Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/265

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Rome attracted enormous crowds of eager spectators because of the primitive character of the spectacles. The direct physical contact of man with man or man with beast intoxicated the Romans, whose work-a-day world was not unlike our own and far removed from the life of the arena. Such spectacles awoke the echoes of the past, revived primitive instincts and afforded perfect rest and relaxation. The behavior of the spectators at a football game is an illustration of perfect relaxation. They act for a time like children or savages and return to their work rested and purified.[1] Mankind appears to be under the dominance of two opposing forces. On the one hand we are driven on by the relentless whip of progress, which demands ever greater and greater specialization, application, concentration and powers of conceptual analysis. On the other hand the tired brain rebels against this ceaseless urging and seeks rest and relaxation.

But, now, even in the early history of the race, there was discovered another means of relaxation, artificial to be sure, but quick, easy and convenient. Drugs of various kinds, owing to their peculiar action upon the brain, produce a kind of artificial relaxation. Ethyl alcohol, produced everywhere whenever the ever-present yeast cells come in contact with the sugar of crushed fruit or fermented grain, has the peculiar property of paralyzing to a greater or less extent the higher and later developed brain tracts which are associated with those peculiar forms of mental activity accompanying work and the strenuous life. The later developed and more delicate centers of the nervous system are more susceptible to the attacks of an intruding destructive agency, such as alcohol. Thus it comes about that alcohol answers the demand of the body and mind for relaxation and accomplishes in an artificial way what is effected in a natural way by sport and play and other forms of relaxation. The latter effect this end by turning the energy of the brain into lower and older channels, leaving the higher centers to rest; the former, by directly narcotizing the higher centers and thus liberating the older, freer life of the emotions and the more primitive impulses.

It should not be understood that alcohol has any "selective affinity" for any part of the nervous system. Its action, like that of other toxins, is no doubt diffusive, but affects most seriously those parts of the brain having less power of resistance, particularly the centers late in the order of development. Its depressive effect is felt to some extent, however, upon the lower reflex centers and as such results again in physiological relaxation. This is owing to the fact that its depressive action raises the threshold value of the reflex arc and so diminishes reflex excitability.

From this point of view, therefore, we see that while the action of

  1. For a fuller account of the anthropological theory of sport and play, see the article by the present writer on "The Psychology of Foot-ball," in the American Journal of Psychology, Vol. XIV., pp. 104-117