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The endless appeal of physiology

In the sphere of biomedical sciences, physiology has always played a special role, partly because of its links with the hard sciences, such as chemistry and physics, partly for its relationship with non-scientific disciplines (often defined humanistic), and partly on account of its fundamental and irreplaceable role in biological and medical training. Over the centuries, its relationship with these different fields of knowledge has fluctuated greatly. In 1865, Claude Bernard published in the Revue des Deux Mondes, a short, popular article entitled Etude sur la physiologie du coeur, which concluded with the following statement “j’ai la conviction que quand la physiologie sera assez avancée, le poète, le philosophe et le physiologiste s’entendront tous”. Today, there can be absolutely no doubt that, as a result of its extraordinary development over the past 50 years, physiology has assumed a stable and central role at the heart of human knowledge, forming a bridge between the molecular (or atomic) and the philosophical and artistic, thereby rendering Bernard’s “conviction” increasingly realistic.

The idea behind this project of the Italian Society of Physiology (SIF) rests on these very considerations and explains the choice of name, pH, which alludes to physics, physiology, philosophy (or physica, physiologia and philosophia). Indeed, pH is neither a scientific journal nor the SIF’s bulletin, but rather an attempt by Italian physiologists to view their discipline in a broader context, highlighting, proudly, its uniqueness and centrality. Clearly, for a project of this kind to succeed, a number of conditions need to be met: the board must undertake to sustain the purposes of the journal, the organs of the SIF must support and stimulate its activity, also critically, and the publisher must make available his wealth of knowledge and his passion. But none of this will be enough should our colleagues fail to play their crucial part, which is mainly to stimulate and influence the work of the board by submitting articles, suggesting columns and coming up with ideas for special issues, involving colleagues from abroad, as well as from the humanities and the arts.

To some, proposing a “journal of physiology” may seem like an over-ambitious enterprise, especially in view of the current complex economic situation; others may see it as an anachronistic attempt to arrest what is perceived as physiology’s unstoppable disintegration; others still might consider it an academic indulgence, appealing perhaps but probably inappropriate given how enormously difficult it now is to find the necessary support for our laboratories and research activities.We, on the other hand, believe that it is only by cultivating the endless ideas that arise from knowledge of our discipline that we can stimulate its further development, preserve its unity and academic dignity and, above all, give the new generations the opportunity to know the endless appeal of physiology.