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Physiology of the Impossible.
Exner meets mythology.

Peter Geimer



A naturalist's humiliation

Sigmund Exner, professor of physiology at the University of Vienna, used to spend his holidays in the Austrian mountains. On his long mountain hikes Exner often had a puzzling experience: From his elevated standpoint in the mountains he observed a buzzard in the valleys beneath him flying higher and higher and ending up moving in circles. In circling the buzzard constantly gained height - although its wings did not show any movement. How can a bird keep its body in the air and even gain height without flapping its wings? "Here we have a problem", Exner notes, "and in view of such a buzzard - in addition to the usual sensation of smallness and humbleness that man has in high mountain regions anyway - I felt the humiliation of a naturalist who faces a phenomenon but cannot explain it".

Reference: Geimer, Peter. 2001. Physiology of the Impossible. Exner meets mythology.. The Virtual Laboratory (ISSN 1866-4784), http://vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/references?id=art7