Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/571

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SOME problems permit of a ready and satisfactory solution with but little difficulty, while in fullness others remain obscure for generation upon generation, being resolved slowly and at great pains. In the latter class stand the problems involved in the study of alcohol. Some of these, although investigated for centuries, have been but recently solved or are still in the process of solution. Other associated problems remain which are but little better understood to-day than they were in the time of Aristotle.

Of this group of problems, solved or in the process of solution, I should like to consider in order the following parts:

Alcohol: I.   Its Discovery and Nature.
II. The Relative Toxicity of the Various Alcohols.
III. The Destiny of Alcohol in the Body.
IV. The Action of Ethyl Alcohol on the Body-and on its Output of Physical and Mental Work.

I. The Discovery and Nature of Alcohol

Through many ages nature has been elaborating a substance which has come to affect human progress most profoundly. This substance we to-day call alcohol. Although the existence of alcohol was surmised almost four centuries before the Christian era, yet practically twelve centuries intervened before its extraction, and ten centuries more elapsed before its nature and the biological significance of its origin were fully made out.

To appreciate the conditions confronting men who attacked problems of the sort in the infancy of science, we should look back to those ages in which natural phenomena called forth extravagant explanations, a day when apparatus and laboratories were unknown and, above all, a time when the scientific momentum, which is ours because they labored, was yet unborn. Under such conditions the work on alcohol was begun.


Alcohol Early Detected in Wine

Two important observations were early made concerning wine. The first of these was that wine, unlike water, if thrown into the fire emits a flame. When questioned as to the cause of the phenomenon Aristotle answered that the flame was due to an exhalation contained in the wine. Later, Pliny related that the wine from Falernus Ager blazed up at the contact of a flame—a wine, as Berthelot remarks, evidently rich in inflammable exhalation.

Since men of that period knew that sea water vaporized and con-