Archibald Hill

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Archibald Vivian Hill, CH, OBE, FRS (26 September 18863 June 1977), known as A. V. Hill, was an English physiologist, one of the founders of the diverse disciplines of biophysics and operations research. He shared the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his elucidation of the production of heat and mechanical work in muscles.


  • In the last few years there has been a harvest of books and lectures about the "Mysterious Universe." The inconceivable magnitudes with which astronomy deals produce a sense of awe which lends itself to a poetic and philosophical treatment. "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy hands, the moon and the starts, whuch thou hast ordained: what is man that thou art mindful of him? The literary skill with which this branch of science has been exploited compels one's admiration, but also, a little, one's sense of the ridiculous. For other facts than those of astronomy, oother disciplines than of mathematics, can produce the same lively feelings of awe and reverence: the extraordinary finenness of their adjustments to the world outside: the amazing faculties of the human mind, of which we know neither whence it comes not whither it goes. In some fortunate people this reverence is produced by the natural bauty of a landscape, by the majesty of an ancient building, by the heroism of a rescue party, by poetry, or by music. God is doubtless a Mathematician, but he is also a Physiologist, an Engineer, a Mother, an Architect, a Coal Miner, a Poet, and a Gardener. Each of us views things in his own peculiar war, each clothes the Creator in a manner which fits into his own scheme. My God, for instance, among his other professions, is an Inventor: I picture him inventing water, carbon dioxide, and haemoglobin, crabs, frogs, and cuttle fish, whales and filterpassing organisms ( in the ratio of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1 in size), and rejoicing greatly over these weird and ingenious things, just as I rejoice greatly over some simple bit of apparatus. But I would nor urge that God is only an Inventor: for inventors are apt, as those who know them realize, to be very dull dogs. Indeed, I should be inclined rather to imagine God to be like a University, with all its teachers and professors together: not omittin the students, for he obviously possesses, judging from his inventions, that noblest human characteristic, a sense of humour.
  • To suppose that chemistry and poetry are incompatible (as I am sure Prof Donnan would not do!), or that biology is inconsistent with a religious outlook on the world (I don not say with theology!) is to misunderstand entirely what the human mind, by contemplation and experiment, has achieved. By extreme specialization at intervals, by overloading the machine to its limit, discoveries and progress are made: but their bearing is best seen by letting the engine idle and giving oneself time to look around. The chemist and the poet are both right, the biologist and the saint: and each must pull up now and then to find whither he is going and to adjust his spectacles.
  • All knowledge, not only that of the natural world, can be used for evil as well as good: and in all ages there continue to be people who think that its fruit should be forbidden. Does the future wlfare, therefore, of mankind depend of a refusal of science and a more intensive study of the Sermon on the Mount? There are others who hold the contray opinion, that more and more of science and its applications alone can bring prosperity and happiness to men. Both of these extremes views seem to me entirely wrong - though the second is the more perilous as more likely to be commonly accepted. The so-called conflict between science and religion is usually about words, too often the words of their unbalanced advocates: the reality lies somewhere in between. "Completeness and dignity", to use Tyndall's phrase, are brought to man by three main channels, first by the religiouos sentiment and its embodiment of ethical principles, secondly by the influence of what is beautiful in nature, human personality, or art, and thirdly, by the pursuit of scientific truth and its resolute use in improving human life. Some suppose that religion and beauty are incompatible: others, that the aesthetic has no relation to the scientific sense: both seem to me just as mistaken as those who hold that the scientific and the religious spirit are necessarily opposed. Co-operation is required, not conflict: for science can be used to express and apply the principles of ethics, and those principles themselves can guide the behaviour of scientific men: while the appreciation of what is good and beautiful can provide to both a vision of encouragement. Is there really then any special ethical dilemma which we scientific men, as distinct from other people, have to meet? I think not: unless it be to convince ourselves humbly that we are just like others in having moral issues to face. It is true that integrity of thought is the absolute condition of oour work, and that judgments of value must never be allowed to deflect our judgements of fact. But in this we are not unique. It is true that scientific research has opened up the possibility of unprecedented good, or unlimited harm, for manking: but the use is made of it depends in the end on the moral judgments of the whole community of men. It is totally impossible noew to reverse the process of discovery: it will certainly go on. To help to guide its use aright is not a scientific dilemma, but the honourable and compelling duty of a good citizen.

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