Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/171

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165
THE WORLD'S CONSERVATION PROBLEM

establishment of bases or centers for the consideration of plans for acquiring additional facts to be used in winning the future battles against ignorance; and it is to this second plan of campaign, the discussion of methods for acquiring information, that attention is to be briefly directed.

In order to understand the methods employed in the study of the brain and nervous system attention must be directed to certain fundamental laws which are applicable to all forms of living organisms. Life will continue to be a subject of increasing interest to mankind, and the values of all forms of knowledge will be estimated by the better understanding that they give us of vital phenomena. During his early development man's interest in biology was chiefly limited to interpreting the phenomena of more common occurrence in his own life history, and to-day we observe the same egoism in savage races. Gradually educated people have awakened to a realization of the fact that the vital phenomena of plant and animal life vary in degree but not in kind from those observed in the human species. As a result of a limited horizon and a centripetalizing thought process man was led to assume a place of unique grandeur in the universe for himself, and this anthropocentric point of view not only dominated but seriously interfered with the actual progress made in the study of the brain. The concepts of this false philosophical system unfortunately limited the study of the nervous system to the human subject, whose nervous system represents the most complicated series of organs in the animal series. But more unfortunate than the establishment of false standards by which man's relative importance in nature was measured was the consequent diversion of human interest from the consideration of problems of the most vital importance to humanity. This was one of the penalties paid for assuming that the human brain had definite and specific functions not represented in other animals. The egoism of mankind is reflected in our present superstitions and ignorant attitude in regard to the questions connected with the cure and prevention of insanity. Attempting to conceal our defects by clamorously referring to our position of splendid isolation in the universe, we have failed to plan a rational system of education, and have been content to try to drive all who applied across the intellectual tight rope without any effort being made to determine the capacity of the individual nervous system to maintain its equilibrium while under strain or to restore it if disturbed. The results of these sins of omission afford excellent examples of the practical cruelties to which humanity is, as Anatole France has said, so often subjected by the sickly sentimentality that periodically is a blight upon our intelligence. Physicians compelled by the exigencies of practise too often confined their studies of anatomy and physiology to the organs of the human individual and thus unconsciously sanctioned