Popular Science Monthly/Volume 13/June 1878/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.
THE STUDY OF THE BRAIN.

THE recent activity of psychological study, and the many valuable results arising from it, induced some of its leading students, two or three years ago, to found a new periodical entitled Mind: a Quarterly Review of Psychology and Philosophy, to be devoted to the investigation of mental phenomena, especially from the hitherto neglected physiological side. This review has done excellent service. It was a protest against the inadequacy of the old method of metaphysical and purely introspective study, and represented that class of philosophical thinkers who hold that, in treating of mind, its organic conditions are not to be lost sight of, but that mind and body are to be considered together.

A further and. very significant step, in the same direction, has now been taken by the establishment of another quarterly magazine, under the title of Brain: a Journal of Neurology.[1] The starting-point is here physiological, and the brain and nervous system are studied with reference to their various vital and psychical functions and effects. The editors are all eminent medical men, who have either acquired distinction through large experience in the treatment of nervous maladies involving intellectual and emotional derangement, or have achieved eminence in the department of experimental physiology of the nervous system. The method is here thoroughly scientific. The brain is not merely something to be recognized, but it is taken as the mary and fundamental object of inquiry—an organ, the properties of which give limits and law to psychology. That mind is conditioned and manifested by the nervous, and especially the cerebral, system, is now no longer intelligently disputed; and, in beginning the study of mental phenomena here, we have the advantage of light derived from the physical and organic sciences, we get free from the overwhelming bias of metaphysical traditions, and become familiar with a wide range of facts that are of immense value in the conduct of every-day life.

The important practical results that must follow from this order of study, by which the organic substratum of mind receives the first attention, are well illustrated in the admirable articles of Dr. Beard, on "The Scientific Study of Human Testimony," of which the second is herewith published. Dr. Beard indicated his point of view in the first paper as follows:

"Human testimony comes from the human brain; the scientific study of human testimony is only possible through a knowledge of the human brain in health and disease, and is therefore a department of cerebro-physiology and pathology. Only recently have the laws of cerebro-physiology and pathology been sufficiently understood, even by the very few who cultivate that specialty, to enable them to formulate principles for the scientific study of that most important product of the human brain—human testimony. If, then, Bacon and Descartes, Hume and Hamilton, Whewell and Jevons, Greenleaf and Wharton, have failed to adapt their analyses of the principles of evidence to the needs of our time, their failure is due to the backwardness of physiology and pathology, that must constitute the basis of the study of evidence, and on which the foundations for a reconstruction must be laid. We do not yet know all of the human brain, either in health or disease; but our knowledge of it is sufficiently advanced to make it possible to see, with sufficient clearness, its relation to testimony. If we do not know just how the cerebral cells evolve thought, we do know that thought is evolved by them or through them, and that various diseases of the brain and nervous system—now pretty well understood, but of which, twenty years ago, little or nothing was known—may utterly destroy the objective worth of thought and render it, scientifically speaking, valueless."

Assuming these positions to be valid, the study of mental physiology must work a revolution in the theory of jurisprudence and the practice of the legal profession.

The extreme importance of this point of view is also further exemplified in an article "On Brain-forcing," by Dr. Clifford Allbutt, which we reprint in the present number of the Monthly, from the new quarterly. Taking their cue from old metaphysical text-books, our teachers are ever talking about mind, while what they really have to deal with is the brain. And not only that, but they have control of it during the period of its development. Education is, in fact, a physiological art, and all its methods and resources take effect upon the plastic organism of the nervous system. The development of intelligence, the discipline of emotions, the establishment of habits, and the formation of character, are all dependent upon definite corporeal laws, of which the study of mental philosophy, as usually pursued, gives us but little information. Dr. Allbutt shows very impressively, not only how the varied endowments of nerve-substance are at the basis of all culture, but how easy it is to mismanage the work of education, and perpetrate grave and lasting mischief, when these physiological conditions are unheeded and unknown. Nor is the ignorance of teachers upon the subject the worst thing about it; they have views and beliefs and opinions which stand in the way of real knowledge, and under which they work with blind, dogmatic confidence, that prevents all recognition of the injuries their practice inflicts upon pupils under their charge.

