IX. THE NEW SCIENCE OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY

In a similar way, most of the supposed isolated "faculties" of higher intellection appear, upon clearer analysis, as complex aggregations of primary sensations, and hence necessarily dependent upon numerous and scattered centres. Some "faculties," as memory and volition, may be said in a sense to be primordial endowments of every nerve cell—even of every body cell. Indeed, an ultimate analysis relegates all intellection, in its primordial adumbrations, to every particle of living matter. But such refinements of analysis, after all, cannot hide the fact that certain forms of higher intellection involve a pretty definite collocation and elaboration of special sensations. Such specialization, indeed, seems a necessary accompaniment of mental evolution. That every such specialized function has its localized centres of co-ordination, of some such significance as the demonstrated centres of articulate speech, can hardly be in doubt—though this, be it understood, is an induction, not as yet a demonstration. In other words, there is every reason to believe that numerous "centres," in this restricted sense, exist in the brain that have as yet eluded the investigator. Indeed, the current conception regards the entire cerebral cortex as chiefly composed of centres of ultimate co-ordination of impressions, which in their cruder form are received by more primitive nervous tissues—the basal ganglia, the cerebellum and medulla, and the spinal cord.

This, of course, is equivalent to postulating the cerebral cortex as the exclusive seat of higher intellection. This proposition, however, to which a safe induction seems to lead, is far afield from the substantiation of the old conception of brain localization, which was based on faulty psychology and equally faulty inductions from few premises. The details of Gall's system, as propounded by generations of his mostly unworthy followers, lie quite beyond the pale of scientific discussion. Yet, as I have said, a germ of truth was there—the idea of specialization of cerebral functions—and modern investigators have rescued that central conception from the phrenological rubbish heap in which its discoverer unfortunately left it buried.

THE MINUTE STRUCTURE OF THE BRAIN

The common ground of all these various lines of investigations of pathologist, anatomist, physiologist, physicist, and psychologist is, clearly, the central nervous system—the spinal cord and the brain. The importance of these structures as the foci of nervous and mental activities has been recognized more and more with each new accretion of knowledge, and the efforts to fathom the secrets of their intimate structure has been unceasing. For the earlier students, only the crude methods of gross dissections and microscopical inspection were available. These could reveal something, but of course the inner secrets were for the keener insight of the microscopist alone. And even for him the task of investigation was far from facile, for the central nervous tissues are the most delicate and fragile, and on many accounts the most difficult of manipulation of any in the body.

Special methods, therefore, were needed for this essay, and brain histology has progressed by fitful impulses, each forward jet marking the introduction of some ingenious improvement of mechanical technique, which placed a new weapon in the hands of the investigators.

The very beginning was made in 1824 by Rolando, who first thought of cutting chemically hardened pieces of brain tissues into thin sections for microscopical examination—the basal structure upon which almost all the later advances have been conducted. Muller presently discovered that bichromate of potassium in solution makes the best of fluids for the preliminary preservation and hardening of the tissues. Stilling, in 1842, perfected the method by introducing the custom of cutting a series of consecutive sections of the same tissue, in order to trace nerve tracts and establish spacial relations. Then from time to time mechanical ingenuity added fresh details of improvement. It was found that pieces of hardened tissue of extreme delicacy can be made better subject to manipulation by being impregnated with collodion or celloidine and embedded in paraffine. Latterly it has become usual to cut sections also from fresh tissues, unchanged by chemicals, by freezing them suddenly with vaporized ether or, better, carbonic acid. By these methods, and with the aid of perfected microtomes, the worker of recent periods avails himself of sections of brain tissues of a tenuousness which the early investigators could not approach.

But more important even than the cutting of thin sections is the process of making the different parts of the section visible, one tissue differentiated from another. The thin section, as the early workers examined it, was practically colorless, and even the crudest details of its structure were made out with extreme difficulty. Remak did, indeed, manage to discover that the brain tissue is cellular, as early as 1833, and Ehrenberg in the same year saw that it is also fibrillar, but beyond this no great advance was made until 1858, when a sudden impulse was received from a new process introduced by Gerlach. The process itself was most simple, consisting essentially of nothing more than the treatment of a microscopical section with a solution of carmine. But the result was wonderful, for when such a section was placed under the lens it no longer appeared homogeneous. Sprinkled through its substance were seen irregular bodies that had taken on a beautiful color, while the matrix in which they were embedded remained unstained. In a word, the central nerve cell had sprung suddenly into clear view.