Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/381

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
375
STUFFY ROOMS

the avenues of sense are closed, the central nervous system is no longer aroused and consciousness lapses. Laura Bridgeman, paralyzed in almost all her avenues of sense, fell asleep whenever her remaining eye was closed. The patient who lost one labyrinth by disease and, to escape unendurable vertigo, had the other removed by operation, was quite unable to guide his movements or realize his position in the dark. Rising from bed one night, he collapsed on the floor and remained there helpless till succor arrived.

A sense organ is not stimulated unless there is a change of rate in the transference of energy; and this to be effectual must occur in most cases with considerable quickness. If a weak agent is to stimulate, its application must be abrupt (Sherrington). Thus the slow changes of barometric pressure on the body surface originate no skin sensations, though such changes of pressure, if applied suddenly, are much above the threshold value for touch. A touch excited by constant mechanical pressure of slight intensity fades quickly below the threshold of sensation. Thus the almost unbearable discomfort which a child feels on putting on for the first time a "natural" wool vest fades away, and is no longer noticed with continual wear. Thomas à Becket soon must have become oblivious to his hair shirt, and even to its harbingers. It is not the wind which God tempers to the shorn lamb, but the skin of the lamb to the wind. The inflow of sensations keeps us active and alive and all the organs working in their appointed functions. The cutaneous sensations are of the highest importance. The salt and sand of wind-driven sea air particularly act on the skin and through it braces the whole body. The changing play of wind, of light, cold and warmth stimulate the activity and health of mind and body. Monotony of sedentary occupation and of an overwarm still atmosphere endured for long working hours destroys vigor and happiness and brings about the atrophy of disuse. We hear a great deal of the degeneration of the race brought about by city life, but observation shows us that a drayman, navvy or policeman can live in London, or other big city, strong and vigorous, and no less so than in the country. The brain-worker, too, can keep himself perfectly fit if his hours of sedentary employment are not too long and he balances these by open-air exercise. The horses stabled, worked and fed in London are as fine as any in the world; they do not live in windless rooms heated by radiators.

The hardy men of the north were evolved to stand the vagaries of climate—cold and warmth—a starved or full belly have been their changing lot. The full belly and the warm sun have expanded them in lazy comfort; the cold and the starvation have braced them to action. Modern civilization has withdrawn many of us from the struggle with the rigors of nature; we seek for and mostly obtain the