A case in point has been recently reported by the newspapers as occurring in the management of the Jersey City High-School. The account given of it by the World is mainly as follows:

"The course of study is of a high grade, and is arranged in three divisions—a commercial, a modern English, and a classical course. The English course comprises algebra, natural philosophy, geometry, trigonometry, physiology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, surveying, botany, languages, English literature, civil government, history, mental philosophy, and theory and practice of teaching. The classical course is made up of algebra, geometry, Latin (Cæsar, Cicero, and Virgil), Greek (Anabasis, Homer), Roman and Grecian history, Latin composition, and outlines of history. During each term the students are required to study three of the above subjects. The courses are otherwise optional, and many of the students study five subjects. The course extends over three years, and, in order to complete their studies in that period, the young women who are in the higher classes have to devote close attention to their work. In 1876, at the close of the first course of the institution, the graduating class consisted of twenty-two young women and two young men. The excitement of the closing examination, which was very strict, and the fatigue attending the prolonged course of study, left many of the young women, it is said, with impaired health, but except in a few instances there were no serious results. Fourteen of the young women began to teach in the public schools after graduation, and, in addition to this, they were compelled to prepare for a second examination to enable them to pass the Saturday Normal School, which they were obliged to do before they could obtain a diploma that would make them eligible as teachers in the grammar and higher grade schools. This necessitated close study, and left them comparatively little time for recreation. All, however, except three, pulled through successfully, without any material injury to their health. The additional study was not forced upon them, but they were ambitious and anxious to attain the highest possible position in their profession.

"Of these female graduates, two bright and promising young women died in early womanhood, one is now an inmate of an insane asylum, and two or three others are said to be in delicate health."

When the principal of the high school was seen and questioned by the reporter, he denied that the course of studies was too severe for female students, and remarked: "I have been teaching for eighteen years, and my experience is that girls are more studious and more ready to learn than boys. They can master the higher branches of education far more readily than boys." From which the obvious inference is, that they will be readier victims of a forcing system, administered under the competitions and rivalries of such institutions. All the pressures of our educational system are for conspicuous and telling results which will make the best show at examinations. The teacher takes his rank and holds his position, and calculates upon compensation and promotion, by attaining these striking results. His interest is therefore to drive, to overload, and to stuff and cram the memory of pupils with verbal acquisitions that may be flaunted on parade. School-work becomes a steady pull in these directions, with no time for reflection or observation or independent exercise of thought upon the subjects chosen. The system affords no check against overdoing. The teachers push on those who should be held back, and, if they do not break down and die outright, no harm is recognized. The idea that pupils, girls especially, can be sustained by excitement and carry off the honors in apparent health, while their constitutions are undermined, ill health entailed, and the power of vigorous accomplishment through life destroyed, seems hardly to enter into the minds of educators. It is one of the fruits of our dominant, high-pressure, machine system of culture that the mass of teachers and of education journals pooh-pooh the notion of overwork in school.

It is not to be expected that all teachers will be physicians, but it is a part, and a most essential part, of their business to inform themselves with some thoroughness in regard to the mechanism, normal workings, laws of endurance, and morbid indications, of the nervous system. They should read so widely and carefully upon this subject as to induce caution, and not become the heedless instruments of an inexorable policy, that takes no account of physiological circumstances, hereditary defects, abnormal temperaments, constitutional dullness or precocity, and various other conditions that ought often to qualify school-room management. Familiarity with such subjects would go far to protect from rash judgments and the various evils that are liable to follow. Parents are often greatly to blame in this matter, but teachers ought to be qualified intelligently to withstand the interferences that are due to parental ignorance and vanity.

