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The Life Morphology of Shigeo Miki -- Masatoshi Goto

Memories in Nature, Life and the Human Body -- The Life Morphology of Shigeo Miki


Shigeo Miki considered the mystery of life from the point of view of the evolution of the body structure. Though more than ten years have already passed since Miki's death, "life morphology," which he created, has been spreading calmly but surely. Miki's morphology is a good example of interface between art and science.

Breaking with the Established Anatomy

Shigeo Miki was born in Marugame City, Kagawa Prefecture, Southwest Japan, in 1925. He went to Marugame Junior High School and then to Dairoku High School in Okayama City. After the Second World War, he entered the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tokyo. After graduation, he went to Tokyo University Gaduate School and became an assistant at the Department of Anatomy of the Faculty of Medicine. Later, he became an associate professor of the Department of Anatomy, the Faculty of Medicine, Tokyo Medical and Dental University.

He seemed to succeed as an anatomist, but he moved to the health care center of the National University of Fine Arts and Music as a medical doctor and worked there until he died of an intracerebral hemorrhage in 1987.

"The Working of the Internal Organs and Hearts of Children" (Tsukiji Shokan Publishing Co., Ltd.) and "The World of Fetuses" (Chuokoron-sha, Inc.) are the only books that Miki published during his life. However, five books have already been published after his death. Miki's work is appreciated more highly after his death than it was during his life.

Miki's studies are called "life morphology." Before introducing life morphology to you, let me tell you about the sources of Miki's studies and ideas.

Three Sources

Miki's studies and ideas originated from three sources. The first and the strongest source is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the father of morphology. Miki first learned about Goethe from Prof. Hanjiro Tominaga, Miki's teacher when he was a postgraduate student.

Following Goethe's book "The Metamorphosis of Plants (Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen)," Miki asked the following question on his students' last examination of anatomical practice when he worked at Tokyo Medical and Dental University: "How does the origin of a vertebrate metamorphose in the developmental stage of a human body? Describe this metamorphosis for each part: head, neck, chest, stomach and hip." Later, when he worked for the National University of Fine Arts and Music, his assignment was to determine a way to express in a work "how the origin of life metamorphoses in plants, animals and humans."

Miki sympathized with the recapitulation theory (the ontogenesis repeats phylogenesis) of Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, who succeeded Goethe in the study of morphology. One of the themes of Miki's morphology was to explore the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny.

The second source of Miki's morphology is German comparative anatomy. Miki deeply respected Prof. Seiho Nishi and his student Prof. Ryoji Ura, who had introduced comparative anatomy, which had been started by Karl Gegenbaur, to Japan. When Miki worked for Tokyo Medical and Dental University, he researched the development of the spleen blood vessels of Japanese giant salamander at Ura's laboratory at Tohoku University. Miki's Ph.D. was based on this research.

The third source is American palaeontology. Miki learned palaeontology from Shoji Ijiri and Motoo Tasumi, read the books of William King Gregory, Alfred Sherwood Romer and Edwin Harris Colbert, absorbed their contents and created his own morphology. Miki related morphology to phylogenesis, the study of evolution in the geological time scale.

Besides these three sources, Miki learned a lot from Buddhism, which he studied under Prof. Hanjiro Tominaga, and from the life philosophy of Ludwig Klages, which he studied along with Prof. Shichiro Chidani. I don't refer to these studies here, but I'd like to indicate that people need to know these studies well to understand Miki's ideas.

Let me explain to you the world of Miki's morphology that was established with the three sources--Goethe's morphology, German comparative anatomy and American paleontology--with a special focus on Miki's books.

"Life Memory"

"The World of Fetuses - Human Life Memory" (Chuokoron-sha, Inc.) is the most famous of all the books that Miki wrote. This book is easy to read and ideal as an introduction to Miki's morphology.

The book describes the life memory, which is the history of evolution that is etched in the human body and heart, based on Miki's comparative studies of the development of vertebrates.

In Chapter I, 'Return to the Natal Place,' he shows, according to his personal experience, that the Japanese ancestors came to Japan by way of the "sea road" and the "Silk Road." He compares the birth of the human baby, as it emerges from the amniotic fluid to the world outside the mother's uterus, to the emergence of vertebrates from the sea to the land, which occurred during the Devonian period in the Palaeozoic era; and to the evolution from the underwater egg, to the land-laid egg to the egg implanted inside the mother.

