IX. THE NEW SCIENCE OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY

"Before I proceed to the details of the experiments upon which this disposition rests, it may be well to point out several instances in illustration of the various sources of and the modes of muscular action which have been enumerated. None can be more familiar than the act of swallowing. Yet how complicated is the act! The apprehension of the food by the teeth and tongue, etc., is voluntary, and cannot, therefore, take place in an animal from which the cerebrum is removed. The transition of food over the glottis and along the middle and lower part of the pharynx depends upon the reflex action: it can take place in animals from which the cerebrum has been removed or the ninth pair of nerves divided; but it requires the connection with the medulla oblongata to be preserved entirely; and the actual contact of some substance which may act as a stimulus: it is attended by the accurate closure of the glottis and by the contraction of the pharynx. The completion of the act of deglutition is dependent upon the stimulus immediately impressed upon the muscular fibre of the oesophagus, and is the result of excited irritability.

"However plain these observations may have made the fact that there is a function of the nervous muscular system distinct from sensation, from the voluntary and respiratory motions, and from irritability, it is right, in every such inquiry as the present, that the statements and reasonings should be made with the experiment, as it were, actually before us. It has already been remarked that the voluntary and respiratory motions are spontaneous, not necessarily requiring the agency of a stimulus. If, then, an animal can be placed in such circumstances that such motions will certainly not take place, the power of moving remaining, it may be concluded that volition and the motive influence of respiration are annihilated. Now this is effected by removing the cerebrum and the medulla oblongata. These facts are fully proved by the experiments of Legallois and M. Flourens, and by several which I proceed to detail, for the sake of the opportunity afforded by doing so of stating the arguments most clearly.

"I divided the spinal marrow of a very lively snake between the second and third vertebrae. The movements of the animal were immediately before extremely vigorous and unintermitted. From the moment of the division of the spinal marrow it lay perfectly tranquil and motionless, with the exception of occasional gaspings and slight movements of the head. It became quite evident that this state of quiescence would continue indefinitely were the animal secured from all external impressions.

"Being now stimulated, the body began to move with great activity, and continued to do so for a considerable time, each change of position or situation bringing some fresh part of the surface of the animal into contact with the table or other objects and renewing the application of stimulants.

"At length the animal became again quiescent; and being carefully protected from all external impressions it moved no more, but died in the precise position and form which it had last assumed.

"It requires a little manoeuvre to perform this experiment successfully: the motions of the animal must be watched and slowly and cautiously arrested by opposing some soft substance, as a glove or cotton wool; they are by this means gradually lulled into quiescence. The slightest touch with a hard substance, the slightest stimulus, will, on the other hand, renew the movements on the animal in an active form. But that this phenomenon does not depend upon sensation is further fully proved by the facts that the position last assumed, and the stimuli, may be such as would be attended by extreme or continued pain, if the sensibility were undestroyed: in one case the animal remained partially suspended over the acute edge of the table; in others the infliction of punctures and the application of a lighted taper did not prevent the animal, still possessed of active powers of motion, from passing into a state of complete and permanent quiescence."

In summing up this long paper Hall concludes with this sentence: "The reflex function appears in a word to be the COMPLEMENT of the functions of the nervous system hitherto known."[2]

All these considerations as to nerve currents and nerve tracts becoming stock knowledge of science, it was natural that interest should become stimulated as to the exact character of these nerve tracts in themselves, and all the more natural in that the perfected microscope was just now claiming all fields for its own. A troop of observers soon entered upon the study of the nerves, and the leader here, as in so many other lines of microscopical research, was no other than Theodor Schwann. Through his efforts, and with the invaluable aid of such other workers as Remak, Purkinje, Henle, Muller, and the rest, all the mystery as to the general characteristics of nerve tracts was cleared away. It came to be known that in its essentials a nerve tract is a tenuous fibre or thread of protoplasm stretching between two terminal points in the organism, one of such termini being usually a cell of the brain or spinal cord, the other a distribution-point at or near the periphery—for example, in a muscle or in the skin. Such a fibril may have about it a protective covering, which is known as the sheath of Schwann; but the fibril itself is the essential nerve tract; and in many cases, as Remak presently discovered, the sheath is dispensed with, particularly in case of the nerves of the so-called sympathetic system.