Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/826

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

long unable to take food by the mouth, nutritive substances given by enemata find their way up to the duodenum by antiperistalsis. Here, then, is an example of an acquired adaptive arrangement under the stress of circumstances.

It can not be too much impressed on the mind that in the complicated body of the mammal the work of any one organ is constantly varying with the changes elsewhere. It is this mutual dependence and adaptation—an old doctrine, too much left out of sight in modern physiology—which makes the attempt to completely unravel vital processes well-nigh hopeless, though each accumulating true observation gives a better insight into this kaleidoscopic mechanism.

We have not attempted to make any statements as to the quantity of the various secretions discharged. This is large, doubtless, but much is probably reabsorbed, either altered or unaltered, and used over again. In the case of fistulæ the conditions are so unnatural that any conclusions as to the normal quantity from the data they afford must be highly unsatisfactory. Moreover, the quantity must be very variable, according to the law we are now considering. It is well known that dry food provokes a more abundant discharge of saliva, and this is doubtless but one example of many other relations between the character of the food and the quantity of secretion provided.

Evolution.—We have from time to time either distinctly pointed out or hinted at the evolutionary implications of the facts of this department of physiology. The structure of the digestive organs, plainly indicating a rising scale of complexity with greater and greater differentiation of function, is, beyond question, an evidence of evolution.

The law of natural selection and the law of adaptation, giving rise to new forms, have both operated, we may believe, from what can be observed going on around us and in ourselves. The occurrence of transitional forms, as in the epithelium of the digestive tract of the frog, is also in harmony with the conception of a progressive evolution of structure and function. But the limits of space will not permit of the enumeration of details.

Summary.—A very brief résumé of the subject of digestion will probably sufface.

Food is either organic or inorganic, and comprises proteids, fats, carbohydrates, salts, and water; and each of these must enter into the diet of all known animals. They must also be in a form that is digestible. Digestion is the reduction of food to a form such that it may be further dealt with by the alimentary tract prior to being introduced into the blood (absorption). This is effected in different parts of the tract, the various constituents of food being differently modified, according to the secretions there