In Chapter II, 'The World of Fetuses,' Miki explains that the life memory, or the history of the landing of vertebrates, is observed in either the development of the blood circulatory system in a chick egg or the early development of a human face. Miki's sketches of the faces of fetuses of 32 to 38 days' gestation is an important achievement and moves our hearts as the highlight of this book.

In Chapter III, 'The Wave of Life,' the source of this life memory is compared with "phase exchange between eating and regeneration," which was developed from Goethe's "The Metamorphosis of Plants" and described as the waves of internal organs that agree with the space rhythm. He further describes that the human being is called to return eternally to the mother sea.

Chapter III may be notional, so if you don't like it, you can just read the first two chapters and you will understand adequately the outline of Miki's morphology.

Life History Etched in the Human Body

"Introduction to Life Morphology -- Principle Forms and Metamorphosis" (Ubusuna Shoin Publishing Co., Ltd.) is the third book published after Miki's death. This book includes 'Anatomy and Physiology,' a part of "Nursing and Basic Medicine for High School Students" (Medical Friend Co., Ltd.) that he wrote when he worked for Tokyo Medical and Dental University. "Nursing and Basic Medicine for High School Students" is Miki's first writing, and it reveals the origin of Miki's morphology.

In "Nursing and Basic Medicine for High School Students," Miki describes the structure and function of the human body in an order different from that of any other anatomy textbook. Following Aristotle and Xavier Bichat, Miki divides body organs into two groups: plant organs, relating to nutrition and reproduction, on the one hand; and, on the other, animal organs, relating to senses and locomotion. Then, according to functions, Miki further divides plant organs into the absorption system (digestive and respiratory systems), the circulatory system (blood and vascular systems) and the excretory system (urinary and reproduction systems); he divides the animal organs into the receptive system (sense systems), the transmission system (peripheral and central nervous systems) and the motile system (muscular and skeletal systems). First, Miki describes what an organism is and then the difference between plants and animals. Finally, he states the difference between humans and animals. As an answer to Goethe's question, he says the difference between humans and animals is that humans study the history of life etched in the human body.

'Anatomy and Physiology' was written for high school students who want to become nurses, so it is easy to learn the origin of Miki's morphology.

"Introduction to Life Morphology -- Principle Forms and Metamorphosis" also includes parts of "The Morphology of Life," "A Draft of the Generalities of Anatomy" and schemas and their description that Miki drew for his lectures at the National University of Fine Arts and Music.

Natural Historical View of the Human Body

"The Human Body -- A Historical Consideration" (Ubusuna Shoin Publishing Co., Ltd.) is the fifth book published after Miki's death. It includes 'The Human Body -- Biological Historical Considerations,' a part of the "Encyclopedia of Modern Science. Vol. 6" (Gakken Co., Ltd.) compiled by Teizo Ogawa. Miki wrote 'The Human Body -- Biological Historical Considerations' while working at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University.

Because this book is not a textbook, Miki takes a freer, less constrained approach to discussing the history of the human body. First, he describes the transitions in man's views of life, the rhythm of reproduction, the difference between Eastern and Western views of nature, the origin of the animal body and the history of plant organs and animal organs. Finally, he insists that the conflict between heart (emotion) and head (spirit) is the destiny of humans, citing the human theory of Ludwig Klages.

As seen in each chapter, Miki describes organs according to the evolutionary order. For example, in 'Anatomy and Physiology,' Miki described the digestive system in an ordinary way, as in other textbooks, from the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, duodenum and small intestine to the large intestine. But in 'The Human Body,' Miki writes from historically older organs: the intestines, liver and pancreas, jaw and stomach, cheek and cheek teeth, to the tongue and hand. Meanwhile, Miki doesn't divide the nervous system into central and peripheral. Instead, he writes from the historically older parts, from the spinal cord and spinal nerves, medulla oblongata and branchial nerves, cerebellum and acoustic nerves, mid-brain and optic nerves to the fore-brain and olfactory nerves. Finally, he describes the human senses and understangings.

The original book featured color figures and pictures to help readers understand the text. Unfortunately, however, in "The Human Body -- A Historical Considerations," the figures and pictures are in black and white.