The first number of Brain contains the description of a case, by Dr. A. Hughes Bennett, which, although it was so obscure as to baffle the physicians, is yet well calculated to enforce the cautious reserve we have insisted on, and the necessity of greater general familiarity with this class of facts. A tall, full-grown, well-developed, healthy looking young woman, aged sixteen, consulted the doctor in 1876, complaining of blindness, deafness, and loss of power in her lower extremities. She had not a very good reputation, that is, she had always been a very "naughty child," who took special delight in annoying and playing malicious tricks on her companions. She had a reputation for willfulness, cunning, and bad temper, though she could make herself amiable and agreeable when she pleased. In school her behavior was characterized by indiscretions, lack of modesty customary in persons of her position in society, and general misconduct, and from one school she was expelled. She pretended to become suddenly blind, but, as this was immediately after correction for mutinous conduct, the schoolmistress thought she was malingering, or feigning illness. She declared herself deaf, but it was found that she could hear; she asserted that she had lost the power in her lower limbs, and could not walk, which was supposed to indicate her desire to avoid the daily walks which she disliked. She had nervous attacks, and shouted, laughed, and threw herself about, striking the nurse. Physicians were consulted, who said nothing ailed her but hysterics, and ordered her to be placed under strict "moral control." Dr. Bennett ascertained that her father was of excitable temperament and had had several attacks of mania. Her mother died when she was an infant, and nothing was ascertained concerning her health, but an aunt was said to be of unstable mind. Her sisters were all nervous and hysterical, and one of her brothers seemed to inherit her father's mental disposition. She consulted Dr. Bennett April 1st, but grew worse, becoming fitfully blind, deaf, unable to walk, restless and excited; wandering, delirium, and wild raving followed, and she at length became suddenly comatose, and died on the morning of May 1st. Dr. Bennett had the greatest difficulty in obtaining an autopsy, but on opening the brain a tumor was found in the right cerebral hemisphere, about the size and shape of a hen's-egg. The cause of the intermittent blindness, deafness, muscular feebleness, and various other derangements, was now apparent. As the tumor had been growing, probably, for years, pressure was exerted upon the surrounding parts, the circulation was impeded, the nervous connections disturbed, and the disorganization of cerebral structure and functions produced insanity of conduct. It is in the highest degree probable that she inherited an unhealthy brain, which became gradually the seat of positive disease. Dr. Bennett was satisfied of the existence of some form of cerebral malady, but he had great difficulty in assuring the friends of the patient, even in her last days, that it was not a case of mere deception, perversity, and vicious caprice.

This example enforces its own lesson. Happily, tumors in the brain are not frequent, though they may be met with at any time. But the delicate and complex organ of thought and feeling is subject to numerous diseases of all grades of intensity, to morbid predispositions that come down as taints in the ancestral stream, to defective nutrition, to early perversion and arrest of growth by premature organization, to debility and exhaustion from overwork and lack of necessary rest—all of which are liable to disturb the mind and derange the conduct as absolutely as the existence of a tumor buried in its lobes.

Is there provision for communicating knowledge upon these subjects with any efficiency to teachers, in a single normal school in the land? While it should be at the foundation of the teacher's preparation, it is neglected everywhere. In all other vocations that are studied, the first thing is to get a knowledge of the nature and properties of the material which the student is to be employed upon; but, strange to say, in the training of teachers this kind of knowledge is practically left out of the curriculum.

 

 
THE PROGRESS OF JOURNALISM.

We have received, printed on a fly sheet, the article contributed by Prof. Sumner to Scribner's Magazine, on "What our Boys are reading." It is earnestly commended to the attention of editors in an accompanying circular, signed by Presidents Porter and Woolsey, and other eminent gentlemen of New Haven, and we are glad to have the subject thus weightily presented. Prof. Sumner says that—

"There is a periodical literature designed for boys of from twelve to sixteen years of age, that has been growing up among us within the last few years, until it is widely circulated, and that is of a very pernicious character. The boys' newspapers contain stories, songs, mock-speeches, and negro minstrel dialogues, and nothing else. The literary material is either intensely stupid, or spiced to the highest degree with sensation. The dialogue is short, sharp, and continuous, is broken by the minimum of description, and by no preaching. . . . The stories are not markedly profane and they are not obscene. They are indescribably vulgar."

Prof. Sumner gives illustrations of their coarse vulgarity, and points out that the type of character illustrated and applauded is that of the vagabond, the adventurer, the prize-fighter, and the blackguard. It is deplorable that such a style of literature should have appeared among us, and grown to an extended influence. Familiarity with it cannot fail to be vicious and degrading, and it is well to warn parents and teachers of this insidious agency of mischief, to which our youth are exposed.

