A sensitive nerve when irritated transmits some influence to the nerve-cell, whence it proceeds; and this transmits its influence, first to the corresponding nerve-cell on the opposite side of the body, and then upwards and downwards along the cerebro-spinal column to other nerve-cells, to a greater or less extent, according to the strength of the excitement; so that, ultimately, the whole nervous system maybe affected.[5] This involuntary transmission of nerve-force may or may not be accompanied by consciousness. Why the irritation of a nerve-cell should generate or liberate nerve-force is not known; but that this is the case seems to be the conclusion arrived at by all the greatest physiologists, such as Muller, Virchow, Bernard, &c.[6] As Mr. Herbert Spencer remarks, it may be received as an "unquestionable truth that, at any moment, the existing quantity of liberated nerve-force, which in an inscrutable way produces in us the state we call feeling, MUST expend itself in some direction--MUST generate an equivalent manifestation of force somewhere;" so that, when the cerebro-spinal system is highly excited and nerve-force is liberated in excess, it may be expended in intense sensations, active thought, violent movements, or increased activity of the glands.[7] Mr. Spencer further maintains that an "overflow of nerve-force, undirected by any motive, will manifestly take the most habitual routes; and, if these do not suffice, will next overflow into the less habitual ones." Consequently the facial and respiratory muscles, which are the most used, will be apt to be first brought into action; then those of the upper extremities, next those of the lower, and finally those of the whole body.[8]

[4] Mr. Bartlett, "Notes on the Birth of a Hippopotamus," Proc. Zoolog. Soc. 1871, p. 255.

[5] See, on this subject, Claude Bernard, `Tissus Vivants,' 1866, pp. 316, 337, 358. Virchow expresses himself to almost exactly the same effect in his essay "Ueber das Ruckenmark" (Sammlung wissenschaft. Vortrage, 1871, s. 28).

An emotion may be very strong, but it will have little tendency to induce movements of any kind, if it has not commonly led to voluntary action for its relief or gratification; and when movements are excited, their nature is, to a large extent, determined by those which have often and voluntarily been performed for some definite end under the same emotion. Great pain urges all animals, and has urged them during endless generations, to make the most violent and diversified efforts to escape from the cause of suffering. Even when a limb or other separate part of the body is hurt, we often see a tendency to shake it, as if to shake off the cause, though this may obviously be impossible. Thus a habit of exerting with the utmost force all the muscles will have been established, whenever great suffering is experienced. As the muscles of the chest and vocal organs are habitually used, these will be particularly liable to be acted on, and loud, harsh screams or cries will be uttered. But the advantage derived from outcries has here probably come into play in an important manner; for the young of most animals, when in distress or danger, call loudly to their parents for aid, as do the members of the same community for mutual aid.

[6] Muller (`Elements of Physiology,' Eng. translat. vol. ii. p. 932) in speaking of the nerves, says, "any sudden change of condition of whatever kind sets the nervous principle into action." See Virchow and Bernard on the same subject in passages in the two works referred to in my last foot-note.

[7] H. Spencer, `Essays, Scientific, Political,' &c., Second Series, 1863, pp. 109, 111.

[8] Sir H. Holland, in speaking (`Medical Notes and Reflexions,' 1839, p. 328) of that curious state of body called the _fidgets_, remarks that it seems due to "an accumulation of some cause of irritation which requires muscular action for its relief."

Another principle, namely, the internal consciousness that the power or capacity of the nervous system is limited, will have strengthened, though in a subordinate degree, the tendency to violent action under extreme suffering. A man cannot think deeply and exert his utmost muscular force. As Hippocrates long ago observed, if two pains are felt at the same time, the severer one dulls the other. Martyrs, in the ecstasy of their religious fervour have often, as it would appear, been insensible to the most horrid tortures. Sailors who are going to be flogged sometimes take a piece of lead into their mouths, in order to bite it with their utmost force, and thus to bear the pain.

The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals Page 30

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Charles Darwin

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