The Internal Environment as the Basic Dimension of the Organism
Little by little the idea that the internal environment was nothing other than a part of the ocean that our distant ancestors had taken with them when they passed from an aquatic to an aerial life established itself within me; but that which needed to be revived above all else was the cell. (Laborit, 1989, La Vie Anterieure, 7.3, p. 102; translated by Marcel Duclos)
Claude Bernard has called the water contained in living organism the internal environment.â A large percentage of the weight of each organism is made up of fluids in which the cells can live and communicate with each other. These fluids have a certain number of particularities that make it possible to distinguish between biological water and the water from a brook. To be able to sustain the ongoing activity of the cells, these fluids must maintain the stability of a number of properties, such as temperature (between 36°C and 37°C in humans) and a neutral hydrogen potential (or pH8). This fluid must be able to nourish the cells and evacuate their waste, and furnish enough free ions (+ and -) to guarantee various forms of exchanges between the cells and the milieu that surrounds them. These exchanges are at the basis of metabolic activity. The maintenance of the properties of the internal environment is the first and main task of a living organism Claude Bernard found convincing ways of demonstrating that cellular activity can be entirely described and explained by physical and chemical conditions.9 He is one of the scientists who actively sought to exclude vitalism10 from mainstream biology.
The properties of the internal environment cannot stray from their central values without endangering the survival of the organism It is mostly the warmblooded species that can sustain changes in the ambient climate, for they have the physiological means to maintain a constant internal temperature in conditions that sometimes vary considerably. Yet even humans have difficulty handling changes of more than 60°F in ambient temperature.
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