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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/441

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POPULAR MISCELLANY.

close application to work. He remarks that the restless movements of young infants are almost always bilateral, though the two sides may be affected either synchronously or alternately. If an India-rubber ball connected with a tracing apparatus be placed in each hand of an intelligent child, and he be told to squeeze with one hand only, the tracing almost invariably shows that the ball had also been squeezed, but with less force, by the other hand. The "reaction time"—the interval between the giving of a signal and the performance of a prearranged movement—was found to be double that in healthy adults, and the duration of the contraction three times as long. M. Binet's observations indicate, against the conclusions of Mill and Bain, that our ideas of space are instinctive. A child three months old, who, the author is certain, had never had a fall, and was therefore without experience of its discomforts, would lie contentedly across a person's outstretched arms, if the hands were placed in such a position as to prevent its slipping down. If, however, the hands and arms were depressed, so that the infant would tend to slide down, it would show its fear by at once screaming and struggling.

 

Philosophy of Some Assassinations.—By the customs of some countries kings are not permitted to die natural deaths, but must be killed by their successors. An attempt to explain this usage is made by Mr. J. G. Fraser, in his Golden Bough. In primitive thought kings are credited with the possession of powers of the utmost importance and value to their worshipers. In Japan the existence of the globe and all that is upon it was supposed to depend upon the well-being of the Mikado. Yet kings or man-gods were subject to the law of death like ordinary mortals; and in the case of death the soul was believed to be extracted from the body by the wiles of a demon or sorcerer, or else voluntarily to go away never to return, and in either case to be lost, with all its virtues and benefits, to the worshipers. But if the soul could be caught in the act of escaping, and in full vigor, then it might still be kept present with the people. Hence the only way of security was to kill the man-god in order to make sure of catching his soul; and to kill him when in full vigor, in order that the soul might be transferred with all its energies unimpaired to the body of a suitable successor. "The people of Congo believed that if their pontiff, the Chitomé, were to die a natural death, the world would perish, and the earth, which he alone retained by his power and merit, would be immediately annihilated. Accordingly, when he fell ill and seemed likely to die, the man who was destined to be his successor entered the pontiff's house with a rope or a club and strangled or clubbed him to death. . . . In the kingdom of Unyoro, in central Africa, custom still requires that, as soon as the king falls seriously ill or begins to break down from age, he shall be killed by his own wives; for, according to an old prophecy, the throne will pass away from the dynasty in the event of the king dying a natural death." There are instances in which the king is allowed to reign only for a definite term, fixed independently of the signs of disease and decay, and at the end of which he is either killed by his successor or he immolates himself. Formerly the reign of the king of Calicut was thus limited to twelve years, after which he was obliged to cut his throat in public. Under a subsequent modification of the rule a great feast was made at the end of the appointed time, and, when this was over, any guest who, after fighting his way through the guards, succeeded in killing the king, was allowed to reign in his stead. "So long as the king could maintain his position by the strong hand, it might be inferred that his natural force was not abated; whereas his defeat and death at the hands of another proved that his strength was beginning to fail, and that it was time his divine life should be lodged in a less dilapidated tabernacle."

 

The Zungarian Desert.—The desert region called Zungaria, which lies on the western borders of Mongolia, rises to a height of about twenty-five hundred feet, but descends from it at many points. The soil is chiefly composed of the clay called loess, a mixture of very fine sand and a gray or yellowish calcareous earth. This argillaceous mass is pierced, like a sponge, by numerous tubes or pores, which are often lined with incrustations formed by herbaceous plants. The