• Hans Selye


The idea that the body possesses inherent mechanisms for the restoration of health after exposure to pathogens is very old; it was clearly recognized by Hippocrates (460–377 B.C.) as the remarkable “vis medicatrix naturae.” However, this concept gained much in precision when Claude Bernard (E 719/1879) pointed out that the internal medium of living organisms is not merely a vehicle for carrying nourishment to cells far removed from contact with the outside world, but that “it is the fixity of the ‘milieu intérieur’ which is the condition of free and independent life.” The English physiologist J. S. Haldane (E715/22) said of this phrase that “no more pregnant sentence was ever framed by a physiologist.” Certainly, few if any statements about life have been more frequently quoted, but one wonders whether its great impact was not largely due to what has been intuitively read into it. Naturally, the fixity of any system is what makes it independent of changes in its surroundings—indeed the independence, the resistance of any system is what we call its fixity — but many inanimate objects are more independent of their atmosphere than living beings. The salient feature of life, the secret of its resistance, is adaptability to change, not rigid fixity.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1971

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Selye
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut de Médecine et de Chirurgie expérimentalesUniversité de MontréalMontrealCanada

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