Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/23

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13
MIND AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM.

In such instances as these—and many others might be adduced—the brain has been so occupied with a train of thought that it has taken no cognizance or superintendence of the actions of the body. The spinal cord has received the several sensorial impressions and has furnished the nervous force necessary to the performance of the various physical acts concerned in turning over the leaves, avoiding obstacles, taking the right route, and stopping in front of the right door.

All cases of what are called "absence of mind" belong to the same category. Here the brain is completely preoccupied with a subject of absorbing interest, and does not take cognizance of the events which are taking place around. An individual, for instance, is engaged in solving an abstruse mathematical problem. The whole power of the brain is taken up in this labor, and is not diverted by circumstances of minor importance. Whatever actions these circumstances may require are performed through the force originating in the spinal cord.

The phenomena of reverie are similar in some respects to those of somnambulism, to which attention will presently be directed. In this condition the mind pursues a train of reasoning often of the most fanciful character, but yet so abstract and intense that, though actions may be performed by the body, they have no relation with the current of thought, but are essentially automatic, and made in obedience to sensorial impressions which are not perceived by the brain. Thus, a person in a state of reverie will answer questions, obey commands involving a good deal of muscular action, and perform other complex acts, without disturbing the connection of his ideas. When the state of mental occupation has disappeared, there is no recollection of the acts which may have been performed. Memory resides in the brain, and can only take cognizance of those mental acts which spring from the brain, or of impressions which are made directly on the encephalon.

In the case of a person performing on the piano and at the same time carrying on a conversation, we have a most striking instance of the diverse though harmonious action of the brain and spinal cord. Here the mind is engaged with ideas, and the spinal cord directs the manipulations necessary to the proper rendering of the musical composition. A person who is not proficient in the use of this instrument can not at the same time play and converse with ease, because the spinal cord has not yet acquired a sufficient degree of automatism. Darwin gives a very striking example of the independent action of the brain and spinal cord. A young lady was playing on the piano a very difficult musical composition, which she performed with great skill and care, though she was observed to be agitated and preoccupied. When she had finished, she burst into tears. She had been intently watching the death-struggles of a favorite bird. Though the brain was thus absorbed, the spinal cord had not been diverted from the office of carrying on the muscular and automatic actions required by her musical performance.