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Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

The Bhagavad Gita


On brain and nerve exhaustion

by Thomas Stretch Dowse


lected and mixed, we may by heating the mixture recover the electric energy in the sound and heat of an explosion.

The physicists say that matter and energy are more or less strongly united according to their power of resistance, which power the chemist will designate as the forces of affinity and cohesion existing between the atoms and molecules of matter. Now these varying conditions of matter can be proved to have a definite existence. We will follow this subject a little further, because my object is to lead you to the consideration of the highest attributes of energy in the inorganic world, in order that it may be the more readily comprehended how these automatic or mere dynamic changes are influenced by the existence of organized media.

In spectrum analysis it is seen that a free molecule has definite fundamental modes of vibration, which give definite wave-lengths of light just as a tuning-fork gives musical vibrations of a definite pitch, and, molecules of different kinds of matter have different periods of vibration, which are distinguished by their characteristic rays. We know that heat is the agent, which, in the inorganic world, starts these vibrations and supports their existence.* The inertia of a body is, I conclude, in direct ratio with its resisting power.

* Maxwell, in his observations on the ' Theory of Heat,' says that the energy of a body may be defined as the capacity which it has of doing work, and is measured by the quantity of work which it can do. ('Theory of Heat,'by J. Clarke Maxwell, 1875, P- 9°-) 1 venture to think that we, as biologists and physicians, can, after a manner, account for exhaustion of nervous energy in very much the same way that the physicist explains the energy of an atom or molecule according to its power of resistance in relation to the medium which surrounds it. Dr. Ralph Richardson, in his exceedingly valuable and instructive work on 'The Nature of Life,' (' The Nature of Life,' by Ralph Richardson, M.A., M.D., 1879, p. 13) says: 'To speak of changes of energy or force, and that force shows itself in motion, is decidedly illogical and unscientific. A force, or power, can produce no effect, unless in co-operation with some matter having a susceptibility adapted to such force, and by its reaction giving to our minds the nature of force.'

We pass on now, by way of comparison, to the organic world, and what do we find? We find there a building up of the same elements as in the inorganic world, and these are, in like manner, composed of ultimate atoms, or molecules; and these atoms are, in fact, as I have stated, nothing more nor less than a material form of energy, but in addition to this form of energy we have a power peculiar to itself, which Sir William Gull calls a correlation of forces. This power we know as life or vitality. Sir William Gull, in his Harveian oration at the College of Physicians, 1870, in speaking of vitality, said: 'I cannot forbear for one moment asking you to consider again this organization of our bodies in relation to the earth we inhabit, and then say if it be otherwise conceivable but as the expression of the highest correlation of these external conditions.' I shall perhaps explain my meaning more practically by calling your attention to the wonderful swimming exploits of Captain Webb, which indicate to my mind the immense conservative energy, which his nervous system is capable of storing up, and also of expending in a rhythmical and automatic manner; but this is not all, for Captain Webb has to thank his excellent physique, and his well-organized and evenly-balanced nervous system, which give him the power, or energy, or capacity to resist fatigue in a manner quite unique. I lay special stress upon this point of resistance, or as some may term it, the power of endurance. If all men were built after the manner of Captain Webb, we should hear very little of nervous exhaustion or epilepsy. The brain, and consequently every individual cell of which the brain is composed, is a factor as well as a nidus for the conservation of energy. Molecular displacement in the nerve-cells means the exercise of disruptive energy, which leads to a failure in the power of resistance, a diminution of vitality, a lowering of tension, a decrease of tone, and an exhaustion of the nervous system; in fact, an arrest of function and molecular inertia.* The energy or force with which a nervecell is specially endowed may be said to consist of (1) the active, floating or automatic; (2) the complementary; and (3) the residual, or latent energy, just as in the lungs we have the tidal, the complementary, and the residual air. The one is, in a measure, as much a form of energy as the other, and there can be little doubt that most functional troubles of the nervous system are due to the want of an equable development of stable energy; and this results from abnormal molecular interchange inducing defective correlative integrity of individual cells, or groups of cells. How far; this nervous energy or force is essentially the vital force, is a question of conjecture, but whatever may be the precise nature of nervous energy, it is, I think, apparent, that it governs and controls all other forces, whether these forces be formative or correlative, and that it is only by the united and harmonious action of these forces that health and even life itself are preserved. I may note here, that the late Dr. Bence Jones (' Lectures on some of the Applications of Chemistry and Mechanics to Pathology and Therapeutics ') held the view, that death consisted in the stoppage of the conversion of latent force into active force, caused by some arrest of action in the heart, lungs, or brain. This view of Dr. Jones's appears, to my mind, to be a correct one; and we often note what a wonderful conservation of energy there is in the automatic nervous system, and I might almost go so far as to say in the medulla oblongata itself in some aged people, even at their period of dying, although the hand of death can be seen to be indelibly fixed upon them, yet it will take days before the nervous system becomes finally exhausted, and the last spark of vitality becomes for ever extinguished.

I find in the British Medical Journal for April 10, the following letter from Mr. Henson of Manchester, headed—

* It is a general principle in physics that energy in performing work is expended and finally exhausted.

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