Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/October 1896/Scientific Literature

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Scientific Literature.


We have here a popular view of one division of the fruitful field that is being worked by the physiological psychologists of the present generation in Italy.[1] The author lays a broad foundation for his treatment of his subject by describing the general functions of each part of the brain and those of the spinal cord. He then takes up the circulation of the blood in the brain during emotion, on which he has made extended researches. He has had opportunities to take tracings from the pulsations of the brain in patients whose skulls had been fractured, and shows that any sound or sight that stimulates mental action increases the quantity of blood sent to the brain. He has tested the same thing also with a balance devised by him which has a beam large enough for a person to lie at length upon. Any mental excitement of the subject on the balance inducing a rush of blood to the brain would cause the head end of the delicately poised beam to sink. When the normal condition of the subject was restored the balance would regain its equilibrium. Dr. Mosso has also taken many tracings from the respiration, the beating of the heart, and the circulation of blood in the hands, each class of records showing the perturbations produced by excitement. The variation in the quantity of blood sent to the hands and other outlying parts of the body underlies the phenomenon of pallor, which with oppression of the chest and quickened beating of the heart are among symptoms of fear. Trembling is another one of these symptoms which Dr. Mosso examines. Taking up facial expression, he describes the nervous and muscular actions by which expression is produced, and follows this with a chapter on the physiognomy of pain, in which he gives a series of photographs of a hospital patient undergoing a painful manipulation of the arm. He also considers the expression of pain in the faces of certain classic pieces of statuary. Pain is not fear, and this interesting chapter seems to have been introduced as a substitute for material that it was not practicable to obtain. Opportunities for observing fear in children, both in their waking and sleeping hours, are not so rare as in the case of adults. Our author discusses both hereditary or instinctive and induced fears of little folk and gives some suggestions as to education for courage. Other aspects of his subjects treated in the closing chapters are the influence of fear on the skin and excretions, the paralyzing influence of terror on man and animals, and the maladies and even cases of death which great fright has produced. The treatment is popular throughout, and some of the author's descriptions—for instance, those of stage fright and delirium tremens—rise to the picturesque. It contains many things that a reader would want to refer to after a first reading, but its translators do not seem to think so, for they have left it without an index.

Mr. Conant has added to the literature of the banking business a notably convenient and instructive book.[2] His record begins with banking in Italy, in which country the bank that is considered to have been the oldest, that of Venice, was founded. This is followed by accounts of banking operations in the other countries of Europe. Coming to America, he gives a chapter each to the Bank of the United States, the State banking systems, and the national banking system now in operation. The banks of Canada, Latin America, Africa, and the East also receive attention. While the author has not departed from his historical plan so far as to write a treatise on banking, yet he does not refrain from characterizing the good and the bad features of the systems that he describes. He rates the Scotch system of banks of issue as coming "nearer to the ideal of successful free banking than that of any other country," and shows that the Canadian banks were founded on Scotch models, and the first one of them largely by Scotchmen. He also gives in his first chapter a brief statement of the theory of a banking currency, and concludes the volume by setting forth the chief advantages of such a medium. Many persons who are most firmly resisting the present agitation for a change in the coinage system of the United States are convinced that a modification of our method of issuing paper money is urgently needed. Mr. Conant shares this conviction, and in the chapters just mentioned, as well as in the one especially devoted to our national banking system, he vigorously affirms the superior elasticity of bank currency over issues of Treasury notes, and condemns many of the existing restrictions on the circulation of banks as unduly burdensome.

Another historical division of the volume relates to crises—the earlier and later ones of the present century, including that of 1893—with a discussion of the causes of these catastrophes. The tendency of the work is to reveal the operation of natural laws in monetary affairs, and to show that legislation that conflicts with these laws always works mischief.

  1. Fear. By Angelo Mosso. Pp. 278, 12mo. London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green & Co. Price, $1.75.
  2. A History of Modern Banks of Issue, with an Account of the Economic Crises of the Present Century. By Charles A. Conant. Pp. 595, 8vo. New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Price, $3.