Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 125.djvu/460

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446
DREAMS.

seem likely to be fulfilled. It is true, as the Economist very shrewdly pointed out, that the calculations on which he founded his estimates have been materially falsified in one respect. He looked forward to having his canal freely used by the sailing-ships that hitherto had been subjected to costly delays in weathering the storms of the passage round the cape. As it has turned out, scarcely any sailing-vessels are being towed through the isthmus, and steam has been running sails off the route. But the main fact remains, that he is diverting the Eastern trade as he proposed to do. And in matters of engineering detail, events have marvellously confirmed his opinions and experiments, and those of his advisers. It was said the treacherous bottom of Lake Menzaleh was likely to present insuperable difficultites. So far as we can learn, that part of the passage has presented in practice no difficulties at all. It was said the banks of incohesive sand must crumble in places to the mere motion of the screws or paddles of passing steamers. It would appear that the banks have not crumbled, nor has the channel been filled up seriously, even where the surface of the desert is loosest and most drifting. The silting at the terminal harbours, especially at Port Saïd from the Nile-drift, has been counteracted by dredging. There are extra expenses awaiting the company no doubt; but they arise for the most part out of its success. Passing places must be multiplied, and, not improbably, it may come to be needful to widen the canal throughout its whole length. Profits beyond a certain point will be partially neutralized by the stipulation that insists upon charges being modified should the traffic increase in a certain ratio. But even adopting the Economist's moderate estimate of a probable annual increment in the net profits of five per cent., the ultimate success of the company seems ensured.




From The Lancet.

DREAMS.

The intrinsic study of dreams throws little light upon their physiology. It is only by a comparative examination of them, studying them in common with the other phenomena of sleep, that they can be in any measure understood. The characteristic of the state of sleep is the absence of all outward sign of consciousness and will, which are seemingly withdrawn from all connection with the organs of sense, or with those of motion, by which their existence could be manifested. But the functions of the muscles and of the lower portions of the nervous system which immediately control the muscles are by no means dormant, as the sudden cramp and painful start sufficiently show. The spinal cord is awake and capable of function even in insubordinate excess, unrestrained by any higher centre. The action of the lower centres is restrained by the inhibitory influence which the higher centres exercise over them, and during sleep this is withdrawn. The muscular spasm, which rudely wakes the sleeper to consciousness of pain, may never occur while the brain is active and alert; and, as far as can be understood, it is only in the withdrawal of a higher central influence that the difference between the states of the spinal cord in the waking and sleeping condition consists. Thus the same tendency of unrestrained excessive action obtains during sleep in both higher and lower centres. A very similar relation may be traced in the involuntary intellectual action which constitutes a dream. The will has absolutely no control over the train of ideas. They may arise in apparent spontaneity, or more rarely as a consequence of some waking thought or state, and may run their course entirely uncontrolled and uncontrollable, uninfluenced not only by the will, but by the accumulated experience of the waking hours, so that the absurd inconsistencies and impossible relations of the fancied action excite no sense of doubt or wonder. They pass away as mysteriously as they commenced, and their track may be so separated from the lines of waking thought that, like a distant second image in diplopic vision, the existence of which may be unknown till an accident reveals its place and character, their occurrence may be unsuspected until some chance association reproduces them.

Thus the same tendency to unrestrained excess of action obtains during sleep in both higher and lower regions of nervous phenomena, in both brain and cord. And in some other details a further analogy may be traced. The physical sensation which excites a reflex movement is effective in proportion to its unaccustomed character. A sudden change of sensation may provoke the movement which a constant pain fails to elicit.