Nevertheless, we must be fair to the boys, and remember the examples that are set them by older people. Prof. Sumner observes: "We say nothing of the great harm that is done to boys of that age by the nervous excitement of reading harrowing and sensational stories, because the literature before us only participates in that harm with other literature of far higher pretensions." But, instead of "saying nothing," we think Prof. Sumner should have felt it incumbent upon him to give emphasis to this consideration, and sharply reprobated a system of adult journalism, the imitation of which leads to such corrupting results. For the boys' newspapers are nothing less than imitations of more pretentious newspapers, only a grade or two lower in coarseness and vulgarity, as suits the immature condition of mind to which they are addressed. Prof. Sumner says that "these papers poison boys' minds with views of life which are so base and false as to destroy all manliness and all chance of true success." But pray, what are the "views of life" currently set forth in our mature literature of the widest circulation? They are false, extravagant, distorted, and misleading, to the last degree. But, instead of being condemned and forbidden, this literature is widely read and freely indorsed, and, under the sordid inducements its disseminators are able to offer, the talent of the country is at their disposal. How long is it since a journal, whose blood-and-thunder stories had pushed it into enormous circulation, bought up statesmen, and littérateurs, and clergymen, and presidents of colleges in dozens, who contributed their perfunctory essays to be sandwiched among the stupid clap-trap tales for which the sheet was bought? The boys' newspapers have probably not money enough yet to buy respectability in this way, but with sufficient enterprise they may imitate this feature also. Are we not told that newspapers must suit supply to demand, that they are made to sell and must be adapted to the state of mind of their patrons and publish what people want to read?—how far do the boys' newspapers deviate from this primary requirement of a successful press? Villainous caricatures in family journals are mildly objected to by some, but the aggrieved publishers beg to know how else they are to get an "enormous circulation." The ideals of the boys' newspapers are said to be low. What is the altitude of the sporting ideals recognized by popular newspapers? If the rich may have their fun in horse-racing, and the colleges may enjoy their rowing matches, how can the boys be much censured for taking some interest in the prize-ring? A notorious bruiser, tired of mauling his fellow-creatures, turned black-leg and politician, giving alternate attention to the gambling-den and the Senate-chamber, and, when he dies, the newspapers are overrun with multifarious discussions about him! The boys' papers will probably take up the topic of Morrissey, and improve it in their own way. Prof. Sumner said that "this subject is of interest to the students of social phenomena," and this is our concern with it. But it is the province of these students to consider facts in their relations and mutual dependencies. The boys' newspapers are not isolated things; and they can be condemned for no reasons that have not a much further application.

 

 
SEDGWICK ON THE "VESTIGES OF CREATION."

Adam Sedgwick was Professor of Geology in the University of Cambridge and President of the Geological Society of London, and in an anniversary address before that body, in 1831, he said, "We have a series of proofs the most emphatic and convincing that the approach to the present system of things has been gradual, and that there has been a progressive development of organic structures subservient to the purposes of life." This is rank evolution, even for to-day, though uttered forty-seven years ago! But in 1834 Dr. Sedgwick got a fat and easy church sinecure, becoming Prebendary of Norwich, which perhaps accounts for the sour milk in the following cocoanut. In 1844 the reverend geologist wrote to Macvey Napier, editor of the Edinburgh, Review, concerning the "Vestiges of Creation," and his letter contains the following passage, which is to be taken as representing the Norwich prebendary, rather than the President of the Geological Society who speaks in our previous quotation:

"I now know the 'Vestiges' well, and I detest the book for its shallowness, for the intense vulgarity of its philosophy, for its gross, unblushing materialism, for its silly credulity in catering out of every fool's dish, for its utter ignorance of what is meant by induction, for its gross (and, I dare to say, filthy) views of physiology—most ignorant and most false—and for its shameful shuffling of the facts of geology so as to make them play a rogue's game. I believe some woman is the author; partly from the fair dress and agreeable exterior of the 'Vestiges,' and partly from the ignorance the book displays of all sound physical logic. A man who knew so much of the surface of physics must, at least on some one point or other, have taken a deeper plunge; but all parts of the book are shallow. . . . From the bottom of my soul I loathe and detest the 'Vestiges.' 'Tis a rank pill of asafœtida and arsenic, covered with gold-leaf. I do, therefore, trust that your contributor has stamped with an iron heel upon the head of the filthy abortion, and put an end to its crawlings. There is not one subject the author handles bearing on life, of which he does not take a degrading view."

