinterpretations, Galen's work became the received unassailable text for anatomy and seems to have exerted a deadening influence on the subject over the next 1300 years.

Many terms used in modern anatomy have roots in Galen's work. Thereafter anatomical literature of any consequence dates from the time of the Renaissance. Setting apart the extraordinary but until recently ignored studies by Leonardo da Vinci at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the foundation stone of modern anatomy is the work of Andreas Vesalius: De Fabrica Corporis Humani, published in 1543 when the author was aged 28 and teaching in Padua. This book had considerable impact because it was based on first-hand experience of human dissection rather than reliance on ancient texts and it must also be allowed, because of the imaginative and most striking quality of its excellent illustrations. After this epoch-making publication, anatomical science began to flourish, initially in the north Italian universities then throughout Europe.

However, because of the social and religious attitudes surrounding the provision of bodies for dissection until recent times, the study of anatomy had many untoward resonances during the centuries that followed, some of them macabre, or anti-intellectual, others more benign.

In England during the eighteenth century and later the ultimate judicial threat to the wrong doer was to be anatomized after execution. Throughout Europe, anatomists obtained their subjects for dissection largely from executions of criminals, from the poor houses or more often in Britain illicit graveyard exhumations. As medical science progressed during the nineteenth century and became more successful at treating the sick, the need for legally obtained cadavers was recognized and became carefully controlled by law. The sinister connotations of anatomy gradually faded as the benefits of a thorough medical training and the enlargement of medical knowledge became appreciated at large. So, for example, in Britain the bequeathal of one's body to medical school after death eventually became an expression of personal philanthropy, often in gratitude for successful medical treatment in an early period of life.

The anatomist became fully acceptable both socially and as the subject expanded beyond the confines of human topography, also academically. By the beginning of the twentieth century anatomy departments had generally achieved a high standing in the world of science and prestigious university chairs in the subject attracted some of the best intellects into anatomical teaching and research.

The horizons of anatomy were also steadily expanded as specialized areas of study developed. From topographical anatomy never researched fields arose: physical anthropology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, biomechanics, kinesiology and radiological and other macroscopic imaging studies. At the microscopic level, histologists continued to explore a novel world of minute structures within the human body, and as new instruments and methods of preparation were developed , anatomy forged ever-increasing links with biochemistry, physiology, genetics and physics.

The complex changes of prenatal development were also discovered in embryological studies and it became clear that much of adult anatomy can only be understood by knowing its prenatal history .In the study of the nervous system neuroanatomy took its place as one of a battery of approaches needed for neurobiological exploration complemented by neurophysiology, neuropharmacology, experimental psychology and more recently molecular biology and dynamic whole brain imaging.

Because of this immense ramification of interest and the blending of the structural approach with other disciplines, the proper territory of anatomy is at present hard to define. Clearly, for clinical purposes it must concern itself primarily with human topographic anatomy that is, the clear and sufficiently detailed analysis for the body to serve the needs of surgeons, physicians and the various medical specialties. But it is not sufficient merely to name the parts: anatomists have sometimes been criticized for a slavish attention to minutiae and for the endless itemization of learning of cadaver structure with limited clinical importance. At its worse anatomy could be a dingy subject inhibitory to the intellectuals and hardly deserving the title of anatomical science. Such views sometimes expressed by senior personages who in their youth encountered oppressive anatomical regimes, have constrained many teaching departments into shunning the title of "Anatomy" in favor of more progressive -sounding names. While these manoeuvres may be necessary to deflect prejudice and attract funding, it can be argued that too much apologies is counterproductive.

Anatomy is a time honored title encompassing a great range of endeavors, embracing all areas of knowledge relevant to the structural organization of the human body and like other branches of science; it is constantly changing as new research data transform our image of the body's dynamic organization.

At the present time anatomy is concerning itself more and more with the dynamic processes, the structure of the living rather than the dead: cadaveric dissection is the course essential to understand the architecture of the body but it is important to add to this a knowledge of the structure of the living body. Computer-controlled imaging techniques are increasingly widening our appreciation of three-dimension living structure and may in the future be expected to play a major role in anatomical data acquisition, storage and communication as well as clinical diagnosis. The techniques of experimental embryology combined with microscopy, molecular biology and molecular genetics are also helping us to see how the adult body achieves its final form, why variations in structure appear and how the body regulates its microscopic arrangement on normal and regenerating tissues and organs.

Anatomy is part of the continuum of the human knowledge. As in all areas of experience, it is possible to see human anatomy from what is essentially a reductionist viewpoint, to limit oneself to smaller areas of analysis and, of course, with such an approach all science drifts into meaningless generalization. The opposite, or one should say complementary, way of thinking, is holistic, integrative looking for the connection between disparate areas of knowledge and larger patterns of organization or global significance.

A balance between these two conceptual frameworks is clearly needed in science-"things known"-is to be true to its name. So anatomy is not merely the separation of parts, the accurate description of bones, ligaments, muscles, vessels, nerves and so forth, but an attempt to grasp the totality of body structure, engaging many disciplines, constantly searching for underlying principles and viewing the living frame as an extraordinarily complex, labile entity with a temporal dimension, connected by evolutionary history to all other living organisms, expressing various morphologies as it develops, matures, reproduces, ages and dies, engaging in a plethora of integrated functions. Furthermore from a philosophical viewpoint anatomy is not merely the structural biology of an animal species which happened to be human. Because we are self-aware and the human body is the medium through which our experience of the world and our responses to it are transacted the study of the human has a unique place in establishing the image we have of ourselves.

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