'Anatomy and Physiology' and 'The Human Body' are the origin of 'The Morphology of Life,' which was written later. However, since 'The Morphology of Life' is fragmented, these two books are valuable as a systematized form of the primary stage of Miki's morphology.

Restoration of Natural Science as Natural Philosophy

"The Birth of Human Life," the fourth book published after Miki's death, is a compilation of Miki's writings that are not recorded in any other books. While "The World of Fetuses" was written as a book, "The Birth of Human Life" is just a collection of his writings which classified into four parts, that is, life, healthcare, humanity and morphology. However, this collection is good for beginners wanting to know Miki's world.

The book includes two important papers that show the development of Miki's morphology. They are "An Essay on Original Form -- What Creates the Base of Human Anatomy" and "Goethe's Morphology and Today's Human Anatomy -- From the Crossroad of Modern Science."

The former was contained in "Ubusuna" (Keisoshobo Publishing Co., Ltd.), the memorial miscellany for Prof. Shichiro Chidani's 60th birthday, and was written at the end of Miki's days at Tokyo Medical and Dental University. The latter appeared in "Riso. No. 495" (Risosha) at the beginning of Miki's time at the National University of Fine Arts and Music.

In the former paper, Miki insists that the elucidation of origin, the aim of Goethe's morphology, is impossible to reach by human anatomy alone. Instead, Miki argues, the only way to pursue human phylogeny is through the integration of comparative anatomy, palaeontology and comparative embryology. At the end of his period at Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Miki started to doubt the current status of anatomical research, which was analytic and reductionistic, as well as the current state of education in anatomy, which focused on rote memorization of the terms of anatomy. Through his own such experiences in the study of anatomy, Miki wrote this paper in search of the way that he himself should have taken. This paper presents the anatomical method that he created as a result.

On the other hand, Miki wrote the latter paper, "Goethe's Morphology and Today's Human Anatomy -- From the Crossroad of Modern Science," soon after he moved to the National University of Fine Arts and Music. Miki compares anatomy as natural science, in which people devote themselves to analyses of functions, to anatomy as natural philosophy, in which shapes are studied. From this comparison, Miki insists that it is anatomy as natural philosophy that succeeds Goethe's morphology, and that the pursuit of the origin of animal bodies is equivalent to research in phylogenesis. He had already faced such an anatomical crossroads, where he had chosen natural philosophy; after making this decision, he started to write "The Morphology of Life." Like Miki, I think natural philosophy is the right approach to take when we study natural science.

Comparing these two papers lets you understand the development of Miki's morphology. Moreover, these two papers related deeply to Miki's philosophy.

The Unfinished Systematic

"Natural History of Life Morphology. Vol. 1: Miscellaneous Anatomical Papers" (Ubusuna Shoin Publishing Co., Ltd.) is Miki's first posthumously published title.

This book includes all of Miki's original papers on anatomy, six chapters of "The Morphology of Life," which were serialized in "General Nursing" (Gendaisha Co., Ltd.) and "A Draft of the Generalities of Anatomy." Color specimens and sketches drawn by Miki are contained at the end of this book.

"The Morphology of Life" should have completed Miki's morphology. However, this systematic work is unfinished. That is, Miki wrote only 'Generalities of Human Anatomy,' which consists of 1. The Origin of Life, 2. Plants and Animals, and 3. Body Structures of Animals; and 'The Principles of Human Body Structure,' which consists of 4. Digestive Systems, 5. Respiratory Systems, and 6. Circulatory Systems. I think chapters like 7. Urinary Systems, 8. Reproductive Systems, 9. Sense Systems, 10. Nerve Systems, 11. Motile Systems, and 12. Humans and Animals were to follow.

Let me compare the first three chapters of "The Morphology of Life" with "A Draft of the Generalities of Anatomy," which Miki wrote at the end of his time at Tokyo Medical and Dental University. While Miki severely criticizes modern anatomy in the latter book, in the former book he develops his own theory from the viewpoint of life morphology. In "The Morphology of Life," Miki explicates the rhythm theory and the dipole theory, which derive from Goethe's origin theory and Klages' life philosophy, to explain the nature of life--spiral and rhythm and the differences between plants and animals--and describes the origin of animal bodies with fine schemata.

