Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/93

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
83
RESPONSIBILITY IN MENTAL DISEASE.

their overactivity being expressed in delusions,, hallucinations, wild and whirling words, and extravagant actions.

When our attention is withdrawn—as, for instance, when we have dropped into a reverie or are just falling asleep—a sound that might have made us turn our heads, if on the alert, will cause us to start violently; and when in insanity volition is impaired, sensations that would have been almost unnoticed in health stir up morbid feelings. Did time permit, I think I could establish that affinitive sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and surface impressions, as well as organic sensations, play a larger part than is generally supposed in the induction of morbid impulses when the regulating brain-centers are weakened. Many sane persons have experienced horrid promptings when standing looking over a precipice or gazing at a passing train, and among the insane the glitter of a knife or the crackling of a fire will sometimes evoke suicidal or homicidal impulses which but for it might have remained dormant.

Will is the link between feeling and action, and when it is impaired it ceases to be available to prevent the transmutation of the energy of feeling into the energy of motion. And here we have an explanation of the utter inadequacy of the motives that constantly lead to insane crimes. There is no check-action; there is an abbreviation of that pause that gives time for foresight and reflection. "Must give us pause!" says Hamlet when on the brink of suicide time to summon up the forces of rational resistance. Man is a hesitating animal. The whole system of Zoroaster hinges on the fact that everything noxious and evil in creation is the work of Ahriman, an independent power, whose wickedness depends on the fact that he acts before he thinks; whereas Ormuzd, the good spirit, thinks before he acts. And madmen may in many instances be distinguished from sane men in the same way. The impulsive madman acts before he thinks; feeling is translated into action with reflex precipitancy, with an abbreviation of that time interval between stimulus and response which can now be subjected to experimental measurement; in the absence, therefore, of all restraining considerations, and in a violent and disproportionate manner. I have known an epileptic to kill his attendant, beating his head into jelly, because he had prevented him from taking his daily walk. I have known another epileptic hang himself because a smaller portion of bread and butter had been served out to him than to his companions; and, in the recent case at Westonsuper-Mare, the lad Hitchins shot his sister because of some trifling slight which she had put upon him. In all such cases a momentary irritation, a natural feeling of chagrin, such as we all feel when thwarted or disparaged, instead of being inhibited in its nascent state when inhibition is most powerful, so that the reaction to it may be reduced by deliberation to rational proportions, is, by the