Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/39

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

also in more delicate changes of the elements revealed by a microscope, where the quantity taken has been even a small one. A physiological examination proves always beyond doubt that, where any appreciable quantity of alcohol has been taken, there are changes in the body substance, not always indeed wholly proportionate to the quantity taken, because the living elements have always more or less power to resist and overcome.

But I am not to deal with dangers and consequences from the use of alcohol, but with the problem of possible pleasure in existence without it. Let us see what pleasure does come from its use. While the influence of alcohol on the elements of the body is so evident and important, it is yet only as that influence touches the nerves that we are conscious of it. This becomes real to us in two ways: first, through the senses of taste and smell, as it touches the outward body; and, secondly, when it has entered into the blood and begins its chemical working in the nerve centers. How far shall we count these influences pleasurable? We are wont to count them one, but in a physiological sense they are very different, resulting from the action of very different parts of the drink taken. Wine, for instance, is made up of six elements, five of which give the taste, the sixth the fragrance of the wine. One of the five is alcohol, the only one which can not be enjoyed alone, and is never taken alone except by the man whose sense of taste has been utterly destroyed. We are not now situated as were the ancients—"der gute Noah," for instance—nor even as the men of the last generation, who had discovered so little of the earth's power to produce pleasure-giving substances that they were naturally delighted with and disposed to make the most of the new discovery of wine. We can take the elements of wine which do please our taste and make a better drink without alcohol. It needs only that a sufficient number of men resolve upon such a course.

But the effect of wine upon the brain and other nerve centers is that of the alcohol alone. To understand it physiologically one must remember the ordinary action of the nerves. An impression from without meets us, the nerves carry it to the nerve center, and a movement or other expression results. The movement does not, however, always accompany the sensation directly. In reading, for instance, one may indefinitely postpone any expression of received impressions; and then a single action may express a number of stored-up impressions, or again one impression may call forth a number of movements. Man has learned to in some sense measure the relation of movement to sensation—as to rapidity of movement, and as to the relative strength of the two. It is found, first, that the sharpness and certainty of sensations are modified by even small doses of alcohol, completely deadened