This book includes all the fruits of Miki's intense study and ponderings over the years. The biggest difference between this book and two other works--'Anatomy and Physiology' and 'Human Body -- A Historical Considerations'--is that this book regards the wave of life as a 'phase exchange between nutrition and reproduction,' divides the origin of the animal body into an 'nutrition phase' and a 'reproduction phase,' and states that nutrition systems develop in the former and reproductive systems develop in the latter. Moreover, Miki draws not only a cross section but also a longitudinal section of the original structure of the animal body. He also sketches the faces of human fetus, compares them with living fossils and shows the evolutionary process of vertebrates.

In the first three chapters, Miki first shows the position of each organ system in the cross section of the original structure of the animal body, describes the origin of each organ system, explains the functional differentiation of organ systems from the oldest ones and shows the historical fate of the organ systems in human body. Miki's theory describes the developmental history of the human body structure in Earth's history of several billion years. This is an enormous theme that no one else has tried.

In the last chapter that Miki wrote (Chapter 6. Circulatory System), Miki shows the comparative embryological studies of vascular systems conducted by the Ura school, which Miki once belonged to, and assesses and systematizes the fruits of the studies from the viewpoint of life morphology. I think Miki wanted to rest for a while when he finished writing Chapter 6.

"It is sure that 'The Morphology of Life' was to be 'the book that Miki poured everything he knew into, and that would become the most important masterpiece of his life, and which he wanted to show the world with confidence" (Quotation from Reiji Hirako).

I think, in a sense, it is a loss to the history of humanity that "The Morphology of Life," which should have become Miki's lifework, is unfinished. All we can do is to imagine the whole systematic from Miki's drafts and his forepart writings.

"Natural History of Life Morphology. Vol. 1: Miscellany of Anatomical Papers" is a part of the project to compile Miki's complete works and, along with "Vol. 2: Healthcare, Maternity and Childcare" and "Vol. 3: Miscellany of Morphology and Life" are planned to be published. Unfortunately, however, their publication has not yet been realized.

'Head' in the North and 'Heart' in the South

Though 'The Morphology of Life' was discontinued, Miki later wrote many things, such as "The World of Fetuses." Among these books, "Sea, Respiration and Ancient Shapes -- Life Memory and Recollection" (Ubusuna Shoin Publishing Co., Ltd.) is the second book published after Miki's death, and it contains many of Miki's unpublished writings on life, healthcare and childcare are compiled. Most of the writings were written for the general public, so they are easier to understand than "A Natural History of Life Morphology" is.

Among these writings, 'Biology of North and South' is the last substantial work Miki completed in his last years. This title was serialized in "Seiron (correct opinions) No. 172-176" (The Sankei Shimbun).

In this book, Miki compares the cross sectional schema of the original structure of the animal body with city structures. He refers to the structure of New York, Tokyo, and even to Sanuki (his hometown in Kagawa Prefecture) and the nearby Tosa (Kochi Prefecture, next to Kagawa). He says a vertebrate has a somatic system in the dorsal side and a visceral system in the ventral side. Similarly, Tokyo has somatic areas in Yamanote (highlands in the northern part of the city) and visceral areas in Shitamachi (lowlands in the southern part). Meanwhile, he discusses the meaning of brain death, heart death and womb death, and compares the 'head' in the north and the 'heart' in the south with Goethe's movement to the south (his travels to Italy) and human movement to the north (the human migrations into Asia and Europe). Moreover, he refers to HIV, which is threatening human lives, saying this is the shout of blood by the spirit of Gondwana of the south appealing to the last intellect of Laurasia of the north.

When I read this book, I can imagine the confident face of Miki as he explicates his own theory with free ways of thinking. This book shows the social scientific and cultural anthropological expansion of Miki's morphology.

Unfortunately, the development of Miki's morphology by himself ended here. Miki died of an intracerebral hemorrhage five months after this book was printed.

The Depth and Width of Miki's Morphology

The expansion of Miki's morphology by Miki himself ended with his death, but this was not the conclusion of the evolution of Miki's morphology.

Five books, in addition to three magazines featuring Miki's work, have already been published since Miki's death. Meanwhile, the tenth "Memorial Symposium of Shigeo Miki: Development and Evolution" is being held in 2001.

I am very sure that Miki's morphology will be succeeded and developed further by many people in various fields.

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