Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/531

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517
INSTINCT AS A GUIDE TO HEALTH.

these plants is insignificant. They are isolated examples or rarities, and no particular importance can be attached to them.

All these facts, I repeat, only make us feel more keenly how desirable it would be to determine scientifically the conditions which make the existence of our vulnerable race on a foreign land possible. We might then direct our emigrants with the same certainty as that with which a modern captain, who knows their wants, provides for his troops. As I look at it, I can not regard the mission of naturalists and physicians toward their nation as conscientiously performed till a satisfactory solution is given to this problem.

 

INSTINCT AS A GUIDE TO HEALTH.
By FELIX L. OSWALD, M. D.

SINCE the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the clouds of the middle ages were broken by the first sun-glimpse of reawakening reason, the average longevity of the North Caucasian nations has increased nearly seven years. In Northern Europe and North America the progress in the practice, if not the science, of healthy living has, indeed, kept fairly step with the general advance of civilization; the worst heresies against the health-laws of Nature have become errors of the past. Unventilated dwellings have become unpopular. Phlebotomy has gone out of fashion. We have ceased to fuddle our children with beer-soup. Hygienic reform has everywhere modified our habits of life.

Yet the principle of that reform has strangely failed to be recognized. For one invalid who can steer a straight course to the harbor of health, a thousand weather the breakers in a random, empiric way, like untrained sailors, failing to comprehend the purpose of the beacon, though using its light to avoid the nearest cliffs. Nay, if the source of that light were indiscreetly revealed, it would frighten hundreds back into utter darkness, to scan the firmament for a glimpse of its vanished loadstars, rather than trust their safety to an earthly guide. For, with the progress of a practical regeneration, a theoretical adherence to the traditions of the past still goes hand in hand. Not all civilized Buddhists have renounced the Dalai Lama; and many of our progress-loving contemporaries would be rather alarmed at the discovery that the principle of our social, medical, and educational reforms during the last two hundred years has been a restored trust in the competence of our natural instincts. So foreign was that rule of conduct to the moral standards of the middle ages that its importance was recognized only in its apparent exceptions, the supposed "evil propensities of our unregenerate nature," such as poison-habits, sloth, and sexual ex-