Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/554

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

others, besides the permanent muscular contraction, produce a pain lasting as long as the nerve retains its excitability. The spinal marrow is one of the most active parts of the system. In the form of a thick, whitish cord, lodged inside the vertebral column, it constitutes a real prolongation of the brain, of which, under some circumstances, it takes the place. The unconscious depositary of a part of the force animating the limbs, by means of the nerves sent out from it, it transmits to them their direction and power to move, while the brain is unaware of its action. This takes place in what are called reflex motions, and these occur in beheaded animals, through the simple excitement, direct or indirect, of the spinal marrow. Experiments may be cited, showing the action of electricity on those phenomena which have their seat in the spinal marrow. If a frog is plunged into luke-warm water, at a temperature of 40°, it loses respiration, feeling, and motion, and would die if kept in it a long time. When taken out of the water, and placed in this state under the action of the current, it contracts strongly when its vertebral column is electrified by an ascending charge; but no motion follows if the descending current is applied. On the other hand, if the latter is sent into a beheaded animal, stimulated to reflex motions, by the excitement of the spine, it tends, as experiment shows, to paralyze these motions. In general, this is the law discovered by Onimus and Legros—the ascending battery-current, directed on the spine, increases the excitability of that organ, and consequently its power of producing reflex phenomena; the descending current, on the contrary, acts in the reverse way.

When the brain of animals is directly electrified, the modifications in circulation already spoken of result, but no special phenomena are observed. The animal shows no pain, and makes no movement, experiencing a tendency toward sleep, a sort of calm and stupor. Some physicians have gone so far as to propose electrization of the brain as a means of developing and perfecting the mental powers. Nothing hitherto justifies the belief that such a course could have the slightest influence for good over the functions of thought. On the contrary, it is very certain that the electric agent must be applied only with extreme caution to the regions of the head, and that it very easily occasions mischief in them. A strong current might readily cause rupture of the vessels, and dangerous hæmorrhage in consequence.

Again, electricity stimulates all the organs of sense. Directed upon the retina, it excites it, producing sensations of glare and dazzling. When sent through the organ of hearing, it produces there a peculiar buzzing noise, and, if brought in contact with the tongue, it calls forth a very characteristic metallic and styptic sensation. And in the olfactory mucous membrane it creates a sneezing irritation, and also, it seems, an odor of ammonia.

The currents not only act on the cerebro-spinal nerves, and the muscles concerned in life, as related outwardly, but affect also the parts