Marie Francois Xavier Bichat

Marie Francois Xavier Bichat

Outstanding French anatomist, physiologist and physician.
Date of Birth: 14.11.1771
Country: France

Biography of Marie Francois Xavier Bichat

Marie Francois Xavier Bichat was an exceptional French anatomist, physiologist, and physician. He is considered one of the founders of modern thanatology, the study of death. Bichat developed the concept of the "vital tripod," noting for the first time that the process of dying is uneven. He is also known for his definition of life as the "sum of the resistances opposed to death."

Bichat is renowned as the father of modern histology and pathology. Despite working without a microscope, he made significant contributions to the understanding of the human body. He introduced the concept of tissues as independent entities, arguing that diseases affect tissues rather than entire organs.

During the revolutionary unrest, Bichat sought refuge in Paris in 1793. There, he became a student of Pierre Joseph Desault, who was so impressed by Bichat's genius that he took him into his home and treated him like an adopted son. For two years, Bichat actively participated in Desault's work while conducting his own research in anatomy and physiology.

The sudden death of Desault in 1795 was a devastating blow to Bichat. His main goal became repaying his benefactor for the support he received. Bichat supported Desault's widow and son and completed the fourth volume of Desault's Journal de Chirurgie, adding biographical memoirs of the author.

His next objective was to unite and catalog Desault's surgical views, which were published in various periodical works. He compiled them in "Euvres chirurgicales de Desault, ou tableau de sa doctrine, et de sa pratique dens le traitement des maladies externes" (1798-1799). In this work, Bichat developed these ideas with the precision of an expert, even though he only claimed to promote another author's ideas.

In 1797, Bichat began a course of anatomical demonstrations, which was a success. This inspired him to expand the scope of his lectures and boldly announce a course on operative surgery. In the following year, 1798, he gave a separate course on physiology. Although illness interrupted his studies for a time, Bichat enthusiastically resumed his work upon recovery.

From 1800 to 1802, together with Pierre Nysten, Bichat conducted research in the field of cardiology using electricity. However, in 1802, at the age of 31, he passed away from tuberculosis. Dr. Corvisart, who treated Bichat, wrote to Napoleon about his death, saying, "Bichat died on the battlefield, which has claimed many victims. It is unlikely that anyone else has accomplished so much in such a short time and with such importance."

Bichat was a representative of vitalism, acknowledging and emphasizing the qualitative nature of life phenomena. He believed that the fundamental difference between living organisms and inanimate objects lies in the presence of an inexplicable "vital force." Bichat classified animal organs into "vegetative" and "animal" categories. The former act involuntarily and continuously, while the latter act spontaneously with intervals and rest during sleep.

He divided all physiology into two groups: animal and vegetative. Accordingly, he subdivided the nervous system into the animal, which governs the animal's relationship with the external world, and the vegetative, which regulates circulation, respiration, digestion, excretion, and metabolic processes.

Bichat's works were included in the reading circle of Eugene Onegin, suggesting that the protagonist of Pushkin's novel contemplated death. It is possible that the name of this skeptical physiologist (alongside Baer) was included in the list to emphasize the breadth of reading "without discrimination," encompassing authors with various philosophical views.

"In reading again without discrimination, he read Gibbon, Rousseau, Manzoni, Herder, Chamfort, Madame de Stael, Bichat, Tissot, He read skeptical Baer, He read creations of Fontenelle..." (Chapter 6, XXV)

In his commentary on this passage of "Eugene Onegin," Vladimir Nabokov speaks highly of Bichat's scientific style.