Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  9 (1884–85), 632–41.

The Brain of Man, its Architecture and Requirements

Ambrose L Ranney, md



Relevant illustrations:

eng. [5]


Accidents, Neurology, Vivisection, Pathology, Surgery, Mental Illness, Physiological Psychology, Telegraphy, Analogy, Anatomy, Cell Biology, Photography, Human Development, Microscopy, Health, Narcotics

People mentioned:

Gustav T Fritsch , Eduard Hitzig , Augustus V Waller , Michael Foster , Jules B Luys , Hermann Munk , Ludwig Türck , Paul E Flechsig , Johann B A von Gudden

    Observes that the 'famous [...] "American crowbar case"' of 1848, in which an iron bar accidentally entered the skull and 'perforated [the] brain' of an agricultural labourer, Phineas P Gage, who nevertheless was able to give an 'account of how it happened' and lived on for another twelve years, at first 'startled the minds of the reading public, and confounded the medical fraternity'. Now, however, the incident can be seen 'to have been the starting-point of a new epoch in medical science. It rendered untenable all previous hypotheses that had been advanced regarding the organ of the mind', and 'the "crowbar case" is no longer a mystery to specialists in neurology'. What it, as well as more recent 'results obtained by vivisection' and other 'new methods of research', have shown is that 'the brain must be regarded as a composite organ, whose parts have each some special function, and are to a certain extent independent of each other'. (632) Indeed, 'a frog [...] deprived of only the upper part of the cerebral hemispheres' still exhibits all the usual 'manifestations of frog life', but is in fact a 'pure automaton' and has been 'transformed into a machine' (634). Argues that those 'who have claimed that conclusions drawn from experiments upon animals are not applicable to man are to-day confronted with unanswerable facts to the contrary' (632), and notes in passing that practising such 'vivisection upon the human race is impracticable' (636). Applauds the 'labors of such men as Meynert, Charcot, Nothnagel, Ferrier, Wernicke, and others, [which] have made neurology a science that would exceed the comprehension of its founders', and insists that the modern view of the subject is 'one upon which it is proper as well as important that all should be generally informed' (633). Avoids examining certain aspects of the brain (i.e. the functions of the cerebellum and medulla oblongata) that are 'too complex to be discussed here' (639), and frequently employs analogy to describe the functioning of other parts. The 'nerves', for instance, 'are but telegraphic wires' and the 'nerve centres are therefore to be compared to the main offices of a telegraphic system' (633), while the brain of a new-born baby 'may be likened to the sensitized photographic plate before it has been exposed to the action of the lenses of the camera' (636). Concludes with 'a few practical remarks that might be made to the reader with benefit in the light of what has been already stated' regarding the damage that can be done to the 'wonderful organ' of the mind by the 'anxiety' of life 'in our large cities', and advises readers not to 'abuse' and 'overtax' their brains, and to get plenty of sleep and physical exercise. Also warns that the 'habitual use of drugs should be avoided. Our insane asylums draw many of their inmates from devotees to the opium and chloral habit'. (641)

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

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