Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/689

This page has been validated.
669
ELEMENTARY INSTRUCTION IN PHYSIOLOGY.

acterizes the succession of all other occurrences, and the statement of which we call a law of Nature.

Hence, I think, arises the want of heartiness of belief in the value of knowledge respecting the laws of health and disease, and of the foresight and care to which knowledge is the essential preliminary, which is so often noticeable; and a corresponding laxity and carelessness in practice, the results of which are too frequently lamentable.

It is said that, among the many religious sects of Russia, there is one which holds that all disease is brought about by the direct and special interference of the Deity, and which, therefore, looks with repugnance upon both preventive and curative measures, as alike blasphemous interferences with the will of God. Among ourselves, the "Peculiar People" are, I believe, the only persons who hold the like doctrine in its integrity, and carry it out with logical rigor. But many of us are old enough to recollect that the administration of chloroform in assuagement of the pangs of childbirth was, at its introduction, strenuously resisted upon similar grounds.

I am not sure that the feeling, of which the doctrine to which I have referred is the full expression, does not lie at the bottom of the minds of a great many people who would yet vigorously object to give a verbal assent to the doctrine itself. However this may be, the main point is that sufficient knowledge has now been acquired of vital phenomena to justify the assertion that the notion that there is anything exceptional about these phenomena receives not a particle of support from any known fact. On the contrary, there is a vast and an increasing mass of evidence that birth and death, health and disease, are as much parts of the ordinary stream of events as the rising and setting of the sun, or the changes of the moon; and that the living body is a mechanism the proper working of which we term health; its disturbance, disease; its stoppage, death. The activity of this mechanism is dependent upon many and complicated conditions, some of which are hopelessly beyond our control, while others are readily accessible and are capable of being indefinitely modified by our own actions. The business of the hygienist and of the physician is to know the range of these modifiable conditions, and how to influence them toward the maintenance of health and the prolongation of life; the business of the general public is to give an intelligent assent, and a ready obedience based upon that assent, to the rules laid down for their guidance by such experts. But an intelligent assent is an assent based upon knowledge, and the knowledge which is here in question means an acquaintance with the elements of physiology.

It is not difficult to acquire such knowledge. What is true, to a certain extent, of all the physical sciences, is eminently characteristic of physiology—the difficulty of the subject begins beyond the stage of elementary knowledge, and increases with every stage of progress. While the most highly-trained and best-furnished intellect may find