There is not much writing in this style nowadays, a generation having made a great difference in the spirit with which this subject is discussed. It is noteworthy that the furious denunciations of the doctrine that man has been created through the unfolding of the universe, rather than by a special miracle, are now put less on the ground of mere dislike and disgust than on that of its scientific falsity. It is strangely said that the idea of the derivation of the human race by the operations of natural law, such as govern the development of the individual, is unscientific, while the notion that man was supernaturally injected in a perfect state into the existing system of things is held to be the true scientific view. For the benefit of those who want to hear both sides, we republish, in the May Supplement, a vehement diatribe, by Dr. Elam, purporting to be a reply to Prof. Tyndall's "Man and Science." He is at home in the style of Sedgwick when writing upon the "Vestiges," but he has the sense to see that the question is after all a scientific one. He says:

"Not because it is unutterably disgusting and humiliating, but because the idea is profoundly and irredeemably unscientific, founded on false data, false conceptions, and false reasonings, do I altogether repudiate our 'wormy' and ape-like ancestry. Upon man everywhere, debased, degraded, fallen from his high estate though he may be, I see the seal and impress of his special and divine origin."
 

 

The Rev. Joseph Cook seems to be trying, commendably, to state things as they are, but finds it difficult. The other Monday he characterized The Popular Science Monthly as a "useful" periodical, and in this he was quite correct. He also affirmed that it is "crudely edited," and here he was, no doubt, much nearer the truth than he is wont to be. But when he speaks of Virchow in connection with the Monthly his old propensities overcome him. He said of Prof. Virchow's discourse on "The Liberty of Science in the Modern State:" "The Popular Science Monthly has indeed published an imperfect report of this great address; but it has failed, as has also Asa Gray, of Cambridge (in an article in the Independent), to bring out the breadth of the collision between Virchow and Haeckel." A false impression is here created, to say the least. We have not printed an imperfect-report of Virchow's address, but a full and faithful translation of it. As to our having failed to bring out the "breadth of the collision between Virchow and Haeckel," it happens that we have done that very thing, and are the only parties that have done it. We printed both speeches—side by side—in the February Popular Science Supplement, and, moreover, so that they can be sold with ten other elaborate articles at half the price that Murray charges for Virchow's speech alone. If, therefore, any one wishes to get a clear notion of the breadth, depth, height, and momentum, of this remarkable "collision," he will find it in the periodical which, according to Mr. Cook, did not contain it.

 

 

In an elaborate article entitled "Virchow and the Teachings of Science," contributed to the Nineteenth Century[2] by Prof. Kingdon Clifford, the great German has received his decisive and annihilating answer. So clean and finished a piece of controversial work we have rarely seen. There is, of course, much in Prof. Virchow's address that is true and. important, but that which gives it celebrity is the avowal, by an eminent biologist, that the doctrine of evolution is not proved. This is at once a question of the nature, extent, and validity of evidence, and Prof. Clifford takes it up as a logician, in a very quiet way, with much delicate humor and a peculiar charm of style, for which he is unrivaled. Prof. Clifford points out the baselessness of Virchow's conclusions in regard to the evidence for the descent of man, and, then passing to the question of education, he not only answers him effectually, but does it in such a manner as to make his paper a very important contribution to educational philosophy.

 

  1. Brain: A Journal of Neurology. Edited by J. C. Bucknill, M. D., J. Crichton-Browne, M. D., D. Ferrier, M. D., and J. Hughlings-Jackson, M. D. 142 pages quarterly. Price, 3s. 6d. New York: Macmillan & Co.
  2. Reprinted in The Popular Science Supplement for May.