Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/872

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ous study in medical psychology, in which the author draws upon an extensive practice for illustrations of the phenomena of self-deception in the processes of sensation and the experience of pain. The first portion of Dr. Taylor's lecture is devoted to a brief account of the action of the nervous system, not only as a receptive apparatus for the production of sensibility, but as a reacting mechanism in which sensations are stored and accumulated to give rise to centrally-initiated feelings and impulses. "Up to a certain point," says Dr. Taylor, "and in a certain degree and manner, we are unquestionably automata. If it were otherwise, life would be simply impossible. The sensations which we receive through the five senses set a-going certain machinery, the result of which is sensory life, as certainly as the open valve lets in the steam which makes the ponderous engine throb with motion and power. But steam, having once been used, flows out lifeless, a simple waste. Not so the sensations. Once received, they are never wholly spent, but in various forms remain as a portion of our vital selves so long as we live. And, once received, we may use and control their accumulated substance much as we will."

But if illusions arise in the action of the peripheral senses, so definite in their action and so open to observation, they are far more liable to arise in regard to the. feelings which come from centrally-initiated impulses, and prominent among these deceptions are the false location of pain and the false interpretation of centrally-initiated impressions. On this point Dr. Taylor remarks: "If the direct evidence of our special senses can not be depended on, as previously shown, how much greater must be the liability to error, when conclusions are drawn from feelings depending on those pulses of nerve-force which have been set up in the cerebral end of the nervous system! And yet, large numbers of people take the evidence of their feelings, having nothing but an emotional origin, as evidence of bodily conditions. An emotional temperament is simply one in which the pulse of action in the nerve-centers rises higher than the occasion requires. There is a throb or explosion of energy, under a stimulus which would produce only a pulse in ordinary persons. Æsthetic education, particularly when not accompanied by special discipline, tends to increase inherited habits, until the existence of some persons consists of successions of nerve-center explosions, with all the prodigal waste of energy which accompanies that state. Such a person is thrown into ecstasies of pleasure or pain by causes by which a balanced temperament would not be affected. If a lady, she has a large variety of feelings, many of them disagreeable; and, if for any reason her attention becomes engaged with them, it is apt to become absorbed in their contemplation. If she has feelings along the back, she concludes she has spinal disease. If it is the head which disturbs her—and why should it not, with regular batteries of nerve-center explosions, touched off by her own untrained and rampant emotions?—she thinks there must be brain-disease or something horrible there; the more horrible in name the better it will suit the particular ebullition which names the disease."

Many interesting cases are given illustrating the illusions that thus arise; we quote a single one: "A young lady of seventeen came to me about ten years ago for what she and her friends supposed was disease of the hip-joint. After examination, I told her that there was no disease of the joint whatever. I tried to explain to her comprehension that, for some reason, she had become anxious about the hip-joint, and that her attention was so fixed on it that all sensations transmitted from that vicinity caused such throbs of the nerve-centers that an ordinary sensation was converted into an extraordinary one, and the anxious attention which she directed to that part made her painfully conscious of what would otherwise be normal sensations and thus unnoticed. But I failed to impress her sufficiently to divert her attention from the part, and she continued to walk on crutches, in all, during eight years. At last she suddenly found that she was not lame. I had the pleasure of examining her about six months after she had ascertained that she was not lame, and I found a wholly unaffected joint, precisely as it was seven years previously when I first saw her."

Sufficient has been said to illustrate the principal points of Dr. Taylor's discourse.